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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Volunteers saving wild Nicaragua: Reforestation I

FUNDECI/GAIA maintains a reforestation project over several years in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Given the extremely fragile nature of the volcanic soils in this reserve, we have chosen to dedicate part of our budget and time to protect and increase the forest cover. The soil is mostly very light volcanic ash between volcanic rocks, and it erodes extremely easily with rains when forest cover is absent. Here, we present some information about one of our reforestation areas, in which we have been planting and caring for trees five years, with the essential help of many volunteers. The reforestation plot is next to a working agroforestry plot, both owned by the same, local (Nicaraguan) person.

volunteer Nicaragua
A native olive species (Simarouba amara) is planted in the forest next to a small banana plantation. Photo by Giselle Hernandez. 
We plant and husband trees in deforested areas to facilitate their return to natural forest inside the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. One of the species we like to plant in natural forest restoration Simarouba amara, a native olive tree. We only plant native species and we use local genetic material. Olive requires ample light to grow, but its growth is relatively rapid and it produces a wide canopy with evergreen leaves shading the ground from the impact of rain. The fruit is ripe in March and April, and is sought by birds, monkeys and many other mammals. By providing soil protection and food for native species, it helps recover the natural forest rapidly. The olive tree helps forests maintain populations of endangered wildlife such as howler monkeys.

environment volunteer
After four years, this tree has reached six meters height. Photo by Giselle Hernandez.
Grasses usually cover the exposed ground in deforested areas, but they are counterproductive for reforestation. Spaces such as the one above do not exist in unaltered natural forest in the tropical dry forest ecosystem. The annual plants, especially grasses, grow much faster than tree seedlings, so they can choke out natural tree regeneration from nutrients and light. In the dry season, the annual vegetation dries and may burn, killing all but the largest and most resistant of trees. Fires make the greatest threat to reforestation in natural areas.
Because our objective is restoring a natural forest and not reforesting with forestry production species, and because we are planting trees in highly eroded and fragile habitats, We expect to obtain far lower survival rates and tree growth. No germination and silvicultural advice exists for some of our species.

reforestation volunteer
Pitahaya (Hylocereus costaricensis), also known in English as Dragon Fruit, is an epiphytic cactus  found in many trees in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo by Giselle Hernandez.

The steep slopes which dominate the crater interior accelerate the erosion process when forest cover is removed. Land with more than 15% slopes is unfit for any kind of annual cultivation, yet much of the steeply sloped land in the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve still has annual crops on it or is just left without forest cover. We make agreements with owners who want to have their land reforested, and we provide the service free of charge, thanks to volunteers!

volunteering environment
Melero (Thouinidium decandrum)  planted on the edge of this agroforestry plot in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Ripening bananas can be seen in the background. Photo by Giselle Hernandez. 
One of the objectives of natural forest rehabilitation is to maximize the diversity of species in each reforestation plot. Most reforestation projects concentrate on one or only a few species of trees in a plot. In contrast, we plant trees of several species, including many that do not grow well in a semi-artificial setting such as a tree nursery. We have to accept very low germination yields and losses of young trees in many species because we don't want only the three or four species that are easy to grow. To sustain wildlife, a patch of forest needs many species of trees. 
tree planting volunteers
Restoring a natural forest requires a number of elements which are not expected of most reforestation  projects. Photo by Giselle Hernandez.
natural forest restoration
Our reforestation trees already reach two meters height, providing a complex vegetation structure and  effective ground cover after only a few years. Photo by Giselle Hernandez. 
We have learned a lot about natural forest rehabilitation in the past several years, but we have more to learn and more to do. Reforesting in our crater is essential to provide habitat for the wild terrestrial animals, and to protect Lake Apoyo from erosion. Our project differs from other reforestation projects in Nicaragua, because we try to recreate wild, natural habitat, and we care for our trees years after they are planted in the forest plots. 

Would you like to work as a volunteer or intern on our reforestation project? If so, read more about our reforestation and habitat restoration project, and please contact us! 

