30 October 2013

Attitude

The morning started out like any other morning I have been birding. I walked along the road through the marshy fields, flushing up sparrows as I passed. Harris's, Lincoln's, Song, White-throated, and even a lone "Red" Fox Sparrow made an appearance in front of my binoculars, as flushed snipe zipped past me, thousands upon thousands of Franklin's Gulls passed overhead, and sporadic groups of blackbirds made their way across the fields. I made my way further and further into the wetlands as a lone Le Conte's Sparrow hopped up to check me out and Eastern Bluebirds called nearby.

It was then that my bliss was shattered. Something wanted to quash my happiness, and the jarring calls of discontent quickly dragged me out of my dreamlike morning. I slowly turned, face wrinkled by the perturbation of my idyllic mood, ready to see what beast was ready to pick a fight with me. I stood tall, did my best to look stoic, and braced myself for what came next. The stalks moved and I quickly realized I was outnumbered. It was too late for me to do anything but wait for my taunter and its sidekick to come face me down, and soon, I was looking at a face of pure malice.

The downy pinfeathers around the face denote that this is a young bird, most likely a rebellious teenager that has serious issues with authority.

My foe came out, ready for a fight. Its sidekick, skulking nearby, cheered it on as it challenged me to a showdown. I raised my camera, capturing a few shots for evidence should the situation continue to get out of hand. They chattered back and forth, and soon deemed me unworthy of even a simple verbal bashing. Not ready to settle, I did my best impression of the Passerine call for "WHAT ARE YOU, CHICKEN?"

My challenge was immediately accepted. Barrelling back out of the brush, we gazed into each others eyes, sizing each other up, until we realized we were evenly matched. Any fight would end in a stalemate, with the potential for serious injury for both. I snapped a few more shots as the situation calmed, and soon, we were able to diffuse the situation and interact more peaceably. My adversary soon backed down, and I followed suit, acknowledging that the fight was over, and that we had reached a mutually beneficial outcome.

I walked away, tingling from the adrenaline from the encounter. I had faced down a Sedge Wren with attitude and lived.

Sedge Wren (Cistothorus platensis stellaris) in Baker Wetlands, Lawrence, Kansas.

Note: This post may or may not have some artistic license and the anthropomorphism of birds should be considered fictional. The Sedge Wren and it's inherit sense of entitlement, however, are all too real.

23 October 2013

October

The month of October has been a frenzy of activity. I find myself believing that I did things the day before or just last week before coming to the conclusion that they were actually weeks, and sometimes even a month, ago. I find myself busier than ever before, and I love it. I now find myself doing the research and learning that I have waited years to do.

So far, October has been a good month. In addition to working in Kansas, I managed to sleep away for a long weekend and visit Caroline in Louisiana. She then quickly whisked me away to Alabama, where we went camping at Gulf State Park. We explored the white sand beaches and coastal pine savannas before returning back to Louisiana together. It was a fun couple of days.

A Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) defending its territory from another nearby mockingbird. These boisterous birds were calling throughout the night, much to our chagrin.

Caroline Bath walking down the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama. She was pretending to be a Sanderling.

Also of note, I finally locked down my plans for November. Come the 17th, I will be on my way to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to do a scouting trip of the country! If all goes according to plan, I will return in the near future. Feel free to check out our Facebook page to find out more about our survey expedition! I will also be updating my blog about the trip when I come back.

29 September 2013

Surviving the Semester

The semester so far at KU has been hectic to say the least. I work as a lab TA, and am trying to get started on my master's thesis project. At the same time, I'm organizing future research trips, future visiting my girlfriend trips, and surviving classes of my own. That being said, it has probably been one of the greatest semesters of my life.

I'm beginning to make good friends, enjoying my time at KU immensely, and starting to see the bright prospects of future research and work in ornithology.

I do not, however, have any particular to report, as I have been trapped by academia, so I will share some of the few pictures I have managed to take in my free time. Enjoy!

A migrant Buff-breasted Sandpiper checking us (Michael Anderson and myself) out on the mudflats at Clinton Lake State Park, Kansas.
Caroline showing off our beautiful campsite in Indian Cave State Park, Nebraska. The surprisingly cold night was accented by multiple territorial Barred Owl pairs caterwauling all night, innumerable Boy Scouts wandering around (some of whom thought I was a ranger because, as they said, "he's got a truck,") and one each of Great Horned Owl and Eastern Screech-Owl singing early in the morning.

