Rain Forest Birding: An Experience to “Crow” About!

Group of BirdwatchersArticle contributed by Connie and Peter Roop, participants on ACA’s 2012 Birdathon and authors of over 100 children’s books including their most recent titles, Tales of Famous Animals and Penguins are Cool!]  

“Andean Gull!” Eric cried as he exited the Cusco airport. Amazon Conservation Association’s (ACA) Birdathon had just taken flight.

A mixed flock of Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, and California birders, from fledgling to expert, arrived in Peru for a ten-day birding adventure, traveling from the dramatic Peruvian 11,000-foot highlands to the lush Amazon lowlands. 

“Never go anywhere without your binoculars,” warns group leader, Craig Thompson.

At dawn, sleepy-eyed birders don their binoculars to peer into the brush for a glimpse of an elusive Rufous-tailed Antwren.

“Is that colorful, long-tailed hummingbird a Long-tailed Sylph?” asks a “binoculared” birder at breakfast.

Tayra WeaselCameras clicked as a sleek and swift Tayra, a South American weasel, stole to the same feeder to grab mouthfuls of a Red-Capped Cardinal’s bananas.

“Look at that soaring Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle!” cries a trip member as others drop their sandwiches to grab binoculars at lunch.

Even after the sun sets, these dedicated travelers have birds on their brains and are out trying to spot owls.

Rewards are handsome for both participants and the Amazon Conservation Association. Each day birders could count on seeing a rainbow of colorful birds, butterflies, and flowers.

Each evening at science research stations, they shared local food and learned from scientists conducting projects in these biologically rich and diverse habitats. These avid birders spotted 400 birds and heard 22 more with the assistance of Peruvian expert guides, Alex and Percy. These efforts raised $34,000 for ACA to protect bird habitat in the region. 

Thompson’s two trips have this mission: to create flocks of birders devoted to protecting biological hot spots in Peru’s Amazon Basin and in Costa Rica’s pristine Osa Peninsula. Since 1992, Craig has used his vacation time to gather friends of feathers together to personally experience tropical rainforests.

Each “Thompson traveler” donates $500 to the Amazon Conservation Association or Osa Conservation. The cost of the trip is low. In the past six years, Thompson’s groups have donated over $100,000 to conservation efforts. 

 “Protection of Wisconsin birds’ breeding habitats is only half the conservation story,” explains Thompson, whose day job is at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 

“The other half is in Latin American countries like Costa Rica. Without protection of migratory bird winter habitat in Latin America, our Wisconsin woodlands and backyards will become increasingly silent in the spring and summer,” Thompson warns.

Tropical forests on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula are the winter home to 55 species that breed in Wisconsin.  These include Peregrine Falcons and Worm-eating warblers, both of which are state-endangered as well as state-threatened Acadian flycatchers, Kentucky warblers, and Hooded warblers. 

Birdwatchers Group MealtimeTaking a trip to the Osa Peninsula or to Peru links Wisconsin and Michigan citizens and our avian denizens to our southern neighbors.  Projects supported include monitoring over-wintering survival of Wisconsin birds in tropical forests, purchasing property to enable construction of a field station and ecolodge, and cloud forest and dry forest protection and restoration. Investing in these projects has brought incalculable returns to “our” Midwest birds who migrate to Latin America each winter and return to us to breed in the Midwest each summer.

“Turkey vulture!” points out Peter as the newly-made friends say good-bye at the Cusco airport.

Bird by bird, birder by birder, interested citizens have two amazing rain forest trips to crow about. Each provides a unique opportunity to experience the rain forest, to make new “best” birding buddies, and to support conservation critical to Midwest and rain forest species.

If you would like to learn more about the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative’s International Programs, please visit http://www.wisconsinbirds.org/International. To find out more about Thompson’s trips or make a donation, please visit https://www.amazonconservation.org/getinvolved/birdathon for Amazon Conservation Association or http://www.osaconservation.org/get-involved/conservation-trips for Osa Conservation. Interested in joining a future expedition to Peru? If so, email info@amazonconservation.org. (Photos and text from Peter and Connie Roop)

ACA receives $1 million to support forest protection and sustainable livelihoods in Amazonian indigenous communities

This past December, ACA was awarded a grant of nearly $1 million by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to support forest conservation and sustainable livelihoods for indigenous communities in southern Peru. Developed cooperatively with our indigenous community partners, this project will protect over 260,000 acres of Amazonian forest while improving incomes and food security for more than a thousand families in remote indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon.

