Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Triumphant Return to Fisi Camp

 Hello again everyone!!!  I say ‘again’ because (as some of you may remember) I was a blog contributor four years ago.  If you're new, Here are a few of my more popular posts.

Way back then (or “back in my day” as I’ve become overly fond of saying.  Seriously, try it.  It’s surprisingly fun to say in the most pompous voice you can muster), I was a Research Assistant for the Hyena Project, collecting the day-to-day data that keeps our project running.  Now, I am coming back to Kenya as a graduate student, ready to collect data for my PhD dissertation.  This means more blogs from me to you!

I have been mentally preparing for my return to Kenya since I started graduate school in the Zoology Department of MSU in the fall of 2012.  With all of that advance thinking, going back into the field didn’t start feeling real until my supplies started arriving a couple weeks ago.  I will be studying hyena vocal communication and unfortunately, this means I need a LOT of equipment.  I need recording equipment to record the hyena’s calls.  I need speakers to play the recorded sounds back to the hyenas.  Plus, I need all the memory cards, hard drives, and batteries to keep all this equipment running (and I won’t bore you with all the underwear, personal field gear, and charging cords that are necessary for life in camp). 

The speakers were an adventure all by themselves.  I have a lot of requirements and received advice ranging from “Anything will work” to “Nothing will work except custom speakers made by an expert” and “There is no way you will find speakers like that without having it plugged into external power.”  I had a few brief panic attacks in the midst of this fiasco.  In the end, I purchased three different portable, battery operated speakers and tested all of them out.

The three speakers I tested, with a cantaloupe for scale.

The Klipsch speakers (the medium-sized ones in the picture above) ended up being the perfect combination of battery powered, amplitude, and sound clarity.  With my back turned to them, it was easy to believe I had a hyena whooping behind me.  If I can fool myself, then the hyenas should be fooled too (at least for a little while).  

Once you have devices that run on batteries, you need batteries to go with it. Suddenly, you feel as if you’ve given a mouse a cookie, because now that you have rechargeable batteries, you need a battery charger, and then you need to something to run those chargers. Our solar power in camp isn’t always reliable and we always have a ton of people using them.  This made a solar set-up necessary.  The last thing I want is to have good weather, no mud, great hyena cooperation, and no background noise, only to find that the recorder batteries have died.  I ended up getting a lovely, compact set-up that includes a solar-powered battery and a rugged solar panel. 

On top of my own supplies, there were some other things we needed for camp.  Add all this together and you get the craziness that ensued in my living room for a week:

Just half the boxes that arrived at my house.

Two sets of recording equipment.  One for Serena Camp and one for Talek Camp.

This is only a portion of the mess.  After this, I got to embarrassed to take pictures.

Luckily my roommates are also researchers and were very tolerant of the mess.  Eventually, I managed to pack everything into five very full, very heavy bags.

And I was ready to fly out!!  

I miraculously made it to Nairobi with ALL of my bags.  Now it's just a matter of running Nairobi errands, getting cars fixed, and then I'll be back to the hyenas and back to work!

Feel free to request blog topics and I will do my best to provide them during my six month stay.


Anonymous said...

Cantaloupe for scale ;)

Scissors MacGillicutty said...

I used to harbor hopes of being a recording engineer, so I'm curious as to what microphones and recording devices you settled on. I can't tell from the pictures.
Congratulations and cheers on your return to the field! I look forward to your new posts! :)

Larry Bell said...

Hi Kenna,

You and my daughter Alissa hung out when you were toddlers and now you are essentially preparing for battle, like a special forces expert in your field. Very impressive and I look forward to following your ultimate success of generating very useful scientific data around animals and humans and the ties that bind!! Larry Bell

Kenna said...

Hi Scissors!

I am using the Marantz PMD661 Recorder. For microphones, I have a Sennheizer ME 66 and an ME67, both with the K6 power pack. I also have a Rycote Softie windscreen and Lyre handgrip for each microphone to reduce wind and handling noise.


Scissors MacGillicutty said...

Kenna, thanks for sharing details of your sound kit. It makes sense you'd want highly-directional, super-carioid and even shotgun microphones: with all that sound in the wild (especially the horrid hyrax!) it makes sense to get something that would be highly directional, especially if you want to play back a single animal's calls. Given what I've read about the giggle, I wonder what's encoded in the other hyena vocalizations: do they all have something to signify relative status or age or gender?
If—sorry, When you collect some fascinating hyena vocalizations, I hope you'll share them with us, for example, Cyberman squittering (and I hope she squitters and squitters her way into adulthood and has cubs of her own to squitter at her someday).
Thanks again, and may no hyrax ever spoil a recording of yours! :)

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science