Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sunset on the Via Maxxus.
Posted by Bejat

The days have been cool and alive with activity in the forest. Yesterday I spent the day out collecting many different species of fallen orchids, painting and photographing along the trails. Alfredo and I left in the morning for the plot and he guided me to the orchids that were attached to a large limb. We cut up the limb and brought the orchids back to camp since they will definitely die on the forest floor. They will be attached to trees in camp so we can keep an eye on them and get photographs of their blooms, which aids in their identification. The blooms of undescribed species will be preserved in alcohol and glycerin for description purposes.

A terrestrial orchid was blooming in the plot and we crossed to the opposite side of the plot to find this Orchid (as seen in the photos to the left and right). This is where I spent the entire day painting its magnificent bloom. It was a huge orchid. Spectacular! I had never seen anything like it in my life growing from the ground in the lowland rainforest here within Yasuni. I felt honored to be in its presence.

I was visited by a group of Saki monkeys. There were four, which included one juvenile. I had never seen such a large group of Sakis before. Typically I see two, maybe 3 when there is a juvenile or baby. Their behavior was also interesting. Instead of running they stayed around me for about an hour, thrilling and screaming obnoxiously. They were all hiding high up in the canopy behind heavy foliage and appeared to be yelling down at me. I stood down on the ground patiently and waited for them to calm down. Eventually they did and the large male revealed himself for many photos. He seemed to now be speaking to the others about my presence and they were thrilling/chirping back and forth to one another. I was very excited to get some photos of them since they typically just yell down at me for a few moments and then run high up and away within the canopy. This was 30 minutes of observation and photos (left). My patience paid off.

Later that day they returned and I took a break from my painting to observe them again and caught a glimpse of the juvenile. I had to start all over again and spent another 45 minutes with them coercing them out into the open. The lighting was terribly dark and I was unable to get a decent photograph. The large male was intrigued by my presence and seemed to almost follow me back to my painting and observe me.

I also saw Squirrel Monkeys, Tocans, Orependulas, Screaming Pehaw and countless other birds. The forest is in full bloom and powerfully fragrant. Food is bountifull and everything seems to be courting and mating. It’s indescribably beautiful.

Shawn spent the day completing his survey of the plot. He visited me covered in dirt, sweat and mud. He looked rough, although I did not look much better. I was surrounded by sweat bees that were attracted to my stinky backpack. They can be a nuisancece, but as I observed them pollinate the orchid I became very fond of them for a change. As Shawn likes to say, “sweat bees are my friends”.

Leaving the plot I got a bit lost. I felt panicked for a moment when I found myself off the trail, outside of the plot, uncertain as to how far I need to go to get back to camp. I was looking at my compass that said I had to go through a deep ravine covered with vine tangles and I could smell that there was standing water so that meant it was going to take so time to get through it all. I was not interested in doing this since I had my heavy backpack full of my painting supplies, camera equipment, rain gear and in one hand I was holding my camera on its tripod. Plus it was getting dark and I needed to get out of the forest before it became completely dark. Then I heard a large vehicle pass by on the road. I never imagined I would be happy to hear traffic in the rainforest, but I was and I could hear that I was close to the road, so I decided I had enough time to turn back and find the trail that would take me out of the forest. I was fortunate to find the trail and got out of the forest in the fading light of the day, exhausted. I must say I am glad I had my compass. Maybe next time I will keep myself from wandering off the trail looking at monkeys and birds, or maybe not.

This is our final week at the Catolica Station. Alfredo and I went out a few days ago to take missing data for the trees Shawn climbed, like GPS points, distance from the road, DBH, densiometer, etc. Some data is not taken at the tree when Shawn climbs due to environmental circumstances, time or limited bodies to carry it all. Since we return to take the GPS points, we have another opportunity to collect this missing data, like photographs of the trunk and bark that help identify the species of each particular tree (photo to the right).

Later that evening we were visited by a rare moth we had never seen before, as pictured to the above right and left (with Bejat). Gorgeous and enormous, this moth had transparent sections to it's wings that were creamish white color. Pablo, one of the Mapadores explained that this moth is consumed by bats due to its meaty substance. I can see how it would be a good meal. The moth visited our lab for several nights until it disappeared. It was apparent that it was in the final days of it's existence.

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