Tag Archives: REGUA

Conservation Leadership Programme

REGUA was very lucky to host the global Conservation Leadership Programme  in 2019.

This course is result of a partnership between  three renowned international conservation organizations, made up of  BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International (FFI), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).   The Programme started in 1985 and the aim is to help emerging conservation leaders to  grow professionally through support, advice and awards.

The delegates were conservationists engaged in projects in their home country and were selected to share in this professional course where the main objective lies in meeting other like-minded leaders and share in a common theme.   This results in inspiration, fortitude, persistence and networking with the programme’s central theme being the conservation of the environment, be it species or habitat.

The Team Photograph (© REGUA)

Stuart Paterson and Christina Imrich organized the event flawlessly and the 19 participants from varied countries across the world enjoyed a most productive time at REGUA.   Aside from the classroom and field work over the week at REGUA, the group participated in field trips that included the Mangroves close by and of course the city of Rio de Janeiro.

The young leaders embody the standards that the CLP leaders wish and return to their host countries invigorated and keen on their own personal projects.

This is brilliant for us at REGUA for we get a chance to show what we do and likewise get a personal boost from meeting these talented individuals.

King Vulture at REGUA

Although we continue to find new birds on the reserve, it isn’t actually that easy, so the King Vulture espied by Biologist Calel Passarelles in a new area of tree planting near our Onofre Cunha forest was especially thrilling.

King Vulture in cecropia (© Calel Passarelles)

Raquel Locke (REGUA’s Vice-President) remembers seeing several in the same area over twenty years ago. Two months ago, Marco Wood-Bonelli photographed one soaring over the new area of trees planted. Marco is finalizing his Masters Degree at the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens Institute on the use of individual trees and artificial bamboo perches by birds.

He has already had identified 70 species that regularly use trees in open areas between forest fragments and he was keen to evaluate the use of these ‘island trees’ as stepping stones between forested fragments. His field visits terminated with the wonderful sight of the King Vulture perched on a Cecropia tree.

We hope this is an indication of more sightings to come.


Students investigate the health of the wetlands

RJ State University Student Group with Prof. Marcelo and Tim

Professors Marcelo Marinho and Tim Moulton returned to REGUA with their 3rd year Biological sciences at the RJ State University. Their field of interest is “Limnology and Oceanograph”, and they come to REGUA to study the biological, chemical, and physical features of lakes and other bodies of fresh water.

Every wetland is continually evolving and changing. Having followed the progress of REGUA’s wetlands since 2005, Professor Tim can state with authority that each of the three wetlands is vastly different from each other. The central wetland, created in 2005, is the healthiest with a small stream passing through; the second wetland lying below the lodge garden, created in 2007, receives a small amount of water that is diverted to maintain its level, and the wetland nearest the Conservation Centre, created in 2010, has water emerging from sources below the surface but offering a constant flow.  

The students at work. (© Prof.Tim Moulton)

The central wetland is full of underwater plants/macrophytes and its water is almost transparent. The second has water seeping under the walls and does not overflow. As a consequence it has a greenish appearance, covered by “watermeal” (Wolfia sp), most appreciated by waterfowl, including the Masked Duck, a rare visitor. The 2010 wetland is occasionally covered by orange Euglenoid algae. As a scientist Tim is really perplexed and is coming up with many questions. Have the algae have choked out the macrophytes or vice versa? Have fish stirred up the bottom? Is the wetland turning eutrophic that might lead to the death of its fish?  

Professors Marcelo and Tim are naturally very excited to learn more and have directed their students to study elements of the wetlands to reach the heart of the matter. This is a prime example of the benefits to both student and REGUA; whilst students gain experience, REGUA gains from the ongoing research that students are carrying out.

Students taking water samples on the main wetland (© Prof. Tim Moulton)

We are delighted to receive many students from diverse Universities and offer them such a wonderful outdoor laboratory. This offers us the opportunity to talk and explain what REGUA’s ambitions are and therefore provoke and reach to young thinkers who will help to shape society in the future.

