El Mural de La Mariposa

img_0149

En los cerros alrededor de La Concepción está pasando igual lo que pasa en muchos países del mundo, especialmente los países pobres. Lo que pasa aquí refleja la situación mundial del cambio del clima, destrucción de los océanos y deforestación. Nuestros bosques desvanecen mas y mas para sembrar, en nuestro caso, pitaya (dragon fruit) para exportar a los Estados Unidos y Europa. Dragon fruit actualmente es la fruta de moda especialmente por su color llamativo.

La foto muestra áreas de despales recientes, áreas ya sembradas con pitaya o piña y áreas todavía con unos pocos árboles.

Este tipo de monocultivo generalmente no beneficia mucho a las comunidades pobres. Provee algunos trabajos, por cierto, pero son temporales y mal pagados. Y la comunidad ha perdido mucho, incluido sus fuentes de agua que han desaparecido con los bosques. Y además donde no hay árboles llueve menos. Aquí hemos tenido 4 años de sequía. Este cerro también es importante porque forma parte del abastecimiento del agua para Managua.

Otro impacto muy preocupante es la pérdida de biodiversidad. Un ejemplo bien conocido y tan crucial para la sobrevivencia de los seres humanos – es la devastación de las abejas, otra vez al nivel global. Sin flores y montes, con muchos químicos (pesticidas etc) sus números están cayendo dramáticamente.

En nuestro región estamos perdiendo muchos especies de árboles, de plantas, de aves, de reptiles, de insectos, de animales. No solo es triste por el paisaje, puede ser un amenaza muy grande para nuestro futuro.

En este desierto los que pueden sobrevivir son los carroñeros – los zopilotes, los ratones – irónicamente los que no le gusta para nada a la gente!

En el mural se ve muchas cosas de la naturaleza que ya están desapareciendo – el guanacaste por ejemplo, un árbol muy grande, magnífico, está siendo cortado mucho para la madera que es bueno para hacer muebles. Los hoteles tienen mucha responsabilidad por eso! También la iguana ya es un animal en peligro por pérdida de su ambiente y la caza.

Cañada Honda es la reserva natural de La Mariposa – tenemos más o menos 100 manzanas (140 acres) donde hay bosque, flores y mucha vida salvaje! También hay dos manantiales que preservamos para ayudar la comunidad, Palo Solo. Hemos sembrado muchos árboles para reemplazar el bosque. Las ranas, las boas, las arañas, las abejas, los grillos, los monos, los cusucos, los árboles de cortez, la heliconia – todo tiene protección contra el fusil y la motosierra.

img_0317

Vamos a iniciar describiendo de la esquina de la derecha hacia abajo y alrededor,

La rama es del guanacaste – un árbol nativo de regiones tropicales y fue común en el bosque seco del región del Pacifico. El nombre viene del idioma nahuatl – guauh = árbol y nacastl = oreja por la forma de la semilla que parece una oreja humana. Este árbol puede alcanzar 30 metros de altura y hasta 4 metros de ancho. Ahora está amenazado porque está siendo cortado por su madera que se usa mucho en muebles artesanales – actualmente muy popular en los hoteles turísticos.

Sentado en la rama hay un guardabarranco – el ave nacional de Nicaragua y también de El Salvador. Tiene una cola muy rara que parece una raqueta que ellos mueven de lado a lado. Solo se encuentran en los bosques tropicales de las Américas. Comen frutas e insectos y hacen sus nidos en barrancos (por eso su nombre!).

A la derecha se ven varias flores diferentes de heliconias. Ahora son muy popular como plantas del jardín pero están desapareciendo en las áreas silvestres otra vez por el despale de los bosques. Nicaragua es uno de los diez países donde el despale es lo más fuerte.

La rana ojos rojos (no es venenosa) está amenazada por la pérdida de su hábitat natural, contaminación de las aguas y masiva captura para ser exportada al comercio de mascotas.

Las mariposas (una malachite y un simple checkspot) hace unos años fueron muy comunes pero se ven menos y menos cada año. Los insecticidas han destruido muchos insectos incluyendo las abejas que son muy importantes para polinizar las plantas.

