Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Last call

I had a mild panic attack this morning when someone in the dining hall offhandedly mentioned today’s date. Since time doesn't really matter out here, August always felt like some irrelevant, distant point in the future, important only because it marked the time when we all go home. Apparently when no one was paying attention, August showed up..., and days that once seemed endless feel suddenly finite.

All too soon, instead of taking out the boat to scout for bats and macaws or bushwhack through the jungle in search of mammals or primates, I’ll be back in the city, sitting at my desk by the lake, and daydreaming about This Place. My remaining time in this corner of paradise can be measured in hours now, and out of necessity, my lackadaisical attitude about the river has been replaced with a sense of urgency to make it all count.
One free afternoon, Alex and I went spearfishing with Samwell. This catfish didn't stand a chance.
But at the same time, it's time to go.

Field-weariness has definitely set in, but I've also been actively resisting the urge to nap away my afternoons in the blessed luxury of the Nutria's air conditioning (or "air con" as the Brits say). It’s been crazy-hot (CRAZY-HOT) the past few days, which (as many now know...) makes me cranky and impatient. Except for those few, precious hours of 65 degree (F) bliss, our home (an unintentional oven) threatens to bake our organs inside our bodies (Can that happen? It feels possible...). Hard Choices, indeed.
Hot = cranky
So, I’ve been living it up. The other night was the first-ever “Staff Frog Night”, which is pretty much the most fun people can have on a boat in floating vegetation, at night, on the river, in the Amazon. We basically drank some beers, rammed the boat into a sea of water lettuce and other macrophytes, and commenced grabbing tiny frogs off the leaves (for science!). Euclides held tightly to my shirt a few times so I wouldn’t fall out of the boat (he was *much* better at seeing them than I was). True story.
Just about the best bunch of people anyone could work with. Center, then clockwise: Nick, Matt, me, Dan (Euclides driving), Greta, Rachel, and Emma (Photo by Mario)
A typical night in the Nutria: Team Herp often brings frogs back to our house for ID's and measurements 
Check out those eyes!
[Brief aside: I momentarily became a hero when a long silvery fish with GIANT SHARP TEETH JUMPED INTO OUR BOAT en route to the floating veg. Euclides just kept yelling 'peligroso', so I was more focused on getting it off the boat than getting a good ID. Still...I think I saved our collective toes.]
Euclides has a modified headlamp (torch) that does the trick!
Since "Staff Frogs" was such a hit, I suggested we all do "Staff Fishing Bats” the following evening (very few of us had ever done that survey either). A species of bat here EATS FISH. WHAT THE WHAT!! We took off just after sunset to do a 5km transect upriver, and the boat went fast enough to keep the mosquitoes from eating us alive.
This isn't a fishing bat, but it is a Dead bat. We found this on one of our excursions into the jungle.
It works like this: Someone does a sweep of the water surface with a spotlight, and we all yell “BAT!” loudly when we see one. One lucky person gets to hold the bat box, a little device that turns the sonar into an audible signal. When we finished the transect, I got to spotlight the shore on the way back and look for the red glow of caiman eyes on the banks of the river, so I was as happy as a person can possibly be at night, in the jungle. 
Caiman eyes glow back red when you shine them with a spotlight. In other news, there are SO MANY CAIMAIN in the river... (Photo by Greta)
And since I take every opportunity to get off the big boat (AND I’d heard a rumor of giant river otter sightings in the lake by transect 6), I went out one last time with the mist-netting guys. It’s not my favorite survey, but since there’s quite a bit of downtime (30 minutes between net-checks), Jorge took me on a private jungle tour while the guys did their business. We saw jaguar tracks, toucans up close and personal, and even a howler monkey, so all in all, I wasn't even that disappointed when there weren't any otters at the lake.
If I had to choose just one guide to help me survive in the jungle indefinitely, it would be Jorge. He. Knows. Everything. Here he's holding a stick from the capinuri tree, famous for its, ..ahem...tell-tale shape...
Rachel and I did give otter-spotting one last try though, since we're two of the few who (still) haven't seen them. We took the canoes out with Jan to the den where they’d been seen frolicking in the past, but after 30 minutes of paddling, we never saw a'one.

And then it started to rain…

Luckily the macaw survey happened to be in the neighborhood, so we got rescued and brought back to camp with a little assistance.

T-minus 1 day now; make it count.