A day at base. Rain started again falling last night and did not stop, making it impossible to go out and do transect work on the trail grid.
Instead we used the time until lunch for more data entry: Kathy & Stuart volunteered to enter all transect sightings into the computer. Get a first impression of primate and other mammal encounters from the map below.
Sven & Thomas diligently checked the medical kit, sorted out expired items and updated the kit list.
Pictures and videos were exchanged, equipment that won’t be used on the last full day tomorrow was checked and packed up. Details were discussed for picking up the camera traps from various locations. Luckily it cleared up after lunch, so that we were able to run the afternoon activities as usual.
Question: What can you read from the picture below?
Can’t see anything? Have a guess: it’s a jaguar track. Grace & Gary took the picture on Friday at the trail grid and its identity was confirmed by our field assistant Roger. Amongst the camera trap pictures was another good find: a tyra carrying something in its mouth. We’re still not sure what it is.
On Saturday we said goodbye to team one – no, not all of them … Conny, Sven & Thomas are staying on for another week.
Kathy & Stuart joined them on Sunday. While the experienced team members continued with survey walks, Kathy & Stuart were trained up and joined the work schedule on Tuesday.
Rain started to fall Saturday night and continued all night and into Sunday morning. Puddles in the forest grew to lakes, before cascading into the creeks that feed the Tahuayo river. Within a few hours, the main river’s water level had risen – at the moment we are about 1.5 – 2 meters above normal. This is good news for our canoe surveys. Silently paddling along the river edges, we glide past bushes and trees standing in the water. And as water ripples gently along the hull, we glimpse and record monkeys here, an ant eater there, a sloth, a multitude of birds, caimans and other forest life. Even pink river dolphins made their way upriver and were seen not far from base.
And as we return back to base as night settles over the jungle, we enjoy the daily review sessions – no team ever returns without an interesting story to tell, a tale of an exceptional sighting or an encounter made in the forest. And at last we truly understand why this is called a “biodiversity hotspot”.
As I write this, all teams are out to do their last surveys of the week. Have a look at the picture to see most of them geared up ready to head out for this afternoon’s activity (Valerie, Veronique & Leanne are missing).
They are in the field now to check and re-set the track traps because heavy rain poured down during our mid-day lunch break at base. A field biologist’s work is never done 😉
Titi and saki monkeys were spotted and recorded this week, as were large groups of saddleback and mustached tamarins and squirrel monkeys. Even night monkeys having their day’s rest in a tree hole curiously showed their delightful faces, attracted by the noise of a machete banging their tree. Thomas & Conny came across a large (non-poisonous) snake. Agouti, coati, tyra and a sloth were also recorded, just to name a few.
Yesterday Alfredo took half of the group out for a night walk in the forest, the other half went for a night ride on the boat. What an experience!
We also decided to exchange the SD cards of the cameras set up within the trail grid today to get this this week’s results before the first team departs tomorrow. It’ll be busy again in the data entry area later tonight: data need to be entered and the camera trap pictures will be checked for results. I expect everyone to be crowded around the laptop when this happens 😉
Tuesday we spent the morning setting up a new box trap. The whole team participated in the event – even Martina (pictured) our strict vegetarian who jumped right in and brought the bait meat. Vera was quite happy to get this box trap installed and activated because before the Biosphere team arrived it was too far for one person to drive each day to check the trap. A group split off with Vera in the afternoon and activated two more traps that were already set up.
Wednesday the teams spent learning telemetry to track the elephant herd, re-activating the fourth box trap, building a hide at one of the water holes, and walking in the bush looking for tracks and scats. As all three activity groups left base camp in convoy in the afternoon, we happened upon a rhino group who were polite enough to yield the roadway to us. They could not quite make out what three vehicles were doing on their turf, and resorted to a defensive posture, back-end together. We left them to carry on doing their rhino thing.
14:30 – it’s quiet at base. All teams have gone out to check the track traps we set yesterday. The muffled sound of a radio and laughter drifts in from the kitchen, but the forest seems to sleep. Datasheets on the table beside me are spread to dry. Another pile of completed datasheets sits beside the data entry desk on the other side. Intensive data collection is going on…
Six local ‘field assistants’ are supporting our research work here. Aladino, Julio, Luis, Rafael and Roger all live in villages within the reserve and have grown up in the jungle. They do not speak English but their knowledge about the forest, its trails and animals, communicated by pointing and flicking through phrasebooks, is invaluable. And there is Donaldo who comes from Iquitos, speaks English and worked with us during last year’s expedition too.
All team members have gone through two training days including introductions, safety procedures, equipment training and a forest training walk before we headed out yesterday to set up the camera and track traps.
