Follow by Email

viernes, 28 de diciembre de 2012

Year of Para La Tierra

This blog is long overdue. The staff and volunteers have written an impressive total of 25 blogs in 2012, while this will be my first. My name is Karina Atkinson, the founder and director of Para La Tierra and this seems like a good time to share this year’s successes with you. First of all though I want to thank everyone who was involved in the program this year; volunteers, interns, researchers, visitors, staff and supporters. You all know who you are, and without you none of this would have been possible. Last weekend I did something unheard of – I volunteered to play in a game of women’s football. My teammates were Fatima and Nidia, local girls who are currently working at the reserve, and another two girls who I’ll admit I don’t know the names of. We came to a draw in the match, and went to penalties. The final shot came down to me – win or lose. I shot the ball straight into the centre of the goal, where it rolled easily into the goalies legs. The home team whom we were playing against jumped and cheered so much at my loss that it was almost as if I had won. It was a nice feeling! Working in the community is a part of my daily role as project coordinator onsite at Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca. In March we taught 200 five-ten year olds what a reserve was; in April we joined a school close to the reserve with a school in Scotland in a pen-pal program so that they could learn about the reserve together; in July we showed 40 eight-eleven year olds what animals live in the reserve and in October they learned all about the benefits of bats to the environment; then in November we gave lectures in the local high school and invited groups of students to take part in two day internships at the reserve. All of these activities brought us closer to the communities surrounding Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca, but none quite like losing a game of football. In addition to our work with local communities, our reach stretched as far as Asuncion this year. A group of 17 students from the CCPA who are learning English joined us to complete a two day field course run by Jonny Miller, leader of the primate project in 2012. To see the video the students made of their experience and other photos from this year, have a look at our facebook page. Apart from community outreach, the main aim of Para La Tierra is to conduct scientific research which contributes to the justification for the protection of the reserve. The more data we can publish proving why the reserve is so special, the more attention it will get and the better the chance we have to save it and other habitats like it. One of the things I love most about my job is that on any given day, a new species previously unknown in the reserve, the region or even in the whole of Paraguay could be discovered. With any luck we may someday discover some that are new to science! It’s all out there waiting for the explorer who pays the most attention to detail. Thanks to a grant from Lush Charity Pot North America at the end of 2011, we were able to purchase a vast range of scientific equipment to help build on our ongoing inventory of the reserve. Consequently, we have published two scientific papers this year in international journals with a further six in preparation and press. The camera traps bought through the funding opened the door to discover the wildlife that creeps in the night, and the mammals we didn’t know were living along-side us, including little spotted cats, tamanduas and tayras. Other equipment allowed us to produce maps, catch snakes, lizards and frogs and find out what species of bats are flying high above us. A total of 16 interns joined us in 2012, each one conducting his or her own project. Studies included an investigation into the structure of burrow systems in the cerrado, the use of blue and red tail colouration in teiid lizards, vertical stratification of opossums in different habitats and the spacial distribution of bats within the reserve. We also hosted 32 volunteers who took part in all of PLT’s projects including the butterfly inventory, primate project and bird morphology programs. Volunteers and interns travelled to us from as close as Asuncion and as far away as Australia, then everywhere in between. The volunteers and interns are what keep us going and able to do our work for fragile habitats in Paraguay and for the people who live close to them. 2012 has also been the year of Rolex. In November, following a long application process, I travelled to New Delhi, India to be announced as a Rolex Awards for Enterprise Young Laureate. Pitched against 3500 other projects worldwide, myself and four others undertaking projects in India, Mexico and Afghanistan were awarded funding for our organisations, worldwide press coverage for our projects and inclusion into a network of extraordinary people doing exceptional things around the globe. The funding we received will allow PLT to grow into a model conservation organisation in Paraguay through a sustainable community project, the employment of two forest guards, the construction of a museum and visitor centre and the purchase of equipment to continue our work. The project will take place over the next two years, but already we have made significant progress. Chicken houses have been built in each of three communities closest to the reserve. In October we stocked each one with chicks, food, medicines, incubators and grinders and provided the women of the community with support to grow and sell their product. As the year comes to an end the last of the first batch of chickens will be sold to those who will eat chicken for New Years dinner and the councils of women will have raised enough money to begin the cycle again, hopefully with a little left over to pay themselves. The idea is that with time and practice, they will be able to grow and sell chickens every month, gaining an income at the same time. Two forest guards have been rehired after a year without funding. Jorge and Concepcion will now continue to patrol the reserve, maintain the trails and help to make the reserve altogether more accessible so that visitors can enjoy all it has to offer. They also double up as education and outreach specialists, acting as our link to the neighbouring population who speak mostly in Guarani, the local dialect. With their help we have been able to develop new education programs, reach farther into the community and learn new skills essential to reserve management. You can read more about the project at http://www.rolexawards.com/profiles/young_laureates/karina_atkinson Today I received a visitor. It was a young girl delivering an invitation to come and play football this Saturday to raise money for her school. Whether they enjoy our company or think they’d like to beat us again is irrelevant. We are now an accepted part of the community surrounding Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca and we are here to stay. I hope that 2013 brings PLT as much success as 2012 and the same to everyone else in the coming year. We are looking towards the 2013 with the intention of expanding the scope and depth of our scientific projects, including more schools in our education program while introducing a wider variety of environmental topics, plus playing football on the weekends of course. If you are thinking of volunteering this year, think of us. We promise a varied experience with plenty of cultural twists. For more information check the website at www.paralatierra.org, or contact me directly at karina@paralatierra.org. Happy New Year everyone! Karina

sábado, 22 de diciembre de 2012

The Cerrado by Jacqui Gunn

White sands dotted with patchy green islands of razor sharp bromeliads, fire proof trees and cacti as tall as a house - the cerrado, despite its hot dry aridness, has me entranced. At a glance it seems empty and devoid of wildlife, almost like the African Savannah without the herds of black and white stripes, but it only takes a few 5am bird mist netting sessions to appreciate that the wildlife is just very good at hiding. Like a fresh layer of snow, the sand after a heavy rain creates a fresh canvass for all who sneak in the darkness to be recognised. Hoof prints possibly from peccary or deer, mysterious burrows in the sand and scuttling amongst the dead leaves also indicates the presence of the illusive. A night time trek into the cerrado with a flash light would most likely reveal a pair of small haunting glowing spheres - the eyes of a bird belonging to the night jar family. Stunned by the lights you can get amazingly close before they flutter into the darkness. Bats are also busy in search of fruit and insects overhead. As the sun rises the dawn chorus begins, some of the more eager contenders get a tweet or a chirp in whilst the stars are still out. A distant knocking draws your eye to a dead tree protruding through its greener companions. The distinct hammer shaped head of a woodpecker can be seen as creeps up and down the trunk in search of grubs. Pairs of parakeets squawk noisily overhead in a flash of green, and higher still the turkey vultures wheel up high on thermals. Smaller perching birds flit from bush to bush being heard more than they are being seen. At a closer look amongst the green, you can find hidden treasures of bright pink and purple flowers. The cerrado wouldn't be the same place without the endless termite mounds and sandy trails of leaf cutter ants. The snipping can even be heard as the ants dismantle the leaves with their powerful jaws. Bullet ants are less organised but just as impressive, their size most appreciated when seen crossing the leaf cutter ant trails like a monster truck on a highway. Yesterday we had a very exciting delivery from a student who had visited Para la Tierra previously who had found a slightly unexpected house guest – a Southern naked tailed armadillo (Cabassous unicinctus). This is the first live specimen found in the country, a really important find for Laguna Blanca and for Paraguay. We jumped into the back of the Hilux and headed to the cerrado for some film making of the release. The volunteers and interns all got to hold it before we made a video for Para la Tierra, then released it into the cerrado. After everyone got their fill of photos the armadillo was placed on the ground and within seconds the armadillo dug its way into the sand and out of sight, leaving only a mound of disturbed sand as evidence. As the activities of the day come to an end, the cerrado puts on the most impressive encore. The burning orange and red skies amalgamate with the purple and blue until eventually the stars pierce through the blackness. Jacqui Gunn Para La Tierra Volunteer 2012

martes, 18 de diciembre de 2012

An impromptu rattkesnake workshop, fuzzies falling out of the sky and old friends reunited

I love it when it gets hot, so much more goes on! For example last week I was walking towards the beach in the late afternoon when Jonny phoned “there’s a rattlesnake in the water, a rattlesnake in the water RIGHT NOW!” as I sped towards him it was clear there definitely was a rattlesnake and what a beauty! The beach was swarming with Paraguayan tourists and Jonny was keeping people back (not too tricky when most people are afraid of snakes) and keeping an eye on the snake. I jumped into the water with the snake and waited to see what it was going to do. Although rattlesnakes have potent venom they are not aggressive so I was confident that I could keep my distance whilst steering it away from people who may panic and harm the snake. Once it was on the beach it stayed where it was, so I asked Jonny to run back to the house and get a bag and the snake grabber. I needed to bag it and take it somewhere safe away from people. While we were waiting, quite a crowd had gathered so I used it as an opportunity to talk about the species and explain that whilst these snakes are venomous they aren’t aggressive so the actual threat they pose is fairly low. Jonny returned and our star was a model example while I demonstrated how to catch and safely bag a snake. A collective sigh of relief followed by a round of applause from the crowd concluded a successful and admittedly quite exciting snake rescue. We took it to the forest and released it unharmed. I love my job. But it’s not just the scaly wildlife that gets rescued. I was working in the museum a couple of days ago when one of the forest guards came to find me. On the floor in the corner of their house, was the most pathetic neonatal small mammal, squeaking its little heart out. Even the most hardened herpetologist is going to go weak at the knees at the sight of that; so I had no hope! I scooped him up and took him home. Sadly after two long nights of round the clock feeding he didn’t make it, it was always going to be a long shot but at least we tried and we did manage to establish he was a rodent before he went off to the great cheese board in the sky. And finally it was exactly this week last year when Norman Scott and his wife Joan came to visit us at Laguna Blanca. Norman Scott is a world expert in herpetology and one of PLT’s extrernal collaborators. He returned, and this time brought his family with him. It was such fun to have 3 generations of Scotts and their respective partners here. Nick Reed is Norman’s granddaughter’s partner and is a film maker by profession. How convenient! A PLT movie is something we’ve wanted to make for a while now, so when Nick suggested that he wanted to get some footage, everything simply fell into place. We would like to say a massive thank you to Nick for his hard work making this happen and to the interns Georgia and Ruby for being brave enough to talk about their projects on camera, plus all the other volunteers who contributed their personal footage to the film. Be the first to view it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHlICBk2zzM&feature=plcp Now there is no excuse not to come and volunteer with us! Until next time Hx

