Spider Collector's Journal (12th page: Sakhalin 2001) © 2005 by Rod Crawford
As explained on the first page, most of these notes of fun (and not so fun) trips to collect spiders for research at the Burke Museum appeared in Scarabogram, newsletter of "Scarabs: The Bug Society," in their original forms. References to the editor mean me. Dates head each paragraph. Color Russian topographic maps have a black square 4 km grid for scale; contour interval is 40 m. RETURN TO INDEX
The Kuril Islands Project finally wrapped up in 2000 (I'd participated in the 1994, 1996, and 1997 expeditions). Based on that project's brilliant success, our leader Ted got funding for a pilot year of similar biological survey work on the large island of Sakhalin, west of the Kuril Islands and just off the coast of Far Eastern Russia (see map below). Like the Kurils, it was off limits to most foreigners during the Soviet era and still poorly known biologically. Our work this year included collecting insects (land and aquatic), arachnids, fish, plants (including vascular, mosses, lichens, algae and fungi), marine crustaceans, and (yes, really!) tardigrades. This year we had a much larger scientific team (15 from USA, 19 from Russia, 7 from Japan), divided into ship and land-based groups. As part of the land-based group, I thought things would be much better. No always starting on a beach, the chance to go off in small groups to good spider places instead of being always in the same boatload as everyone else. Maybe even travel around by train! I never learn, do I? This account is based on my detailed journal. If it seems to harp on negative aspects, it's only that those are the most interesting parts; I did have a good time. All thanks to Professor Ted Pietsch for organizing and obtaining funding for the International Sakhalin Island Project (ISIP), and to the National Science Foundation for funding it!
21 VII 2001 (Russian time): Ted and I, delayed by personal business,
departed Seattle some days later than the other Americans. This year there was
no direct Aeroflot flight to Vladivostok, entailing quite a roundabout route.
First to Anchorage by Alaska Airlines, which as usual messed up our luggage.
If we hadn't thought to doublecheck their claim that it was booked through,
it would all have been left in Anchorage! In the airport I broke a tooth on
a brand of mints which shall be nameless. To Russia with a big hole in a tooth...
Then a long, long flight over the Pacific to Seoul via Korean Air. After a 3
hour wait, to Vladivostok in a smaller Korean Air plane. On arrival (weather
hot and muggy as usual), being met by Russian expedition chief Viktor Bogatov,
we found that 2 UW ornithologists had been on the plane with us, bound for another
project. I almost lost my heart to a beautiful Russian passport control officer.
The streets of Vladivostok were still thronged with spectacular beauties. It just seems to get better every year. In seven years the local economy had improved, and small enterprises were everywhere. A dollar still went a long way, however; the unfancy but cozy visiting scholar quarters of the Russian Academy History Institute came to $3/night, and groceries were about half what I'd pay in Seattle. I and other guests were visited by the concierge's friendly silver tomcat who was still on my bed the next day: all the comforts of home.
22 VII 2001: The last leg of my Long Way Around (see map above), now unaccompanied, was from Vladivostok to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the "metropolis" of southern Sakhalin, via Sakhalinskiye Aviatrassy (SAT). It was partly my fault, but a rather expensive Therma-Rest sleeping pad strapped onto my backpack came loose en route and was never found again, despite a half-hour filling out forms with lovely female SAT employees. I was met at the airport by my friend, Russian spider man Yuri (Yura for short) Marusik, and colleagues, and we rode the 32 km north to the small town of Sokol (about 1/5 of the way up the island) in a remarkably noisy luggage van. So much for a quiet month in the country. 2 km outside the town was our headquarters, the Sokol Biological Station. Pretty primitive, especially the men's outhouse (equipped with a simple hole in the floor), but the cabins were dry and did have electricity (except when they didn't). The only running water (from a well, we hoped far from the outhouse) was in kitchen and lab buildings.
23 VII 2001: My colleagues in the land-based group were to be 6 Americans
(students Trevor, Dan and Brooke doing insects; plus Judy Harpel for mosses,
Katie Glew for lichens, and Staci Deschamps for fungi); about 9 Russians, including
my 2 spider colleagues, Yura and jumping-spider specialist Galya Azarkina; and
a few of the Japanese team. Most of the lovelier female Russian biologists from
past years were in the ship-based party, but a new one, ichthyologist Marina
Shedko, brightened our land group.
On our first morning, Yevgeny Makarchenko, Russian leader of the land group, announced a trip for the entire party (in a jouncing troop-transport "bus") to what, when pressed to show me on a map, proved to be a typical coastal interdune lake such as we got heartily sick of on previous ship-based expeditions. So much for my daydreams of small, semi-independent trips around the island. This was not what I came inland for. It was hard to talk him into letting me collect around the station instead of wasting my time on this trip, but I managed. I remained silent on possible differences in how we interpreted "around the station."
