Category Archives: Volunteering

Thor’s Project – part 3

Thor has returned from the north of Brazil, and revisited REGUA and his cuttings in our nursery on his way home to Canada.

Marianeira cuttings (acnistus arborescens)

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.  

Thor with one of his successful cuttings. (© Sue Healey)

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.”

REGUA looks forward to Thor’s return.


Thor’s work continues

Thor Smestad is a Canadian forestry expert of many years experience.   He volunteered at REGUA with a brief to try to improve our plant propagation programme.   See our first news on Thor’s visit here.

Thor with his cuttings in the REGUA Nursery (© Andrew Proudfoot)

Many Mata Atlantica tree seeds germinate easily and only require to be collected from the forest, placed in a soil-filled sleeves, watered and sheltered from direct sun in the nursery. However, germination rates for some can be poor.    For trees from the fig family for example, success may be limited.    Perhaps Brazil nuts are the best illustration of this dilemma: fewer than 5% of planted seeds germinate.

The way ahead is to use cuttings of shoots dipped in rooting hormone and placed in soil.   In this way, rare plants, not found in fruit, and species with seeds of low viability can be restored to the new forest plantings here at REGUA.

Symbiotic micorrhizal fungi are another issue investigated in Thor’s project.   We do not know how central these fungi are to successful forest establishment and vigorous growth. By experimentally including/excluding forest floor debris (which will carry the fungal spores), the impact of micorrhiza may be assessed. Better information improves reafforestation outcomes and so there is understandably a lot of interest in Thor’s work.

Andrew Proudfoot
REGUA Volunteer

Volunteer Thor plants his first Brazilian tree

REGUA volunteer Thor Smestad hails from British Columbia, Canada. He came to Brazil to fulfill a dream, to plant trees in Brazil.

Thor Smestad Planting his first Brazilian Tree (© Nicholas Locke)

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.

Volunteer Thor plants a Guarajuba Tree (Terminalia acuminata) (© Nicholas Locke)

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.

Meeting old friends

Past volunteers
Ian Loyd, Raquel Locke and Henry Cook at the Bird Fair, 2016 (© N Locke)

It is always a pleasure to meet up with friends and especially REGUA’s past volunteers who have contributed so much to the project. This gives us the special feeling that we mutually benefited from opportunities at an important point of time.

In the case of Henry Cook and Ian Loyd, nothing could be more agreeable than seeing them at the British Birdfair this year. Both had stayed at REGUA in 2013 to help guide visitors at REGUA and both are phenomenal birders and lovers of nature.

Henry is currently working at a nature reserve in North Wales and Ian is now working for a wildlife tour company. We wish them all the deserved success and thank them for having spent time with us.

Clive Saunders – Volunteer Bird Guide

Azure Gallinule Porphyro flavirostris, REGUA wetland (© Clive Saunders)

After seven weeks I still am amazed by the beauty of REGUA. My time here as a volunteer bird guide has been fabulous and is providing the perfect career break, after 20 years of teaching, that I was definitely needing.

REGUA is the perfect base for exploring and there have been plenty of opportunities to visit the higher elevations of the Red Trail and excursions out to other sites in the Serra do Mar mountain range.

It has been a steep learning curve to try to get to grips with the bird calls and songs and it does take time. However, I appreciate the opportunity to spend time on the trails and local guides Adilei and Igor have been fantastic teachers!

The REGUA wetland continues to develop as a habitat and still continues to attract new birds. Azure Gallinule Porphyrio flavirostris, first seen in November 2014 by Richard Thaxton, was a new bird for Rio de Janeiro state as well as REGUA, and in September White-winged Swallow Tachycineta albiventer was added to the REGUA list.

Nicolas and Raquel make all visitors feel very welcome and Cleia has done a fantastic job of feeding and looking after us! Four weeks of my visit to go and not ready to go home just yet!

If you are interested in volunteering as a bird guide at REGUA then please complete our application form and email it to our Volunteer Co-ordinator, Rachel Walls, at

A Birding treat for our volunteer bird guides

Volunteer bird guides Wes, Jerome and Clive have worked hard in supporting Adilei (our resident guide) in guiding our guests over the last two months and they deserved a well-earned break.    A window of opportunity presented itself with a few days without guests and I suggested a trip to the southern area of Pereque, Ubatuba and Itatiaia, where we might find some new birds.

We left early one morning and in spite of the rain, we saw our two most wanted species Black-hooded Antwren, and Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant.   These species have a tiny distribution, and Pereque which is located at sea level is one reliable area to see them.    The latter species has been seen at REGUA, but is by no means a regular sighting.