Communal indigenous territories cover 15 percent of Peru’s Amazon region – an estimated 25 million acres of forest lands – and provide the natural resources that indigenous households depend on for their livelihoods. Activities such as harvesting wild food, medicinal plants, and fuelwood are central to the economies of indigenous families, although some also engage in subsistence agriculture, timber extraction, and day labor in order to earn cash income.

Accelerating development and expansion of the agricultural and inhabited frontier in southern Peru presents imminent threats to the livelihoods, cultural traditions, and forest resources of these communities. Furthermore, lack of sustainable means to earn the cash income families increasingly need can lead to out-migration of youth seeking greater economic opportunity in nearby towns, further weakening control over territories and community economies, and to more informal, and destructive, timber extraction of the type that relies heavily on middlemen.

objective of the IDB-funded project is to provide seven indigenous communities in southern Peru with tools for interacting with the cash economy in ways that protect their forests, are culturally appropriate, and in accordance with their customs for managing community resources. To achieve this, the project will focus on building entrepreneurial and financial management capacity and fostering links to national and international markets. Specifically, the project seeks to:

  • Improve land management and planning capacity on nearly 260,000 acres of communally-owned and managed forest lands;
  • Create ecologically and culturally sustainable methods to engage forest-dependent indigenous communities in the cash economy through aquaculture with native Amazonian fish species, ecotourism, agroforestry and the harvest of non-timber forest products;
  • Build technical, organizational, and governance capacity in and among communities to successfully manage indigenous enterprises; and
  • Link indigenous enterprises to cash markets in ways that are compatible with cultural traditions.

The project will be implemented by ACCA (ACA’s Peruvian sister organization) and our partners in seven indigenous communities, including five lowland communities with about 250 families who currently cooperate to harvest and sell Brazil nuts, and the Haramba Queros Wachiperi indigenous community, with which we created the nation’s first indigenous-run conservation concession and where we continue to provide management support. The project will also partner with the Santa Rosa de Huacaria indigenous community that neighbors ACCA’s Villa Carmen Biological Station property. These partnerships will have a significant impact not only on improving livelihoods but on strengthening indigenous governance of natural resources. (Photo by Trond Larsen)

Notes from the Field: A close encounter at Villa Carmen Biological Station

On a Sunday morning hike this February, ACA Science Director Dr. Adrian Tejedor and others had the privilege of an exciting wildlife encounter at ACA’s Villa Carmen Biological Station. Located in the Manu Biosphere Reserve, the station hosts a wide variety of habitats and is esteemed for its diverse flora and fauna – including big cats! 

Today five of us – Nicole, Timo, Simeon, Erick, and I – went to retrieve camera trap cards, GPS a new trail, and look for fruits and gingers. Barely a kilometer from the house, along the western ridge, we came face to face with a group of white-lipped peccaries. We all went dead silent and stood behind spindly trees, one per person, while the 20 to 30 peccaries in the group, most of them juveniles, circled us in a surprisingly quiet disorder. A large adult came barely a meter away from my feet. This made me a little worried, but it smelled me, rattled its teeth briefly, and sprinted away. I looked up to the trail to check for more peccaries but saw instead a big, muscular jaguar trotting nonchalantly behind a couple of peccaries that lagged behind. It was obvious that my companions had seen it, too, because our collective silence became deader still.

