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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reforestation in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve

Planting trees and caring for them is vital to the integral health of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve as a natural area. This protected area has been ravaged in the past decades, by the extraction of fuelwood and other forest products, plots cleared for agriculture and housing, and fires set by man. Wildlife depend on native forest species for food and shelter. The lake is protected from siltation and trophic changes by the forests in the crater interior which hold the weak volcanic ash soils in place on the steep slopes. We plant trees for both reasons. We at Estacion Biologica FUNDECI/GAIA plant more than one thousand trees in deforested areas in the reserve each year.

In this project, we only plant tree species native to the area, and we collect our seed stocks by hand from inside the reserve. There are more than 440 species of plants native to the reserve in our records, so we are using the results of our research to help guide us in which species to plant and where to get the seeds (and stakes, depending on the propagation type) for reforestation.
forest conservation in Nicaragua
The results of a seed collection actity in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary.
In contrast to the typical kinds of reforestation projects which are to generate timber or some other product in an extractive system, we are working to restore a natural forest. This means planting lots of different species of trees, many of which do not germinate or grow easily. Much of our work in natural forest restoration has an experimental component to it.
reforestation in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve
FUNDECI/GAIA staff member Elmer Nicaragua shows off the seeds collected. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary. 

nature conservation and reforestation in Nicaragua
Photo by Jeffrey McCrary.

reforestation volunteer
Volunteer Maria is planting seeds in seedling bags filled with compost. We make our own compost from leaf litter and organic kitchen waste. The white bags in this picture are recycled milk bags. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary.

environmental volunteer Nicaragua
Photo by Jeffrey McCrary.

mahogany planting Nicaragua
The trees are kept in our tree nursery until reaching at least 50 cm height before transplanting into the reforestation area, to give the young trees the greatest chance to survive their first dry season. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary.

This project depends on volunteers for its success. Would you like to learn about our forests and help us preserve our little piece of heaven? Please contact us for more information on volunteering in our reforestation program.
mahogany tree Nicaragua
Short-leaf mahogany (Swietenia humilis) is native to the forest of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, but the wild stocks of this species were depleted by woodcutters poaching the forest for valuable wood. This tree was just planted in one of the reforestation sites. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary
Laguna de Apoyo reforestation
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Animal Rescue II: White-throated Magpie-Jay

We at  Estacion Biologica FUNDECI/GAIA recently adopted a baby White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa) that had been stolen from his nest by some local children. You can read our earlier post about this bird here. He has gone from hand-feeding to flying, and he has been adopted by local adults who are presently feeding their own chick. But he still returns and begs for food each day, and he even lands on unsuspecting people, but he means no harm. He also returns when local birds harrass him, which at first was often, but now seems rare. Here is a video of the bird before his flight was strong, showing him in his home, an adapted 5-gallon bucket!

The White-throated Magpie-Jay is common throughout the Pacific region of Nicaragua. Would you like to work with us as a volunteer on saving wild nature in Nicaragua? If so, please contact us.

animal rescue
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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Animal Rescue I: White-throated Magpie-Jay and Northern Crested Caracara

We are in the peak of the "dry season" (called verano locally) in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, where the terrestrial ecosystem is Tropical Dry Forest. The dry season brings with it lots of nesting and fledging birds. This past week, two fledging birds were rescued in the forests of our Reserve, and we are caring for them at Estacion Biologica FUNDECI/GAIA with hopes to liberate them back into the forest soon.
The first bird is a White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa). This bird was rescued from a group of boys on the edge of the Reserve. It was not yet ready to be out of the nest, and it had at least four screw-worm larvae in its skin, weak and sick.
This bird is constantly hungry! Photo by Chris Hellyer.
The White-throated Magpie-Jay is very common in the Pacific region of Nicaragua. It is known locally as the "urraca". We knew the species was not at risk of extinction, but it gave us all an important set of lessons in taking care of the nature around us, so we were glad we took it in.
The White-throated Magpie-Jay is among the most common birds in the forests of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo by Chris Hellyer.
Everyone in the Pacific region of Nicaragua knows the "urraca", as it is so common. It is found in yards and pastures, broken forests and parks. Many novice birdwatchers love this bird because of its form and actions. It is easily seen, brilliant blue and white, and a great subject for birdwatching. It is noisy, ebullient, and as we learned, it learns to like people very well.
Calocitta formosa
Chris has made a friend. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary.
animal rescue
Exercising the wings. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary. 

The bird is very happy with Chris! Photo by Jeffrey McCrary.

