Nocturnal Friends- A visiting photographer

A very long over due post…

This past summer I had the lovely honor of having a very talented wildlife photographer join me in the field to photograph bats and other creatures he came across. Michael Durham made his bed in the corner of our living room floor crammed between the couch and the wall attempting to sleep through the daily morning commotion of Porter Cove for the better half of the month. One of my techs named the dead end road we lived on, Porter Cove, as Mr. “Pappy” Porter seemed to own most of the land in Unicoi- his extensive family were scattered throughout the trailers sprinkled within the cove. Michael slept in his living room nest or in the forest with us in an extra tent. That summer we all slept on either air mattresses or sleeping pads on the floor in the house or on the forest floor. He battled the constant thunderstorms right there with us and with all of his fancy, expensive and non-waterproof gear.

Almost as soon as he arrived into town, we were out in the field, actually I think we left just 4 hours after he arrived to Unicoi, TN. It was the hottest and most humid night of the year and I also had to tell him that he’d be driving his rental car on a road that had begun to wash away down the side of the mountain. As long as it’s not raining…too much…we should be ok.

Every night we could go out, Michael went with us. We would set up our nets to catch the bats and other equipment to record bat calls, while Michael set up his extensive high speed camera equipment inside a family-sized tent on the edge of a dirt road, often surrounded by stinging nettles and poison ivy. Each bat we’d catch, we’d record the basics and if s/he was a species of interest, Michael would let an individual bat fly in the tent, catching their precise movements as they swooped around- their mouths open as they sent out calls too high for us to hear, the sounds bouncing back to their ears as they dodge every obstacle in their way. I’m not going to even attempt to go into his set-up because I would only fail to explain the details, but these details and his passion for wildlife photography are the main ingredients to the photos that allow us to witness the beauty of these nocturnal creatures that all too often escapes us.

Bats often only conjure up images of fear, or are rarely thought about. But I want to share some of Michael’s photos from my field season with all of you. Within those few short moments he spent with each bat, he captured what most people never have the opportunity to see up close. Maybe you are reading this because you already love bats, or you are curious, or perhaps you are an excellent friend and enjoy reading what I write. And maybe it’s something else all together. Either way, his photos offer a glimpse into the life of bats and their nocturnal friends- including wildlife photographers and biologists alike.

Male northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) photographed in the Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. (digital composite)

Male northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) photographed in the Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. (digital composite)

Visit his site, DurmPhoto.com
photo captions taken from Michael Durham’s photo descriptions. Thanks!!

Braddock, I’ll miss you

I’ve spent my entire life saying good-bye to towns and cities and the friends that I’ve made living within them.  However, without moving from place to place I would have never had the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing people nor would I have been able to develop the friendships that have grown in both my presence and absence.  I continue to look forward, but I do so with the strength I have gained from those that I have met along the way.  Those that have filled my homes with laughter and the smell of vegan meals.  Those that have helped me question my actions, allowed me to appreciate often forgotten aspects of life, and those that have been there for me during the difficult times but also there to create new, happy memories.

My last year in Pennsylvania, a little over a third of my time spent living in Braddock or visiting prior to my move, was filled with all of the above moments and more.  During my last week in Detroit in 2012 I was lucky enough to make connections that would lead to my introduction of rad people in Braddock, Pittsburgh, and other nearby cities- opening the doors to punk/hardcore/vegan/straight edge/etc life in the region.  I can’t help but value those connections as they often lead to fantastic and like-minded people.  I want to thank you all for making me feel so welcome, for letting me sleep on your couches, inviting me to shows, trips out of town, vegan potlucks, coffee shop and beach hangs, yoga classes and everything else.  And to be able to live with two rad friends (and their cats and rats) for the winter, being only a few minutes walk away from other friends, felt like some a privilege.

My last weekend in Braddock consisted of epic hangs and meals together, and of course, a long awaited camping trip with a few friends from Braddock/PGH.  Again, I have to say that Raccoon Creek State Park is a great escape from the city for hiking a camping.  It’s decent for a fragmented piece of land so close to a major city.  Camping on 4/20 with sober and vegan friends assures for the best camping snacks and conversations.  Our attempt at pancakes cooked on the fire was perfect for breakfast following a night of pizza hobo/mountain pies, s’mores and junk food (and fruit).  The fire kept us warm on our 30 degree night, no rain to chill us, only frost on the surface as we awoke at sunrise.

x420x Camping Trip

x420x Camping Trip

Vegan pancakes and sausage

 

I look forward to future visits, much love to you all!  Now I must venture on to new areas…

Nerd Adventures

As I wonder if each snow fall will be the last of the season, my need to return back into the field grows.  I have spent the winter knowing that my job will continue onto the next season, all the while I have been patiently waiting on news for a possible new adventure.  Perhaps the grandest of them all…. thus far.  And finally my future adventures have been confirmed.

