Friday, July 19, 2013

No Rain

We’ve been at Sakaerat for a little over a week now, and we’re still waiting for the rain to come. There have been a few light and quick showers that did a good job of getting our hopes up… but the substantial stuff is still yet to come. Most people think of rain as something that can ruin a trip, but for us that’s the whole reason we’re here. Once the rain comes, the frogs will come out of hiding in the forest to lay their eggs… and then we’ll have plenty of work to do! 
Chiromantis hansanae - These are the little guys that we're studying
Seems like that’s why most of the animals choose to live here too, as many of them are in hiding right now. Lots of them rely on the rains to bring life to the plants which bear the delicious and funky tropical fruits they eat (we’ve been eating them too!). Just like us, they need lots of water to survive in this hot tropical environment… and every drop is critical when it’s the dry season. Sakaerat has already had to start trucking in water from the nearby town- which Sheila said is never a good sign. If it keeps up too long, the villagers start to get touchy about us using their water supply. So hopefully it will rain soon! 
Dragonfruit - One of the many tasty tropical treats around here
 Having the rain hold off for a few more days does have its bonuses though… for the time being it’s nice not to have to constantly wear rain gear, and the weather is pretty much perfect. It’s about 27 C (working on converting to using the metric system!) or 80 F most of the time… with a light breeze blowing throughout the day. Absolutely ideal hammock weather!
Blue Skies ... for now
 Because our arduous schedule of scouring the ponds at 3 am every night hasn’t started yet (thanks to the lack of rain), we’ve been enjoying a pretty relaxed agenda. Since Sheila knows that most of us are interested in going to grad school at some point after this field season is finished… she volunteered to give us some lessons in R – a statistical program that is very useful for analyzing data and is often used in grad school programs dealing with ecology. It’s totally optional, but all of us are eager to learn. So for the past four or five days, we’ve been spending about an hour in the morning after breakfast getting a little tiny bit of statistical schooling under our belts. 
The dining table doubles as the classroom
 After “school” we’ve been going on a variety of different adventures within Sakaerat and beyond. For a week beginning last Wednesday- Nancy, one of Sheila’s colleagues and friends, stayed with us to visit Sakaerat and do some preliminary investigation on a research project she hopes to carry out here next summer on Asian Leaf Turtles (Cyclemes dentata). Nancy is a professor at University of Rhode Island and Hong Kong University. She has spent lots of time at Sakaerat, and is good friends with Taksin (the station manager) so she is clearly always excited to get the opportunity to be here. Her experience here proved to be quite lucky for us, since most of the afternoons she led us to different parts of Sakaerat so we could explore new trails and areas. 
Nancy leading us through a grassy ecosystem
In addition to going hiking during the day, and setting turtle traps in various ponds to get an idea of the local population… Nancy also took us out hiking at night to look for reptiles and amphibians, and any other cool creatures that might be out and about. For those of you who didn’t already know, this is commonly known as “herping” … named after herpetology, which is the study of reptiles and amphibians. 
A Cyclemes dentata found on one of our night hikes
Along with these turtles, we’ve also seen many different species of frogs, lizards, and snakes (including a 12 ft reticulated python!) as well as a few owls, bats, rats, squirrels, civets (small weasel looking mammals), and even the ever elusive and extremely cute slow loris.
A beautiful bridal snake
Some days, instead of tromping through the woods to set turtle traps or looking for new potential frog habitats… we have made a necessary trip into Pak Thong Chai (the nearby small town) to visit the market and pick up some more fresh veggies and fruits. This is always an interesting experience, as these markets are much different than any regular old trip to the supermarket. In addition to the wide variety of meats, fresh vegetables and fruits for sale… you can find a few eye-opening items including live turtles, pig’s heads and buckets of catfish that are still gasping for air and flopping around. 
This little piggy went to the market...
 Sheila generally leads the charge during these trips; she is definitely the master chef of our crew and is very familiar with what spices and veggies we need to make the delicious dishes we’ve been eating. The rest of us are quickly learning from her… like a tigress teaching her cubs to hunt, for now we depend on her, but soon we will be foraging and preparing food all on our own! We’ve also learned to count to 10 in Thai, which has proved to be great fun after learning that the number 5 sounds like “Ha.” Sheila taught us that if a Thai person writes “555” online… it’s like the equivalent of ‘LOL’. Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9! 555! 
Sheila skillfully negotiating for our dinner
 One day, we were in for a special treat… as Sheila and Nancy decided to take us out to lunch at a very quaint and peaceful café just down the road, nestled away in the surrounding tropical hillside. Along with the sublime atmosphere, we enjoyed cool refreshing Thai iced teas and delicious authentic Thai food. I ordered the Fried Thai noodles, which were quite spicy (for my taste) but absolutely divine nonetheless. 
Enjoying a refreshing change of scenery
Since our main vehicle is a truck, for most of these trips I have volunteered to sit in the back… which allows me to enjoy the surrounding countryside, while getting a tan! Plus I’d never get away with it in the states, so I’m enjoying it while I can. 
Riding in style
On nights that we weren’t hiking with Nancy, we’ve been taking turns going out to the ponds with Sheila to practice finding and then capturing frogs. This has proved to be futile many times, as we have only found a couple of our frogs and they’ve probably gotten captured and released so many times they’ve got be wondering what the heck is going on. In addition to the frogs, we’ve also been working on capturing Katydids, which will be used in Sheila’s study to determine the effects of predators on parental care by the frogs. This involves a swift sweep of a Ziploc bag, to avoid the possibility of these wicked buggers trying to take a chunk out of our hands.
Katydid - Evil little monsters that enjoy frog eggs
In addition to the fun of being out in the field at night searching for our frogs, part of our responsibility includes analyzing time lapse cameras that will be set up on the frog egg clutches that we find. This means watching these video clips using a special software that allows us to view each frame as necessary to determine when exactly the frog changes her position or leaves the egg clutch. Then we record this data in an excel spreadsheet. We’ve been practicing this technique with video clips from previous field seasons. The idea is to gather as much information as possible about the parental care and behavior of these mother frogs. Interestingly, Chiromantis hansanae is one of the only known frog species where the female, not the male, takes care of the embryos until they hatch into tadpoles. Part of Sheila’s research is directed towards determining the cost and benefit analysis of the females providing this extensive amount of care. 
A still shot from one of the time lapse cameras showing the location of the frog and her clutch

Today, Sheila had to head back to Bangkok to handle an issue with her visa… so we have had the whole day to ourselves to do whatever we please. This has been quite a treat; we slept in and then decided to take a trip down the road to explore the tall metal “towers” that are used for research and bird watching. The towers are simple metal structures in the forest, which allow for a pretty nice view of the surrounding canopy. The first one we climbed was about the height of the trees, and it slightly swayed in the wind… increasing the thrill just a bit. 
Hanging out in the canopy
Further down the road a bit, there’s another couple of towers… including an extremely tall one that “towered” high above the canopy. This offered an awesome 360° view of Sakaerat and beyond. Only Francesca and I ventured to the top of this tower, which was probably a good thing since I’m not sure the top could have handled anymore than two people. I definitely plan to come back up here to catch a few sunrises and sunsets.
Bird's eye view of Sakaerat and beyond
If the rain holds off for a few more days, we may use some of our downtime to take a field trip to nearby Khao Yai National Park which is supposed to be one of the best places to view wildlife in Thailand. So our fingers are crossed that it holds off for just a few more days, but not a moment longer than that… so that these forests don’t get too dry! Do a little rain dance for us, and hopefully the next time you hear from me… the jungle will be nice and wet. Until then… Peace out!
Have you ever seen the rain?

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