Sunday, October 2, 2011

Week 3 - Ecology and the Kerio Delta

This is a picture of the farmers tan that I'm developing
 And so ends the third week of our trip! This week, we moved on to our next unit of study: ecology. On our first day of class, we talked around campus while our professor, Dino Martin, identified the major plant species in the area. We were ambushed by ticks while we stood in the shade of an acacia tree. Everyone's was frantically brushing them off of our legs while we ran away in a mass panic.
This is one of the ticks on the end of my knife

After that, we moved on to bee catching. Running around with a net, looking for exotic bees to catch gives one a strange mix of feelings. At first, I felt like a little kid again. But if you let yourself get carried away, you start to feel like a lion stalking it's prey. And then you realize that you look ridiculous. In spite of the emotional roller coaster, we managed to catch a large variety of bee species. One group bagged 11 different types of bees. Me and my partner only had 8. Can't win 'em all.

Us trying to catch very small and fast parasitic bees. We got 30 in the end!
A major component of this unit is conducting original research and writing a paper on it. I choose to research goat diet, and if goat herders actively try and prevent overgrazing (it's important!). Another student here is researching mosquito bite frequency in relation to blood type, and a couple of others are researching the insect ecology of mammalian decomposition. We have students studying ant behavior, somebody researching the effects of rainfall on flora (she's watering a couple plots of land), researching the effect of food-aid on local development, and another student doing research on the ant-mimic spider. So we all scatter during our mid-day break, and come back sweaty and tired to tell each other about our progress. On Thursday, I spent an hour counting the seed pods of the major grazing plant species. As soon as you start to sweat, sting-less bees swarm around you looking for moisture. At one point I must have had well over 30 buzzing around my face!
Dung beetles proving their namesake

On Saturday, we took a trip the Kerio Delta. The Kerio River is about thirty kilometers south of TBI, but short distances can take a long while on sand roads. The delta was beautiful though. As soon as you get near the water, the normally barren environment gives way to a dense forest that you have to crawl through on hands and knees. Unfortunately, most of the vegetation has been replaced by invasive prosopus plants that were originally introduced to provide food for goats. But the plants are both extremely bitter tasting (I tasted one) and toxic in larger amounts. So because nothing can eat them, they've multiplied exponentially and nobody really knows how to kill them.

Nonetheless, the delta was gorgeous. We took a boat ride and looked at some of the birds in the area. There were some truly beautiful birds, my favorite being the Goliath Heron, which is about five feet tall! I've never seen a bird even half as big. I couldn't get the camera out in time to photograph it though.
When we got back from the boat trip, we hung out with some local kids from Kerio Primary. They were really fascinated with our digital cameras, and so we spent a half hour taking pictures of each other and laughing.
This was taken by one of the kids

On the way back to camp, we parked near a school. As soon as we were in view, all of the children swarmed around us and surrounded the truck. They climbed in through every opening, smiling and laughing the whole time. It was really wonderful. I hope being the center of attention won't inflate my ego. By the time I return to the states I'll expect people to treat me like a movie star!
 And so ends another week at TBI. I'll leave you with a picture of the beautiful glorioso flower.

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