Monday, June 19, 2017

The "Bert Walk"....



On Thursday morning we were invited to join the “Bert Walk”, a tour led by Professor Egbert Leigh, a scientist who has been associated with the island for 48 years.  It was a joy to join him on his morning walk thru the jungle and to hear him talk about what we were seeing and reminisce about things that he had seen thru the years.  We were joined by Mary Rose, an undergraduate student from Marquette University who is here doing research.

As we walked we were privy to Bert Epigrams and every so often he would break out into song.  He led the group with Michael and Mary Rose close behind talking science.  This left me free to walk along and take pretty pictures, and I certainly did that!!!

Bert started by telling us that a large portion of the island was originally a banana grove and the bananas were sold to pay for the research efforts.  My how things have changed!!

We saw the defenses that many plants use to protect themselves.  This tree definitely says “Do.Not.Climb.Me”!!.....


And this leaf even deters predators from approaching…..


Bert told us that the seeds have to land in just the right spot to get enough light to be able to grow and that is why there are not tons of the same species in one area.  They had to spread out to be able to survive.  This meant that tree fall gaps were very important as it opened up a place in the canopy for light to enter and allow other plants to grow.  Mary Rose asked a question about Tree Fall gaps and how the water that the fallen tree had used was partitioned between the other surviving plants.  I am definitely out of my league!!!

He told us that he hated exercise for exercise sake so each day he takes a walk in the forest.  When someone is walking with him he will go further afield but will keep it shorter when he is by himself.   He also said that he loves interactions with the students because it keeps him young.

Sometimes he would point to a single any on a leaf and not only identify the leaf but also the type of ant that was crawling on it.  That was no simple feat as there are 140 species of ants on the ground and 300 in the trees!!

I loved this fern with the spores on the reverse side of the leaf…..



We heard the call of a bird overhead and Mary Rose recognized it as a Toucan.  It was so exciting to see it sitting on a branch far up in one of the trees with the bright colors and large beak.  It was probably my favorite sighting of the day!!

There were an abundance of spiders and gorgeous webs as we walked along.  I particularly liked how this one was back lit by the tree trunk…..



…..and this one with a leaf hanging on the opposite side of his web…..



Mary Rose found this little fellow on a leaf as well……



This tree trunk was home to a nest of stingless bees…..



….and we called this the Caterpillar parking garage…..



We stopped for a rest after about an hour and Bert spent time talking more about the Rainforest area and drinking from his water bottle…..an old Maker’s Mark bottle.  None of those fancy lightweight polymer bottles for him!!!....

The trail that we walked on was made from cinder blocks and was well maintained and easy to walk on…..

Mary Rose commented that she often walks too fast in forest and misses observing things along the way.  I agreed with her and reveled in how nice it is to walk slowly and have time to observe the world around us.

At one point we entered the original Hubbell Plot.  These were designed by scientist Stephen Hubbell to study forest dynamics.  The plots are 50 hectares in size and every five years there is a census done that measures every plant that is at least 1 centimeter in width at breast height.  This is the second Hubbell plot that we have been in with the first being in India in 2008. 

One interesting fact is that the smallest diameter trees get to be the tallest in the forest.

It was astounding to look up and see nothing but canopy with small amounts of dappled sunlight filtering thru…...

It was also cool to see how the sunlight highlights the spider webs and small bugs flying around.

Some of the vines were huge and tangled into a beautiful mess……


Far into our walk, Bert told us that we were entering genuine old forest, meaning that there has been no culling of the trees and no secondary growth.  This was an imposing thought as we walked past trees that were 500 years old.

We looked down to see ants climbing on our boots and asked Bert what type they would be.  He slowly answered “I don’t know but they could be Army Ants so best to get out of the war zone”.   At this point we did the Army Ant Stomp where you work hard to get them off of your boots before they have time to reach bare skin.  It was amazing how fast they could climb onto your shoes as you were walking down the trail…you didn’t even have to stop.

This tree is related to the Baobab….

...evident by the bulbous shape of the trunk but what I really liked was the base of the trunk with appendages that look like elephant legs…..



Along the path we also saw Howler Monkeys sitting high up in the tree tops.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I was amazed to find that they are not very large at all even though their voice is HUGE!!

We also saw some very large black birds with a Red Dewlap (called Guan).   Apparently these birds are very rare on the mainland because they taste (and look) like turkey.

We laughed that Bert really showed no interest in the monkeys or birds even though we were all three stumbling over each other to get better views of them.   It was obvious that if it wasn't a plant, it wasn't important!!
 
This nut hull had landed on a horizontal tree trunk and had then been covered with a fine fungus that looked very cool when backlit…..

I loved the color and shape of these mushrooms…..

As usual, I am enamored with the shapes found in this wonderful creation.  Here are a few of my favorites…….





As we exited the Rainforest area, this little guy seemed to be wishing us a fond farewell…


Having never been in a Tropical Rainforest before, this was my  all-time favorite part of this trip. It is an experience that I will never forget!!!

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