I have fed my cravings for nature with random hikes in nearby state parks.  Some to Raccoon Creek State Park to trudge through inches of snow on the trails and admire the layered icicles of the frozen mineral springs.  Another trip on that off day where the snow melted as the temperature rose to a warm 60 degrees in the midst of winter.  None of this has been quite enough to battle the 40+ hours a week of working in front of the computer.  Even now I feel guilty as I type this, as it only means that I am yet again, in front of my computer.  But then I cough uncontrollably for a moment, a reminder of the fatigue this bronchitis has caused- cough attacks are constant, and increasing as I breath in the cold air- making hiking next to impossible. But the cough will fade and hopefully it will be replaced with an increase of energy and ambition.

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Next weekend I will return to the forest, as our searches for bat and bird carcasses will soon begin.  My return will also mark 1 year in Pennsylvania.  My time in Pennsylvania has been balanced with 2/3 of my time in the forest and a 1/3 of my time in Braddock.  Through the winter in Braddock, friendships have grown.  We’ve shared vegan meals, some large potlucks and many last minute dinners and lunches in one house or the next.  Laughter over cartoons while eating cookies, candy and breakfast anytime of the day.  Hikes through the forest and around the city.  Long talks with cats in our laps.  Bowls of popcorn and mugs of tea.  Punk shows in the city and in the warehouse with the sounds of skateboards between sets.  Lifting weights and holding planks.  Friendships that will last even though I have to add this place to the long list of places I have once lived.

Ready for a new chapter in my life.  One that I have dreamed of reaching since a very young age and now I have the opportunity.  The opportunity to earn a PhD in biology.  My field research begins in May.  Summer adventures (research!) in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee in search of Indiana bats and then to Terre Haute, Indiana in August to study at Indiana State University under the advisement of Dr. Joy O’Keefe.  I have really missed academia since graduating with my master’s in 2010 and am looking forward to the challenges ahead.  More details soon, but this next month is going to be a busy one with moving around and training the new PA wind energy crew before I depart.  I am quite excited about all of this!

Michigan to Pennsylvania

My two weeks before leaving Detroit were a whirlwind of events.  My sleep schedule was a disaster, each night managing to find only 4-6 hours of chaotic sleep.  On top of packing, organizing and getting rid of stuff I was also working right up to the day before I left and was trying really hard to spend time with close friends and family.  Saying good-bye is never easy, even when everyone knows you are bound to leave.  In my short time back in Michigan (June 2011-March 2012), many friendships grew stronger, others faded and new ones arose.  I had to balance my mind and stay functioning through the heavy emotional exhaustion of leaving.  I’m not really sure how well I did, and I think everyone was noticing my limits decreasing.  I did manage to get in bike rides and dinners with friends and catch some excellent punk shows before leaving though.

My last two days in Detroit were non-stop.  Thursday night was a delicious vegan dinner at Seva in Detroit with a full table of my friends that I have lots of love for and all of which are vegan.  Friday found me at work presenting 4 educational programs to 2nd graders on the adaptations of animals and shortly after I spent time finishing up projects there and saying good bye to my human and non-human friends.  I almost cried like 10 times because everyone was so sweet with their very thoughtful going away wishes and gifts…. I’m getting sentimental just thinking about it again.  After work a few of us ate the coconut lime vegan cupcakes Amanda made (which were the same ones that I made for everyone years ago that got her started on making vegan desserts weekly for everyone at the Bat Zone) and then we headed to see the Hunger Games movie that Michelle got us hooked on reading.  Thank you everyone at the Organization for Bat Conservation for all of your support, encouragement and friendships.

I had to rush off after the movie so I could meet friends for the Kimya Dawson and Your Heart Breaks show- an excellent way to spend my last night in Detroit.  Afterwards, Liz and I walked home and parted at her apartment in the rain, a block over I met Matt at my apartment where he kept me company while I attempted to finish up packing and cleaning.  After sleeping a few hours, I woke up, packed up my car with everything that I’d need/want for the next 8 months.  I drove off to pick up 2 people who had responded to a ride share ad.  (Both guys were really respectful and fun to share the drive to Pittsburgh with as they were in the middle of their adventures.)  Just before leaving, I met Andrea, Curtis, Arlo, Liz and James at Eastern Market.  As some of you may remember from my previous departure, it’s the best way I can think of to depart from Detroit.

