"My net! My net!" cries Brother Henk van Mastrigt as he leaps up from the bench mid-sentence.
This inevitably is what happens when you try to have a conversation with a field biologist.
Brother Henk's eyes are frozen on the butterfly flitting at the edge of the stream. He pokes his hands in one direction, then another, searching for his butterfly net. Finally someone locates the net and places it in the hand he's wildly rotating behind his back.
|One of the butterfly species, Graphium aristeus, found during the Mamberamo survey. © Debbie Gowensmith|
Too late. The butterfly has flown too high and too far. Brother Henk's shoulders sag as he walks back to the bench. But the encounter convinces him that the sun is finally bright enough for butterflies to be out. He and Edy Michelis Rosariyanto gather their nets and plastic boxes with paper sleeves inside, then walk along the stream.
When they see a butterfly they haven't already caught during the survey, they freeze, watch intently, then swoop! The nets dance in the air.
Brother Henk has caught another butterfly; the wings are white and brown on one side and lavender on the other. He carefully slides the butterfly into a thin paper sleeve, then deposits the sleeve inside his plastic box.
Brother Henk has a passion for butterflies. No matter what else is happening, his attention is diverted by butterflies. He knows their habits, their colors, their names, their distribution patterns.
The same is true for Steve Richards and frogs, Ismail and plants, Bas van Balen and birds, Jerry Allen and fish, and so on. Field biologists, I've learned during this rapid survey, are passionate about the organisms they study. That's why they're motivated to go through mud, rain, mosquitoes, leeches, and worse day after day in the field. They simply love it.
They love natural history in general. When Steve isn't talking frogs, he's talking to Dan Polhemus about aquatic insects. Jerry, the ichthyologist, is crazy about bird-watching. All these scientists are able to swap twenty-letter species names with each other like germs. As I hike with them, they point out to me geological formations, leaves the local residents use to fight arthritis pain, meticulously concealed ground traps for birds that locals have made, plants that cause rashes, a caterpillar that makes people itch, and so on. I often wonder how they're able to hold all this information inside their brains.
The information doesn't just stay in their brains, either. All the biologists write detailed field notes and keep data sheets. "These details are so important," Steve once said, "that I keep two copies in two separate buildings just in case a fire burns one copy." Attention to detail goes into their work at every stage of field work: searching for species, taking notes, making
||"Which brings me to another characteristic these experts share: patience."|
sound recordings in the field, recording data back at camp, photographing species, and so on. Jerry Allen, for example, spends hours taking photographs of fish until he gets each fish's photo just right.
Which brings me to another characteristic these experts share: patience. Never before have I seen a man chase a fish around an aquarium with a fine-tipped paintbrush for twenty minutes until the fish finally rests at the proper angle. Never before have a crouched on the ground in complete silence for ten minutes while my legs fall asleep under me waiting with the herp team for a frog to call again
|Stephen Richards shares a recording he made of a bird with Bas van Balen. © Debbie Gowensmith|
and betray its location. Never before have I seen hands patiently removing strand after strand of string from birds and bats that are biting and defecating.
Brother Henk and Edy are being particularly patient with a butterfly that's hovering too high for their nets. They stand, frozen in concentration, while the butterfly zips and zags through yellow flowers that look like ice cream cones.
Minutes pass, and I'm losing patience with this particular hunt. Brother Henk and Edy aren't, though. They're passionate about butterflies, so the anticipation energizes them.
I give up and look away.
Swoosh! Patience paid off for these field biologists once again.
- Reported by Debbie Gowensmith
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