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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 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…