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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Psicoballet Gala 2012

Since the Sandinista Revolution, Nicaragua has been marked by projects which reach the most remote corners of the society and involve people in self-realization, community growth, and economic development in unique ways. One "corner" of society which almost always remains at the back of the priorities in a poor society is that of disabled people. Many people living in a country as poor as Nicaragua find life too burdensome and resources too scarce to get help with their handicapped family members. Far too often, the world of a person facing some disability revolves around the television and the back patio of the home, because all the other members of the family are struggling to put food on the table.

Our friend Patricia Lopez directs an organization which addresses the needs of people with special needs in Managua. Asociacion Psicoballet Nicaragua offers physical and mental stimulation for disabled people, at prices scaled to the family economy of each participant. Many participants receive complete scholarships, because their families are disintegrated and without gainful employment. Others pay a small amount, in accordance with their self-declared capacity.

This past December, a gala performance by the young (and young-at-heart) members of this group was held in downtown Managua. The performers in costume performed their choreographed dances as parents, friends and allies watched. The students of Apoyo Spanish School made a special excursion to see this event, and Joyce Procure took photos and video shown here.
disabled Nicaragua

The challenges facing the participants of the gala are numerous, diverse, and in many cases, severe. But in each case, they could express themselves, with hands and feet, or if not, with their faces and eyes. The members of this group, with different kinds and severity of disabilities, learn to express themselves instead of hide, and to encourage and help one another.

dance Nicaragua

Participation in an event like this just does not happen for children with disabilities in Nicaragua, unless of course their parents are millionaires. Thanks to Psicoballet Nicaragua, many young people who never exercise or express themselves, enjoy involvement in activities that those of us without disabilities may take for granted. These young people participate in a program of movement, exercise, and rhythm, where they learn to value their bodies just as they are, and to express themselves in movement. As the photos and video below demonstrate, these young people have great pride in themselves, as they performed on stage.

Each participant is facing a different challenge. Some have paralysis, others autism, schizophrenia or Down's syndrome. Some face challenges without names found in textbooks. All of them come from families who can't afford 24-hour, professional attention to their children's needs. Many of the parents are just barely getting food to the table for their families, and the majority of the families are broken. Asociacion Psicoballet Nicaragua gives the children in these settings opportunities within the possibilities that their families encounter.

Psicoballet Nicaragua is opening up a new dimension in the lives of handicapped people in Nicaragua. We are proud of them, because they help to make Nicaragua a happy place for some of the people too easily forgotten in our society. Following are several wonderful videos made by Joyce Procure, of the Gala 2012 in Downtown Managua.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Butterfly monitoring in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve

