Tag Archive | Honduras

Successful tagging of Three-wattled Bellbirds in Honduras

Michael Loukides

Male Three-wattled Bellbird (photo by Michael Loukides) released under a CC-NC-SA licence.

I just received in an email a press release for the Zoo Conservation Outreach Group describing recent successes in fieldwork on Three-wattled Bellbirds (Procnias tricarunculatus) in Honduras. This project aims to use satellite tags to study the migratory movements of these endangered frugivores in the Sierra de Agalta cloud forests of Honduras. I have no doubt that Isidro Zuniga, our Honduran colleague during our last field season in Honduras was greatly involved in this research.

The big mystery surrounding these odd  birds (Family Cotingidae) is their complex migratory movements between cloud forests in the region. Each of these cloud forests is like an individual island of habitat in a great sea of lower level pine forests and agriculturally-dominated valleys. The birds are very evident from July to September in the Sierra de Agalta cloud forest, but then disappear for the balance of the year. The team on the ground in Honduras, led by Dr. Robin Bjork, has managed to outfit four of these birds with satellite tags which are transmitting data already.

The data generated by these tagged birds should be very interesting to say the least, and will help identify key habitat for conservation efforts.

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A bird in the hand is worth quite a bit! Male Three-wattled Bellbird outfitted with 5 g satellite tag.

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From the skies above the Rockies

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As mentioned in the previous post, and here at SpiderBytes, Catherine and I are temporarily leaving the field for rest,  recuperation, and riting (?) back in Canada. We had to make an emergency medical landing in Denver, so I purchased some internets to warn Antonia (who is picking us up) that we would be a few hours late, so here is a post from the skies north of Colorado.

When it became evident that we were leaving Honduras for the colder regions of the world, with surely far fewer active insects and spiders, I took the opportunity to do some last-minute shooting for both this blog and for Catherine’s. I had not been doing very much until then, as we were still getting used to the country and our work schedule. So the following is a small selection of insects and spiders found in our last few days in Gualaco, all found within 20 m of our apartment.  I found the shooting a bit difficult, not being in good practice, and worried about our project, but I did manage some adequate documentary shots. Coming up, I will discuss the second field trip and more about the caracaras and the problems facing them in Central America. Until then, enjoy these shots!

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Looks like some kind of Wood Nymph.

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This egg mass has an unwelcome visitor.

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This is a Lyssomanes jumping spider, doing their freaky eye thing, where the eyes go from green to black. I am not sure what it is all about, but probably some kind of focusing.

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I tried to get this “creamier”, but did not get the f-stop low enough. Illuminating the background sometimes makes the composition harder to control.

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To me, this jumper definitely looks “tropical”

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1st instar stinkers clustered around their eggs.

Getting started!

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So after getting settled in Gualaco and taking care of some red tape, Catherine and I, along with Isidro Zuniga will be headed out to the field tomorrow. We expect to be doing a bit of mapping, and getting familiar with the territory, after which we will attempt to do a call-playback survey for caracaras.

I managed to score some sweet GIS layers from the ICF guys in Tegucigalpa, and from what I am seeing, the caracaras being followed last year are in a belt of forest with very limited human habitation. Apparently they are seen occasionally all around, even as far as just east of Gualaco, but their stronghold seems to be where the people are not. Of course, we have no data of our own yet, but soon we shall see!

I am hoping the terrain will be workable, the caracaras amenable and the weather enjoyable! Wish us luck!

Weekend Expedition 43: Don Rafael’s farm

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We did manage to get out on the weekend for a small expedition, to see a working farm/ranch and some remnant oak and gallery forest near Gualaco. This was a muddy undertaking, as there had been some considerable rain the night before. We did see some cool stuff, including this Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans).

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The scrubby ranchlands do not have very large trees,

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Catherine and I rode this horse, which had a fresh vampire bite wound on its neck, across the river. That is our host, Don Rafael, on the right.

 

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We checked out some cattle up the road, and their parasitic flies as well.

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Upon returning home, we did some shooting of insects and spiders. This is some kind of blister beetle (Meloidae). Catherine has more spider photos here.

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A nice jumper that we found inside our window.

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Tortoise beetles are awesome!

In Gualaco!

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Morning in Gualaco, looking southwest. Those are the cloud forests of the Sierra de Agalta National Park in the background.

We have arrived (finally) in Gualaco, after a crazy few days passing from Vancouver to San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa. 

It has been quite hectic getting settled, and I am having difficulty re-adjusting to Spanish. We have an apartment now, and so are feeling a bit less nomadic than when staying at the hotel. 

We went out and saw the areas we will be working in yesterday, and they are in really really rugged terrain! The forests are mostly pine (Pinus oocarpa), and the terrain is mountainous and steep in many paces. Much of the region is second growth, and is used for ranching. The forest is rather open, due to periodic burning and grazing, but getting around is still rather difficult due to the topography. We tried some caracara call playback, but had nothing responding whatsoever. This is very different from the situation in Amazonia.

