All posts by Lee Dingain

Visiting scientists from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

During October REGUA has welcomed several groups of university students to make use of the fantastic resources on site. Pictured below is teacher Leandro Talione Sabagh and four undergraduate students from UFRJ. Leandro completed his PhD with interactions between frogs and bromeliads and nowadays teaches at the university whilst continuing to research, now on the effects of climate change

The students are on a “scientific initiation” programme and coming to REGUA to take part in a week long experiment was an important part of their studies. On site the team were looking at the effect of water temperature on insects and tadpoles. Leandro and others Professors from UFRJ also teaches classes in REGUA.

In this visit, he and his students are preparing fieldwork classes. Part of their fieldwork involved flooding bromeliads with water (to make mini lakes) and then studying which organisms were attracted to those bromeliads in the shade (energy from detritus) and the sun (energy from photosynthetic algae) and how the community composition and ecosystem’s process differ in the two situations.

Leandro said “around 2010 a colleague brought me to REGUA and I liked it here. Nicholas and Raquel are so friendly and helpful. Now I come back at least twice a year with my students and I also teach a class here on ecology. Students love coming here but we all find it really hot! REGUA is an important place, the work here is important also, inclusive to subside the conservation proposes.”

Raquel Mattos Goncolves da Costa, Ana Luiza Lima, Leticia Silveira Azevedo, Thainá Lorrane dos Santos Morais
Raquel Mattos Goncolves da Costa, Ana Luiza Lima, Leticia Silveira Azevedo, Thainá Lorrane dos Santos Morais (© Fiona Daborn)
Studying bromeliads (© Fiona Daborn)

UNEES conference at REGUA

UNEES conference at REGUA
UNEES conference at REGUA (© Fiona Daborn)

From 22-24 October REGUA hosted delegates from Brazil, Mozambique and Germany for the UNEES conference (University meets Private Sector for Sustainability).

The project, led by Prof. Dr Leandro Fontoura of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro links the teaching and research activities of the three participating universities with sustainable actors from the private sector, creating a knowledge transfer channel in the field of rural development (in particular issues such as natural resource degradation and food insecurity).

The university partners involved are:

  • the “Centre for Rural Development” of the Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany;
  • the MA programme “Rural development and Development Management” at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique;
  • the MA programme “Sustainable Development Practice” at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (UFRRJ).

How does it work?

Universities contribute action and development research to help solve the problems encountered by businesses. Businesses offer internships to students on Rural Development courses to enable students to help solve challenges and understand what the private sector needs. Universities improve their courses by incorporating practical examples from their business partners and businesses contribute guest lectures as appropriate.

In Day 1 of the workshop at REGUA we heard from a range of existing partners. First up was Robson of the Comunidade Rural do Bonfim, (about 3000 people) near Petropolis in Brazil. In 1984 the Brazilian government made the whole area, including their land, into a national park, meaning that traditional activities of farming were no longer permitted. They are in the process of transitioning to be able to offer Eco Tourism to visitors and they have students from UFRRJ on placement with them to help research and plan.

Next up was Hanna from Frankenforder Forschungsgesellschaft in Berlin, a private research company working in the area of agriculture and nutrition. Hannah had recently hosted an intern from UFRRJ (Brazil) to help solve various business challenges. For example, the intern helped a local asparagus company turn the parts of the asparagus that weren’t eaten into something useful, for instance a form of packaging, or a grain that could be added to bread to increase the nutritional value.

Raquel presenting at the UNEES conference (© Fiona Daborn)

The Mozambique team, made up of professors from a leading university in the country, contributed a very interesting presentation on their partnership with a National Park, a bank and a local solar power business.

Potential new partners also had their opportunity to present – Katie Weintraub working at the Sinal do Vale regeneration centre near to Rio is a current student on the MA in “Sustainable Development Practice” at UFRRJ. She showed a great video showcasing their hospitality services and sustainability projects around forest restoration, organic agriculture, and community development. One highlight was a bioconstruction project where local youth and international architects worked together to create a “marquee” space to host events (and bring in income to help the centre become self-supporting) – the final product was an amazing octagonal space made with recycled toothpaste tubes, a material which had the added benefit of keeping the interior cool.

The final slot went to Francine from “Articulacao entre chefs e Agricultre” using the CSA method – Comunidade que sustenta a Agricultura. Francine, originally a chef, set up the business to ensure that local producers got a good price for their crops and that food was used by restaurants as close as possible to where it was grown for maximum freshness and sustainability.

In between sessions, the delegates enjoyed exploring the grounds at REGUA and catching some good sightings of both Brazilian Tapir and Capybara!

