Wednesday, April 24, 2013

sunrise in the forest, sunset in the city

Today (Wednesday the 24th, I posted this the next day) was my last day in the forest for two weeks because Julie's parents are coming to visit her. So I am going to be staying with Chollada in Bangkok during this time (thank goodness for Thai sisters).

Khao Yai said goodbye to me with a beautiful sunrise this morning

This morning we went to try to get a recording of the leopard alarm call for the W group, because Julie does not have the recording of this group yet and we need it for our playback experiments. The W group is very habituated because their territory lies in the middle of the tourist trail. This made for a fun day in the field. Plus the W territory is in the same area as the S territory, so the forest is similar. It has a very wild jungle-y feeling to it that I like very much. It rained a lot the night before so it was wet and the leeches and mosquitoes were out in full force. The W group also had an interesting story. There are 5 in the group, an adult male and female, and infant, a juvenile and an 8 year old subadult who has not yet dispersed. The two older offspring do not belong to Sari the female, but instead to Wotan's previous mate who died. So Sari is like their "stepmother", Julie thinks this is why the 8 year old male has not yet dispersed. He doesn't need to take the risk and can just stay and be the secondary male in his father's group.

There were a ton of spiky palm plants in this territory, so Julie made good use of her machete. There is also a pond/swamp area, so the ground was a bit muddy in some places and it made me wish I'd worn my rubber boots instead of my hiking boots.

Evil palm plants that stab you.

There were some rapids in the river near the overlap of the W and S territories, which made me sad I am missing Raftoid again this year.

W let us know where they were by singing, and we followed them hoping they'd go somewhere convenient for us to place the leopard. Of course they didn't, but they entertained us with their branch swinging and running on two legs across a large branch. this hilarious because they normally brachiate so on two feet they are totally out of their element and just swing their arms wildly for balance. They aren't afraid of getting close so I got some good pictures (it is still hard because they move so fast!). We also saw an big eagle in their territory. It swooped over them a few times, perhaps thinking about hunting them. Once when this happened they all dropped down much lower into the canopy, indicating they might have seen it as a threat. I also saw my first hornbill after hearing their loud squawks for a week!

 Sari and infant


 Wirawan (juvenile)
 action shots!

 zoomed way in on the eagle
the river

We were unable to do the leopard recording because they gibbons were close to a house and the road which meant too much noise for a good recording. We left at about 11am and returned to the rescuse center to pack up for Bangkok. We made a little lunch, the drove to the entrance of the park, then took the shuttle bus to the bus station in Pak Chong where we waited for the bus to Bangkok, which took about 2.5 hours. Once in Bangkok Julie and I took a taxi to our hotel in Sukhumvit. It is a beautiful hotel! I have pictures on my phone, but not on the computer. It also only about $26 for the night for a room with AC and free wifi! there is also a pool but I decided to skip it. Julie and I went to the big market kitty-corner to the hotel where you could buy just about anything from clothes, to DVDs, to food and alcohol. We walked by all the food stands once and then separated and picked out what we wanted. I got some rice, some sweet sausage and something I wasn't sure about but looked good; I think it was minced pork in yellow curry with lemongrass, it was very good but VERY spicy. Julie bought me an excellent orange juice that comes from tiny citrus fruits that are green on the outside and orange on the inside and tastes like tangerines or clementines. We ate and then Julie ordered us some beers from the bar. There was a live band that started playing while we were eating, we were right next to the speakers, so it was loud, but a very cool atmosphere! Then we went back to the hotel and chatted for a while before bed, Julie told me all about what she has studied the past several years; everything from pythons to horses to birds to gibbons! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I haven't posted in a few days and there are a few reasons. One, Sunday was really boring. We woke up VERY early to go record dawn calls (which is a male solo) but there was too much background noise (thanks to insects, macaques, birds, etc.) and we weren't close enough to the group we wanted, and we missed the beginning. so we will have to try that again another time. so we got back at about 6:30am and had nothing to do for the rest of the day. So I napped, read a lot, learned to French braid my hair, did some laundry...and then the best part of the day: Julie and I went to the restaurant for dinner! YUM! Meat and vegetables! I had big noodles with chicken, greens of some sort and egg in a brown sauce. SO YUMMY for a tummy surviving on mostly peanut butter, bread and eggs for the past few days.

