The mist nets got some traffic this morning: two birds, both kingfishers. The feathers on their heads and backs are a sparkling, electric blue. Their beaks are bright orange. Stunningly beautiful birds that are almost impossible to see flying in the forest, according to Bas van Balen. "They fly low but fast," he explains as he unwraps a bird's feet from the net. The bird responds by pecking at Bas' fingers.
|A local guide points out a fruiting tree to the bird team, © Debbie Gowensmith|
David Kalo's nimble fingers free the bird's wings, and Bas untangles the body and head. Then they weigh the bird, take several measurements, and record all the data before allowing the bird to fly away.
Mist nets allow ornithologists not only to visually confirm a bird's presence, but also to record physical statistics about the birds.
In addition to using mist nets, Bas, David, and Suer Suryadi are hiking along the streams and through the forest to look and listen for birds. Their local guide leads them to a fruiting tree where birds gather to eat. Bas carries with him a high-tech tape recorder. If the team can't identify a bird in the field by its call, Bas will record the call and identify it later.
Going to habitat where birds are expected, using mist nets, and listening for birds maximizes the short time available for a rapid survey. At Dabra Camp 1, the team recorded 88 species and expects to add to the list based on the available habitat at this site.
The fruiting tree the bird team is clustered around is near the transects set up today by the plant team. We have fewer working days at this site, so Ismail, Yance de Fretes, and Elisa Wally are recording plants along 150-meter transect lines instead of taking the time to set up Whitakker plots. Ismail is already pleased with the new site; just outside of camp, he's found what the team believes to be an undescribed species of ginger. The flower is throned in the center of branches that shoot out on each side. Like a flower from a 1950s sci-fi, the petals are pale green to dark purple, spiky, and waxy.
||"So far, I've heard birds that sound like monkeys, heard insects that sound like violins, seen insects that look like Christmas lights, seen plants that look like something out of George Lucas' imagination, and seen bats that look like birds."|
|Possible new plant species, Costus sp., found by the plant team near the second Mamberamo camp, © Debbie Gowensmith|
The men walk along the transect line and measure the dbh (double breast height) of each tree more than 10 centimeters. If they don't know the species or if the species is undescribed, they take a sample of vegetation from the tree. Sometimes this is as simple as picking a few leaves. Other times, Pak Wally uses a special tool-like clippers on a long pole-to slice off a small branch with leaves. But this is a forest, and sometimes those leaves are dozens of feet above the ground. Not to fear, though. The local guides, Pak Augustinus and Pak Ones, have constructed slingshots from rubber bands. I'm amazed at how effective they are; a few little stones, and handful of leaves flutter down.
After a day of swatting mosquitoes and leeches, which love the shady damp habitat where the transects are located, the plant team hauls a bag of labeled specimens back to camp. Each specimen must be carefully placed between sheets of newspaper to dry.
Tonight the moon is almost full, and I'm watching another group of birds soar around and around a fruiting tree along the stream. Their outstretched wings and graceful flight remind me of eagles, and I point them out to Steve Richards. He tells me that I'm not, in fact, bird-watching. I'm actually bat-watching. These are bats known as flying foxes.
This epitomizes Irian Jaya for me. So far, I've heard birds that sound like monkeys, heard insects that sound like violins, seen insects that look like Christmas lights, seen plants that look like something out of George Lucas' imagination, and seen bats that look like birds. I'm never quite sure what I'm looking at here, and I never know what I'm going to see next.
- Reported by Debbie Gowensmith
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