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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Spanish study at The Mountain School

It is no surprise to anyone that plenty of people live in poverty in Nicaragua. Many people in northern Nicaragua, in particular, live in immense poverty, where they are dependent upon the coffee harvest to survive. But not all is negative in the countryside here. At The Mountain School, we work with rural people to improve their living and working conditions. 

We recently hosted students from the Leapnow program at The Mountain School, in La Dalia, Nicaragua. The students in this program alternated Spanish classes with activities with local children, an introduction to coffee production, the natural environment of the area, and other aspects of Nicaragua.

The Mountain School
These students are learning what it means to make a cup of great, Nicaraguan coffee. Photo Gigi Austin.
Lots of people visit Nicaragua from far-away places like the United States these days. In fact, Nicaragua has been gaining in popularity among travelers like never before. But more is interesting about Nicaragua than just a lazy sunset on a sandy beach. The government and the civil society of Nicaragua are facing the challenges of poverty, of inequitable distribution and power, in fascinating, creative ways. Many Nicaraguans are involved in working with poor and marginalized people in Nicaragua. We at FUNDECI work at The Mountain School together with the Santa Emilia Estates and rural communities in La Dalia, in Matagalpa Department, Nicaragua, to promote better lives for the rural poor.

Most poor people in the region of La Dalia pick coffee during the peak of the season, from October through March, each year.  Unlike the poor of so many other countries, the majority of Nicaraguan rural people are small-scale landholders, which means they can alternate paid activities on the farms of other people with activities on their own land. They can farm basic staples such as corn and beans so they don't have to pay cash for them, saving the small amount of money they earn from other activities to cover the few necesities they just can't get except in the cash economy. Many of these farms are now enjoying extra income, thanks to organic certification and fair trade marketing.
coffee picking
Eating raw coffee beans in the hull is not recommended! Photo Gigi Austin.
As the Leapnow students learned, coffee picking is hard work. They jokingly asked how much money they would be making from their harvest, but they knew that their earnings would not be much. Experienced coffee pickers move fast and they still earn very little. Life for the rural poor is very humble, because there just isn't any way they can become wealthy, one coffee bean at a time.
coffee farm Nicaragua
This year's coffee harvest promises many jobs for Nicaraguan poor people, and profits for small-scale farmers. Photo Gigi Austin.
Picking coffee and learning about how coffee goes from the bush to the coffee cup is just one aspect of Spanish study at The Mountain School. The Leapnow students also dedicated several mornings to help the staff at the "ludo-biblioteca". This invented word means something like "fun library". This space is dedicated to the students of the nearby schools, to promote reading and creativity. These children come from homes where the parents can read little or none, and no books are ever seen in the home.
Leapnow students designed an astronomy exhibit for the local children in the after-school library project. Photo Gigi Austin.
Opening the world of imagination and information to poor, rural children ranks among the most noble of causes. The Spanish students from Leapnow gave of their time and abundant energy to decorate spaces, including a small exhibition of the wonders of astronomy. The skies are often clear in La Dalia, allowing ample views of starry nights. Hopefully, these children will see the same patterns that someone once named Orion, the Southern Cross, and Gemini. Or what if they even make their own designs among the arrays of lights?
The Mountain School
The Leapnow students helped decorate the after-school library at The Mountain School. Photo Gigi Austin.
Water will surely be the binding topic of the twenty-first century, worldwide. So many people will be without, others will be pressured to share. Floods and rising oceans will harm the lives of millions. In La Dalia, water abounds, year round. Streams teaming with clear, cool water flow faster than sound, tumbling over rocks and crashing in cascades.
Water abounds in the mountains of northern Nicaragua. Photo Gigi Austin.
The Leapnow students took a cool swim in a nearby stream. Meditation in the mist of a cascade brings one ever closer to our origin. There is so much on this earth to enjoy just as it is, natural and simple. There is something of renewal about swimming; water brings us rebirth.
waterfall Nicaragua
Spanish students enjoy an afternoon swim near The Mountain School. Photo Gigi Austin.
The Leapnow students moved on and we are now preparing for the coming week, but we are grateful for Gigi, Skyler and all the students for sharing with us these two weeks.