Collecting time! In hot weather, I set off up an unfrequented dirt road ascending the Byelaya (white) River from the station. In 3 km, the road started to veer away from the river, and I set the first 10 pitfall traps in nice mixed forest (with mosquitoes). Did I mention there were plenty of mosquitoes at the station also? The understory was very productive here, other habitats less so. Back down the road was meadow habitat close to the river, where I did some informal bathing, having heard nothing about bath facilities at the station. Set more pitfalls here, but not much to sweep in the meadow, which had a substrate like Washington's gravelly prairies. Later on, I sifted some willow litter close to the station. 155 spiders for the day, and so to bed on a comfortable mattress, very quiet indeed except for the mosquitoes; glad I brought netting!
24 VII 2001: A rest day for the expedition in general. At breakfast, Valya Kalesnikova (the sweetheart who helped me through my hospitalization in 1997, now with us until the ship sailed) announced she'd arranged a dentist appointment for me in nearby Dolinsk (valley town), 10 km north of Sokol. The office was in a gray Soviet building that looked like it was abandoned around 1955. Going to Dr. Valeria was a remarkable experience I'd hate to have missed. She was a spectacularly beautiful (even by Russian standards) redhead with big blue eyes, long lashes, and more; her assistants weren't bad either. I sat down, pointed to the tooth, she scraped, drilled, filled, and all done in under 20 minutes without the complex trappings of American dentistry. No charge, since some of her equipment was donated by an American charity! Later, back at the station, I took off down river, found a footpath up the hill into a really nice habitat where I collected until it started to rain (105 spiders from litter and foliage). This spot would become my "secret hideaway," always good for a little private collecting. In the evening, a birthday party for one of our two attractive station cooks.
25-6 VII 2001: I joined a 2-day trip to the SW part of the island, supposedly
a test of Americans' camping ability, to the largish, and largely agricultural,
Lyutoga (accent on first syllable) River valley. After a brief stop at a nice
looking spot with no time to collect, the troop transport "bus" bounced
along a side road to our beautiful (sic) riverside campsite - in a cow pasture!
Best tent site I could find was a few feet from cow pies, the meadow was chomped
to the quick, there was little litter in the woods, and everything was thoroughly
trampled. In the afternoon Yevgeny offered to take dissatisfied ones to a better
place. This turned out to be just across the river - where the cows were! Mosquitoes
chased me out of a willow swamp with a bag of good-looking litter which proved
to have one spider per bagful. After a welcome wash-up in the river, I collected
wolf spiders and sub-rock fauna along the banks. This was just getting good
when, oops! time to go back to camp. Yura found a fractured mudstone outcrop
downriver and this produced the day's best spiders, including a Cybaeus
attacked by entomogenous fungus. Only 73 specimens for the day. My tent was
pleasant despite no sleeping pad; too warm for sleeping bag until midnight.
In the morning we left our tents to dry and headed up river to a tributary, the Tiobut River. Only 100 m up, the road was blocked. On foot, I continued 2 km to a wide fallow farm field with riparian woods and steep Sasa bamboo meadow on the far side. Collecting was only fair; much better back at our parking spot had I but known it. Had a little time for riverbank collecting (only Pirata found) on the way back to a 2PM rendezvous. Then back to cow-ville to retrieve tents and home to Sokol. This trip I averaged less than 100 spiders per day.
27 VII 2001: Another rest day occupied by a shopping trip to the fleshpots of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. My shopping was somewhat productive, netting some "Duracell" batteries which turned out to be counterfeits made in China, a toilet seat (O joy), and a chance to mail my postcards. The beauties of this smaller city are fully the equal of those seen in Vladivostok. Having eaten in town, I skipped the early dinner at Sokol and went back up my "secret" footpath to sample the deep birch litter (at least initially unproductive) and found both sexes of a small Achaearanea species in a ruined building. I also made friends with the station cats, a very cute bobtailed calico named Nuska and a scruffy longhaired gray boy named Vaiska.
28 VII 2001: A field trip of the sort I'm told has been typical: long drive, short stops. We drove in the bus all the way south to the seaport Korsakov (69 km), then east along the south coast toward the town of Ozerskii (lakeville). First, a spur of the moment stop up the Mereya River, a sluggish, biggish coastal-plain stream that didn't appear promising, but a boglike spot passed on the way up proved to be an absolutely gorgeous Sphagnum bog, yielding over 200 spiders in the mere 3 hours we had here. Then on to Ozerskii where we first had a go at a promised mountain road. We drove quite a ways up Mount Utyos (cliff), then inexplicably turned around and drove right back down to the coastal plain! This unexplained action deserved to be the subject of the Limerick of the Expedition:
There once was a man named Yevgeny
Who never gave thoughts for a penny.
