ACA’s Third Birdathon Prepares to Take Flight

Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossopis ctanea) perched on a branch, ready for the Birdathon. (Credit: Glenn Bartley)

Birds at both Wayqecha and Villa Carmen are getting ready for their closeup. From October 1 to 11, 2014, a group of Wisconsin birders will have their binoculars at the ready to spot species like the giant hummingbird (“the Schwarzenegger of hummingbirds”), the cock-of-the-rock, the gray-breasted mountain toucan, or even the undulated tinamoubut how many will they see in total? That’s the question we all want to know! [Left: Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossopis ctanea) perched on a branch, ready for the Birdathon. Credit: Glenn Bartley]

The group will journey all the way from Wisconsin to southeastern Peru, along a high- to low-elevation route that includes multiple days at ACA’s Wayqecha and Villa Carmen Biological Stations. This area, located where the eastern slopes of the Andes meet the Amazonian lowlands, is one of the world’s most incredible biodiversity hotspots and hosts an exceptional array of unique and endangered bird species. Group leader and lifelong conservationist Craig Thompson has been leading Birdathons here since 2011.

Through this event, Craig and his group are also raising money for the conservation work at the core of ACA’s mission. Want to join in? You can make a per-species pledge, with a correct guess qualifying to win a copy of the Birds of Peru field guide. You can also make a fixed donation to ACA online or via check (make sure to note your donation as “Birdathon”). Thank you for your support and stay tuned for this year’s species total!

What Kinds of Habitat Will the Group See?

Gray Breasted Mountain ToucanThe landscape shifts dramatically between Wayqecha and Villa Carmen, which means the birds who live in each habitat zone will change, too. Driving between the stations, the elevation drops from 9,875 to 1,700 feet. The birders will pass through puna, cloud/elfin forest, cloud forest, lower montane forest and premontane rainforest in the span of a day.

These videos from Wayqecha show a taste of the bird diversity found at the station, which lies in the buffer zone of Manu National Park. Manu is a colossal protected area twice the size of Yellowstone and world-renowned for its off-the-charts biodiversity (it’s home to ten percent of the planet’s bird species!). As the birders make their descent toward Villa Carmen, they will travel along the Manu Road. 

Hoatzin Bird

According to Craig, the gray-breasted mountain toucan (Left: Andigena hypoglauca) is one of the birding stars at Wayqecha. Other favorites to spot at the station include the golden-headed quetzel, and more than 25 species of tanagers. (Photo credit: Rick Stanley)

Did you know that that biological station is one of the most concentrated sites for viewing or studying bird diversity in the world? There are over 500 species known in its immediate area; all of North America has just north of 700 known bird species. The hoatzin (right) (Opisthocomus hoazin) is one of Craig’s star birds to see at Villa Carmen. (Photo credit: Daniel Huaman)

Lighting Up Wayqecha 

Lighting Up Wayqecha
Photo credit: Robinson Paz

Since Wayqecha runs primarily on generator power, light is a precious commodity, particularly after the sun goes down.

This year, a light donated by YetiSolar was installed to illuminate the cabin of Wayqecha’s administrator, Robinson Paz. Thanks to this solar-powered light he is able to work after-hours without needing to tap into extra generator power, “which is more contaminating [to the environment].” Robinson (wearing the red cap in the photo above) gives his thumbs up: “the power of the light is strong and lasts well.”

The Tacana in Bolivia: a 2014 Snapshot 

In May 2013, all USAID funding was suspended in Bolivia, which jeopardized ACA’s conservation and sustainable livelihood projects with the Tacana. Thanks to generous donor support, we were able to not only recover needed funds to continue the work planned from the USAID project, but also expand it. This summer, a group of ACA board members and staff from ACA, Conservación Amazónica–ACCA, and ACEAA traveled to the Tacana territory to see those efforts firsthand. Board member Jeff Woodman filed this report:

I had the honor of joining fellow Amazon Conservation colleagues on a trip to visit the Tacana indigenous territory located in northern Bolivia near the border with Peru and Brazil. The Tacana territory covers over 800,000 acres between two premier Bolivian protected areas: Madidi National Park and Manuripi-Heath National Amazon Reserve. Conserving the Amazon requires many strategies…but one critically important aspect of our work is empowering communities who live in the forests. We’ve worked with the Tacana for nearly a decade to support their ability to manage this vast territory for conservation. I couldn’t wait to meet them and see the results of our efforts. 