The Mountain School Nicaragua
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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Birdwatching in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve III-Land birds

As camera technologies advance, photography continues to become a more interesting option for birdwatching activities. Today, one does not have to be a professional or invest thousands into a hobby to take good pictures of birds. Many of our visitors at Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo come especially for the birds, and some of them even take great photographs. Here, we present the second blog entry highlighting the photography of birdwatchers Jesse Bickley and Anna James.

Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulfuratus) is very common in the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve and throughout wooded areas in the Pacific region of Nicaragua. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.

The Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) are always pleasant discoveries here, where they are easier heard than seen. Great photo shots of this species may be difficult, because they prefer forest canopy. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.

Long-tailed Manakins (Chiroxiphia linearis) males dance and sing to attract a mate. The senior male dances in tandem with a junior male who requires up to four years to reach sexual maturity. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.

elegant trogon
The male Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans) makes an unattractive growl but is quite a beauty to see. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.
The Black-headed Trogon (Trogon melanocephalus) is quite common on the north side of Lake Apoyo, where Estacion Biologica is located. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.

Our national bird is the Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa). The abundance of steep banks with loose, volcanic soils make Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve ideal habitat for this bird. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.

eumomota superciliosa
The pendulum-like swing of the tail of the Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) is thought to discourage predators. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.

clay-colored thrush
The Clay-colored Thrush (Turdus grayi) acts and even sounds similarly to the American Robin of North America. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.
Summer Tanager
Male Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) make fill our forest with bright color about seven months per year. It accompanies hundreds of other birds in yearly migration, reproducing in North America. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.
The red bill and rusty tail distinguish this bird as the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl), much more common in Eastern Nicaragua than in the forests of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.
The Great Kiskadee is very common in forest edge throughout the Pacific region of Nicaragua. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.
Chestnut-capped Warbler
The Chestnut-capped Warbler (Basileuterus delattrii) is the only year-round resident warbler of the reserve. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.
Groove-billed Ani
Cuckoos such as the Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris) have a distinctive smell which may serve to protect them from predation. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.

The Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma) nest communally. Males and females divide the work around the nesting site. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James. 
No photo essay on birds in Nicaragua would be complete without the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), among the most visible of any bird in the country. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James.
Jesse and Anna also took some great photos of birds associated with Lake Apoyo, too. If you would like to schedule a birdwatching tour with one of our specialized birdwatching guides, please contact us!
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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Birdwatching in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve II-aquatic birds

Lake Apoyo is deep and clear with far less shallow water than a typical lake. Immense, deep areas provide ideal habitat for small, schooling fish in the open waters, and these fish are preyed upon by lots of fish and birds. Most of the shoreline is steeply graded; the water is more than a meter deep just a few steps inward. The shallow areas available for wading birds are somewhat more limited than in Lake Cocibolca, for instance, but several egrets and herons can always be found around the lake.

Lake Apoyo as seen from behind Estacion Biologica. Photo Jesse Bickley.
The wide expanse of water invites year-round populations of Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens), which feed on fish in the open waters. Black Terns (Chlidonias niger) are found year-round, as well, often swimming when not preying on schools of fish.
Diving birds such as the Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), Least Grebe (Tachybaptus dominicus) and Olivaceous Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) are found in regions of depths up to about 20 meters. They are usually seen swimming and diving.
Great Egret
Great Egret (Erdea alba) flies over Lake Apoyo. Photo Jesse Bickley. 
Wading birds include Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), Great Egret (Ardea alba), Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), Tricolor Heron (Egretta tricolor), Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), and Little Green Heron (Butorides virescens) are found in shallow water along the shoreline. Nocturnal herons are also found, usually seen roosting, in small numbers: Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearis cochlearis), Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa olivacea).
Birdwatching Nicaragua
Great Egret in flight. Photo Jesse Bickley.
Aerial fishing birds also include the Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata), which find prey while perched on trees along the shoreline, usually small fishes (Atherinella sardina), then fly out and dive headlong to catch the prey, returning to their perch to consume the fish.
Ringed Kingfisher
Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata) in flight over Lake Apoyo. Photo Jesse Bickley.
Along the shoreline, during the winter periods, Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) are common. This species exhibits a characteristic pumping action with the tail while foraging along the shoreline, just out of the water. Other sandpipers and plovers are rare in Lake Apoyo. It is a relatively easy bird for a birdwatcher to follow.
Pied-billed Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) is commonly seen swimming in the clear waters of Lake Apoyo. Photo Jesse Bickley.
All you need for birdwatching in Lake Apoyo is good field glasses, an experienced guide, a reference book, and patience. Birds are easily found in several habitats in all seasons. We would be happy to reserve a birdwatching tour for you, just contact us!

A Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) accompanies a Great Egret (Ardea alba) in lakeside meditation. Photo Jesse Bickley and Anna James. 
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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lake Cocibolca

One of the great natural sites of Nicaragua is Lake Cocibolca, also called Lake Nicaragua. Formed a half-million years ago by a depression in the recently-connected Mesoamerican isthmus, this lake is a fundamental component of the economy and culture of the Nicaraguan people. 
Whistling Tree-Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) take their clutch of hatchlings for a swim in Lake Cocibolca.
Cocibolca is among the largest freshwater lakes in the world. There are many important wetlands around the lake and its tributaries. Fish and birds inhabiting Lake Cocibolca and its surrounds are abundant and diverse. The lake was vital to the precolombian people of the zone, with numerous population centers all along its shores.
The name Cocibolca comes from the Nahuatl language, but cultural hegemony of the Spanish-speaking settlers led to such severe disregard for the culture and language of the locals that we no longer know what the name means, precisely. One theory is that it means the larger of the twin lakes, the lesser being Xolotlán 
Olivaceous cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) move around throughout Lake Cocibolca and inhabit special places such as Isla Zapote in the Solentinmane Archipielago. 
Lake Cocibolca is facing huge threats to its health. Nicaragua is notorious for poor management of its aquatic natural resources. Many natural water sources in Nicaragua have already been declared contaminated. Lake Xolotlán, for example, has an extremely high level of contamination from municipal wastewater discharged, untreated, directly into the lake for a century. It also has tons of mercury from a poorly operated chemical facility. 
Lake Cocibolca is expansive, giving the impression of an ocean from many perspectives. The locals have given it the name, "La Mar Dulce", or the freshwater sea. 
Several municipal wastewater discharges into Lake Cocibolca are now getting some level of treatment and control. The quantities of contaminants from the general population are dropping, but still at levels that warrant concern. Among the officially listed potential uses of the lake resources is potable water, although no major community gets its water here, yet.
Storm clouds accumulate over Lake Cocibolca. 
More destructive is the vast erosion throughout the watershed of the lake, consisting principally of cattle farms. Soil conservation practices such as ample levels of shade on pasture, gallery forest throughout river edges, and terracing or forest cover on steep slopes, are basically absent in all the farms. Use of pesticides such as ivermectin, for parasite control on cows, and defoliants is universal, and the tools for application are almost always washed directly into the rivers feeding the lake. Almost all pastures are burned at the end of the dry season, promoting a huge pulse of soils and nutrients into the lake at the first rains. Furthermore, agriculture such as rice is grown around the lake, and aerial fumigation dumps thousands of pounds of destructive pesticides each year.
An important aspect of Lake Cocibolca is the hundreds of small islands found throughout it. 
The vastness of the lake means that all these factors have not yet added up to destroy the lake, but like wolves at the door. As in much of the rest of the world, Nicaragua is facing water issues as the most important single conflictive issue of the 21st century. Many practices in the past and present are no longer viable, given ever-greater demands on water and threats that no one ever anticipated.
The sense that Lake Nicaragua is pristine and a natural paradise still exists. All visitors to the country should take advantage of opportunities to experience Cocibolca. Its shores, islands, fish and the nature are remarkable. The cities such as Granada, San Jorge, San Carlos and San Miguelito all give great views of the lake, and many islands are worth a visit, from Zapatera to Ometepe and the Solentiname Archipielago.
Lake Cocibolca
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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Un circo sin animales-El Nuevo Diario 20 Septiembre 2014

Haga clic sobre la bandera de la Tierra para encontrar este ensayo en El Nuevo Diario, 20 Septiembre 2014.