These visitors will certainly be touched by the efforts and development of this project and take this model elsewhere.     

Orchid Cathedral nears completion

The REGUA orchid cathedral is receiving its 80% sun filter netting which will reduce the temperature significantly.

Obviously orchids are found across the entire gradient, from sea level to 2000m above sea level and the challenge is to provide an ambience that responds to their climatic demands.

João and Tiago working hard to complete the Orchid Cathedral (© Nicholas Locke)

We have received sound advice with regard to the structure of the building, how to provide the best environment for the specimens and most importantly, the ongoing management of the orchids. Rosário Braga (a biologist and former head of OrquidaRio, the RJ orchid club) and Helmut Seehawer, a long-standing friend of REGUA and orchid expert have been invaluable in their support.

We have been warned that watering is not a simple task, and we aim to have a semi-automatic sprinkler system to support the environment of the Cathedral. As Helmut Seehawer advised, air movement is essential and we are using wire netting on the lower section to allow for wind movement. Helmut has also suggested we use as much natural forest compost as possible.

By the end of the year, the REGUA orchid cathedral will be open to the public, an addition to the existing trail network revealing the jewels of the forest.            

Professor Proudfoot’s Work!

Walking the 50km of trails at REGUA is fascinating for birders and naturalists alike. Altitudinal range spans 30 – 2000m and there is a richness of invertebrates and plants to match the diversity of birds that draws the majority of visitors to REGUA.    All classes of arthropod are present in abundance and there are many interesting patterns of distribution waiting to be identified and investigated.

Dobsonfly Corydalidae (©Andrew Proudfoot)

REGUA’s lodge garden has a roofed, whitewashed wall complete with mercury vapour lamp generating many new records of moths for the Reserve and for Rio State.    The wall often reveals a wealth of other interesting invertebrates such as this Dobsonfly (Corydalidae).   Many of these creatures are difficult to see in the forest probably because they are residents of the tree canopy.

In the forest there are chance encounters with exciting species such as the White Witch Moth (Thysania agripina)  Noctuidae with a huge wingspan.

December to Febuary is the Brazilian summer and usually a hot rainy season and time of maximum plant growth.   This is, of course, an excellent time for all insects and amphibians.   Whilst August to November is the Brazilian Spring and busy for birdwatching, it is also good for insects.    Only March to July are a little quieter.

Witch moth Thysania agripina (© Andrew Proudfoot)

There is a profusion of wonderful butterflies.  Some, like the 88, (Diaethria clymena) are very common.   The most famous neotropical butterflies belong to the Genus Heliconia, with their distinctive strap-shaped wings and bright colours.   These insects were shown to have co-evolved with their food plant, the different species of passion-vine (Passiflora). The vines put out new shoots irregularly and the butterflies must live a long time to be able to search out new growth and lay a full complement of eggs.

Another spectacular group of insect are the various species of huge Morpho butterflies which flit through the forest under-storey.

Diptera are interesting and diverse. There are three common sources of food that can provide for a profusion of flies: dung, carrion and some species of freshly emerged fungus. Parasitoid ichneumonids and tachinids search out the larvae of butterflies and moths whose living tissues they will feed on until they finally cause their death.

Ants are predators, roaming leaf and shoot for opportunities or different species will farm leaves with the help of fungus.

Volunteer Researchers (Lee & Peter) in the forest (© Andrew Proudfoot)

Spiders must guard against predatory wasps and some of these are very large indeed.

Beneath the placid exterior of the forest, termites work to undo the conversion of CO2 to sugar; every now and then a crash is heard acr

oss the forest as another giant tree succumbs to their tiny jaws.

There is much work to do to find out how many species of arthropod exist in these rich habitats.   We are only in the earliest of stages investigating how all these myriad species interact in Mata Atlântica.

Andrew Proudfoot
REGUA Volunteer

Lodge Maintenance

With Christmas, New Year and Carnival this has made for a busy couple of months at REGUA.   The summer is also a time when staff take a well-earned break, and have time for visiting family away from the Guapiaçu area.

