BIODIVERSITY AND LA MARIPOSA

How much do we understand about the importance of biodiversity? The answer, it seems, is very little.  We cannot plant a bunch of mango trees and call it a forest…..acres upon acres of teak trees is a plantation, a monoculture crop not a forest.  A forest is one of several eco systems (meadow lands, coral reefs are others) that make up the planet, each supporting a massive diversity of life. Even though human life is dependent on this diversity, we do not, apparently, think biodiversity is worth preserving. Each day around 100 species become extinct. Matthew Schneider-Mayerson argues in “Extinction : A Radical History” we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet, in which 25 to 40 percent of all species are expected to disappear by 2050. Because extinction is generally a silent, invisible process, we are rarely forced to confront its inherent tragedy and the potentially vast ecological ripples of even a single species’ eradication”.

This silent but deadly process ought to be scaring us into taking action. Consider the case of bees, whose path to extinction is being relatively well documented though there is still debate over the cause – possible offenders include pesticide poisoning and malnutrition. Microwaves from radio towers could also be destroying their ability to navigate. Their disappearance would be a direct hit to the human race as nearly all fruit and most vegetable species (ie much of what we eat) owe their pollination to insects; mostly bees. What will happen without them?

Such processes are interwoven with other parts of the jigsaw of factors destroying the planet – a jigsaw that is very much in evidence in this area around La Concha. Continued deforestation and land clearance for monoculture crops such as pineapple and pitaya have led to the virtual disappearance of plants that provide food for the bees. One, the beautiful abejon (which actually means “big bee” – see photos above) has virtually disappeared from fields and hedgerows. 10 years ago they were plentiful…now hardly to be found, along with most other wild flowers. The variety of garden flowers which used to help nourish bees and other vital insects has been replaced almost uniformly with plants providing instant color, such as bougainvillea, and don’t take too much work to grow. However, they are utterly useless as a source of bee food.

You can take any species virtually at random and just the quickest internet research will give you the same story (except for the scavengers – vultures, cockroaches, rats – they are doing very nicely, thanks to us!). Over and over again. Take frogs as another example – almost one third of the world’s amphibian species are threatened with extinction. This not normal – 200 species have gone since 1980 – pollution, disease, habitat loss and so on. I recently found a mutant frog with a large lump growing on its back. In this area I am sure that highly toxic fumigations carried out to control mosquitoes are at least partly to blame. And the sad irony of course is that the noxious gas kills many natural predators, including the frogs, whilst mosquitoes seem to be becoming resistant!

red eyed tree frogs

So what are we doing at La Mariposa? We plant the widest possible range of trees and plants with minimum bougainvillea!, always taking into account which birds, animals, insects will any given plant help survive. We use almost 100% organic methods to grow our veggies. We dig ponds to help frogs in their fight for existence – frogs, lizards, spiders and bats are particularly welcome at La Mariposa as voracious mosquito eaters.  We are also planning to hold an Environmental Fair in June – a mix of educational stalls, tours around the vegetable patch, veggie food and herbal teas for folk to try, competitions…..one of our ideas is to hold a competition for the best bee and butterfly (also good pollinators) friendly garden, offering a substantial prize for the winner.

But I often feel we are just hanging on by our finger tips, as I notice another hedgerow plant or type of wild flower seems to have completely disappeared, I hear yet another chainsaw hacking yet another tree to pieces…….to quote Schneider-Mayerson again “conservation efforts have widespread support and can boast a few modest (and temporary) victories, they have been overwhelmed by the ongoing wave of anthropogenic annihilation”. That about sums it up….but nonetheless we shall keep going in the hope that others join us and we can save at least a few species!

 

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Trips out and other things to do……

 

Mariposa students who opt for our activities package are hard put to find a better way to appreciate the diversity, beauty and interest that Nicaragua offers – both the country and its people. We plan activities on a monthly basis, every weekday afternoon and weekend, there is something going on. We include things-to-do close to home, such as riding our rescued horses, and longer trips to some of Nicaragua’s most famous historical towns, volcanoes, lakes and Pacific beaches. Each activity is carefully organized and we always provide transport and bilingual guides from La Mariposa.

And if you want to go somewhere that is not scheduled during your time with us, we can organize a separate trip.

The variety is truly awesome!

Saturdays are our day out, rotating the cities of Granada and Leon, Mombacho (a dormant volcano covered in cloud forest), and La Boquita, our closest Pacific beach. Sundays we do local hiking or horse riding on our rescued horses.