La iguana verde podemos ver normalmente en las ramas de los arboles cuando hay sol. Les gusta calentarse! Ahora están perdiendo su hábitat rápidamente. También sufren mucho por la caza ya que hay gente todavía a quien le gusta comer su carne.

Un ave que es muy abundante en todo el país es el zopilote (este es el zopilote negro) y a menudo viven en grupos grandes. Comen la carne podrida y son muy importante para mantener el campo limpio. Otro animal que en general no es muy popular con la gente es la araña! Pero otra vez nos ayudan mucho – en este caso a cazar los insectos como los zancudos.

Hay muchas variedades de colibrí en Nicaragua pero la mayoría están amenazados por la destrucción de su hábitat.

La flor amarilla es del árbol cortez que fue muy común aquí pero ya casi no se ve.

Y finalmente la boa magnifica!  Esta serpiente puede alcanzar hasta cuatro metros de longitud. Come más que todo ratones y es completamente inofensiva para los seres humanos. Pero mucha gente tiene miedo, está asociado con espíritus malos, y por eso se mata mucho. También está sufriendo la pérdida de su hábitat natural.

 

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

Mantled Howler MonkeyJPG

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.
  • 11894302_968272853233721_8382900151564339184_o
  • 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.
  • DSC05213
  • 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.
  • 110

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 “

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

Mariposa Community Environmental Education

Las Conchitas (3)

The orange line encloses the new land (called Las Conchitas) just purchased by La  Mariposa. It is very close (as the crow flies anyway!!) to the existing Mariposa….just follow a straight line to the bottom of the above photo and you will be here (though in practice of course we have to go round by the road as our neighbours would on no account let us walk through their orange plantations!). you can see how incredibly close we are to the Masaya Volcano National Park. I have written previous posts (and on facebook too) about problems with this park (and indeed with other reserves too, such as Bosawas) including the impact of  a massive fire which destroyed about 25% of the forest (the damage is still visible one year later) and the ongoing impact of illegal logging of precious woods, taking firewood out of the park, hunting animals within the park…etc etc. Our hope is that having this land can help in some small way to conserve and improve the environment locally…maybe to offer a sanctuary to some of the beleaguered park wildlife and to act as a resource for concerned local people who are seriously worried and affected by global climate change as well as what is happening on their doorstep. The communities that are currently working with us are those that go out on the right hand side of the photo.

 

So below are some of our ideas so far…….we would love to get comments and suggestions….and help!!

Overall objective of Las Conchitas

  • To establish an environmental education centre for both local people and visitors to the Mariposa (both Nicaraguans and extranjeros)
  • To build an extension of some aspects of the current Mariposa (Spanish classes, accommodation….especially camping) in the hope of bringing in some income to support the first objective
  • Entrance to the new environmental education centre (to be!) and Mariposa camping

    Entrance to the new environmental education centre (to be!) and Mariposa camping

Progress so far

  • Reforestation (about 700 fruit and forest trees planted. PS the fruit is for wildlife!)
  • Live fencing planted around bottom edge of land
  • Mapping for potential camping areas, this was carried out by Bettina and Chad a couple of Mariposa volunteers. Map complete and some costing work begun. There is the possibility of using wood from 2 fallen trees to construct camping platforms.
  • Constructing bat boxes, a volunteer family is working on this now.
  • There is an existing house on the land with 2 rooms (one large), a patio, latrine. Needs renovating but could be either the nucleus of the EE centre (favoured option) or communal eating area for campers….
  • Meeting held on the patio of the house on 5/6/14 (see below)
  • Hard at work planting trees