Nicaragua volunteer
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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Two days hike around Laguna de Apoyo

hiking Laguna de Apoyo
Laguna de Apoyo as seen from the Catarina mirador. Photo by Sandra Wallace.
Story by Xaver Schenk, a student of Apoyo Spanish School.
Some people would wonder why I would do a two days hike around the lake which would also be possible to manage in one day. I actually did the hike in one day, two weeks ago with a friendly American I met here. It took us 8 hours to get around the lake and we literally marched through the forest. So there wasn’t any time to really take a close look at the fantastic nature of this forest. That’s why I decided to do it again in two days which has given me the possibility to really enjoy all its facilities.
backpacking hiking swimming Nicaragua
Simba and Xaver. Photo by Xaver Schenk.
I started right after dinner with my fully packed backpack and Simba, one of the dogs of the station who is tied up too much of his day, so he would love to have a little trip to the forest. So I headed north east on the road, passed a cute little church and several houses. I think I went a little early to the shore because when I continued I had to cross several
laguna de apoyo hiking
Laguna de Apoyo hiking. Photo by Xaver Schenk.
properties which is actually no problem but with Simba I had a lot of fun with the guarding dogs of those properties. We had to make our way over several barbed wire fences but Simba seemed to know the parts where there were holes in it so that it was no big problem. As I continued I passed some ruins of stone terraces. Walking on I, recognized the forest getting cleaner and it was really good to feel the absence of human beings. That’s where I started to see toucans and other tropical birds.

I recognized that I might have a little too much stuff in my backpack because I was sweating and my legs felt kind of weird. At midday I looked for a good place for me to have lunch. I probably should have looked a little better. Because when I took off my shoes and started to get ready for lunch I recognized hundreds of small ants raping my food, so I had to look for another place which was actually pretty easy.
laguna de apoyo nature tour swimming
Wild areas along the shore of Lake Apoyo. Photo by Xaver Schenk.
Around four o'clock, I came to a place where the beach was broad enough to build up a tent and it actually was a really beautiful place. So, I decided to set up my camp and try to get a few fishes out of the lake for dinner. I tried to catch some cichlids with what they here call “pescado falso” a plastic fish with hooks. I saw a local the other day catching a lot of fishes with one of those but I had no luck this day.

laguna de apoyo camping
Photo by Xaver Schenk.
But actually I really enjoyed fishing with my improvised fishing root which was a plastic bottle I wrapped the fishing line on. I was glad that I had some rice with beans in my backpack so I wouldn’t had to go to bed hungry. After dinner I lit a fire and played some songs on my blues harp and just enjoyed being in nature.
Laguna de Apoyo at night. Photo by Xaver Schenk.

tent camping Nicaragua
Simba guards the tent at Laguna de Apoyo. Photo by Xaver Schenk.
I had Simba tied to my tent and he woke me up once or twice just to show me a rabbit or a goody he had spotted. I went in at dusk and had a nice swim in the lake which is at this time totally calm. After eating some more rice and beans I went back on the track. Now the forest changed because huge rocks from a prehistoric eruption where all over the place. A lot of geckos where hiding beneath the rocks when Simba and I climbed over the rocks.
nature tours Nicaragua
Gonatodes albogularis in Laguna de Apoyo. Photo by Xaver Schenk.

It was actually pretty hard to get over those rocks with my backpack but it was actually worth it because when I sat down for a break on one of those rocks some howler monkeys started a party over my head shouting at each other. When I finally hit the road one of my shoes lost its soles and I arrived kind of funny walking at the station and fell into a hammock. It really was a great hike. I would recommend it to everyone who is looking for some outdoor trip in Nicaragua.

Laguna de Apoyo
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Monday, February 13, 2012

movies about Nicaragua

Much of Nicaragua's cultural and political history is captured in the cameras of diverse filmmakers through the years. Here we present another set of films that tell stories new and old. Please let us know which films you like, and why! 

Nicaragua-A Nation's Right to Survive. This 1983 documentary directed by John Pilger presents the difficulties facing the young, revolutionary Nicaragua, crippled by aggression from the superpower to the North. "The issue is that the United States has no right to invade and humiliate a small country" (A. C. Sandino). This film includes footage of US biplanes in attacks on Ocotal, where the first aerial bombing in the world was conducted in 1926-before the Spanish massacre at Guernica.

movies about Nicaragua

Land  "Next time you pack your sunscreen bring your gun". A documentary video about the housing development boom on the Nicaraguan Pacific coast. If you are thinking of buying property in Nicaragua, see this first. Directed by Julian Pinder, is available on Torrents.