Other trips out include visits to San Juan del Orient where students can try their hand at the local pottery and buy unusual and beautiful gifts in the workshops.  Masaya is the home of traditional handicrafts including world famous hammock making, leather goods, guitars, wooden jewelry and there is a lively market where we take you to stroll around, souvenir shopping.

Of course we also include activities designed to help you get to know something of Nicaragua’s fascinating history and culture, often picking up on themes students will have discussed in Spanish class – popular topics include the revolution and how Nicaragua has emerged form a period of war (the Contra War) into a stable peace. We also hold regular discussions around current day issues, such as the proposed Canal – will it happen or wont it?? Many of the trips out have historical interest visiting, for example, the gorgeous San Francisco Museum in Granada. You are always accompanied by an expert bilingual guide from La Mariposa and we use local guides when appropriate.  And we don’t forget local culture – we invite students to have go at cooking, learn some salsa and watch folklore dancing.

La Mariposa is renowned for our work with local community and the environment. We support a number of different projects – varying from equino therapy for our disabled children to maintaining nature reserves and growing organic vegetables (which we eat in La Mariposa).  Monday afternoons are dedicated to showing you some of our work.

Thanks to our hard work in environmental projects, especially establishing nature reserves near La Mariposa we are also now offering bird watching tours – both as part of our normal program and, for those interested in going further afield we can organize outings with one of Nicaragua’s leading bird experts.

Having organized activities now for 10 years, we are well able to vary activities according to the season and to local events, ensuring students always get the best possible experience.  Night time walks when the moon is full in the dry season, Easter parades by boat around the islands of Granada, Christmas meals out in the barrio after watching the parade in San Juan – are just some examples of how we respond to local events and culture!

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COME AND JOIN US!

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Volunteer with the birds and bees – organic gardening in Nicaragua

La Mariposa has possibly the most varied range of volunteer projects anywhere in Central America! Children’s reading projects, working with disabled children, including helping with hydro and equino therapy (using our rescued horses!), helping out in a women’s cooperative bakery……just some of the options available – our website tells you more.

We offer a volunteer package –

  • Mornings volunteering at a supported placement and working alongside workers from the local community, this also gives opportunities for practicing Spanish
  • Afternoons in Spanish classes – our Spanish school is one of the top rated in Central America, the classes are one on one
  • Living in the house of  a local family.
  • You get to eat your produce at lunch in La Mariposa with the other Spanish students.
  • The cost of the whole package is $280

One of our most popular placements has always been on our organic veggie farm. Paulette, the founder of La Mariposa, also lives here with her daughter and a few rescued dogs, in a small straw built house.

 

Over the 6 years it has been operating, we have developed the farm on sound permaculture principles and we are always looking to improve. Though very small, half an acre or so, you will find we grow an impressive array of vegetable and native fruit trees which are consumed mostly by La Mariposa guests. We have taken the Principles of Permaculture to heart – you can see how we value diversity and the marginal – this applies to our relationships with people as well as to the land. We believe in looking for small, appropriate solutions and don’t have to feel we have to move faster and faster in order to find immediate answers. Change is often difficult, especially when it involves destruction or death (of a person, a dog, a tree) but has to be integrated into the way things are. This does not, of course, mean that we do not take a stand when the causes of change are exploitation and greed.