However, during the “quieter” time of the year, when there are fewer visitors, the priority at REGUA is to ensure that any maintenance or building words required at the Lodge are carried out.

Room 5 now fully ensuite with new entrance and bathroom door
Room 5 now fully ensuite with new entrance and bathroom door (© Tom Locke)

The main task during this Brazilian summer, was to block up the old entrance and bathroom doors from the lobby area into Room 5 and open up a new entrance off the veranda at the front of the lodge, and put a new door through to the bathroom.  This makes Rooms 4 & 5 truly ‘en-suite’ and more private with the lobby area becoming part of Room 4.

This noisy and dusty work had to be done in the closed season, and quickly, to ensure minimal disruption to our visitors.

With the work completed and painted, it is hard to believe that there has been any change at all.

Excellent work from the REGUA building team.

In addition, the whole lodge is getting a coat of paint, the humid atmosphere takes its toll on the paintwork, and it is vital to ensure that this is regularly done.

Veranda Maintenance
Maintenance in the Swimming Pool area (© Tom Locke)

Some changes are also to be made to the pool area with some of the veranda columns being removed to open up the area.    Maintenance work to the swimming pool and its surrounding area is also undertaken to ensure it is ready for the busy year ahead.

The humid atmosphere and strong sunlight also badly affect our pool furniture with plastic made brittle and wood a target for both termites and mould, so sourcing replacement tables and chairs is a regular task.    Tom Locke, our Lodge Manager is tasked with finding suitable replacements.

Small is Beautiful

The task of ‘checklisting’  butterfly fauna in tropical rainforests usually demands a lot of hours spent in the field.    Armed with a good camera, a pair of binoculars and sometimes a hand net or fermented fruit bait.

Panthiades phaleros L
Panthiades phaleros L. seen twice around the Lodge (© Jailson da Silva ‘Barata’)

Around 20-30% of the local butterfly species can be sampled in 5-7 days in the height of the flight season and in the correct habitats.   These are mostly common or easy to spot species, associated with natural or manmade disturbed and transition environments.

In the tropics the number of species is high but the same does not apply to the number of individuals found and populations, which can be quite scarce and elusive.   That is why developing a more complete list can take over five years of intensive field sampling.

The checklist starts with the big showy butterflies (Brushfooted, Whites, Swallowtails, Skippers), but with time it is the elusive tiny hairstreaks, metalmarks and skippers that slowly grow the list.    A close look at them really shows how intricate and beautiful the patterns of some of these creatures are.

At REGUA, new records for the butterfly checklist usually come from the ranks of Hairstreaks (Lycaenidae) and Metalmarks (Riodinidae), two closely related families.

The last new records have been mostly the fruit of our Lodge Guests’ photographic skills.    Often these species are more easy to see and photograph on hilltops feeding on flowers, along forest hedges or trails, while sunbasking at early morning, after sunrise and in sunny spots inside the tropical forest (clearings, streams and river margins).    Metalmarks are famous for coming back and perch on the same exact spot at a particular hour of the day, year after year.

Callephelis sp.nov R
Grassy open area Metalmark: Callephelis sp. nov R (© Richard & Siri White)

In REGUA, some places where these rainforest jewels can be seen more frequently are: hilltops (for example the trees around the Lodge swimming pool and at the top of the Red Trail), clearings and trail edges (i.e., parts of the Green Trail, Valdenoor’s open area, the São José Trail) and some old forest fragments (like the Onofre Cunha and Lengruber areas).

 

The Caledonia mountain excursion is another highlight for higher altitude species of Hairstreaks and Metalmarks, especially from February to late April.

Strymon ziba
Strymon ziba male perching at the top of the Red Trail (1004m) (© Jorge Bizarro)

Another interesting issue contributing to the checklist growth is the occurrence of very similar patterned species, sometimes even in very distinct genera, which once the confusion is sorted out can add another record to the list!

