Monday, May 12, 2014

Shack Valley

This is a very random post but if you get a chance check out Dave Cumming's blog: Shack Valley. He's got lots of great Adirondack photos of what the ADKs do best: wood, water, and maple syrup. Check out his photos, stories and his online shop to view some of his woodwork. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Back in Nairobi

Greetings from Nairobi! I returned back to the SLU compound in Nairobi on Saturday and will be here for the rest of my time in Kenya. We will spend our time writing final papers, working on presentations, and packing, being sure to make time for extracurricular activities like ping pong, volleyball, etc.

Wishing all of the wonderful mothers out there a happy Mother's Day! Thanks for making the world go round.

Here is a shot of a Sykes monkey mother and her infant. 
Thanks to Leslie Kadane for the amazing photo! 

Mwamba Field Study Center

As my time here on the coast is almost over I thought I'd share some photos of where I've been staying. The place is called the Mwamba Field Study Center, run by A Rocha Kenya, a Christian environmental conservation organization. Below are some shots of the common areas, where we spend most of our free time chatting with new friends. There are always people coming and going, either for vacation or as volunteers at various organizations. We all eat dinner together each night and it feels as though we are one large family sharing a meal and talking about our days. I will definitely be missing the proximity to the beach. Each morning I walk down to catch the sunrise and often take walks or runs on the beach in the afternoon. It's been a bit rainy and the temperature has been cooler this week so I haven't swam in a few days. I'll be sure to get in a couple dips before leaving the coast. On Saturday morning we will be flying from Malindi back to Nairobi, which is less than an hour long flight. We will then be staying back on the SLU compound in Nairobi for the rest of our time here wrapping up the semester with final papers and other activities.

view from the flatroof

McKenzie (my roommate for the month) and me enjoying sundowners by the beach

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


The theme of the past few days has been rain. I have heard that the rainy season in Kenya is supposed to start sometime in April, and I was starting to believe that the rains would never come. However, the rains finally came and all the good things that come along with it. It’s been much colder (it’s all relative in the coastal Kenyan heat) and sleeping has been much more pleasant in the cool weather. Apparently when it rains on the coast, the electricity is also known to go out. This is a typical “TIA” moment (“This is Africa”-a new phrase I learned from a German friend). The combination of rain and no power leads to a standstill everywhere. It seems like not much work is done when it rains. In the monkey business, we can’t work, since we need to record data onto paper in the forest, which obviously isn’t rain-friendly, and any office work requires electricity to power the computer. So today I have the morning off. If it clears up, I’ll go in for a few hours in the afternoon.

In addition to the power outages that result from the rain, the snakes also like to come out. Like I said before, I don’t like snakes. So after the snake incident in the office on Friday I now do a thorough check of the office before I enter, and always keep my eyes peeled for anything that doesn’t belong in the office. Lia and I were chatting in the office Monday morning about snakes, and she told me not to worry about any venomous snakes in the forest because the monkeys will begin chirping at the snake, which serves as a warning to us to get out of the area. So Monday afternoon I’m moseying through the woods, enjoying my first day conducting follows on my own, feeling pretty confident about recognizing the monkeys and identifying the plants. I’ve almost made it for the whole day without getting too lost and was doing a good job keeping track of the monkey I was following. But sometimes, the monkeys are just too darn cute and you can’t resist taking out your phone to snap a photo. So I’m looking at these little juveniles playing in the trees near me and trying to get a photo, when I realize that there are many monkeys coming towards me, all chirping. At first I think this is strange, but not out of the ordinary since the juveniles are always curious and usually making little noises. But then I realize that the adult monkeys are coming too, and they are beginning to cause quite a commotion. Then I remember what Lia had just told me a few hours before, how all this chirping means there is danger nearby. I turn and look and about 2 yards away there is a big snake coiled up in the leaf litter on the ground. My heart started beating fast and I didn’t spend more than a second looking at the snake before quickly moving away from it back to where I came from. I quickly found Kalama, and told him about what I saw and he asked to see it. I didn’t really want to go back to where the snake was, but I directed Kalama there and waited until he finally saw it. He casually tells me that it’s a Puff Adder, the most dangerous snake in the forest, and that if it bites you, antivenom must be administered within a few minutes, and that amputation may also be necessary. I also learned that the Puff Adder is the snake responsible for the most fatalities in Africa, because of its venom and the fact that it can be found in highly populated areas. Luckily that snake incident happened at the end of the day, so we were pretty much done in the woods. So I was pretty happy to have the day off today so that I don’t have to think about snakes for the moment.  

