Sunday, June 30, 2013


Well the sun finally came back! We've had barely any rain since Wednesday. So that means we've been in the field, which is wonderful. I missed the gibbons and the smell of the marshmallow trees! The impact of the rain was obvious when we went to the W territory on Friday, the pond that was dry when I arrived has filled about with a foot or two of water! The river has also risen significantly. The reservoir is coming back to more normal levels, but our water is still a disgusting, murky, yellow-brown color. I have been in much better spirits since we've been able to be back in the forest and I have started running again after taking a week off. Today on my run I went past two monks on the road. I am not sure if I have mentioned it before, but me running is quite the tourist attraction apparently. People wave excitedly and lean out their car windows to photograph me as they pass in their cars. I think maybe the blond girl running is more interesting than the wildlife, or maybe they just haven't seen much wildlife. Anyway, the two monks both had huge cameras and as I got closer the one switched the direction of his camera and pointed it right at me. He waited until I was only 3 or 4 feet away before snapping what I'm sure was an incredibly attractive close-up of me using that huge zoom lens. Anyway, I decided that after that I'm definitely not going to feel rude or like an obnoxious tourist if I should ever decide to snap a photo of a monk.

My first day back in the forest I got a nice leech bite on my butt. Okay, just above my butt. Anyway, as usual I had no idea it was there and he didn't drop off until I showered I guess. I still had no idea and I put on my clothes, made lunch, and it wasn't until I went to the bathroom and noticed blood all over my shorts and underwear that I realized it. I was really traumatized about why my butt was bleeding for a few seconds before realizing it was a leech. Yeah, imagine the thoughts running through my head...anyway, that makes leech bite number three. every time I am amazed at how much those suckers make you bleed. Leech bite number one from four weeks ago still itches once and a while so I really hope this one isn't the same.

Anyway, besides that, the last few days in the forest have been pretty uneventful, so I am just going to post a few photos.

 Chao groomed by Chinda
 Baby climbing on Chinda's head. "Mom play with meee!"
 C group infant hanging around by mom and dad
 Chinda and infant
 Chokdee, looking worried.
 Finally got a non-blurry photo of a barking deer or munjak.
 So pretty!
 The leech that attacked my butt Thursday and fell off while I showered.
I found him still creeping around in there Friday morning, so I sprayed him with 40% deet and he regurgitated my blood. Revenge.
 William :)
The river is raging now!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

reasons I hate rain

You may recall a post from last month in which I praised the rain for coming and cooling me off. I did admit that I would probably end up regretting saying such nice things about rain, and that time has indeed come. The rainy season here at Khao Yai comes on gradually. It starts in about June. Normally, it starts off slowly, with a few little showers here and there and gradually increases to full blown rain all day by September or so. At least this is what I've been told. However, the last week has been anything but normal. It has rained every single day since last Monday afternoon, and not just little showers, but nearly constant rain. Though I admit the rain does have some benefits; namely, it makes it a heck of a lot cooler. This week the costs have considerably outweighed the benefits. When your research project is about vocalizations and requires a lot of expensive, non-waterproof equipment, then rain becomes synonymous with boredom. Last week after waking up three days in a row to rain, we decided to go to Bangkok hoping for better weather come Monday. That did not happen, nor on Tuesday, nor today. So it has been a REALLY boring and unproductive week. I haven't seen the gibbons in so long! The good news is that  tomorrow the weather is supposed to be excellent, so lets just hope that is true.

Although Monday was an especially painful day because the power was out all day, we did see elephants again! Today we went to Pak Chong to get some maintenance done on the truck. That took a long time, but we stopped at Tesco on the way home and I got some banana muffins! We also stopped at a restaurant for dinner which was pretty good. I accidentally ate an incredibly spicy yellow pepper from the green curry and coconut soup not realizing it would be so hot. I always think of sweet bell peppers when I see yellow peppers. So my mouth burned for about 15 minutes. So those are the highlights of this week so far, there aren't many. but tonight I am optimistic, hopefully we will be about to do a playback tomorrow!

 mom, son (with tusks) and daughter (baby)

 The big field and salt licks (teeny elephants on the right)

getting a little too close for comfort

Took a video because I thought it was cool to see them moving all together

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Chatuchak Market

If you were only going to be in Bangkok for a single day, you should spend most of that day at Chatuchak Market. This is one of the world's largest weekend markets and it is seriously awesome. That statement means a lot coming from me, daughter of Nancy Jackson, who hates shopping and crowded places. This is why I recommend going in the morning. After we had lunch, by about 2:00 the crowd was starting to get seriously unreasonable.