 

Marmosets at REGUA

Marmosets and tamarins (Callithrichidae) are amongst the smallest anthropoids in the new world, they are quite different from monkeys of the old world.    Marmosets are often known as “Squirrel” monkeys for their physical shape and tails resemble squirrels and have noticeably two differences from other monkeys.

Firstly they do not have prehensile tails (which are used to cling with) and secondly, although they are arboreal, they have modified claws rather than nails on all digits except their big toes.   They are omnivorous and have developed specialised lower incisors, which are enlarged and chisel-shaped for gouging tree trunks and branches and vines of certain plant species to stimulate the flow of gum, which they eat, and in some species this forms a notable component of the diet.

The female produces two young a year and they also live in extended family groups of between four and 15 individuals.

The origin of the family Callithrichidae is poorly understood for there are many species (11 marmosets and 16 tamarinds to date with more being discovered principally in the Amazon basin). The Atlantic Rainforest branch sub-divided 13 million years ago coinciding with the actual separation of the Amazonian and Atlantic Rainforest biomes to form Atlantic Rainforest marmosets and tamarins but only recently after genetic studies of the “Callithrix jacchus group” were conducted were they truly separated.   Today six distinct Atlantic Rainforest marmoset species are known and until recently these have been geographically separated.

Common Marmoset
Common Marmoset Callithrix jacchus (© Lee Dingain)

However deforestation of the Atlantic Rainforest to a staggering 7% of its original area has caused migration of two species (C.jacchus, C.penicillata) into C.aurita country whilst the remaining species (C.flaviceps and C.kuhlii) have been reduced to very low numbers. The principle result of the marmoset migration is inter-species hybridisation which is worrying from a conservation point of view as the original species starts to become extinct and a valuable gene type is lost forever.

This is the case for the Buffy-tufted-ear marmoset, C. aurita known from montane Rio de Janeiro state to Sao Paulo and southern Minas Gerais. REGUA is located next to the Três Picos State Park a forested area of some 80,000 hectare of montane sub-tropical forest, home to Callithrix aurita.

Três Picos is located next to the 20,000 hectare Serra dos Órgãos National Park another montane area studied by various University research groups.

These impressive forested mountains are where Rodrigo Carvalho was captivated by this appealing marmoset and initiated his studies on the threatened C.aurita species.   Since then two researchers have helped him in the area of Serra dos Órgãos.   His genetic sampling of specimens in this park as well as local captive breeding populations has led to the conclusion that the species, as we know it, is facing the risk of extinction due principally to the increasing hybridisation with its foreign congeners, C.penicilata and C.jacchus.

What is to be done now? Like every species in distress a master plan is needed, one that locates existing populations; considers species protection in remnant areas; provides a detailed genetic inventory of the captive populations both here and abroad; creates a stud book and the encouragement of further breeding and finally stimulates future reintroductions in safe places that can pull the species back from its plight.

Do we want it to plummet such as the other closely rated species C.flaviceps and C.kuhlii which are bordering extinction today?

There is however another polemic factor. There isn’t a consensual opinion by biologists that species hybridisation is actually negative and some biologists affirm that the current situation is the natural evolution of the species. However others say that we cannot loose an element of our extraordinary diversity that holds a specific function in the complex Atlantic Rainforest due to human irresponsibility, after all the principle is the same; can we loose the panda or the polar bear? Rodrigo and his team believe that this is a very serious issue and they are committed to do something about it.

Fortunately Sao Paulo state and southern Minas Gerais still hold populations of C.aurita, though the forest loss is estimated at more than 95%.   In the interior of Rio de Janeiro`s state, C.aurita can still be found in small forested fragments, however it is clear to all that a consistent plan that directs overall actions is needed.

Fifteen years ago when the Golden Lion Tamarin project was facing the dilemma of the conflict between reintroduced Golden Lion Tamarins and the invasive C.jacchus. Brazil`s Federal Government could not offer clear orders on its sterilisation because no studies had been concluded regarding conflict.    The fact remains that the Golden Lion Tamarin project has been a success.

