Of course, being in a new country means that I’ve been able to sample a great deal of new and delicious food items since arriving in Maio! One of these has been the goat cheese they make at Ribeira do Joao, a village where FMB’s turtle watch teams are based at. Since breaking into itchy hives soon after, I've been forced to halt my enjoyment of goat cheese under the suspicion that I may be allergic to goat cheese, alas.
On the bright side, there’s more than enough things to eat on Maio without worrying about stumbling upon cheese—such as Thieboudienne, a Senegalese rice dish that comes with fish or chicken and is sold not too far from the office for 200 escudos (about $3-$4).
I’ve also officially received an afternoon of training on bird-watching from Cristina, who's currently working on her PhD research on site. She’s studying the mating and breeding habits of the Kentish plover species on the island, and for this, she spends her days watching for plover birds at the Salina (saltwater marsh) between the settlements of Villa and Morro. The birds are small (about 15 centimeters in length) and tend to be very skittish and tend to move around a lot. In addition to that, they camouflage very easily against the sand. All of this makes it a bit of a struggle to spot them if you're not very experienced in the art of plover watching.
As an English concentrator, I have to confess that I’ve developed talents in areas considerably different from watching birds, but under Cristina's tutelage, I was able to make up for my underdeveloped bird-observation abilities. In the three hours that I was camped with her, we were able to identify one nest and one other family of plovers, as well as to identify a few other bird species feeding at the Salina.
My biggest question arriving at the Salina was: What happens after identifying the location of a nest? Well, Cristina's research focuses on the breeding and mating behaviors of the plover. Specifically, she is comparing the Cape Verdean population to a similar species in Mexico. While these two bird populations are of a similar species, their breeding habits differ from one another in a fundamental (and very fascinating, I think) way: Those in Mexico are polyandrous (each female mates with multiple partners, and the male thereafter looks after the nest), whereas the ones in Maio are believed to be monogamous, forming families of one male, one female and the baby plovers during the nesting and hatching season.
The first one she puts on the bird's foot is a metal ring which has a unique code, but since the plovers are so tiny (about 15 centimeters length), it would be nearly impossible to read this code from far. So, after the metal ring is placed on to one of the feet, Cristina follows it up by attaching a combination of three colored rings, which are kept on record and correspond to a certain code.
So, there you have it: a much-abridged and simplified (yet accurate, as Cristina assures me) version of the Kentish plover research that Cristina will be working on for the next four months. I’m definitely looking forward to accompanying her on a couple more bird watching visits and hoping for the possibility of getting to watch the little birdies hatch next time!