We tried to explain
Why we loved high terrain,
But he said "I am not having any!"
The aquatic folks' second attempt to get to Chibisanskoye Lake at some spot other than a tourist beach ran out of road so far from the lake they only had a half hour there before they had to be dragged out of the water. I went a little way uphill to sample from trees, and found a nice underground bunker reminiscent of some in the Kurils, with lots of pholcid spiders. On the long drive home, Suzanne (from the ship party) took a long swig of the mineral water being passed around and uttered a heartfelt "God damn!" making Tamara burst into gales of laughter. That night, the secrets of the "banya" were revealed to us: in a separate building was a little room where one could mix hot water from a boiler with well water in a basin and "bathe."
29 VII 2001: Another trip like yesterday's, a long drive and 2 brief stops, and less productive. First we had less than 3 hours at a nice spot on the Ochepukha River, which had nice wolf spiders and Erigone on the banks and easy access to a nearby ridge top forest of pure Abies - beautiful! This forest had fairly rich understory spider fauna, some on bark, and lots in rotten wood - which I discovered only a half hour before departure time. On the hike, I brushed against a branch and got something in my eye, which I couldn't seem to get out. Back at the bus, Staci investigated and exclaimed "He's got a ******* tick in his eye!" The tiny Ixodes was embedded in the lower rim of my eyelid - ouch! She removed it skillfully, thereby breaking the ice. Our last stop of the day with just 1 hour to collect was near Russkoye (Russian) Lake far out on the eastern peninsula, a coastal flat with dunes. Even a Sphagnum bog here was not too productive, but the trees did yield 90+ specimens; still less than 200 for the whole day. On the way home, a very stimulating conversation with Katie and Staci. It being Katie's birthday, and her watch being newly dead, I gave her my spare.
30-31 VII 2001: Those going on the ship-based expedition packed up, had a raucous going-away party, and finally departed after breakfast on the 31st. The cat Vaiska proved unusually tolerant of grooming by fingers alone, and I de-matted most of his fur in 2 sessions. I serviced my first day's pitfalls; those in the forest upstream had 99 spiders and harvestmen, excellent! Those in the meadow, only 19; not so hot! In another part of the meadow, two guys with sickles were making haystacks. The first 5 traps downstream had 9 spiders and, alas, many little frogs. Then, packing for the big tour of areas far to the north of us.
1-2 VIII 2001: Our busload finally departed for the north around 1:30 PM on the 1st. Our halftrack bus jolted and rattled more than any other vehicle on the road; Staci's back was getting sore and Judy was getting motion sick. After passing a huge lagoon and assorted coastal towns, flats and rivers, the road went inland behind a range of medium-height mountains right on the coast (see map), creating a mini-rain shadow. Our campsite on a powerline road by the town of Tsapko was rather nice: fairly good twilight collecting, few mosquitoes, good camaraderie around the campfire, and a cool night for a change. Tatiana, the cute cook, found my missing pitfall cups, bless her. My backpack tent was proving a bit of a lemon, every dimension a bit too small to work well. Lacking a pad, I pitched it on a big clump of sedge, and that turned out very comfy. Next day, fairly good collecting here from mud webs and birch-poplar litter; we headed farther north at 2 PM. The road went back to the coast and we had a longer, bumpier, jouncier ride than yesterday 135 km to Poronaisk (founded 1869) to lay in supplies - and visit our driver's sister-in-law! The drive resumed for about 15 km to Leonidovo, another brief stop, then very fast on a dirt road up the Leonidovka River (which we forded 3 times), arriving at a good gravel bar campsite with just enough light to pitch my tent on a sand patch - fairly comfortable after I scooped out a hollow for my hips.
|Leonidovka River camp area|
3-5 VIII 2001: I woke up about 6:30 feeling comfortable. At 7:00 the
rain started! After an hour adjusting my lemon of a tent to keep the rain fly
off it, I sat in the bus and read Wilkie Collins. All day it rained too hard
to collect spiders; I had a nice movie conversation with Katie; the redheaded
cook seemed to understand my Russian. Night fell and miraculously my sleeping
bag wasn't wet, so sleep under the rain-dripping willows proved possible.
On the 4th, the rain incredibly stopped before breakfast, but before collecting my tent needed 3 separate sessions of adjustment. In the morning, Yura and I collected in the gravel bar and in rocky debris at a cliff base, reasonably productive. In the afternoon I went to the upper forest on the ridge between the two rivers and found a typical eastern-Washington type shaded cold-trapping talus habitat, complete with Zora, pholcids, lycosids and gnaphosids - lovely collecting. Litter, understory and meadow foliage at this site were also good; around 260 spiders for the day, best so far. Judy was being annoyed by a Russian botanist with "nanny syndrome" watching over her, which was amusing if you weren't Judy. Besides spiders, I found a number of carabids, a cool megachilid, a lizard and possibly droppings of a Siberian pika. Speaking of droppings, scatophagy ruled here: humans answering nature's call found up to 25 Lucilla-like flies on their scat instantly, and mine almost vanished in 2 days, rain and all.