Other than my most recent terrifying encounter with snakes, things have been absolutely amazing here! On Saturday I brought the McKenzies to Gede Ruins to show them around…little did they know I had no idea where we were going since we’re usually bushwhacking in the forest and not using the real trails. We ended up doing a nice loop through all the ruins and climbed the treehouse to get a good view of the ruins from above. On Sunday we went snorkeling, hiring our own private boat that brought us out to the coral reef for the morning. It was extremely windy out and we were worried that the huge waves would limit visibility and make snorkeling difficult. But somehow we hardly noticed the waves and had an amazing time snorkeling. After SCUBA diving I was worried that snorkeling would be a bit boring but I realized that snorkeling is pretty awesome as well! I went through the coral reef fish guide and here are just a few of the species I saw: moorish idol, African grouper (huge!), bicolor puller, moon wrasse, goldbar wrasse (one of my favorites), bird wrasse, bicolor parrotfish, powder-blue surgeonfish, blackspotted pufferfish, common porcupine fish, common lionfish, Picasso triggerfish (this guy hag a great name!) and the six-barred wrasse. 

Week 3

Now that my third week with the monkeys has been completed, I feel well prepared to be released into the forest on my own for a full week following monkeys. This next week I will be conducting follows individually, rather than being accompanied by my supervisor/monkey-watching-instructor, Kalama. The past week in monkey-land has been exciting. I could ramble on for several minutes explaining the silly monkey drama and telling you about all the cute things I saw, but the most memorable experience of the week took place inside the office. One of my secret fears is that of snakes. I'm fine with bugs and all that jazz, but snakes really aren't my thing. This past Friday we were sitting in the office during a rain storm, and waiting for the electricity to come back on so that we could enter data into an Excel file on the computer. (Apparently when it rains the power isn't as reliable...) We are just sitting around chatting/reading when Lia says, with not much emotion, "There's a snake in the office."Just a few feet away from us there was a venomous burrowing viper snake slithering across the floor. I made my escape as quickly as possible into the rainy outdoors, and waited as the "snake dudes" (who work in the snake park near us) to arrive and remove the snake. That was the extent of the excitement, but I remained on guard for the rest of the day in the office, jumping at anything that moved on the floor, including a plastic wrapper that blew across the floor.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mida Creek

On sunday the two McKenzies and I visited Mida Creek Marine Reserve, managed by the Kenyan Wildlife Service. A Rocha (the conservation organization that runs the place we are staying at) has established a boardwalk through the mangrove forest with educational information on the different plants and animals of the creek and their role in the ecosystem. We were able to walk on the boardwalk raised above the water, which was a little rickety, only making the walk more enjoyable as we fumbled over each step.  We also took a canoe ride on the creek in wooden canoes with our guides that pushed us along using long wooden poles. We saw several different bird species including some spoonbill, egret, ibis, and storks (Dad-don't worry, there were lots more, I just can't remember all of them!). It was interesting to learn about the mangrove plant species and their adaptations that allow them to inhabit an environment with unusual conditions.    

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sea Turtles

On Friday afternoon after returning from work McKenzie and I were relaxing on the porch when another guest notified us that there were some sea turtles hatching on the beach. We quickly ran out to the water and found the turtles a short distance north of us. There were two small turtles, maybe only 2-3 inches long, making their way out to the ocean from their nest in the dunes. Apparently there were about 100 eggs in the nest, and these turtles were the last to leave the nest. The other turtles had hatched and had been leaving the nest over the past 3 days. We watched in awe as the small turtles slowly maneuvered their way down the beach and into the ocean, moving only a few inches a minute. I was excited and nervous for the little guys, who must have been intimidated by their first sight of the waves and the infinite ocean in front of them.