viernes, 14 de diciembre de 2012

I had a dream by Georgia Lorenti

I had a dream. A vision of distant cultures, exotic wildlife and enthralling adventure. I had always seen myself as a great explorer, boldly going where no one had gone before. Convinced I was destined to master the world of primatology, I packed my bag and boarded the plane to Paraguay. South America represented the ultimate getaway, an untouched paradise, an adventurer’s dream. I was a pioneer on the verge of discovery, a traveller of the open road. Fuelled by the promise of adventure and with my iPod set on shuffle, I donned my new fedora, and arrived in Asuncion. Armed only with the Spanish speaking capabilities of a German shepherd, it quickly dawned on me that I was out of my depth. I was in a foreign country and miles away from home. Up the creek without a paddle, had I bitten off more than I could chew? No, this was my first solo expedition and adversity was to be expected. I simply gritted my teeth, laced up my hiking boots, and became really really good at charades. After the initial shock, the rest of the journey was smooth sailing. The people were very friendly and extremely patient. I caught the earliest bus to Santa Rosa and was soon safely at Para La Tierra. Once at the reserve, I was immediately enamoured by the pristine beauty of the sanctuary. The lake glistened a beautiful cool blue and the hot sun bathed the dry landscape. The reserve was teeming with wildlife and the staff were extremely welcoming. I soon felt right at home, and what a place to live in! In my first couple of weeks we had three visitors to the house, a beautiful tropical screech owl, a brilliant black tegu, and a massive rococo toad. Living in close proximity to such like-minded people also provided the perfect opportunity to form some terrific friendships. I met several great people and often found myself laughing hysterically. I deeply enjoyed playing volleyball on the beach, despite having the hand-eye coordination of a dead badger. Swimming in the lake became a daily ritual which I will miss immensely. I had joined Para La Tierra as an intern for the primate initiative, which centred on a small population of capuchin monkeys. This project had been started 10 months earlier and was still in the initial stages of habituating the capuchins. Habituation is a long process which requires an enormous amount of time, dedication and perseverance. It involves many hours spent locating the capuchins, marking their GPS location and recording their behavioural activity. Most of the time, the capuchins were observed travelling as they were still largely unaccustomed to the presence of humans. My internship started almost immediately and I found my supervisor to be extremely knowledgeable. He quickly introduced me to the Atlantic Forest, which was to be my office for the next four months. Initially, my main responsibilities involved observing the capuchins and trail maintenance. It soon became apparent that I was hopeless in the forest! I spent a majority of my time stumbling over tree roots, tearing my clothes on branches, stinging my hands on nettles, and wrapping myself in spider webs. In general, my face spent more time in the mud than looking up for capuchins and I was starting to doubt my future in primatology. Jane Goodall had made it look so easy! What was I doing wrong? Then suddenly, everything changed. A heavy crash of branches caught my attention, and was followed quickly by a strange chirping noise. My heart starting pumping, the adrenaline started rushing. There they were! Up in the canopy! I completely forgot what I was doing. All the training I had received totally disappeared. I was looking at real capuchins, wild capuchins, and all the weeks of struggling through unforgiving forest seemed utterly worth it! It took my breath away, and has continued to do so every time since. One of the greatest aspects of completing an internship at Para La Tierra is the opportunity to plan and carry out your own piece of original research. The supervisors are all very willing to offer guidance and constructive input, but ultimately you get to design your own field study. My project featured an investigation into the forest structure and selection of sleeping areas selected by Cebus libidinosus paraguayanus. The aim of the study was to determine whether capuchin monkeys selected their sleeping areas at random or due to a particular preference in forest structure. As the capuchins were still unhabituated, following them to their respective sleeping sites was out of the question. This was a huge limiting factor! I had to rely on finding them during the night or just before dawn, when the capuchins were already asleep. It took a lot of effort and a lot of early mornings, not to be attempted by the faint hearted. At the conclusion of my project, I had located six sleeping areas and sampled the forest structure by completing four belt transects. A statistical analysis of my results revealed that the capuchins preferred sleeping areas with <75% canopy coverage, tree diameter of >65cm, and a first branch height of >18m. In addition to the capuchins, every day at Para La Tierra presented the opportunity to see more and exciting animals. I had the great fortune to see a large variety of creatures, such as rattle snakes, coatis, tarantulas, frogs, turkey vultures, opossums, and even an armadillo! Once in the forest, I happened to dump straight into a fox! He was very civil, I apologised for inconveniencing him, and we both parted as friends. He was off conducting whatever foxy business he had to attend, and I was in hot pursuit of the capuchins. Alas with any great quest, it became time for it to end. The adventure must finish and the explorer must embark on a new and exciting venture. In stories, such as the odyssey, the hero would have learned a valuable lesson and is better prepared for the future. Para La Tierra was, I hope, the first stop in my on-going saga. I have learned so much and have absolutely loved every moment. It was the perfect starting point and an amazing experience. The ultimate question is this? Are you ready to take up the mantle and be the hero of your own quest? Go ahead, I dare you… Georgia Lorenti Para La Tierra Intern

sábado, 27 de octubre de 2012

It’s good, no great, to be back!

Well helllooooo Para La Tierra, Man it’s good to be back and it is SO DAMN HOT! Anyone who has been following this blog will know that I’ve not been around for a while now as I “popped” (ha! 68 hours door to door if you fly from Rio!) back to the UK for a summer of visiting friends, family and festivals. And it was amazing but is now a distant memory as I settle back into life at Laguna Blanca. You’d think after two months away that there would be a gentle ease back into life at the reserve. How naive! It’s been all go from the word, well, go. I had a lovely group to arrive home to; Ruby who is undertaking a bat inventory, Grant studying beetle parasites, Georgia our primate intern and Airell a general volunteer who is getting involved in everything, are all here with myself, Joe and Jonny. And in the last few days Jacqui a primate team volunteer has also joined our group. Within days, nay, hours of my return we had a group of 15 students come and stay. They were from FaCEN; the biology department of the university in Asuncion and were here for two nights camping in front of the house and cooking over an open fire. The group had teams studying three taxa; butterflies, herps and bats, and on their only night of trapping the bat team caught a new species for San Pedro Department Lasiurus blossevilli, much to Ruby’s frustration! On Saturday night we joined the group for a bonfire and bilingual game of charades which I have to say was surprisingly successful, even if my team didn’t win! The FaCEN haven’t been the only group to come and stay. Paul Smith our Scientific Co-ordinator has just been for an overnight visit with 12 tourists. One of Paul’s other jobs is to host tours through Fauna Paraguay (www.faunaparaguay.com) and because the avian fauna in particular is so diverse here, he often visits with groups of birdwatchers. This was great for us as not only did we get to meet some likeminded people we also took a trip up to the White-winged Nightjar land. This is a piece of cerrado north of the reserve is one of the last breeding sites for this critically endangered bird; our flagship species featured on our logo. The breeding site is actually precariously positioned on private land sandwiched between an area of marsh land and a eucalyptus plantation and is probably only still there as the marsh provides a fire break for the plantation. PLT are currently working hard to ensure the continued existence of this site. It was a fantastic experience bouncing over the cerrado at night on the back of the 4x4, using a massive spot light to detect eyeshine from the birds and being able to get near enough to the birds to take close up photographs. The volunteers all agreed it was a great evening. And although our group missed them Paul spotted not one but two maned wolf while he was there. Despite our extreme jealously we are delighted to add this sighting to our species list, especially as this species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. And in other news we are very happy to announce the publication of not one but two scientific papers. “Smith et al (2012) New distributional records of amphibians for Departamento San Pedro, Paraguay (Amphibia)” is a checklist paper of 12 new species of amphibians that we have found since beginning our amphibian inventory and is free to download at http://www.checklist.org.br/getpdf?NGD056-12 or on the PLT website at www.paralatierra.org. And “Smith et al (2012) The Didelphimorphia (Didelphidae) of Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca, Departamento San Pedro, Paraguay” is our opossum paper featuring all 6 species of opossum found at the reserve and is published in the most recent edition of Acta zoológica lilloana. And as an extra bonus, this journal chose one of our photographs for the cover picture of their September edition. Fame and fortune awaits! I think that’s all for this time, see you in a couple of weeks folks. Chauuuuuuuuuuuu Helen

