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.
While sitting with the 8th grade language arts class in the library at school today, I picked up the National Geographic Expeditions Atlas and happened to flip it open to the photo above, which shows a French expedition crossing the Ruaha River in 1925, not far from where we used to live. This struck me for a few reasons:
To contextualize this photo, the 1924 Citroën Central African Expedition crossed the African continent from north to south as a publicity stunt to demonstrate the robust nature of the automaker's vehicles. In 1924, eight halftracks custom-built on Citroën B2 frames set out southward from Algeria across the Sahara. In Kampala the expedition split into four sub-groups. One carried on to Nairobi and the Kenya coast, while the other three headed south across Lake Victoria into Tanganyika (Tanzania). In Tabora, Tanganyika these three parted ways: one heading east to Dar es Salaam, one south through Iringa to Nyasaland (Malawi) and Mozambique, and one west into Congo, and then south through the Rhodesias. All four groups eventually met up at Cape Town in 1925, making this the first longitudinal motorized transect of Africa.
I've always been a bit of a mystic when it comes to places (this is probably part of the reason I became a geographer). I often marvel at terrain, vistas, flora, fauna, and even (occasionally) the human-made components of the landscape. I'm always excited when I find art that captures some element of the aesthetic and wonder of a place. The screenshot above is captured from a video by adilblues on Vimeo that inspires me. I haven't seen all of these sights yet (perhaps one day), but I did stand in awe of the seascapes of Kenting on our first weekend here in July.
You too can spend watching 4 minutes of inspired wonder.
I was surprised to see how arid parts of Palawan are. As the road north of Puerto Princessa winds through the hills above the sea, the ground becomes rocky, and the land cover changes from mangroves, fruit trees, and bamboo to grassy tussocks and bushes. This is actually the first time that I've seen a landscape that looks close to arid in the Philippines.
Perhaps this is due to the relative isolation of Palawan from the other islands of the Philippines, which attracts less moisture and precipitation? Or perhaps this is simply due to my limited experiences at lower altitudes during my travels in the Philippines? The drive actually reminded me of the many drives we've done through the area between Morogoro and Mikumi in Tanzania.
Livelihoods in the area also seemed to indicate a more arid climate: pastures were fenced, and the grasses in certain areas appeared to be heavily grazed. Little evidence of agriculture, though the transition zones between the coast and the hills did have mango and other fruit farms.
Fascinating and surprising and another reason that I enjoy visiting new places!
I've been sifting through photo archives looking for images of West Kilimanjaro over the last couple of weeks. I haven't come up with any useful images for my thesis, however I've found many other fascinating images of Deutsch Ostafrika, including this one taken by German Missionary Theodor Tietzen in 1936 of the regional capital of Mbeya. Anyone who has visited Mbeya will recognize Mbeya Peak in the distance of this photo.
If Geography Is Prose, Maps Are Iconography (Lennart Meri)
After months and months of not making progress on my graduate degree, I successfully defended my thesis research proposal in November, in spite of having yet to learn some of the methods that I'm hoping to rely on to assess land cover and vegetative change in my focus area.
I've been taking a course about how to apply raster analysis in ArcMap to examine social and ecological landscapes. After months of churning away, I finally figured out how to generate an NDVI image from Landsat imagery - significance here being that NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) is one of the methods that I'm hoping to use to quantify biomass change over time. Here's my first shot at it:
Definitely a very rough first shot. Notice that I failed to remember to include a legend to inform you what you're looking at (basically, the lighter the color, the higher the biomass - the massive white areas are forests on the slopes of Mounts Meru and Kilimanjaro. The ranch that I'm focusing on is outlined in green (again, forgot to explain that). Also, I didn't mask for clouds, meaning the darker dots in the northeast corner of the ranch are actually cloud shadows...ooh, and I also forgot to include that the map is oriented traditionally with North being up.
Lots more of these in my future for sure, so I figured I had to enshrine my first attempt so that I can be embarrassed about its crudity later!
Here is the final output of the earlier map I posted a couple of days ago. In brief, it is the combination of a variety of weighted layers that might factor in to the decision for developing urban farms in the greater Pittsburgh, PA area. This is the final product of a group project for FORS 565 at Penn State, which included Kevin Sparks, Yooinn Hong, and Neil Brown. Contact me if you re interested in more specifics regarding the workflow and resultant map.
I'm taking a GIS raster analysis course this fall which has been fun and also incredibly challenging. Here is an overlay of all the hydrological features and the state and local roads in Allegheny County, PA (buffered at 120m). This map isn't very practical right now, but I rather like the abstract image that is created by overlaying these transport networks.