Friday, 5 September 2008

The art of selective felling

Perak Integrated Timber Complex (PITC) in the Perak state left the twenty of us a bit flabbergasted. PITC people have been selective logging dipterocarp trees for almost a decade now from the Temenggor Forest Reserve. The event that will remain with me forever is seeing a 2-m girth dipterocarp tree stoop to ground within ten minutes of play with a chainsaw. But I will keep that for later. We have good memories too, at least I do.

We all slept in two-man/woman tents except I think few who got rooms. Pasoh was a bed and breakfast resort in comparison with the field conditions at PITC; there was no electricity, generators ran from 6 pm till usually 12 am, no phones and internet, no shops 30 km in any direction. Our quote of the day everyday was ‘let’s go to the river’. After noticing the number of bathrooms (2), we figured a slippery walk to the river twice a day can’t be too bad. But it turned out to be the best bathroom there can ever be. Mornings we walk sleepily to the river 200 m away and the evenings we walk dog-tired with the proceedings of the day. The first time we walked me and Dtoon fell on our bum in wet mud so we took care during all our other visits to the river. In the beginning Pradeep, the frog-guy, Dtoon, ever-dancing Param and me were the only few that colonised the river, but in the end it was so much fun there was none of us who never went to the river for a wash.

Evenings were full of Sepak-takro, which is the south-east Asian version of volleyball, except that you cannot use hands, only the chest, head and feet, like in football. We thought it would take us years to learn, but after few days we Indians were not too bad! the locals who can even smash the takro with a banana kick must have surely had some laughs though!

We also saw an Orang asli community village, very similar to villages in north-east India or other parts of India. Presently an epidemic of Dengue and malaria was on in the village, so we were advised not to meet them.

Our group project (Lillian, Por [pronounced Paw] and me) was on butterflies. The three days we got lost, found our way, fell, slipped, missed butterflies, and caught butterflies, all in all super fun! At the end of three day data collection we found that forest and roads harbour distinct butterfly communities and we did some statistical-analysis and got these clear patterns. The event I wil never forget is an encounter with a Malayan tree nymph. 

We were supposed to catch one individual per species and kill it by pressing the thorax hard enough; quick death and mount each specimen onto an entomologists’ board. So the tree nymph that rarely descends two metres above ground was right in front of me, I instinctively swung the butterfly net I had, but he escaped mainly due to the excitement I was in, and then I caught him again but this time the wrong side of the net and all the while the two girls with me screaming ‘catch it catch it’. But even the second round failed and by then the nymph figured we were upto no good and I was happy that he escaped, would have been a pity to kill such a beautiful large slow-moving butterfly. We inventorised 45 species in our project which is high diversity to be encountered in three days.

Then was the day I might never forget. We visited sector 5 of the forest where selective logging is presently on. The men chose a large tree with a very business-as-usual way and we were wondering if they would really do it, they did. Two pics of the scene, one with the tree and one without, notice the canopy gap made in ten minutes.

We also were lucky to meet Dr. Christine Fletcher who has worked many years on bats so she and her team actually set out harp-traps and we saw three species of insectivorous bats up-close.

The last day we packed up and were ready to leave with mostly good memories, one very bad one. We were also given various lectures about how the system works and they follow the rotation method which ensures significant tracts of forests are left, but none of these convinced us. While the big tree fell, it also took down three other trees of medium size. I was wondering who gave us the right to play god.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Pasoh afterglow

Two reasons I chose the title; Pasoh is forever etched in my mind, for all the good times and all the good people I met there. The second that the forest floor indeed has afterglow! After the sun sets, the leaf litter glow reflecting moonlight; we noticed that even when there’s no moon they do reflect dim light probably starlight, or maybe the fungus on the leaf litter itself glows rather than reflecting light. Anyway, we planned many times to take a tripod with us and take a picture with say one hour exposure or more, but the times we lugged a tripod it rained, so I cannot put it up on the blog, sorry!
The first two weeks we had three night walks and the last week we practically were only night-walking sleeping in the day or day-dreaming. Why we did this is because me and Pradeep from Sri Lanka took up nocturnal amphibians as our independent project.
The first frog-sampling evening, a visitor walked by and we tried to stop him in vain, very strong fellow, we made him sit and pose and we also turned him around. Beeeaaauuttiifull

To start with, the first night was quite unevently almost till the end. But then Dtoon, an ex-soldier from Thailand was with us; sharp eyes and deadly reflexes! We saw a gecko on a tree, Pradeep pushed it down with a long stick and Dtoon (pronounced toon) jumped on it higher and faster than a gecko if it were human-sized! We still found the gecko more glamorous than Dtoon, so heres the pic of gecko.

