Fun in the Field, East coast version

I remember a time in college when I didn't understand why professors conducted research far away from where they taught. It seemed like there was plenty to study in our own backyards. And yet, here I am, disappearing from my native lands for months at a time to study birds in some other part of the world. Looking back, I know how little I understood about research and the scientific community. Still, there is something to the argument ... and I do love when I get to do fieldwork around home.

Recently I got to help out for a day on a friend's project - and was reminded of all the great reasons to get out to local parks, whether for work or fun. We were really there to look at lichens:

But we saw a few other signs of life along our way, and some were even ready for their close-ups:
Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor)

Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus)

It was a lot of fun, but also made me appreciate not having ticks bearing Lyme Disease at my usual research sites. :P


Mexican Chocolate

While I'm not in Mexico, I had originally thought I'd use this blog to talk about the great desserts I try in the places I go. I haven't done much of that, but every once in a while it comes up.

So, I've been tentatively exploring "mexican chocolate" recipes for a bit, but not regularly. Tentatively because I don't have a high tolerance for capsaicin. (Capsaicin is what makes hot peppers hot). I tend toward the mild end of the spectrum usually. While I like the addition of subtle heat to chocolate, I also want to make something that satisfies those friends who love adding hot peppers and hot sauce to every meal.

I've tried this with truffles once, which went OK, but not well enough for me to want to repeat too quickly. I wasn't satisfied with my method (which was really a shot in the dark).

Recently I've been manipulating a brownie recipe. This has been fun. My first batch I think was a bit subtler than intended - after all, I'd rather err on the side of caution than not want to eat the brownies. The second round took it up just slightly, an improvement I think.

If you want to try your own mexican brownies, it's a piece of ... well, it's easy. Just take your favorite brownie recipe designed for a 9x13 pan. For moderately spicy brownies, add to the dry ingredients 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon red cayenne pepper (ground powder), 1/4 teaspoon chili powder. (Adjust the spices up or down depending on what you want - I'd suggest the cayenne + chili powder be between 1/4 and 3/4 teaspoon total. You can use all cayenne or all chili powder; I like the combination.) I'm sure this would work with box mixes too - they often make less volume of brownies, so you might want to a little less spice added.


The gentle Gentoo

Continuing the penguin video party, here are some videos of Gentoo penguins.

First, adult Gentoos climb up to a breeding colony - clean white bellies should be full after a trip to sea feeding. Now they are probably on their way to feed chicks:

Here, two chicks chase an adult, hoping for a meal.

And now one chick succeeds, getting fed by the adult - although another adult apparently wants them to have some privacy!


More Adelie Penguins!

I am not well-versed in video editing or posting. Since I'm having trouble uploading video elsewhere, I'm going to post some of my penguin videos here instead. For starters, more Adelie penguins!

A look into a colony - it's late in the breeding season, and the rocks are pink with penguin guano. Molting chicks stretch their wings while a parent checks me out. You can tell the chicks from their down-like feathers, which they're molting out of, and their white chins.

Adelie parents are very busy once their chicks hatch, going to sea to feed on krill and bring food back to their young. Since they lay two eggs, successful Adelie pairs are busy trying to raise two chicks. Here is a parent feeding a chick - the chick is already molting into its adult feathers - see the sleek white & black swimming feathrs, compared to the patches of fluffy down-like chick feathers?

MMM Krill! Hope you enjoyed the Adelies - I'll be posting more video in the next week.



Brush-tailed penguins (the Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo penguin) love rocks. They collect rocks, they steal rocks, they Obsess ... over rocks. Because for these penguins, rocks are safety and security. Rocks are the currency of these penguin colonies. (I won't get into the varying stories of what may or may not be exchanged for rocks .... wouldn't want to pass on hearsay). Rocks are the building blocks of the penguins' nests. They help keep the precious eggs safe and dry as the snowmelt streams trickle down the slopes of penguin colonies in the Antarctic summer.

Here is an Adelie Penguin with a rock. It's got a small pile of rocks collected - it's building a nest. Never mind those molting penguin chicks in the background, which should serve as reminders to this chap that the summer season is coming to an end, and it's no time to be trying to gather rocks and start a nest. Still, many (inexperienced?) penguins are still collecting rocks, stealing them from neighboring nests, lovingly hauling them from whatever source they've found for themselves.


At the surface

When at sea in Antarctic waters, this is about as good a photo of a whale I can hope for. It's good enough to identify the subject, but beyond that, there's not much going on. This first picture is of two killer whales, or Orcas. You can tell from the pattern of black and white that Not Only are there killer whales, but they are "type A". There are 3 types of killer whales in the world (A, B, C) and "A" includes Shamu and most of what we hear about in the US. I'll keep looking for a good picture of a "type B" which occur frequently around the Antarctic Peninsula, and "type C" around the Ross Sea. The killer whales are breathtaking, and one of few species of whale I feel confident identifying from a distance. Their dorsal fins are much taller than most things their size, and are the defining feature most of the time. Of course those white eye patches and markings help too if you get closer.

The most common whale around the Antarctic Peninsula, particularly this time of year, is the Humpback Whale. The humpbacks are always fun, and fairly easy to follow and spot. They are probably the only whale I ever have a chance of getting reasonable pictures of, and even then, I've never gotten a picture of their fascinating faces. I like this picture, though, because you can see the white of the belly through the water.

For the photographic record, I think these were taken with the SLR. I tend to lose track though, as I use both it and the point-and-shoot regularly. Of course, I've missed many fantastic shots during my travels, but am always glad simply to have experienced these incredible animals.


Bus to Antarctica

How would you like to take the bus from Washington DC to Antarctica? Well, Andrew Evans did just that on assignment with National Geographic, and is blogging and twittering his experiences. Here he is taking in the sights of the Southern Ocean.

check it out, and think about where Your next bus might take you.