Our three fantastic Bird Guides
Our three fantastic Bird Guides (© Nicholas Locke)

We steamed off for Ubatuba to prepare ourselves for the next day.    Leaving early for our hotel we birded the renowned Fazenda Angelim where we had great views of Ferruginous Antbird,  Buff-throated Purpletuft and Spotted Bamboowren, all equally challenging species.

The afternoon saw us at the Sitio de Jonas.   This is a world famous spot for hummingbirds with sixteen species possible.    Mr Jonas retired from a job in Sao Paulo city and is now feeding hundreds of hummingbirds – using over 4kg of sugar daily!    The two species everyone wants to see are Festive Coquette and Sombre Hummingbird.    We had great views of both species and with time available, headed up to Engenheiro Passos to spend the night in a magnificent hotel visited by the Emperor Don Pedro himself over 100 years ago.

Needless to say the birding along the first six kilometers of the road leading to Mount Itatiaia was just amazing.    The road is easy to bird, the species kept popping up and the guides just kept finding new species.    Red-breasted Toucan, Red-breasted Warbling-finch, Thick-billed Saltator, Golden-winged Cacique, Plovercrest, Sharp-billed Treehunter, Mouse-coloured Tapaculo , Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Olivaceous Elaenia and Black-capped Piprytes were all seen here.

Black Hawk-eagle
Black Hawk-eagle (© Nicholas Locke)

With Black Hawk-eagle at the higher areas we also added Araucaria Tit-Spinetail and the Itatiaia Spinetail amongst many-many other species, everyone was left deeply impressed. Wes patiently called in the spectacular Speckled-breasted Antpitta, and we craned our necks to get a view within the tangled undergrowth – a joy that left us all enraptured.
Finally, we arrived to spend the night at the Ipé hotel and in the evening still had a chance to see Buffy-fronted Seedeater, a nesting Blue-winged Macaw, Magpie Tanager at the feeders and before turning in, Tawny-browed Owl.

The following day, an early start once again, and we had Robust Woodpecker flying into the mist   During the course of day we had magnificent views of the Large-headed Flatbill, White-throated Spadebill, with more Buffy-fronted seedeaters all around chirping in the high canopy whilst they fed on bamboo.   Brown Tanager, Brown-breasted Bamboo-tyrant and Drab-breasted Bamboo-tyrant, Lesser Woodcreeper, Slaty Bristlefront, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Star-throated Antwren were all seen here and finally after a tough climb through the bamboo undergrowth we found White-bearded Antshrike.

Black-hooded Antwren
Black-hooded Antwerp (© Nicholas Locke)

Soon it was time to return to  REGUA – a thoroughly tired but satisfied group.

Well done everybody!

Nicholas Locke

Volunteer Bird Guides

The REGUA conservation project attracts bird guides from around the world.   People interested in spending prolonged periods of time studying birds in the area, and showing them to our visitors.    REGUA’s volunteer co-ordinator, Rachel Walls, receives applications and arranges to interview the candidates.

REGUA has established itself on the world circuit and most birders staying at the lodge wish to see as many birds as possible of the daunting list of 464 species registered to date.

Taking advantage of REGUA’s student research accommodation facilities, volunteer birders are happy to accompany the groups of guests staying at REGUA.   The guides have heard of our resident guide, Adilei’s, field skills and once at REGUA can share on-site and off-site excursions accompanying the visitors.    This is the best opportunity to see and study the birds.

Wes Omotya
Wes Omotya (©Nicholas Locke)

Volunteer bird guides Wes and Jerome are such examples and after a couple of months at REGUA are just awesome in the field.    Wes is a field biologist from Indiana, USA and has been a dedicated birder for many years – having specialized in Hawaiian birds.   Prior to arriving at REGUA, Wes volunteered at a lodge in Ecuador and is due to start work as a guide for Tropical Birding.     He is soft spoken and his field skills, perseverance and uncanny ability to find the shyest of birds is a pleasure to witness.    He has familiarised himself with all the birds at the reserve in record time and is now to embark on a tour of Western Australia.

Jerome is a passionate and accomplished bird guide who works in the summer to help fund his own research, and spends the rest of the year as a volunteer guide.    He has specialized in the avi-fauna of South America which he knows well.    Jerome also leads tours in Europe and being at REGUA was an opportunity to learn South Eastern Brazil Atlantic Rainforest species.   He specialises in vocalisations and as one may imagine after a couple of months at REGUA his knowledge of the difficult species calls is almost as good as that of Adilei.

