Philippines 2012

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Herping

frog

I just got back from hiking up to the peak of Mt. Palali, which is just under 1700 meters elevation. For some absurd reason I thought it would be more of a gentle, nature walk to the peak – just a little ways up from our camp. It ended up being pretty challenging and I got covered in mud and sweat in no time! We went up to rake for skinks. Skinks usually can be found by breaking up decaying logs and raking around leaf litter. We came back with one juvenile skink. Too bad we didn’t find more. 

I should mention that last night we went herping (herping” = “looking for amphibians and reptiles). It was great; my first nighttime herping session! I followed Rafe and Anthony up the stream just below our camp. It was pitch black and our only source of light was our headlamps. After a few brief moments of hesitation I followed Rafe into the stream (which averaged about knee deep). I tried really hard to find frogs, but Rafe and Anthony spotted and caught all the frogs. Hopefully tonight I shall return victorious!

 —Allie

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hubble-hubbling in the Philippine boondocks

Hubble

Transportation in the rural Philippine countryside can be a challenge.  Getting away from the city centers, through the agricultural areas of the lowlands, and up to the foot of a mountain requires multiple stages of transportation from bus, to jeepney, to four-wheel drive truck, and eventually to local village Hubble-hubble motorbikes.

Did you know that the English popular colloquial use of the slang term “Boondocks” (as in the 1965 Billy Joe Royal hit song “Down in the Boondocks”) originated with U.S. service men in the Philippines?  During the first part of the last century sailors adopted use of the Tagalog word “Bundok,” (meaning mountain) and applied it to any place far from civilization. 

As I said, getting in and out of the village is accomplished via Hubble-hubble, an expertly driven motorcycle with two wooden platforms attached to each side, and a two-foot long stick for a kickstand.  The platforms can each support three people, and together with the two or three people who sit on the seat behind the driver, it is not uncommon to see six to ten people riding a single motorbike.  Of course with my added weight, five people are the limit—and even then the back tire is nearly flat.  Hubble-hubble drivers have superhuman balance and driving skills, and they drive back and forth with a car’s weight on two wheels all day long.

I wonder what folks back in Kansas would think of us hubble-hubbling in the Philippine boondocks? —Rafe

Friday, June 15, 2012

Good Company

Dog

As the centennial KU Philippine expedition continues, we are all continually impressed by the abilities, incredible hospitality, and hard work ethic of our collaborators and local field counterparts.

Our primary collaborator, Dr. Marites (“Tess”) Bonachita Sanguila, an instructor at the nearby Father Saturnino Urios University in Butuan City, has taken charge of all logistical details for supporting the field crew.  This amounts to numerous massive shopping trips per week, responding to all the miscellaneous requests from the field team, and coordinating our activities with the village head, tribal chieftain, municipal authorities, provincial administrators, police, military, and nearby townspeople.  It's important that everyone knows we’re here, are aware of what we’re doing, and gets an opportunity to voice any concerns they might have about a bunch of foreigners coming to their home town.

Randy

Tess has an admirable way of making everyone feel at ease, even during difficult negotiations and discussions of delicate topics like local politics, jurisdiction and land access, permitting, and security in the area.   Even the village dogs have taken a shining to her (no small feat: dogs in rural areas here are more “scavenger” than they are “pet”).

Randy, the son of the Datu (the head of the indigenous peoples’ group with tribal jurisdiction over our study area) is a strong personality with a confident, direct, and strikingly vociferous demeanor. 
 
He has taken charge of organizing the porters (it takes 20-30 people to move our gear up and down the slopes of the mountain) and local guides.  He definitely has their well being in mind and he is not afraid to tell us when their needs are not yet quite met.  Making sure everyone is happy and well fed is priority number one! —Rafe

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Fungus Among us at Camp Putik on Mt. Hilong-hilong

Camp

From the coast of Agusan Del Norte, Mt Hilong-hilong looks pretty tame.  “Hilong” means “nose” in the local dialect….I guess if you squint, the peak looks a bit like a face in silhouette with a prominent nose.  

Down at low elevation it is hot, arid, and dry near the north coast of Mindanao Island.  The skies are clear, the sun is out; definitely good conditions for trecking up this mountain.

Mountain

Up on Mt. Hilong-hilong, a different story is unfolding.  Below the forest canopy, only a little sunlight reaches the ground.  The forest floor is saturated and in just a few days’ time the comings and goings of 20 field biologists have turned our kitchen (and the rest of the camp) into a frothy soup of brick-colored mud. Eventually our guides attempted to put down a floor of saplings, but I can soon see the poles slipping under the mud….

It’s a good thing that everyone has rubber boots.  “putik” translates to “mud” in Tagalog, so Camp Putik was quickly coined and universally adopted by our field team. 

A few days later my right ear and side of my head has begun to sting and itch incessantly.  Some scaly, itchy thing is spreading around on my neck as well.  As it turns out, I have been infected with some sort of tropical fungus; it’s now responding well to fungicide and showing signs of retreating—but how gross is that?  Can you imagine having Athletes’ Foot on your ear? -Rafe

Five days later, the team departs Camp Putik (with an amazing collection of specimens, several species new to science, and fantastic new data on the startling high resident biodiversity) and heads for the blissfully hot and dry lowlands.  First order of business: wash the mold off everything, do laundry and dry out tents, get as much mud out of our gear as possible, and visit the local university clinic for an infusion of fungicide.  It turns out three more people have broken out in strange rashes and can’t stop scratching.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hubble-hubbling in the Philippine boondocks

Hubble

Transportation in the rural Philippine countryside can be a challenge.  Getting away from the city centers, through the agricultural areas of the lowlands, and up to the foot of a mountain requires multiple stages of transportation from bus, to jeepney, to four-wheel drive truck, and eventually to local village Hubble-hubble motorbikes.

