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Through the woods we ran, deep into the mountain sound

-Of Monsters and Men, Mountain Sound

In less than two months, I turn 25. This age is a landmark that means more to me than any other year thus far. Even turning 21. Does 25 mean adulthood?

I know I look young, and yes I will certainly appreciate it in 20 years – however, my appearance of youth is frustrating in this field. I’m sure others in different disciplines can also put their two cents in, but I am often mistaken for a high schooler, or a college student – which honestly isn’t far off. Yet, when people ask me if I’m in school, I used to secretly relish in the surprised expressions I received when I said I graduated college over three years ago. Now, it is becoming slightly irritating.

This impression could also be fed by the position I hold at work: a “summer technician.” The title implies a job of ephemeral nature, low or no pay, an element of “trainee”, and evidently, youth. I know most of the researchers or professionals I’ve met mean no harm; “are you in school?” is simply a conversation starter. But I feel the insatiable need to prove my worth in age, knowledge, creativity, and experience. I am constantly reminded that I don’t have a science degree, though most of that prodding is my own little voice inside. Still, I puff my chest up, trying to be taken a little bit more seriously.

|25| I sense that the number is finally catching up to the age I feel. And this number affects the way people perceive me. You can say that it doesn’t matter what people think of you, etc. etc., but you know what, it does matter – the manner in which others think they understand about you effectively shapes the way they treat you. 25 is one step closer to… many things. Maybe I’m just not sure about what all of those things are yet. I will always be one to celebrate another year of life. I don’t foresee lamenting a rising number, as years inevitably increase, and we inevitably change.

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Desert Life

The desert is everything I didn’t expect it to be. In a place I thought would be devoid of such vibrant life – I see wild bison, elk, deer, frogs, lizards, snakes, kangaroo rats, black bears, prairie dogs, coyotes, foxes everywhere I go. The beauty of the landscape is absolutely indescribable, especially as the sun rises. And I certainly do not miss the humidity of the east coast or the Philippines.

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Seco Canyon, Ladder Ranch

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A lone coyote pup by one of the frog tanks

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Henry the bison. He hangs out by our houses

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Diamondback rattlesnake that lives by one of the frog ponds

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Rattlesnake by the office – a little too close for comfort. It was transported elsewhere.

I am at the halfway point in my job here on Ladder Ranch in Caballo, New Mexico – three months in, and three months to go. At the moment, I’m feeling overwhelmed with the prospects of the future, because naturally, everything is now happen at once. Nonetheless, after a phone call with my twin muse, I move forward. Starting with this blog post, my public journal.

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What is it that I do here out in the desert? A week for me looks like this: 2-3 days are conducting surveys in the field, and 2-3 days are spent cleaning and working in the ranarium (frog breeding facility). Every few weeks or so, a visitor or researcher joins my boss Cassidi and I, and we assist them with their work, or tour them around the ranch.

Ladder Ranch has the highest concentration of wild Chiricahua Leopard Frogs in the world. These particular frogs are listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List. The ranch has 18 sites where I survey the wild frogs – they live in steel-rimmed tanks and man-made earthen ponds fed by creek water pumped in by solar panels. My field surveys include weekly counts of egg masses, and monthly Visual Encounter Surveys (VES). For VES, I count frog populations at each wild site, and take water quality measurements.

We’ve also assisted with two captures by graduate student Tricia – she trapped a mountain lion and black bear (via leg snare), to collect data, tag and release!

We are located in rural southwestern New Mexico. I live with the Bolson tortoise technician, Vincent, and our house does not have air conditioning or wifi. And the entire ranch does not have cell service. I am a 40-minute drive (going 80mph on the highway, mind you) to the nearest town and only grocery store (Walmart). We spend our after-work hours and weekends 1) watching a lot of movies 2) finding good internet in town 3) cooking 4) finding little adventures floating down the Rio Grande or camping near national monuments.

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This is Vincent and a tortoise

This is the point in time when seasonal technicians start looking for their next job, step, purpose. Nearing the end of one job always means scrambling for the next. I will be studying for the GRE (which I am now officially saying publically, so I have to do it), looking towards grad schools and grants, and figuring out where I am heading in life! It’s exciting to look forward and see something I care about becoming clearer and clearer.

And, as states this journal that I did not buy (alas), I must find my porpoise.

Find your porpoise

xo,

Amber

Road Trip: Connecticut to New Mexico

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2,900 miles

Less than a month ago, I had no idea that I’d be driving alone almost coast to coast- and I that I’d have the most amazing time. Here is my trip in numbers:

  • In 2 weeks,
  • I drove over 2,900 miles,
  • In 57 hours,
  • Crossing 15 states,
  • Making 13 stops at the homes of friends and family, and new friends and new family,
  • Attended a beautiful wedding,
  • Met family members I didn’t know I had,
  • And started a new job!

