A lot has happened since my last blog so make your self a cup of cup, sit back, relax and enjoy your read.
Our intern Johnny has recently left Paraguay for the English snow but not without adding some valuable information about the reptiles which inhabit Laguna Blanca. The aim of Johnny’s project was to summarize the different species of reptiles found in 3 varying habitats, atlantic forest, marshland and cerrado. This involved daily searches at dawn, dusk and night. These surveys were always enjoyable as every day there was something new to see whether it be a lizard rummaging around in the undergrowth looking for breakfast or another bothrops (lancehead viper snake) soaking in the rays as it digests its dinner of frog. Apart from seeing all of these beautiful creatures going about their daily business it was particularly nice to “get to know” the reptiles too. There was one particular bothrops who was continuously spotted lounging about her burrow alongside a path in the atlantic forest. Almost daily she could be found hanging about in the foliage or slowly slithering along the path. Only at one occasion did she show any aggression and I believe it was purely because she was caught off guard as she went for her nightly amble. Unfortunately, the cerrado did not present many snakes although we did find evidence such as snake skins. However, it was alive with lizards, from whiptails (Cnemidophorus) and skinks (Mabuya) to Teius and the ground lizards (Tropidorus). We could not venture into the cerrado without seeing a flash of green as a Cnemidophorus dashed past us and into a burrow or spying Mabuya as it squeezed tightly between the bark of a fallen tree. On numerous occasions tree trunks seemed to riggle until on closer inspection you could see a Tropidorus running up the tree and stopping every few paces to bop its head warning everything that “hey I’m a big fella and this is my tree!.”
The Paraguayans who live on site and work for the tourist part of the reserve are interested in all aspects of our work and I think sometimes believe us to be a little loca when it comes to our excitement on spotting a snake, lizard or amphibian. But they are very helpful and more than once they have told us of a reptile sighting, this being mainly snakes as they have a fear over them and want them to be removed, which Johnny and I where more than happy to do. One beautiful snake which was found near their house was a Xenodon (false lance head viper snake), this snake has the most stunning patterns and colours and has some smarts too as it mimics the deadly bothrops (lance head viper snake) it does this so well that the locals even believed it to be venomous (which it is not). Just last night we got a call to say that they had a young neotropical rattlesnake (Crotalus). Now this snake is as deadly as they come and is one not to be messed with (as with all snakes) so they were quick to kill it as not to risk it harming anybody. This is the second time we have come across this remarkable snake. Just a few weeks ago we were clearing a path in the atlantic forest and this little beautie was coiled up in amongst the low dense vegetation. Phew, my heart stepped it up a few beats!
The end of October brought us intern Alex. His aim was to understand the daylight time expenditure of two group living species of birds found at Laguna Blanca. After spending a week or so stalking a range of birds he decided to study the smooth-billed anni (Crotophaga ani) and the guira cuckoo (Guira guira). Alex spends his days finding, observing and following (they definitely make him work for his study!) his birds and noting their behaviour, such as grooming, feeding, courtship displays and resting (which seems to be the anni’s favourite past time much to Alex’s frustration!!). This project is fascinating as it details the activity levels of these birds, where they spend their time during the day and their general behaviours. This project is still on-going and continues to show some very encouraging results.
Two interns from Germany and the Netherlands have recently joined us too and their small mammal project has brought us to both the atlantic and dry forest. Apart from a very interesting study it is also very exciting for us because up until now we have carried out little work in the atlantic forest. Intern Jip and Jakob are focusing their study on these two very different habitats in order to clarify the species diversity found within these forests. They are doing this by separating the forest into layers, ground, arboreal and canopy, this will aid in determining what small mammal species are found in which layers and because the study is based around the lunar cycle it will also indicate whether this affects the activity of small mammals. To date they have gathered some very exciting data on small mammals such the mouse opossum arboreal rat and woolly mouse opossum (Micoureus). Every day into these forests brings new adventures, whether it be stumbling across a caterpillar which looks like it belongs in the Alien vs Predators movie to spotting a black tegu (large lizard) ambling through the undergrowth on the hunt for its lunch. But the most exciting and thrilling natural event we witnessed was the hour long wrestle between a 4 foot long parrot snake (Leptophis ahaetulla) and a large mug sized tree frog (Trachycephalus). At first I thought I could hear a small baby crying but then I spotted this stunning snake latching onto the hind leg of this crying tree frog that was desperately trying to claw its way away from the slender coils of the snake. Everybody gathered around this amazing battle that you would only ever imagine seeing on a David Attenborough program. The snake won!
