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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field

"Notes from the Field" provides frequent updates and pictures from our biologists and students who are working in the field or at our headquarters, the World Center for Birds of Prey.

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August 2000 (Part 1): Blood, Sweat & Lariam Fears

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Ruth Tingay joined The Peregrine Fund's project in Madagascar in 1999 to study and understand the unusual breeding behavior we found in Madagascar Fish Eagles. Through this research she completed her Master's degree and has gone on to her Ph.D., both through Nottingham University, United Kingdom. Ruth's focus and tenacity, and ability to turn adversity into "adventure," are great characteristics for any field biologist!

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July 2000 (Part III): Courteous Bandits & Deviant Fish Eagles

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Manambolo River Gorge
Manambolo River Gorge
We pulled out of Camp Handkerchief in a pre-dawn departure to take advantage of the early-morning coolness, the truck stacked high with food, canoes, and field equipment, and us nine passengers squeezed in wherever we could. We were heading down to the Manambolo River at Bekopaka, approximately 40 km SE, to drop off Lily and his crew who were heading east up the Manambolo for 10 days to search for fish eagles. Loukman, technicians Christophe and Adrien (‘Ady’), and I were off to search some adjacent lakes along the Manambolo to the west. I chose to sit in the bucket on the back of the truck, mainly to escape the tape deck. Yves’ musical tastes had not improved since I last saw him and I could see him through the back window of the truck, swaying in time and singing along to Una Paloma Blanca, that appalling Demis Roussos “hit” from the 70s. I checked the side pocket of my rucksack and made sure I’d put my Walkman in.

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JULY 2000 (Part II): Sweat Bees and Sand Fleas

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Camp was practically deserted when I arrived, except for one technician named Bonhomme. Bonhomme’s trademark was his use of the word Oui (yes). He was the newest recruit and the other techs used to take advantage of his willingness to please. It was a common feature in camp last year to hear the technicians yelling for Bonhomme from one end of the site to the other, to be followed shortly afterwards by the sound of Bonhomme’s running footsteps and him shouting “Oui?”

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JULY 2000: Back Out West

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Antananarivo (Tana) is a capital you either love or hate. The downside includes abject squalor and poverty in many areas, with families of desperately ragged street kids running after any white-skinned pedestrian to tug at their clothes and heartstrings for spare change. Some of them are ingenious, selling toy cars cleverly crafted from discarded drink cans; others are less enterprising but have learned to tap into the Westerner’s social conscience by begging outside the most expensive supermarkets as tourists emerge with trolleys full of over-priced imported goods. For the most part tourists are shepherded away from the most bleak areas by their tour guides so they don’t have to see the ghetto streets a few blocks away, where real people live under filthy strips of cardboard, literally sleeping next to the open sewer gutters. I walked past a dead rat in the road one time and noticed that everyone else just stepped over it, barely giving it a second glance. Prostitution is also rife and incredibly blatant; half an hour spent in the seemingly innocuous café at L’Hotel Glacier on Independence Avenue is quite an education.

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June 2000 (Part II): Come Hell or High Water

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Darkness falls quickly in Madagascar. By 5.45p.m. we had reached the coastline peninsula of the Baie de Narinda and still had to negotiate the notoriously treacherous crossing over to Analalava, our final destination of the day. Our run up the coastline had been fairly easy so far as we had kept inland as closely as possible and were thus sheltered from the wind by the hills on the mainland. Once we entered the Baie de Narinda, however, we would be up against rough sea conditions as the wind has the chance to build up and create all kinds of problems for those attempting to cross. The sea was so perilous in this Baie that the Malagasy had built a prison in the middle of it on a small island called Nosy Lava, to secure their most dangerous criminal convicts.

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June 2000 (Part III): Tourists and Casualties

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project


There was more evidence of heavy deforestation up the western side of the peninsula so it was no real surprise not to find any fish eagles there. We reached a mangrove-lined inlet halfway up the coast (called Ambariomena) and decided to investigate further. Sparkling waters lapped against tiny orange-coloured sand beaches, back dropped by the remnants of the forested hills above us. It looked like ideal fish eagle habitat but three hours of scrutinising later and we’d found nothing. A couple of local fishermen paddled by in their dugout canoes and told us they’d seen fish eagles here before but didn’t know where the nest was. They invited us to stay in their village overnight and we followed them back to shore. I was relieved to see their village consisted of only 11 huts, all built on stilts at the top of the beach. I was tired and still feeling unwell and wasn’t really in the mood for being swamped by hoards of curious villagers.