Visit of the British Consul General

British Consul General visit to REGUA (© Colin Daborn)

REGUA received a visit on Thursday 18th October from the Rio based British Consul General, Simon Wood, along with his wife Pippa and colleague Clarissa Vargas. The focus of the consular work is to promote trade and friendship between Brazil and the UK. Arriving in time for a “cafezinho” (British style, with milk!) the party then set off around the Wetland Trail, looking out for wildlife and hearing about the history and biodiversity of REGUA along the way.

Living in Rio for over a year (following assignments in Tokyo and then Copenhagen), this was Simon’s first visit to REGUA which had been recommended to him by a neighbour. Nicholas and Raquel shared with them about the ambitious reforestation project and other activities including REGUA’s education work with local schools and universities.

After a lunch featuring Brazilian rice and beans alongside English cottage pie, they visited the lodge to see for themselves the warm welcome and cosy accommodation available for visiting birdwatchers and tourists.

The accidental birdwatcher

Capybara Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris (© Colin Daborn)

Volunteers Fiona and Colin Daborn report on their second week at REGUA.

We’ve now come to the end of our second week volunteering at REGUA and there has been plenty of work on trail maintenance, tree planting and nursery tasks. We’ve also chalked up a surprisingly extensive species list. We love the outdoors and all things nature but we wouldn’t classify ourselves as serious birders. At home in the UK we love seeing birds when we are out and about hiking or camping but we don’t normally keep a log. Life at REGUA is different. Whilst doing our volunteering we have so far seen an incredible 48 species of birds not to mention numerous butterflies and moths. My favourite bird is the bright red Brazilian Tanager Ramphocelus bresilius, easy to spot and still breathtakingly colourful even after a few sightings.

But there is more to REGUA than just birds. Our volunteer shared house backs on to the wetlands and most mornings before breakfast we have been down to the water’s edge to watch the group of 12 or so Capybara Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris who have made a small island their home. It has been a real treat to see them so close and they are great subjects for photos because they stay relatively still.

From the same location you can sometimes also catch a glimpse of a Broad-snouted Caiman Caiman latirostris gliding slyly through the water, keeping a low profile and watching out for his next meal. Sometimes the only part showing is a bulging glassy eye. Just once so far we have been able to see a sloth up high in the bare branches of a tree – standing just outside Casa 3 (another volunteer/visitors house) with binoculars it was great to watch him as he moved at glacial speed down the trunk.

Jararacussa Bothrops jararacussu (© Colin Daborn)

We’ve also had the privilege (?) of seeing two snakes this week. We disturbed the Tiger Rat Snake Spilotes pullatus while clearing debris on the Brown Trail – it must have sensed us coming and the first indication was a steady rustling noise as it slithered away through the leaves and then up a tree. Obviously feeling safe at that point it stayed still watching us watching him/her! Our other sighting was whilst walking back to the truck after tree planting as we followed a small stream, I glanced down and saw a venomous Jararacussa Bothrops jararacussu coiled on a rock on the lookout for lunch. As we were up on the bank at a safe distance there was plenty of time to study the impressive patterning and triangular head.

Most evenings around 5 pm you can find us sitting at the top of the observation tower, reclining in the comfy chairs and having a definite sense of being “on top of the world”. The view from there is amazing (you must come and see!) and truly hopeful – there are trees as far as the eye can see. We’ve spotted lots of hummingbirds from this viewpoint but on the walk back from the tower to our house we’ve also been lucky enough to see tapir. REGUA is in the midst of a Lowland Tapir Tapirus terrestris reintroduction programme so it has been fascinating to learn about that but even more exciting to see the tapir themselves snuffling around in the undergrowth rediscovering their native landscape.

We’re looking forward to exploring more of this landscape ourselves in Week three of our volunteering adventure. Coming soon!

Follow Fiona and Colin’s adventures at REGUA on their blog.

The orchestra of the night

Tropical Screech-Owl roost by the REGUA Conservation Centre by day and are often heard at night (© Lee Dingain)

Volunteers Fiona and Colin Daborn report on their volunteering at REGUA.

One thing we didn’t expect when we signed up as “General Volunteers” with REGUA, was that there would be an on site orchestra… but now, two weeks into our stay we are very much tuned in to the soundtrack of REGUA. The music begins before first light with a Brazilian dawn chorus; lots of high twitterings like the flute section joining the mix, preceded only by one or two mournful cicadas who emit a piercing monotone anguished cry – perhaps they just don’t like mornings.