Rodrigo is a most experienced biologist to lead this initiative and REGUA is most sympathetic to his ideas, but how do we start?

Rodrigo is finalising his own doctorate studies and believes that it is possible to make an inventory of remaining populations of C.aurita as well as its hybrids in the higher altitude forests of REGUA and the National Parks nearby.

Rodrigo wishes to use REGUA as an example of important captive breeding programme eliminating threats, capturing and sterilising non-C.aurita, in a concerted effort to protect them in the higher elevations.    He sees the higher areas as an ideal starting point to reintroduce these marmosets from captive breeding programmes.

Nicholas Locke

Golden Frogs at REGUA

Livia Dias de Sousa is undertaking her Doctorate at the North State University of Rio de Janeiro monitoring the release of the Black-fronted Piping Guans.

Her study also includes a close analysis of the population of Heart of Palm, Euterpe edulis, a palm that grows throughout the Atlantic Rainforest at different altitudes. The REGUA ranger Rildo has worked with Livia before and was anxious to take her to the top of the green trail, an area where one would expect to see large population of this palm.

Whilst walking they came across Spix’s Saddleback Toad, a very small toad just the width of ones thumb.   Livia was able to get some cracking photos which she shared with us. These golden toads are of the Brachycephalidae family and named “Saddleback toads”.   They are endemic to South-east Brazil’s Atlantic forest and the colour is to warn predators of its toxicity.

Brachycephalus ephippium Spix's Saddleback Toad
Spix’s Saddleback Toad (© Livia dias de Souza)

The first Brachycephalus specimen was collected and identified in 1824 by the German naturalist Johann Baptiste von Spix, coincidentally the same person that named the Black-fronted Piping Guan.    With recent field work on the mist covered Atlantic Rainforest mountains, another seven species have been discovered.

Interestingly these toads have only three toes on each foot, and two fingers on each hand.  Saddleback Toads are active during the day, and live in the leaf litter on forest floors. The eggs undergo direct development, hatching into miniature toads, without a tadpole stage. The eggs are laid on the ground, and covered in soil to protect them from the heat and predators.
Brachycephalus are found only on cloud forested mountaintops so our forested valleys need to be conserved for populations to move. The disturbance and later fragmentation of these forests isolates populations and this is felt to be the worst threat to the species.

We hope that with the restoration and protection of the land within REGUA other guests will get a chance to see these rare amphibians.

Nicholas Locke

Landscape Ecology Courses

Ongoing Research has been carried out at REGUA for several years now.    This has been led  by Mauricio de Almeida Gomes (Post-doctorate Fellow at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) and Jayme Augusto Prevedello (Post-doctorate Fellow at University of São Paulo, Brazil) and their team.   Here Mauricio describes their aim.

IMG_6033
Landscape Ecology Students (© Mauricio Gomes)

“The aim of this series of courses is to introduce graduate students to the main concepts of Landscape Ecology – an emerging biological discipline concerned with understanding the effects of spatial patterns; for example, forest fragmentation on ecological processes such as species diversity.

This is an intensive, 5-day  course focused at MSc and PhD students of Ecology from different Brazilian universities.

All major themes in Landscape Ecology are treated during the course through a combination of theoretical classes, presentations and discussions of published papers, computer exercises and field activities.

The course has been very positively received by students. There are usually around 16 students, and the facilities that are offered at REGUA are ideal for the purpose.   With accommodation, laboratory, and field study all close at hand this enables the team to do fieldwork and coursework in an excellent environment and facility.

DSC02323
Working in the field (© Mauricio Gomes)

The photographs show students developing field activities on courses held over the last two years.

REGUA attends the first Forest Restoration Seminar

The first Forest Restoration Seminar was held at the Rio de Janerio State Environmental Department (INEA) last November.