The reason I decided this is the place to go if you only have a day in Bangkok is because it has EVERYTHING. It gives you a little peek into everything that is Bangkok. Food on food on food. Every kind you can imagine. There is also no shortage of souvenirs. You can find anything from the goofiest knick-knacks like a butt-shaped toilet paper dispenser to the most beautiful art including huge murals and sculptures. You can also find a ton of everyday useful stuff. There are vintage clothes, new clothes, shoes, jewelry, leather products, books, kitchenware, essential oils, spices, and soooooooo much more. There is even an entire section dedicated to "creatures," as it says on the map. This includes everything from roosters, to puppies and kittens, to snakes, to sugar gliders. It is ridiculous. To me really, beside a few temples, this is Bangkok: food and shopping. I dislike cities, so maybe this is just my perspective but to me Bangkok's most redeeming factor is that if you need something, you can buy it; if you are hungry, just look around you there will be food and lots of it.

So, today Julie and I went to the market. Sadly, I forgot to take any pictures due to the serious sensory overload I was experiencing. So I will need to go back and remember next time. The downside of visiting such a huge market is while you may be able to buy anything there, you probably won't be able to find anything. So you can't really go with any specific purchases in mind, or you will end up really frustrated. And if you find something you really like, and you haven't seen something similar in 10 other shops already, you should probably buy it right then, because if you decide to mull it over and come back later, you probably won't be able to figure out where you found it. Unfortunately Julie and I went to look for souvenirs but also to find knives. She had previously been to what seemed like the only knife shop in the whole market, but had lost the little business card indicating its location and thus we had to go off her vague memory of the location. Eventually we found it, thankfully. I bought myself a pretty knife and a small use in the forest of course! There were so many options for food that Julie and I had to walk around looking for 15 minutes until we finally just committed to splitting some quail eggs over easy and spring rolls with watermelon and mango for dessert! After we ate we sort of slowed down quite a bit and it was starting to get crowded so we called it a day and headed back to the hotel for a rest.

my new weapons!

We left the hotel at around 8pm to go to the Sky Bar. We stopped for dinner along the way at a place that sold only mysterious noodle dishes. the place we wanted to go (which had more choices) had no available tables. At this place you could have your noodles dry or with broth, you could have three different shapes/sizes of rice noodles or egg noodles, but your choices ended there. No matter what, your bowl of noodles came with a mysterious assortment of meat and/or fish products. I really don't know how else to classify these. I think I've described fish balls on this blog before, well there was one fish ball (like a meatball made with mystery fish parts), and various other shapes of similar things, compressed ground up something. There was also a few dumpling-looking things, but those weren't great either. I avoided most of this and ate the noodles, the bean sprouts and the few real slices of chicken and bits of ground pork. After that we headed to the State Tower (2nd tallest building in Thailand) and went up to the Sky Bar. There is a dress code; basically for women it is just "no ugly flip flops." Upon reaching the 63rd floor we  were ushered onto a terrace and ordered drinks. We paid an arm and a leg, but for just one drink and the view it is worth it, plus they give you free pistachios (yum) and olives (yuck) to snack on. After we finished our drinks we headed over to the other part of the bar, which had a better view. There were tons of foreigners and it was really odd to hear so many Americans speaking. Being in Bangkok has actually been sort of a (reverse) culture shock. Its weird seeing and hearing so many "farangs." I guess it is going to be REALLY weird to go back to the States and see them EVERYWHERE.

Today was the most exciting of our trip to Bangkok. We got here Thursday evening and I spent pretty much all of Friday at the immigration office extending my visa. When I got back to the hotel I ate dinner at Pizza Hut alone because Julie was still busy getting tattooed for over 5 hours. So she had a long day too. Tomorrow morning we are going to have a relaxing morning and leave here around 11am. It has been a good trip, but 3 days in Bangkok is enough, I am ready to go back to the park.

This was a cool ice cream thing I got the other night. They pour the liquid ice cream onto a really cold surface and then mix in two goodies of your choice (white chocolate chips and brownies for me). They spread it into a thin layer as it freezes and then they scrape it up in little rolls and put it in a bowl and decorate it for you. Yum!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Back to Bangkok, but more importantly: elephants!!!