I got to see friends and professors from F&M College, coworkers from the Belize Jaguar Project, friends I studied abroad in India with over 4 years ago, friends of friends from Peace Corps, immediate family, as well as extended family I’d never met before, and of course, new friends made along the way. All my worlds collided in this venture that took me to so many places I’ve never been.

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I started in Connecticut: then stopped in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and finally New Mexico!

Here’s my car all packed and ready to go!

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Visiting Karen (India abroad), Parsa (F&M) and the National Geographic Museum, DC

Visiting Virginia Tech: Dr. Marcella Kelly, Bethany (Jaguar Project), and Chris (VT)

Ishmael (F&M) and Chance the pup in Georgia

Birmingham, AL Botanical Gardens, visiting Jessica (Peace Corps friend of a friend)

Darielle (F&M) and Jeff’s wedding in Baton Rogue, LA!

Visiting Devin and Sam (India abroad) in New Orleans!

Visiting family and friends in Texas!

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and finally…. NEW MEXICO!

I arrived in New Mexico on Saturday, and today was my first day of work! I work for Cassidi on the Chiricahua (Cheer-i-kawa) leopard frog research on the Ted Turner Ladder Ranch in Caballo. There are many conservation projects going on simultaneously on this massive ranch! I live with Vincent, the technician for the tortoise research here. There are scientists studying wolves, quails, black bears, mountain lions, and more! We all help each other out, so I will get to get involved a little with each project.

Today my boss Cassidi, her crazy work-pup-in-training Luna, and I went out to visit the frog ponds sites to take water quality measurements and do population estimates for the frogs, tadpoles, and egg masses. We will do this at all 18 sites once a month. I drive the UTV, which is like a mountain golf cart with big wheels. Its pretty great. More on the job later, the weather and landscape here is breathtaking!!

Xoxo,

Amber

The Next Adventure Awaits…

After Belize, I was hired for a job in New Mexico!

I will be heading to New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment, as a Wildlife Technician for the next 6 months. I will be working for the Turner Endangered Species Fund, assisting a biologist with her research on the Chiricahua Leopard Frog. This species is listed as threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Working with endangered species, big and small, furry or slimy, I take my next step into the wildlife field. I’m excited to live and work in a new environment in the stunning New Mexico!

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NewMexico

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The symbol in the middle of the New Mexican flag is the ancient sacred sun of the Native American Zia tribe. Four is a sacred number for the Zia, representing the four directions, four seasons, four times of day (morning, noon, evening, night), and four stages/cycles of life (childhood, youth, adulthood, old age).

“Zia’s belief that with life comes four sacred obligations: one must develop a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit, and a devotion to the welfare of others.” -State Symbols USA

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Cheers to new adventures,

Amber

Mountain Pine Ridge

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The Jaguar Project was eye opening, hard work. It was a massive learning experience for me, and an absolutely incredible two months of my life. Because of this project, my drive to continue this line of work is solidified.

I saw a beautiful baby jaguar growing up fast,

and the elusive jaguarundi, caught on cameras for the first time this season.

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Silly smiling foxes.

I saw the once-threatened orange-breasted falcon at it’s former release site, now prevalent in the area,

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and this collared anteater doing who knows what (pouncing on the camera?)

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This stunning puma.

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This whole troupe of curious coati, sniffing and bumping into our cameras!

And this jaguar with a fresh armadillo kill.

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Jaguar prints everywhere!

The tyra!

The little margay with mickey mouse ears.

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And a silly human every now and then.

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In addition to all the wildlife I saw on the cameras, we spent a majority of the time swallowed up by the vegetation in the area or hiking back home from broke-down cars.

At the end of this Mountain Pine Ridge (MPR) season, Dr. Marcella Kelly joined us to close up, compete the remaining habitat assessments, and pull in all of the cameras. She has been conducting research in Belize for about 20 years now, in multiple sites! This is the 15th year in MPR.

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After the project, I stayed in Belize for just over a week, exploring on my own.

Xunantunich Ruins

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San Pedro island with Bre and her family

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the first Jaguar Sanctuary in the world. My hike to the gorgeous Tiger Fern Twin Falls

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Lookout point to Victoria peak, hiking to Tiger Fern Falls

Plane wreck of Alan Rabinowicz, the American zoologist who founded the Cockscomb Sanctuary. Rabinowicz, the pilot, and his photographer all survived the crash caused by strong winds. It’s quite an eerie sight…

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Hopkins, a sleepy little town on the water by day, with exciting Garifuna drumming at night!

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So I finish the Jaguar Project and leave the beautiful Belize. I am now home for the week, before I head off to a new job! Check out the post tomorrow to see what it is 🙂

Here’s to always finding new adventures!

Amber

*All camera trap photos are owned by Virginia Tech. The rest of the photos are taken by me, Bre, or Jackie.

