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jueves, 26 de mayo de 2011

Bird talk, spider catching, and tattoos

This month saw the return of Fatima, one of our Paraguayan Interns, and the arrival of two volunteers, Pete and Dafna.
Fatima is assessing the abundance and diversity of arachnids within the different habitats of the reserve. She has made good progress and is producing some interesting specimens. Her project will provide the first evidence and information on spiders at Laguna Blanca.

Behaviour among Cyanocorax chrysops (plush-crested jays).

This month good progress has been made with the plush-crested jays. In collaboration with our scientific director Paul Smith, I have finalised the methodology and objectives for this study over the short and long term. Currently we are in the process of producing the very first description of the behavioural and vocal repertoire of this intriguing social bird. Over the next few weeks I will attempt to catch and attach leg rings to individuals. By achieving this we will then be able to get to know the individuals within the groups and assess how their behaviours differ, and importantly why they differ. Pete and Dafna provided some useful assistance in the field when searching for and observing the group.

The Laguna Blanca brown capuchin project

A trail system within the monkey’s home range has now been started. I have also conducted a thorough assessment of the forest in which they inhabit. Hopefully we will have more than one group to study within the reserve. A previous researcher, Jon Smit, generously provided me with a detailed map of where he has sighted the capuchins. This information will be helpful when deciding on where to lay trails.

Social and ecological factors among Clyomys laticeps (broad-headed spiny rat).

This month I and Project Coordinator Karina Atkinson made the decision to switch to a new method of marking the small mammals we trap and release. We have switched to a tattoo method. Not only is this vastly better value for money compared to our current microchip method, but it is also significantly less invasive. It will also allow us to successfully and easily mark species that have previously proven very problematic. One of these species is Clyomys laticeps.
After a short break my Clyomys project will resume on arrival of our new marking equipment. We are also considering combining previous trapping data, both from Karina’s project and our outside collaborator Robert Owen. This will hopefully broaden the study and add a comparative aspect.

This month I also went on a long kayak ride to the other side of the lake. Exhausting but enjoyable!

Until next month, all the best

Luke A. Ward
Research Scientist and Intern Coordinator

miércoles, 25 de mayo de 2011

Birds, Bitches and Rattlesnake penises!

I can’t believe that it has only been a few weeks since my last blog update – so much has happened I’m not sure where to start!

Let’s start with people. We have had two new volunteers and a new member of staff join us over the last week or so. Dafna from Israel and Pete from the UK stayed with us for about a week (far too short I must say ;O) and so because they were here for such a short amount of time we thought it would be a great excuse to cram in as much as possible. In that week we managed to: go mist netting for birds - twice, lay out a new grid and start a smammal survey in the Atlantic forest, dig in a pit fall trap line, carry out a habitat survey, go bird walking and check the reptile cover boards at the top of the cerrado. And somehow they still had the time and energy to go kayaking, for walks in the forest and have a few drinks at the end of the day! I have to say I think the mist netting was the highlight for everyone. It certainly was for me as it is not something I had done for birds before and we caught a gilded humming bird which absolutely made my day!

Pier is our new member of staff and will be with us for 10 days a month to look after our museum and make sure all of our specimens are stored, labelled and logged correctly. And luckily for me he is also an expert on snakes so I plan to learn lots from him. He has already shown me how to extract the hemipenis of a rattlesnake – which was not something I expected to see when I woke up this morning!

One of the jobs that has been preoccupying my evenings lately, has been looking after my caterpillars. Since my last post we found a group of 59 caterpillars on a tree and decided to bring them in and look after them to document this stage in their life cycle and see if we can get them to hatch. They are incredibly delicate and there is a whole list of things that they don’t like; they need to be kept in a sheltered place away from the cold, the wind, direct sunlight, artificial light and obviously any kind of pesticides. They also need to be disturbed as little as possible but at the same time they can also be really easily poisoned by their own poo so cleaning them out has been somewhat challenging! However I am delighted to be able to report that they have started pupating! This does however mean that they are now at the really really delicate stage and so as you can imagine I am a nervous wreck. I’m pacing the room, wringing my hands and sweating like an expectant father not knowing where to put myself. I hope to bring you good news of the happy arrivals in my next blog.