Well, it has been a rainy, awful, unproductive week. Unproductive because of the rain. However, there were a few highlights. One being dinner last night. I went out to "Moo Kata" with Jackie (grad student who did her dissertation research here two years ago and is here for a visit) her assistant Josh, Jambee (the neighbor of the old house) her daughter, and Bon (woman who works at the park convenience store). This is a kind of buffet that is adapted from Korean Barbecue. There is a bowl of hot coals and a little metal device sits on top. A picture is the best way to describe it.

So you cook like leafy greens and glass noodles in the broth on the perimeter and grill meat and seafood on top. You use different sauces to spice it up before you eat it. It is a really fun way to go out with friends. Its nice because it takes a while and you sort of just eat and cook slowly as you go. Afterward we went to Swensen's for ice cream. It was my first time going here, and apparently it is an American company but I have never heard of it.

I woke up this morning, and it wasn't raining, which was a good sign, but the sky looked awful. We had been stuck in the past two days due to nonstop rain, so we went out anyway. We had just hung the loudseaker when it started raining, so we gave up and packed it in. It rained on and off in the early morning. The rangers said the forecast wouldn't improve for a few more days, so we made a last minute decision to come to Bangkok this weekend rather than next to renew my visa. We decided to take the southern exit of the park to get to Bangkok this time to try it out. It takes longer to get to the southern entrance. When we got there, we parked and waited for a vehicle to exit the park and hitchhiked a ride to a nearby city to catch the bus. This was my first hitchhiking experience. I am really amazed at Thai people's helpfulness and generosity. Whether it be to give strangers a ride or to insist on carrying something for someone, they always want to help (sometimes to the point of being annoying). We took a minibus from Nakon Nayok to Bangkok, which was just over an hour-long trip, better than the three hour ride from Pak Chong, but all in all, with driving to the entrance and hitchhiking it really wasn't a much faster experience. It was about half the price though. People here tend to suggest minibuses as a better option, and they are usually more expensive, but I actually find them a more uncomfortable experience than regular buses. The capacity is 16 people and let me tell you, usually all 16 seats are full. There is no storage space for bags, so you sit there like a sardine with your bag on your lap. It is unpleasant. We finally made it to our hotel in Bangkok around 4:00 and were absolutely starving. We ate a late lunch or early dinner at the Tesco Lotus cafeteria and will probably go to the night market for a snack later on.

The best part of the day though, was seeing three elephants in broad daylight on our way out of the park! There were two females and a baby. It was pretty awesome and I got some great photos because the lighting was much better than last time. They weren;t in much of a hurry so we had plenty of time to take photos, and I went a little overboard.

 And proof I was actually with them and didn't just find these photos on the internet or something. Don't mind the crazy, wind-blown, open window hair.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

boring weekend

Sunset over the reservoir Saturday night.

Well, luckily I finished the previous post about the playback early Friday night because at 9pm the electricity went out. I was confused because it wasn't even raining yet, but it must have been windy or stormy elsewhere in the park. Today we saw the damage along the road, lots of fallen branches and trees had been swept to the side of the road. So, since we were blessed to go a whole two weeks without a power outage, mother nature decided to be a real bitch and give us the worst one yet this time. Since there was nothing to do Friday night in the dark, I went to bed early and woke up at 7:30 Saturday morning for an early run before it got too hot. Yeah, that didn't happen. I realized once I was up that the electricity had not been restored in the night, and you know what that means, no water either. So, no showers, which definitely meant no running, since even the shortest slowest of runs here make me sweat buckets. I wasn't tired though so I didn't go back to bed, and instead spent the morning reading. We had planned to go to the store that afternoon, but as we had no idea when we would have a functioning refrigerator, we didn't think it wise to go buy a bunch of perishable food. So I sat and read, and read a different book, then switched back to the first. And so the day went. It was incredibly boring, and unfortunately also hot. I also for some reason had a swarm of fruit flies following me all day so I spent most of the day inside rather than on the porch because the swarm wasn't quite as big inside. Maybe I smelled like fruit?

