Friday, February 11, 2011

Birds, "special friends," and the rainforest

To start with, here are some random notes from the jungle:
  • Thorny bamboo: did you know it exists? Is it thorny in Asia, or just here? Why does it seem to leap out of the trail edges to stab you?
  • Just when you think your body has reached a carrying capacity of mosquitoes, more join the party. DEET is an appetizer for them, and cortisone is pretty useless for relief.
  • It is exciting to be able to get up at 4:30 instead of 4 on some days.
  • "Quick-drying” is a relative term…at 90-plus percent humidity, mostly dry is often as good as it gets.
  • Washing machines and dryers are one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Wheel…fire…washer and dryer.
  • Everything we learned in school and the news about deforestation meaning hotter land areas is true. Walk across a patch of cleared trees: 90 degrees F. Into the forest beyond it: 75 degrees almost immediately.
  • The term “wet season” is no joke here. We’ve seen rivers rise and fall 10-15 feet over just a few days.

There’s the bad. On to the good: our bird research with Fauna Forever has been interesting so far. Plenty of neat birds to band and identify, plus some camera trapping, where we’ve set up a camera with an infrared sensor that captures motion as a creature (or tourist, or blowing leaf) crosses the field of view. Our first sites got us paca (member of guinea pig family), red brocket deer, coati, and two ocelots!

A typical day involves waking up sometime between 4 and 4:45 AM (if it’s not raining), walking between 1 and 3 km to the bird nets, unrolling them, and setting up the banding materials between some of the nets. We check the nets every half hour, take out any birds that have gotten caught, and take them back to our banding site. Back home, processing usually consists of banding, age/sex, and wing/weight measurements for the owls. Here there are about 20 bits of data to be collected from each tiny, squirming bird before we can release it. The banding “station” is wherever we happen to be at the time: a poncho spread on the forest floor, maybe a mosquito net strung between trees if we’re lucky. We close the nets at 9 am, lug them to the next day’s spot, set them up, and then hike back for lunch and a much-needed shower.

Afternoons (and mornings when we’ve been rained out) are spent doing laundry, playing cards, listening to audiobooks, and maybe a bird walk before dinner. Bedtime is very shortly after dinner.

A long time ago, we came up with a code word for something Mike really hates: spiders. Referring to them as “special friends,” or perhaps, if they’re quite large, very special friends, makes them seem less threatening. Let’s just say that we’ve had enough special friends in our various rooms to make us feel very popular. Those, plus a variety of other insects ranging from innocuous to awful (cockroaches). However, outside, there are lots of really awesome insects to be seen, including several dozen different kinds of butterflies. We’ve also seen a few praying mantids and some walking sticks, which are fantastic.

We’re doing well…missing home but having fun here. More to follow before we head back into the jungle!

Oh, in spite of a brief revival, the camera is yet again dead and back in the States for repairs. These are a few of the photos we got before sending it away.

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