On a practical level we are undertaking the following…

  1. Water conservation is of course critical. The local municipality supplies us with water twice a week and we store this in the “pila”, a large tank which holds water both for watering the vegetables and for Paulette’s house. We water by hand in order not to waste any – this also helps us maximize local employment. We also use a number of ways to conserve humidity in the ground. For example, we spread straw around the vegetables and split the trunks of banana trees, which contain a lot of water, putting them on the ground to maintain moisture. Grey water from the household is reused on flowering plants. Building with straw also uses  very little water, as opposed to concrete dwellings.IMG_0073
  2. Although the original house has an indoor flushing toilet, we have built a latrine from bamboo which we ask everyone to use. It uses no water at all and is perfectly sanitary. In the wet season we collect rain water using a very simple system of gutters and pipes. IMG_0062
  3. Constant use of organic material to fertilize and enrich the soil is essential. We use a mixture of rice husks, soil from our worm project (the worms consume manure bought from local families who are still using oxen as a means of making a living), as well as compost from garden waste (leaves etc) and kitchen waste from the house. We also practice a rotation system and plant nitrogen fixing plants such as the marengo tree and plenty of beans! IMG_0066
  4. We have learnt to respond to local conditions – for example for a long time we tried very hard to grow root vegetables such as carrots and beets. But they do not work well in our conditions so we now concentrate on what does well…lettuce, eggplant, okra, tomatoes, spinach, kale, beans…..IMG_0060
  5. We have planted a number of trees on the land. Some are fruit trees (papaya, mandarin, orange, avocado, coconut) and offer food for both humans and birds. Dogs too enjoy a slice of avocado! Others provide shade for the house and resting areas thus eliminating the need for fans in hot weather. And some are specifically for the benefit of birds, both for food and to provide living and nesting space.IMG_0079
  6. We are proud to share this precious piece of land, not only with humans, dogs and cats but with as much wildlife as is possible in a place so close to the town center. We do not allow toxic fumigations to take place, preferring to control the mosquito population through natural means such as spreading lime on the ground. We also try and ensure the survival of natural predators such as spiders, frogs, lizards and bats. We do this by ensuring their food supply and also, where necessary, providing housing for them. When we have a fallen orange tree, which happens from time to time, we leave it on the ground to provide food and cover for lizards etc. Not only does all of this help the veggie production, it also ensure a relaxing and peaceful place in which to work, live and just be!IMG_0068
  7. Over the years we have placed special emphasis on encouraging butterflies and birdlife. The latter has been so successful that it merits a separate post! For the moment, note that the bananas hanging in the aceituna and capulin trees (native trees which provide food for wildlife, including our pair of variegated squirrels) are there, along with seeds and water, to encourage birds. We are proud to say that we now have a large group of red legged honeycreepers who spend a good part of the year with us as well as 25 or so other species.

    The stunning aracari, known here as felices (happy birds!)

    The stunning aracari, known here as felices (happy birds!)

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING WITH US – read the website thoroughly, it will give you a good idea of how we work and your options. Write to us at lamariposaspanishschool06@gmail.com. We will send you a simple form to fill in, telling us your preferences.

Please note – your money also towards maintaining our employment project as well as all of the other environmental and community projects we support.

https://justlists.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/principles-of-permaculture/

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Trees of Life – Combating deforestation

Jadelina carrying estacas of jinoguabo

Jadelina & Gabriel carrying estacas of jinoguabo

Yesterday I went out to Cañada Honda to see how our tree planting is going. Half of the Mariposa staff were out there – some lugging around what appear to be nothing more than bunches of large sticks……but which are actually “estacas”, branches which grow into trees once planted.  Others carrying what are more obviously young tree saplings in plastic bags. Still others were wielding shovels and planting. Hazel, one of our admin team, planted over 40 trees just in that one morning!! And Guillermina of course also did her bit. The energy and enthusiasm of the team was amazing. We have now planted over 5000 trees, with 5000 more to go.

Guillermina doing her bit!

Guillermina doing her bit!

Gazing out over the ridges, the presence of rain clouds over the wooded bits and nothing but clear sky over the pitaya plantations reinforced our determination. And the New York Times agrees with us!

http://www.nytimes.com/…/su…/deforestation-and-drought.html

Luckily, the last week has seen a fairly steady amount of rainfall so most of the plantings are surviving. We have to be careful what we plant where and concentrate on species which we know will do well in this particular environment.

On the way back to La Mariposa for lunch, I spotted some illegal logging on a neighbouring pice of land. I went out to investigate on horseback and we took some photos of the devastation. We informed both the local police and the environmental department at the town hall…we will see what results that brings!

Bare patches being illegally deforested as I write...

Bare patches being illegally deforested as I write…

Close up

Close up

Meanwhile the government of Nicaragua continues to buy more “trees of life” to adorn Managua at night!! It sure is a surreal world we live in….. descarga

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Learning to live with emphysema, drought and one more big project…..

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I chose to ignore the diagnosis of mild emphysema. It was not denial – I like to think – rather a conscious, and unregretted, decision to live life as long as possible without the constant worry and pressure of a chronic illness. Two years later, it has progressed to moderate – now, I assiduously follow the advice of my wonderful lung specialist. Though unconvinced that driving through the grime and smog of modern Managua to get to her does not do more lung damage, I always feel much better after a consultation. Marie Elena is a large, buxom woman, ready with an enormous bear hug and her extravagant outfits always impress! Her father is a Palestinian exile, arrived in Nicaragua in the 1950s, married a Nicaraguan. Marie is Catholic but most of her friends are Muslim and one of her favorite fiestas is the feast after Ramadan.  Nicaragua is just so full of constant surprises!