domingo, 21 de octubre de 2012

Time Flies

It’s amazing how time flies. Our fearless leader Karina has been on vacation for 3 weeks already and it feels like just yesterday that she was handing over the keys to her office, the master list of arrival and departure dates and telling me with complete seriousness to be careful not to burn the whole place down. The first few days of her being gone definitely felt a bit weird; everything stayed the same, Ruby was still catching bats, Georgia still chasing her monkeys but there was just something missing from the place. It’s just not the same without her, however miraculously we have managed to keep PLT from completely imploding. I have to admit that the thing I disliked the most about Karina not being here was that I had to take over the weekly shopping. Thankfully Helen has recently returned from England and I immediately thrust that responsibility into her lap. She, having had a slightly overextended holiday in England, has come back full of enthusiasm and new ideas. She’s been tilling our garden and we’ve already got a beautiful bench of seedlings popping up out of recycled egg crates and milk cartons. In terms of the scientific progress, Ruby’s bat project has reached its halfway point and she’s caught an amazing amount of bats across 5 different genera and an estimated 8 species since we’ve started. Georgia is less than halfway through her project but has already completed an entire transect line of vegetation sampling and found at least one of the capuchins sleeping sites (The capuchins announced their displeasure of being awoken in the middle of their sleep by throwing their feces down from the tree tops to display that even monkeys can wake up on the wrong side of the bed/tree). Airell has been integral to both projects, helping Georgia on her late night forest treks and helping Ruby with preparing the bats that have been caught. He’s also spent a lot of time macheteing in the Atlantic Forest and trapping for opossums in the Transitional forest. On another note, I’m sure that the majority of you were aware that October 1st was International Bat Conservation Day and to celebrate such an important day Ruby, the forest guards and I went to teach a lesson in the local elementary school. We prepared a “A to Z, of Bat Facts,” powerpoint and Jorge did a fantastic job presenting it in a mixture of Spanish and Guarani. We finished the lesson with a craft where the students traced their hands on a piece of paper and cut and pasted them onto paper bat bodies. The lesson ended with the whole class flapping their paper bats about the room making high pitched squeaking noises. Happy International Bat Conservation Day to everyone. Joe

lunes, 24 de septiembre de 2012

Tangled puppets by Ruby Easther

When I was a kid, I used to have two string puppets. One was a carpenter and the other a little drummer boy. They were handmade works of art that some family friend had bought me for one of my earliest birthdays. As I grew up I would carefully take out my string puppets to play with, but more often than not they would end up horrendously tangled. My Great Aunt Margaret was the best at untangling my little string puppets. Oh, if she were here now. Untangling bat nets can test the limits of anyone’s patience. My name is Ruby and I am an intern from New Zealand working on a bat inventory of Laguna Blanca with Joe. I have been here for almost four weeks now and have seen tarantulas, scorpions, owls, giant moths (that allegedly suck your blood and predict who is going to die by perching on their doorframe) cute little beetles and one huge, big Black Tegu (who we named Targaryen) all just inside our little PLT house. In addition to these weird and wonderful critters, there is no shortage of spiders. As I do not possess any arachnaphilia (yes, that is a made-up word) I have successfully made my bed a fortress against spiders – the top bunk completely encircled by a mosquito net and a foot away from the walls in all directions. I am one step from putting a moat around it. Airell, a volunteer here, suggests a moat of vinegar - apparently insects and spiders don’t like vinegar - I quite like the sound of that. But we are getting off topic, bats are where it’s at. Joe and I have been setting up 5 bat mist nets in different habitats to catch a selection of bats that reside in the reserve. So far we have caught 17 bats, 9 of those in one night! I’m not sure how much you know about bats, but it turns out they are not only strong and feisty but also spindly and easily tangled. As you may imagine, catching a bat in a bat net leaves not only a mess reminiscent of a child’s string puppet but also a sharp set of little bat teeth which wooden puppets seldom boast. The bats we have caught so far have been a pretty decent variation in size, my favourite being about the size of my thumb and weighing all of 6grams. Six grams! So tiny. We think this little guy is Molossops temminckii, the Dwarf Dog-faced Bat, but to be certain of the species of any of the bats we catch we need to remove their skulls and feed them to PLT’s flesh-eating beetles(!). Once the beetles have done their thing, we will take some measurements of the skull and identify them further from there. Anyway, I’m off to the cerrado to catch some bats, Ruby

jueves, 20 de septiembre de 2012

Zen and the Art of Trail Maintenance - A blog entry for PLT by Rosemary Gamsa (part 2)

Here is the essence of The Zen of Trail-Clearance / Maintenance (using the term Zen very loosely, as I know little about it) and its most obvious effects: One experiences a sort of time-dilation in the physical action; the upswing, the core torsion, as the body twists, coiled and ready to unleash the optimum amount of force, at the optimum angle. There is beauty in this moment of stillness and balance as the machete reaches its zenith, and the trained eye judges precisely the thickness, solidity and elasticity of the target material. Will the blade deftly slice, scythe seamlessly, exert a blunt force trauma, bludgeon, smash, land like a professional executioner’s sword, or recoil sending a spray of red soil up into the eyes? The judgment is made in a split-second, the body shifts a degree this way or that, and the cutting edge arcs downward, whistling. The result is a satisfyingly severed root, a neatly spliced and knotted vine, or a stubborn thud as the unrelenting tangle of underbrush springs back, having moved but one millimeter. It is an art to not take the results personally, sometimes the easiest section of pre-cut path is the nastiest to clear. Neither can one rest on one’s laurels after a series of elegant and rapid-fire slashes. The fresh, leafy forest soon gives way to dry, head-high grasses; to bouncy and treacherous bamboo, full of rotten tubular beetle hotels and crawling with gentlemanly spiders, making off discreetly on their long legs. Myself, I like to picture them in tails and top hats, bumbling along to fetch the morning paper, it helps dispel any residual fear. All too frequently a devastatingly large ants’ nest is revealed, and one must scarper, leaping and hopping crudely from the scuttling legions, abandoning the persona of the intrepid explorer. As the weeks have gone by I have experimented with siphoning emotion into the clearing action, seeing if a particular image or thought process alters my effectiveness with the machete? So far, it seems that the most balletic work comes from a silent mind, or at least that unencumbered by words. Having no internal dialogue is a blessed state, and many of us will have been advised to practice this through mindfulness and meditation. Macheteing is an active form of meditation on some days (or it is until a situation arises, usually involving ants to break the calm) but on other days it is a sort of dance; partnered to a steel edge and a gracefully long wooden handle. A dance which the machete and the wielding party can move together, alternating tenderness and wild abandon, in an utterly secure grip. Visualize each debonair swing left and right; the bold advancing together into the tunnel of twisted branches and huge wet leaves; edging backwards from the falling of a suspended bamboo log, then swishing through the gentle confetti of dead leaves and caterpillars. Sidestep in a series of genteel foot and blade-tip taps to the ground; kick leaf litter aside joyously, recklessly; trample and jig on the loosened earth; launch a swaggering fling of kinetic energy up, up into the canopy; and finally repair to a quiet spot to ‘sharpen up’ on a rusty but stylish file. And all the while, be it a session of dancing, a cathartic smashing, or mindful contemplation, the soundtrack is provided by a plethora of tropical birds and insects, which are unpredictable, funny and eerie by turn. Then there is the difference in the debris concerned; if it is freshly cut, or old and gnarly. Like any psychological obstacle, the older and well-ignored ones are the real buggers to deal with. A newly sliced path gives way pleasingly, and fast, the soil underfoot is revealed bright red and silky. On the more neglected trails (or those too daunting to take on immediately) the hardening piles of dead matter seem to lock together like some form of torturous twining Tetris. It taunts and teases as the machete blade pings off, ricocheting at alarming angles. In and around the fallen trees, that must be crawled beneath, or hurdled over, a dense matting of mossy crust develops. This in turn attracts peculiar assemblages of fungi, caches of invertebrate eggs, alien larvae and ghostly, crystalline spiders. Glutinous slug-like caterpillars, equipped with toxic spines, wander aimlessly through the litter; clouds of butterflies descend to feed on sweat whilst gigantic crickets munch away at the nylon of one’s rucksack or ‘bug-proof’ clothing. More than once an hemipteran of disturbing appearance has crashed into my face and taken up residence in my hair. The very fabric of the forest is moves and seethes; look closely enough and lose all sense of time and scale. It feels sacrilegious to chop through such a wealth of organic, bustling strata, given that most of it is (to the layman) un-named and unknown… Please, botanists, entomologists and all experts in small wriggling indecipherable things, come here to Para La Tierra and tell us what they are! Of course, all this is all very well when the weather is fine; cool enough to be vigorous, and bothered not too much by mosquitos. When it is really baking and humid, the ability to slash and clear takes on a new level of dedication, and I admire those who function well in the heat. I am a temperate beast, and when most of the other volunteers are out sunbathing and volleyballing, I am usually hiding under a shrub, mumbling fondly about how nice and chilly the UK is at this time of year. However, on the torrentially rainy days, when thunder rolls in and the lake lights up with sheets of milky-blue lightning, we all sit under the porch and look longingly at our machetes. Or write long mellifluous monologues about the Zen of neo-tropical scrub-bashing. Everything here at Para La Tierra has the potential to be a valuable lesson; be it the replacing of irrational fears with realistic ones, the acceptance of proximity to ants, or the grass (and vegetables available for dinner) being markedly greener on the other side. I could happily wax lyrical about the challenges of moth-cataloguing, beetle-wrangling, or the gentle art of acquiring bedtime spider-tolerance, (or, and there’s a paper in here somewhere, ‘what drives the volunteers here to develop an unquenchable, passionate dependency on Game of Thrones?’) but it is all for another time. To sum up; come and try it for yourself; this adventure has done me a power of good. When I am back in Britain, plodding through tarmacked streets of dog poo and dog ends, under a washed-out, skyscraped horizon, I will yearn for the hum of mosquitos, the cool tongues of butterflies on my skin, and the singing of glittering machete steel at dawn. Rosemary Gamsa Para La Tierra Volunteer 2012