Then Dtoon saw a snake on the tree bark, same sequence of events except no one jumped on to it. Pradeep carefully handled it and it was a non-poisonous bridled snake we later identified.

We saw many frogs too, beautiful ones…

And another gecko too. We named this guy ‘balli’ which is gecko in my language, Telugu. We knew its home range since every night we used to see him in the same tree bark and the day, I mean the night we don’t see him we just shout ‘goodnight balli’ and walk on.

Its not that we didn’t see snakes in the day time. There were a few too…

At the end of the project we were really really tired staying up for six-seven hours a night in the forest and turning leaf litter searching for frogs. I am very thankful to Dtoon for gecko-jumping, Sze-leng, Alyse, Lillian and Panitnard for accompanying us on few night patrols and to Pradeep too for teaching me about frogs and how to find them.
Next up is PITC, Perak Integrated Timber Complex in Temenggor forest reserve in Perak State, just below Thailand…

Late Russell Wallace, here I come!

“It (the Malay archipelago) produces the giant flowers of the Rafflesia, the great green-winged ornithoptera (princes among the butterfly tribes), the man-like Orang-utan, and the gorgeous Birds of Paradise” – Alfred Russell Wallace, in the “Malay Archipelago”
With these lines ringing in the back of my mind, I entered Peninsular Malaysia for an on-the-house field course by Centre for tropical forest science. The course lasted six weeks so you may expect the blog logs to be long! But following previous formats, will keep it more picture-oriented.

Alas, I cannot keep my promise of uploading beautiful 50 mm lens pictures because the films got spoilt at the airport when they got xrayed in my bag! So to start with, I would like to thank Manup, Dia, Pradeep, Lillian, Liwen, Alyse, Lydia, Param, Mumu, Ummul, Rhett, Rin, Rhona, Dtoon, big mama, Cici, Sandy, Du, Sze-leng, Juni, Kang min & Por for being there and for such a super time, and some of these peoples pics and some mine I salvaged are the ones I will be putting up. So, THANKS! Terima kasih!!!

As I entered Pasoh, a line that Juni said struck me and will remain with me forever: a garden amidst oil-palm. This is a good four-word description of Pasoh forest, which is roughly about 17 sq. km amidst an ever-encroaching oil palm plantations. But the core area of this forest will remain mainly since it is being utilised for intensive research. In 1985, a 50-ha permanent plot was established to monitor growth, establishment and mortalities of lowland evergreen forest tree species, of which so little is known. So the good news is, the 50 ha will remain till humanity does, or at least till research on lowland forests is on!

Mornings began with White handed gibbon calls, which last the first two hours of the day and the occasional ‘Kha-Khoo-Khaan’ of the dusky leaf monkey. We also often heard the helicopter-like sound of wreathed hornbills flying by and sometimes we were lucky enough to see them. After being briefed about Pasoh, about the CTFS and the 50-ha plot, we headed straight to the most interesting part of Pasoh, the ~60 m tall tower. View from top? Picture are arranged such that the view from all the sides is captured. Here goes…

The last pic is of the tower 2-3rd way up, there was still a wing which some of us that dared the wind and the sway climbed.
For the next few weeks we were to be taught entomology, ornithology and primatology basics which we thoroughly enjoyed. We also went to the town once in a while (once, actually in the four weeks!), spoilt brats that we were. We walked many km and then we had some ginger beer, which is not really beer, much much tastier than beer. So some pictures of the town?

The leaf litter almost everywhere in Pasoh glows dimly at nights due to a fungus that forms on dead and sometimes fresh leaves. The next chapter is about the night walks in Pasoh and few snakes, frogs and geckoes. So long...