Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Directed Research starts; third day of field work!

It has officially started, directed research has been ongoing for the last three days.  Everything has all of sudden changed here, exams went well for all three of my classes (though I am still awaiting one) and everyone has shifted into their respective groups.  The most interesting thing about all this is all the different things that each group is studying.  There is one group that is using GIS data to map tree-kangaroos behavior, feeding habits and road kill and that same group is nocturnally observing yellow-bellied gilders and trying to find out why the gliders select some trees for feeding trees and others not.  They are always establishing what trees are den trees!  Another group is climbing through wait-a-whiles and stinging trees to survey the primary rainforest plot within CISRO's long term research plot, were they will be taking measurements on seedlings, established trees, leaf litter and other things.  They are also obtaining measurements within a secondary forest growth plot in order to do a chronosequence, which is used to represent and study the time-dependent development of a forest.  My group is focusing on the seed rain and bird species composition within 'Kickstart' pasture plots.  These 'Kickstart' plots are essentially naturally re-generating rainforest that was cleared for livestock and at some point left abandoned. Simply put instead of spending thousands of dollars to plant trees and try to restore the area, one would spray grasses and weeds, put in bird perches around the plot and monitor the area; monitoring being the most important part and the essence of what I am doing.  The last few days consisted of setting up water troughs (to catch seeds that are pooped or puked) and camera traps ( are the birds puking or pooping the seeds???) to see what types of seeds were dispersed in the area and also to see what type of birds are visiting the bird perches.  I've also conducted surveys with Amanda (our centre director and our principle investigator) on birds within the pasture plots, grass plots and remaining and connected rainforest areas.  These will help determine the bird composition of the overall area and is by far my favorite.  I love tromping through the rainforest, through the wait-a-whiles and stinging trees to try and find birds.  The grass and pasture plots are good too but not nearly as species rich (go figure??) plus its not as entertaining as trying to wiggle your way through the thick rainforest.

Besides quantifying seed rain, my group and I are also looking at seed and seedling fate within the regenerating rainforest plot and today I helped set up more camera traps and seeds/seedlings (its a little complicated to explain how I did just trust me on this).  The idea is to see if if seeds and seedlings are being predated on and how this might affect seed/seedling establishment.  My group and I setup cameras to see what types of animals come by.  Exciting I know!

All the descriptions on what I have been doing are far less detailed than they really are so please take them with a grain of salt..

Days are long and hot but when we get home before 2pm, I feel so accomplished...the next few weeks will only become greater..!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Two months since I was in Chicago. One month still ahead.

Sadly enough classes are almost over and exams are this weekend.  I cannot believe its been two months already, you really forget about time just doesn't exist.  All I can think about at this moment is that while Chicago keeps moving and progressing along time, life here in the rainforest is different and very much one of disconnectedness; to family, to friends and to what I call 'home' .  I don't get on a train in the morning nor do I buy coffee like I used to when I lived in Chicago, its strange when you live in another place especially another country for a long time... but still...I don't mind it.

Cravings?  I do miss the morning cup of dark coffee and I do miss my girlfriend.  She and I speak a lot though, which is good and I know shes having a rough time right now without me there, especially since we live together.  However, I know she knows the reason why I came here.  Why I had to come here, the importance of studying in another country and in the rainforest.

Honestly though...I never thought I would say this living here.....I miss Chicago.

Most current events?
This past weekend, my group volunteered at the Yungaburra Folk Festival and the people I met were just amazing and most welcoming.  I volunteered Saturday at the children's festival and worked the pump waterfall/river system that we all built in light of our topic; water and why its important (obvious enough?) Although the most of the kids really were not interested in us lecturing them we laughed and played with the kids, splashing water at each was quiet a sight.  I listened to some amazing music too.

Sunday morning I joined in on a meditation class at the festival and although I wasn't really expecting too, I did.  It was great.  Afterward there was a Zen Shiatsu class that was offer and well...I stayed for that too and met some really amazing..strangers that became friends.  I befriended an older couple; an Australian and an Irishman that met many years ago and traveled around Australia in a caravan teaching yoga, meditation and spreading happiness.  They were very nice and after the class I met up with later to have a cup of tea and to talk about life, philosophy and the rainforest.  I really wish I spent more time with them.  I do hope to see them again in the future...

So then, were do I go from here?  Whats next in this adventure?


Research, the whole reason I came here in the first place.
This coming week, I start the directed research project.  This is very exciting time because this last month I will spend a whole month dedicated to research.  Its a huge endeavor and I know my best and worst will come out but I have confidence that I will do well.