Mbaracayu

Hey Everybody! I’d like to quickly give you an update of how things are going here at RNLB before telling you about the amazing opportunity I had this past weekend. We’ve had two new arrivals since the last post: Airell, a volunteer from Canada who will help with the primate project, and Ruby, an intern from New Zealand who’s helping us out by taking on the bat inventory. Ruby and I have been prepping to start up the inventory tomorrow night and with all the poles and nets sorted and we are both anxious to start catching some bats. Georgia has begun her sleep-site study which has meant that she’s been walking out to the forest before sunrise to try to catch any of the capuchins that are having a lie-in. The house is slowly filling up again and everyone is getting involved in all the projects. This past week, I had the amazing opportunity to visit a neighboring nature reserve in Paraguay for a weekend: The Mbaracayu Forest Reserve. The refuge is located on the border of Paraguay and Brazil just 5 hours from RNLB and is a whopping 64,400 hectares. The immensity of the forest is immediately noticeable as you drive toward the reserve; as we drove past the soy fields and cattle ranches that are the unfortunate but typical Paraguayan landscapes, we crested a hill and what lay in front of us was a never ending ocean of forest. Once inside the refuge, the forest’s size remained awe-inspiring; we found a tree that was so thick it took five people with arms spread out to ring around the trunk (the tree was 200 years old!). The reserve was founded in 1984 and has an amazing variety of projects going on at all times. The most impressive in my eyes was their work with community outreach and education. They have helped the local populations to not only adapt to the increase in tourists that come to visit the reserve but also to profit from their presence. They also run a high school for girls that focuses on environmental education and female empowerment. The school is completely self-sustaining as they grow most of the food they eat in a garden tended by the students and pay for anything else they need with profits from a student-run chicken coop. Karina, Conce, Jorge and I arrived originally to learn from them about how to run a chicken coop but on arrival we decided to split into two teams to take full advantage of all the projects that were taking place at the time. While Karina and Conce visited the chicken coops, Jorge and I took part in a Tour Guide course that was run by a member of the SENATUR (Servicio Nacional de Turismo). We learned a lot about what it takes to qualify as a nationally recognized Tour Guide as well as a few tricks of the trade. All in all it was an amazing learning experience and we left Mbaracayu not only inspired by the beauty of the forest but also by the versatility of the projects run by those living and working on the site. RNLB has come a long way in the past two and a half years, but seeing the extent of influence the Mbaracayu Forest Refuge has on the nearby communities, it’s clear to me our job is FAR from finished. I know that I returned to Laguna Blanca with a mind full of ideas of what amazing new projects Para La Tierra can get into next, we just need your help to get ‘em done. Joe

viernes, 17 de agosto de 2012

Capuchins and Tayras in the Atlantic Forest

Yesterday, I ventured deep into the Atlantic forest following Jonny Miller on a hunt to find the group of Capuchin monkeys that live and feed in the area. Amazingly, just fifteen minutes after entering Jonny’s favorite trail, he stops and whispers back to me, “Do you see?” My immediate reaction was “See what?” but then my eyes caught a flash of motion in the trees just thirty meters ahead of us. There was a group of at least 6 Capuchins travelling through the canopy over our heads. The monkeys had been well aware of our approach and a few of them chirped loudly as soon as they realized we’d seen them. They slowly began moving away, always in a single file line, usually following the exact same path using the same branches as those ahead of them. We were able to follow them through our matrix of amazingly well cut trails (thanks Rosemary). We would lose them for a few moments just to turn a corner and hear the crashing of nearby branches as they leapt from tree to tree. Jonny, after more than 6 months on the primate project, has become adept at knowing where and how the monkeys will move after being spotted. He was able to predict their behavior and enabled us to follow them for nearly a full hour before they lost us. After searching around for another hour or so, occasionally stopping to admire a colorful beetle or caterpillar, we decided to give up our search and begin cutting a new trail. Jonny knew of a place down towards a water source that he wanted a path because frequently the capuchins move away in that direction and the undergrowth was too thick to follow them through. Mina, a new volunteer, joined us as we began cutting the new trail and quickly ran into a boggy area that surrounds the majority of natural springs in the forest. While resting, Jonny again turned to me and asked “Did you hear that?” I shrugged my shoulders and asked “Hear what?” But then to my surprise I looked out through a clearing and saw a smaller group of capuchins perched in a tree looking at me. As they slowly moved away, Jonny attempted to move around to cut them off. At that time, Mina and I stayed put and began hearing a strange huffing/hissing sound and to our surprise a TAYRA climbed up a tree ten feet in front us. It scurried up the tree pursuing the capuchins but after catching sight of me and Mina, began hissing and snorting at us. Joe

lunes, 13 de agosto de 2012

Zen and the Art of Trail Maintenance - A blog entry for PLT by Rosemary Gamsa (part 1)

This is a taste of my musings on machetes… I arrived at Para La Tierra six and a half weeks ago to volunteer on the Capuchin project, with naïve fantasies of hanging out with the monkeys every day. However I soon realized that the finding and following of Capuchins is an exercise in patience and a very specific kind of agility. It requires dedicated and methodical searches; crisscrossing the forest matrix of the undergrowth, GPS and machete in hand, all the while hyper-alert to the manifold hazards. There are the concealed pitfalls and burrows that suck your feet down into the earth, and twisted roots and stumps emerging from the loose red soil like stubborn, lignified homunculi (pull them out and see for yourself). In addition there is some alarming eye-pokery from jagged branches, the unexpected thorny whiplash of deceptively delicate looking Mimosa, and vast invisible spider-webs that lace between the trees and land like sticky cotton threads in the mouth… and of course there is the ever-present whine from millions of tiny flying beasties, awaiting delicious human blood (it is nice to think of oneself as delicious, if only in this context). Stop too long and you will be eaten alive by something or other, DEET or no DEET. To follow the Capuchins one must be silent and speedy, maneuvering this humid obstacle course fearlessly, eyes adjusted to seek out the flash of chestnut fur, ears pricked for the crash of foliage and chittering calls that often accompany their arboreal antics. They can hear us coming long before we become aware of them, and should they choose to, they can lose us easily in no time at all. We cannot negotiate even the clearest trails with such speed and dexterity. Luckily, through tireless work of many volunteers, they have become habituated to our clumsy attempts to track them, and, I like to think, tolerate us with good humour and some interest. The pay-off for kilometres of clammy clambering and creeping is definitely worth it; moments of incredible and unashamed cuteness; the surreal excitement of being in proximity to wild primates (quite unlike any zoo encounter), and feeling honoured to be allowed so near. To the point; after my first few days out monkey-hunting, and negotiating the challenging terrain, I realized that the majority of my work would be in the cutting and clearing of trails, adding twists and turns to the web of interlocking pathways that snake through the dense trees, rendering them safe for potential pursuits and future volunteers. My description of the hazards above is biased somewhat by a restless and slightly compulsive nature, specifically the need to tidy things up, create straight lines and lovely orderly right-angles. This is probably what led me to develop an obsession with trail clearance. Here, in a working field research station, with its fluctuating temperatures, insect populations, excessively ‘interesting’ spiders (meaning large and frightening) and the ebb and flow of volunteers, there is no personal space in which to exercise much control. This is probably for the best, life is too short to endlessly dust skirting boards, and much can be learned simply in the act of co-existing with others. To relieve my tensions and worries (mostly parasite-based) I turned to the comfort of trail-clearance. Why is it so satisfying about this, you may ask? Well, it certainly was not at first; I emerged from my first day of macheteing with the most all-encompassing of full-body aches, and a fair few wonderful blisters too. The ache was alarming, in that I had thought myself relatively limber for someone a third of a century old (and suitably proud of being often the oldest person here), but then again, when else do you spend so long swinging a huge blade at tough vegetation? I had never cut through tropical forest before. My conservation biology lecturers would be aghast…”you spent the summer chopping at one of the last fragments of the Atlantic Forest?!” It is in a very good cause, I assure you, this Capuchin subspecies has not been studied before, and they may well help secure Laguna Blanca as a protected area far into the future. Anyway, once the obscure muscle groups had settled down and gotten used to the motion, and I had transversed the rocky ride through loving and hating it, back out the other side, I found my rhythm. More to the point, there was something Zen to the work. No desire to be the one forging ahead and tackling the trees head on, I found myself drawn to the clean-up job, and the peace it afforded a usually hectic mind. I loved the transformation of near-impassable debris to an elegant red pathway; rootless, shootless, scarily consistent in diameter, the soil soft as velvet carpet. Such a level of perfectionism is certainly not necessary, I hasten to add, and I think ideally my work would progress faster if it was less pernickety about it. People have pointed this out to me, in kindness, and thus that challenge is…well, it is probably the next level of Zen. Indeed, having walked the trails back and forth, I became aware that to render every path to my idealised standard, I would have to work on it for a year, and then some. The plants probably see my whole effort so far as some charmingly futile pruning, and were I to return in a few months the whole lot would be happily sprouting back. (Indeed, on my last day in the forest I noted that trail cleared a mere week ago had festooned itself in lush green ground flora.) Rosemary Gamsa Para La Tierra Volunteer 2012

domingo, 22 de julio de 2012

Creativity overload, Scotland - Paraguay exchange and colouring in to save the cerrado!

Hi folks, Creativity is the theme of this weeks blog. Not only do we have an amazingly creative group but we also have a new community outreach project to tell you about. Last week we had 4 arrivals; Joe our new member of staff and 3 volunteers, Elizabeth, Maia and Leo. There are now 13 of us in the house and what an amazingly creative group! Zander has taught everyone how to crochet and we now have a house full of hats and gloves that these guys have made themselves. There is also a PLT monopoly board with species instead of properties and community chest cards with instructions such as “you get a paper published in Nature win 500,000” or “horses trampling your pitfall trap line miss a go”. And of course the currency is in Guaraní! With a group this creative it would have been foolish of us not to take full advantage of this skill base and so that is exactly what we have been doing. All of our moths and butterflies are now pinned and our colouring book for the local children is coming along in leaps and bounds thanks to Rosemary’s amazing artistic talent. Our signs around the reserve have received not only a paint job but have been decorated with pictures of local animals and the new museum displays are starting to look pretty amazing. The colouring book I mentioned is part of a community outreach project that we have recently got off the ground. The people in the nearby villages receive only a very basic level of education and there is little or no focus on creativity largely due to a lack of resources. However from experience we know that any opportunity for the children to be creative is met with a lot of enthusiasm. With this is mind we felt that producing a colouring book of the animals and plants in the reserve would be a great opportunity to teach the children about the cerrado and we hope it will help raise awareness about this important habitat from an early age. The colouring book is only a small part of this project however. We have teamed up a school in the local village with a school in Scotland and each child now has a pen friend in the other country. The children exchange postcards from their home country and the school in Scotland have also produced a colouring book so the children here have an opportunity to discover the species from another country and vice versa. This project has only just begun and we have more ideas in the pipeline that we hope will enable the children from both countries to learn about the cerrado and how important it is to protect this unique habitat. And finally this will be my last blog for a while as I am heading off on holiday next week for a 6 week stay in the oh so exotic United Kingdom (no the irony of taking a summer holiday in the UK does not escape me). While I can’t say I am looking forward to the weather I am REALLY looking forward to seeing my family and friends again after 16 months away (but maybe not as much as I am looking forward to eating mushrooms and hummus!). See you in a couple of months and don’t discover a new species for science without me! Hx

lunes, 16 de julio de 2012

The museum opens, the volunteers turn over and the armadillo finally gets stuffed!

Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it gives me great pleasure to announce the grand opening of the one, the only, Para La Tierra Natural History Museum. Yes you guessed it folks we have opened the new museum and I have to say we are all rather proud of our efforts. We actually opened on 21st June and held a little ceremony for the volunteers staying here. Following a short speech, Karina cut a ribbon and we gave a tour of the exhibits. There is still a lot to do on our displays, large map and photo wall but it is shaping up nicely and I have already given 2 tours to tourists, one of whom gave a donation in dollars! The new museum opening isn’t just a landmark day for us here at PLT it is also a reflection of just how much hard work has been put into the species inventories by volunteers and interns over the last couple of years. Who would have thought that our collection would grow so quickly and we would need a new building after only 2 years? Well done and thank you to all our visitors, past and present for making it what it is today. If you would like a virtual tour of the museum you can find a short film on our Facebook page where there are also pictures. Or if you are not friends with us (yet) it can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3UoxvVhztk Last week, in between getting the museum organised we had a massive turn over of volunteers. Sadly we have now said goodbye to Nick, Noah and Dec; 3 wonderful interns who undertook 2 fantastic projects. But we are delighted to welcome in Jess (US), Zander (US), Rosemary (UK) and Rachel (UK). You’ll notice that we have 2 from the UK and 2 from the US which now means that we have an equal number of Brits and Americans. Needless to say this has resulted in some lively conversations over the pronunciation of oregano, Iraq, tomato and vitamin! The camaraderie has been great fun and so was Independence Day weekend which would probably have gone uncelebrated had we not had the US faction with us. Jess and Rosemary have joined the primate project and are having a great time hacking through the forest, Rachel has an interest in invertebrates and has been getting involved with not only our butterfly and moth collection but has also been discovering some of the beetles that Sabrina is working with. And Zander is trying his hand at all of the projects that are running at the moment and has also taught everyone how to crochet! We have a really creative group here at the moment which coincides perfectly with the upcoming museum jobs. I have also been developing my newly found interest in taxidermy and this week I stuffed an armadillo. Well. Stuffed isn’t the right word, more mounted. I was actually given the skin and shell of this specimen for Christmas and it has been in the freezer until now as we simply didn’t have space for it in the old museum. I have been itching to get my hands on it for the last 6 months and this week the day finally came. There wasn’t enough skin left on the underside to stuff it and sew it back up again and when I started to sew it I quickly realised (by breaking 2 needles) that armadillo skin is not a pleasant material to work with. So I changed tactic and made a frame (table). The skin then went around the table so that the shell covered the surface and the legs and feet were surrounding the table legs. And then, as it was originally invented for surgery, I used superglue to hold it all together. I squashed it between 2 boxes to ensure it held its shape while it dried and the end result is not too bad. This may not been the most conventional of methods but we now have an armadillo standing up looking like a, well, an armadillo! And that’s about it for this time, see you in a fortnight. Hx

Introducing Joe

Hello All, My name is Joseph Sarvary and I am the newest addition to the PLT team. I am a 22 year old biologist that recently graduated from Tufts University. I first found out about Para La Tierra in 2010 when I came as an intern to do a population study on Clyomys laticeps and spent two and a half wonderful months at RNLB. I have amazing memories of that summer, not only of the wonderful people and beautiful vistas but also of the satisfaction of conducting real field research. I felt a true connection to the place and the people and I knew by the time I left that it wouldn’t be forever. I returned again for another two month stint before I started a semester abroad in Buenos Aires. By this time my Spanish had improved and I made a point to befriend the guardabosques living on the reserve. Jorge and Concepcion became my close friends and it has been very nice to return to see them again. While returning as an employee has been a different experience, I feel the same close connection with everyone here on the reserve. One thing that strikes me is that while all the volunteers and interns are different, the PLT house still has the same familiar close-knit chemistry that attracted me to it initially. Yesterday was full of adventure for me. Elizabeth and I spent the morning fiddling around with the new camera traps in an attempt to capture some large mammals on video and then spent the afternoon getting ourselves slightly lost in the Atlantic forest. After getting back, Jorge offered to show me to a small grapefruit grove hidden in the forest where we collected over a dozen fresh grapefruits. They were DELICIOUS. On returning, Jorge I and a few volunteers began a game of volleyball on the beach and played until the sunset. It was a really fun game that reminded me of the games I used to play the first time I visited RNLB. I am still re-acclimating to life on the reserve but I am feeling a mixture of nostalgia for my previous experiences here and excitement about what the future might offer. The first task that I have been assigned is a community outreach project that will begin early next week. I’ll be sure to let you all know how that goes as soon as I can. Until next time, Joe

lunes, 4 de junio de 2012

Infrared LIGHTS, CAMERA trap – MAMMALS

Yes you guessed it folks the camera traps are coming up with the goods and its all about the big mammals. A few weeks ago we were delighted by our first fuzzy shots of a feline in the reserve and now we are happy to report we have much clearer pictures of this elusive creature. We can now confirm it is a Little Spotted Cat (Leopardus tigrinus). It remains to be seen whether it is the same individual but we are over the moon with these clear shots. But the cat is not all, we caught a Southern Tamandua on the cameras recently too. It is possible this is the same animal we rescued and released back in December, which would be great, but there is also a chance this is a separate individual which, in a lot of respects, would be even better. However we need shots of its vest pattern to confirm this and unfortunately we didn’t get that picture (this time). It’s not just the camera traps that have been documenting mammals; Rich had a wonderful experience in the transitional forest recently when he had the privilege of watching 3 Tayras for over 5 minutes. He was able to get both photographs and some video of these wonderful mustalids; so we can definitely add them to our species list. And sometimes you don’t even need to leave the house to find mammals they literally just fly at you. A Glossophaga soricina or Pallas’s Long-tongued Bat did exactly that in the stock room and we soon understood just how it had earned its common name. Its tongue, with an amazing brush tip, was enormous! It feeds on night flowering trees and it uses its tongue to access the nectar, making it the mammal equivalent of a humming bird. Although it wasn’t a new species for our collection it was the first one I’ve seen and has just added to my fascination with these wonderful flying mammals. And finally some great news. Recent visitors and volunteers can not have helped but notice that building work has been in progress near our museum. Well it’s now complete and we are delighted to inform you that we have a new museum! It’s been over 2 years since we started a museum collection and we have been so busy that we have literally grown out of the old building leaving no space to house our collection. Having a new museum means we not only have space to store and display our specimens but we can produce education materials to raise awareness about the fauna and flora of Laguna Blanca. We are currently awaiting some tables to be made but hope to have the museum open and ready for visitors by the end of next week. I am so looking forward to getting in there and getting creative. Thanks for reading folks Hx

martes, 22 de mayo de 2012

Newly documented behaviour in the bedroom and buckets of poo!

Several months ago I was delighted to catch a Monodelphis kunsi in one of my pitfall trap lines. This species of opossum was a significant find as it was only the 4th record in Paraguay and the 11th in the world. A week ago not one but two more appeared in the traps. As there is so little known about this species we are currently studying some of their behaviours. So after going to great lengths to make them both large and comfortable enclosures (next to my bed no less), the first thing I was able to establish was just how good the male was at escaping! Despite my best efforts he has escaped twice and is currently AWOL. However as he didn’t get far last time I am hopeful he will reappear in a couple of days, keep your fingers crossed for me guys. My female, Delilah, however is a wonderful study animal and is giving me lots of great data on the diet of this species. I’ll keep you posted as to how I get on with this one. The M. kunsi aren’t the only arrivals we have had at the reserve, last week we were delighted to welcome Scott Felgner and Sabrina White (apologies for that extremely tenuous link there!). Scott is planning a 4 month stay with us and will be going out with Jonny and the primate team to help with the habituation of our group of capuchins. Sabrina is studying entomology (insects) and has some rather interesting means of capturing beetles. So it seems that beetles aren’t called dung beetles for nothing. And horse manure really isn’t getting the results she needed. So with 12 volunteers in the house and there being a global water shortage… well yes you guessed it, human poo really is the best bait to use! Thank you very much to all the boys in the house who have donated so far, the girls have been a little less forthcoming! And finally from human waste to compost and the garden as a whole actually. I am delighted to report that things are really going on in there. The tomatoes have gone crazy and are fruiting wonderfully, we have picked our first crop of green peppers and the chillis have turned into a delightful red (but aren’t very hot by anyone’s standards!). We also have a squash dominating a whole vegetable patch and the passion fruit are finally beginning to flower. Thank you also to Maria and Sabrina for helping me dig some soil from the forest for my new raised bed and to Dec and Rich for getting it out of the car and into the garden. I am really looking forward to seeing what will grow in there! Right that’s me for another fortnight; I’m off to pick some tomatoes. Chauuuuuuuuuu Helen