    Hard at work planting trees

Meeting with community representatives

  • Present were several Mariposa workers (including teachers, maintenance staff, gardeners, project managers) and people from Las Sabanas, Arenal, Camillo Ortega, Venetia (poor rural communities close to the Masaya Volcano National Park) and several problems were identified. These included – contamination of drinking water from use of, amongst other things, flushing toilets – shortages of drinking water – lack of rain especially this year affecting the bean crop – logging of precious trees including in the national park – taking out firewood – loss of local biodiversity – poisoning of soil from use of pesticides – disappearance of pollinating insects esp bees.
  • Some tentative ideas were suggested for addressing some of these problems but with the necessary caveat that many of them have global origins. It was stressed that the over exploitation of the land and natural resources has gone hand in hand with the exploitation of the poor. In the case of Nicaragua, this started with the Spanish 500 years ago and still effectively goes on today under CAFTA.
  • La Mariposa will take on paying for the help of 5/6 community activists to help us work  directly with the local communities.
  • One of the issues we talked about...use of pesticdes and the disappearance of bees (yes, here too)

    One of the issues we talked about…use of pesticdes and the disappearance of bees (yes, here too)

FUTURE PLANS

  • Develop the land primarily as a nature reserve (with possibility of camping etc) – to include (1) water feature (pond, moving water) for frogs dragonflies etc (2) a butterfly and hummingbird centre (mariposera) (3) planting of fruit trees and flowers to help with nesting/feeding places for bats, birds and iguana, also install feeding places and nesting boxes (4) investigate how we might help larger mammals eg deer (almost extinct here due to hunting), guatusas, ?????? (5) plant rare and native trees, shrubs, flowers as much as possible to increase biodiversity as well as caring for the trees and plants that are currently growing there……this work will include building a retaining wall to contain the roots of two large cenizero trees and removing a rubbish tip from the edge of the land.
  • One of the beautiful cenizero trees, covered with orchids and bromeliads

    One of the beautiful cenizero trees, covered with orchids and bromeliads

  • Work with the local communities through the paid reps to identify where we can combine help with environmental education and improvements. For example, Franklin has identified 8 families, living in the poorest area close to the national park, who have no electricity and take firewood from the park. One possible solution is to offer them solar panels and eco cookers in return for their help in protecting the national park.
  • EE centre – to include (1) wildlife observation and information (2) permanent exhibition on what is happening to the environment both locally and globally with historical and geo political explanations (3) workshops, seminars, practical demonstrations from local people and others on what we might actively do in our own lives such as implementing worm projects (save on pesticide use and expenditure), build eco cookers, use eco friendly building materials etc. (4) trails and walks offering info on plants and wildlife and the links between this and current environmental issues (5) a small library where people can access info on eco building, organic farming etc (6) meeting spaces for large and small groups
  • With the local communities and the reps, establish links and dialogue with (1) members of other communities around the national park who might be interested in this initiative eg Nindiri AND relevant authorities including (1) the local town hall and their environmental team (2) the national park authorities and MARENA (3) the EU, currently funding a tourist initiative in the national park (4) the national press
  • Establish an NGO with the above objectives
  • And of course it would not be La mariposa without a rescued dog or two....this is Linda doing her best to help out! Thank you Chad for the photos!!!

    And of course it would not be La mariposa without a rescued dog or two….this is Linda doing her best to help out! Thank you Chad for the photos!!!

Bird Watching in Nicaragua at La Mariposa

A personal account by Paulette

As someone  completely new to the art of recognising which bird is which and understanding their “lifestyles”, I have just had the stunning realisation that this is a great time of year to simply sit on the balcony on the Mariposa and watch what flies past or, better still, hangs out for a while in the bunch of trees we have planted here. It is after all the migration season when, on top of all of the beautiful resident birds we have here all year, we can see those birds flying south for the (northern) winter. A few stay here but most just drop by to feed and rest and then on they go. In the past few days I have spotted the blue grey tanagers, the grey-headed tanager (there are over 200 different types of tanager), very pretty medium sized birds with an amazing variation of colour between them. I am very fond of the blue greys who nest here and are constant companions. Their subtle colour stands out against the lush greens of the vegetation. The photo you see below (taken by Ann Tagawa, as are they all) shows how they love to eat the bananas that we put out to help all the Mariposa wildlife survive the dry season.

Blue-gray Tanager

The blue greys are resident here but the bright red summer tanager and the lovely grey-headed seem to be just passing through though I wish I could find a way of enticing them to stay!