Cuando era niño, me encantaba ir al circo. Una atracción eran los animales, los tigres, leones y elefantes. Recuerdo sentir el peligro cuando algún animal titubeaba entre obedecer y desafiar a su adiestrador, o peor, darle un zarpazo o comérselo vivo. Entendí que estos animales no eran domesticados, como son los perros, gatos y el ganado, pero mucho después comencé a pensar en lo que significa vivir en una jaula para un animal silvestre.
Los perros, gatos, vacas y algunos otros animales han vivido milenios con el ser humano, tanto que dependen de él para existir. Un perro realmente necesita del cuido de una persona para su bienestar, ya que no existe su tipo en los hábitats naturales, mientras lo opuesto existe para los animales más emblemáticos de un circo. Un tigre nunca va a ser una mascota, y no busca la compañía del ser humano cuando vive en su estado natural.
El tigre es un animal silvestre que amerita vivir y morir conforme a la evolución de su especie. Animales silvestres deben vivir y morir en el bosque, no en una jaula. Para estos animales, pasar su vida entera en una jaula es privarles de todo que se encuentra en su espíritu. Ningún tigre optaría por vivir en dependencia del ser humano, en una jaula, si sus puertas se encontraran abiertas alguna vez.
A todo niño le gustan los payasos, los malabares y la música del circo. Le gusta al niño que cada uno de nosotros lleva dentro. No se me había ocurrido que el circo podría ser divertido sin animales, hasta que en Europa tuve la oportunidad de ver al Cirque du Soleil. El circo entero era mágico. Ya grande, ese circo me llevó a sentir algunas emociones que me recordaban mi niñez. Pero no hubo animales en el espectáculo. No hubo tigre ni león ni elefante, tampoco ningún perro adiestrado. Ese circo me enamoró sin proclamar en pancartas: “Circo Libre de Animales”.
Recientemente Nicaragua comenzó a definir los derechos de los animales domesticados, a través de la Ley 747. El articulado establece que todo animal requiere un trato humanitario, hasta los destinados para ser alimento, como vacas y gallinas. El concepto del bienestar animal es nuevo para Nicaragua, pero va en marcha.
Dentro del reglamento de esta ley se estipularán algunas medidas necesarias para cuidar al perro casero, por ejemplo, como asegurar espacio, techo, alimentación, entre varios elementos necesarios para su bienestar. Pero, ¿cuáles elementos son necesarios para garantizar el bienestar de un tigre? Si un animal es por su naturaleza salvaje, ¿qué medidas son necesarias para asegurar que ese animal viva y muera como él lo amerita?
En Costa Rica, en México, han prohibido el uso de animales en los espectáculos. Nicaragua puede hacer lo mismo, y no solo quedarnos a criticar los circos instalados. Prácticamente ninguno de estos animales nació en cautiverio, y ninguno se quedaría con el que se declara su dueño si tuviera la oportunidad de escapar. Seguro volvería al bosque, a su libertad.
un circo sin animales


Monday, September 15, 2014

Revista Estudios Ambientales

A pesar de las apariencias, las ciencias sí existen en Nicaragua y también inciden en el progreso del país. Hay docenas de científicos en Nicaragua, preparados para contribuir a estudios de varios tipos, incluyendo el campo ambiental. Para promover la comunicación científica entre científicos y los estudiosos del medio ambiente de Nicaragua, FUNDECI patrocina la revista científica Estudios Ambientales, donde aparecen contribuciones al debate cientifíco nacional. 

Estudios Ambientales
Haga clic en la portada para conectarse con Volumen I de Estudios Ambientales.

Foto Pablo Somarriba.
La revista Estudios Ambientales ya cuenta con un número en publicación, y un equipo editorial de mucha distinción dentro y fuera del país. En el primer número, se documenta registros oficiales de la caza del danto Tapirus bairdii, de la presencia de dos especies de peces en las aguas continentales y de la asociacion de una mariposa con una especie de arbol. Tambien hay un informe especial sobre las aguas de la Laguna de Apoyo. Mas de quince diferentes autores de varias instituciones participaron. 

La revista se presenta en español para maximizar el acceso entre los miembros de la comunidad nacional, de forma totalmente gratis y en forma digital. 

La Revista Estudios Ambientales hace el llamado para la remision de manuscritos para su segundo numero, para ser publicado durante el ultimo cuatrimestre del 2014. Esperamos la inclusión de muchos científicos con aportes nuevos para este número.

estudios ambientales
Foto Salvador Montenegro.