And the medical advice has been pretty effective too. Going to her after a series of problems, a debilitating tiredness all the time, and then a particularly nasty episode – whilst translating on a walk suddenly I just could not breathe……quite scary. Now a mixture of inhalers and nebulizers has stabilized the breathing. The other challenge, of course, is dealing with the emotional impact….I don’t know whether researching on the internet helps or just terrifies!! Marie has had to reassure me more than once that awful internet stories do not necessarily reflect my prognosis. Right now I feel physically good and emotionally calm and focused.

Strangely enough the combination of feeling fit, healthy and not tired (oh what joy!!) has led me down two apparently contradictory paths. Firstly (doctors’ advice but also my own volition) to work less….and I do now spend less hours in the office. My truly amazing group of workers has, almost to a person, responded by being even more committed and helpful. This is especially true of my unbelievably loyal and supportive “admin” team…..it has been an up and down year for many reasons and they have taken over much of my work….but more than that their personal friendship and understanding has more than once brought me close to tears.

So I should be relaxing more and enjoying the sunshine, horse riding more, spending more time with Guillermina and tending my garden. All of which actually I do. But the second path is more one of experiencing, reading, learning, reflecting in a way I have never done before, discussing, teaching a bit, and above all feeling…..about the horrors we are inflicting on this beautiful world which is all we have to call home. Let me be a little more precise. Let’s talk about just one aspect…water.

Living through a drought…. a city girl in the UK, I was barely aware of water and its importance….I just turned on the tap and out it gushed, ready to be turned into a cup of tea or a bubbly bath (I am sure that much has changed in the 10 years I have been away – at least now it would be a shower!!). Where does the water come from? How much is there? How is it replenished? Who else is using it and for what?  Is it being polluted in any way? I would not have known the answers to any of these questions but now I do…..

The water we use at La Mariposa comes from deep municipal wells, water which has been stored for who know how many millennia in an underground aquifer. You don’t have to be an expert to realize that this water needs to be replenished nor to understand what will happen if we just keep on taking, never replacing. Demand increases incessantly…not just from the local population but from massive construction and the demands of sweat shop factories, especially on the southern side of Managua. I admit I have become more than a little obsessed with water…saving rainwater, digging latrines everywhere I can (do not require flushing…I hate with a vengeance the amount of water used to disappear from view our excrement!!), reusing cooking water to water plants, and on and on!!! I try and persuade others to use the latrine, shower less, not wear clean clothes every day (unless actually dirty!!)….but I know I run a risk of becoming very boring indeed. And for Nicaraguans who have been fighting the stereotype of being “unclean” ever since the Spanish conquest, that is a difficult change to make.

Back to the drought, happening in spite of all my best conservation efforts. The Nicaraguan wet season is – should be – May until November. Six months dry summer followed by 6 months wet (daily rain), sometimes stormy, winter. No rain equals no pressure on the aquifer (long term it also means there is no replenishment), therefore ever harder to extract water. So in a normal year, by April after 6 dry months, lower pressure in the aquifer means instead of water coming in twice a week from the wells (we store it in special tanks, often hotel guests have no idea that we do not have constant “on tap” water), delivery goes down to once a week and then even less……at that time of year, we often have to buy in water at a weekly cost of $500 to keep the hotel supplied.

Last year the rains were 3 months late. So the situation described in the previous paragraph was exacerbated. This year they are already 4 months late. ….though we have had maybe half a dozen showers since May…one just two nights ago started at midnight and lasted three glorious hours. I stayed awake the whole time, happy just to listen and smell the moistened earth through my open window……not a good rain by anybody’s standards, but something to hang onto. I now understand why indigenous peoples worship definite (I almost said “concrete” but that is the last thing anyone should worship) entities and not an abstract G/god. Made perfect sense to thank the rain for coming and plead with it to hang around a little longer!

One of my greatest comforts is to just sit in my tiny but lovely garden, carved out of the Mariposas vegetable plot.  This is where the emphysema and the drought cross paths! I am supposed to be chilling out, relaxing but instead I am deciding whether to use precious water on flowering plants or not. The arguments against are obvious. Those in favor not only include my emotional wellbeing, but also the food supply of insects, birds and small reptiles. I note gloomily that the plethora of butterflies and bees which I watched last year have all but disappeared….my colony of blue grey tanagers (only “mine” in the sense that I love them and care for them) is much reduced in numbers and there are far fewer bats around…..on the bright side, some of the frogs are surviving the drought in their specially built pond. So my relaxation time becomes my observing, feeling (sad, worried and then angry) time. Feelings which drive me to read and investigate. The next step is action….what can we do better? For example, we have learnt that the more ground cover we provide and the more nutritious it is, the less water we have to use. We have been putting this into practice for a while with vegetables, this week we will do the same for the flowers.

