Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rainy day monkey watching

From June 13, 2010 (again)

The Ficus is fruiting! Right now (or rather, as I wrote this earlier today), I´m sitting in the gazebo on the lagoon, as the rain pours down in sheets around us. But I can still see the Ficus bursting with ripe pink figs. Every few minutes, I peer through my binoculars, to see a brown ball of fur hunkered down. I know that brown mass contains two monkeys: Adult female Evelyn, and her juvie daughter Elsa. Earlier, when it began to drizzle, they continued foraging, but as it began to pour, they moved lower down in the tree. And there they are, an immobile mass of resting monkeys. There were at least two other monkeys in the ficus, but I´m not sure where they are now. Unaided, I can´t even see Evelyn and Elsa, and if I hadn´t seen them moving to their resting spot, I wouldn´t have known where to find that brown mass in the tangle of branches, leaves, and fruit.

The Ficus is what I call the party tree. I´ve been here twice before when its fruited, and each time for several days the spiders spend most of their days there, moving away only when the capuchins occupied the tree. Often, they´d even sleep there. The spiders and caps gorged themselves on figs, until the tree was fairly depleted or the ripe fruits. Finally, at the end, the howler monkeys would arrive, foraging among the mostly unripe fruits that remained.

It´s still raining, but the downpour is lessening. Evelyn and Elsa are still resting in the same spot. Through my binoculars, I can make out just a portion of Elsa´s face, pressed up against her mother´s fur. Both she and her mother have shifted slightly, though they remain tightly huddled. I love the way spider monkeys sleep. They tend to sit upright, hunch their backs and curl their limbs and tails, either around themselves and their resting partners. They then tuck their heads down, completing the transformation to an immobile, huddled mass of fur. When I did observations in the morning at Brookfield Zoo, there would usually be a small cluster of monkeys huddled in a quiet corner. Occasionally, Evita and Elvis would look up and whinny at me, and then tuck their heads back down.

On the frustrating side, the phone at the station hasn´t been working for a full week now, and it´s VERY frustrating. Some workers came down from the telephone company but they weren´t able to fix it. At least now they´ve identified the problem, but a replacement part is needed to fix it. I´m really hoping they will show up tomorrow with the new part and finally fix it. Everyone is getting sick of hearing me whine about how much i miss talking to my boyfriend, but it´s been a whole week! I can handle the long distance fine when we can talk regularly, but going a week without talking is about my limit.

Learning to ID monkeys

From June 13, 2010

Nearly every day we have spider monkeys that visit the station. Sometimes we’ll come back from the forest, and at the station, capuchins and spiders are at the station. There have been two mother-offspring pairs that have been regularly visiting. One pair is the golden female that I’ve named Ariadne, and her infant son Aaron (who, to the amusement of everyone here, I’ve named after my boyfriend). Aaron is an older infant, who travels dorsally on his mom most of the time, but has been making a few forays through the trees on his own. The other pair are Evelyn and Elsa—Evelyn is a large, dark reddish-brown female, with a dark face with markings that I call a “joker smile,” where, she has light markings on either side of her mouth that curl up a bit. Her daughter, Elsa, is a young juvenile-1, who seems to be locomoting most of the time on her own, but has occasionally snagged a ride on mom. Elsa has similar coloring to her mother, and she has a large pink patch around her mouth that curls up in the same “joker smile.” Most infants and younger juveniles have large pink patches around their mouths and eyes, and as they grow older they get more pigmented (by adulthood, some have completely darkened faces, whereas others retain some of the pink around their eyes and mouth).

For the most part, when I focus on identifying features, I start with color (the monkeys here range from golden blond to a deep reddish color to dark brown) and then I focus on “hair-do” and facial marking. Spiders tend to have either slight “cone-heads” or “cheek-fluff,” and then they sometimes have variation in pigmentation on their faces, or interesting facial markings like the ones I´ve described above. Something I really need to get better at is identifying individuals from their hind ends. I´ve heard the skin around the anogenital region, and the color and shape of their genitals as well, help with IDing, especially considering that´s usually the angle we see them at more often. I guess it need to get better at starting at monkey butts and genitals, instead of focusing on faces!

Fieldwork Begins

From June 7, 2010

This morning I was woken by the sound of capuchin vocalizations in the backyard. Because my current room has a window next to the bed that overlooks the yard, the capuchins were right by me. Though we didn’t go out today because we’re going to be heading to town to take care of a few errands, its nice to start out the day watching monkeys.