Happily I was placed in the 'bird poop troop' otherwise known as the seed dispersal group.  I am very excited to be working with birds, because ever since I arrived here I have developed a profound fascination with bird fauna.  Additionally, I am really excited to be working with seed dispersal and having a chance to understand its role in natural re-vegetation of cleared rainforest.  My group and I will be working with our Centre director in the "kickstart program" that was recently started.  I hope that our work will help progress and develop an understanding the role that birds play within the environment.  I really do not know much about what the rest of the project entails but I will Monday.

Till then...
Farewell and goodnight.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Daintree; a beautiful place. Australia; a fire dominated continent.

The field exercise report went well.  I am actually really proud of myself for receiving such a great mark for only having the limited amount of time (about four days??) to collect data, compile and use the data to figure out what statistical test to use and research relevant literature as well as connect it to what I was actually using the cane toads for.  Although I only had to write an intro and methods chapter, it was still a lot of work trying to find out how to connect relevant literature with what I was conducting; this really prepares me for DR (Directed Research)...I guess that is research. 

The weather seems to get nicer everyday while here at CRS.  However, its still bloody cold at night, up in the Tablelands.  This week (Tuesday October 1st) myself and the rest of the students at CRS left the Atherton Tablelands and headed up north to the Daintree area.

As the vans drove along the Mulligan Highway toward Daintree, I noticed an ever changing landscape dominated by fire. Certain parts of the highway were actually on fire and white plumes of smoke rose over the road as we drove by.  I couldn't believe that fire was actually part of this landscape, it dominated and ruled it, and although I learned about this in classes here, to see it first hand like this was beyond words.  The white SFS vans soon drove into the lowlands down along the Mossman-Mt Molloy road. I was surprised on how quickly the landscape changed from a pyropyilic landscape into a pyrophobic landscape.  Lust, dark green vegetation encased the road as the vans drove deeper and deeper into the rainforest dominated landscape. As the drive continued all I could think about was what Arthor Boyd said about Australia.  "I stress the uniqueness of the Australian landscape and its metaphysical and mythic content."

Daintree is a completely different than the area that I have been living in for the last month.  Its nowhere as near developed as Atherton Tablelands are, most of the original lowland rainforest is still intact and the lack of modern necessities is apparent. Since declaration of a World Heritage area, most of the buildings and development that does exist in Daintree runs on a minimalist setting using solar power, gas generators and an obvious non-existent access to the outside world.  An interesting thing to note about the Daintree area is that the only way to get into this area is by a ferry that crosses the croc infested waters of the Daintree river.  I stayed for 4 days in a local hostel and learned quiet a bit about mangrove ecosystems. Through one of the field exercises, I learned about visitors attitudes toward the Daintree area and its attachment to the World Heritage Listing. This was prompted by questionnaires which were written out and used.  Interestingly enough many international people from European countries knew about Daintree and its unsurpassed beauty and significance.  Id like to think that most Americans know about this being the largest, most intact continuous piece of rainforest in Australia but unfortunately most people back in the states did not even know that rainforests existed in Australia.

Its been a while since that last happened and as I update this, I just spent the last four days collecting more data for another field exercise (Natural Resource Management).  Its started to rain more often as October nears its end and the rainy season starts.  Tomorrow is the start of mid semester break; its been a long time coming...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fragmentation of Mabi forests

I realize that most of my posts have been toward the wonderful non-class time that I have experienced while studying abroad here in Australia.  However, a huge reason why I came here was for the classes, cultural experiences and to really understand how rainforests work. 

Its been about 4 weeks since I have arrived here at the Centre and classes are almost at the mid mark.

So what have I been recently doing?

This past week was devoted to the impacts of climate change and fragmentation on rainforest structure; as well as its flora and fauna.  This is of course is particular to the Wet Tropics region of North Queensland.
One of the most interesting aspects about this week was our field excursions, relating to fragmentation.  The rest of the students and I all visited actual places around the Atherton Tablelands that were being effected or rather affected by fragmentation.  Most of the clearing of rainforests here in Australia has completely ceased (since 1988 World Heritage Listing occurred) , which is good; but what is left now, is the forests in fragments of all sorts of sizes and shapes.  This is what most of the field lecture contained, moreover it covered how fragmentation affects species composition, ecological processes and if these fragments will remain stable.  We had the chance to look at three fragmented forests and all of these forest fragments visited were Mabi forests of various sizes and shapes.  Mabi is considered endangered ecosystems (which I never knew could occur), because of how heavily fragmented they are across the Wet Tropics region and because they only occur here (endemic).  Another interesting fact is that these forest fragments also contain certain species like the Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo (which are endemic to North Queensland and only occur in Mabi forests) and if these rainforests disappear or collapse so could these cute little marsupials (if you dont know what a Lumholtz's is, look it up...its so freaking cute, yes they are marsupials).

