Fieldwork Struggles

So here I am in beautiful Costa Rica, doing my best to finish this post before the power goes out!

I thought I would make this a personal post describing my time here.

I arrived in Costa Rica on June 15th to assist in the DANTA field school for two weeks before beginning data collection for my thesis on July 1st.

This has been my first experience collecting data off-trail, and alone, on a primate group. I am studying howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) to test if scramble competition exists (I’ll try to get another post in on what that means).

My days begin at 4am, where I groggily climb out from under my mosquito net and put on my damp (and usually stinky) field clothes from the day before (It’s a battle to keep field clothes completely clean – it’s best to just give in to dirty nature of the job haha). I get all of my equipment prepped and head to the field, waiting for the group I am studying to begin vocalizing. This happens anywhere from 4:30-5:00am (and sometimes earlier). It is most reliable to find them this way (at least until you know their range and sleeping sites) since they tend to rest most of the day (digesting plant matter) and are virtually silent.

I wait patiently after I find them until about 6:00am, when the sun begins to emerge, so that I can see them clearly and identify individuals. That’s when data collection begins and I go until about 4:30pm as it starts to get too dark to identify individuals.

Following them throughout the day can either be relatively easy or extremely difficult. Sometimes they prefer to stay by the nearby river (usually on hotter days) which blesses me with great visibility and cooler temps. It tends to be less dense by their favorite feeding trees too, which makes it drastically easier to collect phenological data and follow them. On hard days they take me through deep mud which threatens to suck my boots off, swarms of mosquitos like I’ve never seen in the U.S., and dense vegetation that seems to have a goal of either tripping me or entangling me in the forest forever. Let’s not forget the unforgivable heat – Do you know how often sweat drips off of my nose or into my eyes? Too many to count.

Now, before this seems like a negative post, let me tell you why it’s worth it.

Do you know how many cool things I see in a DAY?

This happened to me two mornings ago:

So, I was sitting on the gravel road near my group’s range. It’s 4:30am and I’m patiently waiting for them to vocalize while I also focus on waking up my brain. It’s pitch black, besides the light of my flashlight, and I’m alone. I start to hear leaves rustling on the forest floor to my left and branches breaking. My senses are heightened in my half-asleep state (and yes, a few profanities passed through my mind). I shine my flashlight in the general direction, and I see a small white mammal. *PHEW* – it was smaller than me. It continues heading towards me and walks up to the road, no more than a foot away from me. It was a collared anteater (tamandua)! It continued it’s quest and sniffed all around me until it was ready to continue across the road into the other forest block. How amazing! I couldn’t believe how close it came to me, and it was just so neat. Here’s a visual for you:

anteaterThat’s just an example of how close I get to the animals. Every time is a special experience. I’ve also seen (just to name a few) countless hummingbirds, currassows, snakes, more birds than I can count, and of course monkeys (howlers, capuchins, spider monkeys, and squirrel monkeys)!!

If the experiences with the other animals isn’t enough, I also have the pleasure of spending the day with my howler group. I will say that they spend a lot of time resting, and not so much time interacting socially. However, when there are social interactions I fall in love all over again. The other day all of the adults (7 in total) went into a bout of playing with each other and chasing, and I nearly lost my mind. It was so amazing to see. I couldn’t help but laugh at their antics.

So anyways, fieldwork can be tough, but everything else you experience is a reward. I can’t wait to share more experiences! I apologize for not posting very much lately – I’ve been thesis-focused and in a remote location collecting data. Internet/electricity is sparse, but I’ll share a bunch when I get back in August!

¡Pura Vida!

Image Source

Featured Image c/o Arrianne Byrum – 2012 DANTA Field Course

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