Friday, October 11, 2013

Sunrise in Sakaerat

A couple weeks ago, I did something that I have wanted to do for a long time. I watched the sunrise from the top of the evergreen tower. I wouldn't have done this though if it hadn't been for Mary Ruth. Since she was only visiting for a few weeks, she had an awesome attitude about trying to accomplish as much as possible while she was here. Even though the rest of us are really not here that much longer in the grand scheme of things (and it’s coming to an end way too quickly!) it is easy to get comfortable and think, “Ahh, I’ll do it some other time.” So I was excited after she and I were paired up for the dawn shift while she was here; not only was she a pleasure to work with… but whenever possible, she was seeking out adventure. Her adventures usually involved catching snakes. That turned out to be a real treat for all of us, since we are always happy to observe a snake if we happen to see one… but while settled into our work schedule, we rarely made time for night hikes. However, Mary Ruth went out “herping” almost every night… and many times I went with her, despite the necessary sleep sacrifice. It was always worth it.
MR with a green cat snake
During her visit, we captured tons of pictures of neat snakes that we hadn’t seen all season… thanks to her luck, and her handy-dandy snake bag that she never went without. One of the most attractive snakes she caught was a Sunbeam snake (Xenopeltis unicolor). She caught the snake while out one night in the pond with Mike on the night shift. On multiple nights, she went out both at 9 pm until midnight for the night shift, and then would take a nap and join me for the dawn shift at 2:45 am. The rest of us wouldn’t even consider that, but she did it with a smile. The night she caught the Sunbeam snake, it was apparently in the process of capturing his dinner, a large glyphoglossus molossus. These huge frogs are “explosive breeders” so all of them will flock to the pond as soon as the first big rain hits.
A pair of mating glyphos
Anyhow, as she tells the story… the snake was constricting a glypho when Mike alerted her about it. She saw the snake, and then… “I panicked. So I grabbed it. I didn't want it to get away.” She felt bad about disrupting his meal though. I had to laugh when she told me this, after all when most people mention panicking around snakes, they don’t usually follow that up with, “So I grabbed it.” But that’s Mary Ruth for ya. We are all very thankful that she did grab it, as the pictures we took later the next day were an excellent testament to how beautiful snakes can be, especially in this part of the world. 
Sunbeam Snake (Xenopeltis unicolor)
It’s easy to see how this snake gets its name! The colors reflecting off of him as the light hit his scales were absolutely gorgeous. Mother Nature truly is a talented artist. Anyhow, back to the sunrise. You get the idea, Mary Ruth is awesome. Well, the story starts with MR mentioning that she really wanted to be able to take the boat out on the Upper Dam Pond before she left. If she had mentioned this when she first arrived, we all would have laughed at her… since on that day, Sep. 11, the pond was completely dry. However, by the 20th, we were up to our necks in water... literally. It shocked us all how quickly the pond filled up.
Sept. 11 and Sept. 21. Can you spot the difference? 
Lots of water meant lots of frogs! On the 22nd, Mary Ruth and I caught the record number of pairs in one night, which is still yet to be broken: 17!
MR with our bucket o' frogs
The next morning, to celebrate our recent success… I proposed that we take the boat out and watch the sunrise from the middle of the pond. So we did! First we had to thoroughly drown all the ants that decided to nest in the gunnels of the boat… and then we set sail.
We're on a boat! (Almost)
The dawn was spectacular, and I was very happy that we took the extra time to watch the sunrise… instead of just heading straight back to the house after finishing our search. There’s something very special about watching the blackness of the night slowly disappear as the sky becomes a progressively lighter and lighter blue. The next morning, I suggested that we climb to the top of the evergreen tower to see the sunrise, since MR had yet to climb it and I was anxious to see the sunrise from that height. The result was absolutely stunning.
Sunrise above Sakaerat. Pictures don't really do it justice
I played around with the settings of my camera to try to capture the moment, but after a bunch of blurry shots… I just put it down and watched the sun do its thing. Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy that morning, so we didn't see a “burst” but it was still cool watching how drastically our surroundings changed in such a short time. I believe watching the sunrise is much more significant than a sunset, since it takes dedication and a lack of glorious sleep to catch one. Totally worth it though! Since we were already awake and working at that hour anyhow, it wouldn't make sense to miss this breathtaking event.
Think Lion King intro song…. “AAAAHHHAaaa YAA bum yAA!”
This experience was so spectacular, that we decided to make it a tradition. This was partly driven by our hope that the next morning would be less cloudy, and that we would actually get to see the giant orange ball pop into the sky. So every morning afterwards, we’d hike through the forest in the dark, swiping spider-webs out of the way and then clamber up the stairs to watch the darkness disappear ever so sneakily. It happens so quickly and yet so gradually, especially when the sun is hiding behind clouds that it’s really tough to put your finger on when the sun rises. I tried to say 5:23 am exactly, but that was disproven in subsequent visits. But it was certainly lighter by that time. The coolest part about the sunrise for me is how drastic the difference is… it’s like night and day!
