March 29th - March 31st:
It appears the snake floodgates have finally opened. Another night transect (Saturday night) on one of the larger islands found us a Common Bronzeback sleeping in a tree, a gravid (pregnant) fence lizard and the icing on the cake - a pit viper. The pit viper in question is a subspecies of Popes pit viper however which one I am, as yet, uncertain. Potentially the Phuket pit viper, a species initially found 2 years ago south of our current position.
Sunday was spent watching Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) with the locals on the mainland.
So as I mentioned we are currently based back at the dam (hence the internet) waiting the arrival of a Thai film crew tomorrow and the start of the final week of research before the Thai new year in just over a weeks time. I recently just returned from a beer run which involved a 24km (total) trip on a scooter to the nearest 7eleven. Made somewhat more interesting by the fact it was A: Dark and the Scooter has no working lights so we had to use head torches and B: I drove the scooter home and it was the 1st time I have ever driven a scooter or sat on a motorbike.
Night research for Geckos and other nocturnal reptiles is now a key part of my role and fortunately on the 26th I was able to night survey a huge mainland site with 8 (140m long) transects.
The night started off well, as we saw 3 Gaur (Remember them from "Gaur, Grom and Gibbons"???) from the boat on the way to the research site as well as a female Sambar and Fawn (Similar to Red Deer but larger). Not long after reaching the island we saw the eye shine of a HUGE mammal not 15 ft away. It turned out to be a huge Sambar buck with 2 ft antlers and stood eye to eye with me (6ft tall). It stood watching us for a short while before disappearing off into the night. On the 2nd transect we found one of our small mammal cages left behind from the previous day, with a tree shrew still inside!! This tree shrew was weighted, measured, tagged and blood sampled before being released (The tree shrew screaming the entire time!).
After crossing a stream full to the rafters with breeding frogs, we reached the 6th transect. About 10m in we all saw the eye shine of a very small mammal. Which Grom (our guide) explained was a (Meow Lik) or "Small Cat". We had seen a Leopard Cat one of the smallest cat species in South East Asia. Yes its no Tiger or actual Leopard but I was (and still am) ecstatic about this discovery. The night safari was all finished off by a 50m sprint after disturbing a wasp nest on the home stretch to the boat.
March 17th - March 25th:
We returned to the initial base island after saying goodbye to our boss Luke "The Magnificent" Gibson at the dam. After setting up my Hammock in the late evening I decided to go for a swim in the lake. *Reader discretion is advised*.
So i decided on a naked swim so after removing my clothes I walked down to the waters edge and got my feet in the water (at this point it was pitch black but I had my head torch pointed at the water from a distance). Just as I was about to jump into the water I saw a huge black shape loom past my right foot. I realized it was a huge snake (2.5m) but I had no idea what kind of snake (Thailand has a large population of King Cobras as well many other large deadly venomous snakes). I shouted my good friend Ricky "del bosque" over (Making it very clear that I was in fact naked at the time) then went to get my head torch. Fortunately the snake had not swam far when I returned, turns out it was a Reticulated python just cruising the side of the island probably hunting large frogs or moving from island to island.
Our return to our camping island in the northern reservoir finally revealed the porcupine which was stomping around by Rickys hammock and quite frankly didn't seem to care that we were there. After nicknaming the little fellow "Quill.I.am" he promptly wandered off back into the forest.
The following day while doing a reptile survey I was VERY fortunate to see a Malaysian Blue Coral Snake, an exceptionally beautiful (and very deadly Asian snake) wriggling across the transect line. In the middle of the day, a very rare occurrence for this nocturnal and rare snake.
