Followed the beep, beep, beep

October 4
Yea! We found the mystery bower with the radio transmitter. Finally, after several days of tracking and a challenging hike up a stream bed and steep ascent of a tropical slope Sara spied it perched in a most unlikely place. We had been listening to the beep, beep, beep signal of the radio receiver, knowing that we were getting closer and closer. As one aims the antennae around, the signal strength increases or decreases. But it is easy to be fooled as to the proper direction to head for the slope and vegetation can cause the signal to bounce around and give a misleading bearing.

It all really began in the morning at the library where we were able to log on to the Internet and create a vector map of our GPS points and compass coordinates from the day before. As predicted, the probable location of the mystery bower would best be accessed from the bottom of the valley along a stream bed and not from the ridge line where we had picked up the signal and mapped the vectors. This was good news for I was loathe to hike down the steep slope from the ridge into unknown forest terrane. So we packed our gear and headed to the valley floor where there is a car park, a picnic area, and a good trail up the rainforest valley floor.

After a short hike in along the main trail, we took a side tributary that probably not many people have ever traveled. And so with our snake sticks whacking away at anything brushy or dangerous looking, we went forth until we reached the supposed spot of the mapped GPS vectors where we might pick up the radio signal . I turned on the receiving unit and started aiming the antennae around in different directions. Within moments, I had picked up the signal! That was great news. It was broadcast from further up the canyon and so we carefully made our way up the slope to the right for the stream bed was too narrow and brushy to walk up. The slope was steep and slippery with dried bark and leaves from eucalyptus trees. Every few minutes I would turn the antennae system on and pick up the signal, stronger than before. It appeared to be coming yet more from the right and so we started heading directly up the slope. After five or ten minutes of bush whacking, the signal strength was very clear and strong. About that time, Sara looked up the slope and saw the bowerbird bower!

It was a pathetically perched bower on a steep hillside, middle of nowhere, little sun around, and to top it all off, the bird had only a single blue decoration! He did have quite the stash of small, dried yellow leaves strewn about on his bower mat. We’d seen yellow stuff lots, but never so much at one site. And never such a monotonous collection of the same yellow things. Usually there is a bit of variety. You know, like a yellow flower, a piece of dried yellow onion skin, or some type of manufactured yellow clothespin for instance. My immediate reaction was that this male would have very few girlfriends visiting, but heck, what do I really know about bowerbird courtship! Notice that I didn’t mention seeing the blue soda straw with the radio transmitter inside. What on earth was going on?

So the soda straw was no where in site, but the receiver was still picking up the signal better than ever. While Sara took measurements on the bower, I tromped around looking and listening. Surely I was close. After much concerted effort, I finally determined that the radio transmitter was within a meter square patch of rainforest floor about fifteen feet away from the bower. Several thoughts ran through my mind. First, the radio fell out of the soda straw and so finding it would be nearly impossible for it is very tiny, has a super thin antennae like a human hair, and is powered by two tiny hearing aid batteries. In this scenario, I figured that another bowerbird found the empty straw and flew off with it.

My second thought was that I was somehow just not seeing it and so I took a branch and started probing the leaf litter, moving stuff around, and really hunting. After a few minutes of that, low and behold I found the blue soda straw, but when I pulled it up, miraculously, there was no radio inside. One of the plugs in the end of the straw had gone missing, the middle of the straw had tons of chew marks in it from a small mammal, and the other end plug was chewed in half. The plugs were soft ear plugs that you can buy at a drug store and Sara thinks the little animal was after a bit of ear wax for we had used these plugs in our own ears a few times.

The tiny radio was still going beep, beep, beep and with my digging stick I pulled enough leaf litter aside to expose a small burrow of some animal. It was big enough in diameter to suck up a tennis ball and at first the only thing I could think of was that a big brown snake lived in there and therefore, I was not about to stick my hand in and feel around for some electronics! So carefully, I stuck a stick in about six inches and managed to rake out the somewhat wadded up radio. I could not believe it was still working much less sending a signal out of the underground burrow and up to the ridge line which must have been at least half a kilometer away.

So the mystery was finally solved. We deployed the radio, it went missing, a bowerbird took it thus leading us to his bower, then a small mammal stole it, and finally I grabbed it back! I can only feel too sorry for the poor bowerbird for he had gone to all that work to find a nice, blue decoration, fly all the way up the slope to its bower, only to have some robber slip in during the night and run off with it.



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