Day Six: Introductory Hikes
Our first couple of days at Cocha Cashu were spent getting our bearings, and for good reason. Cocha Cashu is so remote and the forest is so untouched that it comes as a bit of a shock. The 31st of August was an easy hiking day.
We woke up nice and early for our first hike (though much later than we were used to, at that point – we nearly fell over when they told us that we weren’t meeting until 7:00AM). We were all required to wear rubber boots while out in the wilderness, so I donned my absolutely ridiculous-looking white boots that I bought in Cusco. Pretty much everyone bought there’s in Cusco, but theirs were black and yellow. Me, being my father’s daughter and therefore an incredible cheap individual, decided to go for the white boots that were two or three soles cheaper. Suffice it to say, I got teased a bit – but all in good fun, of course!
We split up into groups after breakfast. One group went with Ursula to explore the area north of the station, and my group went south with Tim. We worked our way beyond the tents, into the thicker vegetation, and eventually into swampland. Along the way, we were introduced to dozens of plants, insects, and spiders. At one point, Tim caught a beautiful Blue Morpho butterfly and held it up for us to see clearly. They’re simply enormous! He also caught the much smaller Glass-Winged Butterfly. Throughout the hike, we were focusing on plant adaptations, particularly in the swampy areas. We discussed why all leaves in the rainforest had “drip tips”, why only some trees have buttresses, and how plants compare to others. For me, it was a new academic experience; I’m not a science major, after all. I struggled to keep up with the Latin names of plants, but I was determined to learn more!
Later in the day, our group went with Ursula and did the same thing in a new area. We talked a lot about termites, the Solanaceae family (tomato, eggplant, bell pepper, etc.), and plant predation. We also got to see some incredible monkey activity right above our heads! We all went to our tents completely exhausted that night, and fell asleep to the itching of bug bites and the lullaby of the jungle.
Day Seven: Introduction to Bird Watching
And on the seventh day, Ursula said….let us watch birds.
Anyway, the first of September was devoted to the birds! We got up very early and split into three groups, who all went in different directions. My group started in the canoes with our TA, David. The canoes are these shaky, hard-seated cedar canoes – I’ll talk a whole lot more about those once we get to our research projects. For today, we took these canoes out for nearly two and a half hours before breakfast and enjoyed watching the sun come up over the lake.
During our time out there, we got to finally see the Giant River Otters up close. They were too quick to get good pictures of, but they popped up around us a few times before becoming bored with us and heading north. We also observed Jacanas, Hoatzins, Donacobius, Green Ibis, Scarlett Macaws, Blue and Gold Macaws, a Red Capped Hawk, Tiger Heron, and many other bird species. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I was getting really into birds at this point. I think the fact that I struggled so much with the plant names but understood the bird names made them that much more exciting to observe. Not to mention that they were all beautiful and so different than the birds at home.
After breakfast, we went with the next group. For us, that was mist netting with Ursula. She taught us how to handle, take out, clean, put away, transport, and set up the nets. Once we had been educated, we headed out into the field to put our new knowledge to the test. We found our spot in the woods, set up our nets, and left them overnight. It wouldn’t be until the next day that we actually got to try catching birds and studying them.
The day wasn’t long enough for a three-part rotation, so my group would be bird-watching with Tim the following day. The rest of this day was spent taking a botany class in which we learned how to inquire about and identify plant characteristics. Again, I really struggled, but I’ve come home with a bunch of new knowledge about plants and I want to learn even more.