We do not have a precise count of the number of butterfly species in Nicaragua. Although some scientists specializing in butterflies and moths have come to study the butterflies of Nicaragua, and a notable effort to study the butterflies occurs among scientists inside the country, publications detailing the species common to Nicaragua are not found in all families. The butterfly and moth (family Lepidoptera) species record in Nicaragua is partial and is mostly limited to certain, more commonly studies families. As a result, a dedicated study of the butterflies is likely to turn up something not yet documented in Nicaragua-a new species or subspecies, or perhaps an association with a plant not yet known to science. Butterflies (Lepidoptera) all have intimate associations with particular plant species, especially during the caterpillar stage of life.
butterflies in Nicaragua
The One-spotted Prepona (Archaeoprepona demophon) is a common capture in our butterfly monitoring program. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
We are engaged in a long-term monitoring project of certain faunal groups, among them, the butterflies which are attracted to rotten fruit. Almost all the butterflies which come to our rotten fruit traps are in the family Nymphalidae. This group is known as the brushfoots, and another common name for them is the four-footed butterflies, because their forelegs are reduced in size.
Some butterflies are brilliantly colored, others with subtle colors and patterns. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
The upper side or dorsal side of the brushfoot wings is often brightly colored. However, butterflies tend to maintain their wings erect when perched, exposing the underside or ventral aspect of the wings, which in this family are often dull or cryptically patterned, to prevent their detection when perched on the forest floor.
Smyrna blomfildia
Blomfild's Beauty is an appropriate common name for this butterfly (Smyrna blomfildia). Photo by Hans Rademaker.
In our study, butterflies are attracted by rotten fruit left on the forest floor, into a barrel-shaped trap only a few inches above the fruit. Once butterflies come to the fruit, they tend to fly into the trap when attempting to depart. We note the number of each species captured in each trap, then leave them to resume their natural lives.
Smyrna blomfildia
The dorsal view of Blomfild's Beauty (Smyrna blomfildia) differs from the ventral view. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Of the over two hundred butterfly species that have been documented in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, some two dozen will come to the rotten fruit traps. We have learned that the butterfly communities in the reserve are dramatically affected by the houses found along the edge of Lake Apoyo on the north and west sides of the lake. Deeper in forest less affected by man, we find butterflies which do not come to traps in the inhabited areas. 
The Gray Cracker, Hamadryas februa, snaps its wings during courtship. Four species of this genus are found in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Our study of the butterflies of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve provides a visceral satisfaction to all who participate. Seeing a butterfly at close range reveals many secrets to its beauty.
Butterflies in repose inside a baited trap are awaiting their identification and liberation. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Interns and volunteers are being accepted to study the butterflies. If you would like to participate in our studies, please contact us!

