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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Like Here, Only Different ~ Slow Walking

A larger part of our day to day work activity involved walking.  Very. Slow. Walking.  I think, aside from the need for a lot of insecticide spray/repellent, I found walking slowly VERY challenging.

Transect walks and behavior observations were done daily on any of the four  transect trails; Mammal Colpa , A, C and Brazil Nut.  Each was a different length but most range from 3 to 4 Km one way.  I loved having a good, solid walk every day in such an interesting environment.  The Brazil Nut trail was the longest at about 10-12 Km round trip.

During Transect walks, a team of two or three observers, led by one of the scientists, walked the length of the trail.  The goal was to find key animal and bird species in the environment and when they were encountered collect data on their numbers, behavior and location.  Questions about the impact of humans in the populations and behaviors of the animals require more data as eco-tourism increases.  The needs of key or threatened species like the cats must be established.  Range, territory and prey species need to be understood.  How the mineral colpas serve the needs of the animals may lead to considering their locations and abundance in protecting habitat.

Typically the scientist would lead, focusing on the immediate area on, above and next to the path.  The second would watch the area slightly deeper into the habitat and above.  The person in the rear observed even deeper into the habitat and to the rear to make sure there was no animal following or fleeing behind.

We walked at 1 Km /hour which is a very slow pace for me.  It was also important to maintain as quiet a step as possible.  Sometimes this was a challenge given the amount of leaves on the ground and the presence of twigs and stems.  Silence was also important as often the only hint of an animals presence or fleeing was the rustle of the vegetation.  This ditch crossing and trail are somewhat typical of many of the paths.  Rustly leaves.  Trying hard to be quiet is a challenge.  Like trying to sneak into the cookie jar, the harder you try, the more you fumble.

When an animal was encountered they were watched and their behavior or reactions were categorized.  We also recorded their distance from the trail and height above the trail using range finders.  Where there were multiple animal, there was an attempt to count the number of juveniles and babies.  Usually the animals flee and are not seen by all the team members.  The best chance of seeing animals was during the primate encounters.  Typically the monkey troops were spread over a wider area and they passed overhead in noisy , tree crashing flights. 

Saddleback Tamarins were particularly fun to encounter.  These small monkeys have sort of a feisty attitude, in my opinion.  At times one would approach as if it was far to fierce to be reckoned with and we better leave, by golly!  Mostly a lead animal would watch steadily as the rest of the troop would move away.  Their departure was typically a somewhat purposeful but not frantic navigation.  It seems they were the ones most likely to come near, or be in the lower middle story.  I only got one fair photo of monkeys during the trip.  Usually they were simply too high and better observed in binoculars.

Small mammals of the jungle are challenging as they have the dense understory to shelter them from our eyes.  Paca

and Agouti were most common

with Brocket Deer also possible.

One species we always knew when they were about.  Even if they were not there, we knew they had been.  White-lipped Peccary live in herds of 50+ animals.  They are noisy with squeals, rumbles, clicks and rooting sounds much like common swine.  Their most notable characteristic is their smell.  Holy Cats you know when they have been in your environment!  The smell seems too linger in the nostrils like all musky scents.  They are also potentially dangerous if they charge as they are not afraid of charging right past or through your group.  When they run they really cover ground.  I did get to have one observation of a group of about 75 animals ranging for tiny babies to large adults.  I felt I could still smell them a few hours later.  These animals are the Jaguars main prey species.

White-wing Trumpeters earn the name of Heart Attack birds as they would sit right at trails edge until you came close they they would blast away in flight.  I had more than one "heart attack" during my walks.  Spix Guan I nicknamed the Jackass Birds as their braying alarm call reminded me of a Mule.  I think, aside from the tamarin troops these were the most common target species encountered.  I usually got a good look as they would fly up and perch on a branch before moving off.

It was a great treat to get a couple encounters with Tamandua.  These pretty anteaters spend most of their time int he trees seeking ants and termites.  Termite nests are easily spotted in the trees but the Tamaduas, with their slow moving way, were quiet and less obvious.

Creatures that eat ants and termites have a good living in this environment.  Ants of all types are everywhere and termite nests seem just as plentiful.

Our walks usually started around 545am and we walked (slowly) out about 3.5 to 4 Km before turning around and coming back to camp.  At the study pace this was usually 6 hours.  During the second week we covered some of the transect trails in reverse, walking all the way to the far end then starting back (slowly) at 6am.  This meant getting up at 330 to hit the trail by 4am.

This day we had a shortfall of provisions due to a logistics issues and packed some cookies and crackers to nibble on before starting our walk at 6am.  I have to say there was something sort of special sitting on a log deep in the jungle as it woke up, eating Oreos.

The great bonus of doing this transect is that we were 1 Km from home base when we finished.  A short quick walk and there we were.  It was 11 am and why not, we peeked into the kitchen.  We struck it rich with our special treat.

It was so good and so welcome I took a picture of it.

Chef Rosie's Bu├▒uelos and Coffee.  The Coffee was that which was picked on the neighbors farm property and roasted right there.  The bu├▒uelos are made with pumpkin puree, flour, eggs and milk then deep fried.  Strawberry jam and Dulce de Leche are the topping.

Sweet tasty bites of heaven. 

As before, the animal photos, except the tamarin, brought to you by Google Images.  (sigh)


  1. It's so interesting to know that such detailed observations are taking place in the wilds like this. It's so necessary to know how the environment is being impacted.

  2. Thanks Louise.

    If you visit the Biosphere homepage you will find out about more of their world wide work andhow some of their efforts have paid off in land protections and policy decisions by governments.

    I have always participated in efforts locally. This was a new experience, building on a trip I had to Costa Rica a few years ago.

    I cannot wait for another opportunity