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May 2000 - Best Laid Plans

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

‘The best laid plans of mice and men
Oft go wrong and leave us nothing
But grief and pain’.

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October 1999-April 2000 - Bush Pigs in Underpants

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project


As the season progressed, so the temperatures soared. By 7 am I would be soaked to the skin in sweat, trying to dodge the 35°C heat by rigging up makeshift shades of t-shirts and towels at the observation site. Our female fledgling was still keeping close to the nest tree, although the four attending adults had stopped delivering fish to the nest and were taking it directly to the eaglet instead. She was very vocal for much of the time and made sure her parents knew when she was hungry, which seemed to be constantly. We hadn’t seen her fly further than 200 metres from the nest tree and most of her time was spent lurking in dense foliage, only giving her position away by the frequent food begging call.

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Eye of the Needle (September 1999)

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Adult Madagascar Fish Eagles.
Adult Madagascar Fish Eagles.
By the beginning of September, three of my four nests had failed and so I was concentrating all behavioural observations on the remaining nest, #2 on Lake Soamalipo . This nest had one nestling, which was due to fledge in early October and was carefully tended by three males and one female. The nestling was about 60 days old by now, so still had another 20-odd days before it was ready to leave the nest, but it was large enough for me to see it from my observation point. By now Loukman and I had managed to trap 15 eagles in total and we only had a couple more to get before completing the set, including the young eaglet in the nest, which I wanted to band and collect blood from so I could work out who the true father was out of the potential three males.

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Foreskin on a Fizzy (August 1999)

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

In early August there was a pleasant surprise waiting for me when I came back to camp one evening. The truck had arrived from Tana and had brought an American vet-med student, Renee Land. In turn, Renee had brought my mail from Tana! I didn’t know what to do first—read my mail from home or talk to someone who could understand my language! I did both, much to the amusement of the technicians, who hadn’t heard me speaking so quickly and so much for two months!

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The Place of a Thousand Crocodile Eyes (June - July 1999)

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Madagascar Fish Eagle
Madagascar Fish Eagle
I fell in love with Madagascar long before I ever got there. I’d seen pictures of dancing lemurs, upside-down trees, and giant jumping rats and had heard many a tale of exciting discoveries and adventures in this strange and forgotten world, not least the re-discovery of the Madagascar Serpent Eagle by Peregrine Fund biologists. I wasn’t disappointed when I finally got there myself. My chance came when Rick Watson asked whether I would be interested in studying the critically endangered Madagascar Fish Eagle for my Master’s thesis. He only had to ask once!

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Developing a Population Viability Assessment of Fish Eagles and Other Life Changing Experiences

Laura Estep — in Madagascar Project

Five a.m. on Lake Ankerika on the west coast of Madagascar. This lake is famous from local lore as home to the most ferocious Nile Crocodiles, purported to frequently snatch innocent bystanders from its shores. Of all three lakes in the surrounding three-lake complex, Lake Ankerika is more interesting to raptor ecologists because it supports five territories of the Madagascar Fish-Eagle, which is not only endangered, but also has a polyandrous breeding system. [A polyandrous system is when one female is mated to more than one male.]

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Introduction to Madagascar

(TPF) The Peregrine Fund — in Madagascar Project

Madagascar, located off the southeast coast of Africa, is the fourth largest island in the world, measuring almost 1,000 miles north to south. It is widely considered among the top ten wildlife conservation priorities in the world because of the high diversity of species that exist only on the island and the very high rates of habitat loss due to human disturbance. Scientists believe that humans arrived on Madagascar from Indonesia about 2,000 years ago, and since their arrival may have contributed to the extinction of most of Madagascar's large animals, including the elephant bird, the largest bird to ever walk on earth, a pygmy hippopotamus, and at least 14 lemur species.

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Madagascar Notes - Days 100-188 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 100-188 (PDF)

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Madagascar Notes - Days 81-100 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 81-100 (PDF)

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Madagascar Notes - Days 61-80 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 61-80 (PDF)

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Madagascar Notes - Days 41-60 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 41-60 (PDF)

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Madagascar Notes - Days 21-40 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 21-40 (PDF)

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Madagascar Notes - Days 1-20 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 1-20 (PDF)

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