Then, Monday (HAPPY EARTH DAY!). We went into the field early, found the N group very early and thought we would be lucky enough to do another python trial...but no. At about 7:30 the gibbons saw something, we can;t be sure what, but it upset them. They made disturbed/alarm calls for the next hour. the female was so upset she came over and peed and almost pooped on us. GREAT. We couldn't move because we were recording and the noise would ruin it. Although I have to say being peed on by a primate for the first time did feel like some sort of rite of passage. Anyway, because the gibbons had already been upset by something natural, it wouldn't be right to scare them again with the fake python. So, with nothing else to do in the forest that day, we left by 8:30. We were met by some Thai tourists on our way out who seemed surprised to see two white women walking out alone all dressed up in field clothes and equipment. So they took pictures of us. The Thai tourists are generally scared of the forest and just stand on the outskirts hoping to see something from there rather than venturing on any of the tourist trails, so we were probably the first animals they'd seen. I came home, showered, ate a PB&J and then decided to take a nap. When I woke up the power was out from thunderstorms, which also means no water. So we were pretty much left doing nothing for the entire day. It was actually a nice day because the storms weren't over us, so Julie and I sat outside on the porch and chatted for a few hours before retreating to our rooms with candles. There was something peaceful about sitting and reading by candle light, but I was certainly happy when I woke up the next morning to the power restored.

Today was a good day. Julie and I went to try to do the python with the S group. Of course they didn't sing for us even though we got there very early, so we walked all around looking. Finally at 8:00 who spotted the gibbons? Yours truly. Yep, it was a proud moment, and Julie congratulated me on my first time finding them before her. They were on the other side of the river, so we found a good place to cross and had to backtrack to find them again. After following them and doing the scan for an hour they were in a perfect position for us to set up the python. Unfortunately they barely reacted. The female gave a few "hoo"s and stared at it for a good ten minutes, the male kept eating and the juvenile kept playing. Then the female moved off, and although they did scan the ground quite a bit, their behavior wasn't very affected. Julie says that this group gets a lot of tourist traffic, so they might be generally less cautious because of that. We had about 15 minutes left in the scan when they crossed back to the other side of the river in a spot where we definitely couldn't follow, so we had to end the scan early. When we returned to where we had crossed in the first place, the river had risen and inch or two and it was quite a bit more difficult to cross. We ended up putting a log down and using a big bamboo stalk as a walking stick to stabilize us as we crossed. Although the river made things difficult, I really liked this part of the forest. The canopy was pretty easy to see in most places, but it had a very jungle-y feel to it with lots of palm plants, and the river crossing made me feel adventurous.

Anyway, this is a pretty boring post. The gibbons were perfectly photogenic today and very low in the canopy, but of course I didn't bring my camera because the forecast didn't look good. So, no pictures from the last few days. But here, by Nancy's request, is me all dressed up for the field:

Its hard to see but things are labeled going clockwise:
1) backpack (from Nathan!) 2) thin loose long sleeve shirt to keep bugs off 3) awesome Nikon binoculars 4) watch! 5) comfiest field pants 6) leech socks doused in 100% deet 7) awesome waterproof hiking boots 8) GPS 9) hydration system for backpack 10) makeshift curtain/wall for my "room" haha.

Tomorrow morning will be our last time in the field for two weeks, so hopefully the sky dumped all its tain on us this afternoon and won't have any left tomorrow morning. I am headed back to Bangkok for the next two weeks while Julie's family visits her, so I will be hanging out with Chollada's family some more (hopefully they don't get sick of me) and perhaps visiting a beach too! Then we will really get into starting our playback experiments and I will hopefully by then have learned how to collect good data and contribute to the project a bit more!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

how to ruin a gibbon's day

If you're ever looking for a way to make a whole family of gibbons really upset, just put a fake predator underneath them. It will lead to at least an hour of nervous, frightened, frustrated behavior.