We were also visiting for a more specific reason. In 2013, the Tacana requested our assistance building “payoles,” simple wooden buildings used to store and dry Brazil nuts during the harvest season. With generous contributions from our supporters, Amazon Conservation raised funds for the Tacana to construct payoles. I wanted to hear the full story and learn whether these payoles had benefited the community. 

The Tacana territory consists of four small communities: Las Mercedes, Puerto Perez, Toromonas and El Tigre. After flying to Lima, then Puerto Maldonado, then taking a six-­‐hour boat ride on what looked like a large motorized canoe, we arrived at Puerto Perez. We were greeted like old friends. It took no time at all to feel a bond form…they were often smiling, joking, or laughing with twinkling eyes. No sooner had we disembarked than we were invited into people’s houses for “un ratito,” a short while, where we were treated to pork with rice, platanos and fish caught from the river. Family members would stand behind us watching every mouthful we ate. After the third “ratito”, my fears of being out of shape seemed unfounded!

Later that evening, the entire community gathered in a large meeting hall. As huge bats circled above us, Edgar Garcia, president of the four Tacana communities, and Hernan Bascopé, president of the Las Mercedes community, welcomed us with a series of speeches. This was followed by discussion between community members and us that lasted well into the evening. It was evident that our work with the Tacana was important and meaningful. After our long day of travel, rather than feeling tired, I felt invigorated.

The Tacana in Bolivia: a 2014 Snapshot 
Tacana members Don Lorenzo (left), Edgar Garcia, President of the Tacana (center), and Hernan Bascopé, President of Las Mercedes (right)

The following day, as we set out on the river, we learned about the Brazil nut harvest and the importance of payoles. The Tacana catch fish, grow fruit trees and practice small-­scale  farming, but essentially their entire income is dependent upon the harvest and sale of Brazil nuts. Harvesting Brazil nuts is a straightforward process: from January to April, Brazil nuts fall to the ground where they are collected, stored, and then sold. As simple as that sounds, the work is unimaginably difficult. Each harvester packs 60-­70 kilos (130-150 pounds) of Brazil nuts into a bag, then carries that bag to a drop-­off area near a river. Since the harvest occurs during the rainy season, harvesters work in the rain walking up and down steep muddy trails. Harvesters commonly cover more than ten miles a day, hauling Brazil nuts, day after day. It’s no wonder the Tacana are built like sturdy wrestlers!

Board member Steve Voorhees examining Brazil nuts drying in a new payole
Board member Steve Voorhees examining Brazil nuts drying in a new payole

The key to the importance of payoles lies in the fact that it can take weeks for the Tacana to arrange transport for their Brazil nuts to a processing facility. During this time, Brazil nuts are traditionally piled on the ground, making them susceptible to spoilage. In a typical year, 15% of Tacana Brazil nut total production is lost to spoilage. That amounts to about $120,000 of lost income to the Tacana communities each year.

Payoles are simple structures with a wooden floor and a metal roof that maximize drying while minimizing exposure to rain. Though the design is simple, the result is effective—payoles virtually eliminate production lost to spoilage. 

On our last day, as we boarded the boat to leave the Tacana community, we reflected on all we’d experienced and learned during our visit. We were awed by their commitment to hard work, impressed by their governance and organizational structure, and charmed by their friendly gracious ways. We learned that by listening and working together we can develop solutions to empower the Tacana to manage their own resources. We left with a deeper understanding of our Amazonian partners and a commitment to continue our shared efforts to conserve the Amazon.

Mining News Watch #12

Top Stories

  • The second round of regional presidential elections in Madre de Dios is likely to take place on December 7th. Both candidates are strong proponents of small-scale mining and have clashed with national government formalization efforts.
  • Of the 70,000 informal miners that began the formalization process, around 25,000 have completed the first step of the process and are eligible for eventual full legalization.
  • Two major police and military raids were carried out in the illegal mining zone “La Pampa,” with the goal of eradicating illegal mining from the Tambopata National Reserve buffer zone by the end of the year.

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