Restoration Seminar (© Tatiana Horta)

Spearheaded by the Eco Atlantica Organization, REGUA and INEA; the aim was to present the restoration efforts by five well known environmental projects occurring in Rio de Janeiro state.   The INEA had an opportunity to share its own agenda emphasizing its intention of increasing forest cover from the current 17% of Atlantic Rainforest to 20 % in the next decade.

By presenting results and discussing issues and objectives, the Seminar identified financial continuation and the difficulty of planting forests in private land as the main hurdles to overcome.   However the presentations showed that the participating projects have become more efficient and better at their work to contribute towards overall conservation in their local areas.

Nicholas Locke presenting at the Seminar
Nicholas Locke presenting at the Seminar (© Tatiana Horta)

The organizations taking part, ITPA, Mico Leão Dourado, Onda Verde, Crescente Fértil, REGUA and Ferroport have contributed to forming 2,000 hectares of forests over the last decade and the opportunity of such a Seminar to discuss the successes, failures and opportunities will help encourage future initiatives. The cooperation and support by the government and private institutions will be a driving force to meet those demands and such Seminars are valuable events for the framework of the overall plan.

Nicholas and Raquel Locke

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

Proof that changes are possible . . .

The REGUA reforestation programme is occurring at a rate not thought conceivable just ten years ago.    We first planted an area of three hectares and thought it was hard work. We had no experience and every time the sun came out, we thought the trees would die. Nethertheless we persevered and every year we gained more experience and became better and better at this work.

REGUA archive c. 1923
REGUA archive c. 1923

Today we are planting twenty times that area in a year and the REGUA team is divided in three sectors.    We have the seed team that procures seeds in the forest, picking up seeds of close to 180 species.    The nursery team that is getting wiser at breaking seed dormancy and getting great uniformity in the production of seedlings, and there is the field team that transports the seedlings to the field and looks after them, nurturing them with patience and care.

The sad picture of destruction of the 1920s is slowly reverting to forests of the future.   Just a century after areas were cut down to make way for pastures, the same areas are being restored to forests.

These forests now generate employment within the local community; act as new buffer areas to the large forest of the escarpment, forming an ever larger forest block that offers new habitat for the biodiversity around, which in turn leads to more research opportunities and potential tourism.

2015 planting area
The same area in 2015 (© REGUA)

Gradually the small fragments of fading forest value can make it back and through forest corridor planting those islands can be reconnected offering a safer future for the species found here at REGUA.

This is the most rewarding work REGUA can do!

Nicholas Locke

Citizen Science at REGUA

One of the marvellous things of wandering about with a digital camera in tropical forests nowadays is the ability of capturing nature scenes, oddities and novelties with amazing ease.   This opens up an entirely new world for the ‘army’ of nature lovers and widens the potential activity scope for people that share a common passion focused on some of Nature’s many faces; like bird or butterfly-watching, diving or nature photography.

A new branch of monitoring or even ‘tourism’ is arising: scientific citizen workmanship for registering and documenting biodiversity, new records, inventories, geotagging and data gathering.

Semomesia geminus (Photo:Jailson da Silva)
Semomesia geminus (© Jailson da Silva)

Picking the old saying that a picture (example) is worth a thousand words, a very rare and endangered Cattleheart Brazilian swallowtail butterfly, known only from two populations more than 1000 km away from each other, has been spotted in a new location due to a picture of Ricardo Costa, a keen REGUA visitor and amateur photographer that uploaded his picture on the web for identification: http://borboletaskmariposas.blogspot.com.br/2014/05/parides-burchellanus-westwood-1872.html
His initiative already generated a scientific paper and prompted the discovery of a dozen more localities in Minas Gerais State in 2013: http://biotaxa.org/cl/article/view/11.3.1663

Another example of ‘citizen amateurship’ sourced science is the publishing of a Rio de Janeiro new butterfly state record based on pictures taken by REGUA visitors on the reserve trails and that still hasn’t been seen by the actual ‘researchers’ yet! – Another paper has been published based on these pictures and temporal-spatial data gathered by the photos tags:
http://www.checklist.org.br/getpdf?NGD211-11

Jorge Bizarro

Rough-legged Tyrannulet

Walking the trails at REGUA, with ornithologist Fernando Pacheco and mathematics professor Luis Florit on the Waldenoor trail was an exhilarating experience.

