It can be quiet lonely out in the mountains: the open vastness of the alpine tundra, the kilometers of rolling mountains in the distance without a soul in sight, or the silence that resonates through the rustling of leaves and the splattering of streams tumbling down a water slide.
But that loneliness never lasts long, as one never hikes alone in the mountains. There is often an animal in sight, and this post aims to celebrate the companionship these animals offer to the lonely scientist or hiker out in the field.
From the tiniest songbirds hopping from shrub to rock to the herds of reindeer in search for a cool snowbed; from the characteristic squeaking of marmosets in the Swiss Alps to the angry cry of a skua in a Swedish valley. It is those unexpected visits that make mountain fieldwork that extra bit exciting, even – or specially so – for a plant ecologist like me.
We had many of those encounters in this year’s fieldwork period. Especially in the northern Scandes, it seemed to be a good year for many animals. After a few years of silence, voles and lemmings were back in fairly large numbers. As a consequence, their hunters were also out in force: skuas, owls, foxes, ravens and buzzards, all of them were profiting in a way from the sudden abundance in food.
For us, all these animals were a blessing: enjoying the sunset with the sound of golden plovers in the background, or surveying vegetation while some reindeer race by: it makes one forget more easily how long fieldwork days can be.