Field Journal: Chupukama Camp Emerges

by AMNH on

From the Field posts

Chris Filardi is director of Pacific Programs at the Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. This month, he’s blogging from the remote highlands of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, where he is surveying endemic biodiversity and working with local partners to create a protected area.

Local people call the remote, sinuous ridgeline where we are camped Chupukama, and as the rumble of the helicopter faded, Chupukama Camp quickly began to emerge. This will be our base for the next week of surveys, exploration, and discovery.

Scientists setting up a campsite, with tents, on a ridge in a forest
Setting up the work sites and kitchen at Chupukama camp.
© AMNH/C. Filardi

Field camps are like tiny nomadic cities that arise in some of the most far-flung and beautiful places on earth. Each has its own character, but most act as a “city center.” This is where water and sanitation systems are placed, where most cooking, sleeping, working (and blogging) is done, and where the  head of the road network that lets us access the forests is located. Here, those are mostly footpaths threading the mossy bamboo arches and breezy glades of the main ridge.

While base camp is home for this trip, it is far from ‘homey.’ Despite abundant rain, water is scarce along the ridgelines. Our water system is a small hand-dug basin that captures flow from a nearby spring, and lies a steep, muddy 100 meter hike down from the main camp. This cold trickle of sweet water is great for drinking, but washing with it can be a long, frigid chore.

Sleeping space for our 10-member team is limited by our ridge-top geography, so three ‘colonies’ of bedrooms are scattered among small flat spaces on either side of the camp center. Bamboo benches and tables provide work areas, and timber-framed plastic tarps that shelter the kitchen and field lab from climatic extremes that range from piercing cold mist and rain to torrid tropical sun. Chupukama Camp is now in place and from there, the survey team has taken to the bush in earnest.

A field tent with sides rolled up. A man wearing headlamp handles containers and supplies at a table inside.
Ornithology Collections Manager Paul Sweet at work in the newly established Chupukama field lab.
©AMNH/C. Filardi

When I arrived, our advance team had the beginnings of a main trail in place. Now that the full team is on the ground, though, that main trail has rapidly developed into a well-worn path. Numerous spurs now branch out into the forest reflecting the different groups of organisms that each team member studies.

Mist nets that trap animals alive (much like fishing nets capture fish) dapple the main trail, aiming to snare specimens of birds and bats. Strings and flags mark additional routes used by the herpetology team as they search for lizards and frogs by night and snakes during the day. Invertebrate specialists and botanists have their own routes that overlap the others.

This network of trails has us ready to work, and there is a fresh feeling of discovery among the team. Despite all of the newness, the paths our feet and bushknives cut are a reawakening of generations old tribal pathways. As trails emerge, one can see tree roots, stones, and even the earth itself, pre-worn and shaped by travelers beyond living memory, ascending to the sacred high point, Popomanaseu. 

Two explorers climb a ridge in a forest
Ascending newly reborn tribal roads into the clouds.
©AMNH/C. Filardi

Now, the local guides leading us down these paths are treading a new history in to this place, their language born and spoken only here, drifting in the big, cool winds falling off the mountain, mingling with the calls of birds and frogs.