11th March - 16th March:
After the disaster regarding Burma we were determined to go to Cambodia so after getting the passport pictures for the Cambodian Visa we were ready to go. A rough night sleep on a beach in Phuket was made up for by the brilliant street food we found in the market prior. We arrived at Siem Reap, on of the largest cities in Cambodia, at noon were I made the mistake of converting 60 pounds into the local currency (Riels) rather than US Dollars which are also accepted. 60 pounds gave me 500,000 riles and the costly problem of having bucket loads of bills of great value and having to do lengthy conversions every time I wanted to purchase something. We hired a taxi driver (Mora) to find us a Hotel and it turns out he was also a tour guide so we decided to book a full day temple tour the next day.
The hotel we found ourself at was an absolute bargain!! Ten dollars per night including, WIFI, a pool, laundry service and free breakfast. The temple tour began at 8.30am when we set off to one of the many stunning temples Siem Reap has to offer. The 1st being the Temple of the Lady, a small temple made out of rose sand stone. The 2nd temple we visited was the Change Body Temple built to hold the dead king for a short period of time so he could change into his next form (the next king). This temple was climbed high above the trees and gave a great view of the, currently dry, rice paddys and the local community. The best temple we visited was a jungle temple which had been abandoned thousands of years prior and had been reclaimed by the jungle which huge strangler figs and tropical oaks intertwined with the structure. This is actually the same temple used in one of the tomb raider films.
Angkor Wat (Royal Temple) which is what makes Siem Reap so famous, is a truly over whelming sight from a distance (4, 15 story buildings surrounding a huge 25 story central spire). With a huge moat surrounding the entire grounds and a bridge that is a good 10 - 15 minute walk. We finished the day with a viewing of Angkor Thom which was the royal city thousands of years ago and many of the buildings had huge carvings which told great stories such as the movement of armies and the navy.
The following day we again booked a day trip (Mora was an exceptional tour guide), this time we decide to visit a sacred mountain very near to Siem Reap. At the very peak (I mean the very peak) of the mountain is carved a reclining Buddha as is a huge footprint which is believed to be the footprint of Vishnu a Hindu god (there is a lot of religious overlap in Cambodia). We then visited a spring which was the start point for a Hindu/Buddist sacred river. Into this river many wells had been built for the one of the previous Cambodian Kings to bathe in. This king was a leper and he believed it helped with his disease. We then spent the rest of the afternoon swimming in a waterfall a few km down stream.
The 2nd day in Siem Reap was concluded with a visit to the infamous "Pub Street" which is EXACTLY what it says on the tin... well apart from they don't mention that a pint is 25p (35 cents). You can imagine what events followed.....
For the final two days we simply enjoyed Cambodia our own way; renting bikes, riding many Tuk Tuk's, eating local food (Crocodile Amok Curry and fried Tarantula), visiting the old market/night market and bartering over locally made products, visiting monasteries ohhh and of course once again taking advantage of the very cheap alcohol.
Cambodia an absolute MUST if you are in South East Asia.
28th Feb - 10th March:
After finally returning to our island we were awoken that night by a strange noise. Very similar to a rain stick being shaken repeatedly. After speaking to Grom and Rort we found out that the noise was in fact a Porcupine wandering around our camp in the middle of the night. During a nocturnal search (which didn't actually reveal the porcupine) I did manage to see several mouse deer on the island as well as a terrestrial slender toed gecko! After setting up a transect on our island i then managed to find 3 different gecko species on one transect (100m). A terrestrial gecko and two Hemidactylus species including H. garnoutii which is a parthogenic species (No males exist in the population females lay fertilized eggs containing females).
The night surveys I initiated on other islands have yet to yield a lot of reptiles however we are seeing and hearing some interesting animals including; Greater Mouse Deer, Civets and Leaf Monkeys. I will however be continuing the nocturnal surveys in the final month to hopefully find some forest based Tokay geckos.
Rort spent the evening of the 4th setting a fishing net. The following day the results were significantly more than we bargained fore!! I fish that must have been about 6 -8 kilograms. The fish was promptly dispatched and smoked for an entire day over the fire which then served as our food for the next few days.
On the 10th we returned to the mainland to begin our trip to Cambodia for 4 days.