viernes, 11 de mayo de 2012

A State of Equilibrium and Covering up Our Dirty Little Secret

A couple of weeks ago I dropped Mick and his family off at the bus terminal in Santa Rosa and collected two new arrivals. Inge, from Denmark, has joined the primate team and Kelsey from the USA, is a general volunteer and is helping out with the many projects we have running at the moment. Their arrival marked the beginning of a period of calm; you could say equilibrium, here at Laguna Blanca. Much as I enjoy the high turn over of volunteers we have passing though here, there are also rare occasions when we have a few weeks with no arrivals and departures. It’s at these times when I get the chance to pause for a moment and reflect on what a wonderful life I lead and how lucky I am to be here. And so with that in mind I thought this would be a good opportunity to give you the reader a taste of what a typical day at Laguna Blanca is like. There are currently 10, soon to be eleven, of us in the house. Our mornings begin at first light which is when traps need to be checked. So everyone who is undertaking fieldwork us usually up and fed by 6am. The primate team head out into the forest on our motocart and spend a few hours looking for the monkeys in an effort to increase their contact time and work towards habituating the group. This will then be followed by machetting new trails in order to open up the forest to allow further access to the monkeys. Nick and Noah are studying the opossums we have here and so check the traps each morning. Rich has just had his proposal approved and will beginning trapping and recording the behaviour of Microteiid lizards this week. Dec is running the camera trap project so is moving his traps on a regular basis and Augusta is out in the cerrado getting filthy measuring Clyomys burrows. By mid-morning/lunch time everyone is back at the house. Nick and Noah might have a small mammal for me to process for the museum and Dec doesn’t get any peace and quiet until he has seen if there was anything on the cameras! After a hearty lunch the volunteers all work on a number of tasks needed to help keep this place running; varnishing butterfly boxes, painting signs, improving our maps, laminating photographs etc all of these small but significant jobs are so important to us here at PLT. It’s not just the little jobs that the volunteers do to help keep this place amazing. Last week we took on a massive job. Here in rural Paraguay there is NO environmental awareness and waste management or recycling are simply not concepts people understand. So for us as an environmental organisation it is a real challenge disposing of waste. We reuse what we can, glass jars or bottles for example are used in the museum or as vegetable patch borders and cans can be sold for a small amount of cash. Beyond that however the only options we have are to burn or bury our waste and with limited space the latter has now become a problem. We had a couple of large pits behind the house where non-burnable waste was being “disposed” of. However over the months these have overflowed and needed a good sort out. So that is exactly what we did! All of us took it on one morning last week and in the space of two hours had collected, sorted and organised all of the rubbish from the two pits and the surrounding area. Plastic bottles, cans and glass jars that had made their way in there have been removed and sorted for various projects we have coming up, tins are ready for collection and best of all the two pits are now buried and a massive new pit has been dug. Not only that but we now have a fully functional fire pit once again and on our next trip to Santa Rosa we will buy some new big bins so we can continue separating our waste and keep this good thing going. All of our volunteers past, present, and I am sure future, are so precious to us at Laguna Blanca, we simply could not do what we do without them. And it is nice on occasion to have the chance to sit back and reflect on what a great project I work for. “Volunteers aren’t paid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless” (Anon)

martes, 1 de mayo de 2012

Here we are, this is Paraguay. Amazing.

First I will introduce myself a little bit. My name is Noah Slot, 21 years old and born in the Netherlands. I am studying wildlife management in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. I am in Paraguay for my final thesis, so almost done with school! Today it’s the 28th of April, 2 p.m. and the weather is s**t. No worries. We’ve got loads of cozy places, loads of space, loads of nice volunteers, interns and researchers, a projector and enough DVDs here in the field station of Para la Tierra. I think today it’s going to be ‘2 fast, 2 furious’. Good choice, right?! These afternoons are really relaxing and cozy. Especially after a long, interesting and demanding morning of work. Other, let’s say sunny afternoons, are filled with swimming in one of the most clear lakes I’ve ever seen, playing volleyball with everybody and/or reading on the porch, with jungle sounds in the background. Or listening to reggae, Spanish music and R&B. But at the moment I am the only one who likes that… A little bit more about the research I am working on. I am here together with a fellow student, Nick Pruijn, from my university, to do our final thesis. We’re both from Holland and will be here for 3 months in total. Unfortunately only 3 months. Our final thesis is on the Vertical Stratification of Gracilinanus agilis, Cryptonanus chacoensis and Marmosa constantiae in relation to morphometry and habitat structure in the Cerrado, Transitional Forest and Atlantic Forest habitat types. Clear enough? Basically we’re trying to catch as many opossums as possible to find out whether there is or isn’t a relationship in morphology, occurrence at different heights and preferred vegetation characteristics for each species. This is important to know because, maybe you didn’t know this, opossums have been shown to play an important key role in neotropical forest ecology through being seed predators and dispersers, pollinators, regulators of insect populations and a food source for predators. Therefore, changes in their abundances affect forest regeneration and succession. Thus a very important and interesting animal if you ask me. Besides this, all species are also very cute looking and wicked to see. Especially while they are trying to run away from you as fast as possible, on the thinnest branches you can imagine. We’ve been here for about a month now. Time flies. After loads of preparation work, such as reading books on the porch, swimming and volleyball. …Oh I mean; cutting trails in to the dense forest, placing and hoisting traps in to the trees, hoisting them again because the string snapped, preparing bait, baiting traps, carrying out vegetation measurements, you name it. Finally we’ve started catching animals last week! And that is amazing! We’ve caught about 10 opossums, 2 Marmosa and 8 Cracilinanus so far and loads of other ground, arboreal and canopy rat species. Important and really nice to catch as well, but less important for our study. I can go on for ages, but guys, ‘2 fast, 2 furious’ is waiting for me! I can write whatever I want, but you really have to experience it yourself to know how awesome it is! Words can’t describe it. Para la Tierra, keep up the good work! … And enough beer, that’s always good. Pura Vida, Noah Slot

sábado, 21 de abril de 2012

A new order of amphibian, a very smelly entrance and our youngest ever volunteer!

“I’m not sure what this is but it’s, long, slimy and looks like it’s got two heads”. Well that got my attention! “Don’t move and don’t let it escape, we’re on our way” I replied racing to the car. We arrived to find that Maria’s description wasn’t so far from the creature we were looking at. About half a meter long and looking like a huge black earthworm we were delighted to find our first caecilian in the reserve. If this means nothing to you don’t worry, caecilians are a little known fossorial amphibian that spend most of their time underground so are fairly understudied. If you can’t quite visualise it, check out the photos on www.faunaparaguay.com/siphonopspaulensis.html This was a great find and a really interesting addition to the collection. Well done to Kjell who spotted it. Kjell was a volunteer from Belgium who joined us for 3 days with his mother Lieve, and sister Keri. It’s the first time we have had a family volunteer with us and it was great to be able to offer this opportunity for them to all do some fieldwork together. While they were here we had the traps running so they joined me in checking them and on their second morning they went to look for the capuchins – and stayed with the troupe for about an hour! Although they were the first family we’ve hosted, already they’re not the last! The day we dropped them off we collected a family of five. Mick and Kath joined us with Tilly (15), Ned (13) and Tristen (2). Hosting a family with under 18s was a real experiment for us because we’re not an ecotourism project and so we were a little concerned there wouldn’t be enough appropriate activities for them all to get involved in. However as soon as they arrived it was clear this wasn’t going to be a problem. These guys are amazing; by the end of day 2 we had already dug in a new pitfall trap line (in record time I might add!) and even little Tristen was put to work handing out pieces of string! And they enjoyed their stay with us so much they extended their visit and are now undertaking a mini project on bat roosting sites in the reserve. It has been great hosting both families here and we have been so impressed by how everyone has got really stuck in. In addition to our families, we are pleased to welcome 2 new interns to Laguna Blanca. Nick and Noah are from The Netherlands and will be with us for 3 months to undertake a research project on opossums (which as you may know is of particular interest to me). It has to be said they get the prize for the smelliest entrance. They arrived with a dead crab eating fox that they found on the road to Santa Rosa! Unfortunately the skin was too damaged to prepare as a specimen for the museum, however now that we have the beetles we can collect the bones and have a full skeleton for the collection. It is currently buried in the garden and in a few months time we’ll exhume it and feed the bones to our dermestid beetles who will clean them without causing any damage. Welcome Nick and Noah and thanks for that unusual present! For those of you who have been following this blog you will have heard about the burrowing owls. Well these guys are still about but we now also have a new neighbour. There is a beautiful American Kestrel that has taken up residency somewhere in the garden and doesn’t seem in the slightest perturbed by a house full of noisy volunteers! Another exciting bird that we are hoping will stick around is the Chestnut-eared Araçari. On two consecutive days last week we saw a group of three around the museum and volunteer house. These relatives of the toucan are a really spectacular sight and the fact that they are becoming more at ease with people could be a sign that the reserve is doing its job and that hunting pressure is being relieved. And finally some lovely news from the capuchin project, Maria was out with them in the morning and managed to get a really clear sighting of a female with a newborn. This is fantastic news as not only are they breeding in the reserve but they are also allowing our researchers to get close enough to see them - a great step forward in our habituation of the group. Thanks for reading folks, see you next time Helen

domingo, 1 de abril de 2012

Hellos, Goodbyes, Felines, Lizard Tails and Hope for the Anaconda!

Hello everyone,

Firstly we’ve had to say goodbye to Jess and Dave, our Australian volunteers who joined us for a week, but not before they worked wonders around the reserve. What with those two, the Irish girls and not to mention all of the other volunteers and interns we have here, we got a remarkable amount done in the space of just one week. Last week we; built a second compost bin for the garden, created a horse proof fence for one of my pitfall trap lines, repaired all of the damaged pitfall traps, gathered, cut and placed tins out for snake traps, wired up a booster so we now get the internet at the volunteer house, dug in traps for Augusta’s Clyomys project and all took a trip down memory lane with David Bowie’s Labyrinth! And this was on top of having two trapping arrays open and running and everyone else’s projects too. Ten points for effort to all of our wonderful volunteers!

Dropping off Jess and Dave in Santa Rosa didn’t mean we were two volunteers down though, on the contrary as soon as we said goodbye to them we immediately picked up three more! Davina and Scratch are from the UK and decided to join us for a week as part of their tour of South America (the third group of volunteers to do this in as many weeks - word is clearly getting out!). Declan, our third arrival, is also from the UK and is here for 3 months to do an internship. He probably has the sexiest project to date as he will be responsible for systematically camera trapping the reserve. (And yes it is ok to be green with envy – I am!). If that wasn’t enough not only does he have this fantastic project but in his pilot run he caught a small feline on one of his traps!!! This is a very significant find, as it proves there are still felines in the reserve and opens up numerous opportunities for further study.