Jerome Fisher
Jerome Fisher (© Nicholas Locke)

Jerome confided that his favourite family is Flycatchers. Though they are notoriously difficult to tell apart and seemingly plain, he sees their identification as a deliciously satisfying challenge and is happy to spend hours in the field recording the different calls and studying their habits.    His generous and tireless nature makes him great company and he is constantly looking at improving his collection of recordings that are uploaded regularly on the internet and readily available to those interested.
This is not the first time REGUA has been visited by expert guides and the benefits are clear to both parties.   It is nice to hear from the guides that aside the birds they see, they fully approve of what REGUA is doing in establishing the reserve and protecting bird habitat for the future.

Their energy, drive and interest, their recognition and support for Adilei , their appreciation of REGUA’s objectives make us thoroughly appreciate their visits.    We are certain they will remain passionate and can communicate that conservation is possible when it is undertaken in a serious and objective manner.

Thank you all for helping us!
If you want to volunteer at REGUA as bird guide, please contact Rachel Walls at

Nicholas Locke

Animal Trail mapping by Katja

My name is Katja. I am 18 years old and I come from Frankfurt in Germany. I grew up in a family of naturalists and animal lovers.

Setting up the camera trap
Setting up the camera trap

My grandfather owns a property in Macae de Cima near to REGUA.    He specialises on a family of miniature orchids and is a co-author of a book on the orchids of the Sierra dos Orgaõs.   My father grew up stumbling over snakes on my grandfather’s land and became a recognised snake charmer himself.    He travels to Brazil because of its wonderful snake fauna and is very familiar with the well-known Jararaca.

Most of my family’s travelling led us to remote rural places in Europe and North America. Of course snake tracking is not only about snakes but other wildlife, landscape and nature in general also. On these trips exploring wilderness I fell in love with nature myself. I love to walk and explore natural places and take a closer look on whatever comes across.

In 2012 I passed through the gates of REGUA Reserve and from that moment I was determined to come back as a volunteer some day. REGUA is a very special place of immense beauty and breathtaking scenery. It is one of the very few places left one can still experience and explore almost undisturbed Atlantic forest.

Bothrops Jararaca
Bothrops Jararaca

In summer of 2015 I finished school with a focus on natural sciences and before starting university I felt this could be “some day” – although this four week trip will only serve as a glimpse into the Mata Atlantica habitat.

Volunteering at REGUA includes a project – a small scientific work. I decided to take a closer look at REGUA’s restored wetlands. Therefore I concentrated on the animal trails within and around the wetlands to find out which animals call the wetlands their home and which migrate to and from the wetlands on regular bases.

I will try to develop an “animal trail map”. Looking at animal trails means I will focus on the “big game” only. On the technical side I rely on two camera traps.

With only four weeks I understand that this work could only open a window for further work. But who knows… maybe I come back… some day?


Lodge Garden

Bromeliads are typical plants of the New World with most of their species being found in the tropical and sub-tropical latitudes of the Americas. They inhabit almost all ecosystems found in the region ranging in altitude from sea level to over 4,000 metres.

Bromeliad laden tree (©Sue Healey)
Bromeliad laden tree (© Sue Healey)

The Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu in the Mata Atlântica or Brazilian Atlantic Forest covers altitudes between 30 metres and 2,000 metres. The rainfall here is high and where sea breezes from the coast meet the mountains, the air is forced up the steep slopes. As this air cools it causes the vapour to condense and a fog is created by the suspended water droplets. This creates an ideal environment for all native plants here, particularly bromeliads.

We have gradually been developing the garden at the Guapiaçu Bird Lodge in the REGUA reserve and the orchid and bromeliad posts can always house fallen plants. Bromeliads fill with rainwater and on heavily laden weaker boughs this often proves too much weight for the branch to bear. Then the branch, complete with their ecosystem, comes crashing to the ground.

Raquel Locke (co-director of the project) is always watching the lower altitude areas of the Reserve for possible specimens and had noticed a huge bough had fallen off an epiphyte-laden tree. The branch had landed in a shallow muddy pond and our challenge was to rescue the plants. Hence Raquel and I ended up in the pouring rain, up to our ankles in mud rescuing some excellent specimens.

Sidnei & Jake
Sidnei & Jake (© Sue Healey)

As we moved the plants, amphibians jumped away to find new homes in remaining plants on the tree. Where possible we took the broken bits of the tree with us so as to preserve the rooting system and give the plants the best chance of survival.

Back at the lodge Sidney (head gardener) and Jake (volunteer) had the task of placing the plants and wiring them into position safely. Within two hours their work was completed, and a brilliant job had been done.

Our guests now have a beautiful garden to welcome them, and the hummingbirds in the garden were inspecting the flowers, delighted to have a new source of nectar to call on.