Your senses are heightened. Your hearing become attuned to the twigs breaking and leaves falling. Sometimes the trees begin to creak and sway with intense wind and you know it may no longer be safe to hide in the forest – downed trees are quite common in a wet tropical forest. A mixture of emotions take over during my night surveys. Fear often courses through my body, before I remind myself that I am OK, this region of forest is safe, and nobody is out here… I hope.
Other times I find surveying at night peaceful and comforting. The stars twinkle in the sky, the chorus of frogs keep us company while we survey the seemingly vacant tree tops. Many mammals are active at night. Thus we conduct our surveys from 21:00 – 2:00. The equipment we need is minimal, we are armed with a headlamp and a spotlight with up to 600 lumens (supposedly), a GPS, and a crappy camera. We stop every 25 m and thoroughly survey a patch of forest for mammals for up to 5 minutes before moving on.
We have exciting nights, like hearing the alarm calls from night monkeys (Aotus griseimembra), finding a beautiful Margay (Leopardus weidii) sitting in a tree next to the road and observing it for 20 minutes, and encountering unknown moths, fossorial snakes, and tarantulas idling across trails. Optimism ebbs and flows as I think, “this will be the night we find the Toro!”, and as time progresses and we only find one unidentifiable mouse, I lose my momentum.
There is something unyielding about the night – the cold wet air, the sounds, and the difficulty of finding animals that make it challenging to keep your spirits high. But each time we encounter a new creature our spirits are rejuvenated and we are ready to dive back into the darkness, hopefully feeling a bit more sober than the last time.