This is how I feel when we do the python experiments, sort of like a big bully. This is why we never do these experiments with neighboring groups within several days, sometimes it upsets the entire "neighborhood". So we strategically carry out our python experiments with groups on opposite sides of our research area so that no one gets upset multiple days in a row.

So, since we failed with the H group yesterday, we set out to find them again today. We were lucky and found them within an hour! We had to wait a while to start the scan because they weren't very visible. Finally, after the hour-long scan was complete we were ready to place the python. Once we found a spot that was suitable for the python, on a log that had some sun shining on it, we had to be very careful to place it there without being seen while also being sure the gibbons would eventually see it. Well we set the python down at 10:35am and it took them until 10:56 to notice it! It was a long wait, so I flopped down on a clear patch of ground on the hill and waited. When they did see it they were clearly unhappy, but instead of breaking into a loud chorus after a few minutes of murmuring at it like the other groups had done, they just let out soft cries and threatened it for about a half an hour. They shook branches and even sent a few crashing to the ground nearby, maybe to scare the python away. This obviously wasn't working though (since the python is fake...). Eventually, still uneasy they started to move off, but then, not satisfied that the python was still there they returned and continued their soft cries and threats. finally they moved off a second time and Julie removed the python. After she removed it, they returned again to check out the area, and left, and returned once again. Even after their soft cries slowly faded away, they were clearly still bothered by the idea that the snake might still be around. the entire group nervously scanned the ground as they finally moved on to their favorite feeding tree.

Anyway, like I said, this makes me feel a bit like a bully...but hey, its cool that we are getting a reaction, because the last person to use (a really unrealistic) python model, only got reactions from a few groups, while we've had reactions in all the groups we've tested so far!

So, that was our day in the field. Success! Here are some pictures of the H group:

 dad Felix grooming one of the juveniles
 one of the juveniles...happy and curious (pre-python)
 Felix, trying to figure out where the python went...
 Where is it?!
 And here is a picture of two leeches having some fun on my boot.

In other news, today my hunger is finally starting to get to me. I haven't been eating enough, and today it was consuming my thoughts. The past few days I've had oatmeal for breakfast, filling enough. I cave and eat an apple in the field around 10am. Then we get back between 12 and 2pm and I am usually to exhausted to think about making something (even a PB&J, so I sit around a bit and then shower. Then by the time I muster up the energy to eat, it just isn't enough. I didn't buy enough food at the store because I didn't know what to get and what would fit in the fridge. I also thought "Oh I can always go eat at the "restaurants" in the park. But wait, I feel awkward asking Julie for a ride down there, plus I don't know the hours. Julie doesn't seem to eat very much and its killing me! She stays in her room doing work after we get back from the field until evening time when she comes out to do more work, but I don't feel comfortable interrupting her to take me down to get some food! Its a struggle. So, I live on PB&J and scrambled egg sandwiches. I make the eggs in a rice cooker (yeah, I'm that good/desperate). And I demolish them and am left still hungry. So, I need to work on fixing this issue ASAP...

Well, that's it for today, getting up extra early 4:15am to be out in the field by 5:15. So here's a picture of the sunset and the resevoir, goodnight.

Friday, April 19, 2013

snakes on snakes on snakes

The bad news: today it took us forever to find the H group because they were silent all morning, and when we found them they were so high in a tree that there wasn't enough visibility to do any scans or the python experiment.

The good news: I sort of learned how to collect some data. I learned how to use my GPS a little better. We did at least see some gibbons, the R group, and I got some decent photos.

 Henry scratching his leg
 The whole family. Juvenile Rarin grooming mom Brit, dad Henry on left.
Henry putting on a show.