Our volunteer Wyatt is charming the little guy. Photo by Chris Hellyer.
Our second bird rescue is a Northern Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway). This species resides from Central US to northern South America. This individual was encountered during our nocturnal wildlife monitoring in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.
Caracara cheriway
The Northern Crested Caracara is majestic! Photo by Jeffrey McCrary. 
Caracara cheriway
The Northern Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway) is a predator which usually inhabits open or semi-open areas. This chick, however, was found on the ground in closed forest, most likely because its nest was nearby. Although it could not fly yet, it was strong and in very good spirits. Photo by Chris Hellyer.

Crested Caracara
The chick is at very near complete adult size, but demonstrates lighter plumage and seres. Photo by Chris Hellyer. 
Jeffrey admires the majestic bird! Photo by Chris Hellyer. 

Crested Caracara
The Northern Crested Caracara chick is enjoying an afternoon of supervised liberty (see the cord). He was visited by numerous Great-tailed Grackles and White-throated Magpie-Jays, but none dared to venture too close to him. Soon he will fly away, when he has sufficient wing strength. Photo by Jeffrey McCrary.  
Crested Caracara
Wyatt observes the bird! Photo by Jeffrey McCrary. 
Estacion Biologica FUNDECI/GAIA needs your help. Can you help to contribute to our wildlife conservation program? We can receive donations via PayPal (our account is found at If you have time to contribute, you can come to work with us too. Please help us save wild Nicaraguan nature! The wildlife conservation projects at FUNDECI/GAIA depend on your support.
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Guerrero del Amor: Duo Guardabarranco

Rosey Soley composed a poem dedicated to her lover, fallen in the terrible conflict between Nicaraguans. Salvador Cardenal set the words to music, and here it is presented by Salvador and Katia, as Duo Guardabarranco. This song embodied the spirit of a generation dedicated to give their lives for the Revolution. Thank you, Rosey, Katia, and Salvador, for leaving us this beautiful homage to love and conflict in Nicaragua. The role of testimonial music in the Nicaraguan Revolution was tremendous, as can be imagined by the imagery and words of this song.


Warrior of Love (Rosey Soley and Salvador Cardenal)
I’ll trade you a song for the courage of your young combatant hands,
Welded to the metal with which you will save us.
I’ll trade this love of life and its promises
For the cold of your feet in the swamps,
Making fear and homesickness burn you.
Anonymous author of the dawn,
Silent deer in the mountain,
Warrior of love;
Son of these times, windmill,
Manchild born in the jungle
To go until the end, to the victory
I’ll trade you those 20 years, duplicated
Because of this necessary war,
For the silvery flower of hope

Te cambio una canción por el coraje
de tus jovenes manos combatientes,
fundidas al metal con que nos salvas.

Te cambio este amar la vida y sus promesas
por el frio de tus pies entre los suampos;
fraguando que se te quema el miedo y la nostalgia.

Autor anónimo de la alborada,
venado silencioso en la montaña,
guerrero del amor
hijo de este tiempo, remolino
hombre niño parido pues en plena selva
para llegar al fin a la victoria para llegar al fin.

Te cambio esos 20 años duplicados
a causa de esta guerra necesaria,
por la carnosa flor de la esperanza.

Autor anónimo de la alborada,
venado silencioso en la montaña;
guerrero del amor,
hijo de este tiempo, remolino
hombre niño parido pues en plena selva
para llegar al fin a la victoria para llegar al fin.

Autor anónimo de la alborada,
venado silencioso en la montaña;
guerrero del amor,
hijo de este tiempo, remolino
hombre niño parido pues en plena selva
para llegar al fin a la victoria para llegar al fin.
(Canción Dedicada a "Sandino" General de Hombres Libres 1983)



Nicaragua, Nicaraguita!

By Carlos Mejia Godoy, the song "Nicaragua, Nicaraguita" is among the best-loved of all songs in the country. Although composed in the context of the Revolution, its relevance transcends party politics today. Whenever sung publicly, one can expect all to sing along and many to shed a tear. Viva Nicaragua Libre!


Carlos Mejia Godoy
Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy y los de Palacaguina
Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy a cappella

This song was also recorded by Billy Bragg-hear it here: Billy Bragg

Ay, Nicaragua, Nicaraguita
La flor mas linda de mi querer
Abonada con la bendita
Nicaraguita, sangre de Diriangen.
Ay, Nicaragua, sos mas dulcita
Que la mielita de Tamagas
Pero ahora que ya sos libre,
Nicaraguita, you u te quiero mucho mas
Pero ahora que yas sos libre,
Nicaraguita, yo te quiero mucho mas.

