Dias uno, dos y tres.
Day 1-3 on the refuge:
Two of these days I have not been able to find the birds I was supposed to be “observing”. Two of these days we have gotten the truck stuck in the mud. One of those days we spent half the day in Mayaguez (second biggest city in PR, home to the University we collaborate with at times). So I think I am averaging a 0 on completely successful field days.
In the mornings we go out to certain territories to watch the birds go from their roost tree to their potential nesting site. For those not familiar with these terms I will give you some quick background facts: Smooth-billed Ani’s are cooperative breeders meaning they raise their young together in groups of males and females ranging from 4-12 (these numbers are this years group sizes so far). Therefore, the Ani’s have roost trees where they go to sleep and then in the mornings they will leave the roost for the day to forage and tend to their nest/young if they have any. Multiple females may lay eggs and their clutches can be very big- up to 26 eggs in one nest (our biggest number this year). Older eggs may be kicked out of the nest or buried and new eggs are laid on top. Incubation will happen all at once.
Phew, now that we got that information out of the way we can talk about the good stuff aka my “awkward field moments”. So as I said we climb ladders up to 32 ft in the air, supported by one of the other crew members and a few pathetic looking branches- sometimes they’re dead, “be careful the branch supporting you is a dead one”… I have found that when I am at the top of the ladder and reach my hand into a thorny nest (oh yeah did I mention these birds nest in thorny mesquite trees?) that I cannot see into, I begin to sweat profusely. Like my face gets hot, and I get sweaty palms. It is a bit scary imagining your unfortunate tumble 32 feet down while getting a face full of mesquite thorns. Or thinking about how one of those tree rats I saw may be living in the nest…(unlikely but possible!).
When observing the groups we tromp through the waist-high grass shirtless, (just kidding-wanted to see if you were paying attention), which is often wet-the grass not our shirts! And today my pants were soaked to my pockets. Sidenote: Caroline Brady thank you for the gaitors! There are plenty of garden spiders in the grass which hop down at the vibrations of your feet. Unfortunately I have ruined many of their intricate spun webs. My excitement actually boils hearing the call of an Ani because then you know that even though you cannot see them, they must be around- hope it’s all we need people (Go Obama!).
Ok to the good stuff- the MUD. So we are here in the rainy season, but it’s not supposed to “rain” on the refuge. Well it has rained everyday we have been here which is great for the birds but bad for the storm trooper (the name I have given our white trooper jeep/truck). The first time we got stuck we were trying to go over a wee ditch and the truck couldn’t make it. We were only stuck for about 20 min and when Jim came over to assist us we got out with the 3 girls pushing and him driving- girl power! Today was a different story…
We packed the ladder on top of the truck and headed out toward a nest check. Once we turned the corner we saw a muddy little ditch and debated whether or not to cross. I said not to. Leanne didn’t know if she should or not so she decided to try to back up before it was too late. It was too late. The path we were on was muddy and the slight incline of 5 inches made it impossible for our truck to reverse over- even with the muscle mass of Bonnie-may and I pushing; hard to believe I know. So after taking out the car mats and using them as gripping tools, pulling out invasive plants (only would do this to invasives-unless it was a life or death situation) from the sides of the road and breaking off dead tree branches and finding scraps, we did NOT make it. So Leanne went for it and drove straight through the ditch and bam, were stuck. We spent TWO hours pushing the car, sawing off tree branches (again from invasive trees), calling Jim who was at home (he never picked up- he’s “not good with cell phones”), making make-shift planks, sweating the whole time (obviously). I mean we took all the equipment out of the truck to lighten the load, and we were all working off of a bowl of cereal-too bad it wasn’t Wheaties. Finally we decided we needed to walk to the farm to see if anyone was there to get help. It was Saturday when this happened so everyone who works on the refuge was off. As Leanne and I were rounding the corner to the washing station we see a truck! So we started running and the game warden happened to be washing his truck.
So now he has two gringas covered in mud asking for a tow in his brand spankin’ clean automobile. Like he has suds on his car when we came over. I felt pretty bad considering that I was sitting in his nice government/police vehicle after he basically detailed it covered in mud while my shoes were full of muddy water. But hey, Bryan is my new hero. He gave us a tow and we were so thankful. So after he left we started up the car and wait….it started fish-tailing a little, I said “Oh hell no!” jumped out immediately with Bonnie-may and we pushed that sucker up a little incline onto the grass. We were lucky we got it so quickly.
After all that we still had 5 nests to check and now we had to walk to them, with the ladder.
Oh wait as I am writing this a mosquito was just ferociously sucking my blood and I could FEEL it, then I spilled olive juice everywhere.
Cheers to tomorrow!
Our not so trusty vehicle
This is more like it- old NAM truck