Biscuits, Frog Calls, and Other Scenes from Camp Life

From the Field posts

This fall, a team of vertebrate specialists from the Museum—Brett Benz, Chris RaxworthyPaul Sweet, and Neil Duncan—is heading out to one of the most remote areas in the world in search of new species and specimens on the Explore21 Papua New Guinea expedition. Paul Sweet will be sending dispatches from the field as long as his laptop—and a signal—persist. 

[Filed October 12]: We’ve now been at our base camp, in a site known to the local people as Wigilia, for 10 days. Aside from a few scattered “gardens,” clearings for growing kaukau and taro, this is untouched bush.

We work here with the permission and help of the local landowners, who are an essential component of our team. The forest here is categorized as mid-montane. It is a true rain forest, dense with little light reaching the ground. The 30-meter tall trees are festooned in moss, orchids, and other epiphytic plants. We get rain every day, often torrential downpours that cause streams to run off the camp tarps and through the middle of our lab. The local assistants have “paved” a central plaza in camp, as well as all the pathways, with split wood to prevent a muddy morass.

The team’s base camp is in a site known as Wigilia. © AMNH/P. Sweet

The team’s base camp is in a site known as Wigilia.

© AMNH/P. Sweet


Camp life has settled into a routine. Breakfast is “Hardman Bisket” a 2-by-4-inch thick cracker with peanut butter. Lunch is usually instant noodles or perhaps boiled kaukau with tuna. The big meal of the day is always rice with a sauce of tinned mackerel, or corned beef mixed with more instant noodles. Sadly, all the hot sauce is gone!

A typical camp breakfast consists of crackers with peanut butter, jam, or other toppings. © AMNH/P. Sweet

A typical camp breakfast consists of crackers with peanut butter, jam, or other toppings.

© AMNH/P. Sweet


The vertebrate surveys are proceeding well, and we feel satisfied that we have made a fairly complete inventory of the local fauna. Birdlife is diverse: we wake up to the bizarre calls of the Black Sicklebill, a bird of paradise, and on the ridge above camp we have found the maypole bowers of MacGregors’s Bowerbird. At night, the screams of Cuscus, arboreal marsupials, and many species of frog fill the chilly night air. 

A sleeping platform in the team’s base camp.  © AMNH/P. Sweet

A sleeping platform in the team’s base camp. 

© AMNH/P. Sweet


From Wigilia camp a ridge runs up to higher elevation, and our local assistants have spent the last two days cutting a trail up to about 2,200 meters (7,200 feet). Conditions permitting, Brett, Chris, and a few assistants will leave tomorrow to make a small satellite camp and survey the highest slopes of the mountain. Then our plan is to return to Malaumanda and spend a few days surveying around the village before a two-day trek to a low-elevation camp, completing a transect from around 3,000 to 150 meters (a drop of about 9,350 feet).

The Explore21 team  © AMNH/P. Sweet

The Explore21 team 

© AMNH/P. Sweet


Read the next post in the series here. 

Tags: Explore21