Oh, Nicaragua, precious Nicaragua
The fairest flower of my affection
Fertilized by the sacred blood,
Nicaraguita, of Diriangen.
Oh, Nicaragua, you are more sweet
Than the honey of Tamagas
But now that you are free,
Nicaragua, I love you so much more.
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Friday, March 25, 2011


The work discussed here is an extension of our studies for over a decade on the ecology of Lake Apoyo, a volcanic crater lake in the Pacific region of Nicaragua. To learn more about the freshwater snails of Laguna de Apoyo, click here.

By Stephan Beekhuis
Snail research
Volunteer researcher Chris Hellyer is studying snails at Estación Biológica in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Snails are an important part of the ecology and foodchain in Laguna de Apoyo.
snail ecology
Marine Biologist Chris Hellyers examining gastropod snails from Laguna de Apoyo
The aquatic gastropod snail (Pyrgophorus coronatus) is an important component of the diet of native cichlid fish species and it is also a carrier of parasitic heterophyid worms.  These worms have been associated with high levels of blindness of native fishes.

Pyrgophorus coronatus
Gastropod snails (Pyrgophorus coronatus) with eggs attached to operculum and shell
Hellyer has been collecting snails from different habitats of the Laguna de Apoyo and studying them under the microscope looking for parasites. He is also looking at other snail traits like shell-length and fecundity (breeding activity), to see whether they vary between habitat and plant species.

gastropod snails in Nicaragua
Live Pyrgophorus coronatus from Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua. Photo by Chris Hellyer.
“One theory is that increasing levels of parasitism may be associated with ecosystem disturbance by introduced fish species and changing composition of Laguna’s aquatic plant species”, says Hellyer. “When the native Chara plants were eliminated from the lake due to introduced tilapia fish, blindness in native fish dramatically increased”.
Chara is a natural habitat for snails and they have had to seek alternative habitats and food, such as filamentous algae. This algae is a type of cyanobacteria,  which are known to contain toxins that may affect organisms that consume it.
Chara Nicaragua
The results from this research will increase understanding of snail and parasite ecology in the Laguna and may contribute to conservation action in the future.
More news later.. stay tuned!
Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Painted Bunting in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve

Among the birds which inhabit Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is the Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). This migratory bird merits special mention because of the frequency of our observations of it here-it is a common bird in appropriate habitat and in season-and its conservation status. This bird is one of the many reasons Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is great for birdwatching.

Our staff and volunteers (Lorenzo Lopez, Marlene Kroner, Lucas Betthausen, and Soren Kraak) conduct monthly mist netting for bird population monitoring in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. They captured two of this lovely bird in the most recent mist netting activity. Below are photos and some basic information about the species.

birdwatching Nicaragua
Male Painted bunting captured in mist netting Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua, February 20, 2011

The Painted Bunting
(Extracted from A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, by Stiles and Skutch.) The Painted Bunting (Passerina siris) is a species of migratory bird in the Cardinal family. The population winters on the Nicaraguan Pacific Slope. In Costa Rica, it is found chiefly in Tempisque basin and around Golfo de Nicoya and in Térraba region. We present it here because it is commonly observed in season in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.

Painted Buntings are mostly monogamous and are solitary or in pairs during the breeding season, but sometimes exhibit polygamy. They are shy, secretive and often difficult to see. Males sing from exposed perches and tend to hop along on the ground. The Painted Bunting eats seeds, spiders, insects and caterpillars. It lays 3 or 4 gray-white, brown-spotted eggs, which are incubated by the female for 11–13 days. Two weeks after hatching, the young birds are ready to leave the nest.
The size of the bird is five inch and it weighs 15 gram. Brilliant adult male unmistakable; female above more greenish, below more yellowish than other seedeaters or grassquits.
The male adult: top and sides of head and neck, to sides of breast, violet-blue; back yellow-green; rump and upper tail-coverts pinkish-red; shoulder violet; middle coverts purplish; greater coverts and tertials greenish; rectrices and remiges dusky-purplish; rest of underparts bright red; eye-ring rose-red.
The female adult: above bright olive-green to dull grass-green, often tinged with bluish on sides of crown or nape; below greenish-yellow, washed with green on breast and tinged with olive on sides and flanks; belly sometimes strongly tinged with buff. Upper mandible blackish, lower grayish; legs dusky.
Immatures: like adult female but duller, above more brownish; males below often brighter yellow, females duller and buffier.
Forages low amid dense cover of brushy second growth, overgrown pastures, high grass, or riverside stands of wild cane; often alone, or in small groups, as when visiting water holes in dry areas; by March a male may accompany a female as though already mated; eats seeds, some fruits and insects.
Call a sharp chirp or chip.
Breeds in South USA and North Mexico; winters from North Mexico and Florida to West Panama and West Indies.
Red List
Since 1988 the Passerina Siris is on the red list. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (also known as the IUCN Red List or Red Data List), founded in 1963, is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world's main authority on the conservation status of species. A series of Regional Red Lists are produced by countries or organizations, which assess the risk of extinction to species within a political management unit.
The IUCN Red List is set upon precise criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies. These criteria are relevant to all species and all regions of the world. The aim is to convey the urgency of conservation issues to the public and policy makers, as well as help the international community to try to reduce species extinction.
The IUCN aims to have the category of every species re-evaluated every 5 years if possible, or at least every ten years. This is done in a peer reviewed manner through IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Specialist Groups, which are Red List Authorities responsible for a species, group of species or specific geographic area, or in the case of BirdLife International, an entire class (Aves).[1]
The Pain
Red List Category & Criteria:
Near Threatened     
Year Assessed:
BirdLife International
Bird, J. & Butchart, S. (BirdLife International Red List Authority)
This species has declined over the long term and apparently continues to do so at a moderately rapid rate. It is therefore considered to be Near Threatened. 
Near Threatened
Lower Risk/least concern
Lower Risk/least concern
Lower Risk/least concern