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Olive Ridley Turtles

The Pacific coast of Nicaragua hosts two of the five most important beaches for Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) reproduction in the Americas. One of them, Refugio de Vida Silvestre Playa La Flor, is located south of San Juan del Sur about 18 kilometers. The other, Refugio de Vida Silvestre Rio Escalante Chacocente, is north of San Juan del Sur, and south of the beaches near Managua. Both these beaches, designated Wildlife Refuges by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, Students of Apoyo Spanish School made a pilgrimage to the Chacocente beach recently to witness the thrilling events of sea turtles laying eggs along the beach, as well as hatching of nests, with baby turtles scurrying along in their first steps toward the sea.
Olive Ridley turtle
A baby Olive Ridley turtle on its way to the Pacific ocean, seconds after emerging from its nest. Photo Gordon Evans.
Female Olive Ridley turtles amass along the shores of selected beaches, and they mob their beaches in a group egg-laying event. The nests erupt with up to about one hundred baby turtles which, upon hatching, push in unison to break out of the sand packed above them. Once out of the nest, the newly hatched turtles make a mad dash toward the ocean, through a gauntlet of dangers such as crabs, raccoons, vultures and caracaras, all feasting on the babies as they race to the water. Once in the ocean, baby turtles are prey for lots of fish poised to feed on them. The attrition among newly hatched Olive Ridley turtles is dramatic.
Baby Olive Ridley Turtles, just emerged from their nest, race toward the ocean at Chacocente Wildlife Refurge. Photo Gordon Evans.
The dark sand at Chacocente beach is, at special moments, crowded with hundred of turtles laying eggs, and thousands of hatchlings racing to sea. Although the majority of the activity occurs under the cover of night, much can be seen during the daylight hours when the peak activity is happening. Often, one nest, near hatching, is destroyed by a turtle digging to lay her own eggs, and the broken eggs rot, destroying all the eggs in both clutches, and polluting the beach all around. By the end of the nesting season, the nests often do not survive to hatching, thanks to the heavy loads of microbes throughout the beaches.
Olive Ridley turtle
Baby Olive Ridley turtles emerge from their nest, fresh from hatching. Photo Gordon Evans.
The normal attrition caused by double-nesting turtles, however, is just one more natural hazard that sea turtles face. Much more serious threats are posed by humans, however, to the Olive Ridley turtle populations around the world. Its eggs, considered delicacies everywhere they are found, are harvested for human consumption unsustainably. Nicaragua has recently banned the harvesting and sale of sea turtle eggs, but restaurants still carry them, because demand is high.
Olive Ridley Turtles
Olive Ridley Turtles see the light of day for the first time. Only a few of the one hundred eggs in this nest will result in an adult sea turtle. The great majority of these turtles will fall victim to predation, many within the coming minutes. Photo Gordon Evans.
Sea turtle beaches can be destroyed completely by residential and touristic development. A tragic example of the destruction of a beach used by the Olive Ridley turtles for nesting is Acupulco, Mexico, where lights from touristic development distract the turtles from laying eggs. The Nicaraguan beaches must stay pristine and even use of flashlights must be kept to a minimum in order to encourage the continued use of the beaches for turtle reproduction.
Olive Ridley Turtles
An Olive Ridley Turtle heads back to the ocean after depositing her clutch of eggs in the beach at Chacocente Wildlife Refuge. Photo Gordon Evans.
Scientists still know little about sea turtle reproduction and biology, so programs to learn more about them including tagging adult sea turtles with radio transmitters, counting turtle nests by season, and other marking programs are being applied wherever sensitive populations are found. Turtle hatcheries and other programs are promoted to increase the rates of baby turtles reaching the oceans, in an attempt to increase adult populations. Some programs focus on improving the lives of poor people living in the vicinity of the beaches, in order to provide alternatives which allow the people to resolve their basic needs and to find ways to earn a living through sustainable, environmentally compatible, tourism.
Sea Turtle eggs
The Olive Ridley Turtle populations worldwide are at risk from loss of nesting habitat and from the human consumption of sea turtle eggs. Photo Gordon Evans.
Every time a few dollars reaches the hand of a local person working to save the Olive Ridley turtles, real progress is made in the protection of the species and especially the populations which reproduce on the shores of Nicaragua. Rural communities are plagued by unemployment, and the little employment in the area is very poorly paid. Subsistence farming does not sustain families in a decent quality of life, and the local people around these beaches need incentives to protect the turtles instead of harvesting and selling their eggs.
Sea turtle egg laying
Olive Ridley turtles come to shore on sandy beaches, dig holes with their fins, deposit around one hundred eggs, then cover the eggs with sand, pack the sand over the eggs, then return to the ocean. Photo Gordon Evans.
Seeing an Olive Ridley turtle lay her eggs is dramatic, and watching the miracle of newly hatched turtle babies race toward the ocean is even more so. By visiting one of the turtle beaches during these events, tourists make local people appreciate their natural treasure by helping them earn money through its protection.
Black Vultures watch over the beach for an easy meal of baby turtles. Photo Gordon Evans.
turtle eggs
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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Animal Rescue X: Nicaraguan Macaws