Well I thinks that’s all for now. Oh yea you are probably wondering where the bitches came into it… the dog has been in season!

Chau for nowwwww


jueves, 5 de mayo de 2011

Burrows, birds, and bitterly cold

Hello everyone,
Although this initial period has flown by, some encouraging progress has been made here at Laguna Blanca.
This month saw Rodrigo and Johanna, interns from Asuncion University, launch their thesis projects. They will be assessing the abundance and diversity of reptiles and herps between and within the four distinct habitat types we enjoy here at the reserve. They have made good progress in installing some pitfall traps in each of their study habitats, as well as marking out some of their survey areas. Already they have had some capturing success. At the end of this month we will welcome two new interns who will also begin some interesting research (more on that next month).

New projects at Laguna Blanca

1. Social and ecological factors among Clyomys laticeps (broad-headed spiny rat).
This month I completed the first phase of this investigatory project into this little known cerrado rat. Data has been collected on the ecology, structure, and locations of their ground burrows that they dwell in. Some preliminary analyses have already produced some interested results. For the coming month I will begin to execute the second phase – trapping. Through this method valuable data will be gained on a number of social and sexual areas – all of which have no current information.
The progress I have achieved with this new project would not be anywhere near where it is without the enthusiastic assistance provided by our recently departed volunteers – Sarah Kada and Aurelien Boutigny. They learnt quickly, worked hard, and were meticulous in their approach. They were both outstanding and truly represent why volunteers are so valuable for the progression of Para la Tierra.

2. Grouping behaviour among Cyanocorax chrysops (plush-crested jays).
Group locations have been recorded for these birds and data collection on this intelligent, yet poorly understood species, will commence this month.

3. The Laguna Blanca brown capuchin project
Forest mapping and group spotting will begin this month. It’s high time these monkeys met me!

For the last few days we have been experiencing an unusual cool spell for this time year. Temperatures dropped as low as 9oC during the day. Needless to say - as we are used to warm sunshine - hats, gloves, scarves, multiple sweaters, and even alpaca socks, have all been worn.

On that chilly note ill say goodbye until next month.

Best wishes,

Luke A. Ward
Research Scientist and Intern Coordinator

miércoles, 4 de mayo de 2011

Helen's First Month

Well I’ve survived my first month at Laguna Blanca and I have to say I have LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT! We have had two wonderful volunteers; Aurelien and Sara from France. They stayed for a month and have not only been great in the field they have also been a tremendous help with my not so brilliant Spanish (I’m trying!).

The work we have been doing has been so varied and interesting. I have found some new areas that I’ve been exploring for frogs, with reasonable success (apart from the leaky wellies that is) and have added a new species to our inventory list. Aside from frogging (my favourite of course!) we have been out smammal (small mammal) trapping for 2 weeks of the month – at new and full moon - and today we went to check the traps on horseback (yippee!). We also helped a couple of interns from Paraguay; Rodrigo and Johanna to dig in some pit fall trap lines. This was especially rewarding for me as when I was a volunteer I was taught how to build trap lines and now I’m the one teaching the volunteers. And a very good job they did of it too!

I had a very exciting find the other day too. When I was out checking the smammal traps in the cerrado I found a very interesting snake which is only the second specimen to be found in Paraguay – the first was found by our intern Anna in February. This is great from both a biological and conservation aspect as it means that the range of this species is a lot wider than was first thought. Plus it adds to the list of species present at Laguna Blanca Reserve and demonstrates how valuable the cerrado habitat is.

Its not all been work work work though, we have still managed to find the time and energy to have a few drinks in the evening and even a couple of parties, including a Royalty themed fancy dress dinner party in celebration of the royal wedding back in the UK – all very silly and highly amusing.

It is surprisingly cold here at the moment and so we are all walking about wearing all our clothes and drinking copious amounts of tea, coffee and mate – a Paraguayan hot drink. But the mornings are crisp and beautiful and it is far preferable to a winter back home!