Blue-gray Tanager

Blue-gray Tanager

I don’t wish to sound overly dramatic but something about being aware of my own mortality makes me more conscious of what is happening around…and it is not a pretty sight. The state of my lungs is not dissimilar from the state of the world around me…..both are being gradually starved of the basic requirments to survive. It is driving me to do as much as possible to save at least little slices of the land and biodiversity.

Hence the current Mariposa project….

La Mariposa (www.mariposaspanishschool.com), in partnership with our newly formed NGO, Asociacioñ Tierra (www.asfltierra.org), is embarking on its biggest and possibly most important project to date. We are hoping to buy over 140 acres of land, Cañada Onda (means Deep Gully), in Palo Solo which is way out on the ridge beyond our Group Study Center. Over half of this land is original forest and we have already started to reforest the rest. This is critical because

  • The area around us is fast becoming a monoculture desert. The ever increasing popularity of exotic fruits in the US and Europe has led to clear cut logging across our municipality. Mostly pineapple and dragonfruit – both of which like pure sunshine, absolutely no trees.
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  • The massive deforestation is having a negative impact on soil through erosion and the local water supply as well as disappearance of local biodiversity and destruction of habitat for animals and birds including migrants. There are rare nisperal and ceibo trees, several acres of heliconia, different types of fungus, flocks of parakeets visit in the early morning and an ocelot was recently spotted…we are in contact with UNAN (University of Nicaragua) to help with an inventory of species
  • Look at the size of this ceibo...it would be a crime to log it for dragonfruit

    Look at the size of this ceibo…it would be a crime to log it for dragonfruit

  • This land will form a vital part of a biological corridor, linking still forested land on the Pacific side of the Sierras to the Masaya Volcano National Park, allowing animals and birds to move naturally through their habitat, thus helping their chances of survival.
  • The land is on the other side of the ridge from El Nisperal, a nature reserve (and organic, bird-friendly coffee farm (www.nisperal.org)) that is part of the Nicaraguan System of Protected Areas with whom we work closely to augment existing eco systems.  We are both planting trees close to the track dividing us to provide a bridge so howler monkeys who now live in El Nisperal can cross over into Cañada Onda thus doubling their territory.
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  • As in all of our work, we will involve the community at every step. An NGO, Lone Tree Institute (www.lonetreeinstitute.net), associated with El Nisperal already funds a community library, and educational programs so our focus will be mainly on providing local employment wherever possible and raising incomes through promoting rural eco-tourism – we already offer weekend breaks with horseriding, hiking, bird watching, nighttime animal observation, using experienced local guides.
  • Met this little fellow on our first walk through Canada Onda

    Met this little fellow on our first walk through Canada Onda

  • For 2 years now, our rescued horses have grazed on part of this land. Stabled at the Study Center they have had a daily walk to and from their pasture – tiring especially for the older ones. Now we are renovating a rancho so they will live permanently at Cañada Onda!!
  • Chepe living in his new home

    Chepe living in his new home

  • We will work with AMARTE (an NGO with a long history of rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife) to release appropriate wildlife on the land. This may include monkeys, sloths, deer, cats and birds.
  • We are already reforesting and several groups of young environmentalists from all over La Concha have asked to help. We also plan very soon to hold meetings with local small producers of dragonfruit to establish how we can work together.
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La Mariposa has over 10 years’ experience working in rural, eco based tourism and for the past couple of years we have successfully developed our (relatively tiny!) nature reserve here in urban San Juan.

Our track record of working jointly with communities will ensure that this venture too achieves its goals.

The cost of this land is $97,000 – this is a remarkable bargain (our nature Reserve was the same price but for 12 acres!!!). The reason is location – somewhat remote and not fertile for any crop except dragonfruit.  But perfect for our purposes! The current owners  want it conserved,  for that reason they have given us an extraordinarily reasonable price.

A deposit of $30,000 has been paid (Paulette’s accumulated pension!)

So we are looking to raise $67.000

You can help either through donation or taking part in one of our Mariposa packages.

For US donors opting for a tax-exempt donation, you may give on-line or via check to Lone Tree Institute (501(c)(3) non-profit organization). See www.lonetreeinstitute.net for details on how to donate. Please earmark your donation “For Canada Onda”.OR through paypal on the homepage of our La mariposa website (also tax exempt)… http://www.mariposaspanishschool.com/index.html

“UK tax payers can donate to the special appeal by Sustainability Partners, registered charity no. 1119345, which will increase the value of the donation by 25% through GiftAid. For details see www.sustainability-partners.org.uk “

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INTRODUCING MAS MARIPOSAS……our NGO!

Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

MAS MARIPOSAS ….Announcing that La Mariposa has a sister organization.

Our NGO is in the final stages of its formation -approved by the State of Colorado and now just a short wait for US federal approval.

Our reasons for taking this step (some of you I know think it is long overdue!)  (1) we will have  a legitimate base upon which to fundraise and apply for grants and (2) Paulette will have somewhere to leave La Mariposa in her will, thus ensuring that its operations remain for the benefit of the whole community (and of course Guillermina).

Legally, administratively and financially Mas Mariposas will be a completely separate organization from the business. This means that the Spanish school and hotel will function as normal but instead of using our income to directly fund projects, it will be donated to the NGO. Our 15 or so project workers, for example, will be paid by the NGO.

In practice, of course, we will continue to work very closely together.  The NGO will work with the same kind of community and environmentally based principles as La Mariposa and will look to support already existing projects that spring in one way or another from the community. The principle of not imposing our own ideas or solutions will still be paramount. It will also follow our well tested principles of minimum bureaucracy, maximum effectiveness and maximum local employment. Unlike many NGOs, Mas Mariposas will not be a single issue organization. It is our belief that you cannot tackle problems in isolation (whether skinny street dogs or disabled children without wheelchairs) without addressing the fundamental issues of poverty and environmental degradation.   Obviously La Mariposa will continue to play the major role in offering local employment as well as supporting other employment opportunities such as the women’s cooperative bakery. But clearly the most disadvantaged groups, such as disabled children and their families, need extra and very specific help which Mas Mariposas will continue to provide. The work will stay varied and responsive, the hope being that we will be able to access higher levels of funding than the Mariposa business has been able to provide.

Some examples of our current projects

  • donating eco cookers to the poorest families, at the same time donating tree seedlings
  • Selecting trees from La Mariposa tree nursery to plant out in the communities

    Selecting trees from La Mariposa tree nursery to plant out in the communities

  • assisting with the provision of latrines and water pipes in the poorest barrios
  • Mariposa volunteers laying water pipes with the Aguirre community

    Mariposa volunteers laying water pipes with the Aguirre community

  • supporting disabled children and their families through the Los Pipitos project,
  • Guillermina working on the equino therapy project

    Guillermina working on the equino therapy project

  • rescuing horses and dogs and offering them permanent refuge
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  • rescuing wild animals and returning them to the wild
  • Marlon releasing a rare green iguana back into the wild

    Marlon releasing a rare green iguana back into the wild

  • bringing the horse project together with Los Pipitos through offering equino therapy
  • supporting community based out of school projects and reading corners, providing children in some of the poorest barrios with play and learning opportunities
  • Reading corner

    Reading corner

    working with MINED to develop our successful model of in-school support in the most deprived schools

  • working in many different ways to protect and enhance the local environment and involve members of the local community in these efforts – including planting and donating trees and other plants, demonstrating a successful organic gardening model, producing our own compost, using sustainable building methods, recycling trash and grey water, acting to protect wild animals, reptiles, birds, butterflies, bees and other insects….
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  • preserving local cultures, for example, through supporting local dance groups and local knowledge of natural medicine
  • Dancing at the Xmas party

    Dancing at the Xmas party

  • supporting local sports leagues in some of the poorest barrios
  • establishing and maintaining a nature reserve, combined with an education aspect for both visitors and local people
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Bird Watching in Nicaragua and more – trees, butterflies, long legged guinea pigs…..at La Mariposa

Bird Watching at La Mariposa

The stunning aracari, known here as felices (happy birds!)

The stunning aracari, known here as felices (happy birds!)

