The biggest difference with the Nebria fieldwork is that it is (mostly) done at night. Nebria are nocturnal, and the species that I’m studying forage on the snowfields at night, feeding on debris (i.e. other insects) blown onto the mountain. That means waiting for it to get dark (about 10pm here), donning high-power head torches and heading out onto the snow. Perhaps the only thing that is the same for both beetles and grasshoppers is that neither likes cold and wet conditions.
The first day on the road, we drove from San Francisco to Mt Hood, in Oregon and after some practice collecting by a river bank that night, we headed up the mountain the following morning. The hike up was hard work, even though it was short. The thing about volcanoes is that they’re really steep! We found a nice campsite, then settled down to wait until dark. Unfortunately for us, it rained. And rained. And then it snowed. As a consequence, my first proper night of beetle-collecting wasn’t terribly successful.
The next mountain was Mt Adams, in Washington. There was a lot of snow here, and the track disappeared under the snowpack after about 1km. The nice thing about snow cover is it means you can just take the most direct route to your destination – in our case, straight up the side of the mountain! It was a pretty spectacular hike, capped by finding a lovely (small) campsite on a rocky knoll called South Butte. The view from here was quite amazing, with a thick bank of clouds moving slowly past the western face of Mt Adams throughout the day, and occasional glimpses of the peaks of Mt Hood and Mt St Helens. Again, the weather wasn’t in our favour. Although the night was clear, it was freezing. The snow surface was -6°C and we’ve figured out that this is just too cold for beetles.
Week 1 finished with a return to Mt Hood, which was far more successful. We had spectacular views of Mt St Helens, Mt Hood and (for the first time) Mt Rainier from the northern slopes of Mt Hood. With perfect conditions, we managed to get a complete set of beetles for experiments. Finally, a successful night!