During the day different sections of the orchestra have their turn; working in the plant nursery it is common to hear the cheerful melody of the Great Kiskadee announcing his arrival (“kis-ka-dee”), trail clearing in the forest we enjoy additional percussion from the White-bearded Manakin who sounds the high hat cymbal (if you’ve heard a Stonechat it is very similar) and while we are raking leaves by the wetlands we are interrupted by the occasional double bass bark of the placid Capybara.

As evening approaches, and especially after heavy rain, it is the turn of the baritone section – a rhythmic baseline of rich gurgling is added by the numerous frogs and toads in the soggy undergrowth. Their song is surprisingly deep and loud, each croak followed by another just one tone higher or lower. Before long, our friendly Tropical Screech-Owl, who regularly visits to choose his dinner from the many moths by our refectory lights, sounds the final haunting note of today’s symphony. Time for bed before it all begins again!

Follow Fiona and Colin’s adventures at REGUA on their blog.

Fiona and Colin’s volunteer diary – week 1

Fiona and Bruno weeding in the REGUA nursery (© Colin Daborn)

Volunteers Fiona and Colin Daborn report on their first week at REGUA.

Nearly at the end of our first week as general volunteers at REGUA and we are loving it so far. After a warm welcome from Nicholas, Raquel and the team on Monday (8th October) we were out with Jorge (REGUA Research Coordinator) on the lush “green trail” in search of butterflies. When we got back we had time to settle into our room in one of the volunteer houses, complete with well stocked bookshelves and a table perfect for writing up our sightings.

Tuesday saw us working in the plant nursery with Mauricio and Bruno planting seedlings and preparing new soil bags. Bruno turned out to be a fantastic Portuguese teacher too, so we expanded our vocabulary whilst weeding!

On Wednesday the sun was shining as we joined the hard-working ranger team led by Rui, planting out young trees to help reforest bare slopes. It was impressive to see the team workflow with each person having their own task – hoeing, preparing holes, adding compost, bringing the plants up to the steepest slopes in two baskets on the back of a mule, then passing the young trees across the slope so that the rest of the team could do the final stage of planting.

After a dramatic thunder and lightning storm, Thursday dawned wet and the air was filled with the sound of contented frogs! After a morning back in the nursery we joined the rest of the team for a short drive out to have lunch with one of the families who have a small holding adjoining REGUA land. Our host was so grateful to REGUA for protecting the land in the valley surrounding his farm that he wanted to provide a Thank You lunch. The table was laden with rice and beans, manioc, various salads, pasta, a local speciality of baked cod with boiled eggs and two meat dishes including one prepared in the blood of a chicken. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another mouthful, dessert appeared – homemade passion fruit mousse or Brazilian trifle! After lunch we joined Professor Carlos back in REGUA classroom for the weekly session of the Young Rangers. Colin shared a presentation on his work as a National Trust ranger in the UK and there were plenty of lively questions about the size of snakes in Dorset! (photo 3)

It has been a great opportunity so far to share our skills and experience with REGUA but also to learn a lot about our new environment from the team and the many visiting scientists. We’re looking forward to seeing what next week brings!

Follow Fiona and Colin’s adventures at REGUA on their blog.

Colin planting (© Fiona Daborn)
Colin presenting (© Fiona Daborn)

Great Horned Owls found breeding at REGUA!

Great Horned Owls, REGUA, 19 August 2018 (© Adilei Carvalho da Cunha)
Great Horned Owls, REGUA, 19 August 2018 (© Adilei Carvalho da Cunha)

In October 2017 our bird guide Adilei Carvalho da Cunha heard a Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus at the village of Matumbo, situated at the edge of REGUA. With a large range covering much of North, Central and South America, Great Horned Owl had long been predicted as a future addition to the REGUA bird list, but this was the first record for the reserve.

Tantalizingly, there was no further sign until just a few days ago on the 18 August 2018 when Adilei finally saw a bird – the first sight record for REGUA. When he returned the next morning with his camera he found not one bird but a pair! Then while watching and photographing them he was amazed when they mated right in front of him!

What an incredible record and yet another owl species for REGUA. The addition of Great Horned Owl takes the REGUA bird list to an incredible 479 species! Well done Adilei for finding and documenting such a great record.