The sun was setting behind a mountain as I reached the very small town in Pennsylvania where I’ll be living and working.  The house that I’m now living in with 4-5 other people is on a very small dirt road that’s surrounded by a state forest.  The same people I’m living with are also the people I’m working with.  Similar scenario as the project I was working with in TN/NC.  It’s a pretty amazing set-up as I get my own room and my window looks out to the backyard which is mountains and forest.  I had Sunday to unpack and acclimate to my new surroundings and meet my new housemates.  I could finally relax and not think about the millions of things I had to do before my move.  It didn’t take long to unwind and feel the anxiety and pressure lift.  Walks on dirt roads, breathing country air and working outside is an excellent cure.  It’s quiet here, I can hear the birds.  I feel comfortable.  I feel relaxed.

I’ll post more about work soon, but this was more about transition.  Today was my day off and I went on a chilly bike ride through a state park on a hike and bike trail.  I only rode 18 miles, but it was 18 miles with trees on one side and a river on the other.  18 miles with no cars to worry about.  Things are so different here.  I love cities, but right now it feels really good to not be in a city.

More on adventures soon, I just really needed this transition post so I can move onto what’s ahead.

Butterflies, Rainbows and Waterfalls

Sounds magical doesn’t it? Well, it’s not magic, nature is just that incredible.

We’ve arrived back to Michigan eager to start new projects and catch up with where we left off.  However I want to do a quick run down on how the rest of the trip went and maybe provide some useful information for others visiting Iguazu Falls in Argentina.

Briefly I will jump back to where I left off – Salto, Uruguay.  If you find yourself in Salto, it’s probably because you are attracted to the idea of lounging in hot water all day… Salto is full of termas (hot springs) and is the perfect place to rejuvenate.  We were there for the termas, but also to cross back into Argentina.  We had two options: take the bus or take a boat.  The bus was a couple of dollars cheaper and a couple of hours longer.  You have to deal with everyone else crossing the border on wheels and going through customs.  The boat took less than a half hour to get our passports stamped in both countries and cross the river.  You have to walk about 20 or more blocks to the bus station once you are in Concordia, Argentina but it was worth it.  Only 5 other people were on the boat with us- it was quick and casual.

One of many... still need to identify. Any ideas?

From Concordia we took an overnight (15+/- hours) bus ride to Puerto Iguazu.  The ride was long enough to enter into a more tropical climate full of new birds and trees.  We found a really cheap and rad place to camp.  A couple has their yard set up for camping, full of beautiful vegetation and a nice covered kitchen area.  The place is called Modista, and it’s in town, maybe a 10 minute walk from the bus terminal.  It’s cheaper than all of the other camping options.

I don’t think words exist to explain Iguazu Falls.  I took around 100+ photos, none of which do them any justice.  The earliest we could get into the park was 8am, and we arrived just a few minutes after.  Skipping the little train they have to get you around to different parts of the falls, Matt and I walked down their “green trail” and it was here where we met the Toco Toucan (Toucan Grande).

As Matt pointed out an interesting spider to me, I caught a glimpse of the Toucan so very close to us and in clear view.  He let us watch him in amazement for a few minutes.  A perfect way to start our 9 hour day at the falls.  I added a few other birds to my life list and also identified a dozen or so butterflies.  As for mammals, it’s clear that humans have made an impact on the coatis (Nasua nasua) – we watched them chase people away from their tables so they could quickly snatch their food.  We also watched a couple of Azara’s Agoutis (Dasyprocta azarae) dig around in the leaf litter.

I feel like I can’t really say much more, as it is best to observe rather than read about.   If you are a nerd and plan to go to Iguazu, I suggest getting a field guide before going, or a couple.  I bought an inexpensive one (Iguazu: Vida y Color) in town and found it to be very helpful.  It contains a decent collection of birds, butterflies, mammals, trees and more.  Names are in Spanish, English and scientific.

I’ll end this with a brief video I took with my camera at the falls.  You can see the great dusky swifts flying around, birds endemic to the falls!

Uruguay in just over a week…

Matt on the beach of Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

Exploring Uruguay in just over a week is not nearly enough time for this beautiful country.  However we have now reached the point where everyday we wonder what we will run out of first, time or money?  I often tend to live my life not thinking much of either of the two but now everyday we reasses our situation.

It was in Uruguay that it hit us hard that we must purchase our tickets home or try to find jobs to sustain ourselves here.  If we took the risk of trying to stay in South America then we may have taken the chance of not being able to afford our tickets home.  So tickets were bought and reluctantly we will make our way back to the U.S.  It´s probably about time I stop putting off my student loans and well…. look into more studies as well.

But enough of that….