Overall, we’re off to a good start, although I know Aga and Katy are feeling very intimidated. Thus far, we’ve been running into spiders about twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon, but visiblity has been pretty tough. Just seeing individuals clearly enough to get age and sex categories down is proving challenging, and under those observation conditions, conducting focal follows and getting individual IDs

Nonetheless, I’m trying to remain optimistic. I have been able to identify one male, Dracula, who I’ve seen as a subadult four years ago, and have run into again two years ago. He’s easy to identify because he has these triangular markings above his eyes, giving him the appearance of a vampire-like hairline. I also remember that when I started my masters research, I worried that it would be impossible, but I managed to learn to individually recognize all the juvies and their moms, as well as a few other individuals. Furthermore, I did managed to collect 70 hours of focal data, and so with more time and hopefully a greater learning curve, things should improve. And though the visibility has been bad lately, I know that sometimes visibility is just impossible, but other times we do actually get to see the monkeys much more clearly.

It’s so nice to be back in the forest as well. We’ve been running into capuchins a lot, as well as some howlers, and the forest has been relatively dry, which makes the trails a bit more pleasant. The field station is a comfortable home-away-from-home, the food as been delicious, and with my phone card I’ve been able to talk to my boyfriend nearly every day. So thus far, though I am worried about getting the research underway, I’m happy and content in the field, and actually really glad to be down here. So thus far, I definitely think I’m off to a good start, and hope that as I get my “forest legs” back, we should start making headway towards IDing individuals and being able to start collecting data.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong...

We haven't even gotten to the field site yet, but our little research team has already been plagued with some major frustrations. I have two people joining me now, and one more that will be hear in a couple weeks--Katy, an undergrad who will be my summer assistant, and Aga and Jason, both masters students that will be conducting their own projects on the spiders while help me getting my project off the ground. Aga, Katy, and I were all supposed to fly from Chicago to San Jose yesterday, and leave for El Zota today. However, Aga's purse (containing both her passport and drivers license) was stolen in Chicago on Sunday. Since everything was closed on Memorial Day, she had to reschedule her flight a day later so that she could run around getting replacement documents on Tuesday. This also meant delaying our departure to El Zota by a day, so we could all go together.

Originally, Aga and Katy were on one flight, I was on another, and we were all going to meet up at the San Jose airport. However, since Katy would be without Aga, I was worried about find her at the airport in San Jose. However, I made a little sign with her name in bright pink pen, and waited for the hour after my flight (her flight was supposed to come in shortly after mine, but it was delayed) for her. When the Delta passengers were pouring out of customs (I was waiting with a few other people waiting to greet passengers on the flight, and their friends/family had all arrived), I was approached by a girl who cautiously peered at my sign, and then approached me. Katy? I asked, and she nodded. However, it was not until we got into a cab, and were just about the leave the airport, that we determined that SHE WAS NOT THE RIGHT PERSON (and her name was NOT Katy--despite her nod in the affirmative). She didn't have her glasses on, and thus didn't realize that she had read the sign wrong. Who would have thought? So at that point, we had to ask the cab driver to stop, let her and her stuff out, and he was annoyed, so I decided to continue on to the hotel and hope my assistant Katy would remember the hotel name and would get a cab. Unfortunately, she didn't know which hotel we were staying at, expected to meet me, and was really freaking out. She ended waiting at the airport for a very long time, at which point a nice man who worked at the airport gave her a ride to the Holiday Inn, where she was able to check her email and look up the correct hotel information. I feel this could have ended very badly, but luckily she made it here.

And now, today, my credit card has gone missing, either lost or stolen, I'm not sure. I used it earlier to pay for the second night of our hotel stay, and I'm SURE I put it back in my purse or wallet. I have my purse, have my wallet, but not that credit card. Luckily, my sister informs me that the fraud department had called my cell phone (she has my phone, and sent me an email). However, the stupid hotel phone hear won't accept phone cards, and requires paying with credit card so they can charge you exorbitantly, so right now I can't call to reach the credit card company and confirm that my card has gone missing.

Nonetheless, I feel like things aren't going so well for us (and this is on top of a lot of other minor hassles and frustrations). At least Katy and I had a good time visiting the zoo here in San Jose, which isn't too impressive, but actually has a decent spider monkey exhibit with a large group of beautiful spider monkeys. No matter how much anything else might go wrong, watching spider monkeys can always make us feel better.

Tomorrow we're off to the field station, where I will be cut off from internet (but will be able to have an easier time calling and receiving calls, which will be a relief). But then we can settle into the station, and get to work, and enjoy the beautiful forest.