Amongst several beautiful bird species seen at mid-elevation forest in the canopy one was particularly interesting, the Rough-legged Tyrannulet Phyllomias burmeisteri.   Less than eager birders might groan and say “Oh no, not another Tyrannulet”, for it looks strikingly similar to other Phyllomias cousins such as the Planalto, Mottle-cheeked and Greenish Tyrannulet – small birds with short bills, streaky yellow breasts, wing bars and longish tails – making them a challenge to identify.

Rough-legged Tyrannulet showing off its distinctive legs
Rough-legged Tyrannulet showing off its distinctive legs (© Nicholas Locke)

If they are bobbing skittishly in the canopy it can be very hard work indeed.    The distinguishing feature is the call, in this case a plaintive high pitched eight-note “psee” loosing pitch towards the end which differs completely from other Phyllomias species.

Phyllomias is a genus of the Elainiinae, in turn a sub-family of the Tyrannidae family, a very large family many of which are confusingly similar.    Fernando was quick to tell me that this particular species was named by the German naturalist Hermann Burmeister, a naturalist who travelled in Brazil between 1850 and 1851.    In addition to this species he also has Chaco Siriema, Chunga burmeisteri named after him, as well as the largest prehistoric bird ever discovered, Brontornis burmeisteri.

The black warty legs of the Rough-legged Tyrannulet must have some particular function, as yet unknown.  This feature gives the name.    The species can be found in the Atlantic Forest as well as the slopes of the Bolivian Andes.    When closely inspected, this Tyrannulet is a superb bird and we were thrilled at seeing this one which was calling so close to us we could examine the finer details which give its name.

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 volunteer@regua.org

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?

Katja

Water for Rio – the Guapiaçu Dam

The Guapiaçu River (© Sue Healey)
The Guapiaçu River (© Sue Healey)

Currently 85% of Brazil’s population live in urban areas, for the most part connected to a clean water supply.    Although water is abundantly produced in a healthy landscape, the continual deforestation has resulted in less water availability.   Trees evaporate water into the atmosphere, their roots and humus permit water to percolate into the soil and replenish the water table with a positive net balance.
Water has to be stored and distributed to cities but there have been severe water shortages in the past.   As early as 1862, Emperor Pedro II ordered Major Archer to plant Rio city`s “Floresta de Tijuca” the Tijuca forest.   This was specifically ordered to increase the presence of small streams and later went on to safeguard the forested Serra do Mar mountain gradient, where REGUA is situated, in order to protect water sources in the large city of Petropolis.
Finally in 1934 a federal law was passed that sought to organise water as a resource and the Brazilian Government became responsible for its administration, issuing licenses to utility companies for its distribution.

As a means of sharing responsibility with this resource the Government fostered the creation of regional Water committees, a stage for decision makers, the users, producers and the Government. Today these committees can shape and share issues on distribution within cities, on sanitation and are working on environmental service payments to encourage water production at its source.

Aerial photograph of proposed dam site
Aerial photograph of proposed dam site (© REGUA)

Nicholas Locke

Black-fronted Piping-Guan Re-introduction Update

The old pen used for the Red-billed Curassow re-introduction programme which took place between 2005 and 2008 has been refurbished.   It is ready to receive the Black-fronted Piping-guans (Aburria jacutinga) over the next four years, as part of the programme financed by O Boticario and Birdlife International partner SAVE.

Release Pen
Release Pen (©Nicholas Locke)

The release pen is eight meters by 30 meters and eight meters high, with a secure cover of mesh to prevent snakes and rodents getting into the aviary.    There were 20 Black-fronted Piping-guans released in 2009 as part of the previous Red-billed Currasow project with Crax/ Brasil.   There were sightings in the forests of REGUA 2 years ago, but just recently one local resident saw a pair of these colourful birds in the forests of the Matumbo Gap.