That's all for now, but more should be coming in the very near future.

24 August 2013

Vieques

There are times in life when one must realize that they were wrong, that no matter what angle they look at the situation from, they've made a poor decision. As I stood a the end of a line several hundred people long waiting to purchase tickets to the island of Vieques, I knew I had made a bad decision.

Having secured one of the last parking spaces we could find, Mike and I stood at the end of the motionless horde of tourists waiting to board the small ferry to Vieques, the largest auxiliary island in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. It was then, when all hope seemed lost, that I overheard a bottle vendor speaking to a local resident, and a beam of light seemed to shine down on us from the heavens.

After I jumped in on the conversation, it was revealed that the line, and all its people, were waiting to head to Culebra, a smaller, adjacent island that has some of the best beaches in the world. Though nice, the smaller island lacks one key feature: a bioluminescent bay. And so, after some talking and being guided around a little, we ended up being last in line for the boat to Vieques - but now within 40 people of the ticket booth. Our spirits were immediately raised, and though we still had to wait several hours for the boat, we were soon on our way to the Spanish Virgin Islands.

On our way, we enjoyed the sights from the top deck of the cargo ferry we were riding on. The prominent peak of El Yunque shrank in the distance as we headed past the reefs and small island off Puerto Rico's eastern shore. The bounding, insect like flight of Brown Noddies heading to sea almost made us miss the foraging Sooty Terns, our only Bridled Tern of the entire trip, and a lazy, hitchhiking Magnificent Frigatebird.

When not being lazy, Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens), such as this one on the Fajardo-Isabela Segunda Ferry, are incredible fliers, and steal food from other seabirds.

It was not long until we were in the capitol of Vieques, Isabela Segunda, and on our way to bird. But, having scoured the main island and knowing that there were no endemic species present on the island, we took our time by stopping at the first restaurant we could find and eating some delicious food.

Scaly-breasted Thrashers (Margarops fuscatus), such as this one I photographed in Guanica State Forest, are common residents on Vieques. 

As we recovered from our food comas, we began to check out the island through the windows of our taxi. Vieques, once home to a large military base, used to host a wide array of military exercises. But, after the accidental death of a local, the residents decided that they no longer wanted military presence on their idyllic island. After years of protest, half the island was ceded and transformed into Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. As such, much of the island is still fairly wild, and our taxi drive took us along the edge of this new frontier.

It was not long before we arrived at our location - Parque Nacional de Sun Bay, located within the Bioluminescent Bay Reserve. The water was a perfect temperature, with tide pools having water close to 90 degrees F in case you still got too cold, small waves lapped the shore, and bands of Scaly-naped Pigeons passed by overhead. Needless to say, it was a beautiful place to camp.

Sun Bay, taken with my iPhone on the way to eat one of the best dinners I've ever had. We camped just out of frame on the far left edge of the image.

From here, we explored our surroundings, and enjoyed the interesting insular populations of birds we came across. An endemic form of Banaquit, found only in the Virgin Islands and not on the main island of Puerto Rico, couldn't hide its differences from Mike's sharp eyes. We laughed at how rare and sought after this bird was in the mainland, when here they were possibly the most numerous birds of our entire trip! Walking along the shore, Adelaide's Warblers and Antillean Crested Hummingbirds called in the dry scrub, while we flushed Black-bellied Plovers, the nearctic subspecies of Whimbrel and a smattering of other small shorebirds. Our wanderings brought us to Esperanza, the second largest town on the island, where we ate an incredible meal at one of the local bars. Taking our time and watching Common Ground-Doves and Pearly-eyed Thrashers, we made our way back to camp.

Male Puerto Rican Woodpecker (Melanerpes portoricensis) foraging near Sun Bay, Vieques.

After arriving back at our camp, we waited for dark before meeting up with our neighbors and heading to the legendary Bahia Mosquito, the brightest bioluminescent bay on earth. After an extremely rough, traffic ridden drive through mangrove estuaries, we arrives at the bay. Unfortunately, a local had his lantern on for a while, making it impossible to pick out the bioluminescence, but after the lights were turned off and we readjusted to the dark, the ethereal blue glow that surrounded our feet became clear. The blue, which unfortunately did not show up on any of our cameras, is cause by dinoflagellates that live in the bay and glow when disturbed. As such, it was possible to cup our hands full of water, stare down and shake slightly, seeing the small organisms glow like tiny stars floating in space. Fish darting past us lit up like lightning strikes, and I was even able to write my name on the surface of the ocean.

