Wok (that means work)

12 08 2010

Wok started in the 1st secondary forest sub-plot, handily situated adjacent to camp. Looks like I won’t be losing weight here, I thought (Correctly).

Vojta in the midst of sub-plot 1F

Our collectors (ol wokman) were hired from the community and were ready to roll after quick tutorials, their minds focused on collecting gallers, miners, caterpillars, ants & spiders from foliage, trunks, epiphytes, well everything really.

What is a gall?

We worked the understorey first, then low storey saplings, then tagged trees (not in one day of course). This sub-plot took about 3 weeks to complete.

Sub-plot 1F (demise thereof)

Back in the lab, plant vouchers, miners, caterpillars, and galls required sorting and the latter three had to be prepared for rearing.


Field Lab / Rearing Barn

I became known as ‘gall-man’, which sounds more like ‘goll-man’ in the native tongue, which sounds a bit like Gollum…

Gall assistant, Gibson, putting an emerged insect in a vial (rearing galls behind)

I had some teething issues with assistants (from the local community). The first two had not reached a sufficiently high grade in school so were not confident reading & writing English, required for form-filling.

...and a Parasitoid

A gall

Even Gibson, a grade 8er, surprised me when he described the colour of a twig-gall as ‘pink’, when in fact it was light brown. Ooh we did laugh! Little anomalies aside, things went well and our rearings produced plenty of parasitic wasps (the live one in the picture was about 3mm long), and midges, thrips, & coccids.

Walli Brus preparing a leaf frame, and Walli Martin (Walli = Brother)

Lab banter was of a high quality and often the industrious atmosphere was popped by prolonged shrieks of laughter and shouting.

Markus working hard

... 5 minutes later

And sometimes the drooping sun shone through the mist and the light outside would perform lustrous magic on the vegetation, and for a minute I would be enraptured. Then I would forget all that and kill another insect. Science init!



To Ubii Camp

8 08 2010

Enough fun, time to go to work! As soon as the singsing had finished, we were busy getting supplies ready to take to our new camp, an alleged 1.5 hours walk over the mountain ridge, which proved accurate.

Preparations at Kotet (Vojta mid-pict)

The route was pretty much straight up the side of the mountain, up and along it’s spine, and then steeply down the other side into the forested valley.

Looking back on Kotet

It was mercifully short distance-wise, but there were some tough sections, especially the descent where footing was uncertain and energy-sapping.

Atop the Ridge w/ Carriers & Brus (umbrella) & Elvis (2nd left)

In the bottom of the valley, a tiny clearing was visible and this was the location for our field camp. News was that the good people of the local community had already christened it Ubii (Oobi) Camp.

Ubii Setting (bottom middle)

I emerged from the surrounding forest to a camp already full of people. Practically the whole community helped carry something or other, women, children and men alike.

Ubii (from left) Haus Kuk, Quarters, Lab

The camp comprised a kitchen (haus kuk), sleeping quarters for BRC staff (with 3 rooms), and a field lab, all very well constructed by the community as commissioned.

Bridget & Co relax after the walk


Official Opening

8 08 2010

The day after the welcoming, we were treated to an official opening ceremony.

The Preacher Espousing

There were a frankly ridiculous number of speeches of prayers, thanks and good-will, and all the while we were sat on a bench without shade…

Music & Dancing

Then at last, some entertainment

The little one at the back

Each of us then received a bilum (traditional bag)

Receiving a bilum

Finally, a spirited singsing group performed throughout the night until dawn

Massively impressive headwear

Dawn, earth churned up by dancing feet

I can’t take credit for the final 3 photos, they are Vojta’s

Kotet Welcome

7 08 2010

From Yawan, 1700 m above sea level, we made a half hour walk to Kotet, the village where our gang was to stay a few nights. The path, curving round the mountain side, provided some excellent vistas en route. However, the sun was surprisingly strong and my pasty limbs suffered as a result.

Walk to Kotet

It was evident that the villagers had planned a proper welcome and, as we’d caught them a little off guard, we had to wait a bit until they were ready to receive us…

A 'gate', but not the 'gate'

A makeshift ‘gate’ had been erected, adorned with cut flowers and boarded up with banana leaves. When ready, the leaves were cast aside and we were welcomed in, each receiving a garland of orange flowers, and a singsing group sang backed by kundu drums as we processed inside.

Taim bilong singsing

Singsinger (and future caterpillar assistant)

Nice hat

Binatang = Insects

Finally, we were seated on a bench and speeches were made by Tonsep (village leader), Vojta (BRC bossman), and Markus (BRC team leader).

The Gang (minus Vojta who took photo)

Then, although uninvited, the village Lutheran preacher stood up and extended a welcome to us, albeit in his own rather shouty preachy style, so it felt more like being scolded by teacher!

Into the Hills

6 08 2010

I have just got back from the Finisterre Mountains in Morobe Province where our latest project was successfully birthed and I did something that wasn’t ‘planning’.

