Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates
Monthly Update - June 2009
The time has come for the latest from Taricaya and even though the weather has been unseasonably wet we have managed to achieve a huge amount with the lodge reaching capacity and everyone working hard as usual. The dilemma, as usual, is where to start!
It has been a while since I have updated you on the work of Daniel Medina, our resident botanist, and he has been out on the trails with the volunteers collecting data, identifying new species and collecting seeds for nursery beds at the pilot farm. When I last updated you we had a total of 221 species identified and the ongoing total is now 240 with 47 species of fungus and 15 species of mosses. Daniel is also starting to process his data from leaf litter traps as we try to measure the productivity of the forest amongst other things. I am sure over the coming months there will be much more to update you as many plants have different flowering cycles and when the tree produces its flowers and seeds its identification becomes much simpler. As for the seed nurseries we are concentrating on the ironwood tree at the moment as its seeds are in plentiful supply and it is a very useful type of wood both for construction and producing charcoal thus making it very commercially viable for farmers should they plant it on their land. The interesting feature about collecting these seeds is that they are seldom to be found under the producing tree. This phenomenon is due to the fact that the seeds are fed on by a couple of species of bat and they fly around the forest dropping them once they are finished. This would appear to be harmful to the seeds chances of germination but in fact the gnawing of the bats is crucial to breaking the hard exterior of the seeds and this wonderful association is yet another example of the complex relationships found in the rainforest ecosystem.
Our bird list also continues to grow and this month we have added five species to take our total to 414. This is a truly amazing figure and a reflection of lots of hard work and hours mist netting. This month Rachel has taken over the mist netting duties and she has been dutifully moving her nets along Quebrada trail taking three days to sample at each site. Whilst we caught many species we have already identified we were also able to catch and photograph many species that we have recorded but not been able to photograph. Such examples included the Chestnut woodpecker (Celeus elegans), Curl-crested aracari (Pteroglossus beauharneassi) and the Striolated puffbird (Nystalus striolatus). The presence of these birds in Quebrada is very interesting as we had not previously sampled this long trail that hugs the creek and it is obviously a feature of the adjacent water that attracts them to this area. The new species caught in the nets were the Cinerous mourner (Laniocera hypopyrra) and the White-lined Tanager (Tachyphonus rufus). Both of these birds were caught in the mid-canopy nets and further solidifies the theory that we have much more to discover at Taricaya and the sampling of the higher ecological niches will no doubt bring us many more surprises over the coming months. The remaining species that we added were sightings by both myself and Mauricio who is back to help us during our busy period. These new discoveries were the Short-tailed pygmy tyrant (Myiornis ecaudatus), the world's smallest flycatcher, the Double-toothed kite (Harpagus bidentatus) and the Neotropic cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus). The last of these was an oversight on my part as this bird has been seen many times over the years around the reserve in the temporal swamps and the omission was detected as Mauricio over-hauled the list with the new taxonomic changes that have been implemented. The last major review of the naming of the bird families was in September last year and whilst the majority of the English and Latin species names remain unchanged the orders and families of many bird groups have been revised and the new taxonomy needed to be updated. The re-classification of species and their evolutionary relationships is a constant in the biological community and a headache for our experts whether it is in the field of ornithology or herpetology.
June also saw us welcome back Marco from Arequipa. Marco is a biology student who specialises in Lepidoptera, butterflies and moths, and he is performing a study in Taricaya with a view to producing his thesis for graduation. Marco's visit timed very well with completion of our butterfly house and he spent many hours out on the trails with the volunteers moving fixed traps and sampling with long-poled nets. Whilst I am awaiting the updated list of species due to the complex identification process that required Marco to take samples back to the university for further investigation we will have increased our total at Taricaya by at least 15 species. Marco hopes to return in September and November to continue his research in the different seasons of the year and we look forward to having him visit us again.
With the approach of our turtle project Daniel Neira has been busy making preparations at the pilot farm as the artificial beach required its annual maintenance. The area needed to be cleared of vegetation to allow the sun to heat the eggs as they would be warmed in the wild and rotten wood had to be replaced with fresh planks. The onset of the egg-laying season meant that Daniel also started his weekly census of adult turtles in the area. This information is important as we can try to establish resident populations and as numbers increase around the critical egg-laying period we can ascertain how many females have come to the rivers from surrounding lakes and streams in the annual migration. Turtles will always return to their hatching beaches to lay their eggs and whilst they may leave the rivers during the year to avoid competition for food there will be an increase in their numbers over the coming weeks in the river. Whilst the weather prevented us from completing a couple of the trips we had a fantastic surprise on our second outing down the river. We saw and photographed an adult female with a distinctive cut on her shell. We are the only group in the area working in the repopulation of these freshwater turtles and every individual we release is marked with a code for each year. This will be our fifth year with this project and this female was one that we released in 2005. It was incredibly satisfying to capture on film this sub-adult and we can only hope that over the coming years we will see even more marked animals as they reach adulthood and return to the river to lay their eggs.
The animal rescue centre has had its ups and downs this month. The accidental death of one of our young spider monkeys was a sad moment and everyone at the lodge was upset. It would appear that Gretel was playing in her enclosure when she got tangled up in her hammock and suffocated. This is a freak accident and one that could never have been foreseen but it was still very hard on everyone involved especially the longer standing volunteers who had seen her nursed back to health over recent weeks. Such incidents are few and far between and serve to reinforce how important the work with these animals is and the great sense of accomplishment that comes with every successful release. On a much more positive note we received some new arrivals this month as INRENA entrusted us with two baby spider monkeys (Ateles chamek), a brown capuchin monkey (Cebus apella) and a pair of young jaguarundis (Herpailurus yaguarondi). This means that our enclosures are all fully occupied and with this in mind we have been pushing the authorities to accelerate the paperwork for the release of some of our older residents. This should be possible next month and the first releases will be the pair of male coatis and the Spix's guan.
Elsewhere around the reserve we have been working hard to clear the trails and reopen areas that had suffered in the heavy storms; our wildlife observations have given us some great sightings including red howler monkeys, white-lipped peccaries and many groups of both saddle-backed tamarins and squirrel monkeys; a caiman hunt enabled me to capture a black caiman and a rarer smooth-fronted caiman and a nocturnal frog hunt provided us with sightings of night monkeys and the elusive kinkajou.
I am sure there will plenty more to report next month as our numbers continue to swell with the annual visit of our 2-week special volunteers, the beginning of the collection phase of the turtle project and much more...so until then!
4th July 2009