IMG_5431

And it is a very exciting day when the family of 3 collared arircaris drop by!! They too go for the bananas though they also like to perch in our tallest tree, a guachipilin (a variety of tree becoming very rare in this area. The aricaris have bills shaped very much like those of toucans (though less brightly coloured) and, having seen them use these bills to eat, it is not at all clear why Mother Nature endowed them with such extravagancies! To eat a banana, they kind of have to bend almost the entire body sideways and it is quite tricky, even with the saw edge, for them to cut off a manageable portion of fruit. Nonetheless most of the theories I have read explain these beaks in terms of eating value!!

collared-aracari

Other newcomers have included a Swainsons thrush which has unbelievably travelled all the way here from the northern USA which I watched for several hours jumping up and down on the same branch, I guess catching small insects.  And of course the amazingly vibrant coloured Boston Oriole, known here as a chichiltote (an indigenous Nahuatl name).  I am also very proud of being able to identify a pair of rose breasted grosbeaks…particularly proud of the identification of the female as she does not have   a rose breast. She does, however, have the large thick bill!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Baltimore Oriole

Also enlivening my afternoons is a group of half a dozen or so euphonias. The males of this species are small, bright yellow and dark blue. Just gorgeous and becoming quite rare because of persecution for the trade in caged birds. So it is really incredible to see them feeding from the trees we have planted, they are especially fond of the seeds of the capulin tree. I just need someone to help me identify which of several euphonias these are ( thick billed, spotted crowned….I think they have yellow throats so that would, I imagine, make them yellow throated euphomnias???? but not sure….oh, help!!!) and to get some good photos. The names of some of the birds are extraordinary……..how did such a little fellow get such a pretentious name as euphonia? I am sure someone must know the answer….

And a couple more of our stalwarts…the guardabarranco (the Nicaraguan national bird) and the woodpeckers.  I should mention the doves, of which we have 4 different varieties sharing the chicken food and avoiding themselves becoming cat food! . And even the vultures…so important in helping to keep the place clean. And how could I almost forget to mention our 3 varieties of hummingbird?? I have learned a few things about these birds too….for example, the cinnamon one is the largest of the three and quite surprisingly aggressive, chasing off any other species. They also use threads of spider web to bind together their nests!!!

turquoise-browed-motmot

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

So if you want to see some birdlife whilst learning Spanish, La Mariposa is your place!!

PS We also have, thanks to Dr Hilary Ernler, a guide to butterflies at the Mariposa.

Dena’s account of the start of our eco tourism project

A Community Venture in Masaya Volcano National Park

When Paulette offered Colin and I the opportunity to join her in visiting the community living within Masaya Volcano National Park, we literally leapt at the opportunity – right into the back of the Mariposa pick-up truck. To bear witness to the birth of a project that mutually benefits the environment and local community, to see all of the potential for future growth, those are the moments that inspire Colin and I to do what we do.

To reach the community, we took a packed-dirt back road through the barrios. Some of these neighborhoods border the park and may also be fruitful partners for future efforts to benefit the park and its local communities. For example, Paulette may discuss with these families whether they have sufficient wood for cooking without relying on the supply within in the park. If they are running short, she can further investigate raising money to purchase more fuel efficient eco-stoves for the families most in need.

The back roads have a different flavor than the towns we have grown accustomed to passing through. The pace of life seems slower without the constant honking of the microbuses and we see few other vehicles. Paulette indicates points of interest: here, a giant ceiba tree with a majestic spread of branches and vines, there, a cemetery where she has seen far too many child-size graves.

As we near the community, we’re treated to a tremendous view of the jungle that is Masaya Volcano National Park and the glint of the lagoon. Gonzolo, our driver, deftly negotiates the last treacherous stretch of road and we arrive at the community and Lake Masaya.

We immediately walk over to the lakeshore to find locals splashing and relaxing. Only a decade ago, this would have been an impossible sight. Until recently, the city of Masaya across the river had emptied their trash into the lake and you could barely see water for all of the garbage floating on the surface. Today, though there are still some remnants of Saint’s Week celebrations, the beach is remarkably cleaner.