It seems our efforts over the past few years to protect and enhance our environment are beginning to show results! We have worked hard to look after existing trees, especially in the Nature Reserve, a piece of land purchased with the help of loans and donations from generous Mariposa students in mid-2014. There we built a huge retaining wall of quarried stone and volcanic rock to protect the roots of some large trees, including a beautiful Genizero (Samanea saman) and a Guanacaste (Enterolobium ciclocarpum). A native tree, the Guanacaste is now almost extinct locally as its wood is very popular in furniture making and the demand for “rustic” furniture has exploded with increased tourism. An indigenous word, it means “tree of ears” referring to the shape of the seed. Making the best of the last weeks of the rainy season we planted 2000 seedlings of a wide variety of trees but focusing on rare, native species and what will work to attract and help feed birds, butterflies, other pollinating insects, bats and the few reptiles and mammals who live with us. So as well as planting species such as the Guanacaste, Pochote (Pachira quinata), a tree pollinated by bats, and the magnificent Ceiba (Ceiba pentandra)  – also known as the cotton tree as its fluffy white fruit fibers were once used to stuff pillows and mattresses (kapok) and whose flowers provide food for birds, bees, beetles and squirrels, we also included lots of fruit trees and other food producing species such as Tempisque (Sideroxylon capirii), super popular with parakeets. Sadly, I will not be alive to see these trees reach their full height but I hope others enjoy them and they continue to sustain lots of wildlife!

One of the genizero trees at the reserve, covered in orchids and bromeliads

One of the genizero trees at the reserve, covered in orchids and bromeliads

The madero tree, its pink flowers are food for birds and iguana

The madero tree, its pink flowers are food for birds and iguana

At the vegetable farm (where I have my small straw house) we have a very small piece of land but even so we have made it a haven for the local birdlife. Planting a Capulin (Muntingia calabura) tree which seems to produce small red seeds almost year round was a major success, the one just outside my patio is constantly full of Saltadors, Blue-grey Tanagers , Hoffmans Woodpeckers, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, Motmots (known here as the Guardabarranco, it is the national bird and is so named as it builds its nests in banks – barrancos – of earth) and Orioles, both migrant Orchard and Northern Orioles and our own resident Spot-Breasted family. All munching away on the copious harvest of the Capulin!

The beautiful blue grey tanager, one of our breeding residents

The beautiful blue grey tanager, one of our breeding residents

Another common Mariposa resident

Another common Mariposa resident

The glorious rose breasted grosbeak, loves to feed on the capulin. A welcome migrant.

The glorious rose breasted grosbeak, loves to feed on the capulin. A welcome migrant.

Also present in large numbers are the Clay-Coloured Robins; a plain looking bird but, a member of the thrush family, a delightful songster especially at the end of the dry season. Nicaraguans will tell you they sing to call in the rains. The local name is Zinzontle which is Nahuatl and means “bird of many songs”. Furthermore, our Capulin tree is festooned with bunches of bananas, a feeding tray for seeds and fruit and an ingeniously designed drinking bowl. Carlos and Noel scramble up the tree every day to replenish supplies!! We also provide feeding points on our other three pieces of land and do not forget to put some lower down for ground feeding birds and animals (careful of course to avoid potential harm from our rescued cats).

Food and water

Food and water

The planting of flowers, as well as just being pretty, also help to bring in insects, including many varieties of butterfly. Mostly just through observation, we are learning which flowers are good for butterflies (some species will go to a variety of flowers but others are more fussy) and whenever we spot anything on sale at the viveros in Catarina, stop and buy whatever we can. We also ask students to bring us in seeds – the Butterfly Weed (Viborana) for example is not at all common here but is important for the going extinct monarch butterfly as well as others. It has been hard to persuade the gardeners at La Mariposa that “weeds” such as the wild zinnia (Tithonia rotundifolia) provide flowers which attract butterflies and seeds which feed birds. Many gardeners here, just as in the US, want to see blocks of strong color (bougainvillea) and fancy flowers (double and triple zinnia) which do not do much for butterflies or hummingbirds! One of my favorite pleasures is to watch, early in the morning, Blue-Black Grassquits and a Painted Bunting hopping about amongst the zinnias and daisies and then in the sun of midday, butterflies making the most of the same plants!

A Painted Peacock in the garden

A Painted Peacock in the garden

XS 20141113 butterfly 5a

On 2nd January 2015 we did our first ever bird count (thanks to Sally Gladstone for persuading us and telling us how to go about it and of course to our intrepid bird guide, Alejandro – more of him later) and the outcome was quite astonishing to me at least (please do not forget I knew nothing about trees or birds or anything much really….learning on the job!!).  We counted, spending roughly 2 hours in each location, 30 species at the nature reserve, 25 at the farm and 38 at La Mariposa itself. Sally checked the list and gave me some interesting information. The Red Legged Honeycreeper, of which we have a family group at the farm (they just love the bananas!) were not seen at any of the other 5 locations where the count was carried out. We have three different kinds of Hawk, one of which, the Red-tailed, is quite rare. I have a real soft spot for the Roadside Hawk in the Mariposa grounds as we released one here some years ago and it is almost certainly the same one or maybe a descendent; I saw 3 together a couple of years ago. I am so happy they survive because their habit of eating young chickens does not make them too popular!! Also unusual is the Golden Winged Warbler; the little fellow from Tennessee is, on the other hand, very abundant. Another of my personal favorites is the groups of Parakeets (both Pacific and Orange-Fronted) who arrive in groups of 10 or so to feed at the reserve. It is not that easy now to see them in the wild as opposed to in small cages….actually, I love them all and am so glad that we still have birds to feed and preserve. See below for the full list.

