I had a pretty picturesque week in Dominica this week, as well as finding "Katie", the frog we released a couple of weeks ago, again I also managed to visit Mero beach (a black sand beach a few miles from here) and Syndicate which is a huge section of beautiful primary rainforest to the north of the island. Also the spot were two US tourists were robbed at gun point, but lets gloss over that. Fantastic forest, some of the best I have seen and crucially part of the Waitukubuli National Trail. The WNT is a 14 section long trail which does the entire length of the island, the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean. And I plan to do as much of it as possible. I think only 8 sections are open at the moment, but hopefully by the time I leave all the hurricane damage will have been repaired and I can do more if not all of the trail. I also managed to scope out a trail which leads to the top of Morne Diablotin the highest mountain in Dominica (1447m). Hopefully I will be up there next week.
I have now taken over the night feeding at the captive facility, I live much closer to it than my project partner. So I offered to take over the responsibility. I also love doing it! The frogs are very active and pretty much pounce on anything we feed them. Which is mostly cockroaches and crickets.
I have attached a video of a Mountain Chicken vs a Cockroach.
I also visited Mero beach, which is a lovely small black sand (volcanic) beach. I managed to get there before the hundreds of cruise ship tourists arrived so I pretty much had the place to myself. Great snorkeling! Saw several lobsters, a barracuda, an octopus in a box and some invasive lionfish. Got a good bird show to due to the fishermen throwing a lot of fish waste into the water. Frigate birds, terns and tropic birds everywhere!
I big part of my work here on the project is public outreach, i.e. getting the public onside to help conserve the frogs. One of the best ways to do this is to educate the children. Many adults can't or wont change their opinion but kids are very open minded. So it really pays dividends to educate them. We visited Soufriere Primary School this week and it was very succesfull, all the kids were enthusiastic and interested, they seemed very keen to save the frog!
Last week we (The mountain chicken project) were invited to discuss the project on "Voice of Life Radio" a local, well known, christian radio station. My first ever radio appearance, and I enjoyed it. Bit of a strange experience but enjoyable and a very useful outreach method. But why I am I telling you? You can listen to it! Here is a YouTube link to the radio show (The 1st 30 mins are us. They can only record in hour blocks, so don't worry its not me talking for an hour).
CLICK HERE FOR RADIO LINK:
In other news night transects are continuing well, and we are still finding healthy adult frogs each night, as well as many other interesting animals.
I have started to explore the island using the Frogmobile, visiting the core of the island and a few reefs on the west coast (I don't have an underwater camera I am afraid so no shots of that). Roads are great to drive, but you need good breaks and I am glad the car is an automatic. Avoid bus drivers, they have a death wish and they want to die horribly in flames by the way they "drive".... but keeps things interesting!
P.S. Don't worry I have NOT converted to Christianity!
August was a dark time for Dominica after it was badly hit by Hurricane Erika and Tropical Storm Danny before that. As a result the island was ravaged by floods and several bridges were destroyed, houses turned to rubble and 3 dozen people lost their lives. A very sad time for the nature island, very sad indeed.
But what does this mean for the mountain chicken frog, a species closely tied to the 365 different rivers in Dominica?
Well there can be no doubt that some frogs were killed in the hurricane, after seeing the damage first hand over the last few weeks i am certain of that. However, after 3 night surveys over the past two weeks it would initially appear that all is not doom and gloom. Several frogs have been found across 2 different sites, site that took a very heavy toll in the hurricane. While several does not sound like a lot, for a critically endangered from with a limited range such as the mountain chicken frog, it in fact is a sizable amount. More interesting than that is the fact that half of the frogs were found were in fact new to the project. I.e. had never been captured and measured since the project was set up several years ago. Which is fantastic news, even better news! These frogs were in fantastic health and showed no outward signs of the chytrid fungus, a fungus which is destroying frog populations across the globe.
While I cannot draw any real conclusions from these initial findings (there are several more survey sights across Dominica), it does look like a positive sign after such a devastating environmental issue. I will be sure to keep you posted as the findings unfold.
In other, non, frog based news I was fortunate enough to find 3 snakes during our field work. 2 Dominican Racers (Alsophis sibonius) and my absolute favourite type of snake, the Dominican Boa (Boa nebulosa) both of these snakes are only found on Dominica so this was a particular highlight for me.
Last night was my first outing with the Dominica Mountain Chicken Project and it did not disappoint!! We set out to return a frog that had been found by some construction workers at a building site (Katie was the name of the frog, named after the girlfriend of a couple who visited the project a few years ago). During the returning of katie we walked one of the projects transects to see if we could discover more frogs and just after releasing katie we found a a very impressive male. As I was the newbie of the group it was my honour to capture him. Fortunately I succeeded and we found out he was a previously captured male, with no name! So any guesses as to what he was named? Yes, of course DAN! An ego maniac such as me could never pass up the opportunity to have a frog named after oneself. So he was processed (swabbed for the Chytrid fungus, legs measured, body measured and weight taken - he was about 350g putting him about middle weight as they can get up to 800 -1000g) and released. Shortly after we found a second individual, well I say we Mr Stephen Durand of the Forestry Department saw it hoping along the road, so in we swooped! This again was a reasonably sized male, however this one had never been found before so after the same processes that Dan had were complete we then pit tagged "Josh" (named after one of the other volunteers), a pit tag is exactly the same as the thing you tag your dog with and allows each frog to be identified. I also greatly enjoyed leaping around the forest to see every gecko I could and observing all the little anoles sleeping in trees. Good times!
Well its the end of my first week in Dominica, I would love to tell you I have ripped it up, seen the whole island, been involved in a cocaine deal and climbed every volcano on the island (there are 9). But actually I haven't, it has been a very chilled week, am I disheartened about this? Of course not! Its the Caribbean way of life after all and I have 6 months to cover it all. But what I have done is: Dabbled in a bit of Caribbean cooking, got to grips with the small but very hectic capital (Roseau), adopted a local stray dog, watched numerous episodes of Miami Vice while rain thrashed my house and bathed my very first Mountain Chicken Frog (the whole reason I am here, well I am here to help save and research the population, not specifically to bathe them!). It was quite a settled week all in all, I have been getting to grips with the project, mostly the husbandry of the captive population and Caribbean life in general. While avoiding the torrential rain storms, last night it sounded as if waves were crashing on the side of my bedroom! Hopefully the project will kick into full force over the next few weeks and I am sure I will be out and about more as soon as I get insured to drive the car tomorrow and get a phone sorted!
Until then stay tuned!