The jaguar kept on coming closer until it was in full view, in the middle of the wide trail, some 8 meters away from us. Amazingly, it had neither seen nor smelled us. It turned to its left and showed us a rich golden flank that shone under a shaft of soft light. Oblivious to us, it pounced, rather unenthusiastically, on a straggling peccary but missed it and veered back toward the trail precisely in our direction. We watched in awe how the big cat walked on through the brush, coming straight at us, and closing in on us, as if we had turned invisible. The tension rose steeply; the approach seemed unsustainable. Either the jaguar or we had to give way. When it was, unbelievably, only two meters from us, it froze in its tracks, looked Nicole straight in the face – Nicole saw that it had cloudy eyes, like a dog with cataracts – and puffed out of sight with an explosive backward jump. A split second later, we erupted in celebration and triumphant hugs. (Text by Adrian Tejedor, photo from camera trap located at Villa Carmen Biological Station)

Conserving the Amazon: A Letter from Jeff Woodman, ACA’s New Executive Director

With the recent transition of executive directors, this is a good opportunity to restate our mission and the strategies we employ to achieve our objectives. Our mission is to conserve the biodiversity of the Amazon. The Amazon covers an enormous area encompassing diverse habitats. This is a bold mission for a small organization like ours. How can we actually achieve conservation success?

First, let’s set the context. We work in southeastern Peru and northwestern Bolivia on the eastern slope of the Andes, arguably the most biologically diverse region on the planet. Our neighbors include indigenous communities in voluntary isolation, Bolivia’s majestic Madidi National Park, and Manu National Park – the crown jewel of Peru’s national park system. While this region contains a staggering array of biological diversity, it also faces extreme threats. The rapid increase in illegal gold mining combined with the completion of the Interoceanic Highway has wrought enormous change in a remarkably short time frame. These developments have brought a measure of economic improvement to the region, but they have also triggered environmental destruction on a breathtaking scale. Pristine forest has been turned to wasteland and mercury is being dumped into rivers in ever-increasing quantities. At the same time, Bolivia’s highlands face growing development pressures and risks from climate change.

Conserving biodiversity in the face of these threats requires a multi-pronged set of strategies. First, we work diligently to establish protected areas. In the past two years, we have finalized the establishment of conservation concessions covering 47,000 acres, and have another 340,000 acres nearing completion. We’re currently developing an ambitious plan to protect nearly 2,000,000 acres over the next few years. Once established, these areas still have to be managed and monitored, but their susceptibility to threats is reduced substantially.

Second, we work closely with communities throughout the region developing alternative methods for earning a living without using destructive practices. In the lowlands, we’re promoting sustainable Brazil nut harvesting, planting fruit trees and cacao, developing small-scale fish ponds, and fostering ecotourism. In the highlands we’re reforesting degraded lands with sustainable wood that local communities can use for building and heating their homes, and working to develop protein-rich products like tarwi (a native high-protein seed) as a sustainable food source.

Third, we use scientific analysis to underpin our strategies and solutions. We’ve measured the mercury content in numerous fish species to educate the public on health hazards. We’ve studied the impact of unmanaged livestock on cloud forest regeneration. We’ve meticulously mapped out hundreds of Brazil nut trees and other keystone species to create management plans to protect these resources and the surrounding forests. We’re testing biochar (charcoal made from fast-growing bamboo) as a natural alternative to fertilizers to improve soil fertility and thereby increase productivity for local farmers.

Our three biological stations in Peru, strategically located in the cloud forest, mid-elevation, and the Amazonian lowlands, are a key platform for achieving conservation. These stations enable us to engage local communities over a sustained timeframe and to concentrate scientific research on issues ranging from describing new species to developing a replicable biodiversity monitoring program to analyzing the effects of climate change. They also are centers where researchers, local and international students, tourists, and members of the community can collaborate and exchange ideas.

Finally, we address the threats themselves. We’re advocating for offshore-inland pipeline construction, a roadless construction technique to reduce deforestation. We’re fighting illegal logging and mining through improved governance by providing decision-makers with better information and participating in regional-level planning. We’re increasing local capacity for land management, supporting local and regional government institutions, and providing leadership to regional efforts to respond to forest fires and create conservation finance mechanisms.

All of our efforts are designed to be scaled up, so even though we’re working in a specific geography in Peru and Bolivia, our vision is to create models that can be replicated throughout the Amazon basin. This work is complex and difficult but deeply rewarding. We could not achieve our successes without your support. Thank you all for your interest and your generosity in enabling us to conserve the Amazon. 

 (Text by Jeff Woodman; photo of Jeff by Ronald Catpo; waterfall photo by Gabby Salazar)