My journal entry from Saturday reads a little something like this:
13.5 hours and counting, its a record!
Almost 16 hours. Ugh. Bored.
Now its almost 3, hot as hell, and going on 18 hours without power.
These fruit flies won't leave me alone! I want to kill them all!
The power better come back soon or I might starve.
19 hours.
20 hours: I'm going to fall over and die of boredom.
20:15 hours it came back on...but for how long...?

So, that was dramatic. Oops. I lucked out though because the power did stay on when it finally came back at 5:15 and I was able to get a short run in and make a hot dinner of rice and corn. I went to bed early because I had a video chat date with Jane in the morning.

Sunday I got up at 6am and video chatted with Jane, which was great. I got to hear all about her awesome Euro-trip and about her first week living in East Lansing, where she starts med school Monday! I laid in bed for a while after that, not quite tired enough to fall back asleep but not motivated enough to get up and run yet. I finally got myself out the door for a nice 3 mile run at about 8:45. When I got back I showered and had some breakfast and then Julie and I left for Pak Chong at around 10:30. It was a lovely (but hot) day again today. Unfortunately the days when its sunny and nice out here are the hottest ones, so I actually prefer rainy days to nice ones. I also think I have solved the mystery of why one arm is tanner than the other: its the arm that hangs out of the car window when we drive to Pak Chong, which is an hour long drive and it always seems to be sunny when we go. Its ridiculous and I need to figure out how to even that out. Anyway, since we went earlyish to town we didn't go to the market since it doesn't open until 3, so we just got everything we needed at Tesco. The big tragedy of the day was that Tesco had ZERO banana muffins today, which are like my staple snack. I normally eat at least two a day. I was super bummed. I bought extra cereal instead, which is a pricey substitute. I also bought half a roasted chicken with sticky rice which I ate half of when I got home and saved the other half. It was delicious. We stopped for mangoes on the way home which was a little tricky because most of the stands had green, unripe ones unfortunately, we eventually found a stand selling very ripe ones, so I hope they don't go bad to quickly. Anyway, that was the boring and hot weekend but tomorrow we will try another playback experiment so hopefully that is successful.

Oh, and happy Father's Day to the best dad in the world!! :)

Friday, June 14, 2013


Well today we finally got to do a playback! Hooray! Julie said it was the first playback experiment done on these gibbons in 25 years! Apparently, the third time really is a charm. We tried the playback with W Tuesday, and lost the gibbons after a very long inter-group meeting (W pretty much has an inter-group meeting every day, apparently they like telling their neighbors to get off their lawn). Wednesday it rained so that doesn't count as an attempt. Thursday they spent the whole day all the way on the opposite side of their territory from where we set the loudspeaker for the playback. Today, was just right, finally.

A little side note about the playback experiment:
I don't think I've explained it before. This experiment is the reason for all the rope setting. So, we have set ropes between territories so we can hoist up a loud speaker very high for the playbacks. The higher the better so that it can be heard from very far. So, since we did W today I will explain using them. We set up a loudspeaker in the S territory which borders W. It cannot be in the overlap of the territories or else W could go all the way to the speaker when they hear it, which would be bad because they need to be tricked into thinking this is a real situation, not a weird human machine making noise. We orient the speaker toward the W territory, and when W is close enough to hear (about 200 or less meters) we can start the playback. This is why it is so hard, because the gibbon territories can be like 400x500meters, so its hard to ensure they are in the right place at the right time. We want to see how gibbons react when their neighbors sing a predator song (stimuli recorded from a previous encounter with the fake leopard model). So we will do three tests per group, the predator song, a regular duet, and a control (probably a bird song) and see how the gibbon's reaction differs. So we play S's predator song to W and see what W does, and if W responds with their own song, we record that. If W displays behavior like rushing toward the song, scanning the ground, increased vigilance or cautious behavior like carrying the baby more or even just increased grooming or decreased distance between group members (grooming is a way for primates to de-stress), this may indicate that they understand the meaning of the neighboring group's predator song. That is the important part, because Julie is studying communication between gibbons in the broader context of understanding the evolution of communication and eventually language in the primate lineage. So, voila! Hopefully that makes enough sense.

