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lunes, 24 de octubre de 2011

HanDbase, trail cutting race, and new small mammal intern ace

Here at Laguna Blanca it is business as usual. Activity and production has steadily increased back to the levels we are accustomed to at Para la Tierra, thanks to two new arrivals, Becky and Mike.
The trail system for the PLT capuchin project has received a boost from some much appreciated help. After a session of help from forest guards Jorge and Concepcion, PLT director Karina Atkinson, and several sessions with new volunteer Mike Kempster, we now have just over 3km of trail going through the heart of the capuchin’s home range (or my prediction of their home range). Mike has been particularly helpful and soon mastered the art of the machete (both long and short staff). Mike, once again, underlines why volunteers are so important to PLT and the activity that goes on here. If you too would like to get involved as a volunteer on the capuchin project, or pursue an internship or assistantship on another project then please contact
The monkey project enjoyed further progress last week when we were able to secure two items of equipment. HanDbase, a data design and storage program, will allow me to produced our own project specific data collection, storage, and analysis system. Additionally to HanDbase we secured some electronic palm pilots that will allow us to collect a lot of data in an organised way. While we wait for these items to be shipped I have designed two trial data sheets to test out. Once these items are here, for each day of data collection we will simply plug our palm pilots into HanDbase and upload our data onto the system. A huge time and energy saver compared to the old days of free hand data collection and transcribing all data points manually. Finally, after submitting our first grant application we are now almost ready to submit major funding applications to National Geographic and the Mohamed Bin Zayed fund.

I also have a new intern here, Becky Graham. Becky’s project will aim to examine a number of contributing variables to abundance, diversity, distribution, and movement of small mammals within the dry forest (monte seco). She is currently researching and short listing her areas of focus, but so far she is interested in testing the influence of climatic conditions, flora density, cover, and type, lunar cycles, forest strata, and the possible affect of both transitional areas and natural and non natural disturbances. Alongside this planning and research phase Becky is also hard at work checking and preparing the 300 traps she will set at 4 different locations in the forest and at 3 different heights – ground, arboreal, and canopy. She is also cutting and preparing 200 boards to set the arboreal and canopy traps on. Becky’s project holds a lot of potential as she is purposely identifying several previously unstudied areas. With a strong methodology we are hoping Becky’s work will shed new light and provide new knowledge on these dry forest species and what affects their environment has on them.

Until next time I’ll say goodbye.

Best wishes,


domingo, 23 de octubre de 2011

Moths and frogs and 40 Paraguayan students!

Hi everyone,

It’s been a long time since I last updated you but there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly as some of you may be aware I have been on holiday in Brazil – a great place that I am really chuffed is one of our neighbouring countries and a definite must if you are planning a trip before or after you come to us! The second reason is that this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write to you as we have had so much exciting stuff going on!

Before I even got back to Laguna Blanca the pace sped up! On the road here (after a 36 hour bus journey I hasten to add) we found a dead snake that we have taken as a voucher specimen and although it was definitely dead the muscles in its body were still contracting, which was a bit freaky it has to be said. Once we got it back to camp and identified it we realised it was a Bothrops alternatus which is a new record for the zone – great news!

And since then the pace hasn’t lessened. As soon as I got back I was handed 3 bags containing moth eggs from the extremely important moth Catharisa cerina. This moth is virtually unknown and was last seen in the 1930s. Since then it was declared extinct until last year when Paul, our scientific co-ordinator found the first returnee here at Laguna Blanca. This year they were back and we finally managed to get a female to lay eggs for us and some male specimens (which have never ever been seen before!!!). We now have data on their life cycle up until the 1st instar level (newly hatched caterpillars) and know what the males look like too. What a great present to return home to.

I also have a couple of new volunteers, Mikey arrived a fortnight ago and is really enthusiastic about, well everything actually, but frogging in particular. So with an extra pair of hands and eyes available we have taken the opportunity to open up an area of flooded forest where we believe we are going to find some particularly interesting species. We are really going to town on the frogging there and have a nocturnal pitfall trap, a whole array of artificial refugia and some brilliant trails that we can use for our active searches. It won’t be too long before we get hold of some really cool frogs! We have also found a great pond in the local village that just happens to be over run with Phyllomedusa azurea a really funky tree frog with bright orange tiger striped legs. Not only is this a new species for this area it is also the first of the genus too. I can’t wait to get out there again to discover more exciting species (only 6 hours ‘till dark!).

Our second new volunteer is Suzie who arrived last night and will be looking at the flowers here at the reserve. She has come with a lot of knowledge and some great kit so we are looking forward to seeing her herbarium when it’s complete. That’s one of the great things about this place; we can happily find a variety of tasks for volunteers who just want to help out in general or we can assist people who have a project in mind but don’t have the time to do an internship.

Speaking of people coming to do their own projects last weekend we hosted a field trip of around 40 Paraguayan students from Asunción. Now I won’t pretend that it wasn’t extremely hard work and I did take multi-tasking to a whole new level. But what fun! It was so great to have so many enthusiastic and motivated students here all participating in different activities. In the morning there were bird surveys, mist netting and small mammal trapping, afternoons included butterfly surveys and evenings we were mist netting for bats and we had the moth light out (you never know we might get another C. cerina...). It was so lovely to have the place buzzing with people and as they were camping in front of the house it was a little bit like looking over a mini festival. A great few days with new friendships made!

Next week is going to be packed with more frogging so watch this space there is going to be some really cool stuff coming up, in fact better still get yourself out here and you can get involved too!

Until next time


lunes, 10 de octubre de 2011

Transitions, ambitions, and new additions

In many respects here at Laguna Blanca we are currently going through a transitional period. Today we welcomed new intern Rebecca Graham and volunteer Michael Kempster. Rebecca is interested in small mammals and will spend the next few weeks exploring both the reserve and possible research topics before commencing on a 4 month project.

One of the benefits of conducting an intern project with Para la Tierra is that after the interns leave the reserve they still maintain a close working relationship with PLT. Ex interns Georgina Snelling and Gregory Goodfellow have recently finished their data input and are now collaborating with the scientific team at PLT on their project reports and papers for potential publication. So look out in the near future for publications on White-rumped Tanagers and fern distribution and diversity.

Still along the lines of this transitional period, we recently submitted our first of many grant applications for the Para la Tierra Tufted Capuchin Project. We are aiming to make this into a high profile research study at Laguna Blanca so we are still open to applications for volunteers, for this project and the ongoing projects on Clyomys laticeps, Plush-crested jays, and White-rumped Tanagers. If you are interested in joining one of these projects please contact us at

Finally, to complete the initial transition for the Plush-crested Jay project I am finishing up our first paper for publication. This will pave the way for the next stages of this project.

Until next time I’ll say goodbye.
Best wishes,