Panoramic Shot, just after 6 am
I could post a ton of these pictures, but I’ll do my best to keep it to half a ton. After a few visits, I was hardly bothering to take out my camera… after all this was an everyday occurrence. But, it was still special. The sun may rise every day, but too many of us take the beauty of it happening for granted. After all, one day you won’t be there to see it. I hope that day is a long way off for me and you… but that doesn't mean we should skip out on the joy of appreciating the little things that happen daily. Watching the sunrise is a perfect example of something that’s easy to do, yet so incredibly life-affirming! 
When in doubt, watch the sun come out
Before we knew it, Mary-Ruth’s last day at Sakaerat had arrived. J On the final dawn shift, Chia-Yi, another visiting student from Singapore joined us as well… since we had been telling her about how awesome it was to watch the sunrise from the tower. Not to mention how much fun we have in the pond! After our dawn shift, we were climbing up the tower as usual, when Chia-Yi calmly states, “Oh, here’s a snake.” Mary-Ruth and I both started rushing up the stairs hollering, “Where, where??” I was looking in the trees, but then she pointed to one of the support poles of the tower. There was a slender, grayish snake just hanging out… at approximately 30 meters up! Impressive climbing, dude. Mary-Ruth suddenly became ecstatic. “It’s a Boiga siamenis!!” She squealed. She had been looking for this particular snake the whole time she was here, and had pretty much given up on it… considering she was slated to leave in a few hours. So needless to say, this was a pleasant surprise for her.
A very happy Mary-Ruth, 100 feet in the air, with a new friend
I held the snake for a bit so Mary-Ruth could get out her snake bag. He was very relaxed, and quite curious about my camera… which helped me snag some pretty awesome shots. Boigas are commonly referred to as cat snakes, and one look at their eyes can tell you why. The real glamour shots were taken after we got him back to the house and had plenty of daylight.
Boiga Siamensis - Grey Cat Snake
We couldn't leave the tower without seeing the sunrise though, so we tied the bag to the support near where we found him and climbed the few remaining flights of stairs to the summit. This sunrise was unique, just like every other one. This time, the clouds had rolled in thick… which meant we would miss our hoped for orange ball again, but the sight of the white cloudy mists lingering about the tree tops was totally worth it. Chia-Yi was very impressed, as were we all. Again, lots of photos were taken. 
A misty morning
Next thing you know, the forest was bathed in light… and it was time to head back down.
Looking up at MR and Chia-Yi as we climb down the tower
Later that morning, we bid Mary-Ruth and Chia-Yi adieu as they headed back to Bangkok. Excitingly though, I will be heading down to Malaysia to visit Mary-Ruth in early November, so it wasn’t farewell forever. I always believe in saying “See ya later,” instead of goodbye and then making sure it actually happens. It’s important to make new friends, it’s even more important to keep (in touch with) the friends you have, and it’s most important to actually go visit your friends! I have a long list of places I need to go and people I need to visit, but I don’t need to get into specifics. The point is, go explore… make new friends, and then visit them! It makes traveling more fun, and potentially cheaper! J
Dawn shift buddies!
After Mary-Ruth left, the schedule was switched around so that Tesco and I would go out together for a few more days, and then I would switch to the night shift. So of course when our survey of the pond ended, I convinced Tesco to climb the tower with me so she too could partake in this glorious rite of passage.
Bright-eyed and.... something else
Of course it was awesome as always, but still pretty cloudy. As I am writing this I have still yet to see the sun actually “burst.” After getting switched to night shift, I had to start missing the sunrise so that I could actually get some sleep, since it was not uncommon for us to work until 3 am or later. If we didn't have lots of data to enter, I wouldn't mind staying up all night and then sleeping most of the day… but since we've experienced such a jump in frogs, we have a ton of time-lapse camera clips to analyze, a very time-consuming process. HA! Sorry, that was terrible. But seriously, we have been working our butts off trying to input all of this data. That is part of the reason I have not been able to post anything recently… that, and general laziness.
"I'll hop right to it! ... Later."
The sun hasn't been the only thing rising every day. I could have also called this blog “Water rise in Sakaerat” but it doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Anyhow, the water level in the pond has been rising like crazy. That picture I showed you earlier of Sept. 21 is nothing! In fact, thanks to a big rain the water level jumped up a whole meter the very next day! It didn't slow down much after that. Soon taking the boat out was necessary for our pond searches, not just so that we would have a good excuse to sing “Row your boat.” This has been lots of fun, as well as helpful. The person in the back will paddle, while the person in the front scans the surrounding vegetation for frogs and katydids. In the shallow sections, the front person will hop out to walk for a bit, and then the boat will pick them back up where it gets deep.