On the 5th, after camp chores, I returned to my talus site to sift moss and birch litter, far less productive than hoped. Back in camp, my much-needed bath was delayed because the camp bathing pool was occupied by Marina in a black bikini. An inspiring sight, but I still needed to wash; I finally managed a half-hour before departure, all the more refreshing for the wait.
5-7 VIII 2001: Our longest drive yet (over 200 km) passed through Timovskoye
(our stated destination, but Higher Authority seems to have changed its mind,
as usual without telling us) and other towns, including Voskresenovka (Sundayville),
home of our driver's family. I should have smelled a rat. Up the Uskovo River,
we stopped at a pest-hole of a spot with black-flies, mosquitoes, and tabanids
- something on duty at any hour of the day - the only campsites beside an active
logging road, and the immediate habitat very familiar looking. And here we suddenly
discovered we were to be abandoned for at least 2 nights while our driver worked
on the bus in the village where (it just so happened) his family lived. Then
it started to rain - but at least that didn't last long.
The morning of the 6th marked the American Revolution in Russia: we insisted on advancing the return south by a day. Time would tell whether it would actually happen that way. I took off alone and climbed 400-m Mt. Brusnichnaya (red huckleberry), finding on the summit ridge a classic thin larch forest with Pinus pumila, yew, and lichen understory. The conifer foliage was very productive; there were lots of flies even in this very dry place. Bearing some lichens for Katie, I headed for a spruce-fir forest nearer camp, also productive, including an Argyrodes spider and an amazing brachypterous crane fly. With good collecting luck (253 spiders for me), everyone was a little more cheerful despite the flies. The night was very windy.
On the morning of the 7th, the bus actually showed up, we struck camp, and moved back southward through Tymovskoye, Krasnaya Tym', etc. These northern villages often have cows, goats, haystacks and sometimes chickens in them. Log cabins were not uncommon; miniskirts absent (contra south Sakhalin, where I even saw one in a cabbage field), perhaps because of the flies. Our destination was my suggestion, the upper Tym' River.
7 VIII 2001: But I never suggested we camp just off a main logging road, across the river from a huge bog but no way to reach it, and no special habitats within walking distance! Both mosquitoes and black-flies were common here, but no tabanids in camp, so things could have been worse. Since we arrived by 11, I took a long hike up a side trail to Neznakomaya (strange) Brook, where lots of DEET was needed but the meadow spiders were phenomenal, 265 collected. Thanks to the jolting bus, now dubbed "Shake and Bake," Staci's back had become very painful. But we were hoping to find some cool habitats up the river next day.
|Upper Skalistaya River sites|
8 VIII 2001: Staci was returning to Sokol by train (with a Russian "nanny") because of debilitating back pain brought on by the "Shake and Bake." Leader Yevgeny was absent in town longer than expected seeing her off and picking up new expedition members, so Yura took over. Not by coincidence, today was our one day of high elevation collecting in the whole expedition. We headed up a new, bumpy (Staci is lucky she missed it) road which we assumed went up the headwaters of the Tym' river; actually it was a tributary, the Skalistaya (rocky) River, which we ascended all the way to Chamginskii Pass, 780 m elevation. One group sampled around a snowbank on the far side, getting their best specimens of the expedition, while I collected on the near side, for only one hour alas, just time for some good sifting from birch/pine litter. Our second site, back toward camp at 550 m in a similar habitat, was also good and I did very well from conifer foliage and the stones in the debris cone of an avalanche chute. We should have stayed there but alas, even Yura was persuaded to abandon spider man principles and go to another site after 2 hours. Our third site was lackluster for spiders but Judy found good moss there. I have to confess I picked the last site because I saw a larch grove - but all the larches were on the wrong side of the river. My 186 spiders for the day could have been over 250 if we'd only stayed put. Back at camp we met Galya Azarkina, jumping-spider collector newly arrived from Novosibirsk, attractive but with very little English. Ticks were not uncommon at the previous camp and I was still finding them. The most virulent local black-fly species is called byelanúshka; I now had big lumps from their bites in the same position on each arm - they'd crawled up my long sleeves! Next day we would strike camp, not sorry to leave the Land of Biting Diptera.