The next day, Michael and I began the long journey back to Denver. We took a taxi across the island, waited three hours for a ferry while watching our only Barn Swallow of the trip circle in a flock of Caribbean Martins, took two hour ferry to Fajardo, and camped at the Seven Seas one last time. The next morning, we drove to San Juan, dropped off the car, waited four hours for our flight, then flew back to Miami and, finally, back to Denver.

It was an excellent exploration of one of the largest islands in the United States, and one that I will not soon forget. I look forward to hopefully returning there someday, and enjoying the beautiful mountains and beaches once again.

A final parting shot of a dapper and fascinating Puerto Rican Woodpecker (Melanerpes portoricensis) in Balneario de Añasco, Puerto Rico. This is in the same genus as Red-headed, Red-bellied, and Lewis's Woodpeckers, and part of a fascinating array of Antillean woodpeckers. 
It was also one of my favorite birds on the trip.

21 August 2013

Puerto Rico

After El Yunque, the rest of our time on the island of Puerto Rico was spent in the hills, mountains, and lowlands of the southwest part of the island, specifically in the municipality of Cabo Rojo. A far cry from the steep rainforest laden hills of the northeast, the southwest was a nice mix of mangroves, montane dry forest and deciduous tropical lowland forest. By looking at the books and comparing the maps, we could tell that this was the place for most of the Puerto Rican endemics we were still missing.

Getting there, however, was far less simple.

We started the day by cutting up the west side of El Yunque National Forest. The road, becoming progressively worse as we drove on, was hemmed in on all sides by tree ferns, bamboo, and a wide variety of tropical trees. Barely one lane wide in most areas, it was obvious this thoroughfare had not received much traffic or attention in the recent past. We paused on our way north at a few different localities, spying a Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo on a fence, flushing Ruddy Quail-Doves from the road, and having a flyby of the only Key West Quail-Dove of our trip. Flocks of Scaly-naped Pigeons crossed the ridges, Bananaquits sang incessantly and the calls of Puerto Rican Bullfinches betrayed their presence in the impenetrable darkness of the rainforest.

After enjoying the damp highlands, we continued onwards into the central part of the island. The roads were so narrow and winding that I still dream (or, more appropriately, wake from nightmares that) I am driving them. Mike and I will always remember this as the day of permanent carsickness, as it was almost constant tight corners on narrow roads for six hours of driving. The rewards, however, were worth it. We made our way to the mountains above Comerio, where we stopped at the Plain Pigeon preserve. Luckily, we caught several glimpses of the pigeons as they flew overhead with the Scaly-naped Pigeons. The woods also hosted a cooperative Mangrove Cuckoo and our first "Puerto Rican" Loggerhead Kingbird of the endemic taylori subspecies.

From here, we made our way south, and finally ended around sunset in downtown Ponce, where our hotel had displaying Antillean Nighthawks all around us.

Over the next few days, we covered the areas of Parque Nacional de Tres Hermanos, Bosque Estatal de Maricao, and Cabo Rojo extensively. The mix of habitats enabled us to wrap up finding every single Puerto Rican endemic bird with the exception of the localized Puerto Rican Nightjar. The dry woods hosted an array of fascinating birds, with calling Puerto Rican Flycatchers and Caribbean Elaenias keeping us company, and the trilling calls of Puerto Rican Pewees and whistling "Puerto Rican" Lesser Antillean Pewees.

Puerto Rican Flycatcher (Myiarchus antillarum) in the mangroves south of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.

"Puerto Rican" Lesser Antillean Pewee in Maricao State Forest, Puerto Rico. According to the AOU, this is the blancoi subspecies of Contopus latirostris, while our field guide listed it as a separate species, C. portoricensis. I am not sure why this discrepancy exists, so I have documented them according to the current AOU listings.

The birding on the west and southwest coasts was excellent. Near Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge, we caught up with the critically endangered Yellow-shouldered Blackbird feeding from a trash can, and saw hundreds of shorebirds on the Salinas near the actual cape of Cabo Rojo. Caribbean Martins were our constant overhead companions as we birded everything from montane forest to mowed palm campgrounds.

Puerto Rican Vireo (Vireo latimeri) in Maricao State Forest, Puerto Rico.

A pair of Caribbean Coots (Fulica caribaea) eluding our telephoto lenses south of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.