Shortly after these volunteer’s arrival we collected Rich; another intern who will be with us for four months. Rich’s project is of particular interest to me as he undertaking a behavioural study on the Microteiid lizards I have been catching in my pitfall traps on a regular basis. I have been trying to get his project off the ground myself for about six months and intend it to be a long-term large-scale investigation, but I simply haven’t had the time to get it started. Rich is also pleased that his project is of such importance to PLT as his results should pave the way for further investigation into these lizards. A classic example of how important volunteers and interns are to PLT, we simply couldn’t do what we do without them!

Although we have been saying hello to all our new volunteers we have also had some farewells to say too. JP our amazing lepidoptera and herpetofauna volunteer has finished his stay here and is heading back to the UK this weekend. JP was an absolute star and a pleasure to have around the camp and we will certainly miss him coming running into the house with “something interesting” in his hand - an amphisbaena for example! JP did wonders with our herp and lepidoptera collection; he collected 16 specimens of reptiles and literally hundreds of butterflies and moths. I know that he won’t want to accept all the credit for this though as he had our three Irish volunteers, Emma, Laura and Yvonne helping him to set, catalogue and display all of the butterflies he collected. We would have had a real backlog of specimens in the freezer if it wasn’t for these three and their sheer determination to get this job done. Thank you so much to all four of them for the excellent work they did with this collection. And after a three week stay the girls left Laguna Blanca alongside JP – if you remember from last time they arrived only planning to stay for three 3 days!

Now, we had a very interesting report last weekend and we are tentatively optimistic that we may have anaconda in the reserve. An Australian tourist was out walking one of our trails Mboijagua (which actually means anaconda in Guaraní) when he saw an extremely large, yellow snake; in actual fact he saw two! If they were anaconda they would have been juveniles but based on his description there is no other snake it could have been. We can’t base too much on this at this stage but if they are there we feel it will only be a matter of time before someone sees them again. Cameras at the ready people!

And finally autumn is creeping in here at Laguna Blanca, the nights are getting cooler and the nocturnal noises are abating. The small mammals seem to be getting more active too which is making our surveys more interesting and I have been catching opossums on a daily basis in my traps. It will be interesting to see what else appears now the seasons are changing.

And I think that is all I have to tell you about this time, such an amazing fortnight with a great bunch of people. I wonder what the next 2 weeks will bring…

Chauuuuuuuu

Helen

martes, 20 de marzo de 2012

A house full of wonderful people, St Paddy’s day and here’s to another great year!

It’s all go again here at PLT. We have had an influx of new volunteers. First to arrive were Emma, Yvonne and Laura from Ireland who are stopping off with us during their trip around South America. They had planned to come for 3 days but having been here for a week they have now booked on for another 2! (Be warned readers, Laguna Blanca has this effect on people!). Shortly after the girls arrival, Maria joined us, coincidently also from Ireland. Maria is here on one of the volunteerships and will be assisting Jonny in studying the capuchins in the Atlantic Forest. And our 3rd arrivals were Dave and Jess from Australia who are also touring South America. They have been here a couple of days and already have done wonders with my garden (and know what they are doing too which is more than I can say for myself!)

Everyone’s arrival could not have been better timed as they were all here for St Patrick’s Day. Needless to say with Paddy’s day being so big in Ireland it wasn’t long before a table of events had been drawn up for the day which included a “donkey” derby, the inaugural Laguna Blanca St Paddies Day Parade and a enactment of the banishing of snakes from Ireland! The president of Ireland was invited to participate in a Skype link up but due to other commitments on this very important day was unable to accept our offer. But, according to his secretary, he thanked us for the invitation and wished us well for the day.

We had a real turn up for the books a few days ago too. While I was off site Karina and JP were handed a rattlesnake in a bag by one of the local people. This may not sound like much (and probably isn’t everyone’s idea of a gift!) but the point is it was alive and unscathed. Normally these docile snakes are killed at first sight due to the fear they instil in the local people here (which, let’s face it is not unreasonable as they do have an extremely potent venom). However this one had been brought to us so we could release it back into the reserve. This is such a great achievement and if we can turn this into the norm we could save a lot of snakes here in this area.

And finally today is the 1year anniversary of me leaving the UK to come to Laguna Blanca. It has been such an amazing experience I don’t know if it is possible to even begin to list the highlights. I have met so many wonderful volunteers, learned so many new skills and watched this project develop so much over the last 12 months. Thank you to all the amazing volunteers who have made it what it was. I am really so proud to be part of this fantastic project and can’t wait to see what the next 12 months have in store!

Until next time

Helen

sábado, 18 de febrero de 2012

Amphisbaenas bite! (Luckily the coral snake didn’t!)

Yes you guessed it guys, we caught another amphisbaena and yes it was me that got bitten! They look so docile with their little dog-like faces and tiny eyes, who would have thought that actually they have a very strong beak and aren’t afraid to use it? I now have two holes in one of my fingers where it drew blood. Actually it wasn’t very painful but was pretty amusing as it bit in and I couldn’t get it off. Being doubled over with laughter with a 40cm amphisbaena attached to your finger is not conducive to getting it photographed and back in the bag! Fortunately we know that they are not venomous but it was worth cleaning the wound with antiseptic once I finally managed to unhook it! (And yes typically I had an audience for the whole event!)

One thing I am really glad didn’t bite me was the coral snake JP found in the Atlantic forest. JP is a volunteer who joined us a week or so ago and shares my passion for herps. He is unstoppable and is always off hunting for snakes (or running around after butterflies – his other passion). Normally we don’t allow volunteers to go snake hunting on their own as it can be pretty difficult to identify a lot of them in the field. However JP has a vast amount of experience in snake surveying back home in South Africa and knows what to bag and what to leave well alone. So you are probably wondering why, if he is this experienced, he brought back one of the deadliest snakes we have in the reserve. The reason was that it wasn’t actually a coral snake. It was a mimic. The coral snakes we have here are a very brightly red with black and yellow stripes. The mimics are also these colours, but there are some subtle yet significant differences. The corals have virtually no neck and their head is not unlike a sausage, whereas the mimics have a clearly defined head and neck which makes them a touch prettier, (in my opinion at least). The markings are also much more fuzzy on the mimics where as the banding is clearly defined on the true corals. And, should you be confident enough to check their bellies (!) the bands stop on the underside of mimics whereas the true corals have complete banding across their ventral side. JP’s ability to correctly identify the snake he found meant that not only did he avoid handling an extremely venomous animal but he was also able to bring us another specimen for the museum. Good work JP.

This last fortnight has also been a sad one for us as we have had to say goodbye to two wonderful long term volunteers. Becky has now completed her research here and has left to spend a month exploring South America (very bravely on her own) and according to her last email she is currently freezing in Peru! Gemma our botany volunteer from Australia has also finished her work and is heading back to Australia in a few days time after taking in some of the museums and culture Asunción has to offer. It was great fun having them here and now they are gone the male to female ratio has switched and it’s just me and Augusta in the house with 3 boys!!! More girls please!

The burrowing owls are all doing well but are spending less and less time with us these days. We thought they had flown the nest (or burrow I should say) a few days ago but then they reappeared again. We are all bracing ourselves for the day they don’t return. However this is a happy/sad event. Happy, that all 5 have made it to adulthood and such a privilege for us to have them living so close to us, but obviously sad for us as we have become so attached to them. Good luck to the burrowing owls hopefully one will return with a mate next season to occupy the burrow again.

And finally if you want to see for yourself what Laguna Blanca looks like and who we are why not check out our new youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/ParaLaTierra. Admittedly most of the posts are of me getting very excited about the animals we catch here but I am trying to persuade more of the volunteers to get involved and talk about their projects on camera. They are still a little shy though! So apologies that it is a bit “Helen heavy” at the moment but I hope it will give you a taste of what we are up to and who knows might even persuade you to come out here and volunteer with us ;O)

Thanks for reading folks, until next time

Helen (aka the next David Attenborough!!!)

viernes, 17 de febrero de 2012

Introducing Carlos

Hi All,

I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Carlos and I’ll be working at PLT Ecological Station under the title of Research Scientist and Intern Coordinator.
I’ve only been here for a few days and I’m amazed at the natural beauty of this place. The people here are certainly special, including those associated with PLT in a staff/volunteer/intern quality as well as the locals in and around Laguna Blanca. Paraguay is certainly an interesting and poorly-known country and provides a unique experience which I doubt you’ll find in any other South American country.

The reserve itself has the potential to support a wide-range of projects in biology/ecology, physical (and even human) geography, due to the different biotopes present within it. In the few days that I’ve been here I’ve become familiarized with at least 7 different types of habitats representing both aquatic and terrestrial systems.

In addition to helping interns and volunteers with their projects, I’ll also be carrying my own research and I’m planning to set up a research project involving aquatic systems present at the reserve. Laguna Blanca provides the opportunity for the study of both lentic and lotic systems. The Lake is certainly an interesting system and is the source of a stream that runs beyond the boundaries of the reserve. There are additional riverine systems nearby which might be useful for replication. More specifically, I’m planning to study the invertebrate community of the lake and stream and its association to different physico-chemical parameters.

I already started doing some Geographical Information System (GIS) work, mapping the different habitats present at the reserve. In this context, Laguna Blanca is also a good place for those interested in honing their GIS skills as part of their project or even basing their entire project in the application of GIS techniques.

Evidently, terrestrial and transitional environments also interest me and I’m very looking forwards to establish projects in these systems and work with individuals interested in them.

I’ll discuss this further in the near future.

I’ll be writing regularly in this blog so keep reading for updates on life in this amazing place and how our research efforts fare!