That is all I can write about for much more to post but so little time.  I am actually going out for a second night of data collection for a field exercise/paper I am writing for my rainforest ecology class.  We are catching cane toads and then dissecting them.

Fun times here in the land of OZ.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chillagoe..the red part of Australia

Not sure if you all realize this, but I did not realize the difference until I was reading more about the area I went to yesterday; Chillagoe.  (If you already knew this... well..okay then, I guess you can leave... )

Unequivocally, Australia brings two words to mind.. 'The Outback' and 'The Bush'.  But, what is the difference?  Is there a difference?

'The Outback' is refereed to as most remote desert areas around the middle of Australia.  When I went to Chillagoe, it was (rather will be) the closest I will get to 'The Outback'.  'The Bush' is considered to be closer to the coastline and is high in native wildlife.  At Chillagoe, I guess you could have considered it to be either though.  It was relatively remote but not as remote as the middle areas of Australia, and yes it was RED and HOT.
Chillagoe is a deserted mining town with a current population of about 200.  In the early 20th century it was a massive mining town, (with a population of about 10,000) but after not making any profits from mining in the area, the company went bankrupt and it closed down and most of those people left. Now this place is just littered with abandoned caves and mine shafts.  This place was really cool, about 4 hours northwest of Yungaburra, it brings to mind of the old west movies that play on TV from time to time.  Small, almost desert like town with TONS of dust and red red rock.  One of the great things about this area again is the natural geology.  So much of the  rock formations are incredibly old...all sorts of different types of rocks. I had the chance to take a guided tour guide with a Queensland Park Ranger, it was really sweet.  Why did I bother to bring up 'The Outback"?  While I am here in Australia I will not be seeing it much and I guess this is the closest that I was going to get to it, living in the rainforest you are quiet far away from 'The Outback'. 

Sadly no kangaroos, but plenty of wallabies, even a little baby wallaby. 

So yesterday, Tuesday, after a day of lectures and exploring caves I and the rest of my group went back to the town center and had dinner at the only pub in Chillagoe.  Nice place, had a barramundi fish grill.  After dinner we all headed back to the previously set up camp site to fall alseep under the stars.  The great thing about Australia is the wonderful assortment of stars you cannot see from the skies in the northern hemisphere.  I never realized how incredibly different the stars looked here, especially when I was so far west.

So far its been a really beautiful trip.  I apologize for not posting anything while I was in Cairns, I got caught up in finishing a paper for one of my classes on Environmental policy.  I will try and be more disciplined in writing up posts.  Photos though are kinda hard and I will try and upload some soon, Ive been taking so many...I dont even know where to start. 

Its late here.. and I still have to hike up to my cabin. 
Good night.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Dark nights in the rainforest...

So, sorry everyone. I know I haven't posted a blog post, but this weekend I will be staying in Cairns and I will have reliable internet access (and I can upload some photos, maybe a video too!!)  I PROMISE I will make a more in-depth post.  To some things up though.  Its been an exciting 12 days since I have arrived here.  I was some what sick because of the cold temps and constant rain for the last 5 days but now its getting sunny and hot.  I cannot believe how strong the sun is here, its kinda of unbearable.  I have started lectures and field exercises, classes are all day and some what long, but they feed us real well here.  I had an amazing night last night.  I had an intro to Spotlighting class and went on night hikes throughout the rainforest. I was able to go through the "old growth" or "never been cleared rainforest" and was able too see some amazing insects, a leaf tailed gecko and bio-luminescent fungi.  During the hike in the rainforest we (all the students and I) all turned off our headlamps and became surrounded in complete darkness.

Though living in the rainforest is some what difficult (without modern day comforts) after about a week you start to really love were you are and the rigorous routine you have become adapted to (I guess that helps too!).  I really have never done anything like this before and I believe this will be good for me and my future endeavors though hard lines still lay ahead; I am optimistic.

More to come this weekend.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

From Qantas international terminal in Los Angeles…

So I wanted to start off by inviting everyone that takes a look at this blog to check out the two information links to the right of this post.  “About this blog” and the other “Rainforests in Australia?!”  These two links provide the wonderful background information of where I will be staying and the details of my study program. 
I don’t know what to expect to receive from this blog, but I hope it will help me reflect on my journeys and help me gain a better understanding of the world I live in.   I think studying abroad in another country and another culture is more important than anything nowadays, especially when understanding each other is crucial for the future of our species.  Science can create new drugs but understanding ‘each other’ is what will preserve our continued existence.
So, where am I?  Waiting in LAX.with the rest of the SFS students in the international terminal.. Its 10:15PM local time (Los Angeles) and after about 50 minutes of enthusiastic conversation and getting to know each other, we are all tired.  It has been a long journey for all of us to get here, but we are finally here.  Australia awaits us.  Till next time, from down under.  Cheers.