09 3 GVI - 10 week end of-phase news letter

8th September 2009

Staff Updates Karina Berg has continued to work hard for the Ecuadorian Amazon Expedition as Country Director. Ms. Berg’s hard work and sound management has greatly facilitated the flow of the projects and development not only in the conservation, but also in the community work. Jon Escolar has completed his final expedition with GVI as Base Manager and is pursuing a career in conservation in the United Kingdom. While in the UK, Jon plans to continue his research on the bird and community projects he focused on while at GVI. Matt Iles has completed his 12 month contract with GVI as a member of the expedition staff team. Mr. Iles is considering pursuing other job opportunities involving conservation in Ecuador or other countries. Mr. Iles led the dung beetle project at GVI and will be preparing his conclusions to his research on dung beetles in a final report. Leeron Tagger, the new addition to the expedition staff team at GVI Amazon, arrived six weeks into the expedition phase. In the short amount of time spent in the rainforest, Mr. Tagger, has immersed himself in all the aspects of work, with particular interest in the ongoing amphibian and dung beetle research. Andrew Whitworth and Christopher Beirne continue to push forward the very successful amphibian research project, whilst Samantha Brimble has made excellent progress with the new butterfly project. Intern Ali Quinney teamed up with Samantha Brimble to help push forward the butterfly project and proved herself as a focused and diligent worker who also contributed to other projects and work around camp. Week One The volunteers’ first week included a basic introduction to the reserve, a summary of GVI’s scientific work, and a series of training sessions. Throughout the week volunteers were given introductory talks on birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and vegetation mapping. Volunteers also undertook full camp duty training, which included laundry, cooking, cleaning of the all the base area, and various maintenance responsibilities around the camp. A week one special highlight was the introduction to the TEFL course, where the basics of teaching English as a foreign language to the local community were covered. This involved each volunteer owning the responsibility of planning and delivering a brief five minute lesson to the rest of the volunteer group, on a topic of their choice by way of practice for the weeks of TEFL to ahead. Volunteers spent time out in the field, getting involved in both day and night


walks. The night walks proved to be a highlight for many volunteers as a variety of the Amazon’s nocturnal inhabitants were observed in their glory, creeping through the jungle. Another accent of week one was the grand opening of the amphibian and reptile ‘pitfall’ traps. A large number of volunteers expressed an interest in getting involved in their first taste of fieldwork. The survey made a promising start, with over 20 specimens recorded on the very first day of checking the open traps. Week Two The first full week of surveying for the volunteers translated into amphibian and reptile pitfalls being checked daily, as well as the set up and checking of the dung beetle traps. The pitfalls continued to yield interesting results, in that more reptiles than amphibians were being found in the traps. Seven lizards of five different species were captured during one pitfall checking event. The first wave of identification work from the dung beetle traps paid its dividends with the addition of a new species to the reserve species list. The dung beetle species Eurysternus Caribaeus was captured and identified. On the butterfly front this week, volunteers assisted staff in butterfly trap maintenance and preparation and set up. They were excited to see what effect the new fermented banana bait had on the survey results. Throughout the week, volunteers went out to the Laguna satellite camp in small groups. On the night walk at the lagoon, most were lucky enough to catch sight of caimans silently floating in the water. The night walk was followed by a roaring campfire set under thousands of stars. Before heading back to base the following day, there was time for an early morning bird-watching session at the lookout point nearby. One group managed to spot a pair of King Vultures (Sarcoramphus papa); although already documented on the species list, they had not been previously seen on the reserve by any of the current staff team. Saturday, it was over to the Yachana Lodge for a ‘Minga’, a day of volunteer work to help the community. The day involved draining a small pond, preparing the new lining, and moving countless number of sacks packed with fertiliser for use in the on-site butterfly house. It was hard work spent under the blazing sun, but it was worthwhile and very rewarding. Week Three Week three was the week of the insects. The idea to use fermented banana bait in the butterfly traps proved to be a good choice. On the first day of opening the traps, over 13 specimens were captured and identified. A special mention has to be given to the butterflies of the tribe Morphini; they were caught in the traps for the first time (two different species in two days!). The dung beetle project continued along a similar successful vein as the previous week. Between eight and 13 species were trapped on three new sites (one in primary forest, and two in grasslands). Close observation under the microscope permitted the identification of four species (Canthon luteicollis, Eurysternus plebejus, E. inflexus, E. confusus). This week also saw the closing of the amphibian and reptile pitfall traps. This allows the vegetation surrounding the traps to regenerate, after the daily checks for ten days or two weeks and hopefully encourages the amphibians and reptiles to return to those locations during their rest period. The pitfalls will be ready to open again during the next five week period. From Thursday to Sunday, volunteers and staff members went to the island of Sumak Allpa, located 45 minutes downstream from Coca (also known as Puerto Francisco de Orellana). There