One of the most fascinating things about birding the Greater Antilles is also the variation displayed in birds that we thought we were intimately familiar with from birding in the United States. Several species, such as Northern Mockingbird and American Kestrel, occur on the islands in distinctive and fascinating subspecies.

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius caribaearum) foraging in Guanica State Forest in Puerto Rico. Surprisingly, from a North American perspective, these birds were more common in open deciduous dry forest than they were were in agricultural or ranch land.

A Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola portoricensis), one of the most common birds in the Caribbean, was frequently seen at our camps. This individual was stripping palm threads for a nest at Balneario de Añasco.

After covering the southwest of the island extensively, we made the slow and arduous journey back to Fajardo. From here, we were determined to check out an even less visited section of Puerto Rico: the island of Vieques, part of the so-called Spanish Virgin Islands.

To be continued...

17 August 2013

Always on the Sunny Side

As I watched Caroline walk down the jetbridge, I felt a peculiar mix of emotions. My own plane was leaving in just a few hours time, and I could not wait to see the tropics again, but a larger part of me than I expected wished to join her flight instead. I could not bear to watch the flight leave, and as soon as she was out of sight, I began wandering the Denver airport alone. It was the evening of July 24th, and the sun was setting behind the Rockies to the west. Caroline had just spent the past two weeks with me winding down field work in the Dakotas, and her assistance was appreciated (dare I say, needed). After a slough of setbacks and delays and over-complications, I was finally able to enthusiastically explored Colorado with her, but one thing had become abundantly clear - two weeks was not enough. I sat in the tarmac messing on my phone and watching travelers pass until about 10:30 when I heard a familiar southern voice near me. It was my coworker from the Dakotas, Mike McCloy. Mike, a junior at Western Carolina University, had joined up with me for some birding adventures this summer. I was determined to go to the tropics one last time before starting my Masters in August, and Mike was at the airport to join me. We sat in front of the plane being readied for Miami and began discussing our plans. Mike, who had never left the lower 48 United States, was nervously excited to say the least. Our final destination was the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, an island the size of Yellowstone in the Greater Antilles. We looked at our Caribbean field guides one last time, and I watched my phone until it lit up from a call to let me know Caroline was safely in Louisiana.

I was finally ready to head south.

The delirium of the night flights mixed with my memories from the summer. Dreams of watching sunsets in the North Dakota badlands, coming face to face bison, dodging rattlesnakes and negotiating the oilfields of the Bakken soon faded as the sun rose to my east. By the time I was awake enough to look out of the plane, I could tell that we were over United Kingdom airspace near the Turks and Caicos Islands. It was not much later that our plane began to descend, and the verdant north coast of Puerto Rico became visible. Our adventure was about to begin.

We landed at approximately 9 AM, and I quickly tried to adjust to learning how to negotiate the island's roads. Puerto Rican driving is tough, to say the least, but after some getting used to, I managed to adapt pretty well, even managing to spot one of our only Broad-winged Hawks of the entire trip while dodging traffic. We first headed to El Yunque, the legendary rainforest on one of the highest massifs on the island. The road wound its way up the side of the mountain, and we soon found ourselves negotiating a short, paved trail at the visitor center. The drive and trail exposed us to some of our first Antillean birds of the trip - Pearly-eyed Thrashers sang from the rafters, Bananaquits infested the trees and Puerto Rican Emeralds fed from nearby flowers. We gathered information about the forest for the next morning, and headed to Fajardo and to our camp, the Parque Nacional de Seven Seas.

Here, despite the hordes of people, we found some more exciting island birding. An adjacent coastal trail led us to some scrub and mangrove forest, where Adelaide's Warblers sang excitedly, giant lizards and anoles ran in the underbrush and Black-whiskered Vireos defended their territories enthusiastically. Antillean Crested Hummingbirds foraged in the thickets and our only Green-throated Carib of the entire trip gave us a brief (but excellent) view as it foraged in the trees, and some nice man gave us beer and Doritos.

The next morning, we headed back to El Yunque. There, we hiked the road before it opened and later hiked to the top of Pico de El Yunque. Needless to say, the views and the birds were spectacular, and some of the best I've ever seen in the Caribbean.

While hiking the road, we had a good chance to photograph many of the local Antillean birds. Birds that we hear about as being "the best of the best" Florida rarities like Bananaquit were common here, and such restricted mainland birds as Grey Kingbird were widespread and common throughout the island.

