A Naturalists Vehicle…..unique in many ways and every gadget has a purpose.
As a naturalist, I spend a great deal of time in my vehicle. There seems to be no end to the list of places I want to visit, critters I want to photograph, birds that I want to see, snakes that I want to catch and on and on and on……. Over the past 40 years, not only have I driven many hundreds of thousands of miles but I have also spent many nights within the confines of my vehicle. A naturalist is quite often identified by his or her “wheels” but rather than the “bling” factor. Typically our vehicles are covered in mud, both outside and inside and also have debris such as leaves, dropped French fries, potato chip bags and coca-cola cans littering the floor. The occasional roadkill creature salvaged as a specimen may also occupy the floor for periods of time. A great story in regards to roadkill…….I was going to Cochran Mill Nature Center to meet with a good long time friend, Rick McCarthy who is the wildlife staff person at the center. I took my two grandsons, Wyatt and Cae, one 3 and one 5 years of age. Just prior to arrival at the center, I found a tiny mink dead on the road (DOR) and young mink just are not commonly found as road casualties. I turned around and went back to pick up the animal, stopped briefly, picked up the animal without getting out of the car and flung it onto the back floor boards where the two boys were sitting. Well, Mink are mustelids (weasel family that also include skunks) and this young mink had both of its anal glands ruptured so it really smelled quite strong of skunk. Both of the boys started gagging and it was hilarious their reactions to what I had done yet I do this all of the time. I deposited the mink with Rick at Cochran Mill and the boys were glad to get the little smelly critter out of the car.
My current vehicle is a Honda Element. Obviously, I chose this vehicle for its purpose and nothing what-so-ever to do with its appearance. The element is a very square or boxy looking vehicle and even my own mother remarked that it looks like an old English milk truck. That being said, what it lacks in elegance it greatly makes up for in its utilitarian purpose. One of the things that immediately attracted me to the Element is the all plastic floor boards…..front , back and rear. So, getting into the vehicle while I am often covered in mud or soaking wet is not a problem. Water and mud can be cleaned up or left to dry for that matter and no harm is done as there are not carpets to soil, mildew or become rank with mold. So, something as basic as not having carpeting, is a huge benefit for a naturalist…….and something not to be taken lightly as it is very difficult to get a vehicle, including pick-up trucks without carpets. Another desirable feature is the ability to transform a vehicle from carrying passengers to carrying “stuff” . I actually keep my rear seats out so I have a large open space from behind my front seats to the rear of the vehicle. Due to my work, I haul a lot of reptiles to and from programs so the space is essential for my work as well as my play. The rear space allows me to carry a variety of “collecting” apparatus. Everything from snake hooks and tongs, to nets of a variety of lengths and mesh sizes, buckets, plastic containers, snake bags, zip lock bags, turtle traps and lizard nooses. Virtually anything that I may need, at a moment’s notice, to catch a fleeting reptile or amphibian. In addition, I keep a camera in my car as well as a GPS and a voice recorder so I can fully document a species type and locality at the point of capture. I also have a pair of binoculars in my car as well as a small monocular, both of which come in handy when something unusual catches my eye. It may be a bird, insect or mammal but sometimes, a more clear observation is required to properly ID species that may otherwise be undetermined.
Lots of stuff! Garmin GPS, binoculars, spotlights, field guides are just some of the field equipment I carry in my vehicle.
Due to my field activities, I also carry an infrared thermometer that I can hold outside of my car window to get road and or water surface temperatures. I also have devices attached inside and outside of the car that provide me with temperature and humidity as well as a clock both in the dash and on the dash so I can record the many details that are useful in documenting species that will be accepted by University Museum collections. I also have numerous types of lights. Small lights for use in the vehicle at night when doing night surveys as well as two handheld spotlights that can be charged via the 12 volt system in the car. I also have 4 flood lights on my front bumper and they can be turned on or off, with the use of a remote switch. This is very important in the event I am out of the vehicle capturing or photographing an animal and another car approaches, I can turn these bright lights off when-ever a car approaches so as not to blind the on-coming driver.
4 spotlights on the front end allow for greater visibility in looking for reptiles and amphibians on the roads at night. A remote “on & off” switch allows for lights to be turned on or off from outside of the vehicle. The multiple 12 volt plugs allow for constant power to GPS, spotlightsand cell phones.
The dash of the Honda Element has many little “cubby holes” that are great for numerous other items of importance. Pocket knife, mini flashlights, magnifying lens, cm tape measure, a couple of insect / scorpion collecting containers, numerous pens, permanent felt marker and a mini snake hook. I also have a 4 plug device to constantly provide power to my Garmin, my GPS, a rechargeable spot light and my cell phone.
A garmin and a GPS are permanent fixtures on the dash of my element. Other items include mini snake hook, cm ruler, monocular, thermometer, voice recorder and thermo temp gun.
In the event of spending the night in the vehicle, the Honda Element seats completely recline or even better yet, the back of the Element is perfect for someone my size (5’5”) to completely stretch out in the back. So, I carry a pillow and blanket at all times.
Lastly, of great importance are maps. I have a Georgia Gazetteer as well as Gazetteers’ for all of the Southeastern States. These maps are extremely useful as many small (country roads) are illustrated in detail. These maps also show topography and whether an area is cleared or forested, all access points to wetlands, rivers and National forest roads…..all of which are important in doing field work.
Besides the maps, I also have an assortment of field guides. They include Guides for: Birds, Georgia Amphibians and Reptiles (which all county localities for each species are kept up to date), caterpillars and wildflowers. I also carry a small assortment of tools, duct tape, fire extinguisher, jumper cables, rope, bungee cords and a very good first aid kit. My vehicle also has canoe racks for carrying kayaks and or canoes depending on my needs of water transportation at any given time.
So, although my vehicle is a great work vehicle it is also a wonderful field vehicle and it greatly serves my purpose in travel. Due to all wheel drive, I take it into many places a conventional car cannot go and I can carry all of my essential field equipment with me. From snow covered mountains, to washed out roads and hard to reach canoe “put in” points, my vehicle is very much a part of me and it identifies me as to “who I am and what I do”.
I have built in Yakima racks that allow me to carry two canoes of kayaks, very conveniently. I have recently added some new reptile decals on my car, including a large albino Burmese python and the head of my big iguana. My vehicle is essentially a rolling billboard for my live reptile program business.