Walking by the wetlands at REGUA along the Yellow or Brown trail, a small bird can surprise many with its fierce song of bravado.
One has to peer through the tangles of brush to catch a glimpse of the melodious Long-billed Wren (Cantorchilus longirostris), one of the Atlantic Rainforest endemic species. Though the call is well known, its intensity is surprising but it is merely reminding us that we are entering his territory.
The Yellow and Brown trails at REGUA pass through the middle of replanted lowland forest, and the presence of this species indicates the forest has provided a new home for many avian species.
This is what we want, a new habitat we created that now provides many new homes for its true inhabitants.
We were fortunate to receive birders David Nemazie and René Santos at REGUA recently. David is chief of staff for Environmental Science at University of Maryland USA, and René is a super bird guide who brought him here.
The State of Maryland is twinned with the State of Rio de Janeiro with both Chesapeake Bay and Rio’s Guanabara Bay having geographical and environmental similarities. Both coastal bays have similar environmental issues due to large populations and associated problems with waste water treatment, storm water, and habitat degradation.
In 2014, the Governor of the State of Rio concerned with the Olympics in 2016 approached Maryland’s governor and asked him and the University for guidance in cleaning Rio’s Bay following their success. Rio’s governor obtained support from INEA (RJ Environmental State Agency), UFRJ (RJ University) and other partners to provide the first step, the elaboration of the “Guanabara Bay Report Card”
It now is up to all of us to engage the wider public with programmes in awareness and education to help the Government define priorities and actions that will contribute to a better care for our Guanabara Bay, home to river dolphins and seahorses.
We are delighted to report that the donation from the Danish Travel Fund that led to the acquisition of Anderson’s property in 2014 has resulted in a dramatic change within the Matumbo Valley.
The highly degraded and eroded area is on the road towards the Waldenoor trail on the way to Matumbo. Until last year cattle were being grazed there and it is amazing how quickly birds and insects come into land after planting.
REGUA planted 25,000 native trees on this 13 hectare site between November 2016 and January 2017 and the weather has been most favourable.
The trees are growing very well. Thank you Danish Travel Fund for helping to acquire this strategically important area and to the World Land Trust through their “Plant a tree Fund” for financing the tree planting.
Shrike-like Cotinga (Laniisoma elegans) is classified as ‘near threatened’ with a ‘decreasing population’ on the IUCN red list. However, we are delighted that this enigmatic species can still be found in low numbers on the REGUA reserve.
We only found the species in the lowland a few years ago, and today many birders visit REGUA to view and photograph the species.
It is seen in high altitude forest towards the end of the year (our spring and summer) where it probably breeds, and at low elevation in the middle of the year (our autumn and winter). Juvenile birds have been identified feeding with parents on REGUA’s lowland forest, on various fruits. This altitudinal movement has highlighted to us the importance of the continuous forested mountain gradient and confirms the value of extending the forest from the top of the mountain ridge to the valley floor.
Shrike-like Cotinga is sparsely recorded along coastal Brazil and is very similar to its cousin, the Andean Laniisoma (Laniisoma buckleyi). This latter species is found in several Andean countries also in primary and good secondary forest but populations are also said to be low. The species were lumped and only recently split after much study.
REGUA is one of the best places to see this shy bird with its wonderful penetrating long call, and our Bird Guides are expert in finding them as they move around the reserve.
In 2013 we started our most ambitious plan – to plant over 160,000 native trees in a 100 hectare area bridging the gap between the forest of the Green Trail and the Guapiaçu River and village. The first major tranche of planting started in November 2013.
We completed planting the 100 hectare site in 2016 – and there are already a large number of diverse species taking advantage of the new habitat created by these young trees. Many of these trees fruited in the first year, providing food for many insects and birds. As the trees have grown and shaded the ground the under-storey has started to clear and mammal tracks are visible in the ever increasing leaf litter.
One of the best ways to assess the improvement in the planting is to survey the bird species seen. Our resident bird guides have been surveying some of the newly planted areas, and good species indicators of the increasing quality of the new forests that we area already finding are Saw-billed Hermit, Black-cheeked Gnateater and Channel-billed Toucan.
Many other species are also moving into the area including White Woodpecker, Scaly-headed Parrot, Olivaceous and Lesser Woodcreeper, and Laughing Falcon.
A large flock of Maroon-belled Parakeet have been feeding in the area for several weeks, along with White-bearded Manakin, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow Olive Flycatcher. Tanager species have also been seen including Green-headed, Red-necked Tanager, Flame-crested and Yellow-backed.
The birds will disperse the seeds from these trees back into our established forest and strengthen the bio-diversity across the whole reserve and beyond. What better evidence could we wish for to encourage our work.
REGUA recently hosted the Atlantic Rainforest Restoration Pact workshop. The Restoration Pact is made up of all the environmental projects that are in some ways contributing to increasing forest cover in the biome.
Headed by the Brazilian organization CEPAN, and funded by German development bank, KfW, REGUA hosted this three day workshop with professionals in the field o
f restoration from all over Brazil.
Severino and Ludmilla, led the group and the aim of the three days here was to test and improve monitoring techniques needed for the Pact restoration process.
Itself a member, this was also an opportunity to present REGUA’s work and the group was divided into three teams to test the techniques the Pact had developed. Out in the field the groups were very impressed with REGUA’s forest restoration process which left us not only proud of our efforts but committed to continue reforesting.
