Friday, December 19, 2008

The Little Things

Time flies! I can't believe I've been here a month already! Its gone so fast. The past week has been interesting because right now is the transition between the wet and the dry season and I've noticed quite a few changes in Soberania. Different animals are coming out (I've been seeing a lot more spiders lately) and its definitely drier! Lots of leaves are falling onto the ground (it almost looks like autumn at home - no nice fall colours though). The river levels are falling, and the small creeks are drying up. I didn't really expect this in a rainforest! But from what I've heard, I'm not expecting to see a lot of rain for the next couple months. It rained the other night (actually woke me up) and I'm sure I will appreciate any little rainfall we get, it definitely cools down the days. Its really hot here now (above 30C every day), with sun every day.

I sometimes laugh at myself when I walk through the forest... I am still getting my 'forest feet' and there are always obstacles to contend with. Roots, vines, low branches, large palm leaves are all there to trip clumsy people like me. I've also discovered that going downhill is somewhat difficult. I think I'm just afraid of falling (who knows what you will land on - rock, thorn, Fer-de-Lance...) so I go slow. Combine downhills with roots, vines, rocks, low branches and large palm leaves and ME (wearing rubber boots) and its quite the sight... I'm getting use to it though! Good workout for the thighs and calves! I haven't done any really good faceplants though so I think that's a good sign.

Climbing is also fun. Soberania is made up of large ridges that we are constantly climbing to get to high points to check for signals. The other day when we were out we climbed a decent vertical... luckily there were solid roots to grab onto - sometimes I feel like I'm rock-climbing! I also sometimes feel like I could go on American Gladiators!

Regardless, because I am usually looking on the ground for things to avoid stepping on or tripping over, I see lots of little things that I wouldn't have noticed if looking up. I have noticed more spiders running over the dead leaves on the ground, and tons of little forest frogs and toads. The common toad we see here is Rhinella margaritifera (correct me if I'm wrong), and today on my hike I found a nice looking one and was able to get some photos. I see lots of lizards that are too fast for me to take a picture of let alone get a decent look at. The other day I was walking up a streamfall and spotted a Black and Green Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus), definitely one of the coolest things I've seen so far. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos, but I will hopefully see more!

Another nice find over the last couple days has been tarantulas! Again, didn't have my camera, but they are a nice sight regardless. The first one I found was actually on a LONG hike that Rigoberto and I did out to the edge of Soberania (10 km distance round trip, then add the ridges). I found a hole in a shallow bank with a large series of webbing extending from it. Throwing a small piece of stick into the webbing brought the spider out for a second, but once it realized it wasn't food, quickly went back inside its burrow. We tried a few more times, but the tarantula couldn't be fooled again. The next day, we found another (likely the same species) while looking for an eagle on the other side of the Chagres River. This one was out on the forest floor, and we were able to get some nice looks! I believe the species is the Panama Red-rump Tarantula, but I am not sure.

Ants are everywhere. Leafcutter ants seem to be far more common here in Panama than I remember them being in Peru. I try my best not to step on them (because they seem so focused on their jobs of bringing cut leaves, flowers, berries and sticks back to their homes to make food) but sometimes that's hard to avoid because there are so many! Out of all the ants here, they seem like the least threat. Other ants (on the other hand) are not so nice! Red ants, army ants, and they just seem to get bigger and bigger... the larger the ant, the further I stay away from it. I'm sure they can give a powerful sting and bite that would last for a few days. However, I do enjoy finding army ant raids (as weird as that sounds), not for the ants, but for the birds that follow these raids. When thousands of army ants get together they move in a large swarm and disrupt just about anything in their path. Other animals, especially birds, take advantage of this. Antbirds, woodcreepers, tanagers and others follow army ant raids to pick up lizards, insects, and anything else that gets moved during the raids. We come across them quite often. Usually you can hear the Antbirds right away. There's usually a lot of bird activity going on. At raids, I've seen Ocellated Antbirds, Bicoloured Antbirds, Spotted Antbirds, Chestnut-backed Antbirds, Plain-brown Woodcreepers, Barred Woodcreepers, Gray-headed Tanagers, Red-throated Ant-Tanagers and Song Wrens so far. I usually have to move every once in a while because the ants will cover my boots if I stand in one place for too long, but ant raids are one of my favourite things to come by down here.

I've somewhat adopted a cat while I'm here, too. One of the graduate students down here with STRI has left and she asked me if I would feed the cat she adopted. "Cora" is a cute, little female cat who's been living with us now for about 3 days. She seems to wander off during the day but comes when her name is called (or when I bang her food dish against the side of the house) and LOVES food. She's a little pudgy, but if I were a stray found starving in Gamboa then I would take advantage of every bit of food possible too! She's a nice addition to the house.

I almost forget that Christmas is just around the corner. Gamboa is not very 'christmasy' at all - a couple houses have put up some christmas lights but other than that, it looks the same as it does the rest of the year. My housemates and I are putting together a dinner for christmas eve and we're each making a course of the meal. I'm looking forward to that.

Here's another photo of LT, the female Harpy I enjoy looking for :) Enjoy!

Oh, and I know quite a few of you are interested in my bird, mammal, and other sightings, so I will try to get that organized and up here too within the next week or so.


Dad said...

Down there to track the largest eagles in the Americas and you still notice all the small stuff happening on the ground. Way to go Jenn, these blogs are so interesting.. Keep up the good work! Love Dad.

Larry said...

Hi Jenn.
Hope you're getting some pictures of those wonderful birds you are seeing.
I am so envious of you. Your blogs are great, keep them coming.