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The rolling pine forests northwest of Gualaco. This is right near the are where caracaras nested last year.

We are planning on staying put for the next few days, but will head out to Tegucigalpa next week for permit applications, and then will do a scouting mission starting on the 20th. With terrain like this, we will most definitely be getting our exercise!

 

 

 

Going to Honduras!

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Things have been rather quiet here at Ibycter lately, with less in the way of Weekend Expedition posts and no Cheapskate Tuesday posts for a while. The reason for this is that Catherine and I are getting ready to make a trip to Honduras to do a preliminary conservation study on Red-throated Caracaras. 

If you remember from back in June, the Honduran Conservation Coalition found and monitored a nest site in the Olancho Department, and they believe there is still a sizable population of caracaras nearby. I have wanted to work on Red-throated Caracara conservation biology for a long time, as no formal study has been done on the conservation of these birds in Central America. They are in steep decline across the region, and have disappeared from Mexico and Guatemala.

I was invited by Mark Bonta to come and do some research on these birds, and so, because I had funding from the National Birds of Prey Trust to do conservation research, I informed them of a change in venue to the heart of the region where caracaras are declining. We have since secured some more funds from the Zoo Conservation Outreach Group, as well as a private donor, and so we will be going to implement the start of the project.

This project will see us engaging the local volunteers and researchers to help us determine home range sizes and habitat occupancy of caracaras in the forests near Gualaco. We will  do radio tracking of birds from various caracara groups in the area, and will hopefully be able to get a preliminary estimate of home range size. We will also do call-playback surveys of the forests in order to determine the numbers of groups occupying the area. A third objective is to make further documentation of nesting behavior and food habits of the caracaras, as this is relatively unknown for the region.

Anyway, we ship off Monday, and will arrive in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday. After that we will be guided around the region and introduced to the stakeholders and collaborators. This is my very first field research conducted outside the bounds of a research camp, so making sure that everything is in order is a bit stressful.

We hope, however to continue to blog both here, at Catherine’s SpiderBytes blog and also at the ESC blog about all the cool stuff we encounter and the process of doing exploratory field research.

Red-throated Caracara nest in Honduras!

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Photos from the Honduran Conservation Coalition website.

I received an email last night from Mark Bonta, a researcher with the Honduran Conservation Coalition, alerting me to some big news from Honduras! A nest of the Red-throated Caracara was found by Isidro Zuniga, a researcher with the coalition in the pine forests of Olancho province.  This is a sparsely-populated region of dense forests and rugged mountains which is  filled with a multitude of fascinating plants, animals and habitats.  You can read the press release from this morning here.

This is big news for raptor biology in general, as it is only the fifth Ibycter americanus nest found by researchers in the world, and the very first from Central America! Not only that, but on a personal note, it means that there are actually other researchers taking up study of my very favourite bird. The Red-throated Caracara was only recently re-discovered in Honduras, by Narish and Jenner in 2004*, also from Olancho. This could mean that there is a stable population of this species in these pine forests, and gives some hope for its continued persistence. For too long this species been neglected by science, despite its fascinating biology, and the fact that it has been nearly extirpated from much of Central America. Now, with sightings in Nicaragua, and this recent discovery in Honduras, I think there is cause for hope for research into the conservation issues for these birds. 

In fact, in the press release, the Honduran Conservation Coalition, in partnership with the Peregrine Fund and others state that this is the start of a concerted research effort. The preliminary information is a but a teaser of things to come, and when these data become available they will add greatly to the known biology of the species.

So far, we know that Mr. Zuniga spent six weeks observing the nest, recording prey deliveries and nestling care. The nest was in a pine tree, although from the video it is unclear whether the nest is constructed by the birds or is just a platform on a broken tree (the two nests we have found in French Guiana used a bromeliad as a nesting platform, with no nest material brought by the adults).  Only a single chick was being reared, which accords well with our findings in French Guiana.

The nests we found in French Guiana were in large epiphytic bromeliads, which are in short supply in the pine forests of Olancho. What could they be nesting on?

There is also some video of the nest, with footage of adults and the young bird.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAw_Bq99S38?rel=0&w=720&h=540]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWgPub0sWFY?rel=0&w=720&h=405]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAw_Bq99S38?rel=0&w=720&h=540]

I am really excited by these findings, and I eagerly look forward to learning more. How many adults brought prey? What was the nest made of? What kinds of wasps were they preying on? What types of fruits, if any would they find in the pine forests?

All these questions will no doubt be answered in time, and as always, I will be eager to learn more about this awesome bird!

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 *Narish AJ., Jenner T (2004) Notes on the Red-throated Caracara, Ibycter americanus in Honduras. Cotinga 22: 100.