they helped build pathways between local school buildings, using stones collected in the previous five week phase. Walks through the forest were guided by the very knowledgeable owner of the island, Hector Vargas. He provided GVI volunteers with fascinating rainforest information, as well as opportunities to capture, their first glimpses of monkeys (Golden-mantled Tamarins (Saguinus tripartitus), and Black-mantled Tamarins (Saguinus nigricollis), Squirrel Monkeys (sp.Saimiri), Woolly Monkeys (sp. Lagothrix), and the popular White-fronted Capuchins (Cebus albifrons). Week Four Using their new experiences, some of the volunteers taking their BTEC qualification, were given an opportunity to lead their fellow volunteers in the field, under the supervision of GVI staff. Mist-netting (a method that uses nets to capture and help identify birds) was set up for the first time on the Cascada Trail. Although the new location did not prove to be as successful as hoped with regards to the numbers caught, the nets did provide the team with a rich variety of species that included: seven species of hummingbird, three species of manakin and one species of flycatcher. Much to the mist-netters delight, the nets were successful in capturing a Buff-tailed Sicklebill (Eutoxeres condamini), a bird which none of the members at camp had seen before. A great deal of reserve management work was completed in the Yachana Reserve during week four. A total of four new large brightly coloured signs, that identify the forest as a protected area, were posted at different locations around the perimeter of the reserve. Also, a lot of sweat was poured into the construction of a new set of sturdy wooden steps leading up to the communications hill at base camp. At the end of a long and eventful week, the staff and volunteers were cordially invited to attend the Yachana High School graduation, held across the river at the Yachana Lodge. An interesting presentation was given to all by one of the students, who had previously spent time with GVI. Week Five This week both the reptile and amphibian transect locations and butterfly site locations were subject to vegetation mapping. A new method was trialed at one of the butterfly trap sites. On the Monday night’s amphibian transect the first Pristimantis variabilis was found and documented outside of a pitfall trap. After an exciting walk on the Cascada Trail, most of the group cooled off and enjoyed an afternoon swim in the waterfall. The night walks were particularly exciting this week, the group spotted a Fer-de-Lance (sp. B. atrox), (and kept a safe distance from it), and a clever looking Cateyed Snake as well as a Water Snake. Before packing up on the Wednesday for the mid-phase break, a group of volunteers got up early for a spot of sunrise birding. The volunteers oo-ed and ahh-ed at the Violaceous Jays (Cyanocorax violaceus) and Orange-bellied Euphonias (Euphonia xanthogaster) spotted that morning. Thursday was an early morning, as all volunteers and staff headed off base on a canoe to Los Rios and then boarded a bus bound for Tena. Everyone enjoyed a final wild night out together filled with food, drinks and dancing. For some volunteers five weeks had sadly come to an end


