Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Where Jeans Are Fancy

June 23, 2013
This is where trails are hidden and jeans are fancy. 
Yesterday we went out to the last bivouac we found hoping to test our iButtons (the temperature probe) and cameras. Unfortunately, they had moved into the base of a rotting tree, much like the other two we found. It’s hard to deploy the iButtons when there’s a nice large tree in the way. Thankfully, the first bivouac we found is dropping a lot of pupa casings which means that they are about to emigrate. (Army ants go through stages of emigration and ~ 2 week statary periods.) Hopefully they will move to a more exposed and accessible area so we can get some data on them. It would be nice to be able to work on a bivouac thats just outside our door rather than having to hike all over this mountain to track others, which we will probably do anyway. 
After the disappointment of the army ants, we continued our hike up the side of a mountain, most of which was not cleared with a path. I can now say that I have bushwhacked my way up the side of a mountain with a machete. I don’t think it gets more field work-y than that. Eventually, we found the trail we were looking for which took us along the ridge in the cloud forest. Jesus it was just utterly breath taking. I’m not sure that pictures will do it justice but here's one anyway.
The weather was perfect for hiking in t-shirts and field pants and the sights were just so gorgeous. It was an unusually clear day for the wet season allowing us to see all the way down to El Golfo De Nicoya which connects to the Pacific Ocean. We hiked over to visit the Cambells, two of the original founders of Monteverde, who just happen to have a baby sloth...a baby sloth...A BABY SLOTH!
There is nothing cuter than a baby sloth. Even the baby goats paled in comparison. (There was an abundance of baby animals that afternoon.) The son of the two founders also just happens to make excellent goat cheese and jam. The house also just happens to be equipped with a giant rope swing. It just happened to be a really fun hike. 

Today we plan on exploring some of the trails around here on the farm we are staying on and then going to Quaker meeting (their rendition of church) just to say that we’ve done it. It’s also a great opportunity to meet people in the area, this way they will let us trek over their property to track down ants. Finding the ants seems to be the hardest part of this endeavor.

June 24, 2013
Yesterday was a good day for ants. In fact it was a great day overall. The weather was once again sunny and a bit windy (again more dry season weather which is just fine with me). The meeting was interesting, everyone just sat in pews arranged in a circle for an hour in quite contemplation. Nobody dressed up, we went in our filed gear. Jeans are only worn here on very special occasions. So we sat, and sat, and sat and then all the sudden everyone starts moving and wishing everyone good morning. It was weird, like everyone just inherently knew when the hour was up. Then there was news like birthdays and such and that was it.
We explored their library afterwards where I found a giant rhinoceros beetle (sadly no picture) and another book to read. After a hearty lunch of quesadillas, we set out on the farm next to us, the Stouckie Farm, where hiked over to the ridge and experienced the most gorgeous sight we have seen so far. I know I say that a lot but it’s true.
We also found another colony of Eciton, again it was in the base of a tree, immeasurable. Darn.
But then, as we emerge from the forest into The Lacuna Pastures, Siobhon, master ant spotter that she is, spots a small column of Eciton marching through the thick grass. As we painstakingly follow the ants, hindered by the dense pasture, we come to a large pile of fallen trees just over the barbwire fence. Kaitlin jumps the fence vainly attempting to pick up the column. Then, as I round the the pile, I see a dark shadow beneath the pile, a dark shadow that was moving. I had found our first measurable bivouac!
Not entirely prepared for such a find, we invented a system to deploy the iButtons (which measure temperature and humidity, in this case) into the pulsing pile of ants, using a stick and a hair tie. (also my idea. It was a good day for me.) We were inthralled as Kaitlin pushed the sick through the what we then discovered was a curtain of ants, not a ball. The curtain disintegrated as the stick jerked to one side. Thankfully, the ants reformed the curtain around the stick and with that our first data was recorded and with not one sting or bite inflicted. We will leave it there for four days or so though we will go and check it to make sure everything is still good today. 
As a side note, the first bivouac emigrated last night to a new location just down the trail. This new bivouac was also measurable so we deployed more iButtons this morning. 
I'll post much more later and hopefully many more pictures but the wifi I'm currently parasitizing off of is a bit slow so for now it's a bit touch and go.

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