Sunday, November 6, 2011

bin chau nature reserve

Yes, I know. I should have done this as soon as I returned last week from my field trip. Truth is--I have been SUPER busy with an NSF graduate fellowship application as well as beginning all of my applications for graduate schools. Two words to describe my life right now: Personal Statement. BAAAH. But I wanted to at least get in a post about the field trip before things start getting really busy this week and then who knows how much time will have passed...? I'll start forgetting what happened...

So let me begin. All in all, my first field trip was an incredible experience. Bin Chau Nature Reserve is located about 2-3 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City. Saturday morning we loaded up the van and me along with four other guys from the CBD set off. Now, I have to be honest, I don't want to deceive my audience into thinking that I was stranded in the middle of nowhere, lost in the wilderness, exploring new terrain with a giant machete and slicing through the fresh flora discovering new bird species.  Like I said in my previous post, this was a bit of a practice field trip and things were not nearly as intense as you are probably imagining. For one, it was a nature reserve, meaning it is a place that people can visit. There are fairly well-maintained trails and you were never too far from civilization. 
welcome to bin chau...leave it up to the vietnamese to lighten the mood with their signs and translations
We did not need to sleep in tents or hammocks  because the reserve was close enough to this little place that rented out bungalow-type things so I slept on a bed. However, I don't want you to think I was living in paradise either. Let's just say my nine years at Camp Whip-Poor-Will really paid off...Looking back on it now, I wonder did I really shower in those showers at camp? Did I really use an outhouse for a week? And I was only in first grade? Okay suddenly things didn't seem so bad. If I could do it then, I most certainly could do it now. It was actually pretty fun to be living on the grungy side. 

I actually felt like I was at camp a lot of the time--however, instead of oak trees and pines and squirrels everywhere, I was constantly reminded that I was in the jungle. It was crazy. Everything was different. The trees, the birds, the smell...even the weeds were different.  There wasn't one organism I saw that I had seen before in the US. It was a strange experience. Basically, the scenes you see in the movies are exactly what the jungles are like. 

like an enchanted forest...

Another thing that was certainly an adjustment  was the HUMIDITY and THE MOSQUITOES!!!!!!! I probably came home with close to 100 mosquito bites. No matter how much repellent I put on, the always seemed to find the most inconvenient spots to bite. It was weird though..after the first two days or so, you adjusted to the heat and actually didn't even seem to notice it.

One thing that did not let you forget that you were in the jungle were the insects. First let me mention that the butterfly diversity in Vietnam is like something out of a dream. I have never seen so many butterflies in all of my life and they came in so many shapes and color. Gorgeous. The other insects were unbelievable as well. They were insanely gigantic. They were so big that I couldn't even be scared of them because they were so cool looking. Soo just to name a few, there were

note to self--save up for a macro lens


For the first few nights I was in a room by myself, but on the third night, I was joined by another girl who was a herpetologist. She was pretty cool, but rooming with a herpetologist also meant rooming with all of the specimens she collected. She put snakes, frogs, lizards, etc. in plastic bags and just let them chill on her bed. Until they decided to hop or crawl or slither around...this is when I managed to find some on my bed then...
my other roommates
As for the birding, things went pretty well all-in-all. We tried to set up our mist-nets in a different place everyday. Sometimes it was a complete success, sometimes an epic fail--such is life. I only managed to catch one species of babbler (Scaly-crowned babbler), but I did manage to get 15 samples of it. Also, it was a species that was not yet noted in this nature reserve which is kind of cool. After catching the bird, I measured and collected the feather sample and then released it. I have all of the feather samples in a cooler (no ice) and each sample is in a plastic bag with a silicon gel packet. 
meeeh, help me

i dare you to have a photo this cool

We caught some flycatchers and bulbuls, but probably the coolest was the Green-billed malkoha! 
green-billed malkoha!
absolutely gorgeous!
I heard lots of white-crested laughing thrushes but we did not manage to catch any. They never came down from the high tree tops. I tried to play some songs, but I don't think I have loud enough speakers.

Although I had a good time, it really opened my eyes to the realities and problems of this place. When you hear the word "national park", it sounds like a well-protected area, but apparently not in Vietnam. Illegal logging and catching animals to sell to the pet trade industry. We actually encountered this the first day. After we set up the mistnets, we left for lunch and when we returned there were four huge holes in one of my nets :( At first we didn't know why but we also noticed a nearby camera trap of our from one of the mammal studies was missing as well. So most likely somebody came through and just stole all the birds out of my nets. I guess I am just lucky they did not steal the nets!

In our free time, we went to the beach that was about 5km away. The waves were huge!!! I hadn't had that much swimming in the ocean in a really long time. Pictures courtesy of Mr. Long--I didn't bring my camera.

The last day, we went to the "hot springs". I put this in quotes because I was way more excited about this than what it actually turned out to be. When I hear hot springs, I think a bubbling hot brook or something from Yellowstone national park. Think again. Some resort completely overtook the area to try to make it a hot spot for tourists. I think they just completely ruined the entire beauty of it all.
how beautiful... :\
again with the signs
I was a little confused about what that sign could actually mean until I learned that the resort has transformed all of the hot spring wells into these giant hideous egg basin things where you can buy eggs from the resort and dip them in the spring and wait for them to hard boil. It sounds cool until you actually see the hideous egg bath things.

beautiful 'natural' hot springs of vietnam
well we gave in...
 And on that note, we headed off to our final lunch. The park ranger hosted a huge dinner-lunch for us that consisted of squid, frog, rat, and to top it all off, freshly caught squirrel. I wish I was kidding.  Apparently rat and squirrel are very expensive and elegant dishes reserved for special occasions. I must admit, I stuck to the squid. No pictures though, sorry.

Now, onwards to more adventures!


  1. Hi Laurel, came across your blog today, very nice photos of you. Can I ask for a few photos, let me know if you allow for me to use some photos in your blog, BTW, check it out my blog, hope to hear from you soon Laurel

    1. Hello! Thanks for the nice words. Of course you may use my photos. Please just link them back to this blog. Nice blog you got there yourself! Cheers!