As we walk into the community, we’re met by the wife of Carlos, a park ranger that Paulette had planned to chat with today. He happens to be working, but his wife with a toddler in tow leads us into the front yard of a home. Chair after chair of every variety is brought out among the dogs and chickens in anticipation of the meeting.

Soon we are introduced to Mariksa, the head leader of the community. She indicates that Manuel and Nixon, other leaders of the community are now arriving. Greetings and handshakes are exchanged by all and Mariksa begins to tell us more about their community of 13 families living along the lake.

When it comes time for Paulette’s turn to speak, she deftly keeps the discussion open, sharing her ideas and inviting the community to offer their thoughts on what types of projects would be most helpful. She stresses that all decisions should be made by the community and determined by what they believe will be best.

When Paulette mentions the opportunity for sustainable tourism, the community responds enthusiastically. The two men nod vigorously at the prospect of leading guests around on horseback. Carlos’ wife mentions nearby petroglyphs that might be of interest and that several members of the community are familiar with the birds and English, making them prime candidates for birding tours. Paulette offers the possibility that the Mariposa could fundraise and provide a boat for lake tours. Together, they plan out a perfect tourist activity, complete with lunch cooked in the village.

The conversation continues, exploring the possibility of homestays in the community and a reforestation volunteer project. Paulette highlights the opportunity to sell any artisanal products produced in the village and offers some worms from her organic composting project should the community want to start their own.

Early in the conversation, Paulette describes the potential to reduce the need for firewood with more efficient stoves, but they assure us they have enough dry wood to meet their needs and the community does not depend on wood from deeper within the park. Mariksa explains that this land is their life and they have lived here and looked after this natural area for long before it was declared a park. Despite their long standing role as stewards of the land, they have never been engaged in discussions by the director or officers of the park or offered any payment for all of the tourists passing through their backyard.

The meeting wraps up with plans for community members to visit the Mariposa and see if any projects there spark further ideas. An additional meeting with more members of the community is set for next week, to allow everyone in the community the chance to participate in planning. With only 13 families in the community, there is a potential role for every family in the tourism project. One family can lead the horse ride, another the boat tour, another can prepare lunch, another sell artisanal goods, etc.

With the project taking shape before our eyes, we hopped back into the truck. We share the space with foot-long dark brown pods, full of seeds to be started at the Mariposa and grown for the reforestation project. Just like that a Mariposa project is born and we drive into the sunset!

*apologies for any misspellings of names or mistranslations from Spanish

Forest Fire at Masaya Volcano National Park, by volunteers Dina and Colin

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Colin and I arrive at Masaya Volcano National Park three days after the forest fire to find the ground still smoking hot. Roughly 3 sq km, almost 5% of the park, was lost during this forest fire, the largest in the history of the park. Charred black earth stretches out from the crater, interrupted only by the white ash piles of what were recently plants and trees.

Our courageous park guide leads us deeper into the burn. First we pass only scorched stumps, but soon we begin to see trees with healthy, green crowns. However, we soon lose hope for these trees’ recovery, once our guide digs into the earth to reveal the burnt root systems. These trees are the standing dead. Without roots, these trees will soon wither and die. Their loss will be felt most directly by the park’s many animals that depend on these trees for habitat and food. More subtly, the entire forest will be hurt by the absence of the key ecosystem services provided by these trees such as erosion prevention. Healthy roots are the glue that holds nutrients and seeds in the soil to nourish the next generation of plants. Without roots, all of the soil’s nutrients and seeds will be washed away during the coming rainy season. The ecosystem will have to start from scratch, awaiting brave, pioneering seeds to float in and take hold.

The 17 park rangers and one hundred volunteers, fought tenaciously to limit the damage. They fought the fire entirely by hand with water containers on their backs and shovels in their hands. Our guide leads us down a wide track dug in a mere hours to hold back the flames. Days later, park guides are still taking 12 hour shifts walking the path to guard against new fires, flaming up from underground. Before we continue walking, our guide stoops to deepen a trench against this eventuality.

