While the rest of the world has its crazy weather and geological events, we’ve been experiencing, well, pretty much what you might expect for the rainforest. Today was the first day in four days that we weren’t rained out of the field (and it poured on us during the afternoon for a number of days before that). I wrote a little about rain in the rainforest earlier, but now I feel like I’m practically an expert. Days frequently start out grey – at least hazy – so you can’t always tell by looking at the sky what the afternoon will bring. Some of the most worrying, greyest clouds in the morning portend really beautiful, sunny afternoons. And the converse is true. But for the past couple of days, it’s just RAINED. And RAINED and RAINED.
When we’re out in the forest following monkeys and it’s raining, there are a number of variables that determine what you do. How hard is it raining? Are you following FC (the marked group), or are you following a new group? How far from camp are you? What time is it? Following FC with even light rain can be sort of pointless because we depend on voice recorders to get most of our data on the twins’ behavior, and they are not to get wet. FC is usually close enough to CICRA that you can head back after maybe 20 minutes to half hour of steady rain and not feel too bad. If you don’t have a raincoat with you, you can maybe even cut a little while off of that (and most days, if it rained the day previously my raincoat is soaked and I can’t stick it in my backpack or it will mold and make me smell). Once it stops raining, you can head back out and use the radio telemetry equipment to find where the group is now.
On the other hand, if you’re following a new group, it usually means that you’re at least a 20 minute hike from camp. It also means that you have no way of finding the group again if you leave them to get out of the rain. We don’t leave a new group unless it’s POURING for a substantial period of time, and even then, more often than not we’ll stick with the group. Especially if it’s the afternoon, it means you’ve put four or five hours into sticking with the group. Losing them before you get a sleeping site means that you have to start out scouting for a new group all over again the next morning – it’s worth getting soaked to know where they’re sleeping and where to find them tomorrow. We’ve started bringing tarps with us to scout in case it rains. Our rain activities in the field include gossiping, reminiscing about food (apple crisp and diet coke are my biggest cravings right now), singing Disney songs, and thinking of songs about rain.
Generally when it rains, the tamarins head up into a bramble in a tree and hide there until the rain stops. They’re small enough monkeys, and it rains heavily enough (especially as water collects in the canopy and falls in bigger drops), that it could do some damage and maybe knock a twin out of a tree, or something like that. It also gets very slippery, as one unwitting tamarin found out. Gideon and I were scouting a new group one afternoon and it started pouring. However, it started raining at 2:45. Doing the calculations, we decided that a potential two hours of getting wet would be worth it to get this group’s sleeping site. But then we saw tamarins moving about 30 meters away from the bramble we were CONVINCED our monkeys were hiding in, and we ran to find them. “What weird tamarin behavior,” we commented, but figured we just had a renegade group that wasn’t scared of the rain. After about two hours of running around in circles in this patch of forest, we determined that we’d scared up a new group of tamarins – at least 14 monkeys in one group! They were moving from one tree to another, and I was following to find their sleeping tree while Gideon was getting an official count of monkeys in the group, when the monkey I was running under (who was carrying a twin) suddenly slipped and fell out of the tree! I stared up in shock at this monkey growing larger and larger above me, and suddenly he bounced off of my shoulder! He hit the ground softly (most of the fall having been absorbed by my body), stared at me in his own shock, and scrambled up a tree with the twin! “Gideon,” I yelled, “they definitely have a twin! The monkey carrying him just fell on me!” Gideon, not really paying attention to me, shouted back, “OK, Erin.” I didn’t think he’d heard what he said, so I told him again when we were wrapping up for the afternoon. The reaction was much more in line with what I expected.
If it’s raining in the morning when we get up for breakfast, we generally don’t go out until it stops raining. For the past couple of days, that’s translated into “we generally don’t go out.” The rain’s been toying with us – yesterday morning, for example, it was cloudy but not raining until we were literally stepping outside of the lab, all DEET-ed and prepared to head out. And then it began to pour. If we get rained out, we do data entry until everyone’s computer runs out of batteries, and we work on things around the lab. Sometimes we watch movies (yesterday, we watched The Proposal AND the Hangover. Very high brow entertainment). We’ve also become compulsive Settlers of Catan players! I’ve only won one game, but it’s a lot of fun! I never thought that trading things for sheep could be quite so entertaining.
We were greeted this morning by the welcome sight of blue sky breaking through the cloud cover. The sun fought its way out for most of the morning – only two hours of rain all day! Keep your fingers crossed for tomorrow. I think I’m going to be permanently pruny when I get out of here!