After the R group crossed the river we went back to search for the H group. We FINALLY found them lazily feeding way up in a tree. As we were watching Julie looked down and noticed about 5 meters from us was a snake...wait, no...two snakes; one eating the other! We stepped a little closer and saw it was a cobra feasting on something that looked WAY too big for it, but in doing so we scared it off. It coughed up its meal and slithered away quickly in the opposite direction. We stood still watching, knowing the other snake might not be dead, and might be dangerous. Indeed, it wasn't dead and soon started slowly moving. It swayed drunkenly from the neurotoxin of the cobra and attempted to slither away. This gave us plenty of opportunities to take pictures! I felt bad for the little guy, I'm assuming he died eventually, but her put up quite a fight. He hissed at us when we got too close by accident, thinking he's already gone, and he moved feebly away while flies circled him, he must have already smelled like death.

 Mr. cobra's lunch is as big as he is!
 Victim in a daze.
 waking up a but, but still struggling

Then, as we were leaving, we saw this guy! Some sort of wild rooster looking thing. He was making a lot of noise at us.

And finally, here is a picture of the river. It was narrow here so we could cross to get back to the truck.

So, even though we didn't get much done in terms of the project, it was an interesting day in the forest for me. Hopefully tomorrow will be better for finding gibbons though!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

First day in the field!

I woke up at 5:30 this morning, got all my stuff ready, had some instant oatmeal and headed out to the forest with Julie at about 6:30. We stumbled upon the E group of gibbons first-my first time seeing gibbons in the wild! We didn't stay with them long because we were looking for the B group. Next we crossed the T groups territory and saw them briefly. We finally got to the B group at around 8:30am. We heard a great call and got to see the baby and the adult male playing with a giant squirrel (mostly just chasing it). These squirrels are honestly huge, like the size of Tori. After a while we noticed another adult male was with the group, which is weird because the B group should only have one. Apparently sometimes there is an extra adult male, but he never participates in duets. Julie took some photos to try to figure out who he was, and to make sure the singing (main) male hadn't been replaced by the new male. The singing male had not changed, which is good because this would affect the experiments.

The juvenile of B

After a while we were ready to try the python experiment. We use a fake python as a stimulus to see if the gibbons will vocalize. Finally after two failed attempts to place the python in a place where it could be seen by the group, we were successful. The poor things called for over an hour. We had to be very quiet and still during this whole time so as not to affect the recording of the vocalizations. The alarm call sounds sort of like a whining, howling dog. I have a video, but I don't think the internet is good enough to upload it. I wish I had taken more pictures, but I wanted to make sure I was paying attention on my first day. I am worried now though, that taking pictures will only be harder as I start to collect more data, and when the rainy season begins.

After the python experiment we headed back to "camp". We got back around 2, showered, had lunch, and did laundry (there's a machine, WHAT?!). Then I was pretty bored and lonely...I hope once Julie and I get to know each other better it will get better. But until then I have plenty of books to read and movies to watch (thanks to Julie).

Another thing I should mention is that the mosquitoes actually weren't bad at all today. The only bites I've gotten have been here in the building around dusk. I was surprised because it rained the last few days. What was bad were the leeches. Yeah, here leeches don't just live in the water. They crawl around on the ground looking for someone to feed on, and apparently sometimes they fall out of trees onto your neck and chest, which sounds just fabulous. Apparently I'm going to need a scarf. When you are standing still watching the gibbons they take the opportunity to climb up your boots, onto your legs and up as high as they can before you notice, hopefully finding some bare skin. Fortunately for me today none were so lucky, but I'm sure that will change soon, especially during the rainy season or when we follow groups closer to the river. Lovely. My nastiest encounter today was one somehow got into the eyecup of my binoculars and I didn't notice and put them up to my eyes and felt it wriggle and touch my eyeball. Thank goodness I have quick reflexes and it didn't have a chance to take hold on my eye.

Welcome to Khao Yai!

I arrived in Pak Chong Wednesday afternoon. After a quick trip to the supermarket to buy food that could be prepared using only a rice cooker and boiling water, Julie and I headed into Khao Yai. As I was settling into my new accommodations this guy (or girl) paid us a visit:

After I'd sort of settled in Julie and I drove down to the part of the park where tourists go and had some dinner at one of the "restaurants". I had Pad Thai again, not as good as the street cart (which didn't make me sick!!). In the river outside the restaurant we saw a monitor lizard swimming:

After dinner I finished unpacking some of my stuff (but not all as this housing may only be temporary) and went to bed earlyyyy so I could be up my 5:30am to get ready for the field...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bangkok days 2,3 and 4...

