The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Monday, October 19, 2009

And I become a birding nerd...

October 19, 2009

More of the catching up style of journaling, but because I had yet another fabulous day in Tarangire, I feel like I have to say at least a little bit about it. In the morning, we did another game drive and saw many more amazing mammals, birds and even a small reptile, the nile monitor lizard. I’m beginning to become somewhat competent (or perhaps just less incompetent) with my binoculars or “binos” as the pros say, so I’m pleased about that.

I sat in the front part of the truck today which was very fun because when I wanted to see something better I could just crawl up on the top of the truck cab and sit or stand there in order to see things better.

Even though I wasn’t that enthusiastic about learning to ID all the different birds at first, I am getting really into it. They are so diverse and interesting that its very cool to be able to look at one and say “That’s a marabou stork!” or whatever it might happen to be. I’m hoping that as time goes on I’ll get better at recognizing the general shapes and sizes of types of birds, so that way even if I don’t know what a certain kind of bird is I can say “I saw a brown and green starling” which will help me identify it better when asking others or looking in the books.

Tarangire Park is such an incredible place. It is not the busiest season tourist wise, but we still saw quite a few other trucks full of wazungu from various countries. I wish we’d seen busloads of Tanzanian children getting a chance to see the park. Even though many of the animals are just normal for them to see, it is unusual to see them all in one place interacting with one another like they do in Tarangire. It would be such an amazing thing for them to be able to see what an incredible natural beauty their country has and be able to learn more about it and take pride in it.

I’m just blown away by the fact that I can so easily observe so many different facets of a single ecosystem with such ease. All of the terms I learned in my basic bio courses are starting to mean more and more as I can see them in action. It is one thing to know that grasses and other plants are the primary producers of a system, the starting point for the energy from the sun that can then be transferred from creature to creature, but quite another to see it – to see herds of zebra, wildebeest, impala and then also smaller creatures like the dik dik and hyraxes who are also feasting on the plants as the primary consumers. And even the secondary and tertiary consumers can be seen with relative ease – lions, jackals, leopards, hawks, eagles…it is so incredible and so much more informative than reading it in a book.

I find myself wondering the most about herd behaviors of the various different grazers and browsers. Why do zebras and impalas, for example organize themselves into harems led by one dominant male and then bachelor herds composed of the less fit males, while dik dik pair off monogamously and stay with the same mate for life? I’m of course especially fascinated by the zebras because even though they are very non-horse like in some ways, they are quite horsey in others, especially in the way they interact with one another. One of the girls in the truck was worried that a big zebra was attacking another, but I could see that it was just the boss mare putting an uppity filly back in her place with a few will timed nips.

I’ve read quite a bit about the dynamics of wild (feral) horse behavior in the US and wish I’d brought one of my books about it with me because I think it would be really interesting to read it again and compare it with the information in the field guides about zebra social structure and behavior and see if it matches up.

I’ve also started thinking about the independent study I will have to do at the end of the program. I’d really like to study some aspect of zebras for my terrestrial research, mainly because I feel like I already “speak their language” in some ways because of being around horses so much and with only eight days to do the study, I feel like I won’t really have time to learn all that I need to know about a brand new organism in order to do a good job. Really, I’d like to research something about how zebras behave when predators are threatening them, but that’s really, really, outside the scope of this project, so I’ll have to come up with something else. Also, it will depend on the rains… if it hasn’t rained enough, the zebras won’t have left Tarangire Park and as a result won’t be near our study site!

I hope all of you at home are doing well with work and school and everything. It feels so strange to be so far removed from all of you and not be hearing about what you are up to. I’ve had the opportunity to take some pretty cool videos (highlights include a secretary bird eating a snake, a vervet monkey running with her baby perched piggyback and a mama ostrich fluffing her feathers in a display to protect her youngsters…just to give you the idea) and I can’t wait to share them with you, so you can see what I’ve been seeing.

Please, if you see them, give the Labradog a hug and a cookie (unless he is getting fat in the absence of the Hill + Lance Hood to Coast training program, in which case you are to tell my family to stop feeding him so much!) and El Spector a scratch on the withers and a carrot or a couple of fruity flavored jelly beans.


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