The Baby Pademelon

Trip Start Sep 04, 2007
Trip End Feb 08, 2008

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Friday, October 19, 2007

  Day 44 (37 at Wallaby Creek)                                                          

This has been an eventful week. Our normal schedule of awaking to either sit and trap or bower search for five and a half hours was thrown off during Dr. Borgia's visit by both the addition of another person to the already chaotic kitchen in the morning and the extra task he set us of undertaking bower ornamentation experiments. Since the doc's departure on Wednesday morning, we have settled into a new routine of arising early to tend to a new mini study of bowerbird stealing behavior. Each morning we leave the cabin at five and visit all of the five or six bowers on our routes. After the first day, when we deposited two blue labeled tiles at each site, we note the IDs of the tiles we find, and if they have been robbed, and have fewer tiles than two, we start them anew with one or two fresh tiles and see if they can protect them through the day. So, for example, each day on my route I might discover that one bird has stolen several tiles from another, and this latter bird is left completely bereft of tiles. I would leave the former bower alone, noting the coordinate locations and IDs of the tiles I found, and replace the two stolen tiles at the latter bird's bower. This process is repeated daily, presumably until the beginning of the camera season around Halloween, when we will begin filming all behavioral interactions at the bowers, as well as beginning a new set of similar experiments testing stealing behavior throughout the camera season, until around Christmas time. The purpose of what we're doing now is to determine whether there is a "maximum stealing potential," or a point beyond which birds become satisfied and will stop stealing from their neighbors. In other words, we want to know if we can flood the market with tiles, such that even the greediest capitalist bowerbirds out there have all the blue they could possibly desire for their bowers, or if they will just keep on stealing and hoarding like little robber barons. During the camera season we will be concentrating more on the decision making questions involved with stealing in a system with a finite number of tiles.

The present experiment has already produced some interesting findings, after only two days. This morning I found that the second bird on my route had already visited and robbed the first bird on Brendan's route, only minutes after he had replaced the two tiles stolen yesterday. My third bower had in turn stolen both tiles from my Bower 5 and one from Bower 2. This is considerable because my second and third bowers are well over a mile apart, and in every case, the robbed bowers seemed untouched. It will be impossible to know for certain, of course, whether the bowers were in fact sabotaged, but subesequently repaired (bowerbirds are surprisingly adept at home repair) until the camera season begins in a couple weeks. During that period we will hopefully have established whether the birds do, in fact, have a maximum stealing potential, and so we will concentrate during filming on the tile-swapping and destruction that goes on once a set number of tiles have been initially distribute at the bowers. This will be interesting because we hypothesize that given a system with limited tiles and the choice to steal from two neighbors, one of which is a strong competitor for mates, while the other is clearly not (i.e. does not build a good bower and/or decorate it well), a male will opt to steal from the stronger competitor in attempts to sabotage him and inherit his would-be mates. It should be quite fascinating to see whether this bears out in practice, but it is at least an interesting hypothesis. For the time being I am intrigued and relatively motivated each morning to roll out of my tent and hike for a couple hours to see who has robbed whom over the course of a day. I appear to be among a den of thieves.

Another event adding to the seeming lengthiness of this week (which still lacks two days for completion) was the arrival last night of Sheila, another of Linda's colleagues at the University of Maryland, who has been doing her doctoral studies on the relatedness of male bowerbirds with regards to their tendency to destroy a neighboring bower. She found that males seemed to somehow be assessing the relatedness of their neighbors and deciding not to destroy their closer kin's bower. So she has been doing someinteresting work on these birds for over five years, but had not seen a live one until today. After years of lab work she has decided to come here to see these birds for herself and see the bowers and experience all the decadent luxury that is life at Wallaby Creek. So she will be staying with us for about a week and we six field assistants, now with five weeks under our belts, have suddenly been transformed into the wise, experienced gurus, filled with endless advice and first-hand accounts of run-ins with bowerbirds, terrestrial leeches, and everything in between.

I experienced one such encounter two nights ago, while I was finishing up laying down the tiles for the stealing experiment along my route. I had just seen a seven foot carpet python descending a tree and had stopped to take pictures of it as close as I dared. I was just thinking about that as I was nearing the pasture that would take me back to the road to the cabin when I heard a soft hissing ahead and saw something struggling on the barbed wire fence. As I drew nearer it became more panicked and I saw that it was a small, grayish marsupial, dangling from a barb by a flap of its skin that turned out to be its pouch.
I was horrified as it made a frantic series of rasping hisses and strained with all its might to tear free of the barbs ensnaring it. I instinctively took off my shirt and used it to cover and grasp the tiny head of the creature as it flailed around wildly in the air just inches off the ground. As I held it, it continued to struggle, while my fingers worked furiously to discover where the pouch had become snagged. It seemed to have done a full loop around the wire at some point in its desperation, which had made it quite impossible for it to free itself. I was slightly disturbed upon discovering that it had been hanging like that for several hours, since it had already attracted maggots on the open tear. Though the pouch had been torn quite a bit, there didn't seem to be much blood at all, and judging by its animation, I judged it would probably be okay.

So, once I got the pouch loose, I decided I would take what I thought at the time was a possum back to camp to have a better look at the wound and to at the least clean it up a bit, which I could not do alone. So, fearing I myself would get hung up as well, I climbed the barbed wire fence while subduing the clawing, hissing thing in my shirt, and hiked it the mile or so back to camp. Brendan was the only one there, having recently returned from his route, and he helped me clean the torn pouch with rubbing alcohol. He told me he thought it wasn't a possum, since upon a closer look it didn't have a prehensile tail, but appeared to be, in fact, a baby pademelon - which is a reclusive hopping mammal, a bit smaller than a wallaby. By the time we got the pademelon cleaned up, she was really quite frightened, and since there was nothing more we could do for her, we let her go. She hopped off very quickly, and seemed to be unhampered, though obviously scared. There was some worry that she might still be somewhat dependent on her mother, which could be a problem since I had moved her so far away. There is a group of pademelons that frequent the wood just behind the cabin at night, so perhaps they'll let her join their clan. In any case, displaced or not, she is surely better now than she was when I found her. I'm just glad I happened upon her in time to let help her. I have seen wallabies routinely climb through the barbed wire near the blind at Midway and kangaroos leap right over other fences, but it is clear that there are some casulties as a result of the endless partitioning off of grazing fields. This little pademelon may not be able to reproduce. I don't know enough about marsupial anatomy to say for sure, but who knows? It was an unfortunate incident, though, but she was seen by Abe yesterday hopping around, seemingly unbothered by her close call. As always, life goes on. This has been quite a week.
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comment1 on

It's Me!!
Hey Again!
I enjoy reading your blogs, I like that you are specific. It paints me a picture. So why didn't you catch the snake instead?! Ha Ha. I like snakes I always wanted to have a constrictor of some sort. My nephew Shannon ( Coleen's son ) had a carpet python. He eventually got rid of it after it bit him umpteen times!! I remember helping Dad move it from his house to the new owner's home! I instantly became a snake lover!!Dad likes them ,too. But could you imagine what Carol would do to us if we came home with a snake!! Everyone says hey and we love you!
The Waldrep's

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