Life is but a dream
Now I’ll try to give you a series of photos, so that you can visualize what the pond looked like as the water was rising, and why I was astounded almost every time we went out. Pay attention to the yellow measuring stick to get a better idea of exactly how much the water rises.
One meter higher than Sept 21!
It keeps coming...
Pond Panoramic
Oh yeah, and one time while we were pulling the boat up out of the dam, the rope suddenly broke… just after Sara and I had both commented that it would really stink if the boat floated out into the middle while we were unloading it. So of course, I had to swim out into the middle to get it. It was actually kinda fun! J
Happy Castaway
And still the water continued to rise everyday, just like the sun...
So peaceful
Here’s a buddy of mine that I found hiding out in his ever expanding home
Am I turtle-y enough for the turtle club?
On Oct. 6th, things really got crazy. We had a huge downpour that lasted all day long and into the night and kept going the next day. It was dumping buckets when it was time for us to go out to search the pond. As I was heading down to the pond, I could hear water rushing. What’s going on? I ran down the hill to find out. The water was pouring over the dam!! Holy cow!! I never thought I’d see the day. The dam has drainage tunnels built into it, but the flow rushing through these wasn't fast enough to drain all of the water, and it was starting to flow over the top of the dam. I quickly rescued our boat from being washed away, or worse sinking… and then started yelling like a mad man in excitement. Here’s a quick clip of the water rushing through the drains, it reminded me of the scene in Titanic when the water starts suddenly gushing in. 

As we were paddling around, trees that were far away from the pond only a couple days ago were now surrounded by water. It felt kind of like what I imagine paddling the Amazon might be like, but not quite that awesome. Still pretty cool though. As we were paddling the boat, after about an hour I had to start bailing water out of the boat… it was coming down so heavily that we easily had 2-3 inches sloshing around our feet. Since it was dark obviously and I don’t have a super powerful flash, I wasn't able to capture an image of the entire pond… but I did snag this photo that is totally worth 1000 words. Remember the yellow measuring stick? Well here’s what’s left of it. The numbers covered up would tell you that’s just over 3.5 meters! (That's almost 12 feet for all you Americans)
Record height! Err.. depth
At this point, it was raining so hard for the next couple days that I never really felt completely dry. There’s no roof between our bathroom and the bedroom, so I would either make a mad dash for it or use an umbrella for about 3 feet. Finally after 2 days of drenching us, the rain took a break to let the sun have a turn. The warm sunlight felt so good after lots and lots of cold rain, and it was thoroughly needed to help dry out my completely soaked shoes. That afternoon, we decided to make a trip to place called “Cobra cave” which is downstream from the Upper Dam Pond. Sheila told us that last year her field assistants discovered that after a significant rain, a waterfall would form there. She didn't get to see it for herself, and obviously we weren't here last year… so we were all anxious to check it out for ourselves. Boy am I glad we did! The waterfall was in full glory, and the place looked completely different from when we first hiked there in July.
Tesco and Sara at Cobra Cave
We clambered around the rocks, taking lots of shots of places that had no running water only a few weeks ago but were now rushing like a healthy mountain stream. We all agreed, this felt like “The Jungle.”
Roaring rapids
Sheila was the first of the group to hop into the water and experience the waterfall up close and personal. I quickly followed suit, and the persuaded Sara to join me. It was pretty cold, but so refreshing!
She's thinking about killing me... "It's sooo cold!!"
 To make this experience even better, we gathered under the waterfall to take some group shots. First I had to make sure to thoroughly drench myself in the falling water though. Another one of those little moments that make you feel truly alive. Thank goodness for waterproof cameras making it possible to capture the moment!
Here we are all huddled together under the falls. 
Field trip to the falls
This was an incredible afternoon break from our normal pressing duties of sitting behind our laptops and analyzing data. Thanks to Sheila being so awesome and not a ruthless dictator, she was all for this little excursion… despite the fact that we have a ton of work to get done between now and when we leave on the 26th. It’s coming up way too soon!!
Lovely ladies at the jungle spa
After we were all thoroughly waterlogged (I was starting to shiver a bit) we hiked back up the hill to the car, and then decided to cruise up to the Upper Dam Pond to soak up some sun (Notice the girls sprawled out below). I was also looking forward to capturing a photo of the pond in its full glory during the day light. It had already dropped quite a few centimeters, but it was still massive. Behold!
Upper Dam Pond in full glory
 Well, now it’s time for me to get back to work… but I promise you’ll hear from me again soon. Until then, Peace Out!

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