and they were heading home, another handful simply took a long weekend break in Baños before returning to GVI base camp on the Napo for the second half of their Amazon expedition. Week Six A new injection of energy and enthusiasm appeared in the form of eight new five week volunteers, eager to join the GVI Amazon expedition. They appeared in Tena excited to get their first glimpse of the rainforest. They were joined a few days later by the four remaining ten weekers who returned from their break in Baños. The first week at camp for the new batch of excited five week volunteers consisted of numerous activities that included practical and theory based presentations. Staff led volunteers into the rainforest, exploring the reserve’s various trails to familiarise themselves with their new environment and to learn more about the various delicate habitat types within. Staff organized a bird watching walk, with the aim of teaching volunteers how to identify the various species visually and audibly. Butterfly traps were assembled this week and were ready to be checked daily over the weeks to come. Several night walks also took place this week. They provided a great experience, as well as good practice for the visual encounter surveys that were part of the on-going amphibian and reptile research projects. In addition to the talks about the reserve’s fascinating wildlife they also had an amusing day learning ‘Emergency First Response’. Week Seven This week the dung beetles, vegetation mapping, butterflies, TEFL preparation, and bird transects projects continued as usual, yielding great results. From Monday to Thursday, the volunteers had fun on the amphibian night transects and had the opportunity to see some strikingly colourful poison dart frogs, tree frogs and even a few snakes! Tuesday the heavens opened up and it rained all day, so all projects were postponed until the following day. Mist-netting began on Wednesday. Four mist-netting sessions went on during the week, and allowed the volunteers to see manakins, thrushes, and vibrant hummingbirds up close and personal. Saturday came, and some of the volunteers went to the local Agua Santa market to buy some scrumptious snacks. The warm afternoon was spent relaxing (except for the camp maintenance team who were working hard at improving base little by little). The social evening saw everyone getting involved with a number of ridiculous comedy games around camp, which was enjoyed by all and brought much laughter to GVI base camp. On Sunday, staff and volunteers took a short canoe ride across the river to Mondaña. There they enjoyed fruity batidos (milk shakes with coconut, banana or other fresh fruits) blended up by the Yachana Lodge staff. After the batido session, it was off to football against the locals. No comment on the score. Week Eight Week eight arrived and several projects at the GVI base camp drew to a close. This phase’s successful butterfly project closed after finding a whopping total of 274 butterflies. During the last week, two new Euptychini species (one identified and one unidentified) and a possible subspecies of Morphini were found.


This week also saw the last bird transect. Although no major sightings occurred during this particular transect, a large group of Paradise Tanagers (Tangara chilensis) and a Honeycreeper (sp. Cyanerpes) were spotted just after the transect was completed. Volunteers and staff were extremely lucky, as they encountered a Northern Amazonian Red Squirrel (Sciurus igniventris), a rarely spotted mammal in these parts. The amphibian and reptile pitfall traps were still in full flow, with a new addition to the species list, the Short-nosed Leaf Litter Snake (Taeniophallus brevirostris). The visual encounter survey transects had also progressed successfully, with the sighting of an Amazon Forest Dragon (Enyalioides laticeps), a first time encounter in this particular area of the forest. Moving away from wildlife, Leeron Tagger a new member of staff who hails from the United States, joined the GVI team at the Yachana Reserve. Management plans this week involved working on the borders of the reserve. GPS points were plotted along the border, and coffee plants were being used to define the edges of the reserve. Week ine This week was certainly a busy week for the volunteers. Not only did they have lots of research to complete but they also had to prepare for the much awaited trip to the Yasuní National Park. Much vegetation mapping was completed for both butterflies and the amphibian and reptile projects. Week ten also saw the closure of the pitfall traps for this phase. Early Thursday morning everyone but a few staff members set off towards Yasuní National Park. The trip was amazing, volunteers and staff had the experience of a life time. Countless numbers of birds were seen throughout the trip, swooping over head, resting high in the tree tops, flying in flocks, and even eating clay. On a day hike with Hector, the brilliant guide of the Yasuní trip, the group had an incredible sighting of a Pygmy Marmoset (Cebuella pygmaea), clinging to the trunk of a tree, as well as sightings of two other primate species. On a night walk, a member of the group made an exceptional sighting of a Bicolored-spined Porcupine (Coendou bicolor) walking in the branches high above their heads. A number of the volunteers were lucky enough to get a good look at it even though it was high up in the canopy. Week Ten The final week meant that the volunteers could spend their last few days enjoying the splendours in the Yachana Reserve’s rainforest before Thursday’s early morning departure to Tena. It was no surprise that camp members were eager to participate in long walks in the forest, and a swim at the waterfall on the Cascada Trail to savour their last moments in the Amazon rainforest. On Wednesday, a delicious dinner was prepared early at camp, and packed up to be eaten out in the field. A group of volunteers and staff headed out towards the Laguna Trail and tea-time was