Cheers,
Carlos.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hola,

Quería aprovechar esta oportunidad para presentarme. Sé que generalmente en este Blog no sé que escribe en Castellano, pero a partir de ahora va a ser más común. Mi nombre es Carlos y estaré por los siguientes meses trabajando con PLT como Investigador y Coordinador de Pasantes (Interns).

Solo he estado por pocos días acá en Laguna Blanca y la verdad que este lugar es una preciosidad. No solo eso, la gente acá es muy especial, incluyendo a los que están asociados con PLT en calidad de personal/voluntario/pasante, así como la gente autóctona alrededor de Laguna Blanca. Paraguay es un país muy interesante y muy poco conocido. Yo creo que pocos países en Sur América ofrecen una experiencia tan única en términos de cultura y belleza natural.

La reserva presenta una excelente base para desarrollar una cantidad variada de proyectos en diferentes campos incluyendo biología/ecología, geografía física (e incluso humana), gracias a la variedad de diferentes biotopos presentes en la misma. En los pocos días que he estado aquí me he familiarizado con 7 diferentes tipos de hábitats en la reserva incluyendo sistemas acuáticos y terrestres.

Además de ayudar a los pasantes y voluntarios con sus proyectos particulares, yo estaré desarrollando y poniendo en práctica mi propio proyecto(s). Estoy planeando hacer una serie de estudios en los sistemas acuáticos de la reserva. Laguna Blanca ofrece la oportunidad de estudiar sistemas loticos y lenticos y siendo más específico planeo estudiar la comunidad de invertebrados en el lago y el rio que se desprende del lago y va más allá de los límites de la reserva. Hay sistemas de ríos adicionales alrededor de la laguna que ofrecen la oportunidad de replicación. Por lo que veo los dos sistemas son muy interesantes y han recibido casi ninguna documentación en materia científica.

Ya he empezado a trabajar con Sistemas de Información Geográfico (SIG), mapeando los principales hábitats e información relevante sobre la reserva, en este contexto Laguna Blanca representa una buena oportunidad para aquellos que buscan poner en practica sus habilidades con SIG usándolo en su proyecto, o incluso desarrollando un proyecto orientado específicamente al uso de SIG.
Por supuesto, proyectos basados en sistemas terrestres son ciertamente interesantes y busco emprender proyectos en esta área y estaría encantado en ayudar a cualquier pasante interesado en el área. Este aspecto lo discutiré más por este medio en el futuro.

Yo estaré escribiendo regularmente en este blog así que estén pendientes para nueva información sobre investigación y como es la vida en este curioso lugar!

Carlos

jueves, 2 de febrero de 2012

New records walking straight in the door

Actually to say “walking in the door” isn’t very accurate. Firstly because I am referring to 2 bats and an amphisbaena, neither of which walk! Secondly because we found the amphisbaena outside and the bats probably came in through the windows! What am I talking about? Maybe I should start at the beginning.

It was a few days ago that I was just settling down for bed when Jonny called out “Um Helen there’s a bat in my bedroom”
“That’s quite exciting” I thought and went over to the boy’s dorm to have a look. And sure enough there was a large bat with enormous ears sitting on the wall looking most perturbed. We decided the best course of action would be to try and catch it with a butterfly net and then transfer it into a pillow case, and low and behold we managed to bag it within about half a minute (another example of how easy things can be when there is no one around to witness it!). We waited until the next morning to identify it and were delighted to discover it was Lophostomia silvicolum; a new species for Laguna Blanca. Interestingly it is a high flying species (which probably explains why we haven’t caught it during our surveys) and has a preference for nesting in termite mounds. And, best of all, 3 days later we had another one fly into the house – I wonder if this species is like buses, can we expect a third?

However even more excitingly than the bats (or maybe I’m just biased because I love herps…) Karina caught a big fat amphisbaena by the water tank. Amphisbaenas are a type of fossorial lizard that have no limbs, scales over their eyes and move like an accordion. They are extremely difficult to survey as they spend so much time underground so this is a really great find for us. The one we found is one of the biggest species in Paraguay reaching up to 45cm in length!

I’m currently sitting at my window over looking the horse coral and I can see 4 of our burrowing owls all sitting in a row on the fence shaking the rain off their feathers and looking like they are quite enjoying the novelty of rain. They are getting so bold now; the other day one flew into our porch and grabbed a preying mantis from the light. Plus they are also learning to hoot now which is really rather sweet, especially as they are not quite there yet resulting in some rather amusing noises.

See you next time folks

Helen

domingo, 29 de enero de 2012

A new wave of volunteers, fantastic foxes, a giant snake and an opossumarama!

Hi everyone,

It’s been all go here for the last couple of weeks; we have had a wave of new volunteers join us at Laguna Blanca. Augusta, Jonny and Marcela all arrived on the same day – the same bus in fact which is pretty impressive considering they were coming from the UK, Buenos Aires and Asunción! In the same week we also had a couple come all the way from the Czech Republic, Andrej and Katerina came for 5 days as part of their 2 week annual holiday. Needless to say they wanted to cram in as much as possible so we used their stay as a great opportunity for everyone to have a go at surveying as many taxa as possible. In those 5 days we went bird watching, smammal (small mammal) and reptile trapping, frogging and camera trapping. I think everyone’s highlight was frogging and it was great for me to have such a big group of interested people to show some of our amazing amphibians to.

Jonny, Augusta and Marcela are all here to volunteer on specific projects, Jonny will be taking the lead on our new capuchin project. Augusta is working on our long term study of Clyomys sp. out in the cerrado and Marcela is working on our Lepidoptera inventory. We were also fortunate enough to have Sergio with us to help get Marcela’s work off the ground. Sergio is an expert on Lepidoptera despite being only 22!

We have been having so much fun with our camera trap recently. One of the ways we are being most successful is by collecting all of our cooked kitchen scraps – that don’t go on the compost (the garden is coming along great by the way) and waiting a few days for it to get really smelly and then using it as bait. Not the most pleasant job it has to be admitted but very effective. We have some lovely shots of seriemas (an extremely elusive bird species that are similar to secretary birds from Africa), some great close ups of agoutis (like guinea pigs on stilts!) and most recently and most exciting a pair of crab eating foxes that you would almost think were showing off for the camera! We are placing it in a new location later today and we have some new ideas up our sleeves – I’ll let you know if they are a success...!

Do you ever have one of those moments when you do some thing really well and there is no one around to notice? Exactly that happened to me the other day when a massive black snake was in our kitchen. I wasn’t at all sure what it was but it couldn’t stay hiding behind the cereal cupboard so I decided to have a go at catching it in the hope that at best it would escape outside. However I managed to bag it straight away without any hassle or bother and was there anyone around to witness this amazing Steve Irwin moment? No of course not! Once I had a chance to cool it down a bit I got some photos and sent them over to Paul our scientific co-ordinator. Turns out it was a Hydrodynastes gigas, or false water cobra, a non-venomous but highly aggressive species. I wonder if I would have been so confident if I had known this before I tried to catch it!! It was however a new species for our inventory and so we took it as a specimen for the museum – when I eventually found something big enough to put it in!

And finally I am back out every morning checking my traps. This time however the target isn’t reptiles and amphibians it’s opossums. Because I keep finding new and exciting species for the reserve in my pitfall traps we have decided to step up the search and see if we can create a really comprehensive list of opossum species we have here. Therefore my trapping arrays have evolved from simple bucket traps to Sherman traps too. It’s a lot of work but I can’t pretend I don’t enjoy it and love being back out there at the crack of dawn! More more more!!!

And I think that is everything I had to tell you this time so until February

Hasta Luego

Helen

sábado, 7 de enero de 2012

Large Animal Releases!

Hello folks,

Let me start by wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The end of 2011 really went out with a bang for us here at Laguna Blanca as we had an influx of large animals to add to our species inventory.

I think it is safe to say that the most exciting find for December was a southern tamandua (an arboreal anteater) we helped to rescue a few weeks ago. Karina and Jorge, one of our forest guards, were called to a local house where the family had it in their shed. They had caught it as it was up a tree looking lost and a bit distressed and they asked us to come and collect it. Needless to say we were more than happy to oblige and after a few false starts Karina and Jorge managed to get it secured in a sack and into the back of the car. We then took it out into an area of cerrado that borders the transitional forest and let it go. It was a little bewildered when we let it out of the bag but soon realised it could make a bid for freedom and off it went. If you would like to see a short film of the release you can watch it on you tube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M6R5zLVyg4

But the anteater wasn’t the only large animal to add to our list, whilst out driving in the cerrado recently Karina managed to photograph 2 lesser grisons (a black and white mustelid that look similar to honey badgers in Africa). We caught an agouti on our camera trap and on New Years Eve I got a call from one of the forest guards to come and get a snake. This wasn’t that unusual as I often get called out for snakes, however I don’t usually have a 1.72m long boa constrictor to contend with! Actually this one was the model capture, slow and not even slightly aggressive it was easy to handle and get into a sack (which was lucky as I had an audience of about 10 people!). We released it that afternoon after finding a set of scales big enough to weigh it first (2.5kilos by the way)!

The animal releases didn’t end just because the year did. On the morning of New Years Day a fisherman appeared on the doorstep with a water bird for me. He was actually trying to sell it to me but when I explained that it would not be possible for me to give him any money for it because we don’t want to encourage people to catch animals in the reserve he was quite happy to give it to me anyway. We took some photographs and measured it and Paul our scientific co-ordinator identified it as a Pied Billed Grebe. Then later that day when the weather had cooled down a bit we took it to a nice sheltered spot by the lake and released it – but not before it gave Becky an indignant peck!

And finally, speaking of pecking (ok this is a really tenuous link) our burrowing owls are all doing really well. They have all mastered the art of flying and are really very tame, allowing us to get within about 2 meters and occasionally joining us on the porch of the volunteer house! Whilst this is lovely they have also discovered they can get an easy meal by steeling the moths from our moth light sheet, something they are not so welcome to do!

OK guys that’s all for this time and think, if you haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution yet maybe it should be to come and volunteer with us here in paradise!

Byeeeeeeeee

Helen