Sunday, April 14

Today we went to the mall. We bought me a phone, after visiting several stores to find something cheap and prepaid. After we got my phone we walked around the market section of the mall and I got to try a bunch of new things. Candies and snacks and fruits. Most of it was too weird for me. They make a lot of desserts using some sort of a sweet yellow bean. It tastes a little like sugar cookie dough, but its a little weird. I don't like it that much, I think its an acquired taste. What I did LOVE was the baby pineapple! they have tiny pineapples that are like regular pineapples but sweeter, and they burn your tongue less! They are so delicious, they need to come to America. We had lunch in the mall at a Thai version of Chinese hot pot. basically it is a pot of broth in the middle of the table and you order a bunch of meats, seafoods, and vegetables and cook them in it. It was very good and I got to try a lot of things. After we went to the mall, we went to the local market and got some fruits and food for dinner. I had a fresh fruit juice, that I don't think made me any sicker, although I was worried it was going to. Then, just when I thought the day was over we went to the temple closest to Chollada's house to celebrate Songkran. We poured flower water on Buddha, and built a sand castle for Songkran. It was a fun day, but I was very tired and feeling a little sick from Saturday's lunch. When we got home I laid down for a while. Chollada and I went to her friends house for a little birthday gathering. We hung out for a bit and had some cake before heading home.

Monday, April 15. Chollada's Birthday!

Today we woke up early to go celebrate Songkran with water fighting. Chollada, Ploy and I went to meet with some for Ploy's friends from her university. We then went to a HUGE temple to pray for a good day. This temple apparently houses some of Buddha's bones which are scattered throughout various Buddhist counties. After the temple we had ice cream...with sticky rice in it! Weird, but not bad. After we had ice cream we hung out at one of the girl's houses for a while until lunch was ready. It was delicious. there was spicy chicken, egg, a cauliflower and shrimp dish, and noodles in a sweet sauce. Finally, after all that we were ready to go to the busy area of town where everyone celebrates Songkran with water. we took a (slightly terrifying) three-wheeled car called a Tuk Tuk. Armed with water guns we headed into the war-zone. We were soaked within minutes. The worst was the ice cold water that was being sold to refill people's guns. People were also using a talc powder mixed with water to make a paste they was wiped on everyone's faces. I was very popular for spaying with water and for wiping powder on because I'm a foreigner. After a few hours we were cold (huge surprise, never thought I'd be cold in this country), so we headed back home. We then showered off all the powder and headed to a great seafood restaurant for Chollada's birthday. Her boyfriend came 5 hours just for dinner! How sweet. We had huge grilled shrimps (whole-we had to behead and peal them ourselves), and huge steamed shrimps with noddles, fried sea bass, scallops, fried rice with crab meat, cockles (weird), 2 seafood soups, and I cannot ever remember what else. When we went home we had two different kinds of birthday cake for Chollada.

Tuesday, April 16

Today was a lazy day. I slept in and got to Skype with Nathan when I woke up. Chollada slept pretty late, when she was up we ate brunch: steamed chicken and rice and friend chicken and rice. It was really good, whatever sauce we used to put on it was delicious. Then I say around and watched some TV. In the afternoon we went to the wholesale market to Chollada's sister could buy some fabric to make a dress. We ate some DELICIOUS Pad Thai at a street cart (so good I don't even care if it gives me the shits). After we ate we took a taxi back home and have spent the evening relaxing and watching TV (and catching up on this).

