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martes, 8 de octubre de 2013

Chaco Expedition Part 1: by JP Brouard

The Chaco spans from eastern Bolivia, through the northern half of Paraguay, to the northern parts of Argentina. It is a harsh environment, but in this land there are many unique species that call it home. Paraguay has some of the best tracts of this habitat left in the world, but it is disappearing at an alarming rate. PLT’s mission is to save threatened environments, we have been very successful at Laguna Blanca, but this expedition was the start of our journey towards this goal in the Chaco. 15/09/13 The preparations for our expedition to Chaco Lodge began in the afternoon. The lodge is based next to a great salt lake in the Dry Chaco of northern Paraguay. Joe gave the team an introductory presentation about the area and the activities that we as a team needed to achieve. Then the packing began. Buckets, check. Moth light, check. Bedding, check. Food, check. The list went on and on. Eventually our silver 4x4 ‘Wingle’ was packed to perfection, and we were set to go. 16/09/13 We were up at dawn, and left for the nearby town of Santa Rosa. We had arranged that Becca and I would catch the bus to make it more comfortable for the journey ahead. The car team (Karina, Joe, Mike and Anna) had to collect a few items in Conception, so it all worked out well, and we all met up in the Chaco town of Filadelphia. A quick meal at the excellent local Chinese restaurant and we were on our way to the lodge. Well that’s what we thought. A few small navigational errors saw us driving around in circles and we only arrived at the Lodge in the early hours of the morning. We did manage to see a Crab-eating Fox and South American Racoon, but we were exhausted and needed to sleep. We unpacked the car quickly into the small bungalow where the girls had their room. Joe, Mike and I were camping so we put up our tent near the house. An abandoned second house was not far away, which in some respects seemed scary, but I was sure it would be full of animal life and worth searching. Before we went to bed we found our first Chaco special, a small frog, Rhinella major. What a great start to the trip! 17/09/13 Joe and I were up early to check out the surroundings. We lifted a large metal sheet next to the house to find a pregnant Chaco Straight-toed Gecko, Homonota fasciata. Another Chaco special. Birds were plentiful with the resident Chaco Chacalacas and Monk Parakeets making a constant racket. We walked to a nearby waterhole where there were plenty of vultures hanging around. The carcass of a cow laid dead in the grass which brought much delight and enthusiasm as we knew this could potentially be a good place to put a few camera traps later in the day. We headed back to the lodge to find everyone wide awake. Mike and Anna were collecting firewood, while Becca and Karina made lunch. We decided it was time to install Chaco Lodge’s first pitfall bucket traps. This is a great way to catch small reptiles, amphibians and rodents. After some hard labour and a great lunch we decided to go for a drive to the salt lakes to see if there was any water in them. Unfortunately the first lake was empty. A tall wooden lookout point stood towering above the treeline. We headed towards it and decided to all venture to the top. An incredible view laid in front of us. The dry salt flats stretched into the distance and pristine Chaco bush surrounded it. An Aplomado Falcon flew by swiftly, while a Six-banded Armadillo was digging a burrow in the ground. What a special place! 18/10/13 The highlight of the second day was our late afternoon trip to the nearby reserve of Campo Maria. We had heard that Chilean Flamingos covered their lakes and this was something everyone was keen to see. The reserve didn’t disappoint. Silver teals, Giant Wood-Rails, South American Stilts and groups of Flamingos were just some of the birds found on the lake. Dusk arrived, so we decided to get the big spotlight out and tried to find some mammals. It was chilly sitting at the back of the 4x4 but it paid off with the sighting of a Grey Brocket Deer and a group of White-lipped Peccary (a species of bush-pig). The drive back to Chaco Lodge also proved to be fruitful. Mike and I stood on the tray of the Wingle and battled the cold. Our perseverance was rewarded we sighted Crab-eating Foxes, an Azara’s Fox and two White-collared Peccary. 19/09/13 We were all in a routine by the third morning. The pitfall traps that we had set out around the lodge were producing some special Chaco endemic lizards. Our usual morning searches had revealed some awesome birds such as Cream-backed Woodpecker and Crested Gallito. The Caiman that lived in the waterholes seemed to be getting use to our presence. At lunch Joe told me that he had heard frogs calling from the large underground water tanks that collected rain water from the gutters. We lifted the lid of the first one to find many tree frogs clinging onto the pipes and walls. There were two species present, Scinax nasicus and Scinax acuminatus, both commonly found in houses and known to the locals as ‘bathroom frogs’. With this success we rushed to check the second container. I peered down to the bottom. BINGO! A rare Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira annulata) was resting near a very large scorpion and two species of large frogs, Leptodactylus laticeps and Leptodactylus chaquensis. Now we had to figure out how we could get them out. I connected my butterfly net with its extension poles to a large broom. It worked a charm. In half an hour all the animals were safely out of their watery death trap, photographed and released. In the late afternoon we went for a drive around the salt lakes. We passed the first dry lake, turned the corner and were very surprised to see water. Two Coscoroba Swans sat in the middle, while Maguari Storks patrolled the margins. We went for a walk on the muddy banks and found recent tracks of Puma crossing the flats. Jaguar and Puma are elusive in the area, so this was a great sign. Dusk fell upon us and soon after we set off again. Once again it only seemed fitting to take out the spotlight. A group of 14 Greater Rhea ran off into the distance, while a Great Horned owl sat in a tree on the edge of the lake. The best sighting of the night was the small Geoffroys cat, a species restricted to the Chaco. To be continued..... JP

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