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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Bird research in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve

Our volunteers have been busy in 2012 catching birds. These volunteers had a great time in all they did, but perhaps the most important aspect of their time at Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo is the change they have left behind here. We are learning more about the birds with every activity, and we work closely with the Nicaraguan Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) to train park guards, facilitate conservation work, and inform the public on nature issues in the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.

Here are some photographs taken by our volunteer, Vera Neumann. She has diligently worked on the study of birds several months, and will continue through most of 2013. This volunteer-driven project has yielded a lot of useful information on the birds and on the impacts of forest use in the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.
Steely-vented Hummingbird
The Steely-vented Hummingbird (Amazilia saucerrottei) looks very similar to the Blue-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia cyanura). Here, the former has been captured during our mist netting study of birds in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. 
Each time we capture a bird, we identify it, measure its dimensions, check its age and sex, and then we clip a small piece of feather in a location that does not affect the bird. The bird is released into the wild within a half-hour of capture. We try to affect the life of the bird as little as possible and in return, gather information that can help to protect the wild animals found in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.
Blue-tailed Hummingbird
The Steely-vented Hummingbird (Amazilia saucerrottei) glows in Elmer's hand.
Hummingbirds are especially gratifying to capture and handle. They are especially delicate and sensitive to mishandling. We provide them with a drink when they are extracted from the mist net, because hummingbirds require frequent feeding and their liquid balance is more critical than with bigger birds. Not only do we enjoy them, we learn about them. For instance, Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is home to two very similar species, the Steely-vented Hummingbird and the Blue-tailed Hummingbird. By capturing them, we can distinguish them and begin to determine how they live together and share resources.
The Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum) is a migrant which is easily overlooked. We catch them occasionally, but we see them even more rarely. They tend to stay low, and their neutral colors and retiring behavior helps hide them well. 
Migratory birds are abundant in the forests of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve from September through April. Some, such as the Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia) are common, others, such as the Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum) are quite uncommon here. Mist netting is helping us to characterize what kinds of birds are found; we had not even sighted a Worm-eating Warbler before catching one.
Hylocharis eliciae
Hummingbirds such as this one (a Blue-throated Goldentail, Hylocharis eliciae) are docile once captured and held in the hand. 
Through our mist netting studies, we can learn when hummingbirds reproduce. Birds reveal their reproductive status in their feathers and other cues on their bodies. Some species form leks, assemblies of males, in which females come to shop around for their mates.
Myiodynastes luteiventris
The Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Myiodynastes luteiventris) is an unusual migratory bird; it nests in Nicaragua but winters in South America. 
Not all migratory birds in Nicaragua breed further north. Many species nest in Nicaragua, among them, the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Myiodynaste luteiventris). Beginning in May, squeaks which suggest the sound a child's bathtub squeeze toy come from high in the forest, as the birds establish breeding territories, find mates, and reproduce. By the end of August, the birds will have bred, fledged their chicks, and departed for lands further south. 

Platyrhinchus cancrominus
This tiny bird is a Stub-tailed Spadebill (Platyrhinchus cancrominus). As a tyrant flycatcher, it has a wide bill and whiskers on the sides of the bill to help it catch insects in flight. This species is present in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, in the most forested areas along the southwestern shore of the lake.
Some surprises turn up in our bird research, using mist netting. Some birds that are characteristic of humid tropical forest, such as the Stub-tailed Spadebill, are present in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. This species is more common in the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, where the rains are more abundant and last most of the year. This bird species is missing from the more open areas of this reserve, presumably because the open forest tends to be drier.
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