Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Welcome to the Jungle...

We have officially arrived and are settling in at Sakaerat Environmental Research Station in Northeast Thailand. The trip here took about 4 hours from Bangkok, with all of us traveling in a mid-sized SUV fully loaded down with gear. Our crew consists of four volunteers along with Sheila (our boss) and Taksin, the station manager at Sakaerat… who drove us to the station. Taksin is a very nice guy, always smiling, and he speaks English quite well thankfully.
Taksin loading up the SUV
We met at the “Meeting Point” in the Bangkok airport, and then headed out to the car to squeeze in all of our bags (we all brought a LOT of stuff) and then piled in for the long car ride to the station. 
"The Meeting Point"
The car ride there we got to know each other a little better, and then spent a decent chunk of the ride silently reflecting while watching the countryside pass by. There’s something special about looking out the window while in a foreign country… watching the occasional roadside vendors selling random meats or tiny knick-knacks and military-style trucks whiz by. The four of us each represent a different state… Mike is from New Jersey, Francesca is from Wisconsin, and Sara is from Massachusetts. Each of us has at least some experience in a foreign country, so we should all be able to handle a little time in the jungle. 
Beer truck
In fact, the jungle could more accurately be described as a Dipterocarp forest.. which means it is dry part of the year, and then receives a bunch of precipitation at one time. That’s what we’re here for… the rain, and the frogs that use that rain to time their reproduction.
Our home for the next four months

When we arrived at the station, we drove the winding road through the forest and then arrived at our research station. As was described by a previous field tech… "it really is pretty posh!" Our room (Mike and mine) is downstairs, while Sheila has a room upstairs and so do the girls. One of the ponds we’ll be studying is right behind our house and the other one is just a bit up the road. 
Resident Gecko
That evening we went up to the dining area of the station and had dinner with Taksin and some other volunteers that have been here since February working on a project tracking King Cobras. They welcomed us to Sakaerat and told us some stuff about which snakes to watch out for while we were working in the ponds. In addition to trying lots of new foods… we drank out of recycled coke cans, which was pretty neat.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The Sakaerat Environmental Research Station has been in existence since 1967, and it is a government funded research station. Sakaerat is the only research station in Thailand that welcomes school groups to come and learn about their natural habitat. This is mostly due to Taksin and his attitude towards the importance of education, which is really commendable. That being said, there were tons of little kids running around while were eating. Their artwork decorates almost every empty space in the dining room, including the ceiling. 
"We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children"

After dinner, we headed home to bed… and as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out! We were warned to make sure to check under our bed before we settled down.. for scorpions, centipedes, or any other lovely creepy crawly that might be hanging out. So we did that, saw nothing and promptly launched into dreamland.
Our room... it's much dirtier now
The next morning after breakfast we got a more thorough tour from Sheila of the station and learned a  bit more of its history, as well as the different species we were likely to encounter.
A few of the critters at Sakaerat
 We then spent the rest of the day shopping at what can be best described as an Asian costco, gathering up the food and supplies we’d need to be comfortable and well fed for the next month. We also rented a truck there for getting around, and each of us got to practice driving on the opposite side of the road for a bit. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car which is probably the hardest part to get used to… especially when you’re backing up and go to look over your right shoulder.
Buying in Bulk, Asian-style

We had lunch at a sushi place in The Mall (It’s literally called “The Mall”) in Khorat, which is the nearest big city… about an hour away. There is also a closer town called Pak Thong Chai, which is about 20 minutes away, where we can get most of the little things we need. That’s where we bought the meats and other things that would spoil on the long ride back from Khorat. In addition to the food and renting the truck, we picked up 10 aquariums for housing frogs as part of Sheila’s research. That meant we got to go to a Thai fish store, which meant lots of pictures... of course.
Stingrays for sale
Coming back, we unloaded all of our purchases… had dinner, and then headed up to the dining area of the main station to get on the internet for the first time since arriving. I tried to get this blog published then, but due to the slow speeds… which are also hindering me right now, I had to stop half-way through to head out into the field for the first time! I was pretty excited. 
Crikey! Got a wild one here
This was a really cool learning experience, and only the first of many trips to this little pond that we would soon become very familiar with. The trip down the trail was short, only about a minute or two… but we took our time, slowly scanning the trees for pit vipers that might be hanging out waiting for something warm to pass by. When we got down, Sheila spotted a tree frog right away… and grabbed it so that we could observe it closer. This particular frog was one of the larger treefrogs that we can expect to see commonly... but not the particular species that Sheila is focused on studying.
Polypedates leucomystax or "Polly"
The species that Sheila is studying is known as Chiromantis hansanae and it’s very small... about 2.5 cm. We didn’t see any that night, but we did hear a couple males calling. The pond is very low, so they are probably still wandering around throughout the forest… waiting for the rains to come so the time will be right to lay their eggs.
A millipede found by the pond
Sheila and I walked around through the pond and practiced searching the pond grasses for egg clutches, looking up, down, and under to make sure we covered every angle. Although we didn’t see many frogs, there were tons of big spiders around which was pretty neat to see. We even caught a glimpse of one spider eating another spider, wicked stuff!
These guys are everywhere!
 We completed our survey of the pond in about an hour and a half, which was a bit quick considering we didn’t really have many clutches to look for… we were just getting familiar with the territory. She pointed out a few juvenile katydids that would also be involved in the study, as the adults have been shown to prey on hansanae egg clutches. We also saw a Checkered Keelback snake along the banks slither into its hole, which was pretty neat. This is one of the many species that we will encounter frequently around the ponds.
Checkered Keelback - One of the numerous snakes around
After the survey I slept excellently again, all that tromping through the ponds wore me out! Today we spent the morning setting up the shed where Sheila will house some of the frogs for experiments, and learning more about the experiments themselves. A lot of time was spent cleaning out aquariums, which was something I got plenty of experience with at the zoo, so I felt right at home. 
Setting up the lab for frogs
We took a break for lunch and then rested for a little while and I seized this opportunity to set up my hammock and catch some extra Zzz’s since I knew I’d be up working on this blog later. All in the name of science!
Hammocks are good for the soul
 After our nap we took a trip up to the Upper Dam Pond, which is the other site that we will be surveying… to check on the water levels and generally familiarize ourselves with the area. The trip up there was a bit longer… it would take about 5 minutes by vehicle, but still pretty close. The water level here was also low, but there was at least some water.
By the end of the season... all the grass will be underwater
 We went down to the water’s edge and observed a few species of tadpoles. Sheila explained the different species, and how they have adapted different survival strategies. Then we headed back down to our house to practice riding around on the scooter a bit!
Learning about tadpoles
This was definitely a first for me… I have riden a bike many times, but never a motorized one. It came pretty quickly though, just had to get the hang of applying the gas at a steady rate and I was off! A bit jerky of a ride, and I still don’t quite have turning mastered… but I know a lot more than I did before, and the rest will come with practice. It’s really not too hard… but I will be very careful Mom, I promise!
Like riding a bike...
Speaking of Mom, I would like this opportunity to officially wish her a Happy Birthday! And to the rest of you, have a goodnight (or good morning)... be on the lookout for pictures to come soon. Peace Out!

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyable reading! I look forward to more. Frankie & Al