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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Like Here, Only Different ~ Into the Woods

My familiarity with my home woodlands makes me feel comfortable in any situation I face when out and about locally.  When I enter a different environment, however, my usual tools are a bit weak.  I don't know the names of plants and trees and do not recognize stand-out plants.  Typically I make use of contour and terrain to orient to the direction (compass) and recognize a location I have passed before.
But here in the jungle all bets were off. 

The land is almost perfectly flat.  There were some small hills and gullies, usually associated with a stream or the area near the river where small streams have cut deep.  One factor is that it is hard to see where the sun is coming from.  Blue sky was rare in the dense jungle and even when you could see it, the direction the sun was shining from was hard to tell. 

In addition, right now the sun is in the north, totally opposite to my usual "sun to the south" orientation.

Flying out of the Andes to the eastern country it was miles and miles of treetop with no obvious hills.  Here at home, handy mountains and bodies of water can keep you pointed in the right direction.  In our little exploration territory, the saving grace was that there are very little in the way of paths.  Only those hacked out and trod upon were available.  The Las Piedras river was our boundary and North was always the direction for home.  A large stream and waterfall behind the main compound was a catching feature.

On the reserve, four major trails or "Transects" occupied our time.  It was along these trails; Mammal Colpa , Brazil Nut and Transects A and C that we did our walking observations.  There was a minor trail called the Waterfall which had a small amount of new work started.  Typically it was a trail for a pleasure stroll.

But this jungle certainly held familiar sights.  Fungus of all types serve to break down rotting wood and convert it to usable nutrients.  Sometimes it was questionable as to what an item was spore or fungus.

Many of the leaves that have fallen appeared similar in type and structure to some at home.  It is now the dry season and the leaves in places were quite thick.  Breathing deep I appreciated that they smell like the November woods here at home, only not at 85 degrees.  I even had a shoofle through some.

Occasionally a small marshy are would appear and I had a good look at a Tiger Heron in one.  During the wet season the iconic and colorful tree frogs come down from high in their trees to find mates.  It is here in the marshes you will see them.  After mating they return up the trees and lay their eggs high in bromeliads and holes. 

Every layer of the forest is filled with plants and trees and there is seldom an open area.  Occasionally , where tall trees dominate you can see into the low understory, but usually it is clearly an area that will swallow you up within 5 meters.  Observations of animals is primarily with the ears rather than the eyes.  Birds are exceptionally elusive.

Like here at home, crossing ditches and wet areas can often be a matter of a few logs plopped across the waterfeature.  My favorite bridge had a nice hand rail that was lashed into place with vines.  A sturdy 2 x 8 plank was a luxury.

Trees are massive and high.  Ironwood, an iconic tree of these jungles can live for over 1000 years.  These are the trees prefered by Macaws for nesting.  They are harvested for their timbers. Since they take such a long time to grow to the appropriate size for nesting, the loss of these trees can be quite devistation to the total environment.  Thankfully Macaws accept nesting boxes and efforts have been made to establish them in area impacted by illegal logging.

This cedar type tree was poached from right near our Macaw Colpa.  We saw Mahogany rafts made of sawn timbers at our canoe port when we returned home to Puerto Maldonado.  Mahogany poaching is a big problem and it is a wood best not considered for new construction.  Salvaged Mahogany can be found in old buildings but export of prime new wood continues.

Brazil Nut Trees give out their fruits in the shape of a cocoanut like ball.  If you shake them you can hear the nutlets rattling inside.  Brazil Nut farming is a sustainable crop.  The large nuts are collected in baskets then machette opened to release the individual nuts, whch are raked and dried in the sun.  We found many rotten nuts which are left behind.  Some of our group had the fun opportuntiy to watch a monkey trying to break open a nut casing.  They had a laugh when the poor animal dropped the difficult fruit after failing to whack and bite it open.  They said it truly looked disappointed.

Vines are everywhere.  Many of them we recognize from the indoor plants in our home.  Ficus and Philodendron grow in many colors and forms.

Strangler Fig can grow to massive dimention, completely ovewhelming the tree upon which it grows.

One Fig called a Walking Fig can actually move as much as 5 meters in its lifetime.  The stiltlike legs can adjust the position of growth for optimal light conditions.

Like here at home, trees support a wide array of ferns and symbiotic plants such as bromeliades  High up in the branches of the highest tree is where orchids take root.  I carefully looked at the fallen trees to see if I could find blooming orchids and I did find one.  Many of the orchids were not in bloom , much to my disappointment.  During one work session, Sara, one of the scientists, collected small orchid plants from a fallen and crushed log.  She tries to salvage and propegate them at home.  Some of the trees around camp support rehomed orchids.  I placed plants that had fallen from trees back onto logs and into tree crotches in hope that they would take root in the bark.

It did not take me long to feel comfortable in this environment.  I began to recognize certain trees and became aware of distance marker ribbons.  I often knew how far to Base Camp.

When it is 90 degrees and you have been out walking for six hours with your water running low, this is vital information to have.  I did have one misadventure involving direction, fatigue and route finding.

More about that later.


  1. You are one adventurous woman. And this territory is fascinating.

  2. I dont think a person could learn this landscape in a lifetime. Absorbing it in 2 weeks was somewhat overwhelming.