Friday, March 26, 2010


September October November December January February March April May June July Au(stin)

What?  How?


One of the females in the new Scarlet group had a baby. 

It spends the day tenaciously clinging to her stomach.  She's more than a little paranoid now, and she and the rest of the group are extremely protective (I got hassled by them for accidentally walking in her general direction the other day) so getting close for a picture was nigh impossible.  These were taken with my binoculars, so I apologize for the quality.

This development can only mean one thing:  Green group babies on the way!  We're so excited -- I'm half tempted to drive up to the forest today and tomorrow just to check up on them.

Spent the day with the Greens yesterday for the first time in over a week.  It was wonderful to be around monkeys that really don't care that I'm there. 

Other than that, no new developments.  My only plan for today is to make an apple pie.  
Expect a ridiculous number of newborn monkey photos in the coming months (you have been warned).

Monday, March 22, 2010


This is a turned stone:

When feeding, the monkeys move slowly along the forest floor, turning rocks over as they go and looking for insects.  While I don't think I've ever successfully found a group using only these stones as a guide, by turning the rock back over and observing the discoloration of the grass underneath, you can make a rough estimate of how recently they visited the site.  You can also turn another rock over nearby and compare the two exposed patches of earth.  Rain can help enormously by depositing dirt against the bottom edge of rocks which have been turned for a while. 

A macaque skull Chris found the other day
75% of the time, I probably find the group because one or more monkeys makes a noise.  Maybe someone gets in a fight, or a male shakes a tree, or (as is often a case with this new group) a Berber dog has chased the group into the trees and everyone is screaming bloody murder.  My strategy for finding the group therefore consists of a few minutes of walking, stumbling over broken branches and rocks as I scan the horizon and the treetops, followed by 30 seconds of me being as silent and as vigilant as humanly possible.  This reliance on sound is also the reason we cannot search with any sort of rain protection on our heads, no matter what the weather is.  Hoods make too much noise against your ears, and hats muffle the sounds too much.  Last Thursday Chris and I searched for 7 hours before calling it a day.  Some days we can search for as long as 10 hours.  Sunday we got lucky and found them in 3. 

The Berbers in the area are normally happy to help us out when we're looking for the group, although many times it seems they're so eager to help they just point us in a random direction.  I don't know any Berber, so if I'm lucky enough to encounter a shepherd who speaks Arabic, I can ask him how long ago he saw them, how many there were, how far it is, etc..., otherwise we try to communicate with hand signals.

A small tunnel in the rocks formed by a seasonal stream

The weather has been wonderful lately.  Actually warm enough to not wear a jacket in the forest.  It's heavenly. 

The haddaf

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Azrou Barbeque

Had a nice little barbeque on the roof yesterday.

Prometheus shows Dave a neat trick
On the menu:  Lamb, chicken kebabs, turkey, salsa, fruit salad, and cakes and bread from the bakery.

Laetitia (be afraid, be very afraid) and Alvaro

(from left) Alvaro, Chris, Dave and Laetitia

From the roof on the roof:  Sofia, Chris, Dave and Laetitia

I must have posted a variation of this same picture half a dozen times by now.
Gotta say though, it felt so strange not having a Rio Blanco in hand.  Doing something that I associate so much with home, I fell into the strongest bout of homesickness I've had since Christmas.  I still haven't been able to shake it off completely.
Miss you guys.


Luckily, Frightened Rabbit wrote a song just for me.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A curious queue of caterpillars

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ain Kalla

 The tiny dot in the middle is a Berber
Ain Kalla is in the distance on the right
Big trees, small monkeys
Lots of clambering.

Another venture to Ain Kalla on my own today.  I was standing in the middle of the forest around mid-day staring up into the trees wondering when the monkeys were going to take some initiative and stop sleeping when a flock of sheep moved into the area, accompanied by a Berber and his dog.  I shook his hand and we exchanged greetings, and I began to explain in Arabic what I was up to (while motioning up to the trees just in case I wasn't saying it right).  He gave me a quizzical look, and said something in Berber, and I gave him a quizzical look and said something in Arabic, which, it was becoming fast apparent, he didn't understand.  We both gave each other confused looks and then began to laugh.  He shook my hand.  The laughter died down and we stood in silence watching his sheep graze.  After a few minutes he turned to me, shook my hand one more time, said good-bye (it's the same in Arabic and Berber) and moved off through the forest with his flock and his dog. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dinner Conversation

Alvaro:  I had a horrible day, I felt like Bilbo Baggins.  I lost my umbrella.
Sofia:  In the wind?
Alvaro:  No, in the forest, which is worse.
Chris:  Bilbo Baggins didn't have an umbrella.
Alvaro:  No, but I lost my precious.
Missing steel strings

