Walking on fire, floating on trees

Nov 9th, 2012

Fire ants. I know they are here. I’ve walked on their mounds; I’ve even gotten stung a couple of times. But the other day I got stung three times, twice on my ring finger and once underneath my bracelet. I ferociously ripped off my bracelet and watch in attempt to stop the burning sensation that was searing across a spot on my skin. The two bites on my fingers turned into normal reactions- white pustules on top of a small lump, smaller than a mosquito bite. However, the one on my arm grew and expanded like the blob. It went from being a welt to my arm looking like a sweet French baguette. It became so painful that I woke up in the middle of the night due to the sheer intensity of formic acid coursing through my left arm.  

I have had mild allergic reactions to bee stings where the affected area swells and gets really tight and painful. This was the same but from a freaking ant. I couldn’t lift anything or stretch because my arm was so tight. I took three antihistamines the next day and iced my arm on the way to the refuge. Then I got another fire ant bite about 6 inches below this one.  I thought to myself, “I don’t have enough room on my arm to have this much swelling!” Luckily the second bite swelled to two-quarter-sized welts and not to the full beef jerky strip that overtook my forearm.

Today at 6:15 am I went on a mission to get vocal recordings from a group of Ani’s and their chicks. Getting under their roost tree is exceedingly difficult, as you have to move as quietly as possible through guinea grass and sticks that crunch with the slightest step, and try to creep under the tree without disturbing the birds. I alerted one bird to my presence, which started calling a shrill alarm call and I quickly huddled next to a bush with my head down until the bird settled down. After I finally got settled in between two bushes of taller grass I held the speaker out toward the noises and hit record. I thought I got some great recordings (I found out later I did not and was slightly reprimanded), I also think the birds were fully aware of my presence (they were) and I may or may not have increased my chances of becoming hunchbacked in the near future (I did). I was wearing my bug jacket and doused myself in my useless insect repellent. I sat on my butt with my legs up in front of me where I rested my elbows on my knees and hung my head below while holding my right hand out with the speaker toward the birds…for an hour and a half I sat like this. Chicks begged, adults called about 3m over me or less, it was a pretty neat experience and I was reinvigorated because I felt like I had finally done something right here (I didn’t, not right…not at all).

Afterwards I was on duty for nest checks. We have found a flurry of nests in the past week, and by we I mean everyone else. I still have yet to find ONE nest (sorry my last email was a hoax). Found nests look something like this Leanne: a lot, Erica: 3-4 Bonnie-may: 2-3 Nikki: -3 (old ones do not count as new nests, I’ve discovered).  Needless to say, almost all the new nests found are wonderfully high requiring the 32-foot ladder. This ladder is a beast. It is difficult to carry and even more difficult to lift in the air and maneuver around thorny mesquite trees, termites and guinea grass with inconveniently placed nests. Today I did a nest check at a site called sandy corner. Sandy corner’s nest is conveniently placed on an outstretched mesquite limb 32 plus feet in the air. To get to this nest one must climb up to the highest rung possible, the one before you cannot access the ladder with full safety anymore, and then turn around (32 FEET UP IN THE AIR!) while lifting your left leg over the back of the ladder and wedging it into the crosshair of two branches. Your right leg also turns so that the heel of your right foot is on the ladder and your back is now facing the ladder. Then you have to crawl out onto the mesquite limb, all the while making sure the egg bag is safe (eggs first!), and holding onto the branch with your right hand. In this extended position you must reach as far as you can into the thorny nest and pull out the 11 eggs (I am sure plenty more will be laid, we are up to egg 40 in one nest- although many of them have been buried). As I was doing this my hat got stuck on a thorn so I let it fall to the ground, then the same thorns started to get stuck in my hairline (legitimately thorn in head); I didn’t even care, so much adrenaline was pumping through my veins. After I collected all the eggs I had to take measurements of the nest (F THIS!!!) I was leaning in this freaking nest with a damn measuring tape trying to get four different types of measurements. Finally I was able to descend down the ladder where we went to process the eggs.

After hitting ground again, I was able to assess my body; I had my first bloody gashes from the mesquite running along the outside of my left forearm. I also had a constellation of red scratches along my inner forearm, making my already swollen sausage limb look even more radiant.

I opted to climb back up as I figured I would just use my spidey-senses to propel myself forward. I even stopped for a breather on the ladder, some superhero I am. I was so thankful I made it down ok, I even thanked god, who I am unsure of my full belief in. But someone was watching out, probably my mother’s aura. After doing 5 nest checks in three and a half hours, 3 with the 32-foot ladder I was wiped. I had scratches, fire ant bites, my hair was spilling out of its braid and I was DRIPPING with sweat, literally; I was wearing a long sleeve for most the day, of course until I climbed into the sandy corner nest.

Then we came home, I was starving from running off a bowl of cereal, some trail mix and an apple and I cooked myself a feast and headed to the beach. After a long day in the field we usually all run straight for the shower. The shower is cold- it’s always cold. So I rinse, turn the water off, suds up and shampoo, turn the water on and rinse, turn the water off, condition, turn the water on and rinse. It totals 3-4 minutes except for if I feel like shaving my legs (a rare occurrence) then I take maybe 5 minutes. I shave with the water off. Then I go to lie in my bed where at least one mosquito has found its way into my room and devours parts of my body while I read. The one thing I have found is that my desire to do other activities is strongly subdued. I am SO tired at the end of the day that I mostly look forward to my multiple helpings of our delicious dinners (the roomies are amazing cooks, some of the best food I’ve ever had- maybe it tastes better because I am starving, but it is divine) my beer and then my bed.

Fun sidenote on wild foods:

I have eaten a few wild foods here, cactus fruit, wild cactus (cooked as a stir-fry and it was mmm-mmm good) and wild mushrooms called puffballs- that melt in your mouth and were scrumptious. All the while I’m thinking I am going to get some odd disease and die because this is the wrong plant or something has happened to it to make it poisonous…I have issues.

daily shoe damage: unexpected severe rain in the region left us unable to use the truck and therefore we had to walk everywhere on the refuge. Needless to say this left our feet feeling nice and squishy!

Ani eggs from nest M, the nest we found were labelled alphabetically: first nest is A and so on. 

After a fire ant bite….bastards

After climbing up the mesquite trees to do a nest check (daily occurrence). 

Cow 17 was the friendliest of the bunch!

Baby Ani wanting to be fed

A captured adult Ani to be banded, marked and monitored in it's group. 

Finished Ani, after it has been fully processed

The finka (farm) and the five silos site 

I do love cows, however I sometimes found them terrifying because they are large make lots of noise and would stare at me while I crossed through their territory. 


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