January 13, 2010
Caught in the rain twice in one day! I mean, it is a rainforest in the rainy season, so I shouldn’t be too taken aback, but it was, well, very rainy. Rainstorms here are really cool. Normally, it’s rather dark in the canopy, but the sun shines through frequently, silhouetting monkeys in such a way that it’s difficult to tell who’s who. This morning when we left, the sky was pretty grey, and we started hearing rumblings of thunder shortly after we left. But we went out and about and did our thing. Around 11:30, we heard what sounded like a distant breeze, then a big wind, and then it started to rain all around us. But I wasn’t getting wet! There were so many layers of trees and leaves catching the water that it took nearly half an hour for the rain to soak through the canopy we huddled under and get us wet. At that point in time … we got really wet. We walked back to CICRA and ended up very bedraggled. After lunch, Emeterio warned us that it was going to pour, but we headed out all the same. The clouds were still threatening, and it was sprinkling a little, but we did our two hours of walking around and suddenly … CRASH! More rain.
Rain aside, today was wicked awesome! Mini and I were headed out to the traps that I set up yesterday with Gideon to check them out and see if the bait had been eaten – additionally, we wanted to check in the vicinity to find a new group we’d seen briefly yesterday before it disappeared. We tramped through the jungle for a good bit when we heard suspiciously monkey-like rustling in the canopy. Looking up, we saw the juvenile spider monkey from a few days ago swinging above us, so that was really cool. He seems to be all alone, which is really sad. I wonder what happened to the rest of his family. It turns out that spider monkeys are among the first primates to go when there are humans in the area. Big, conspicuous monkeys don’t do well – there are also very few howler monkeys here. But the second exciting thing that happened was that while I was sitting outside one of the traps waiting for a monkey to show up, I heard howlers calling from across the river. I also saw titi monkeys hanging out on the trap.
We were disappointed in our early morning activities (I’ll have to make a post detailing a typical day soon) because we had no tamarins. Mini and I met up with Rhea and Karina and decided to head back to a different trail to check out a few other traps, but along the way we heard suspicious tamarin-baby-like calls. So we crashed out off the trail and … there they were! We ended up seeing 5 adults (at least three females) and one infant. Weird, because tamarins twin about 85% of the time, but really cool. It was a teeny tiny little monkey baby – its eyes were still closed, and we’re pretty sure we saw it nursing. We also saw several fights over the baby. Exciting stuff! I’m also getting more confident about following the monkeys while they’re heading out, though I lose them considerably more often than I’d like and I get flustered. And I haven’t yet got my jungle legs – I’m noisy and not particularly graceful tramping around off the trail. Hopefully, that will come with time. The monkeys had all holed up in a big tree above us and had mostly settled their squabbles when the first rainstorm arrived, so we headed back to CICRA for lunch (really good quinoa salad, and then vegetables, soy meat, homemade bread, and a sweet potato. I’m certainly not going to lose any weight here with the amount of food we get fed every day!!).
After lunch, Mini and I went back out to check the circuit we did in the morning for changes in traps and, ideally to find the monkeys again. There’s a journalist or something here doing a series of short documentaries (or something), and she came along with us. While we didn’t see our monkeys, we did go slower and more carefully than usual in order to see other things to show the journalist, Lucy. Normally, we’re so focused on the tamarins that other monkeys are just irritating distractions (god, the Emperor tamarins are so nosy! And noisy! And obtrusive!), never mind admiring pretty trees or looking at funky insects. So this was fun. We ran into a really cool tortoise in the middle of one of our transects, but absolutely the coolest thing (probably second coolest of the day, after the baby from the new group), was a pair of saki monkeys displaying at us. I studied the sakis at the St. Louis Zoo last spring as part of a project on space use and niche partitioning, so it was really exciting to see them for real (though it was a different species of saki that we saw here). I’m only missing three monkey species of the ones known to be here: howlers, owl monkeys and Callimico. I’ve heard howlers, and other folks have seen the Callimico, so I’m hopeful. Owl monkeys are nocturnal, so I’m not sure whether or not I’ll run into them. So far, I have seen Saddleback tamarins, emperor tamarins, titi monkeys, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, and saki monkeys. Plus my wild Kenya monkeys – vervet monkeys, baboons, black and white colobus, and Sykes monkeys. It’s like I’m a real primatologist!
This evening, we had an exciting snake in the lab. He’s yet to be identified, but he was all curled up on the gear table. He’s currently living in an aquarium in the raptor studying lab. That’s the fourth snake that’s been seen by people on the project – two snakes in the forest seen by other groups, and I saw one walking back to my cabin. Cool stuff! Unfortunately, the most abundant wildlife in this jungle seems to be ants. And they all do nasty things. I got my first fire ant inundation yesterday – that hurt. I had a close call with a bullet ant this morning – he was crawling on my neck, apparently, and Mini got him off of me. The fire ants aren’t too bad after the initial sting, but I hear bad things about bullet ants. Other than the fire ant bites, I’ve got a number of chigger bites and more mosquito bites than I care to think about. It’s a damn good thing malaria isn’t endemic to this site!
Tomorrow’s my first day off. I think I’m going to sleep in (5:15 instead of 4, whoo), wash some laundry, eat breakfast, hike out to check on a trap, re-bait it, and tie on new strings. Then a bit after that, we’re going to hike out to the pond where there are river otters. Apparently a few days ago, folks witnessed a fight between a black caiman and some river otters. My fingers are crossed for something exciting! After lunch, I’m probably going to go out with Rhea and get some more practice following our identified group of monkeys, FC. We only have one more day of working with an experienced person after tomorrow (Mini, Gideon, or Rhea) before we go out in inexperienced groups of three. Aah! Alternately, I may go climb tall trees with a girl who’s studying ant/tree interactions. We shall see!