Two species of macaws, large parrots of the genus Ara, are found in Nicaragua. The Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus) is limited to extremely humid areas with abundance of a particular tree, Dipteryx panamensis, and it is only found from Mexico to northern South America. The bird is big and noisy and flies above the canopy while screaming, bringing ample attention to it wherever it goes. As a result, its population has been severely affected by commerce in macaws as pets. Today, only about 2500 adult birds are left in the wild, the majority of them in the Rio San Juan area of Nicaragua.
macaws Nicaragua
Bumbelina is a Great Green Macaw. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
The birds are heavy, strong, and have large, piercing claws and beaks that can sever a finger. Handling them requires rough treatment if they are wild. Sadly, these birds are pursued for the pet trade so vigorously that broken wings and legs do not deter the pet traders from ravaging the forests.
Bumbelina, pictured here, has suffered this typical, yet tragic, fate. We do not know her specific history, we can only reconstruct it. Her right wing was so badly broken that it required amputation. She loves to flap her wings, but given that her right wing is now a stump, she can not even manage a soft landing. Falling from any height presents a risk for her. Furthermore, she has been affected psychologically by the trauma of captivity: she is extremely unsocial, does not permit any human to touch her. (Yet.)
Nicaraguan macaw
Bumbelina sits atop her cage. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
The Great Green Macaw is the largest of all the macaws. Like all others, Bumbelina "walks" on three points, using her beak as a third appendage when climbing on any but the flattest of surfaces. Her splendid colors include bright red, baby blue, maroon, and lots of green. When excited, the light pink skin exposed on her face flushes to bright red.
great green macaw
The Great Green Macaw is the most endangered of the macaw species found in Central America. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
The association between this species and the river almond tree Dipteryx panamensis is remarkable and problematic.  Not only are these birds pursued for the pet trade, the tree with which it associates is harvested for its fine wood. The trees remaining in Nicaragua Because so few birds remain in the wild, and because the habitat and the birds themselves are under severe, direct threats, the Great Green Macaw is now listed as Endangered.
Ara ambiguus
The Great Green Macaw loves to climb. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Bumbelina came to us accompanied by a Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao), named Midorna. These birds are rescued from the pet trade in Nicaragua. Midorna is considerably more sociable than Bumbelina, and she allows brave people to touch her, sometimes. She, too, was captured in the wild and subjected to the trade in wild animals as pets. Captivity has also been very unfortunate for her. She has a broken wing which prevents flight, so she, like Bumbelina, will never return to the wild. Life in a cage has led to self-destructive behaviors, too, such as feather-plucking. She has eliminated many of the feathers on her breast and back, and she has begun to do the same to Bumbelina. This is a typical pathology of animals kept in captivity without sufficient recreation. 
Midorna is a female Scarlet Macaw, now residing at Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Their calm demeanor and spectacular plumage make the Scarlet Macaw highly prized as a pet. As a result, these birds no longer can be found over almost all the Pacific region of Nicaragua, where they are native. The last bird regularly seen in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve was in 1969, according to the consensus of older residents. The Scarlet Macaws were either captured for use as pets, or killed for their aptitude as crop pests. Macaws can eat a lot of corn in the field! No one thought, just a few decades ago, that these majestic birds would never again fly over the cities and countryside of western Nicaragua.
The Scarlet Macaw is no longer found in most of the Pacific region of Nicaragua, thanks to hunting and the pet trade. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Don't be a part of the problem. Macaws are not entirely domesticatable animals. If set free in a setting with abundant food available, they rarely return willingly. Even hand-raised birds from captive-breeding programs will readily go wild if permitted. These birds want to be free, and whenever feasible, they should. Most of the macaws treated as pets in Nicaragua are owned by wealthy people, especially non-Nicaraguans, who propel the illegal trade in these animals.
The macaws found in the pet trade or their progenitors were the victims of poorly established or enforced laws regarding poaching and the trade in wild animals. However, better procedures for enforcing environmental laws are now operating throughout the ranges of the macaws. Active monitoring of many macaws populations are now underway, as well as environmental education programs. Forests are protected against habitat destruction as well as poaching, better than at any time in the past. Some of the forests could be inhabited by macaws, if only there were a program to reinstate them into natural areas.
Even when macaws in the pet trade are injured, such as Bumbelina and Midorna, they could still be utilized as genetic stock in a program to reinstate wild macaws into the forests. If you know of anyone with a macaw, encourage this person to led the bird to a captive breeding program. There are so few of these birds left in the wild, every fertile adult in captivity could play an important role in saving the species over large parts of their habitats.

These beautiful birds need a lot of attention and food. Would you like to help them? Feel free to make a visit, bring them a bag of nuts or a papaya. These birds consume large quantities of food, so your donations are more than welcome. Macaws live for many decades, so these birds need a lot of resources to make their lives happy. If you would like to help these birds, please visit or write

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rosebelly Lizard

The Rosebelly Lizard, Sceloporus variabilis, is common in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo by Senen Rivero.

