Panamania Just another Weblogs at Harvard Law School weblog

January 29, 2005

Mist-netting, the island-effect and a party bus–January was a good month

Filed under: crofootStories — crofoot @ 9:20 pm

My life has been a whirl-wind
since arriving back on BCI after Christmas with my family in
Maine. After a week of family, too much food, old
friends, new friends, really cold weather, an introduction to the OC,
swimming in the Belfast High School Alumni meet, and going to my
roommate’s “Beer Pong Formal” New Years party, arriving on BCI felt like
a return to the quiet life. The illusion didn’t last long.

Vilma and I dove into the January field work (which we actually
finished in record time), tramping up and down hills after the
capuchins. Dipteryx panamensis
is fruiting right now, making monkey watching more hazardous than
normal, as monkey groups will spend over an hour feeding in one of
these huge canopy trees, periodically dropping the large seeds that
they have scraped the flesh off of. Meanwhile, you are on the
ground, neck craned back, trying to find a place where the understory
is open enough to give you a view of the monkeys high up in the canopy,
and dodging these heavy missiles that come whizzing past your
head. So far, there have only been near misses, but it feels
inevitable that some day one of is going to get knocked out by a
falling Dipteryx.

The upside of Dipteryx is that, unlike the Coussarea
fruits we were processing last month, each fruit has lots of pulp on
it, and harvesting 10 grams (dry weight) was easy. However, the
other fruits we were collecting this month made up for it. Apeiba (commonly known as monkey-comb) and Lindackeria gave us more than enough trouble to make up for the relative ease of Dipteryx.

From bottom left: 
Apeiba aspera, Mabea occidentalis, Lindackeria laurina and some other pretty things I found in the forest

Some of the fruits and flowers I’ve been seeing this month:  Virola, Paullinia, Ficus and others

The monkeys have also been eating a lot of nectar this month, both from
the balsa trees that are flowering in front of my dormatory, and from
Clitoria (proof that the botanists who spend years in the rainforest
and discover and name new species are sexually frustrated).

January also brought my 25th birthday, which I think was the best I’ve
had so far. I got so many cards, packages, calls and emails from
my friends, and just generally felt very loved. Additionally, my
friends on the island arranged a surprise birthday party for me (and
Axel, whose birthday is the same day as mine) on a Panamanian pary
bus–a chiva pachangera. Basically it is just a typical
Panamanian bus that they had cut out one side of to make it open air,
taken out a bunch of the seats, and installed huge speakers and a DJ so
you can dance! We drove all over the city, dancing and drinking.
from time to time the bus would stop, and we’d dance on the sidewalk
(usually right next to the ocean) for a while before continuing with
the driving, drinking and dancing. The liquor was of the gut rot
Panamanian Seco variety, the music was typical panamanian, and there
was lots of latin style grinding going on. It was a debaucherous,
but really fun night!

Axel, Dora and Sebastian

Andrea, Eloisa, Me (hidden), and Marta

Spending too long on BCI turns you into something of a recluse–you
start to get very annoyed by changes to the island routine, including
the arrival of new people.  Right now feels like the calm before
the storm, as there is a really nice community of interesting people
doing really cool work.  However, the Magill undergraduate course
that brought 40 students to the island sent a large portion of the BCI
residents into hiding.  Now we are counting down to the arrival of
the Princeton undergraduate course, who will be staying for even

One of the groups that has been working on the island in January is
studying the local bird extinctions.  BCI is unique in that a
first-rate ornithologist has been on the island almost continuously
since scientists started doing research here.  As a result, there
are very complete records on the bird species living on the island
which reveal a dramatic series of extinctions.  Doug Robinson, of
Oregon State, hypothesizes that these extinctions may be related to the
climatic changes that he claims are making BCI, and Panama in general,
drier.  The bird group was here conducting another survey of the
BCI birds, and setting up a long term study that will continue to
monitor the population.  Part of their survey consisted of
mist-netting along trails to catch and tag birds, and I went along with
them on what turned out to be the best netting day any of them had ever
seen.  In one morning we caught 78 birds in 28 mist nets. 
There were so many birds that half of us were working up birds that had
been caught, while the other half was walking the nets to collect birds
that had been caught.  We opened the nets at 6:30, and by 7 were
completely swamped!  It was an amazing day, trying my hand at
untangling birds from the nets (more difficult and definitely more
stressful than trying to untangle kite lines that have been
beginner-ified), banding and measuring birds, and recording the data
being shouted at me by 4 other people who were working up birds. 
We caught some pretty interesting birds, but my favorites were some of
the most common.  The manakins are little birds that you see all
over in the forest, but they are beautiful. 

Golden-collared Manakin

I wasn’t the only one who was excited about the manakins, though. 
Even the experienced birders who had untangled scores of them from mist
nets thought they were something to get excited over, especially when
you caught a male in good condition.

I had some problems keeping a hold of the birds as I measured and
weighed them.  The first one I tried to work up escaped before I’d
finished with him. I did finally get the hang of it, though!


Today was my day off, which I spend reading (for pleasure only) in the
hammock at my friends house in Gamboa.  Its been nice to have a
few days off to do non-work related things.  February 1st is
coming soon though, so I’ll be back in the field, following monkeys,
and trying to get all the work done before Bob Lessnau shows up on the
19th to help me collar a few more monkeys!

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