9 VIII 2001: After a brief sprinkle of rain, I got up, toweled my tent off for packing, then packed like a madman when the real rain started! Some were less lucky and their stuff got wet. Today was a sterling example of Russian expedition leadership, at least the type we've had. After driving some distance south, Yevgeny announced that because of the rain, we wouldn't camp, but do a marathon drive back to Sokol. Big (but guarded) sigh of relief. Going through Smirnykh, the rain let up; the road was starting to dry by Leonidovo, so guess what - we were camping after all! Announced spot was on the Poronai River but actually it was the lower course of the good ol' Leonidovka. We drove in through a flood plain occupied by a vast willow swamp. Suddenly we turned around and headed back for the highway. Had someone realized we couldn't camp in a swamp? No such luck, the road was just blocked so we had to camp almost next to the highway.
Yura found spiders on the gravel bar and under driftwood, while by working until dark I managed to get 50 from the swamp understory and 100 from litter, not too diverse I fear. Judy and Katie took one look at the site and proclaimed they were sleeping in the bus. A dropping barometer decided me to join them. Wise decision! By 11:30 the deluge began. Those poor souls camping in the rain - overall a miserable spot. Morning: the campsite was Puddle City; Brooke announced puddles in her tent; other countries not heard from until the driver woke everyone with gratuitous loud honking a full hour before breakfast. Gradually wet people filtered back to the bus. Would we actually get back to Sokol that day?
10 VIII 2001: The last day of the trip north was the only day everything went as planned. In a stop at Poronaisk, Judy and Brooke (with my help) got their postcards mailed at last. As we drove along the coast, we could see the surf was up, perhaps from a typhoon then causing floods in Vladivostok. Judy had us stop at a bog she'd glimpsed at km-post 228, soon revealed as a classic raised Sphagnum bog with pit ponds, but the moss yielded few spiders so I focused on the ever reliable larch foliage. We stopped at Tsapko for my pitfalls; the one at the lip of the ravine had a lot of spiders, the others hardly any. Some blue skies and sun breaks appeared. At last, Sokol and an indoor bed of sorts! After a much blessed banya in the evening, I conked out.
11 VIII 2001: After a morning of assorted chores, I set off for the second sampling of my forest pitfalls 3 km upriver from the station. Galya, the cute spider lady from Novosibirsk, was to have come along but decided to go out on her own. I saw her sweeping in the big meadow - waved - she dropped out of sight in the grass! Of which there wasn't much left. Vast areas had been cut in the haying, still in progress. I couldn't guess what had happened to my meadow pitfall traps, but, hey! it was their meadow. The forest traps were fine and had 111 spiders and harvestmen, more than the first time. I collected a bit in a pure fir forest higher up the river ridge, then headed back, declining a ride from some locals (friends of station staff) who seemed to be pointing angrily at their watches. What do you know, it was Noboru's birthday and his 7th annual "surprise" party. Of course he was heartily tired of all this, but an excuse was needed for vodka and loud music from Oleg's car radio. After a polite minimum, I retired to my room, book, and earplugs.
12 VIII 2001: A short local field trip to the site I missed my first day here, near the mouth of the Naiba River NE of Dolinsk. Despite Yura's praise, I found the two bogs only fair, though the second one did look good. Only 114 specimens for the day. A nice day for cats: Vaiska, the station cat I'd befriended, re-appeared. His coat was still fairly free of mats, but he was getting burrs. Marina introduced me to a tuxedo longhair belonging to friends (which goes camping with them), and I saw an orange-white bobtail near the Sokol store. I sampled the three closest pitfall sets before dinner. Alas, Katie and Judy were leaving next morning. Their going-away party was civilized, with entertainment by Galya on acoustic guitar - a multitalented young lady. Tanya the phycologist and Luba the cleaner looked especially nice. Another coastal trip planned for tomorrow. I thought we were the land party. Wasn't there a ship collecting on the coast for us?
13 VIII 2001: Our field crew, now much reduced (besides the departing
Katie and Judy, Brooke and Staci stayed behind) headed for the coast more or
less east of the station, and arrived at the Anna River, a small, pleasant salmon
stream, around 11:30. The stream rocks were moderately productive of spiders,
then I headed up the road to climb into a ridge crest conifer forest for the
rest of the day. Glad I did! It was shady, almost mosquito-free, quiet (couldn't
even hear the bus horn). There were lots of spiders in aerial webs lit by sun
patches, including the rare Lepthyphantes abiskoensis; also plenty in
dead wood. There was no time to sweep the understory, but 4+ hours in one locality
was a big improvement over our usual practice, no doubt because Renat the botanist
was in charge today. Parts of the road had waves like the sea - no wonder Judy
gets carsick. Only 101 spiders for the day, but good ones.
In the evening, I went to search for the hay meadow pitfalls, arriving just as the hay truck finally left. All the grass with the flagging tape had been cut, but I managed to find 9 of the 10 traps (one was crushed), with 28 specimens, better than the first time. I got back a bit late for dinner to find yet another birthday party in progress! A few too many flies were landing on the cakes for my taste. I missed Katie and Judy already. The power went out; crescent moon very pretty.