Fourteen species of lizards are known to inhabit the tropical dry forest habitat in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. One of the more common species is the rosebelly lizard, Sceloporus variabilis, a member of the family Phrynosomatidae. Until recently, this species was classified in the family Iguanidae, along with the iguanas. The species is commonly seen rustling among leaves on the ground, scurrying over rocks or along fenceposts. The local name for this species in Nicaragua is terepota.

The rosebelly lizard is similar to the anoles, but is distinguished by the absence of a gular pouch, and the presence of a small post-femoral pouch, which can barely be noted in the photograph above. The species complex extends as far north as southern Texas. The variety found in Nicaragua, Sceloporus variabilis olloporus, is found from Guatemala into Costa Rica, and is considered by some researchers to be a distinct species. This species is among a group of species widely known as fence lizards.

We do not know how building and clearing of undergrowth for real estate, agriculture, and firewood extraction affects the rosebelly lizard populations in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. In fact, there is little information about the reproductive biology, diet, and population dynamics of this species, even less about the Central American taxon. This species is just one more example of the biodiversity of Nicaragua of which we know too little.
sceloporus variabilis
The longitudinal pattern of black-white compound spots on the back of the rosebelly lizard in Nicaragua is distinct from the pattern found on individuals in Mexico. Photo by Senen Rivero.
sceloporus variabilis
Distinctive markings help to identify the rosebelly lizard. Photo by Senen Rivero.
We have a lot to learn about the wildlife of the tropics, even in accessible places such as Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. In fact, our understanding of the needs of wildlife in this place is especially important, because firewood cutting, agricultural expansion, and even housing construction is expanding every day. The loss of wildlife habitat could destroy this place as a protected area. FUNDECI/GAIA supports the local efforts to stop all illegal constructions of housing, which are often conducted in the area, almost always by non-Nicaraguans.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wheelchair donation

Having a disability from birth can be a terrible burden for a child and the parents. A poor child in a remote area of a poor country like Nicaragua, faces an even more difficult life than someone in a wealthy country. This poor boy, named Pablo, suffers from hydrocephalus. He has lots of problems with his body, and his parents are very poor farmers in a rural area.
Pablo gets seated into his new chair. Photo by Steven Allday.
As if paralysis and poverty weren't enough, he lives where only a four-wheel drive vehicle can reach. He had no wheelchair, so transporting him even to doctors and physical therapy was costly and a logistical nightmare. Somehow he must not know the heartbreak people feel when they see him, though, because he seemed generally happy, even though his horizons were not distant.
Pablo is finally buckled into his new chair. Photo by Steven Allday.
The folks at Campbell Street Church of Christ in Jackson, Tennessee, have been arranging wheelchair donations in Nicaragua for a long time. They even retrofit wheelchairs with seats for children. Pablo was so fortunate, because we at FUNDECI/GAIA had been holding one of the wheelchairs from the church, looking for a fitting beneficiary. His parents asked, and we took the chair out to his home to see if it fit.
children in Nicaragua
Pablo waves and shows delight in his new wheels. Photo by Steven Allday.
This little boy had to tolerate some five minutes of strap adjustments as many hands pulled and experimented with all the buckles and ties. Eventually, he was in and secure. His mother began to move him round the yard, and his expression showed a real happiness. He could sense a liberation that this new (to him) chair has brought him.
Campbell Street Church of Christ
Pablo's mother is so happy to have a wheelchair for Pablo! Photo by Steven Allday.
Pablo and his brother went round the yard, under the shade of a large fig tree. It surely felt to him like a fairground ride would feel: something new and sensational. His eyes glowed!
children in Nicaragua
Pablo poses in his new wheelchair. Photo by Steven Allday.
We want to thank all the people involved with the wheelchair donation at Campbell Street Church of Christ! This may have seemed like a very small gesture by someone in the USA, but it means a world of difference to a young, disabled child in Nicaragua.
Would you like to be involved in making Nicaragua a better place for all? We receive volunteers to work on several projects related to social issues and then environment. And there are projects dealing with persons with disabilities, too. Please contact us for more information.
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Migratory birds