Grey Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis dominicensis) bringing an Anolis sp. back to the nest for the babies to devour. El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico.

Some of the highlights in this area were a brief heard fly-by Puerto Rican Parrot (Amazona vittata), one of the 50 rarest birds on Earth(!), and an incredible (but unfortunately backlit) Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo that come barreling out of the jungle, calling maniacally in front of us before bounding out of sight across the moss-laden branches.

Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo (Coccyzus vieilloti) in El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico. The Lizard-Cuckoos were formerly considered to be a separate genus, Saurothera. You can hear a recording of their call here.

Not far from the above birds, we also had another fascinating Caribbean endemic - the Antillean Euphonia. Resembling one of my favorite South American birds of all time, the Golden-rumped Euphonia, the Antillean Euphonia was one of the most spectacular birds we saw the entire trip.

A beautiful Antillean Euphonia (Euphonia musica sclateri) in El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico. The nape is a beautiful iridescent blue in the field.

After hiking the peaks and enjoying the biota of the rainforest, we returned to the lowlands just outside of Fajardo and prepared for our cross island trek the next day.

To be continued...

Mike McCloy swimming in Parque Nacional de Seven Seas, with the cloud covered peaks of El Yunque in the background.

28 April 2013

One Last Run to Grand Isle

Late Friday night, Michael Hilferty called me frantically. Through the sounds of packing and of him running around, he was able to get across that he was making a run down to Grand Isle on Saturday and, if I drove to the outskirts of New Orleans, he'd drive the rest of the way. Unable to ignore a deal like that, especially with the birds being reportedly lately, I left Baton Rouge at 2:50 AM Saturday morning to head for the coast.

After meeting Michael in a library parking lot, the two of us continued southward until we met Van Remsen and his wife, Amy, at the east end of the island. Amy, who was with some of her friends doing photography at different locations throughout the day, stayed on the east end while Van, Michael and I ran off to scout the rest of the island for birds. Over the course of the day, we covered most of the good migrant locations multiple times, but failed to locate the Fork-tailed Flycatcher that was last seen the night before. Wandering around afforded excellent views of many birds, though, and Michael and I had a blast.

Migrants were fairly common throughout the island, hints at recent movement and left over birds from a few past pushes through the area. Summer and Scarlet Tanagers were fairly common across the island, while our birding turned up a total of 15 species of warbler across the island. A few bands of Indigo Buntings were foraging along the edges of the trees, and I found my first of year Bobolink flying across the Exxon Fields. Overall, it was a great day of last-minute birding.

Second-year male Summer Tanager foraging in some field side scrub in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

This Grey Kingbird is a vagrant from the southeast United States and the Caribbean. It was with a group of Eastern Kingbirds near the east end of the island.

One of the many Eastern Kingbirds present on the island.

And last, but not least, one of the many Black-necked Stilts on the island:

16 April 2013

Fast Times at High Island

On Wednesday, March 27th, I practically ran to my car. The air was nice, the birds were singing, and most importantly, it was spring break. It was not long before I was alone with my music on the interstate west, headed for High Island. This legendary salt dome is the highest point on the gulf coast between Mexico and Florida, and is a refuge for trans-gulf migrants that fly in. I wrote the first part of this post having been there already for a week, and the last half from the comfort of the LSU Museum of Natural Sciences. The migrants, which were initially scarce, hit a high point in the first week of April before I had to return to my scholarly duties.

The first few days in April, we had some time off and ran down to Rockport. We were able to obtain distant views of Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and Port Aransas was hopping with warblers, with Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, and more.

Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens) in Port Aransas, Texas. 3 April 2013.

We also managed to hit up some local marshes, where ducks galore were foraging. Black Terns arced over the reeds, Reddish Egrets flew through, Soras bickered and even a Least Bitterns called a few times.

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), Port Aransas, Texas. 3 April 2013.

Upon returning to High Island, we were greeting by some incoming storm fronts. The woods were teeming and alive with birds coming in right off the gulf. We saw an amazingly vast number of warblers compared to the preceding days, with Kentucky's foraging almost at our feet, and even obtaining good looks at a Swainson's Warbler at the Hook Woods Sanctuary. Blackburnian Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Prothonotary Warbler were all making themselves known, and we started getting some good "first of season" birds such as Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, and, one of my favorites, Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

As the birds continued on and the woods thinned out, I had to pack my bags and return to LSU. Since then, I have been swamped, as is probably evidenced by my delay in finishing this post! I'm hoping to get out around campus more this week (I found a Wood Thrush today before class - a pleasant surprise) and will be sure to update then!

