Friday, September 17, 2010

Jungle images

Getting good photos in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve was a challenge. By definition a jungle is dense and the light is not always favorable for a basic point-and-shoot camera. Here is our portal into the jungle from our boat. This is where our 6-kilometer transect begins.

This shows the density of vegetation in the jungle. We were cautioned to not touch logs and trees, as they can harbor biting insects and sharp spines. It was suggested that while walking we focus on the trail where it is easy to trip on a vine or step on a snake. The rule was to not walk when looking up in the canopy.

This is what I call the "upside down umbrella tree." The roots fan out from the trunk. At the base of each root another cluster of upside down umbrellas begins.

A "flying buttress tree" spreads wing-like roots at its base.

These busy leaf-cutter ants were very obvious to the eye, but are difficult to see in a photo. Look for the small, green, irregular shaped pieces of leaf. They are traveling from left to right near the center of the photo. Don't feel bad. We didn't see most of the monkeys our guides spotted along the way. (Click any photo to enlarge.)

Piraña was a common fish in the Samiria River. It is handled with great caution (and leather gloves).

Returning down the Marañon River one day we passed by and disturbed a couple thousand cormorants. (Click HERE to see movie)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nauta, Peru

Nauta, a town of about 10,000 people on the Marañon River, is about 65 miles north of Iquitos. It is just upriver from the confluence of the Marañon and Ucayali Rivers, where the Amazon River begins its snaking 2,000-mile flow to the Atlantic.

River transport is the traditional way to move people and goods. In 2005 a paved road was completed after 20 arduous years of construction. It is the only paved road in the Loreto region, an area covering almost one-third of Peru’s territory. Our group had the morning free to tour Nauta before continuing on to Iquitos by bus. The river level is too low at Iquitos for the Ayapua.

Rose and I were invited by Rocío to visit her home and family who live not far from where we are docked. Over the past 12 days Rocío single-handedly served three full meals daily to 19 Earthwatch volunteers and seven scientists in the dining room.

Nauta waterfront

Vegetables in market

Yuca (manioc), bananas, pineapple, camu camu

Rose and Rocío

This photo says it all for me, representing my experience over the past two weeks:

• Thank you to the people of Loreto,
• Thank you to the Ayapua and her crew for putting up with 19 picky volunteers,
• Hasta la vista to the awesome Marañon River,
• And to the people who live in and around the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve (background in photo): Thank you for your hospitality and congratulations on your conservation efforts.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Community-based wildlife conservation on the Samiria River

Having just spent two weeks as an Earthwatch volunteer in the Peruvian Amazon, I have the sensation that I just completed an accelerated course in the natural history of the Amazon basin while contributing to the conservation efforts. We were 19 volunteers of diverse nationality, age and experience. For nine days we counted various wildlife species, noting their location and quantity. At the end of each day we entered this information into a database that contains reports of hundreds of counts like ours. Over time, this information shows major trends in wildlife population changes.

Arthur looks on while Euclides removes the fish net on the Samiria River. Euclides lives in nearby Bolívar and is an expert guide for fishing census. The information we gather reflects the changing practices of local communities. Local people know that a proper balance with nature is the only chance of survival for all.

Views of Bolívar village from the Samiria River. We had often passed by this village on the way to the day’s activities. It was a pleasure to be invited to visit there on our final day. We were able to report to the village that, thanks to their conservation efforts, some species - such as caiman - were increasing in numbers.

Village houses are successfully protected from rain with this weaving of palm branches. Our expert guides Alfredo and Euclides invited us into their homes and to meet their families. After 11 or 12 years they will have to build a new house for the family.

Family garden plots have a mixture of yuca, corn, beans, and bananas. Some fields are dedicated to yuca only.

Children in the garden, dressed-up. Many children entertained us in the school room with imitations of animal sounds in the forest. After we presented gifts of school materials, the children invited us all to dance to the tunes of the band, consisting of two drums and a quena style flute. The high point of my visit was dancing with Alfredo’s 7-year old daughter in the small school room.

Nurse Angélica and Roger with village children.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve

On Monday, August 30, after navigating upriver on the Marañon River in eastern Peru, the 33-meter long Ayapua, with 19 Earthwatch volunteers, several Peruvian biologists, crew and assorted personnel, arrives at the mouth of the Samiria River. The Marañon is one of the major tributaries of the Amazon River. We are just above its confluence with the Ucayali River, where the Amazon proper begins, though it is sometime called the Salimões.

The water level in this Peruvian area of the upper Amazon basin is at a 40-year low, so we cannot enter the Samiria where we had hoped. We will still be able to conduct field research with small auxiliary boats. We traveled upriver for two days with a flotilla of seven small boats tied to the Ayapua. We will stay on the river for twelve days. Accommodations are very comfortable and the crew is friendly and very helpful. The food is wonderful. We eat lots of river fish and chicken with rice and fried bananas with delicious sauces. It's different every day.

A crewmember is securing our bow to a tree on the Marañon. From October to December the river level will rise and flood the lowland forest, known as várzea. These trees have high water marks at about 2-3 meters.

The shore of the Marañon shows signs of low water near our boat. We must navigate around submerged trees and snags every day to get to our study areas. The expert boatmen can do this even in the dark of night when we search for caiman.

Morning banana delivery at the Ayapua

Resident tarantula on the Ayapua

Our job is to help the resident biologists collect and record data about wildlife populations in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Other volunteer groups have been doing the same throughout the year and more will follow us. Biologist Tula Fang accompanies us while volunteer Sandra records the 58 pink and grey river dolphins we counted this day.

Sandy poses at the base of a “flying buttress” tree. These bizarre roots can occupy a space of 30 feet wide, although the trunk might be only three feet in diameter. This was on the shorter, 4-kilometer transect.

Few flowers are in bloom in the forest right now, so this was a welcome sight. Of course, the best photo opportunities were lost as they were so fleeting: colorful yellow, orange, blue, or black butterflies that flutter closely by but are gone after 3 or 4 seconds; a flock of 20 brightly colored macaws that flush from a tree top; the graceful and playful movement of dolphins that surface momentarily and grunt only a few feet from the boat; a tamarin monkey gliding through the jungle canopy, almost indistinguishable from the leaves and tree limbs. These are continual sightings throughout the day, and bring great pleasure, if not good photos.

Our guide Alfredo poses with three happy campers, Kim, Tessa and Tom.

Alfredo and I emerge from the forest after a 6-kilometer trek where he spotted families of different species of monkeys. I later entered the data into the database that reflected 101 animals counted that day on our trek in the jungle. As he watched the treetops, Rose and I watched where we placed our feet so we would not trip on a vine and fall or step on a snake. There were two 3-foot long snakes on the trail.