Sunday, June 18, 2017

Discovering the Joys of Barro Colorado Island....



Now comes my favorite part of the trip so far but before we start, we need to have a history/geography lesson….not my best subjects so bear with me!!!

In the 1800’s, people had looked for a fast way to get between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans without having to travel around the point of South America.   The French first proposed a canal thru Panama but the attempt went bankrupt with the onset of Malaria, Yellow Fever and other tropical diseases. 

The US took over the effort, ensuring Panamanian support by helping Panama (then a Colombian Provence) to become independent from Colombia.  In 1904, the US started the project, building a 48 mile waterway to connect the two oceans.

An artificial lake (Lake Gatun) was built to provide water for the canal operations of raising and lowering the water levels.   The Chagres River was dammed and as its waters rose to form Gatun Lake , a small mountain of 476 ft. was isolated from the mainland and formed Barro Colorado Island.

Scientists recognized the importance of this island not only as a biological reserve but also as a scientific research station.  In 1946, the responsibility of maintaining the facility was given to the Smithsonian Institution as a part of their mission, “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”

This exciting Island was our next destination!!!

We reached the 1500 hectare (3700 acre) island by taking a 35 minute boat ride from Gamboa.  It was fun to think that we were actually traveling in the Panama Canal, although not the way that most people travel thru it…..



We had no idea what to expect in the way of accommodation and were pleasantly surprised when we were given keys to a small suite with magnificent views into the forest….



The meals are all served in a common dining room which was filled with Professors, Post-doctoral fellows, PhD candidates, Undergrads, Groundskeepers and Guards!!  It was exciting to listen to each of the researchers talk about the projects that they are working on.  One young woman from Germany was studying Bat behaviors and had set up cameras to record them as they flew in and out of their dens so she could record the types of food that they were carrying with them.

Another researcher was looking at tree vs. fern data, seeking to determine which types of trees were able to resist the advance of ferns and vines that would potentially kill the trees.

And yet another group was looking at the effect of lightning strikes on trees and how long it took them to die after the strike.

After dinner we were invited to join some of the students on the balcony for a beer chat.  We laughed that the beer was dispensed from a remodeled Pepsi machine…..


....and we have NO explanation for why they have Old Milwaukee!!
We were told the best place to see the sunrise and they were right.....


The island has many species of animals, including Monkeys, Sloths and Ocelots but the most prevalent are the Agouti's  who have full run of the island.....

I would describe them as a mixture of rabbit, squirrel and rat!!


On Thursday morning we were taken on the “Bert Hike” which I will describe in the next post.  In the afternoon, we spent time relaxing in our room and catching up on things since we had decent internet.  However, as I sat staring at my computer I managed to look up once and saw two Capuchin (White Face) monkeys playing in the trees outside of our window.  We raced for cameras and enjoyed watching them for about 15 minutes…..



We also loved hearing the Howler monkeys outside our door and I made this video when one monkey continued to howl……


The interesting thing about these monkeys is that they are quite small.  I always assumed that such a big sound came from a big animal!!

When the 5:30 boat arrived from the mainland we were pleased to see an old friend aboard.  Wes Brown, who was one of Michael’s colleagues many years ago, had come with his wife to hear Michael’s talk.  We shared a bottle of wine with them before dinner and had a few minutes together after the talk.   It was great to catch up with Wes again…..


I had commented that I seldom attended Michael’s talks and on the few occasions I did, I had been known to read newspapers or books instead of taking notes.  So, one of the young women with a “Arnold-esque” sense of humor presented me with this paper to keep me busy during the talk…..


After the talk we were invited to have drinks with Egbert Leigh, an eccentric 76 year old gentleman who calls himself the “Shepherd of Barro Colorado Island”.  His office was stacked high with books and scientific papers and we had a wonderful time talking with him about science and life in general.  More about him in the next post.

On Friday morning we left the island just after breakfast, with Michael still answering student’s questions up until the very last moment.  They were very hungry for scientific interactions and Michael was happy to oblige!!

2 comments:

Karen S said...

This is a fascinating location. Thank you for the history lesson, too, as it clarified the importance of the island.

elle said...

My son in law is Columbian so I am relating more to what you are seeing. thanks!

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