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lunes, 15 de diciembre de 2014

Chaco Trip Nov 2015

On the 18th November we at PLT took a trip to the semi-arid Chaco region of Paraguay. The Chaco is described by some as the ‘green hell’ due to the extreme heat and humidity but, despite this, or perhaps because of this, the wildlife is varied and rich. The difficult conditions make the Chaco the ‘last agricultural frontier’. It is virtually uninhabited even today with just a few large settlements and farms (mostly Mennonites) making it a haven for a lot of unique wildlife. Unfortunately now the area is threatened by development through cattle farming, improvements in agricultural techniques and the increased ease of access caused by the Trans-Chaco Highway. On the trip came staff members Joe and Becca. Along with them were the Interns and Volunteers: Holly, Abi, Vivi, India, and Lore. Our home for the three days was ‘Chaco Lodge’, a small house on a large estancia owned by a Mennonite Biology teacher who wishes to preserve much of the land for wildlife. An indigenous family live next door and they often wandered over to show us things they had found, such as an ovenbird nest. The amenities were rustic: food was whatever could be cooked in a pot hung over a fire (pasta), or cooked on a stick held over a fire (bread). We had to divide into two groups to get to Chaco Lodge, a car group and a bus group. The bus journey is slightly longer, from Santa Rosa to Asuncion and from there to Filadelfia (14 hours), where we were met by Joe. The drive from Filadelfia to Chaco Lodge was already the beginning of our adventure in the Chaco. Halfway to the Lodge we stopped when we spotted a dark figure on the road....a Capibara! Vivi’s hope for this trip was to see a Capibara, an impressive, giant rodent. Unfortunately, the individual found on the road was dead, and the carcass was collected by a passing car. We then settled into the house for our first night’s sleep. Amazingly, with air conditioning! The first morning we were excited to go and explore our new surroundings, and so we went for a walk down the trail hoping that it wouldn’t be too hot to see any wildlife. It was, but we did see lots of interesting footprints, which Becca taught us to identify. We saw the prints of a Tapir and Peccaries along the main path and, at a dried-up streambed of soft-mud, we saw the tiny prints of an unknown wild-kitten and the hand-like prints of a raccoon. Because of these, we decided that area would be the ideal spot for a camera trap and placed one there the following day. At lunchtime, we drove to a nearby salt lake nearby and witnessed some beautiful scenery. We walked on the sands and examined the evidence of the hot, drying temperatures: carcasses of fish and insects, which were scattered along the beach. Despite the seemingly-barren landscape, a heat-blurred pink line could be observed within the lake... FLAMINGOS! We climbed up onto a viewing platform in order to take some photographs. We then ate our picnic lunch surround by the sounds of parakeets which were nesting around the viewing platform. Our first day ended with a night drive after dinner. Anticipating some wildlife we went armed with our cameras. Siitting on the back of the car with a large spotlight, we drove slowly along searching for animals. We didn’t have long to wait. As Becca once said, you literally “fall over armadillos in the Chaco”! Several armadillos later, we’d all had a hold of one and taken a multitude of photographs and had much amusement in watching them scurry off back into the undergrowth. A racoon was spotted (much larger than most of us expected); a fox; a Geoffry’s cat and some deer. We even saw a skunk! Our final catch for the night was a little cartoon-like bright green tree frog, the Phyllomedusa sauvagii , which we spotted crossing the road. There were many frogs on the road, but this little guy was a particular favourite and you can see him in one of the photographs below. Finally, after a long and eventful first day in the Chaco we all fell into bed, alarms set for 5am the next day. Our other two mornings began with a group sunrise walk to some nearby tajamars. On route to the first tajamar we stumbled across a couple of mating red-footed tortoises (Geochelone carbonaria). We spent a short time watching the male struggle to get out of the puddle he was stuck in, and crossed our fingers as we left that the two would be reunited after having waddled off in opposite directions. As we reached the tajamar we noticed what looked like a stick floating on the surface, but in fact it was a caiman’s head! The head rapidly disappeared and we waited a while but unfortunately we were not lucky enough to get another sighting. Caiman build the entrances of their homes under the surface of the water and so can return to the safety of their home without having to resurface. We then headed off in the car to Campo Maria, a salt lake known for its multitude of bird species. Unfortunately, the road was washed away by torrential rain, forcing us to stop. Fortunately a Mennonite contact offered us shelter from the rain at his farm. Upon arrival we were greeted by a somewhat confused lady who said that we could relax on her porch. She seemed relieved when Vivi could speak German and after that she brought out coffee and cake for everyone. After a few hours of waiting and playing with her ridiculously cute dogs we suddenly heard her phone ring followed by hysterical laughter. It turned out we were at the wrong house and her neighbour had just rang to find out if she had us! Despite the weather, the day wasn’t a fail for seeing wildlife. We got our first look at Roseate Spoonbills and saw a Buff Necked Ibis and her chicks in a nest and, on the way back to Chaco Lodge, a herd of approximately 50 wild White Lipped Peccaries (complete with pigets!) crossed the road in front of the car. Our second day concluded with a super tasty dinner of burgers and chips, cooked outside over the fire. Some of the girls took advantage of the fire to dry their wet socks! We then had a cosy night in Chaco Lodge, listening to some impressive thunder. The second tajamar morning walk, on or final day in the Chaco, was very pleasant, and was mostly spent bird-watching. We saw a couple of Black-backed water-tyrants (Fluvicola albiventer), a pair of Wattled jacana’s (Jacana jacana) with their chick, two Grey-necked woodrail’s (Aramides cajanea), and a very cute little duck which was paddling around the tajamar, thoroughly enjoying its own company. On our walk back to the house we briefly saw some Red-crested cardinals (Paroaria coronate) and a woodpecker which was drilling holes in a large cactus that it appeared to be living inside. Later in the morning we went a walk to set out a camera trap for the owner of Chaco Lodge. Hopefully it will capture some interesting wildlife! Our final afternoon drive took us, successfully this time, to the salt lakes at Campo Maria. Driving along we saw a Jabiru, a Spoonbill, some Herons, and Buff-neck Ibis along with a lot of birds of prey and parakeets. Finally, passing near a pond, we spotted two Capibara. The excitement in the car was audible, people jumped out of the vehicle with their cameras ready. It was a great experience to see them. Our final night concluded with us witnessing some amazing lightning storms, from the safety of Chaco Lodge before we again all collapsed into bed, exhausted from the day’s excitement. Overall, our trip to the Chaco was very enjoyable, despite some rainy weather. All of the wildlife was spotted that was on each of our “wish lists”, amongst much more! The “green hell” is not such a “green hell” at all and we all have some fantastic and photographs to take home with us. A HUGE thank you to Joe and Becca for taking us all the way there and giving us such a great experience. Holly O’Donnell (Scotland) Abigail Harrison (England) Viviane Magistra Balz (Switzerland) India Robinson (England) Lore De Middeleer (Belgium)