spent watching the glowing sun fall behind the trees. As night crept into the jungle and after doing a spot of birding at the Laguna lookout point, staff and volunteers wound their way down in the dark to see what the murky waters of the lagoon had to offer them that night. Everyone was thrilled to see the red reflected eye shine given off by the floating caiman, lurking ominously in the darkness. The superb experience was heightened by the orchestra of numerous frog species. The late night ended back at GVI base camp with a much needed cold shower, and a cup of delicious hot chocolate, the perfect finish to a hard-working, but most enjoyable ten week expedition. Science Updates Amphibians and reptiles The amphibian project has continued with great success using both visual encounter surveys and pitfall traps to survey both amphibians and reptiles. Over 800 individuals have been recorded since the start of the project at the end of June and hopefully some analysis on the data can begin shortly. It is also hoped that more work can be carried out in identifying different types of the Pristimantis ockendeni complex. Butterflies A new butterfly project started this phase, examining the impact of trail use and roads on fruitfeeding nymphalid communities. Forty traps were baited with fermented banana and checked daily for 14 days. The initial stages of this project were a success with 277 individuals captured representing over 82 different species. The project will continue using the same methods in the next expedition. Birds The bird road transect came to a close at the end of this expedition and demonstrated which types of species were more abundant at particular points along the road which cuts through the reserve. There is some scope to continue this work looking at the distribution of fruiting trees along the road and comparing this with the species found at these points. Mist-netting also continued but included netting on the Inca trail which is the first time for mist-netting and saw the capture of various ant-birds, which prior to this location had not really been common. Dung Beetles Throughout this phase, ten dung beetle sites were sampled twice each. Five of these sites were in the primary forest and five were in the secondary matrix. Four baited traps were in each site and these were baited and left open for 48 hours at a time, (twice each during the phase). In total 1567 beetles were captured, consisting of 26 species, from nine different genera. Nine of these were relatively common, whilst five of these species only occurred once. Analysis will take place in order to determine if there are any patterns between sites and between the primary forest and the secondary matrix. The following expedition will see each site being surveyed to get an idea of the vegetation present. Subsequently each site can be exposed for a further 24 hours in order to obtain more data. Later work can focus on bait preferences and trap attraction distances. Reserve Management Lots of work has been done around the reserve as part of the on-going management plan to help Isaac and Piter, the two Ecuadorians who are currently overseeing the implementation of the reserve plan. New signs have been painted and erected, defining the borders and borders have begun to be planted with coffee plants with the aim of marking the border more clearly. There has also been some re-planting in some grassland areas within the reserve. The work on the management plan will continue during the following expeditions.


Community Projects Community relations are improving incredibly due to the hard work of Jon Escolar. Jon has completed an excellent project on looking at the history of the reserve, which has allowed GVI to understand more about how the reserve land was used prior to the purchase of the plots of land by the Yachana Foundation. This also helped to understand, why all the secondary forest areas are located where they are. He successfully interviewed a handful of the farmers in the local community, including the community president, Don Sergio Santana, with regards to the location of important areas of the reserve for animals and fruiting plants. This work should continue in the future expeditions with the influence of Chris Beirne.


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