26 September 2008

Back from Armidale

People often get confused when I tell them I'm going to Armidale for residential school. They assume I'm going there for exams.

What we actually do is the practical stuff that, as external students, we don't get to do at home, like mixing chemicals in chemistry class and stinking the lab out with rotten egg gas as a result.

As well as chemistry I'm doing vertebrate zoology this semester, that's the study of animals with backbones, like us. The res school involves drawing lots of pictures of different types of animals and their internal anatomy.

Below is a picture of a cane toad, part way through being dissected by yours truly.

This isn't the first time I've dissected a cane toad at uni, but I never cease to be amazed at what's inside them. If you're interested, the pink spongy looking things in the picture are lungs, between them is the heart and the liver (the liver is the dark bit). Underneath the lung that I'm holding up with a probe is the stomach and those spotty looking things are eggs (it's a female toad).

The animals we dissect are well and truly dead by the time we're let loose on them, but it's not unusual to cut open a cane toad and find its heart still beating. The one in the picture wasn't, but a couple of my classmates were surprised when they realised there's was still pumping away. The reason it does this is that the heart is actually its own power supply. To put it another way, it supplies its own electricity to make it pump. It'll often carry on doing this for quite a while after death in some animals until it runs out of energy.

As well as the toads, we dissected trout (some of which ended up as dinner for some people, they were fresh from the hatchery at Ebor) and mice, so we could compare the differences in the way they lived.

It wasn't all cutting up dead animals though. We also did some spotlighting for nocturnal animals and some trapping and on the Tuesday we spent a couple of hours birdwatching around Dumaresq (pronounced dooMAreck) Dam followed by a pizza lunch. In all we counted fifty four different species of bird, including a Tawny Frogmouth sitting on its nest. Oh, and we analysed bat calls on the last day. Four Anabat devices were placed in the area we'd been spotlighting in and we went through the files to figure out what species of bat they were. There were about half a dozen different species in all, flying around while we were there. We didn't see a single one.

Apart from all the drawing, it was another enjoyable res school, but I was glad to get back home again, especially since it was our fourth wedding anniversary the day I got back. It's also warmer up here. It was six degrees Celsius when I left Armidale yesterday morning and twenty four degrees here when I got home.

16 September 2008

I'm still here

It's been quite a while since my last blog entry, sorry if you've been dropping round and I wasn't in so to speak.

If you live in Australia you may have heard about a plane crash a couple of weeks ago where an aerobatic Yak-52 crashed into the water off Stradbroke Island. The pilot of that aircraft was Barry Hempel. I learnt to fly at Hempel's Aviation and made a lot of friends there, one of which introduced me to my wife, Donna. Donna and I have even done a couple of trips away with Barry and his family. So you can see how Barry's death was a bit of a shock to us. I was going to write a tribute to him, but everytime I started writing it in my head, it either didn't seem right, or I got emotional. In the end it didn't get written.

Suffice to say, Barry had a huge impact in a lot of people's lives and Donna and I are no different. He'll be missed.

On top of that I've had university assignments to write and animals to feed. Did I say I was bored a few weeks ago?

So here I am, finally getting around to writing again while I sit in a little cabin in Armidale all on my lonesome. Donna couldn't come with me as she's too busy with work and the animals this time.

I'm down here for about twelve days. I've got two residentials, two days of chemistry which I finished yesterday and four days of vertebrate zoology, with a five day break in between.

What do you do when you're far from home in a country town all by yourself? Well normally Donna and I would have probably done a bit of a road trip for a few days, to see some places we haven't yet seen in this area, or even some we have seen. Coffs Harbour is a three hour drive from here and a nice place to visit. Actually, it's probably a nice place to live. where's the fun in exploring without your partner though.

So I'm hanging around Armidale for those five days and just doing little day trips with my camera.

Today was a thirty-five kilometre drive to Wollomombi falls. I've got to do some grocery shopping tomorrow, but I don't know what I'll do the next day. Tamworth is only an hour and a half south of here, so I might visit there again.

In between all this I'm catching up on a bit of reading for zoology and trying not to forget which day is Sunday. so I don't miss Doctor Who.