Thursday, July 24, 2008

Big Apologies (And finally a first post)

Wow! Life can really sneak up on you. After the Kenya trip I returned to my Ithaca apartment only to find it had been invaded by squirrels and mud wasps (not joking, bad combination), had my parents come into town, my computer died, I re-started my field work for my senior thesis on ladybugs, and I am trying to move into a new apartment...all within far too short of a time span. Excuses aside, and without further ado...imagine that I am still in Kenya:

It's been a few days since I've had a chance to write. [My journal says this occurs at day four, right above a crossed out day it's hard to say exactly when in the trip I actually wrote this.] We get up very early, around 6:00-6:30 AM for breakfast by 6:45...and if we are lucky the group is on a game drive by 7:15. I've written some bullet points each night for the past few days so that I can backtrack and give more details. Today is the first day we've had some down time; two hours before lunch to do laundry or write or shower or generally get something done.


Both planes carrying Cornell students arrived in Nairobi at 6:30 AM local time. We had to walk to the concourse because our planes were too large to pull up to the airport. Buying visas and getting through immigration took about an hour, but gave the majority of the group time to get acquainted. We met Irby and Dustin just outside of baggage claim, bought Kenyan Schillings, and headed straight into the flat endless plains where we saw a pack of lions fighting over a wildebeest, just like on TV. Actually, we were delayed a few hours because Ben's bags hadn't followed his re-routed flight schedule. So we sat in the parking lot chatting and I bought a Coke, which interestingly enough was made with real sugar and no corn syrup. It's better that way.

The Drive...

The drive out of Nairobi was intense. As is, "Wow, all of a sudden I'm in-a-really-tense mood". People were everywhere. On either side of the road, behind us, running in front of the car, jumping on the backs of vehicles in front of us kind of everywhere. One area of the city we drove through appeared to be built completely out of corrugated tin. There are no road signals (or signs for that matter). Irby is expertly maneuvering his manual safari van on the left side of the road while I sit in the back white-knuckling the seat cushion. I wasn't actually able to take any pictures at this point [I only sort of regret this now]. Once we cleared Nairobi the atmosphere calmed dramatically. We drive for several hours before stopping for lunch. At the restaurant we spot our first wildlife, black and white monkeys who entertain themselves (and us) by stealing customers food and then escaping into the trees. Apparently the "Do Not Feed The Monkeys" sign didn't have the desired effect. After lunch we begin the final leg of the trip. The road becomes only a dirt path rather quickly, but we have another hour of driving before reaching camp. On the way in we spot plains zebra, vervet monkeys, reticulated giraffe (see below), elephants (look down), and olive baboons (look further down). The wild life is powerful enough to wake everyone in our van from the 40 hour mostly sleepless journey. We arrive at camp, take a quick tour, eat dinner, and then B-line for our tents (picture below) to sleep. Total time from Newark, Delaware to Mpala, Kenya...39 hours.

[The last note in my journal at this point is "Elephants in Camp" but that story will have to wait]

On the drive in we only saw the top side of elephants over the trees, so that is all I will show here (for now).

Olive Baboons slept in the trees near camp on an almost nightly basis. This picture was taken around sunset.

Even at this point the best word I can come up with for how a giraffe runs is 'doofy'.

Considering our location, our tents could really only be described as nothing less than luxurious.

Friday, July 11, 2008

And...the trip is over.

Here I am back in Heathrow Airport....still alive! Already I am missing Kenya, the research station, the megafauna, the microfauna, basically everything. The trip was INCREDIBLE. Life changing even. I apologize to anyone who tried to check this regularly, it was 100% impossible to access internet to update where I was. I don't have much internet time left and I have to get to my gate so I won't give many details/any pictures now. I think my plan is to update this from here on out with my journal entries and best pictures, so you can read along on a 2.5 week delay if you wish.

Here are some highlights:

Seeing a leapord on a kill....TWICE
Seeing the rarest of the rare mammals, an Aardvark.
Being harrassed and false charged by an angry female elephant.
Walking around in a downpour to watch the coordinated termite mating flight.
Finding a new genus of scorpion in Kenya.
Picking maggots off of a dead giraffe!
Finding an elephant dung beetle.
Spotting a lion stalking at night.
Watching bush babies jump around in the trees in camp.
Making smores at 11:30 AM on the equator while everyone else did work.
Buying Samburu weapons from the camp staff.
Nearly breaking my hand trying to help catch a lizard.
Finding driver ants and making them hiss.
Finding insects I couldn't even identify to order.
Being woken up in the middle of the night by animal calls.
Being REALLY SCARED in the middle of the night because of the animal calls.
Seeing almost 50 species of large charismatic mammals.
Having my own bird list...and completeing it.
Crossing the equator, twice.
Giving a presentation on Hyraxes on 'Happy Hyrax Rock'

I guess the list could go on and on. Pictures will start in the next few days. GOTTA CATCH A PLANE!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why British Airlines Rocks (And I'm about to pass out)

Well, I'm in London. I haven't slept in longer than I can remember so please excuse any typos here...I'm writing this on borrowed internet time.

British Airways was training security personal. Training them to take everything out of my overstuffed bookbag. That's been the only bad part of the trip, everything else has been decently smooth. My plan to meet up with the two other students flying through London were messed up because I had to go through immigration in London to check and recheck my bags so this has been stressful and keeping me from sleeping in the really nice 'quite room'. A very nice woman at KLM check-in desk checked my bag at 9 am local time...even though I wasn't supposed to be allowed to check in until 3 PM local time. I just hope my bag makes it!!!

