Learning Field Techniques – September 2nd and 3rd

Day Eight: Field Research Methods

This morning started with yet another trip onto the lake. At 5:30AM, we took off to the other side of the lake to continue our practice with bird identification. We identified a red-capped cardinal, large-billed tern, hoatzin, blue and yellow macaw, cormorant, muscovy ducks, jacana, and black-tailed hawk, which was particularly exciting (I love birds of prey).

When we returned to shore, it was time to switch groups. My group went with Ursula to check the mist nets for birds. We had caught one white-capped flycatcher. Ursula showed us what to look for on the birds and how to take the data. This included leg diameter, fat content, wing length, gender, and molting. I was lucky enough to get to let the bird go. I took him in my right hand and could immediately feel the poor thing’s heart racing. What must that be like for the bird? I was relieved to see it fly off unharmed.

Everyone came in around 11:30AM, so we all just waited for lunch. Once we had our fill of the delicious stuffed squash with rice, we got ready for our insect identification class. My group was able to bring back a shed cicada exoskeleton, some termites, a large ant (with a severed dragonfly head in its jaws), a butterfly, and a damsel fly. During class, we learned how to examine insects and how to determine their order.

After the entomology class, we had our first group presentation. Before we left for the trip, we had all been assigned to groups to present in Peru on different subjects surrounding biodiversity. This day was the Functions of Biodiversity group. They held their discussion/activities out on the lawn. The presentation covered fundamental ecosystem functions and services, such as succession, pollination, disturbances and reactions, nutrient recycling, and top-down control. The rest of the evening was spent talking about our research projects. Overall, this was a long, hard day. Just one of many. But so worth it.

Day Nine: Project Refinement

Today was primarily spent refining our research projects. Nick, Sara, and myself have decided to do a behavioral study on Hoatzins, a particularly awkward and hilarious bird. I completely fell in love with these blundering fools when I first saw them balancing poorly in the trees. I found them oddly beautiful, and comically evolved. I wanted to learn as much as I could about them, mostly because I thought they were mysterious. They look totally unique, and their behavior intrigued me. My group spent quite some time talking with each other as well as a bird researcher there, who offered some excellent advice. We were told that we’d start our projects the next day with a two hour survey of the lake, where we would plot all observed groups and count individual birds. Next steps would include defining behaviors and randomly selecting groups to study.

At this point, I was really excited to start the project. I thought the Hoatzin was the most oddly fascinating thing out on the lake, and they aren’t very heavily researched. I liked (and still do!) my group members, and I loved being out on the lake.

Laker that day, we had a photography workshop from Dano, who was there on a video assignment from the San Francisco Zoo. We messed around with our cameras for a while and I was able to find some really neat setting on the camera I’d brought. I was able to get some great shots of butterflies after that.

We also heard from Lisa, who was doing research on the giant river otters and the Orinoco Geese. I thought it was particularly interesting when she said that a goose traveling alone would take a straight shot route to Bolivia for the migratory season, whereas geese with families will wind along the river.

It was another long, hard day. Not Not quite as physically intense as other days, but it was bloody hot and everyone was exhausted. I think the constant schedule and rough sleep was catching up with us. not to mention a lot of frustration with the project proposals – I was so glad to hear that our was going to work out.

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