14-15 VIII 2001: At breakfast, I learned we were departing today for
the far, far southwest of Sakhalin. We drove south to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, then
west over a low pass (about 280 m) some 125 km to the seaside town of Nevelsk,
a civilized spot with ice cream, friendly cats and a full share of Russian beauties.
Continuing south, we stopped one river sooner than the planned collecting site
because a rickety bridge might not have supported the heavy bus. At the Kitosiya
River it was dunes, dry coastal meadow, 1-2 km inland to any forest; horseflies
and mosquitoes about the worst of the trip; and it was already 4 PM! Mismanagement,
anyone? Brooke went swimming in the ocean to take out her frustration, while
I skipped dinner and hiked hard and fast inland to a forested ridge (with Sasa
bamboo). Here, the understory yielded an astounding 170+ spiders, with more
from trees and litter, so I was a bit mollified. Back at the dunes, I hurriedly
erected my tent (which as usual had problems after I was in it) and strolled
on the beach at dusk. A blond head in silhouette emerged from the sunset ocean
- it was Marina in her black bikini!
Oh, what a wonderful morning - cloudy, mosquitoes out, tent covered with dew. Sleeping (still sans pad) on sand was much harder than vegetated ground. After breakfast I returned to my previous day's site for litter and dead wood collecting, but both proved poor producers. Around 1 PM I gave up, feeling discouraged, and tried a valley meadow which was much better. Meanwhile, Brooke was being followed around by some bear hunters! Then, the return trip (with 370 specimens for the 2 days, less than 200/day) on a road that has to be jounced over to be believed. Back in Nevelsk, we were treated as tiny children not trusted to do our own shopping - maddening! The long, long drive continued. Back in Sokol, the power was out again! The three spider people, holding out for "banya," finally got washed (Galya first) after 11. No moon but the stars looked very dim, the air saturated with moisture.
16 VIII 2001: A rest day, this time much needed. Along with assorted chores, I observed the cats Nuska and Vaiska: her relationship with him was closer to that of a jealous wife and straying husband than I've ever seen in cats. When she saw him with me (or anyone) she'd come up mewing, guide him away like a sheep dog with a sheep, nuzzle and play with him - and act peeved with me! Before dinner I went up to my "secret location" and swept the understory of the birch forest: 66 spiders, including a Kishidaia, before the mosquitoes landed. Local spider populations seemed to be improving as the season advanced. On the announcement that we were leaving tomorrow for another 2 day trip to a far-off southern Sakhalin beach site, I considered aloud the possibility of my staying behind and collecting locally. We'd now had three power outages in 24 hours.
17-18 VIII 2001: In the morning, both Dan and Yura were careful to warn
me that Yevgeny wouldn't want me to opt out of today's trip. But I had no trouble
persuading him. Hmm, maybe I had one of the few strong wills around there. After
the others left, I discussed my plans with Staci (still an invalid with her
sore back) and decided to walk clear across the Takoi River valley to the west
of us and look for a promising wetland found on the map (farthest west red dot
on Sokol map above). The hike proved even longer than expected
(the river has evidently changed course), but after about 10 km, I arrived at
a footpath that left the road in the right direction. For much of the day I
collected in a swampy mixed deciduous forest, finding the vegetation (understory
and occasional conifers) very productive. In the swampiest parts, succinid snails
were abundant on the foliage. Not too many biting flies, but hordes of annoying
little sweat flies. Then in the distance I spotted what looked like diminutive
larches. Could it be? It was! A very pretty little Sphagnum bog in the
swamp, the only one we found near Sokol. Even with all the time spent hiking,
this was the only day in the expedition I exceeded 300 specimens, clear evidence
that spider sites should be selected by spider collectors! I got some good stuff
too, including the relict harvestman Caddo. On the long walk back I stopped
off at the Sokol store for ice cream and met a nice calico cat with (for a change)
a normal tail. While soaking my sore feet, I found that Staci (bless her) had
cooked dinner for me. It was party time tonight for the station staff, had to
sleep with earplugs. I finished Wilkie Collins' "Basil."
A quiet morning, so I slept in, then enjoyed Staci's company for a while before borrowing some fungi-collecting gear to enliven her forced inactivity with fresh material. Then up the river (not a soul around) to the forest pitfall site, removed traps (about 60 specimens plus lots of Nicrophorus carrion beetles), then combed the area for other habitats. Collected from aerial webs in the fir forest; rotten wood and fern understory below in the forested river valley; higher up the ridge in another conifer forest where the road got too overgrown with bamboo to follow; and in an abandoned roadside building full of Pholcus. Total for the day, 266 (also 7 fungi for Staci); with yesterday's 305, I'd got at least twice as many as if I'd gone on the bus trip. I worked until dusk, arrived late for dinner (they were used to that by now) and found yet another party in progress, the ladies (some evidently with new clothes bought on the bus trip) looking very beautiful indeed.