This ecosystem well deserves the valiant efforts of the park guards and volunteers. Born of volcanic rock, this unique tropical dry forest developed over centuries. The first arrivals on the lunar landscape were lichens, which slowly and surely decomposed the rock to create little pockets of soil where the first seeds could take hold. As plants grow and die, they enrich the soil and increase water retention. Eventually, trees can take hold, creating shade and habitat, which animals soon discover. In addition to being unique, Masaya national park cradles an abundance of life including white-face and howler monkeys, iguanas, deer, birds,and bats. The park boast 40 species of mammals, 29 species of snakes, 200 species of butterflies, 93 species of birds (20 migratory), and 500 species of plants. In the lava tunnels near the crater, over 25,000 bats of five different species roost each day to pour forth as a surreal wind at sunset.

Some species will be hit harder by the fire than others. Three of the species most harmed by the fire are Chocoyos (beautiful green parakeets), iguanas, and armadillos. The park’s chocoyos are well known for nesting in steep and sulphuric slopes of the active craters to avoid predators. During the day, they venture out of this wasteland to seek food in the verdant forest, where their striking green feathers provide the perfect camouflage. However as they fly over the burnt, black forest, they are easily spotted by predators. The iguanas will be heavily impacted because the fire struck during their reproductive season and their eggs will be easily visible to poachers and predators in the burn. Additionally, many of the yellow oleanders the iguanas prefer to eat were destroyed in the fire. The armadillos were most directly impacted during the fire itself, unable to flee the smoke quickly enough.

Despite many casualties of the fire, we still find many signs of life. Some trees have a white, milky sap that renders them resistant to the fire. Colin spots a lizard savoring his freshly caught breakfast on a burnt tree stump. Birds call from above. With the coming rains, this area will soon be covered in grass. No one knows how long it will take for this ecosystem to return to what it once was, but life will continue here.

Later during our visit, we hop in the back of a pick up to get a ride from some rangers up to the top of the ridge to better view the extent of the fire damage. The road cuts starkly between yellow grassland and incinerated earth. Along this path, rangers held the line preventing the fire from entering the rich and verdant Masaya coldera that has taken hundreds of years to develop into a cradle of life.

From the top of the ridge, we spot some smoke, not from a forest fire, but part of the nearby community in the park. Many people in the community are dependent on local wood for their cook fires. However, the wood in the park is protected from collection. Some community members frustrated with the prohibition and seeking a means to communicate their need for this basic necessity are believed to be behind some of the recent fires. Paulette and the Mariposa hope to identify the families most dependent on the wood and raise funds to buy them eco-cookers, which require less wood to burn. In the future she also hopes to employ local people in sustainable tourism projects around the park to mutually benefit the community and the natural treasures of the park.

We thank our guides and finish our tour beneath the cross above the Santiago Crater. The cross was originally placed there by the Spanish to prevent the devil from crossing out of what was believed to be a gate to hell. Looking at the cross now, I consider all of the impossible things humans have believed can be easily controlled such as volcanos and devils with a cross. On the flip side though there are such small actions we can take to prevent catastrophic damage. Providing eco-cookers and tourism training can help turn the tide in protecting this ecosystem and world heritage site for future generations. I wish Paulette buckets of success with this project and I will be sure to follow its progress in the future!

We arrive at the burn to find the ground still smoking hot.

Our guide digs into the earth to show us how the far spread under the earth.

We head deeper into the burn where some trees are still intact.

Close up of desiccated leaves.

Charred trees.

A nest in still green crowns.

The park guards and volunteers rapidly cleared this path to prevent the fire from spreading further.

Seeds in a scorched tree.

Seeds like the one above will be washed away during the coming rainy season.

Snake bones found in the burn.

Signs of life in the burn! A lizard enjoying breakfast.

This type of tree has some fire resistance thanks to its milky sap.

A shot of the area worst hit.

The grassy area above burned in a fire last year and gives us an idea of what we would expect to find in the burnt area next year.

The yellow oleander that iguanas prefer to eat.

Here the volunteers and park guards held the line and fought the fire back.

We stop at the top of the ridge for a better view and to take some notes.

Big picture view of the damage framed by one live and one dead tree.

Camouflage!

A ranger indicates smoke near a community.

Heading up to the cross.