Valerie, Veronique Rafael & Alfredo went downriver in a canoe. They explored the area around a lake connected to the Tahuayo river and set up a camera there. Tani, Garry & Aladino did a 3.5 km river survey from the canoe and then had to paddle back against the current. Leanne, Patrick & Donaldo went on an exhausting and long hike to the highe ground ‘terra firme’ forest – the area behind the trail grid that never gets flooded. They had to cross palm swamps to get there and set up two cameras in this area for the first time. Grace, Gary & Roger as well as Conny, Thomas & Luis covered the trail grid area by setting up four camera traps in total. Johannes, Sven, Julio & myself took the boat upriver aiming to explore and record a far away trail. But unfortunately we were stopped by a big tree blocking the river only one hour from base. Julio took us to another trail, which we walked and recorded for about 3 km before it petered out and we had to cut our way through the jungle – Julio thinks nobody has ever been to that part of the jungle and it certainly felt that way. Track traps were set in the afternoon on four trails within the trail grid. So now we wait what goes in them…
The transect surveys started this morning with quite a few sightings of primates and mammals and will continue over the next few expedition days while the track and camera traps do their job. I’ll keep you updated.
Picture an office in the middle of the jungle: meshing instead of windows, solar panels quietly providing electricity to run the inevitable computers. Green is the colour you see all around, sounds from the rainforest is all you hear. All of a sudden the quiet solitude is broken by the roar of at thunderstorm.
A brief lesson on rainforest seasons: As per Alfredo, our local scientist born in the Amazon, there is no dry season in the rainforest. More appropriately, seasons should be described as heavy rain season and light rain season. When preparing for the boat ride, please bear this in mind and make sure you have your rain gear or poncho handy. It’ll be a good idea to pack your mobiles, cameras and other such items into a waterproof (plastic) bag. There will be no shelter on the small boats taking us from the Tahuayo Lodge to the Research Centre (about one and a half hours).
Yesterday Alfredo and I created a detailed work plan for the first week, especially the first expedition day when we are aiming to bring out and set up all the camera and track traps, some of them a day’s walk away from base.
Alfredo and I will spend the time before you arrive with preparing base, setting up the computer for you entering data and uploading the finished maps the GPSs.
It is partly cloudy & warm in Iquitos – the dry season is just about to start. The water levels in the Amazon are still pretty high, so the boat ride up to our research centre should be interesting. Writing this I am sitting in the lobby of A&E Tours waiting for my boat to depart. I have just been told that my boat will wait for two more people whose flights from Lima were cancelled, so I have another three hour to wait.
After having been delayed myself by lovely Iberia Airlines, over the last one and a half days I’ve retrieved our research equipment from storage, checked it all through and made it ready for use. The printer and laminator (!) – one of the most important pieces of equipment – are working well again. I’ve put more hours into THE MAP, which you will help me to add more detail to by exploring the jungle around the research centre. THE FINAL MAP will be uploaded to the brand new GPSs I have brought with me.
Just a quick update on the expedition preparations while I am still in Europe. Have a look below for the map we’ve created for us trailblazers and be prepared for intensive GPS & mapping training.
The map is still quite blank for us to fill with lots of waypoints and tracks of trails on land and on water. We will be talking a lot about quadrants and how to access remote parts of the study area to place camera and track traps and to conduct our visual encounter surveys. I am looking forward to entering the jaguar’s realm, encounting & recording primates and other wildlife species together with you.
I am off later today and will be in touch again from Iquitos with the latest on-the-ground information.
Two weeks to go until the start of our Amazon biodiversity expedition to Peru. Next week, Malika Fettak, your expedition leader will be off a few days ahead of you to set things up.
The weather in Iquitos at the moment is damp and hovering around the twenties (Centigrade). High twenties during the day, low twenties at night. Your scientist Alfredo Dosantos is at base already, preparing the research and maps for you.
Where we will work is shown below.
Group 1’s task will be opening and exploring more trails so that we can increase our sampling area and cover as many of the big squares (quadrats) around base as possible with camera and track traps, and visual encounter surveys on foot in the jungle and in wobbly canoes along the waterways, recording species as we come across them and hoping to catch the very illusive ones in our low-tech track traps and our high-tech camera versions. All in an effort to show with hard data how biodiverse this place is, and therefore worth protecting.
But beware! Monkeys and jaguars will not be falling into your lap, despite what TV may want you to believe (and what took months to film). The forest is full of life, true, but it is also full of leaves that swallow almost everything a few paces away and reduce encounters to fleeting glimpses of monkeys in the canopy and black shadows streaking across dark green canvas. You’ll hear things before you see them – if you see them – and there will be a cacophony of unfamiliar sounds, and smells and sights, dulled by the constant assault of green on your eyes.
If you come with the expectation of entering into a zoo full of animals on silver plates, you will be disappointed. If you come to soak up the wonders you will hear yet not see and to just be amongst life in one of the most biodiverse spots in this green sea of our blue planet, you won’t be. Come with all your senses open (and perhaps even leave your cameras at base unless you are a lens hunter of the small wonders the jungle has to offer). And come in the spirit of David Henry Thoreau who said “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Malika and Alfredo will be in touch from base a few days before the off. The forest of hidden wonders awaits!