31 January 2013

Jamaica

This winter break was one of the best breaks I have ever had. Just when I thought it couldn't get better, it did, over and over again.

As I wrote in a semi-delirious state a while back, I was in Jamaica recently working on an American Redstart re-sighting project in the parish of Westmoreland. Jamaica is an amazing country, with a stark contrast between the resort dominated coastal communities and the extremely impoverished areas of the rest of the island. Where I lived was nestled high in the mountains near Betheltown, where we woke to the sun rising over the imposing limestone koppies and the impenetrable forests the Maroons once made their home. Every morning we climbed through the tick infested cattle pastures to the nearby mountain plot where our boss has been conducting research for years. It was a strange feeling hacking our way into the brush to find pink-flagged trees with our plot location designations on them, and it was not long before I came to know the area like the back of my hand. Every day, armed with my binoculars, machete, radio, and peanut butter and guava jelly sandwich, I headed into the woods for 6-7 hours to watch and wait for redstarts to see if I could spot their color bands. The interim was a fascinating opportunity to become intimately familiar with the island's unique avifauna. Jamaican Becards whistled in the trees, Jamaican Orioles clamored along the vines, and the occasional Jamaican Spindalis pair fed in the canopy. On rare occasion I was lucky enough to flush such elusive birds as Ruddy Quail-Dove and Caribbean Dove, and even got a second of eye contact with an impressive Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo. In all, I saw 39 new species of bird during the trip and heard one more (the sneaky Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo).

The Jamaican Tody (Todus todus), a tiny denizen of the forest understory, was a common sight in our study area. Their intriguing "brrp" flight sounds and harsh calls were very unbecoming of such an adorable bird, and they often flew in close as I waited for redstarts to appear. Todies are part of the family Todidae, a family that today only consists of five species in the genus Todus, all of which are restricted to the Greater Antilles.

This Jamaican Oriole (Icterus leucopteryx leucopteryx) was feeding in flowers in front of our porch on our last day on the island. These ubiquitous orioles where always fun to watch as they (sometimes ungracefully) foraged in the trees. This species, despite its name, is not a Jamaican endemic. Two other subspecies existed; one, bairdi, occurred only on Grand Cayman and was extinct by 1970, and the other, lawrencii, still persists on the tiny island of San Andrés in the southern Caribbean Sea.

This male American Kestrel (Falco sparverius sparveroides) was a common sight outside our house, as he forages with his mate in the yard. This surprisingly white individual is part of the "Cuban" group of American Kestrels.

18 January 2013

Rat Trap

Written 12 January 2013 on an iPhone at 1:30 AM.

I recently downloaded a new blogger editor for my new iPhone. My attempts to be technologically savvy have been fruitful for the most part. However, my setting for these attempts could not be more rustic. As I write I am huddled in my bed. I think I set a new personal record for the fastest I've ever woken up. I'm slightly confused by my rush into consciousness so I new some background first.

In early November I received a phone call from my friend Glenn. Unbeknown to me, a grad student at Tulane needed some last minute field techs or her American Redstart project in Jamaica. The work would consist of two weeks worth of Redstart color-band resighting in the jungle and nearby citrus plantations. Yesterday marked my halfway point here in Westmoreland in the island western interior. So far it has been incredible. The mountains and birds are beautiful, but their social context makes it hard. We are staying in a beautiful farm house, but all around us are shacks and dilapidated Jamaican towns. It makes the island a land of extremes. There is so little infrastructure in many regards, with extremely potholed roads and lack of waste services, but we have fallen into he Jamaican way quickly. Our shower water possesses a fish, our home is protected y semi-feral dogs that are some of the nicest dogs I've ever met, and the woods are surrounded by some of the worst Rick infested pastures I've ever seen. I commonly remove thousands of ticks from my clothes daily, an occurrence so horrifyingly astounding it must be seen to be believed.

Which brings me to why I am writing this in the middle I the night. My sound sleeping was interrupted all too recently by a rat landing on my pillow next to my head. Needless to say, I immediately pulled my covers over my head as I heard it scramble not far from my face. I can't find it now, but I know it's out there. I have some coffee as a gift in my room, but think I need to work on rat proofing my room at night from now on. I have no idea it there are fleas or anything in my bed now and, for lack of a better term, am thoroughly sketched out.

Hopefully I'll be able to sleep again.