martes, 9 de diciembre de 2014

PLT Welcomes Olga, our new Museum Curator

Hello, everybody! My name is Olga. And I’m the new museum curator here at PLT. I’ve come to Paraguay to avoid the long snowy winter of Russia, my homeland, and to see with my own eyes all the “exotic” animals I’ve read so much about. Well, it’s definitely warm here! And every day brings new species to discover. Sometimes directly to your room, as was the case yesterday with a giant tarantula spider making a tour around my suitcase, or a cute tree frog lost in a bathroom. As a curator I mostly work with maintenance of the museum collections and the addition of new specimens. The main project right now is the species inventory of two families of moths and some other insects. So far PLT has re-discovered a moth believed to be extinct and has found several species and even a whole genus not previously known to be present in Paraguay. This knowledge not only helps to better understand the Paraguayan nature, it also shows the high level of biodiversity at Laguna Blanca, and thus further supports the argument that this land needs to be protected. The PLT museum is open for visitors. To make it more educational and fun the team of PLT came up with some renovations and new exhibitions. One of the changes is a “mini-zoo”; a shelf with terrariums to show tourists and local children creatures that are usually hard to see due to their nocturnal lifestyle or small size. The terrariums are made and what’s left is to decorate them and find inhabitants: lizards, frogs and invertebrates. We plan to keep the animals only for a short amount of time and release them back into nature on a regular rotation. When it’s not too hot I like to go for a walk on one of tourist trails. I won’t call myself a birder, but it is nice to look for them. I leave you with birds of Laguna Blanca.