Radio transmitter deployed, signal detected! This was good news for us today. Let me explain. A couple days ago we left a radio transmitter inside a blue soda straw. The idea was that a bowerbird would pick it up, fly off to his bower and use it as a decoration. You can imagine our delight when we went to check the drop off location and it was gone! Had been stolen by a bowerbird :-).
Well, I thought our problems were over. All we had to do was fold out the receiving antennae, hook it to the radio receiver, track down the radio signal, and follow it to the bower. Unfortunately, we could not pick up a signal no matter where I walked in the rainforest. I tried up an old logging road, no luck. I tried at several eucalyptus clearings, same story. I tried up and down the jungle creek, alas, no luck anywhere. The radio is supposed to transmit up to a kilometer, but that is in an open environment. In the dense forest, the transmitting range would be a lot shorter. So it was not really a surprise that I couldn’t find the signal :-(
Today, we went up a forest road that skirts the perimeter of the nature reserve we have been working in. We stopped the car at a junction where we had seen bowerbirds in the past. Just for fun I took out the antennae and receiver and started walking around, listening. We were on a bit of a ridge and so I peeked over the edge, staring down into the jungle preserve and low and behold, picked up the signal of the transmitter, although weak. I tromped back and forth on the ridge and up and down the gullies trying to pick up a more clear signal as well as not get freaked out by stepping on a gigantic brown snake! It was pretty rough going at times, slipping down slope on the shredded bark from gigantic eucalyptus trees. The lantana, a shrub of ill repute, was thick in places, making detours a practical necessity. Every time I had the chance to climb up on a big stump or a fallen tree, I did. Each gap in the forest canopy that focused my gaze downslope into the jungle, I stopped. In these places I would fire up the receiver, wave the antennae around, and pinpoint the direction of the sharpest signal. Then I’d take a careful compass bearing of where I thought the signal was coming from as well as note a precise GPS location of my position.
At times, I thought I was getting closer, but the going became steep and since I was by myself, somewhat dangerous I thought. I did have a walkie talkie, but Sara was over the ridge by the car and my communication signal with her was breaking up. I whacked my get-away snake stick against every hollow sounding object I encountered and liberally whacked at the ferns, the lantana, the grass clumps, the vines, the stumps, really any and everything. I figured that if I went slow and made enough whacking sounds the big brown snakes would think I was a monster and they would flee! So after an hour of that I’d had enough and described eight or ten GPS locations and compass bearings that would hopefully lead us to the bower.
We knew we would have to map all this information on Google maps and draw vectors, thus triangulating the bower position. Hopefully, that is how it will work. Sara is busy right now doing that little task. We are back at camp now, safe. A storm is approaching and the ocean is wild. Too rough and windy for surfing anyway. In thinking about tomorrow and the hunt for the wild bowerbird, we will estimate on the map where Mr. Bowerbird has placed his bower and come up with a plan for trekking into that spot. My guess right now is that the location is closer to the ridge and the forest road than it is to the bottom riverbed of the rainforest. If that is the case, it means a careful descent into the jungle from above, taking great care to respect all the creatures of the forest!