Top 5 reasons why British Airways rules:

5) The food. The food was awesome. They served me a hot dinner complete with chicken, mashed potatoes, and carrots. On top of that was a really good bread roll with butter, a very fresh salad, a decent piece of cheese cake, AND a candy bar. Wow. After all that it was tea time. Tea time...was awesome. A few hours later I was eating the breakfast croissant they served with strawberry jam. Then it was Tea time again! Did I mention the tea was served in little actual tea cups? I stole those for the trip. Love the british....that takes me to number 4. I started this trip at 138.8 pounds, I don't think I've lost that yet.

4) The British accents. Enough said.

3) Really nice seats with all sorts of headrest options. Nice pillow and blanket. Air Conditioning...which I will miss terribly. And free headphones....on to reason number 2.

2) Personal touch screen TV in seat. Not just that, it had a decent music selection, 70 movies to choose from (I watched There Will Be Blood....I give it a 7/10) and an Indiana Jones style trip tracker with a countdown to arrival. It also told me all kinds of cool stats (I was at 35050 ft going 568 mph)! Best of all, a little movie detailing how immigration would work in the terminal I was to arrive in.

1) The person I was seated next to. A hardcore creationist who couldn't understand why I would ever want to go to Kenya. We chatted for 15 minutes, then she popped two Valium and slipped into a little medical coma for the rest of the trip. Does this count for British Airways? Why not?

Hi Mom!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Field Guide to the Scorpions of Kenya

Things are starting to get very exciting and hectic with just a few days left before I leave for Kenya! Thanks to a lot of help from fellow Cornell entomology major and scorpion enthusiast Anthony Auletta I was able to finish a project I've been hoping to accomplish for a few months. Scorpions are a relatively unstudied group taxonomically and no good field guide exists for Kenya or any of the surrounding countries. We spent several hours scouring the internet and primary literature to complete a useful field guide to the known scorpion species of Kenya. This will be an invaluable tool for me in the field as I attempt to identify and photograph the majority of known Kenyan species. I'm making the guide available for download here for anyone that is interested. (Enter the three letter code in the upper right region of the screen to begin the free download: appx 45 mb)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Fun Homework

Thanks to Stephanie's mom I'll have a great macro-lens for the Kenya class. Of course, I've never shot with a macro-lens before so I had to learn to use it. So homework for this weekend is practicing on local insects.

Convergent ladybugs....converging.

Scorpion face.

Crane Fly.


Monday, May 26, 2008


This is an entire arachnid order that I've never seen alive in their natural habitat. Kenya has a few large species of the camel spider, or solfugid, that I am extremely hopeful about seeing and photographing. Truth be told I'll be more than happy to find just one small specimen. The solfugids are a really strange ancient group, their closest living relatives are thought to be scorpions. Even though 99% of species lack venom, their scissor like jaws (largest jaw/body ratio in the living world) make up for this by quickly tearing prey apart.

I thought about solfugids today after stumbling across this youtube video. Youtube is an unbelievably good source for unique glimpses of the natural world via amateur video. The soldiers were probably trying to fight these animals, but something else happened. As far as I know this is the only video of solfugids mating and their method is scarily unique, even among arachnids.

**Caution** Video contains adult language/commentary.
See the video here:

Camera practice!

Thanks to the improving weather in Ithaca I've finally gotten a chance to take my new camera out. I'm trying to learn as much as possible about shooting big objects (like mammals) from far away and small objects (like spiders) from close up before arriving in Kenya. I owe a big thanks to my friend Stephanie's mom, who is lending me a really nice macro lens so I can get as close up as possible with all the bugs.

Tarantula! This is one of the South American giants. African species are generally not as colorful.

Wolf spider with eggsac.

Deer, taken with my telephoto lens. This lens has incredible zoom capabilities (better than the binoculars I borrowed from Cornell!).

Sunday, May 18, 2008

It's not all about spiders...

In terms of arachnid diversity in the desert, scorpions are second to none. Kenya is known to be home to 24 scorpion species in three different families. I'm getting excited to find some of these in the wild! Scorpions glow under blacklight, so I am bringing two portable lights to search for these creatures in the field. I hope to photograph and check off as many species from the list below as possible. Not to worry, scorpions are secretive creatures and the chances of being stung are minimal.

P. imperator is not found in Kenya, but five of its close relatives are. That's okay, I already have a picture with this species.

Scorpions of Kenya

(Few scorpions are dangerous, red denotes species to be careful around)


Babycurus buettneri

Babycurus jacksoni

Babycurus wituensis

Hottentotta eminii

Hottentotta minax

Hottentotta polystictus

Hottentotta trilineatus

Isometrus maculatus

Lychas burdoi

Lychas obsti

Odonturus dentatus

Parabuthus granimanus granimanus

Parabuthus granulatus

Parabuthus liosoma

Parabuthus pallidus

Uroplectes fischeri fischeri

Uroplectoides emiliae


Iomachus politus politus

Opisthacanthus rugiceps


Pandinus bellicosus

Pandinus cavimanus

Pandinus exitialis

Pandinus pallidus

Pandinus viatoris