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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Into the woods...

October 21, 2009

So, the Nou forest might actually be my favorite place in Tanzania (in addition to Pembe Abewe and Tarangire, of course). The morning started with a run with Laila and Alex, though it was quite difficult due to the fact that we are at an elevation of greater than 7,000 feet and there were hills on the route!

After the run and breakfast, I retreated to the tent with Rachel and we worked on our bird lists and I read some of “Dandelion Wine” which Meryl lent to me and then we took naps, which was so wonderful because it was still very cold, but the sleeping bags were very, very warm.

Then Rachel and I hiked out to a small grassy field and sat and did work. She wrote in her journal and I worked on my bird and mammal lists. Then I decided it was time for a hike. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone else to go with me, but I told Rachel the general direction I was going and that if I wasn’t back in an hour and a half (in time for lunch) that a leopard had likely had me for a snack or I ‘d gotten lost and to please sound the alarm. I set off with my camera and binoculars and was able to videotape a few cool birds that I haven’t ever seen before the battery on my camera died, which was quite disappointing. I decided to persevere with my hike anyways and enjoyed it so much that I didn’t even bother to look at my watch until I ended up about 50 feet from the front door of a small hut with cows in the front yard and thought that maybe I should check.

I saw that I’d been out just over an hour and because my walk had been pleasantly downhill for the most part, I had to book it back up in order to prevent Rachel from unnecessarily sounding the alarm! I made it back with five minutes to spare and some cool video, so it was a very worthwhile excursion.

After lunch, I played a few quick rounds of capture the flag with the gang and then as a group we all helped set up mist nets to catch some of the local birds. Mist nights are very finely woven, hard to see nets that are strung across a stretch in the trail where birds might fly across to get from tree to tree. The way the net works is that they hit and then fall into a sort of pocket in the net, which keeps them snared until the mwalimu and his wanifunzi come along and pull them out.

Our mist net captured a white starred forest robin, a montaine white eye and an orange ground thrush! Mwalimu Ken took them out and even though we wanfunzi didn’t get to hold any of them (which I was quite disappointed about), we did get to stroke their heads/backs and feel how soft their feathers were.

They are such beautiful and alien creatures from a distance, but seem even more so up close. Other than chickens, I’m not around birds at a very close distance too much (and even then, I’m usually more concerned with beating Henry the Rooster with the pitchfork before he attacks me), so it was very cool to see such wildly colored and tiny little creatures. Its easy now to understand that birds really are the direct descendent of dinasours. Their beady eyes and strange scaly legs seem to speak of that heritage, even if that is an unscientific conclusion for me to draw.

I’m so enjoying the Nou Forest. It reminds me so much of home. I love that it is a bit cold and I can snuggle all the way into my sleeping bag and zip it up and feel nice and toasty warm. There’s no feeling I like better than being warm and content when it is cold outside. I also love being somewhere where it is ok for me to just go off on my own and explore. I miss that aspect of being at home so much, though I was missing the Labradog ever so much and wishing he was here with me.

It is incredible how much worse I am at spotting creatures among the trees without the dog or the horse with me. At home, I think I’m pretty good at it, but really I’m just looking wherever Spector’s ears point or where Lancelot stops and stares. I hadn’t realized how much I rely on their cues to tell me that something cool is out there.

I really enjoyed seeing how the mist nets were set up and learning about the different types of measurements taken once the birds are trapped. It got me wondering about methods of trapping and measuring other types of wild animals. Sure its easy enough to capture a song bird, weigh it and measure its wings, but what about a huge martial eagle or harrier hawk? And what about some of the larger mammals like hyenas, lions or even elephants? Do researchers actually tranquilize them and then weight, measure, etc.? Or are most of the given figures for those creatures listed in the books just approximations? Do they get their information from zoos? (This seems like it would be inaccurate because animals in the zoo might get bigger due to better nutrition or medical care).

I also learned today that birds can have different “dialects” for their calls, meaning that birds of the same species, but living in different regions might have different songs for the same things. This is so cool – to me it seem like a very definite sign that animals do have their own “cultures” even if it isn’t in the same sense of the word we think of a human culture and also made me wonder if it is just birds or if other animals develop different sounds or gestures that are passed on in certain geographic regions. Does a mustang in the US say hello to her herdmates the same way a brumby in Australia does?

Alright, I’m about ready for bed (I’m waking up at 4:45 tomorrow for an early morning walk with some of the other wanifunzi to look for leopards and other nighttime creatures), but before I go, here’s a few of the more amusing moments of the day.

1. My riding britches are a particularly useful item of clothing. I wore them for my morning run and then continued to use them underneath my baggy safari man pants. I’ve begun to refer to them as my “over the underpants pants” in reference to the part in the book “Shantaram” I borrowed from Sam I read in which an Australian man goes with his Indian friend back to his family’s village and his surprised to learn that he needs to have running shorts or “over the underpants pants” to wear for communal bucket showers. (Fortunately, his friend is able to borrow some for him from a neighbor by explaining that the journey was hard on the Austrailian’s stomach to the point that he had so many “loose motions” that the “over the underpants pants” were soiled to the point they had to be burned.
2. Kai tried for probably five or six hours today to make fire using a stick, a shoe lace and a thin section of a log. He has not yet been successful. It is almost 10 pm and I believe he is still sitting right next to our blazing cooking/camp fire not yet ready to give up.
3. During capture the flag, I had the best strategy ever. I snuck away into the underbrush (really, really dense forest) and waited until everyone forgot I was there as I slowly and quietly worked my way towards the other team’s flag. Unfortunately, I came bursting out of the thorn bushes mere moments after the game had ended and my team had lost. My strategy was so excellent though, that it was banned in all future rounds of the game!
4. I just started reading my 18th book since the program started this morning. Considering how busy we’ve been that is slightly ridiculous. I should probably replace some of my reading time with sleeping time, but I honestly feel more well rested after a couple of hours with a good book and few of sleep than many hours spent tossing and turning restlessly.
5. The bio kids’ truck has yet another problem – a flat tire! Luckily Habibu is pretty much the coolest guy ever and already has everything up and running again.

Lala salama,
Hill

Also, my East Africa reading list:
1. Dune
2. Still Life With Woodpecker
3. Jitterbug Perfume
4. Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates
5. The Ivory and The Horn
6. Me Talk Pretty One Day
7. Shantaram
8. What Is The What
9. To Say Nothing Of The Dog
10. Counter Clock World
11. The Giver
12. Middlesex
13. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
14. The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test
15. The Outlander
16. Desert Rose
17. Contact
18. Dandelion Wine

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