19 VIII 2001: A rest day for the others; I did my resting (very comfortable) on the forest floor at the upper conifer forest I'd found yesterday, then located a small stand of Pinus pumila nearby which produced several spiders new for the Sokol area. Down by the upper course of the Byelaya River, I collected under stream cobbles and from the riparian understory. Heading back with 114 largely different spiders, I met one of the station staff engaged in rifle target practice at one of the abandoned buildings. Staci and Evgeniya were enthused about a shelf fungus I found on dead Sorbus, but not about a mummified last year's puffball (oh, well). Noboru announced at dinner that he'd lost his passport. It resurfaced 20 minutes later. We were now having at least 2 power outages a day. Still no word from the ship, which we were originally supposed to join tomorrow. Those mosquitos down by the river were fierce (scratch, scratch).
20-22 VIII 2001: In the morning, a short trip to a purportedly nice
spot on the Bolshoi Takoi (big such) river (northernmost red spot on the Sokol
map). It turned out to be a polluted stretch with mud banks, willow fringe,
and crops beyond. After netting 27 specimens, common harvestmen mostly, I made
my first Russian joke and re-dubbed it "bolshoi plokhoi" (big bad).
Only Marina (fish) and Tanya (algae) were at all pleased with the place. In
the afternoon, back to my "secret spot" on the ridge crest below the
camp to pick up more pitfalls and collected 84 more spiders from the birch forest
understory. Back to where I'd hid my backpack, with many valuables inside -
it was gone! Frantic searching. I was almost ready to return to the station
to report a theft, when I heard voices - a young hiking couple were bringing
it back, having evidently been looking for me. Biggest relief! Our exodus to
the ship was now fixed for the 22nd. The hornet (Vespa crabro?) nest
on the men's outhouse was getting good-sized by now, but no stings reported.
After breakfast, I took in the last of the local pitfalls, reasonably productive, and found 2 vials of specimens in the road which turned out to be Galya's. Then off to follow the ridge crest hiking trail the young folks had emerged from yesterday with my pack. It took me along the crest to a point directly above the station (I could even hear the lunch bell) for my last collecting around Sokol. At that night's going-away party (we were all going away, so must have been giving ourselves the party) the ladies wore their fanciest clothes yet. The plastic pitfall cups some were drinking out of turned out to be the very ones (just washed) which had been in the ground for several weeks with glycol, carrion beetles, dead frogs, etc.! Vaiska the cat basked in attention all day. On the morning of the 22nd he lay down among the outgoing baggage as if wanting to go with us. Farewell to Sokol! The trip south went smoothly. For a wonder, our ship (the Okean, new to me but much like the Oparin of our 1996 expedition) was actually at the dock in Korsakov, not just "expected any time now." Larisa and the others had changed very little in 7 years. Loading proceeded quickly, and we were off to Moneron, our last island!
23-24 VIII 2001: Moneron, about 7 km long, was the last significant
sized island in the Sakhalin area we hadn't visited. It is 48 km west of south
Sakhalin, and isolated from any other land area. The landing proceeded normally
as per previous island visits, even to the old gray lifeboat piloted by the
redoubtable Mischa Shubin. The southeast corner of Moneron had a gravel-cobble
beach; terrain in sight was treeless like the North Kurils, and everything was
drenched from recent rain, which continued as drizzle and fog. I ascended a
dirt road and took 100 spiders in/around a ruined house. Ted came by with Kseniya
(Larisa's daughter, newly interested in spiders) and was most impressed when,
under my guidance, he found an enormous Araneus macacus. Farther up
the road, I met the inhabitant of the radio/weather outpost at Cape Observatsii.
With my limited Russian, I was lucky he did most of the talking! I collected
some around his station, a weird amalgam of modern buildings, a "castle"
with shiplike deck, and mostly just plain junkyard. A strong wind finally dried
out the meadows enough for me to get in some sweeping; meanwhile, Ted had been
sampling meadow litter (his specialty). No mosquitoes seen, and only a few sleepy
tabanids. I got 150 spiders, not bad considering the weather, plus about 100
from Ted. Returning to the ship, we got a free performance of the Moneron Seal
Show - the little hams love showing off.
Nice weather the next day gave us another chance on Moneron. We landed at the south end and were able to ascend a streamcourse with forest beyond and above. Due to side ravines and now very wakeful tabanids, I decided the ridge crest would be better going. The climb was steep, hot, but not hard, and the flies weren't half bad on the plateau. Birch-bamboo litter, fir foliage, and sweeping were all productive, and early return to the ship didn't prevent a 200-specimen catch. Back on the beach, I found Larisa (looking better than ever after 7 years) wading in the sea in cutoffs.