So, the day didn't start out so lucky. Julie and I both slept through our alarms. At 5:30, we were supposed to leave at 5:45, I jumped up out of bed. I ran to the bathroom and peed and then I realized wait, Julie's light is off, shes not up either? Well at least it took the pressure off me. I knocked several times until she woke up and we both rushed to get ready. So we left late. When we got to where our rope was hung, Julie and Yun (our ranger assistant who lays in a hammock all day until we tell him to press play) hoisted the speaker into the tree and I set off to find W because we heard a male singing in that general direction. I found the singer, and as I had suspected based on the location of the sound, it was an inter-group meeting (IGM) between NOS and W. Wotan and the male of NOS chased each other a little. At one point, while the secondary NOS male had Wotan distracted, the primary NOS male approached Sari (W female) and William had to chase him off. William as I've mentioned before is the son of Wotan, but not of Sari, so he has no reason to disperse, and is in all practical purposes a secondary male. However, before William chased him away, while he was approaching, the NOS male was kind enough to drop a huge load of watery shit right above me. I jumped out of the way just in time and only my bag and the microphone got splattered. Usually when the gibbons go to the bathroom they start to pee, then poop afterward (solidly). So you have a nice warning, you see the stream of pee, which you can usually dodge and if not its not that gross, and then you have a nice warning and have already moved before the poo bomb drops. In the case of diarrhea, apparently this system breaks down and you barely know whats coming until its splattered all over the ground, especially on a day after it has rained and the splatters hitting the leaves on the way down just sound like rain drops. Anyway, sorry for the gross detail, but almost being shit on was a pretty big part of my morning.

When the IGM was finally over the gibbons were in a great place for the playback, so we walkie-talkied Yun and told him to press play. Well, he was taking a bathroom break, great. So we missed our first chance. About 10 or so minutes later the gibbons had moved really close to the river, and therefore really close to the speaker which was just on the other side. So we decided, now or never. We started the playback. As soon as the song could be heard the gibbons looked straight in that direction and Wotan immediately took off toward the sound. Sari (and William) hung around for a minute but followed shortly after. I was following Sari and doing scans on her while Julie followed Wotan. We are just taking data on the mating pair, but William displayed basically the same behaviors throughout the playback as Wotan did, besides his initial reluctance to rush toward the speaker. Conveniently, they spent most of the two hour scan in the trees right at the edge of the river, allowing Julie and I to stand on the bridge to watch them. They were really high in the trees though, so looking up at the bright sky for that long was a struggle. Every 5 minutes for two hours we collected data on their position (sit, lay, hang, move in or between trees), their behavior (scanning, moving, resting, grooming, etc.) their height in the tree, the distance between the male and female, their gazes (looking at speaker, ground, sky etc), whether the baby was on or off mom, and we recorded every move on our GPS. It was intense, but successful! They spent a lot of time scanning, looking at the ground, toward the speaker, trying to find the S gibbons in the canopy to the left of the speaker. They also groomed, but still scanned while doing so. They didn't respond with their own disturbed song, but in fact the N group nearby did, which was cool! So after the two hour scan was over, we triumphantly headed back home, and it was only 10:30. A successful day in the field and done before 11am!

Yesterday, although a complete bust for the playback, was also a cool day. I saw a bunch of different wildlife! We saw a huge water monitor lizard out of the water, unfortunately it ran so fast I didn't get a picture. They look really goofy when they run though. We saw a bunch of macaques. We were completely surrounded at one point, and momentarily lost the gibbons because of their racket. Macaques are cool though because they actually hang out on the ground some of the time, and they live in much bigger groups, so there is usually more social stuff going on (which is what I'm more interested in than vocalizations). So I got to see a lot of play fighting and chasing. We also came across a teeny green pit viper. Julie stood next to it for about 10 minutes and didn't notice it. It wasn't until she started walking away and I was following her that I saw it moving away quietly. It froze once it knew we had noticed it, which allowed us ample picture taking opportunities. The pit vipers really aren't aggressive at all, they mostly just want to blend in and not be noticed. It was very pretty, it almost had a light blue sheen on its sides, different from the last one I saw. To top it off, at night a porcupine was hanging out in front of the porch, and I finally had the opportunity to get a photo!

Pig tailed macaque-found while trying to locate gibbons. Darn.
 The pond on W is starting to fill up after Wednesday's rain. Rainy season!
It used to be just mud.
 Cool fungus!
 Tiny pit viper. Less than an inch in diameter.

 Macaques are always moving, so it is hard to get non-blurry pictures.

 Malayan porcupine!

Woke up late this morning, but still had to take time to photograph this pretty sunrise outside my window!