What I might look like in prison

In keeping with the spirit of conservation we are completely felling 2 hectares of rainforest (1 primary, 1 secondary) in the name of science. We’re surveying every leaf on every tree for caterpillars, leaf miners, gallers, ants and spiders as well as carrying out botanical work. This provides an excellent opportunity to sample insects from the much-esteemed forest canopy. There will be new species of plants, let alone insects. Exciting, no?

3 Parataxonomists: Kenneth, Markus, Martin

Anyway, the place, Yawan, is relatively hard to get to, especially with 2000Kg of supplies. Two of our Landcruisers drove the 5 hour road to Lae from where we chartered 2 Cessnas to take the supplies.

Chartered Cessna w/supplies

As for us, we caught one of the scheduled 30 minute flights. Flight operations are wholly dependent on the weather. Rain threatened our take-off, but the pilot knew there was good weather beyond the first mountain range.


Yawan Airstrip and surroundings

We circled Yawan once before landing with a bounce on the inclined airstrip, grasses whipping  the undercarriage as we sped towards the welcome committee at the strip end.

The Kids are Alright!

Nagada Goings On

7 06 2010

Nagada is just north of Madang and home of the BRC (New Guinea Binatang Research Center). The station comprises two main buildings with a third nearing completion.

The third (nearing completion)

We awoke to a shock the other day…

Self-explanatory notice

You know that feeling you get when you’ve just done some washing but can’t hang it out because the clothesline is conducting electricity? Yes, the clotheslines are metal. PNG init! One of our guys, Sentiko, found out the hard way.

Team BRC

It’s not often all the parataxonomists (field taxonomists in the same way that paramedics are ‘field’ medics) are in Nagada at the same time – normally one team is always away doing fieldwork. An excuse for plenty of meetings and team events. This was in front of the new building.

Kokomo in fine fettle

Another time we went to Jais Aben, a hotel across the harbour for a lunch. We took over the entire restaurant. Luckily it wasn’t busy.

Long lunch

Other than that, I have been collecting and rearing galls from various lowland spots where I regularly perspire whole jeraboams full of skin champagne.

Me & my best friend SP

Wanang [iii] – The Opening

27 05 2010

The day of the opening was upon us. A small grandstand had been specially built and decorated for this occasion – you can see it under the welcome banner (which should read ’50 hectare plot’ by the way) in the background.

The Opening Ribbons

The plan was that the special peopled helicopter would land on the football pitch and they would be welcomed by dancers. Then these guys…

Simbai Men

… would spring forward aggressively with their bows & arrows and threaten to kill the guests. However, the way they were prancing around to a bit of light reggae pre-landing led me to believe they would not be able to frighten a small cat with a nerve disorder. They were very funny though.

School assembly

The kids looked great in their school uniforms and they had an assembly that morning during which the PNG & Madang Province flags were raised while they sung the National Anthem under the stern gaze of their headmaster.

An expectant village (+ Bridget)

Part of the village await the ‘copter landing. Other parts of the village await as well, but they’re not in the picture.

The welcome committee

I think I’m right in saying this was the first ever helicopter landing at Wanang! It went without a hitch (well it didn’t crash), having circled a couple of times, and it was quite impressive to see it come in over the tall trees.

The Frightening

Then, quick as eels, the Simbai warriers attacked! This is how it should’ve looked but in the event, there were so many people crowded round I couldn’t get a decent picture. Anyway, the guests seemed to enjoy being threatened, so all was good.

Bill Rothery (CEO of Swire) is greeted

The guests made their way to the grandstand up the ‘red carpet’ lined with school kids and villagers in traditional dress. On the way they were presented with a bilum each (traditional hand-made shoulder bag). Finally in the grandstand, there were several more presentations. At this point, the sun was threatening to take my skin off, so I retreated to the shady trees behind.

Um... men in bags

The ‘copter then made two trips to Wanang iii (site of the new station, 50 ha plot, and normally a punishing 15km walk through hot, undulating jungle). Meanwhile, quite bizarrely, some men dressed in bags were made to dance to music while trying not to fall over.

Gifts of pigs and rice

Traditionally, on important occasions such as marriage, pigs are gifted to neigbouring tribes. This time the pigs, along with bales of rice, were distributed to other village clans. The guests were then returned to Wanang i (as it’s known). By now, helicopter landings were so passé that some refused to watch, citing excessive air-borne dirt as the reason!

Wanang Conservation School

There followed a quick tour of the school classrooms and several speeches from Bill, Vojta & George, and then that was it. The helicopter departed for the final time, we prepared to walk out to the broken bridge for pick-up, and the villagers could return to normality. Before that, though, they were treated to a slapstick drama starring the Simbai who delighted the crowd with their innuendo and bare bottom scratching. Judging by the squeals of laughter from kids and adults alike, they really loved it, which made me think they would probably appreciate Benny Hill!