25-27 VIII 2001: Steaming toward Vladivostok on Okean, I finished John Dickson Carr's "Castle Skull," did accumulated laundry, and watched something like 4 hours of Viktor's unedited expedition video footage. Perhaps unintentionally, it documents massive salmon kills in north Sakhalin rivers, reportedly from oil industry pollution. By 11:45 AM on the 26th we were docked in Vladivostok. Two hours later, our hostage passports were finally released, and I accompanied good companions Yura, Dan, Galya, Noboru and Brooke for a fine touristy day; visited a museum, saw hundreds of amazing sights on the downtown streets, and ate at two restaurants that both had tuxedo cats in close attendance. On the 27th the others packed for their move from the ship to the History Institute visitor quarters, while I, Galya, Yura and Dan prepared for continental field work!
|Valkha River sites|
28-30 VIII 2001: After noon, the spider team plus entomologist Dan left
with Sergei Storozhenko, orthopterist and my shipmate in 1997,
for his study area in an ecological reserve that supports 10 Siberian tigers!
We drove 110 km north to the village of Gornotayezhnoye (near Ussurisk, see
map at right) in northern Primorskii Kray, where we stayed in an unlovely but
comfortable "hotel" for a purely nominal 40 rubles a night and took
all our meals - delicious - with the family of the caretaker of an experimental
forest. In the evening, we collected at the Dendrovii Gornotayezhnoi Stantsia
RAN (Russian Academy of Science Tree Station at Gornotayezhnoye) in planted
Pinus koraiensis with native oaks and catalpas - over 150 spiders in
a couple of hours - and met a nice cat at the edge of a neighboring farm. This
experimental forest is the type locality for several butterflies described by
the Russian lepidopterist Kurentsov. We found some nice big Scutigera
in our hotel bathroom, then to bed to the tune of howling dogs in the village.
In the morning, a hired bus took us to the nearby twin villages of Kaimanovka (bordertown) and Kamenushka (little rock), headquarters of the Ussuriiski Gosudarstvenii Zapovednik (Ussurisk State Reserve), and by a miscue dropped us off where we had a mile to walk to our trailhead, then weren't prepared with proper footgear for fording the Valkha River. After a barefoot crossing, a steep but not long trail brought us to Storozhenko's study site, an oak, birch and mixed deciduous forest with a few of the introduced pine. Storozhenko was running malaise, light and other traps in the understory and canopy for a cooperative comparison of insect faunas of various sites around the world, and we were to contribute a spider sample. Yura proposed a "contest" of collecting for a set time at nearby localities. I tied with Galya at 45 species while Yura beat both of us, but the collections nicely complemented each other for a total of 92 species, rich in orbweavers and linyphiids but with only 7 jumping spider species. Meanwhile, Dan found the day's most impressive spider, a giant Pisaura, down by the river. We saw no tigers - but maybe they saw us! Fortunately the bus met us at the river so we had a chance to shower. After dinner we saw "Airplane" dubbed into Russian on TV. The canine chorus was even more impressive.
The caretaker's son had found, of all things, an Eresus, one of the world's rarest and most unusual spiders, never before recorded from Primorye. In the morning we hiked over to the locality, a powerline clearing west of town. No more were found though we saw a couple of webs and got a few other interesting spiders. Then a long hike far into the experimental forest to a spot where some American trees were planted (big deal). Only 70 minutes were now left to collect here, but the boughs of Pinus sibirica produced 101 spiders in that time. Also (oops!) a netfull of Polistes - fortunately no stings. Then, after a pleasant sylvan walk back to the village and a bountiful lunch (this Russian mama could put inches on my waist), the hired driver took us to Ussurisk (nearest city) where we caught a train for Vladivostok. The History Institute hotel had no beds left for us except in a 6th floor dormitory, with no elevator, no hot water, but with mosquitoes (not nocturnal, fortunately).
31 VIII-1 IX 2001: After packing in the morning, I joined Brooke and
friends for a last big shopping trip among the beauties of Vladivostok - a delightful
day in good company. Eventually just Brooke and me in the group; I helped her
locate a Russian edition of "Playboy" for her brother, then we boarded
a bus for the northern suburb where the Russian Academy, Far Eastern Branch
was giving the final (thank goodness) party of the expedition. The bus was so
crowded we couldn't get off until about a mile past our stop, but we got there
eventually. Back at the History Institute, I got reacquainted with the silver
tomcat I'd met on the first day.
Homeward! I collected two Gryllotalpa for Dan at the Vladivostok air terminal. At Seoul Incheon airport, the new control tower was an amazing sight - in the misty distance with only flat ground and tiny trees around, it looked like some Dark Tower in a fantasy. Finally on the ground in the USA - one of my bags was missing. When Korean Air returned it a few days later, it had been to Darwin, Australia! Home never looked so good. Now, back to collecting spiders in Washington!