Yesterday we went to Altos De Campana National Park and the drive there was absolutely beautiful (yes I managed to stay awake on the bus). We drove up into the mountatins and the road was lined with small houses and families in their Sunday best coming back from church. Ian loves to talk and will frequently stand in one spot for 10 minutes talking about a bird or plant so our progress up the trail was rather slow, but the cool mountain breeze was a welcome relief and I barely broke a sweat. Orchids are also more common in the mountains and we did spot a few.
The evening was spent preparing for and giving our presentations. Everything went smoothly and the clip we used from A Bug’s Life was a big hit. In fact, we ended up finding A Bug’s Life on netflix and the whole gang watched it on the projector screen in the dining room. It was a lovely way to celebrate the completion of our first presentation.
Today we visited the Smithsonian Agua Salud site, which is a thirty year project looking to improve conservation and biodiversity efforts in Panama. One of the sponsors of the project was a man who got fed up with the city and he and his wife moved out to start a farm. When his wife passed away some years later, he gave the land to the Smithsonian with the condition that it be used for cattle. So the STRI owns and maintains the land but farmers own the cattle (a pretty sweet deal for the farmers). STRI is working to find ways to replenish nutrients in the soil and raise healthier, happier cattle.
Hiking up and down the hills of the countryside gave us all a great work out and along many of the trails were various fruit trees. Our guide encouraged us to try the Mandarin Lime which is known for being very sour. You can see the results for yourself.
Yesterday at Pipeline Road there was so much to look at and so many bird calls all around that it took us approximately 4 hours to walk a mile. We saw several birds (my favorite was the Slaty-Tailed Trogon), only heard the calls of several others, witnessed a vested anteater climbing a tree using it’s tail, and became super jealous of Ian’s (our STRI guide) amazing bird call skills. After lunch back at the school house, Dr. Hovick gave us a crash course on statistical analysis for people (like me) who have not yet needed to take statistics. We then split into groups and spent the rest of the evening brainstorming and doing research for our projects. I will be running behavioral tests on leaf cutter ants with Tony and Sarah (the engineer) to detemine their “Trail Recovery” abilites after an obstacle has been placed in their way. We will be running the tests and analysing the data all day tomorrow so more information to come!
Today was amazing with our much anticipated visit to Barro Colorado Island! We had an early start and were out the door at 6:15 to catch the 7:30 boat to BCI. Our fellow passengers included other STRI staff and maintence workers including Owen McMillan who boarded carrying his mug of morning coffee. After a brief power point presentation about the main species on BCI, we headed off into the forest. The majority of the trails are composed of sement stepping stones put in place by a single STRI maintence worker, the “unsung her” of BCI. Claudio was our guide and he stopped periodically at certain spots to talk about some of the massive trees we passed or other wildlife that crossed our path. We saw several poison dart frogs, bullet ants (whose sting has been known to make men cry), agoutis, and red-eyed tree frogs. My favorite plant was the Piper darienense whose leaves, when chewed, make your tongue go numb (and yes, we got to try it!). The plant is used by natives for tooth pain and the roots are much more potent than the leaves. Eventually the lightning and thunder started and pouring rain followed. We continued forward but armed with my poncho and waterproof daypack I didn’t mind the rain one bit. If anything, the rumbling thunder, the echoing roars from the howler monkeys and the peaceful sound of the rain made the experience all the more magical.
We ate lunch at the BCI dinning hall and explored the visitor’s center and surrounding buildings before it was time to catch the boat back to Gamboa. We’ve worked out the kinks (hopefully) for our project with the leaf-cutter ants and will begin first thing tomorrow morning.
Today we had four lectures (three from STRI researchers), the first a brief overview of research at STRI by Owen McMillan, an intro to neotropical plants with Eric Manzane, intro to insects and other arthropods with our TA Andrea, and a research talk about bird behavioral patterns. After Eric’s lecture, where he comically discussed how lianas are taking over the world, we took a short walk around Gamboa and were able to identify some of the plants we had just learned about!
Following lunch we took a hike to the Gamboa resort lookout and on our way up to the top got to stand underneath a whole group (at least 9!) of howler monkeys. The view from the lookout was spactacular and the cool breeze above the canopy was much appreciated. Tomorrow is bird watching at pipeline road!
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