Stew Beans and Fry Rice

I’ve been in Belize nearly a month already! I’m loving absolutely every moment of the fieldwork here in the Mountain Pine Ridge. Sometimes I still can’t believe it’s real. I am the only non-wildlife/biology major here, but that has just pushed me to learn everything quickly and efficiently. Every single day I’m learning something new, whether it be how to ID cats by their spots, the different motion-sense cameras, the wing coloration of turkey vultures vs. black vultures, or how to drive a manual four wheel drive truck. I’m learning everything here by doing, and its exhilarating!

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The current jaguar crew!

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Camera check! Switching out memory cards and making sure the cameras are still in working order

I live in a field station on a pine tree farm called Bull Run Farm. It’s a beautiful, rustic location where I live with three other field assistants and a Project Leader. We’ve got three tough trucks that take us back and forth to 50 camera trap stations evenly spread out across the study site. All the cameras are set up along the dirt roads, approximately three meters apart, with two cameras to a station (a total of 100 cameras). The two cameras face each other to capture both sides of passing cats – if spotted, their markings help identify individuals, much like a fingerprint. The cameras capture all types of interesting life out here!

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A camera station

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Trigger card

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Caught on camera

No day is the same here – the cameras need to be checked every 10 days. We trigger each camera with the date and time of the switch, change out memory cards, and load them onto two hard drives for safekeeping. In between camera checks, we conduct habitat assessments – one at each station over the three months of this project. Habitat assessments take significantly longer than the camera checks. We head straight into the brush with machetes and measuring tapes! Starting at each station, we go out 100 meters in three directions (0°, 120°, and 240°) measuring the ground cover, and tree height, cover, and trunk diameter. Often we are pushing through the tightly woven tiger fern and brush, towering high over our heads. By the end of these habitats, I feel like a muddy, sweaty bulldozer – but don’t worry, the jungle bounces back very, very quickly.

Trail camera captures! (Photos owned by Virginia Tech)

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This is Vance, our awesome Project Leader. We saw this boa in the middle of the road!

And weekends aren’t Saturdays and Sundays anymore. Days off are dictated by 1) weather. If it’s raining, these dirt roads turn to mud pits that eat trucks, and 2) our need for food and/or supplies. San Ignacio is the nearest town, a bumpy hour away.

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Rio On Pools

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The pine farm we live on (the view out my window)

The weather here is amazing! The daytime hours are hot, sunny, and sometimes humid, but every evening, once the sun sets across the pine trees, the temperature drops to the cool, fall-like weather I love. We cook dinner together, then curl up by the fire with a book or watch a movie. This week has been on and off rain. Unpredictable, it will downpour for 15 minutes, then stop, then drizzle for an hour… it’s hard to decide whether we should risk the trucks getting stuck in the deep muddy puddles that pock the roads, or just call a day off and clean the house.

I feel so lucky to be here. Belize is a tiny, diverse country in people and wildlife. Over a THIRD of the country is protected land, sanctuaries for the beautiful, tropical wildlife. The main income here is from tourists – this encourages Belizean citizens to keep their environment safe and clean. Short drives after work or on our days off bring us to countless waterfalls, caves, hiking trails, lakes, Mayan ruins, and quaint little towns.

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Packed in the trunk of the truck with groceries on our way back from town

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At Rio Frio Cave – overlapping a few weeks with the first crew!

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Caracol ruins

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Butterfly Falls!

English is the national language, but Spanish, Mayan, Creole, and other dialects are spoken here more often than not. There is also a huge Chinese population here, where almost all of the supermarkets and restaurants are Chinese-owned. A large Mennonite population also blooms here, doing much of the agricultural work, as well as mechanics (ironically. Many traditional Mennonites don’t use any form of technology, but in the area we are in now, they have the monopoly of selling motor vehicle parts and repairs).

A traditional Belizean dish is simple stewed rice, beans, and chicken – and it’s SO GOOD. We cook it often at our house. The dish is called Stew Beans. Not stewed beans, Stew Beans. No past tense. Same with Fry Rice. And I thought it would be a clever title :)… That is all.

Here are some Belize Zoo photos I took!

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Belize Zoo! Springfield, a female jaguar

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Tapir crossing!

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Spider monkey at the zoo!

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A photo of Steve Erwin with Belize Zoo founder, Sharon Matola!

Long post- took advantage of getting good wifi for a few hours! Until next time,

Amber

Two Days Until Belize!

These two months home have flown by. I leave for Belize on Sunday!

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I would like to thank everyone who donated to my campaign, supported my shop, and ordered custom jewelry from me. Thank you for helping me take part of this amazing opportunity!

http://www.gofundme.com/wild-cat-research-field-assistant

Also, shoutout to Crate & Barrel – I loved working there as a seasonal hire this holiday with wonderful coworkers! I hope to see you all soon.

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Gear haul from Goodwill!

I was so lucky that in this short time home I was able to see family and friends during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Eve, work for a little bit, visit Lancaster, PA/my alma mater, and prepare for my next adventure! I could not be happier with where I am right now, and where I will go. I am so excited to learn, experience, discover, and see where this opportunity will lead!

xoxo, Amber

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So many cousins!