These days

Last week I ended up spending a lot of time in the other forest (Ain Kalla) on my own.  Chris and Dave stayed with the Greens to help train Sofia, the new field assistant (and Dave's replacement come April).  Just a recap, as it's been a while since I brought it up, Ain Kalla is about 30 km outside of Azrou, in a much more isolated area frequented only by Berber shepherds, who are just filtering back into the area after leaving the mountains for the winter.  My time was mostly spent hiking around trying to locate the new group (the Scarlet group) which we're going to try to habituate over the next couple months, and hopefully have completely habituated by the birth season in late May/early June.  It's nice to be completely off the grid (no cell phone reception, radio's certainly don't reach the other forest), but it can be a bit nerve wracking at times.  I've realized over the past week that wet, slippery rocks are easily the most dangerous thing in the forest.

The habituation process involves a lot of patience.  Once we find the group, we spend the time slowly (very slowly) moving around them, inching closer and pretending to be completely uninterested ('Oh man that rock is so interesting I'm going to stare at it for 5 minutes').  Once they start to get uncomfortable, we either back of or stand completely still until they don't mind as much anymore.  Currently it takes about two hours to get within 15 meters of the Scarlet group.  In contrast, we can walk within one and a half meters of most of the individuals in the Green group without them batting an eye.  If the group moves into the trees to rest, there's nothing we can do except wait for them to come down.  It's a strange shift in gears from the always-busy work with the Green group to doing next to nothing with the Scarlets.  I've noticed that by the end of the day with the Scarlets I've run out of thoughts to amuse myself with and can think only about what's for dinner and how much I'll enjoy sleep.

It is nice to be doing something different, however, and I always enjoy being in Ain Kalla.  The drive out to it is especially fantastic, with some really jaw-dropping scenery, and gives me a little time to listen to loud music and relax on my own before and after work.  It's been raining lately so I haven't been able to take my camera, but it's supposed to clear up this week and I'll hopefully be able to provide you with some nice pictures.  In the meantime, I've included some that I took during some of my first days here.  They were taken when we were still re-habituating the Greens, and I had to put the lens of my camera to the eyepiece of my binoculars in order to get some close-up photos of the group.  Not the best photos, but I think they're at least interesting (I couldn't believe it worked).

As I've been writing this, the sun has broken through the clouds for the first time in a week.  Out my window I can see some kids playing with a ball in the empty lots near our house.  A herd of sheep is ambling through the neighborhood.  Listening to the Drive-By Truckers.  Looking for a good recipe for a spaghetti sauce.

Back later this week with some good shots of Ain Kalla.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

London, etc.

I forgot how much I loved London until I stepped out of the underground station and promptly almost got run over by one of those double decker busses (Look LEFT!).  The weather was pleasantly London-in-February, which in contrast to Azrou-in-February, was made bearable by the ever-present option of ducking into a pub for a cheeky pint and some chips. 

Trip highlights:
Fancy dinner for mom's birthday.  Didn't know Polish food was so good.

 I forgot about candles...

Finding the Dog and Duck by happy accident with Anne.  Not surprisingly, it made me a bit nostalgic. 

Found it!

Seeing the grave of Karl Marx.  It's in one of the oldest cemeteries in London (which means it's very, very old), and the weather added a nice touch to the overall creepiness of the place.   


Museums and art galleries!  They're all free, and they're all fantastic.

Installation in the Saatchi.  The floor is oil.  What the what?

Doing the tourist thing with Mom, Steph, and Anne.  Seeing the sights, eating the food, wandering, wandering, wandering.  Trafalgar square, the London eye, the tower, the Thames, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Soho, Hyde Park, the list goes on and on...

 I wonder if he was someone important...

It's really quite big.

And oh yes, the house of Papa D himself, Charles Darwin.  My uncle was kind enough to drive me out to Kent to visit the house where he lived for 40 years.  Absolutely awesome (sadly, no pictures).  I should really say it again:  IT WAS SO AWESOME.  I never wanted to leave.

Speaking of Darwin...

As could be expected, Morocco felt comparatively sane after all of that madness.  I had to dive right back into work on Monday and despite the weather and total exhaustion all week (I really needed a vacation after my vacation), I can feel that the break from the field really did me some good.  A lot of things about the project have changed in a very short period of time, and I feel very optimistic about the next 5 months.

 Mac gets a 1-up

We were blessed with a rare sunny day on Thursday, and I took the opportunity to take some photos of the Greens.  This week looks like it's going to be absolute misery, but it was a nice reminder:  You can never hold back spring (cheers, Tom).

I cannot believe it's March.

Soundtrack:  Townes Van Zandt - Where I Lead Me.
Miss and love you all, as always.