The first group is back from the jungle. We have been out of reach from when we left Puerto Maldonado last Sunday (4 September). While Alison (UK), Kat (UK), Sabine (Germany), Gabriele (Germany), Janelle (Australia) and Louise (Australia) are leaving after a week, Anh (France), Dana (USA), Pauline & Richard (USA) have stayed back at the Piedras Station together with Alan and Aldo. They will conduct more surveys over the weekend and then train slot 2 upon arrival together. But back now to what happened last week:
When I left base on Saturday (3 Sep) to pick up the team it was sunny & hot. During the four-hour journey the weather changed dramatically: rain started drizzling and turned into pouring rain when I arrived in Puerto. The next morning (4 Sep) all of team 1 assembled at the Wasai lobby was wearing boots, hats and jackets.
We were about to hop on the bus when the message was received that the dirt road to Lucerna had been closed due to bad weather. Juan Julio, our partner on the ground, did his best to reorganise transports and redirect boats. The pick-up point now had to be much further down the Las Piedras river, only a short bus ride away from town. It took some time to get the message through to Lucerna port and the boat drivers via radio – the only way of getting in touch. So we spent the morning at the Wasai lobby with introductions and the risk assessment talk before taking the bus to the boat landing spot. Quite optimistically we expected them to be there around 15:00 not considering low water levels. They finally arrived at 16:30 – too late for a return trip to Piedras Station.
The whole team spent another night at Wasai Lodge and finally got on the boats on Monday morning (5 Sep) together with loads of food, gas and other supplies. Seven hours later we arrived at the Piedras Biodiversity Station and were very warmly welcomed by Catherine and Alan. Rooms were assigned and the team went straight into training sessions. After dinner Alan took out some of the team for a night walk.
All of Tuesday (6 Sep) was spent with training, starting with a forest transect introduction walk split into two groups first thing in the morning. Later on the team crossed the river by boat to get to the colpa (clay lick) observation point. A comfortable hide was built during preparation including a bench, cushions and a mosquito net. After lunch everybody learned how to use the research equipment such as GPS, compass, rangefinder, camera traps, machete handling and sharpening. Two teams then went out again to set four more camera traps that Dana kindly had brought from the U.S. In between the practical lessons, Alan gave a couple of talks about the background of science and the history of Piedras Station & Biosphere Expeditions. After dinner another night walk was conducted.
Wednesday (7 Sep) was the first full survey day. Anh and Dana signed up for the early morning colpa shift starting at 5:30. The second shift (Gabriele and I) took over from 10:00 to 15:00. Janelle and Louise did a transect survey on the ‘Brazil nut’ trail led by Aldo. Alan, Catherine, Sabine, Kat and Alison formed a machete team with the aim of finding an old trail (the B trail) on the other side of the river and to clear it if possible for further transect work. The first shift of afternoon data entry was taken over by Pauline and Rick and two night transects led by Alan and Aldo were conducted after dinner by Gabi & Kat and Pauline & Richard.
And what a first full survey day it was! Two direct sightings of puma! An adult puma was encountered on the Brazil nut trail no more than 20 – 30 metres away from the transect team and a cub was spotted when the B trail was cleared on the other side of the river.
We continued with the same work schedule on Thursday and Friday (8 & 9 Sep) with team members rotating through various activities. Except for the second colpa shift that was kindly provided with a packed lunch from our cook Roy, everyone returned to base for lunch. Some of us had a nap in the afternoon, others went out for a swim or a walk the bulk of work was done in the early mornings when the chance of encountering the study species is best. The atmosphere in the forest is magic shortly after sunrise. Walking slowly and quietly along the transect trails we are transported into a world of strange sounds. The advanced skills and experience of Aldo and Alan were needed to filter the ones of interest before our eyes were able to spot the study species: monkeys of all kinds and and some specific bird species. The cats – jaguar, puma, ocelot are more active during the night.
On Thursday it was monkey day. Each team encountered quite a few different species during their transect walks including black spider monkey, red howler monkey, brown capuchin monkey, squirrel monkey, saddleback tamarin and titi monkey.
During the colpa observations the teams are busy with recording behaviour patterns of parrots and macaws. Hidden in the forest on the other side of the river hundreds of birds were seen, scanned and recorded in intervals of 5 minutes. It is quite a spectacle when suddenly dozens of red-and-green macaws fly off at the same time only to come back after a few minutes. The birds do all kinds of funny things such as playing, kissing, hanging from lianas head down and calling all the time. The sound reminded me of the squeeking of an old bicycle – hard to describe but definitely very loud. At some time during a five hour shift all of us were thinking: Shut up, please, only for a second! 😉
Highlights of the week were certainly for all of us the howler monkey wake-up calls every morning around 5:00 when some of us had already had breakfast, while others on later survey shifts still lay in their beds. But also the puma sightings for those who had been lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. The camera traps caught more pumas during the night besides ocelot, peccary, deer, agouti and other small mammals.
The first slot ended with Aldo’s birthday party yesterday (Sat, 10 Sep) evening. We went to bed way after the standard bed time agreeing that the week has gone over to fast. Now it is time for me to hand over to Catherine, but not before thanking everyone who was involved with making this expedition another very special and successful event. Thank you for putting time, money and sweat into the project. The important conservation work couldn’t be done without you. I have very much enjoyed working with all of you: team members, staff and partners on the ground and I hope to see some of you again some day.
Team 2 is now also at Wasai and ready to go tomorrow morning (Sun, 11 Sep). Good luck to you all. I hope you enjoy your time as much as I and team 1 did, and that you are as successful.
Update from our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates, macaws and other species in the Peru Amazon jungle.