Friends...

Friends…

Inevitably it is not all good news! Our neighbors at La Mariposa are busy, as I write, hacking vegetation to bits in order to plant citric trees.

Loss of habitat

Loss of habitat next door

This means, specifically, loss of habitat for a group of Long Tailed Manakins who used to live amongst their coffee bushes and is a threat to the nests of the guatusas (long legged guinea pigs who live here in spite of sharing their territory with 12 dogs!!). The fact that the land is now much more open also makes them more vulnerable to being hunted. The birds we are helping by leaving more of our land untouched and putting out extra food. We are investigating the possibilities of capturing the guatusas and taking them down to the reserve where there is far more space for them to hopefully live safely.

Night shot of gustusas feedeing on bananas

Night shot of gustusas feedeing on bananas

La Mariposa, together with Alejandro who is a recognsed bird expert here in Nicaragua, are now incorporating bird watching walks into our monthly program. Alejandro will also offer tours further afield though these will be at additional cost to our package prices. And in the summer of 2015 we will have an eco built cabin in the reserve so bird fans can stay on location to see some of the best and rarest! His facebook is https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birding-Nicaragua-Travels/525230747587641

Thanks to John Kraijenbrink for the butterfly and some bird photos, Ann Tagawa for bird photos and Phil Careless for the nighttime guatusa! Also thanks to sally and Alejandro for getting me interetsde in birds. And to Ismael for getting the trees planted!!

LA RESERVA – LA MARIPOSA
Gray Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Red-billed Pigeon 8
White-winged Dove 2
Orange-fronted Parakeet 9
Pacific Parakeet 10
Squirrel Cuckoo 1
Cinnamon Hummingbird 2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
Canivet’s Emerald 1
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker 5
Great Kiskadee 2
Boat-billed Flycatcher 1
Yellow Warbler 4
Tennessee Warbler 1
Blue-gray Tanager 1
White-throated Magpie-Jay 1
Rufous-naped Wren 3
Plain Wren 2
Clay-colored Robin 5
Blue-black Grassquit 4
Olive Sparrow 1
Black-headed Saltator 2
Greyish Saltator 3
Western Tanager 1
Great-tailed Grackle 4
Spot-breasted Oriole 2
Orchard Oriole 1
Northern Oriole 1
LA FINCA
Turkey Vulture 1
Red-Billed Pigeon 1
White-winged Dove 5
Inca Dove 1
Cinnamon Hummingbird 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Turqoise-browed Motmot 1
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker 2
Barred Antshrike 1
Tropical Kingbird 1
Yellow Warbler 3
Tennessee Warbler 6
Blue-gray Tanager 4
Red-legged Honeycreeper 1
Black-headed Saltator 1
Grayish Saltator 3
Buff-throated Saltator 2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 4
Painted Bunting 1
Western Tanager 1
Spot-breasted Oriole 2
Northern Oriole 3
Melodious Blackbird 1
Rufous-naped Wren 4
Clay-colored Robin 4
LA MARIPOSA
Turkey Vulture 6
Roadside Hawk 1
Red-billed Pigeon 2
White-tipped Dove 2
Ruddy Ground-Dove 2
Squirrel Cuckoo 1
Cinnamon Hummingbird 3
Steely-vented Hummingbird 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Canivet’s Emerald 1
Plain-capped Starthroat 1
Turquoise-browed Motmot 3
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker 2
Yellow-bellied Elaenia 1
Dusky-capped Flycatcher 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Great Kiskadee 1
Social Flycatcher 1
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 1
Long-tailed Manakin 1
Yellow Warbler 3
Chesnut-sided Warbler 1
Magnolia Warbler 1
American Redstart 3
Rufous-capped Warbler 1
Tennessee Warbler 20
Golden-winged Warbler 1
Blue-gray Tanager 6
Rufous-and-White Wren 1
Plain Wren 2
Clay-colored Robin 9
Blue-black Grassquit 1
Grayish Saltator 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 4
Western Tanager 1
Spot-breasted Oriole 1
Orchard Oriole 5
Northern Oriole 2

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