As PLT also welcome volunteers, we were joined by three volunteers who decided to stop by for a week or two as they travelled across South America. Alesha from New Zealand took part in helping establish the small mammal project and since she has a background in GIS she had a look through our data and brought us up to date which was an enormous help. Jon from France and Sophie from Wales dipped in and out of most projects. Our grasshopper inventory definitely increased during their stay! This project is still in its early days but we hope to have a clearer picture on the grasshoppers found at Laguna Blanca as they are literally everywhere. Splashes of colour can be seen flashing from one bush to the next particularly in the cerrado. Large gatherings tend to hangout on a single plant and fall to the ground like rain when disturbed.
We all took a well deserved break for Christmas and New Years and spent the time lounging by the lake, catching up with people back home, bird watching and playing some volleyball and football on the beach. Christmas weekend brought some very delicious foods, fresh lime infused chicken and pork, sopa paraguya, roasted vegetables, mashed spuds with squash, Christmas fruit cake and home made cookies. We brought New Years in sitting under a perfect star filled sky by the lake with the local people. It was a far cry from the New Years parties most of us are used to back home, so it made the night that bit more special.
2011 has brought us interns Joe from England, Raph from the US and volunteers Shane and Erika also both from the US and John from the Netherlands. Intern Joe is here to do an epidemiological study for his research Masters. He is investigating the endoparasite communities of small mammals in recently burnt and unburnt forests. This study has been very exciting thus far as no previous work has been done in this area before. Joe’s work in collecting helminths from small mammals is critical for conservation purposes and for establishing the health of the forested ecosystems. Although at times I think he takes a double look at his food especially after spending hours staring into a microscope at tiny nematodes and what not.
Raph has come to us during his college break, and is interested at the diversity of bats at Laguna Blanca. To date we have gathered a small inventory of the bats living here but Raph hopes to extend this. As Laguna Blanca is a mosaic of different habitats, atlantic forest, dry forest, cerrado and lake, intern Raph is aiming to sample them all. The fun part of this study are the very late nights. In order to gather as much information as possible two bats nets are set up at each site and remain open from 8pm until 5am. As you could guess our stores of coffee have decreased some what!
It is volunteer Shane’s second visit to Laguna Blanca in less than a year. He volunteered with us the winter of last year and has returned again to gain valuable field experience, particularly in the small mammal projects. He has also taken an interest in the cerrado flora. The warm weather has produced an array of stunning flowers which Shane did not witness during the winter months. Shortly after arriving he constructed a flower press and now spends his days trekking the cerrado in search of some beautiful plants and flowers.
As volunteers here at PLT have the opportunity to dip in and out of on going projects they have the chance to gain a vast knowledge on a wide range of animals, from mammals and birds to reptiles and insects. Volunteer Erika joined us initially with an interest in birds but since being here she has learnt an array of new skills from sampling small mammals and endoparasites to pinning and identifying butterflies and moths. Erika’s previous experience in birding has resulted in her gathering baseline data on the behaviour of burrowing owls found throughout the cerrado. As intern Emma’s bird project has moved onto its next stage (this involves mist netting the species of birds found feeding on the study fruit and taking relevant measurements such as weight and gape) this allowed Erika to make good use of Emma’s bird hide which had been her home for the past two months. Similar to Emma, Erika has spent hours braving the cerrado heat in the little hide watching not only the burrowing owls daily routines but also witnessing some other very interesting birds one of which is still a mystery and is yet to be identified. This work is still on going so I will keep you posted.
John is an expert in flies and has shown many of us a new side to these sometimes frustrating little creatures. I think sometimes people don’t think to stop and take a second look at these tiny animals before they swat them. After taking a closer look at some of the vibrant eye colourations and fascinating wing patterns I know I will definitely have a second thought before flicking a fly from me.
Mist netting last night and this morning has proven to be very success. Four species of bat were found not far from the house, one of which is the first time found in our mist nets, much to Raph’s delight. He has a busy day ahead of him taking measurements and photographing each individual. Alex, John, Emma, Erika and I were up before the birds this morning, 430am to be exact, setting up metres upon metres of mist nets. It is lunch time and so far we have managed to remove, two adults and one juvenile Chopi blackbird (Gnorimopsar chopi), two adult Rufus, one Southern Sparrow house wren and one tanager. To see these birds cruising the skies and hopping from bush to bush everyday is a joy but to see them up close and personal really adds to the experience. One can truly appreciate the colours and textures of each individual, even the single black tone of the Choppi blackbird.
Hasta la Proxima!
Loraine Grant: MSc, BSc