This is often the type of support needed to reach out and keep up the motivation factor. We are only too happy to contribute.
Thor has returned from the north of Brazil, and revisited REGUA and his cuttings in our nursery on his way home to Canada.
Talking to him about the progress of his project made interesting conversation. He enjoyed the whole experience of being in Brazil, and making new friends at REGUA and found his time with us an excellent opportunity to learn about different techniques of tropical forestation. From helping in the nursery, planting the seeds in prepared pots to planting the trees, Thor took on board the whole process.
He particularly enjoyed his time walking with Mauricio [head nurseryman] and Barata [forest ranger] in the forest, collecting seeds and trying to identify the myriad of tree species.
As for his project – to experiment with taking tree cuttings rather than germinating seeds. Thor has just re-checked his samples. Although they were probably not take at the ideal time of year there were at least a dozen new plants from the Marianeira (acnistus arborescens) species and a couple of Tabebuia cassinoides.
Thor plans to return at a different time of year and next time maybe use hormone rooting powder. As he says
“REGUA and many other projects in the tropics are still having problems germinating some species of tree and if I try at a different time of year we may have more success.
I also want to go and see other projects here in Brazil. Before I come back however, I need to tackle identifying some of the tree species and they are overwhelming here. I would recommend REGUA totally as an experience, with its peace and quiet and such welcoming people, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here.”
Peter Gammeltoft recently made a visit to REGUA. Peter is the former head of Water and Marine Environment in the European Commission and currently the President of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICDPR) which involves 14 European Countries in its watershed as contracting parties.
Peter was invited to Brazil by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to advise the Brazilian Government on water policy.
Peter is a family relation of Nicholas and Raquel Locke and they took advantage of his time and knowledge to show what REGUA is doing for the environment in this microcosm of the world.
Questions flowed and doubts ebbed as conversations showed that our principles are not too far behind the thinking needed in territorial design and ecosystem functionality.
Peter remarked “It was really great to see all the good work you are doing at Regua. This type of work is very important, and I was very impressed to hear about how you are managing to ensure local support. “
We wish him and the OECD team all the success in the current decisions that are so very important for the future.
Planting trees on degraded soils is never easy. Over time, the soil loses most of its nutrients, becomes compacted, and is very often too steep to even walk on. The land owners give up areas that cannot be mechanized and allow it to turn into poor quality pasture where it can be burned occasionally to keep it free from weeds. Soils lose the carbon granules that bind soil together and slowly micro-bacterial life drains out allowing heavy rain to start ugly gully erosion.
These are the soils that REGUA wants to return to forests before they become an ecological disaster zone, an eyesore and are also too expensive to retrieve. Owners are reticent to allow REGUA to convert tired uphill land to forest as they think their properties will lose value. The owners don’t want to sell the land as there is little else to buy with the money. However REGUA has experience and in its stubbornness gently inches forward to improve the Guapiaçu valley.
The hillside of the Protestant land is one that poses a challenge for it is currently in grass, very steep and already has some gullies formed by heavy rain.
Professor André Tavares Correa Dias of the Department of Ecosystem Ecology at Rio de Janeiro State University, is himself involved in restoring bauxite residual dumping grounds in Pará State visited us and we took him to see our challenges. He was very pleased with the results to date. Our trees are planted just before the rains – the best time to build a forest. We only hope the rains won’t bring the hill down before the trees have time to bind the soil!
Last year’s planting season was in November, and the mortality rate was quite acceptable given the factors, so we are hopeful that we will be able to establish these new forests at REGUA to the benefit of the biodiversity, its community and the valley’s overall ecological functionality.
REGUA volunteer Thor Smestad hails from British Columbia, Canada. He came to Brazil to fulfill a dream, to plant trees in Brazil.
With a diploma in Forestry Technology and a degree in Forest Resources Management, Thor brings a new approach to our propagation model. As he is a specialist in propagation from from cuttings he started by taking cuttings from four Brazilian species to test how successful they are in rooting. This would be a major breakthrough in reducing reforestation costs and his cuttings placed in buckets with small air pumps lay in tubs of water waiting to root. Thor has seen the re-forested areas and the latest areas planted and is amazed at the scale in which REGUA is working. He has offered some valuable contributions in improving the quality of planting. We were able to reward Thor by planting two very special seedlings of “Guarajuba”, (Terminalia acuminate) donated by the botanist Pablo Prieto.
We had heard about these endangered trees from Pablo, a senior researcher at the Botanical Gardens in Rio de Janeiro. He is involved in compiling the Red data list of plants of the Atlantic Forest. Guarajuba wood was well known for its high quality timber which was used to for buildings and boats. Being valuable led to trees being cut down in huge numbers. There are six individual Guarajuba trees in the Botanical Gardens of Rio de Janeiro, but when botanists started searching in the forests around Rio city and in the best remaining tracts of forest, none could be found. It was thought that the species had been lost in the wild.
However upon researching the Tijuca forest last year, botanists came across 28 examples of this very species. They had probably been planted in 1861-1874 when Major Archer spearheaded the reforestation of the degraded hill under Christ the Redeemer as its water sources had dried up. Pablo found some seeds under this tree and germinated them at home. He generously brought two examples for us to plant at front of REGUA.
This is just terrific and short of opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate we are overjoyed that Thor could plant both the trees for us and hope that in a few years we shall also have seeds to plant elsewhere.