Passerina ciris in Nicaragua
Male Painted Bunting, Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua
Painted Bunting
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Research in the forest

By Stephan Beekhuis
Research in the forest
MOSI is a project which studies, and registers the captures of particular migratory birds that migrate from North America to the Laguna de Apoyo, but also resident species.
“The objective of our research is to characterize the bird community in particular area over many years. Some birds are of particular importance in this study, notably species with conservation issues. Some populations are terribly small. We don’t know the conservation status of each species, but with this research we can improve our knowledge and future conservation efforts”, states  Dr. Jeffrey McCrary, director of Estación Biológica.

On March 14th, the volunteers of the Estacion Biologica packed up their backpacks for three days of camping to catch birds, bats, and rodents, as part of the MOSI monitoring effort.
birdwatching Nicaragua

It quickly becomes apparent that the ambiance in this largely-undeveloped part of the Laguna is very calm and peaceful; a good area to catch animals. At 6 o’clock in the evening two volunteers prepare the mist nets. Mist nets are typically made of nylon mesh suspended between two poles, resembling an oversized volleyball net. When properly deployed, the nets are virtually invisible.  A short while after, a Jamaican fruit bat (Artibeus jamaicensis) flies into the net. After getting the bat out of the net. the volunteers take measurements of various characteristics of the bat—weight, sex, wingspan—before snapping a photo and releasing it into the night.

After a night in the woods, which was uncomfortable with all the mosquito bites… The next morning at six o’clock the nets are up and ready for the first birds of the day. Every hour the volunteers check the nets. After the first hour they’ve caught two species: a Long-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia linearis) and a Clay-colored Trush (Turdus grayi). They subsequently weigh the bird, take around 15 measurements, and clip the tip of a non-essential feather so they’ll know if they recapture the same bird later.
An hour later they catch another three birds: a Rufous-capped Warbler (Basileuteris rufifrons), a Blue-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia cyanura) and another Long-tailed Manakin. We could tell by a short tail-feather that it was the same Long-tailed Manakin as earlier, demonstrating why marking the birds in some way is important to keeping the statistics accurate.
birdwatching Nicaragua

birdwatching Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua

nature photography Nicaragua

Painted Bunting birdwatching Nicaragua

birds Nicaragua

Apoyo Spanish School Nicaragua
Besides catching birds the volunteers also count them by listening and watching. This is necessary because many species prefer to fly higher or have better eyesight and are more difficult to capture in the mist nets as a result.

bird research Nicaragua

biodiversity research Nicaragua

birdwatching Nicaragua
The three-day trip was productive and after cleaning everything up, packing our backs, we head back to Estacion Biologica.  The volunteers will be returning next month  to do it all again.

Insects of Laguna de Apoyo: Photos by Cindy Skeie III

Nature Photography at its finest! All photos taken in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve by Cindy Skeie.

nature photography in Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua

wildlife photography in Laguna de Apoyo

ecotours Nicaragua

nature tourism Nicaragua
Nicaragua ecotours
insects photography Cindy Skeie Laguna de Apoyo

At Estacion Biologica, we are studying the butterflies and other fauna of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Would you like to help us learn about nature in Nicaragua? You can volunteer with us. Please contact us for more information if you can help.

nature tours Laguna de Apoyo
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