Great Horned Owls, REGUA, 19 August 2018 (© Adilei Carvalho da Cunha)
Great Horned Owls, REGUA, 19 August 2018 (© Adilei Carvalho da Cunha)
Great Horned Owl, REGUA, 19 August 2018 (© Adilei Carvalho da Cunha)
Great Horned Owl, REGUA, 19 August 2018 (© Adilei Carvalho da Cunha)

REGUA’s 12th British Birdfair

The REGUA UK Team at Birdfair 2019, from left: Sue Healey, Lee Dingain, Alan Martin and Rachel Walls (© Dan Bradbury)
The REGUA UK Team at Birdfair 2019, from left: Sue Healey, Lee Dingain, Alan Martin and Rachel Walls (© Dan Bradbury)

This was the 12th year in a row that REGUA has attended the British Birdwatching Fair, and what a successful Birdfair it was!

Held each year at Egleton Nature Reserve at Rutland Water in England, the Birdfair is the world’s largest conservation fundraising fair and this year (the 30th Birdfair) is helping to fund the creation of the Ansenuza National Park in Argentina.

Our stand was once again organized and manned by our dedicated volunteers, Rachel Walls, Lee Dingain and Sue Healey, with assistance from Alan Martin, and Ken Sutton and Stuart Housden also both helping out for a day. It was good we had so many people helping because we had a large number of visitors to the stand, new faces, past visitors and volunteers and volunteers signed up to our volunteer programme.

Birdfair is also a great opportunity to catch up with our supporters and friends at the World Land Trust, Puro Coffee and Serra dos Tucanos.

REGUA is now well and truly on the birdwatching map and we are a firm believers that international birdwatching tourism is crucial in helping REGUA carry out our urgent conservation work protecting the Atlantic Forest of the Guapiaçu valley.

A huge thanks to everybody who visited our stand and also to all the Birdfair volunteers for making the event run so smoothly. We would also like to give a special thanks to Guto Carvalho of Avistar (the Brazilian Bird Fair) for mentioning REGUA in their excellent talk, and to Rachel Walls for all her hard work behind the scenes organising the REGUA stand each year and for baking her amazing cakes!

We look forward to seeing some of you at REGUA soon! If you have any enquiries about visiting REGUA then please drop us a email.

Highlights of successful dragonfly tour 2018

Male of Progomphus virginiae in hand, splendid addition to the reserve list (© Tom Kompier)

A group of dragonfly enthusiasts from the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden occupied the lodge at REGUA between 5-20 January to look for dragonflies and damselflies with Tom Kompier, the author of our field guide on these winged gems – A Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil.

Immature male Nehalennia minuta, new for REGUA! (© Henrik Korzen)

REGUA is one of the world’s best dragonfly hotspots in terms of diversity, and the group was not disappointed. With a total of 166 species seen, the tour even surpassed previous tours.

Not only were there second records of Lestes tricolor and Micrathyria spinifera, and good views of the critically endangered Minagrion ribeiroi and its rare cousin Minagrion waltheri, the group also managed photos of two species not previously documented with photos in nature. Edonis helena is a rarely seen small dragonfly from northern Argentina only recently known to extend into Brazil. A small population occurs in the area. The second was Macrothemis capitata, rediscovered by Tom several years ago at Salinas, but now found in the The Três Picos State Park at the top of our watershed.

Best of all, the group found two species new to the reserve list. The first was an exciting tiny damsel, Nehalennia minuta, found at the old wetland in the reserve. This species occurs widely in South America, but is not often found. And the second was Progomphus virginiae, a beautiful little gomphid found at a forested rocky stream, described from Santa Catharina State. The reserve odonata list now stands at 207 species!

Male of Edonis helena, a rare photo opportunity! (© Tom Kompier)
First in nature photo of the very rare Macrothemis capitata (© Tom Kompier)
Female of Nehalennia minuta (© Tom Kompier)
Male of Progomphus virginiae occupying a rock in the stream (© Tom Kompier)

Southern Tamandua seen at REGUA

Southern Tamandua
Southern Tamandua Tamandua tetradactyla (@copy; Adilei Carvalho da Cunha)

Southern Tamandua Tamandua tetradactyla are not often seen at REGUA, with previous records including one in the lodge garden and another found dead in the forest at the wetland several years ago.

But last November our bird guide Adilei Carvalho da Cunha was lucky enough to find one on the Red Trail and managed to capture some excellent video of the encounter.

This member of the anteater family is found in a variety of habitats from mature to disturbed secondary forest and arid savannah, although it is thought to prefer living near streams or rivers. Feeding on ants and termites they will occasionally take bees and honey. A solitary species, Southern Tamanduas are mainly nocturnal, although as can be seen here, they are sometimes found during the day and this individual seemed to be completely at ease with Adilei’s presence.

It’s great to see this enigmatic creature in the forests at REGUA and this sighting is another indicator of the improvement our reforestation has made to the biodiversity of the forest environment.