As they are an arboreal species, the release pen has to be very high and the biologists accompanying the project have a strategy to ensure that the birds are encouraged to stay off the ground, thereby improving their chances of survival after release.   They need to remain in the campus of the trees away from hunting mammals, rodents and the occasional stray dog.    The more they stay in the canopies, the greater their chance for survival.

This is an exciting project that sees birds coming from a recognized bird breeder Tropicus, passing through the University of North Fluminense’s quarantine pens for a period of a month, adapting to the release pen and then freedom!

Black-fronted Piping-guan
Black-fronted Piping-guan(©Nicholas Locke)

REGUA is delighted to offer its forests as a gateway for their release to the wild.   They are a species that will help disperse fruits, especially the threatened heart of palm, Euterpe edulis and contribute as a charismatic species to represent REGUAs commitment to nature here.

Nicholas Locke

Natural Regeneration Seminar

Nicholas Locke, REGUA’s Project Director recently participated in a seminar on the use of natural regeneration as a means to reforest large areas.   Led by distinguished scientists and organised by Miguel Calmon (IUCN) and Bernardo Strassburg (ISS) a large audience enjoyed the seminar.

Nicholas reports
“Natural regeneration is defined as “the regrowth and reestablishment of an ecosystem following disturbances at a range of spatial intervals”.  Although it takes time, like any self-organizing colony, it can be accelerated and assisted.   The process doesn’t involve planting trees but fertilizing and weed suppression, i.e. promoting growth naturally and reducing its threats.

Although it is very unattractive in its initial stages, forest does form over time and Itatiaia is an example of a successful naturally regenerated landscape.   Natural regeneration reflects nature’s resilience, itself influenced by climate and the historical use of the land.   It certainly is the cheapest way to attain the current target of 350 million hectares in the world (an area larger than India) established by the Bonn challenge (UN Climate Summit 2014).

Brazil with vast areas needing to be forested in both the Atlantic Forest and Cerrado are perfect areas for planting trees and sharing in this objective.

However, this technique does not always work and given that 3/4 of Brazil’s areas for restoration are pastures, how can one attract land owners to abandon land, both in large and small properties?    How can one measure natural regeneration and create marketable indices?    Perhaps carbon and water or ecosystem payments can help?   However experiences show that when ecosystem payments terminate, land owners often cut those forests.

Given that certain areas never regenerate forest, perhaps we need to examine our own farming methods to prevent land from being completely exhausted.    Also there are economic issues at heart for the cheaper forested land invites destruction as a means of capitalising investments.
We know that natural regeneration is a big step in the right direction.     Reforestation is critical to maintain the world ecosystem and normal weather patterns, so we need to develop a strong collective message.   An approved plan that gives a clear direction in defining land use as a landscape of productivity and functionality for if we don’t come up with a strategy, inertia sets in, and it’s business as usual.

We need to organise those who can fund this process to include all elements from seed collection to nursery development.   Perhaps a new approach is needed; new tools needed to cope with the mammoth scale.  Perhaps we need to examine land tenure and land rights and start by reducing the scale and regionalising a programme.

At the same time, researchers need to measure forest regeneration to remunerate land owners prioritising an economic return for small landowners.    Much preparation is needed but leadership is vital to bring in landowners to cede their land for reforestation so perhaps the current drought is an opportunity to grasp.

For me the six big questions are:
1) What indicators are necessary to prove natural regeneration’s success?
2) How do we reconcile food production in forested landscapes?
3) How do we make natural regeneration economically viable for small landowners?
4) How can we scale natural regeneration scale?
5) How can we reach the politicians?
6) How to share the responsibility with the people living in cities?

The current conclusion is that natural regeneration of ecosystems is the least expensive way to reforest and in areas where it doesn’t naturally work we have to plant trees.

I met several interesting people from recognised organisations with valuable experiences around the world and I hope this seminar provides the impetus that is needed to revert the current levels of deforestation.”

Nicholas Locke