Each year, millions of birds come to Nicaragua from the north, stay for several months, and then head northward again to nest. Their existence is treacherous, depending on excellent navigation skills, luck in weather patterns, and finding and maintaining adequate habitat at each end of the journey, year after year. Perhaps a quarter of the more than 700 bird species found in Nicaragua only spend part of their year in Nicaragua. Many of these birds spend a substantial part of their lives in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.
Tennessee Warbler
Tennessee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina) in Laguna de Apoyo. Photo by Pier-Olivier Beaudrault.
Some of these birds are seen as early as August, but most are first seen in late September. The forest is different with these birds present, for sure, because there are simply more birds than before. New arrivals are sometimes quite easy to detect, because the birds are tired from a long and arduous journey. The new arrivals may move sluggishly and less cautiously, and stay lower in trees while resting and recovering. Many don't survive the journey and the adjustment to the new environment with all its new threats and challenges. 

We have often wondered what the resident birds must think to find their habitat more filled than ever with new birds arriving from afar. Within weeks, the forest population seemingly doubles, with birds that probably have to be more active to survive, because they are the new kids on the block. After lots of rain, the forests are burgeoning with fresh vegetation and new flowers. The insects, nectar and fruits provide a feast for resident and migratory birds, alike. 

great crested flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
We often catch migratory birds during our studies using mist nets. Most of the catches are passerines (Order Passeriformes). Many of the passerines in North America are what we call songbirds (clade Passeri), which have vocal chords developed for unique and melodious songs. The Tennessee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina) is a common bird in our nets and in the forest canopy of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, too. The bird nests much further north than Tennessee, so Tennessee Warblers spend only hours or at most, very few days in that state. Perhaps it should be called the Nicaragua Warbler! Like almost all migratory songbirds, however, the Tennessee Warbler does not sing while in Nicaragua. It produces a weak, monotonous chip while in its southern home. It usually is found in a loose flock with other insectivorous birds, feeding on arthropods on the undersides of leaves in medium and tall trees.

The Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) is a migratory bird from the other major passerine division, the flycatchers and similar birds (clade Tyranni). Whereas more songbirds found in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve are migratory than resident, the majority of the flycatchers are residents, and several other very similar flycatchers of the same genus, Myiarchus, are found in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.
migratory birds
The phenomenon of seasonal migration in birds is amazing, more so in the tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
Hummingbirds are always everyone's favorite birds. Most of North America is inhabited with only a single hummingbird species, whereas ten can be found in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. There are plenty of hummingbirds year round for the birdwatcher, but sighting a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is always comforting. Such a small bird making such a long trip, twice each year, seems improbable, but we see them each year, and many are captured during mist netting.
migratory birds
The characteristic tail pattern in the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) helps identify it in the field. Note the clipped leftmost rectrice (tail feather), to demonstrate the bird has been previously captured. The mark should last until the bird's next molt. Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
The great northern bird migration coincides with flowering of many plants in Mesoamerica, and this is not a coincidence. By January, many flowers can be found in forests and fields in Nicaragua. Most migratory birds are not spending their entire winter season in a single spot, but rather, following the flowers and fruits as each tree peaks. Migratory birds tend to flock in their southern range and their distribution is patchy, concentrated near trees with food for them or for the insects upon which they feed.
migratory birds
Female Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea). Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
Not all migratory birds eat insects and fruit. Lots of birds which inhabit our seas and shores migrate latitudinally. Other land birds consume small seeds, especially the sparrow-like birds. The Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) is far less common than the Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) in Laguna de Apoyo, perhaps partly because we are closer to the southern end of its southern range. We also have noted that the Indigo Buntings we have sighted and captured are almost all female. In many species, males and females migrate differently and reunite once on their northern territories. 
migratory birds
Swainson's Thrushes (Catharus ustulatus) are deceptively common in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, turning up often in mist nets during their southern season. Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
The resident Clay-colored Thrush (Turdus grayi) is abundant in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, but other thrushes may be found here during migration. The ebullient resident birds tend to distract the birdwatcher from the migratory Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus). We capture them far more than we expected, based on birdwatching observations. Like many migratory birds, the Swainson's Thrush does not sing most of its time in the south, although a beautiful song might be heard as they begin their northward journeys.
migratory birds
The most abundant migratory bird in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is the Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia). Photo by Joe Taylor.
The most common and typical of the migratory passerine birds in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is the Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia). The tropical dry forest ecosystem of western Nicaragua is prime southern habitat for this bird. It occupies the outer portions of trees from high to low, moves rapidly, and repeatedly emits a loud, sharp chip. Other birds seem to flock around it. Where they are found, other, less obvious birds might be lurking, so a birdwatcher always likes to seen them.
migratory birds
The Louisiana Waterthrush is uncommon and local to wet areas. Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
A lurking warbler which acts more thrush-like is the Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla). Like many more species, it is present in low numbers, so it is not seen just any day in any place. It is not so easy to distinguish it from its sister species, the Northern Waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis). This species is thought to be in decline due to elimination of habitat through channelization of streams and draining of swampy areas.
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Saturday, October 13, 2012