In Rosario, Argentina we both decided we didn´t feel like being in another city and scoped out the bus station as soon as we arrived looking for a way out.  A night bus into Uruguay.  We thought, perfect this way we can also avoid the cost of sleeping in a hostel.  Matt scribbled down some numbers, comparing the cost of different bus options and estimating camping and hostel options.  We chose to take the bus that would take us to the first city on the Uruguay border, Fray Bentos.  From here, we would look for more affordable traveling options (hitchhiking!), which we managed to do from Fray Bentos to Colonia del Sacramento.

One would assume that the bus would take you to the city you have paid for, but instead we found ourselves at the Argentina Uruguay frontera at 430am being told that this was our stop.  I wasn´t able to convince them to take us a little closer to Fray, so we set about our way walking on the empty highway to Fray Bentos.  The guy at the border told us we had to walk 10km to get to Fray… I think it was closer to 8, but either way it felt like 20 with our packs and being half awake.  We laughed at the inconvenience of it all and enjoyed entering a sleeping town.  As the sun was rising and people were filtering into the streets we found ourselves in the center plaza, soon followed by the comfort of a bed in a cheap hotel after a long and draining bus ride and walk into Uruguay.

With not much time we had to limit what to visit here.  We left Fray and spent a couple of relaxing days in Colonia del Sacramento.  A bit of a tourist town being just a boat ride away from Buenos Aires, but as with most of our travels, we were visiting during the off season.  We did what we do best, walk around the town.

We made the long ride over to the other side of Uruguay to find ourselves on the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean in Punta del Diablo.  Well worth the long ride, in Punta del Diablo we found nature, relaxtion, hiking, and the sound and smell of the ocean. It was nearly a ghost town in May- we were told that other parts of the year the city and beaches are full of surfers and others craving the sun and the ocean.  But we found only a  few people scattered here and there, wandering about enjoying the solitude.  The hostel we stayed at was very comfortable and we both thought it felt more like couchsurfing than staying at a hostel… it was even really cheap due to the off season.  I fell asleep and woke up to the sound of the ocean for three nights in a row.  It was difficult to leave.

Now we find ourselves in an empty hostel in Salto, Uruguay back at the border of Argentina.  Tomorrow we explore the termas the town is known for and set about for some hiking and camping.

Capilla del Monte, Argentina

Known for its mysterious energy, the mountain pulled us to Capilla del Monte. How could we resist when we heard that the town is full of “alternative” culture and that you could trek up the mountain? We translated this into hopes of vegan food and visions of Jodorowsky´s The Holy Mountain.

We arrived into Capilla del Monte by bus from Cordoba and were soon greeted by Shorty, a local dog of the town who showed us to the office of tourism. He waited outside as we grabbed a map and located camping areas.  Shorty  started to show us the way but was quickly distracted by Big Body, another local perro so we wandered around on dirt roads until we found a place. It was more a bit more than we wanted to pay, but offered a kitchen area, a pregnant cat, a cute puppy and a whole assortment of animals living on their eco farm. Plus the guy gave us a handful of walnuts from a tree on the farm and walked us over to a spot on their land where you could see the sun setting its glow on the mountain that had lured us there, Uritorco.

We camped there for 3 nights another tent accompanied us for a night and others stayed in the hostel rooms they offer as well, but mostly we were alone. It seemed as if every block in Capilla del Monte was home to some sort of natural food, herb or artisan store. We found granola, tofu, soy milanesa, organic mate and a handful of other items to meet our cravings.

Sunday we packed our small bags with plenty of water, snacks and a lunch for the top of Uritorco. We were told it would take 3 to 4 hours to reach the top and about 3 hours to trek back down. I managed to twist my ankle a bit a couple of days before in the city, and thought nothing like a trek up a mountain to help this situation out.

The hike, as expected gets steeper as you reach the top but overall is not very strenuous. We were happy to find that it remained rather rugged for most of the trek. Some small stretches were worn down more than others but they kept the signs minimal, arrows here and there and 7 labeled points telling you how far you had gone and how much further you had to go. We reached the top, 1,979 meters (6493ft) in 2 hours and 45 minutes. This included my hopeless attemps at trying to find birds and photograph butterflies. We also hung out just short of the top to enjoy the silence before we had to be around 10 or so other people who thought they should shout to their friends close by.

On our way up Cerro Uritorico

We reached the top and took in the view, beautiful from all angles. Three dogs also decided to spend their time a top Cerro Uritorico as well, including Mountain Mama a pregnant perro ready to birth her puppies to the mountain. Enjoying matè and soy milanesa sandwiches we took it all in for about an hour or two. It took us just under 2 hours to trek back down, I managed to only fall once but caught myself before tumbling.

The following day we cramped our legs on long bus rides making our way to Uruguay followed by an interesting entrance into the country.

Note- I left out photos of our actual hike so as to not spoil the view for someone searching about the trek.  If you want to see more they will be in the Argentina folder, see the link to My Photo Albums on the right.