Today is my birthday. It is also Linda Trueb’s birthday. I don’t know if she knows that we are birthday buddies.
So, I celebrated my birthday out in the field on Mt. Palali. It was a wonderful birthday. I always think that the food at camp is delicious, but I think the food was extra good today with chicken and rice for breakfast, beef stew for lunch and the grand finale of the biggest batch of spaghetti I’ve ever seen! And the cake! How can I forget the cake? Arvin and Rafe hiked down into town yesterday to replenish our food supply and they came back with a birthday cake for me! How lucky I was to actually have a birthday cake out in the middle of the rainforest on an isolated mountain in the middle of Luzon!
One of the town officials hiked up to join us for the spaghetti and cake. He smiled at me and said “This year you celebrate your birthday with Philippinos!...And one Mexican!”
I also want to mention I had quite an adventure last night. We went to a new stream to look for different species we haven’t collected yet. This stream was full of murky, dark waters and was surrounded by fields of tall grass that stirred up feelings of claustrophobia. When I had fallen behind the boys and the local guide and I was navigating this hellish stream all by myself, my knees actually started shaking I was so scared. Fears of pit vipers and God knows what else I could come across in the murky waters filled my mind (Enteng and JB brought back a good-size eel from one the streams around the camp less than a week ago). Did I mention this was nighttime and all I had for light was my headlamp? Anyway, I continued forward and finally managed to catch up with the boys and the guide. To my relief, the stream opened up to more forest-like the surroundings. We were still following the narrow stream in a single-file. Herping in a single-file wasn’t working out very well for me, being that the guide in the front was catching all the frogs, the boys in the middle collecting the few herps that the guide missed, and me in the back desperately trying to spy anything else that was missed by both the guide and the boys. And at one point, I noticed a fern-like plant hanging over the stream. I remember noticing Enteng the other night checking big leafs on plants for frogs and lizards so I decided to try the same thing. On the second leaf I pulled down, I found a skink from the genus Eutropis. I was so surprised I yelled to the boys “I found a skink!” The boys yelled back “Don’t just tell us! Catch it!” And I did! First reptile on the trip for me. Later, we proceeded to scale a waterfall that was also very exciting. We returned to camp that night with a good amount of specimens and an adrenaline rush.
I’ve discovered on this trip that one of the most satisfying things for a herpetologist is for them to spot and catch a herp. I was a bit mopey yesterday because I failed to spot AND catch a single thing the night before. The boys, trying to help out, would point out a frog or gecko to me and let me catch it. But it is much more satisfying if I actually spot it myself and make the capture on my own.
Last night I had my best night yet, spying and catching four Rana similis by myself. This was my biggest contribution yet. I also learned last night that although I can be utterly giddy with the successful capture of four Rana, nothing can satisfy the boys more than catching a snake. Definitely the “trophies” from last night’s collecting would be the two snakes. And the skinks come in on a close second on this trip for most satisfying to capture. Man, those skinks are hard to find!
Today we moved down to the lower elevation camp on the mountain (721m). The hike down was steep and slick with mud; it involved a lot of tripping and sliding. I call it “strategically falling down the mountain.”
We were all happy to move down to the lower elevation. We were all cold on the top of the mountain and aside from a handful of skinks and a single crotchety, old, one-eyed snake, we were only collecting frogs at the top elevation. I was totally content with just catching frogs, but here at the lower elevation we might catch Varanus, Draco, more skinks, different frogs and snakes — including possibly pit vipers (eep).
Right now I’m relaxing in my warm, yellow tent. We’re still on the high elevation camp. On the second night of herping I caught my first Philippine frog — an unlucky Platymantis montanus perched on a palm-like plant over the stream. I also caught some frogs from the genus Rana. Luke pointed them out to me. That was two days ago on the sixth. Yesterday was a bit dreary. My tropical field clothes are definitely not warm enough for the chilly, foggy weather we’re experiencing up at the high elevation camp. Herping wasn’t as successful as previous nights. I learned how to record frog calls that night — or at least learned the idea behind it and what’s usually involved. We had problems finding calling frogs! Oh well. I’m sure sometime in the next two weeks I’ll have more opportunities to learn to record.
Here’s what a typical day on Mt. Palali is like for me:
Breakfast of white rice + meat/veggie dish cooked on wok over campfire
Drink instant coffee
Preserve/prepare specimens collected previous night and/or
Attempt daytime herping
Lunch of white rice + meat/veggie dish cooked on wok over campfire
Drink instant coffee
Preserve/prepare specimens collected previous night while listening to boys quote Will Ferrell
Dinner of white rice + meat/veggie dish cooked on wok over campfire
Drink instant coffee or piece of candy
Go out collecting amphibians and reptiles
Return to camp and listen to boys quote Will Ferrell while we wait for others to return to camp with the rest of the catch of the night.
Snack of crackers, cheesewhiz, peanut butter, and Tanduay.
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!
I'm currently enjoying a breakfast sandwich and a tall Americano at the Starbucks near our hotel in Manila. Luke has just called Rafe from the town of Solano (about seven hours north of Manila). The boys were supposed to head up to the first site and establish camp at Mt. Palai, but only seven of the 30 porters that they hired yesterday have shown up.
The boys had left ahead of me as part of the advance team yesterday. At the market in Solano, they bought our food supply, hired porters, and a local guide. Today, Rafe, Arvin, Aloy, and I are driving up to Solano. Tomorrow we were planning on making a courtesy call to the mayor of the region and then hike up to join up with the boys. Plans might change now due to the porter shortage. The decision has been made to have the boys and the 7 porters take what they can and head up the mountain. Perry, an entomology student from the Philippines, will stay behind in Solano with the rest of the gear. Rafe and Arvin will hopefully straighten out the porter situation when we arrive later today. We also have a request to bring rum, cigarettes, sharpening stones, and rubber boots. And the blowpipes that they left at the bus stop yesterday.
At the museum
Today we took a walk through old Manila and visited the National Museum. I've included a photo, below, of Jeepney. They're one of the most interesting things I see around Manila. They are a converted jeep that's heavily decorated and used for public transportation.
A major Midwest snowstorm during the Christmas holiday delayed the 36-hour journey for our intrepid herpetology team, but we eventually made our way from snowy Lawrence to the Kansas City airport. The very long plane trip to Manila included a layover in Minneapolis and a layover in Japan.
Hello! I am a new graduate student in Herpetology at the KU Biodiversity Institute. I am interested in studying the evolutionary history, biogeography and morphology of frogs from Southeast Asia.
This week I’ll set out on my first field expedition and I’m very excited. I will be on this trip from December 30th to January 21st with several other ecology and evolutionary biology students and faculty. We will be going to Mt. Palali, in the Caraballo Mountains of Nueva Viscaya Province, in the Philippines. The purpose of this trip is collect specimens that will be used in current and future research involving the biodiversity of the Philippines. -Allie
Over winter break, Herpetology curator Rafe Brown is leading a team of KU students to the Philippines. The group's research will help scientists better understand the biodiversity of the Philippines, an archipelago of some 7,000 islands.