Pictures from a Revolution by Susan Meiselas. "PICTURES FROM A REVOLUTION is also a smart, unvarnished tale of the evolution of images as they run headlong into popular culture and political agendas". 

The Mosquito Coast, based on the book by Paul Theroux, tells a Gulliveresque story set on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast. Starring Harrison Ford as a dreamer wanting to change the Nicaraguans, only he still does not even know them. 

Nicaragua: An Unfinished Revolution presents social and political issues facing the Sandinistas in their second chance at social transformation in Nicaragua. This video, produced by Al-Jazeera, is presented below.

No Pasaran, a film by the Australian filmmaker David Bradbury, covers the history of Nicaragua from the construction of the Somoza dynasty until the Nicaraguan Sandinista Revolution. 
movies about Nicaragua
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Wednesday, February 8, 2012


No, this is not a scary movie. In fact, the tarantulas don't live up to their reputation as fearsome animals. They are passive and rarely or never bite humans. We know of no tarantula bite in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, ever! What we do know about them is that there are many different kinds-about 900 species are currently recognized, all in the family Theraphosidae. Surely there are more, because some have yet to be discovered. 

As one might imagine, not much research on tarantulas has been done anywhere in Nicaragua. Witold Lapinski is giving a look at "our" tarantulas. He is identifying these individuals, so we should soon have an initial list for the tarantula species of our area. Enjoy the photos and don't get scared! All photos by Witold Lapinski. 

biodiversity Nicaragua

wandering spiders Nicaragua

Nicaragua tarantulas

hunting spiders Nicaragua

As we learned from Witold, not all hunting spiders are tarantulas. The wandering spiders (Family Ctenidae) are also represented in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, and two of them are shown below.

spiders Nicaragua

Theraphosid spiders Nicaragua

FUNDECI/GAIA sponsors volunteer and internship programs in biodiversity conservation. If you would like to help us save wild nature in Nicaragua by volunteering or making a donation, please contact us!
tarantulas Nicaragua
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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Animal Rescue VIII: Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

Most wildlife species face many threats in Nicaragua. Habitats for wild animals are disappearing from the clearing of forests. Animals are being caught and trafficked as pets or meat. But among the greatest pressures on wildlife is caused by pets, especially by cats. Many animals fall victim to the hunting instinct of this domesticated animal. A cat can kill almost any animal smaller than it, and may kill as many as one per day, regardless of how much it is fed by its owners. For this reason, cats are incompatible with natural areas. They eliminate susceptible species from the vicinity, efficiently, usually without anyone even noticing. 
We were recently brought a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilanum) that had fallen victim to a local cat in the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. The owl was not bleeding, but had obviously suffered a serious internal injury. The bird never was able to stand on his own feet, although he was conscious and fierce. He could still bite with force. We gave him a brief inspection, then placed him in warm wrappings and tried to give him a peaceful, warm, quiet setting to recover. Nonetheless, he died within a couple of hours. 
Glaucidium brasilanum
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo by Trolls Hollengren..
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl Nicaragua
When this owl came to us, he was fully conscious, but incapable of  standing on his own feet. Photo by Trolls Hollengren.
wildlife Nicaragua
The Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is tiny, but ferocious. Photo by Trolls Hollengren. 

injured owl Nicaragua
The injured Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl never recovered from the shock and internal injuries from an attack by a cat. Photo by Trolls Hollengren. 
Not all our attempts at animal rescue end in success, but we gave the bird all the opportunity we could so it would live to be free another day. This species is uncommon in our location, but we have recently heard the characteristic morning song at dawn near Estacion Biologica. Although this one died, we know others are nearby! The Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls can be found rather easily when present, particularly because they are often active during the day. The skin of this one will be used for scientific study at some point in the future. 

Would you like to help us save wild nature in Nicaragua? Please consider a small donation to help to pay for the rescue of wild animals. 

bird Nicaragua
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