#DispatchesDNLee: An Outdoor Afro Adventure to Africa

Danielle N. Lee is a member of the Outdoor Afro Leadership Team.  She is a Ph.D. Biologist currently in Tanzania doing a field study of African Pouched Rats.  She will be sharing her Adventures from Africa here on Outdoor Afro.  You can join her on her adventure at her blog The Urban Scientist at the Scientific American Network.

I don’t believe in coincidences. ~DNLee

Me, standing in the wake of the Uluguru Mountains, Morogoro, Tanzania at my field site

Until I was 8 years old, my mother worked for the Memphis Park Commission which overlooked maintenance of city public lands and community center recreation activities.  Every summer she was assigned to work as a supervisor at a neighborhood park; and accompanied her to work.  I lived for the summer. I played outdoors, picked flowers, and made friends.
I was also a complete zealot when it came to animals.  I rescued almost every cat I encountered. Though I was mousey, nothing stirred me to fight quicker than a kid torturing an animal, and not just the cute cuddly ones.  I probably got into more fights over toads and frogs than any other beastie. And, yes,  I religiously watched Wild Kingdom and collected Wildlife Treasury Picture Cards. I was that kid!
I didn’t know it at the time, but those experiences laid the foundation for who and what and where I am today: a Zoologist. Studying wildlife in Africa.
Field Biology may be one the most romanticized career tracks of the sciences. Images of exotic wild places, muddy boots, trekking through forests or mountains or grasslands, enduring the elements, swatting mosquitoes and other pesky insects…a scientist on an exhilarating journey exploring nature.  I’m in Tanzania studying the African Giant Pouched Rat, doing a capture-mark-recapture study to learn more about its natural habits, its mating system and social structure.

African Giant Pouched rat that I caught during my field study.

I know it doesn’t sound like the wildlife adventures I watched on television as a child; but it all is a part of the fabric of science.  And it is every bit as a dream come true to be here doing this.   Field work can be simultaneously amazing and exhausting, scary and wonderful.  I wouldn’t trade one bit of my journey.

Dispatches from Tanzania
Official #DispatchesDNLee postcard
artwork by @LalSox

And I am grateful to my parents, family, extended family, and friends who cultivated the scientist in me, even as a young child.  Maybe they knew that all of that exposure to the outdoors would lead to this. Maybe they didn’t.  But I am glad either way.  I know it was those experiences that brought me to this place, this space, this path and I love them for it.
How have your Outdoor Afro experiences cultivated your interests in the outdoors?  Has it resulted in a career in the sciences or conservation or environmental education like it has for me? Or perhaps you are encouraging younger generations.  Tell us your story.

December’s Bird of the Month

Douglas “Birdman” Grey, Outdoor Afro Contributor
As one who spends a lot of time outdoors, I’ve noticed that nature seems harsh at times. Even with birds, their lives can sometimes seem brutal. And some birds even appear to be equipped with “Weapons of War”. Keen and intense eyes, swept-back wings, sleek aerodynamic bodies, razor-sharp talons and menacing beaks.
But the Bird of the Month for this month, doesn’t possess any of these weapons of war. This month’s bird is the common, but not so commonly known, Ruddy Duck.
When it comes to ducks, we as humans typically consider them to be …”cute”. We are usually introduced to ducks even before we can speak. They animate our baby books. They cover our baby bibs. They float in our baby baths. They’re symbols of cheer for us, usually from an early age. And this is probably because they’re just so ding dang …”cute”.
The Ruddy Duck is an odd bird but it is, in my opinion …”cute”. I find the rattling sounds this bird makes during courtship a bit odd … but cute. During the breeding season the male’s bill turns a bright blue. I find a blue bill on a bird a bit odd … yet cute. They have an odd looking spiked tail, which is often times held straight up, which makes them look even more …”cute”.
While checking out a very large retention pond a few weeks back, I noticed a number of different species of waterfowl out on the water and among them were about 80 or so Ruddy Ducks. I spent almost an hour observing them, all the while thinking, “Awwww…those Ruddys…they are just soooo cute!”
(Just then a Bald Eagle swooped in, snatched one right out of the water, and carried it off for consumption. The life of birds can seem brutal at times.)

By Lynne Arrowsmith

Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.

Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.