It is my last night in Bangkok, tomorrow I will take the bus to Pak Chong and then go into the national park with Julie. Hopefully the internet will be good and I'll be able to post somewhat often, but we will see how it goes.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bangkok Day 1

My first day in Bangkok was a busy one. I woke up earlier that I would have liked because of jet lag. Then we had breakfast with Chollada's family (mom, aunt, sister, and a close family friend). Breakfast was a couple of different dishes, but was basically what you would expect to get at lunch or dinner; chicken, pork, fish, rice, etc. After breakfast, we got dressed in long sleeves and long pants so that we would be dressed appropriately for the temple. We then got in the car, drove to the skytrain, took the skytrain to the river, and took a boat to the Grand Palace. Here is where the Royal family lives and where the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is, this is apparently the most sacred Buddha to visit and pay respects to. After this we went to get lunch at a street cart (poor choice in retrospect, but I didn't want to be rude). Then we visited two more temples; one that had very steep stairs that we climbed up, and one that had an ENORMOUS reclining Buddha. At the last temple we all had Thai massages, which was pretty great. I was pretty much ready to go home and pass out at this point, but it was time for dinner and a show. We had dinner at calypso, and were entertained by traditional Thai dance while we ate. The food was great but I didn't eat much because my stomach hurt from lunch. Then after dinner was the best part, we went to a drag show! I felt like I was in Vegas, even though I've never been there. The so called "lady-boys" put on a spectacular show. After this it was finally time to go home, after the commute we finally got back around midnight and I fell asleep right away. It was a very long day.
At the Grand Palace

 Scary steps....
 Giant Buddha
 Don't fall!
 Dinner at Calypso
 Before the show
 Drag show

Thursday, April 11, 2013

how to pack for the field...I hope

I'm making lists and I'm checking them twice. I'm hoping I haven't forgotten anything crucial. Having done this once before, though for a much shorter period, I have some experience in what I absolutely don't want to forget. The most important thing to remember is that the rain forest is WET.

The essentials are as follows:

Plastic garbage and Ziploc bags, a compass, a watch, insect repellent, anti-itch cream, vaseline, baby powder, a mosquito net, ex-officio quick dry underwear, wool socks, hiking and/or rubber boots, breathable hiking pants, loose, thin button up shirts, a quick drying towel, a dry bag, waterproof binoculars, contacts, a poncho, anti-diarrheal medicine, tums, pepto, a flashlight, write in the rain notebooks and pens, and PLENTY of good books to read.

Hopefully all that (and more) fits in a reasonably small bag... We'll see, I haven't gotten that far yet. 
Tori is trying to avoid being left behind.

...almost all packed, time to go!!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

packing, unpacking, packing some more.

I've spent the past few days packing up all of my possessions in Ann Arbor, lugging them in multiple loads to Allen Park, unpacking them, finding places in my parents house to put all this junk, and somehow also preparing to leave for Thailand in two days. It has been a little overwhelming. But I've also had a little fun too; last minute visits with friends, watching the Wolverines compete in the NCAA National Championships, and spending a little bit more time with my family.

So, as I pack up, and consider what I absolutely need, and what I can do without, I'll give you a little bit of a better idea of what I'll be doing for 5 months in the middle of the rainforest. I will be studying these guys:

White-handed gibbons

The gibbon pictured here is doing what gibbons do best; calling. Gibbons live in "monogamous" pairs (of course there's always cheating). Pairs often create beautiful duets together in order to maintain their territories. They also produce complex calls in response to predators. These calls are different depending on the type of predator (eagle, leopard or snake). This is what the graduate student I am assisting is studying. So in order to study this alarm call behavior we will be using predator models and playing recordings of alarm calls from different gibbons and recording vocal responses from the gibbons to these stimuli. Then we will see how gibbons react differently to both different predator types, and to hearing different alarm calls. This is the best I can do to explain the project now, but in 5 months when I'm home I'm sure I'll be an expert and will talk your ear off about it.

So, hopefully that satisfies you're curiosity of what I'm traveling halfway around the world to do. As for why it matters, I don't really want to have to convince you. But basically, gibbons have very complex calls, and some believe they display some precursors to syntax (or "language rules") in these complex calls. By varying the order of the sounds they produce, they change the meaning of their call. A better understanding of this could helps us learn more about the evolution of human language. So we're trying to figure out why humans can talk, good enough justification?