Did you know that the English popular colloquial use of the slang term “Boondocks” (as in the 1965 Billy Joe Royal hit song “Down in the Boondocks”) originated with U.S. service men in the Philippines?  During the first part of the last century sailors adopted use of the Tagalog word “Bundok,” (meaning mountain) and applied it to any place far from civilization. 

As I said, getting in and out of the village is accomplished via Hubble-hubble, an expertly driven motorcycle with two wooden platforms attached to each side, and a two-foot long stick for a kickstand.  The platforms can each support three people, and together with the two or three people who sit on the seat behind the driver, it is not uncommon to see six to ten people riding a single motorbike.  Of course with my added weight, five people are the limit—and even then the back tire is nearly flat.  Hubble-hubble drivers have superhuman balance and driving skills, and they drive back and forth with a car’s weight on two wheels all day long.

I wonder what folks back in Kansas would think of us hubble-hubbling in the Philippine boondocks? —Rafe

Friday, June 15, 2012

Good Company

Girl with DogRandy

As the centennial KU Philippine expedition continues, we are all continually impressed by the abilities, incredible hospitality, and hard work ethic of our collaborators and local field counterparts.

Our primary collaborator, Dr. Marite (“Tess”) Bonachita Sanguila, an instructor at the nearby Father Saturnino Urio University in Butuan City, has taken charge of all logistical details for supporting the field crew. This amounts to numerous massive shopping trips per week, responding to all the miscellaneous requests from the field team, and coordinating our activities with the village head, tribal chieftain, municipal authorities, provincial administrators, police, military, and nearby townspeople. It's important that everyone knows we’re here, are aware of what we’re doing, and gets an opportunity to voice any concerns they might have about a bunch of foreigners coming to their home town.

Tess has an admirable way of making everyone feel at ease, even during difficult negotiations and discussions of delicate topics like local politics, jurisdiction and land access, permitting, and security in the area. Even the village dogs have taken a shining to her (no small feat: dogs in rural areas here are more “scavenger” than they are “pet”).

Randy, the son of the Datu (the head of the indigenous peoples’ group with tribal jurisdiction over our study area) is a strong personality with a confident, direct, and strikingly vociferous demeanor.

He has taken charge of organizing the porters (it takes 20-30 people to move our gear up and down the slopes of the mountain) and local guides. He definitely has their well being in mind and he is not afraid to tell us when their needs are not yet quite met. Making sure everyone is happy and well fed is priority number one! —Rafe

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Fungus Among us at Camp Putik on Mt. Hilong-hilong

CampPhilip

From the coast of Agusan Del Norte, Mt Hilong-hilong looks pretty tame. “Hilong” means “nose” in the local dialect….I guess if you squint, the peak looks a bit like a face in silhouette with a prominent nose.

Down at low elevation it is hot, arid, and dry near the north coast of Mindanao Island. The skies are clear, the sun is out; definitely good conditions for trecking up this mountain.

Up on Mt. Hilong-hilong, a different story is unfolding. Below the forest canopy, only a little sunlight reaches the ground. The forest floor is saturated and in just a few days’ time the comings and goings of 20 field biologists have turned our kitchen (and the rest of the camp) into a frothy soup of brick-colored mud. Eventually our guides attempted to put down a floor of saplings, but I can soon see the poles slipping under the mud….

It’s a good thing that everyone has rubber boots. “putik” translates to “mud” in Tagalog, so Camp Putik was quickly coined and universally adopted by our field team.

A few days later my right ear and side of my head has begun to sting and itch incessantly. Some scaly, itchy thing is spreading around on my neck as well. As it turns out, I have been infected with some sort of tropical fungus; it’s now responding well to fungicide and showing signs of retreating—but how gross is that? Can you imagine having Athletes’ Foot on your ear? —Rafe

Five days later, the team departs Camp Putik (with an amazing collection of specimens, several species new to science, and fantastic new data on the startling high resident biodiversity) and heads for the blissfully hot and dry lowlands. First order of business: wash the mold off everything, do laundry and dry out tents, get as much mud out of our gear as possible, and visit the local university clinic for an infusion of fungicide. It turns out three more people have broken out in strange rashes and can’t stop scratching.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Setting Sail — 100 Years Later for Herpetology Research

As I pack for our trip (tomorrow) to the Philippines, something very interesting occurred to me: right now is the one century anniversary of KU herpetological expeditions to the Philippines.  KU professor Dr. Edward Taylor first arrived in Manila in April-May 1912, exactly 100 years ago.  It's very interesting to reflect on how much has changed over the past 100 years…personally, my experience is obviously quite different from Ed's.  He spent months on a schooner, on his way to Manila (through Singapore), and my trip will take 30 hrs (through Japan).  His supplies were packed in a wooden crate; mine in a cordura duffel bag.  He collected herp alone with the use of a lantern, I collect specimens in groups of hunters, equipped with halogen headlamp.  More importantly, our collaboration has advanced conceptually so far, surpassing I suspect, Taylor's wildest imagination of the future before him.

Another interesting fact: on this trip, we will target Mt. Hilong-hilong in northeast Mindanao, an historically significant site that was first surveyed by Angel Alcala and Walter Brown in the early 1960.  Our data and observations will constitute poignant comparisons to their formative earlier work, enabling direct quantitative analysis of temporal variation across sampling efforts (most notably, with an eye for impacts of land use and climate change).  The results are sure to be astounding!  All data we gather will be turned over to Dr. Alcala for comparative purposes with his many earlier surveys in the late 1950, 1960, and 1970.

Anyone inherently interested: I'd recommend the California Academy of Sciences "Digitization and Rectification of the Brown and Alcala Philippine Collection" webpage. —Rafe