It took a good two months, but I've finally managed to sort through the nearly 1,000 photos that I took while in Tanzania earlier this summer and narrow it down to my very favorites (which you can find on my Flickr page). In general I try not to take lots of photos of species of which I've already gotten a number of nice shots, which is why you may see some glaring ommisions (and lots of birds). It really is nice to be able to absorb the larger environment and to focus on watching social behavior and interactions between species without having to always be rabidly tied to your telephoto lens.
For me, one of the most exciting (and hardest) parts of experiencing a new place is always becoming familiar with the local birds. No matter that I've notched 250+ species in East Africa, since I've moved to Taiwan it's been rather slow going. Sometimes species overlap, but there are differences in taxonomy and naming protocols not to mention completely new habitats, elevational gradients, local variations, and pockets of particular species.
Taiwan has an enormously vibrant community of avian enthusiasts, but a relative lack in English language reference materials. The Taipei Wild Bird Society has published some materials (and the first English-language field guide to the birds of Taiwan is dropping in October!!!), but for new-comers and non-birders alike, I decided to put together a very brief field guide of some of the more common species that I see around our home in Dashe District, Taiwan.
Feel free to download the guide for personal use either by clicking on download icon on the file embedded above or via Google Drive.
Tomorrow morning we are packing up and departing Ndarakwai, where the students have been busy for the past 6 days. We intentionally front-load the course with a lot content as we try to rapidly introduce Tanzanian history and culture while also covering some of the basic concepts of dry savanna ecology and field methods.
Yesterday students designed mini-animal behavior research projects and spent most of the day observing (and following around) groups of impala and baboons. Today was focused on vegetation plots, which are a way to assess species distribution and diversity and a fundamental building block of many ecological studies. After practicing at camp, they set off guided by GPS units to measure the vegetation on and off the ranch here.
Tomorrow we are off to Arusha for a few days and will be changing camp locations every night or two for the rest of our time in Tanzania. Students will likely have access to wifi for the next day or two, but will then likely
be out of touch for the next week and a half or so. I will try to post periodic updates here and will be adding photos to Instagram (@paulshaffner), but as I've mentioned before, no news is good news!
Just a short update that the students have all arrived, and we're headed off into the bush of West Kilimanjaro for the next week. Everyone is tired but elated and we will enjoy a late dinner when we arrive at camp tonight. As always, internet connections can be unreliable, so no news is good news, however I'm sure you'll be seeing photos popping up online in the next few days. Salaams!
I'm flying out of Kaohsiung for Kilimanjaro on Sunday to teach this year's summer biology course with Penn State and am starting to put bags together and get organized. I'm always on the lookout for the perfect field bag for my kit; I have a new contender this year and I'm looking forward to see how it compares to the old standard I've had for a decade.
Every year The month of May brings very mixed emotions as I prepare to leave my family behind, but also anticipate the adventures to come. That is one of the things that I love teaching in the field: every time is different and you never quite know what amazing thing will happen next. I'm thankful to have the most supportive wife I could ever imagine, but it is still bittersweet to leave her and the girls behind. I am very thankful for the advance of technology, cellular networks, and data connections to be able to share what we are up on a semi-regular basis.
If there are any parents or friends of our students who are reading, I'll do my best to put up sporadic updates, but please always assume no news is good news. There will be many wonderful stories to come out of the next three weeks. Cheers!
In addition to a number of new bird species for my life list including the Fulvetta above and a Swinhoe's Pheasant, I ran into a group of at least 20 Formosan Rock Macaques who were foraging through the canopy around 9:00AM. When I stopped and got out of the car the were interested and then the alpha went crazy and charged the car before breaking off his charge and retreating to the thicket along the road to chastise me with the rest of the group:
Anna painted a field of flowers this morning, which was a welcome respite in a week otherwise defined by disappointment, anger, and frustration.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
~Mary Oliver (excerpt from "The Summer Day" New and Selected Poems. 1992.")
What do you want to read?