Friday, April 11, 2008

Posted by Bejat

The rainy season has begun. The afternoons are consistently rainy and the duration of the rain is becoming that much longer with each passing day. Shawn and I celebrated our 8th anniversary and it could not have been better. Everyday is a celebration of life. The other night I took one of the students, John, out to the Maquisapa swamp to record frogs calling and then we captured them for processing back at the lab. I managed to get one fossorial (burrowing) species, however, I was unable to capture the frog because he got away thru one of his many underground tunnels. It was quit an event. We were out until around midnight and hiked back on the Lago trail, which was flooded. I almost stepped on a Fer-de-Lance (a poisonous pit viper snake) that John had already stepped over. The trail weaves thru Varzea rainforest and at night in this flooded forest one can get quite disoriented. It was so exciting. We topped our boots about midway home and we had to hike the rest of the way in our wet boots, not exactly my favorite thing to do. We had hiked several miles that evening and heard all sorts of mammals and birds, like owls and night monkeys, but did not manage to see them. When I am recording I will sit in the middle of the swamp with my light off and listen. When I hear a frog calling that I have not heard before or do not have a recording on record, I will track him down and get about 3 feet away and begin to record. After I have about 20-30 minutes of him calling, I will then slowly move closer and closer tracking him with my ears and once I get on top of him I will turn my light up brightly and pounce on him like a cat. It is soooo much fun! I love the swamps because they are full of surprises. They are inundated with frogs, eggs and tadpoles. Large mammals will come to drink and wallow around in the mud and snakes will hunt the frogs and rodents. Excitement abounds.

One of these evenings coming up, I am going to sit out at the clay lick to get my Tapir photograph, I cannot wait. The students have seen one several nights in a row. I would like to go an evening alone when no one is around so I am the only flash going off. I will get my Tapir photo. Their curious nose, unusual feet, smooth skin and behavior fascinate me. My goal is to get a photo to paint from so that I may honor them properly. I have had so many close encounters where I could actually touch them if I wanted too and I really wanted to touch what appeared to be very smooth skin. I have even been extremely close to a mother and babe as the mom walked forward sniffing me as I walked backwards speaking to here softly. The males are quite territorial and as Shawn and I were doing quadrats in the evenings they would stand off to the side and snort and stomp their feet as if to say “hey, this is my territory, get on outta here!” Amazing creatures. I would have to say they are my favorite mammals.

Shawn climbed a tree Wednesday and retrieved his 5 bromeliads in 4 1/2 hours, which was impressive for our first bromeliad climb. It was a bit scary because we could not see Shawn because of all the lianas around the tree and lowering the bromeliads was a nightmare. Shawn got out of the tree right before the downpour. It began to rain on bromeliad #4, but it was light enough that he was able to finish. The tree was infested with Conga Ants, but he managed to escape being stung. He only had to kill one and luckily did not fling any down on top of us. Noah and Charne were phenomenal; we are so very fortunate to have such wonderful assistance. Yesterday they processed 3 bromeliads and found an Eleutherodactylus waoranii, one of the two species Shawn has described. There are so many insects in these tanks bromeliads it is quite amazing. The spiders are completely out of this world, pictured to the right you will see the standard tarantula we are finding in the bromeliads. Aechmea zebrina bromeliads can hold up to 3 liters of water providing an oasis in the upper canopy for a myriad of species. Mammals will drink from them as if they were cups. Birds will also drink from them, but to see them bathe is what is truly fantastic.

Noah and Charne both have excellent reflexes. Noah is incredible at catching frogs. Shawn gave him one of Dr. Dixon’s rubber bands to stun the lizards with so they can be caught. Last night after their day in the tent he stuns a gecko and excitedly runs back to the lab and tells us the story. While Charne was in the shower he felt like he had to keep active, so he began the hunt. After shooting a few geckos right on target one fell and ran up the wall. He grabbed it and it bit him, so he dropped it. The gecko ran under the bed. Charne came out of the shower in her towel and raced for a Ziploc bag. Noah proceeded to protect his hands with socks and crawl under the bed. Now it should be know that Noah is 6’4”, so you can imagine the visual is hilarious. He caught the gecko and bagged it with Charne’s assistance. Now Noah and Shawn are talking about catching these large Tegu (lizards) that live in holes and like to come out and bask in the sun. They are thinking about rigging up some sort of noose. This should be interesting.

Yesterday, on my break from photographing specimens, I went out to the orchid garden to photograph some orchids in bloom. One of which amazingly mimics a preying mantis. As I was capturing this beautiful image a Conga Ant drops from the tree above onto my hand and I shake it off. It lands on my pants and runs up my leg and I manage to flick it off before it is able to sting me. They bite and sting, but it is the sting that gets you and its like 20 wasps have stung you at once and the pain pulsates for a good 5-6 hours. Then you are left with this dull pain and a sore spot. I had a terrible reaction in the past with a migraine headache and vomiting, but I am uncertain as to whether it was just the Conga Ant or the 20 or so wasps that stung me at precisely the same time. That was a terrible night out in the jungle. That damn ant even managed to sting me in the jugular. My neck was so sore I was unable to move if for days and that evening the pain was so great I had to sleep sitting upright.

We have caught so many beautiful snakes this time. Many are new to our list and even new to the station. Pictured above you will notice a very large Coral Snake, Micrurus spixii, about 4 feet long. Upon release he slithered off to the nearest stilt palm for refuge, leaving me to wonder as to whether all stilt palms house a snake.

We only have 2 more bromeliads to process and this afternoon we will be moving the rope bag and shooting a line in the next tree. The river is rising and the forest is flooding, so hopefully we are able to get to our next tree. I do not think it will be a problem, but one never knows. That is just one more reason why this place is so very exciting; one cannot predict a single moment. You can make plans, but be ready to change them at any moment. It is best to always have a backup plan.

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