The birds of Nicaragua are diverse and, in many natural areas, abundant. Many of them are only found in forests, never in gardens or towns. Woodcreepers (Family Dendrocolaptidae) are examples of birds which do not prosper in areas with much human impact. Several woodcreeper species can be found in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, but only in areas where human influence is limited.
birds of Nicaragua
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes flavigaster) in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
The woodcreepers crawl along the trunks of trees similarly to woodpeckers. All of them have a rufous-brown base color, some are quite similar. They use their tails for leverage against the tree trunks, and seek invertebrates on and within the bark.
The Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus flavigaster). Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
A rising and falling, almost hysterical laughing call may be heard when the Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus flavigaster) is near. Its strong relatively straight bill distinguishes it from the Streak-headed Woodcreeper, also present here.
The Ruddy Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla homochroa) climbing Spondias mombin. Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
It is easier to identify on sight the Ruddy Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla homochroa), because it is uniquely uniform in color. It is not at all common, however, and we have seen it in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve only a few times. It is known to follow army ant columns, preying upon animals that try to escape the path of the ants.
Ruddy Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla homochroa) in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
The woodcreepers are all limited to certain parts of the forest in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. No woodcreepers are found in the northern section of the reserve, where Estacion Biologica is located. The forest is considerably older and trees are bigger to the south and the west of the lake, where woodcreepers are common.
Ruddy Wooodcreeper (Dendrocincla homochroa) is entirely ruddy colored, in constrast to other woodcreepers in Nicaragua. Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
Woodcreeper tails are utilized to sustain the birds and to provide leverage when digging in bark. Photo by Pier-Oliver Beaudrault.
We were more surprised to sight, and eventually to capture during mist netting, the Northern Barred Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes sanctithornae), a bird supposedly limited to the humid tropical forests of the Caribbean side of Nicaragua. Like the Ruddy Woodcreeper, it is expected at ant-swarms, where it may feed nearly exclusively. As a darker, less colorful bird, with sluggish movements, it might go unnoticed by the birdwatcher.
dendrocolaptes sanctithornae
The tail feathers of the Northern Barred Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes sanctithornae) have strong central shafts which aid in propping the bird when perched on vertical stems. Photo by Joe Taylor.
Woodcreepers make a special sighting for most birdwatchers, because they are not found in North America, and because they act differently from most other birds. Identification can be very difficult, however. We are especially happy when one ends up in our mist nets, although that means someone is going to get pecked a few times, as they are aggressive.
The Northern Barred Woodcreeper caught during mist netting in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo by Joe Taylor.
Woodcreepers are part of the conservation story in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, too. We are hoping that soon woodcreepers will be sighted on the north side of Lake Apoyo, because the forest quality in that area has improved steadily in the past several years. Go birdwatching with us!
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