Let’s Explore: Cooking Class

written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

On Monday afternoon, we have cooking class!

We pile into the Mariposa van and drive to a spot on the outskirts of San Juan, where we take a short walk down a dirt road and arrive at a small house. A man directs us to the back, where we find a circle of chairs, a table, a bowl of dough, and a very large artisan oven. Our driver and guide, Josue, explains that we’re learning to bake three different traditional Nicaraguan bocadillos (snacks): empanadas, rosquillasand viejitas

We start by washing our hands (always an important first step in cooking) and then mixing the masa (dough), which is made with flour, cheese, butter, oil, eggs, and milk. When we arrived, it was already partially mixed… so we pour all the rest of the ingredients into the giant bowl and four of us knead it with our hands until it’s soft and easily formed into shapes (and Josue gives it his stamp of approval and tells us we’re finished).

It’s quite messy!

The baker then shows us how to take spoonfuls of dough, flatten them into circles, and fill them with a sweet-salty mixture of cheese and sugar — fairly common in Nicaraguan baking (and incredibly yummy… would recommend highly). With the help of a round plastic base, we fold the circles in half around the filling. Then we seal the edges shut with our fingers and lay them one by one in a long rectangular pan. Just like that, we’re finished with our first snack: empanadas.

We make viejitas next (literally translated as “little old ones”, which is rather confusing at first, but that’s just the name of the snack). Taking balls of the same dough, we press them with our fingers and form shallow bowls that would later be filled with a sweet brown sugar (it was very dark and tasted vaguely of molasses — several of the students taste it before we put it in). We place them carefully in the pans, and two students spoon sugar into each one of them before baking.

Finally, we roll all the leftover dough into small doughnut-like circles and put them into the pans as well — these, the baker tells us, are rosquillas
It’s harder than it sounds.
Hannah’s note: if you Google “rosquillas” you’ll see something that looks a little like a doughnut rolled in sugar… but Nica rosquillas are different! They’re crunchy and a little bit salty (because of the cheese in the dough, probably) and definitely more like biscuits than like doughnuts. They were still pretty great, though.

Once we put everything into the pans (we go through all the dough and filled up four large ones!) to the baker’s satisfaction, he and Josue slide each pan into the oven.

Speaking of which, the oven itself is huge… about as tall as I am (5 feet) and easily 6 feet wide and long. It’s also very hot, since the fire has been burning brightly since we arrived, so the baker uses a long staff to push the pans into the side of the oven between the wall and the hot coals.

We wait about twenty minutes for the baking to finish, telling stories while we sit. Then we pour coffee and eat lots (and lots, and lots, and lots) of piping hot pastries… the baker even gives us bags so that we can take some back to La Mariposa with us!

they’re delicious.

Colonial Cities : A Trip to Granada (La Mariposa Adventures)

Written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

Less than an hour away from La Mariposa stands Granada, the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua. Rich with history and filled with colonial-era architecture, it’s also a popular destination for La Mariposa students… and for good reason. As we cruise through the narrow streets, each new turn leading us to brightly-painted houses and views of tall cathedrals, our guests point from one thing to another. One student’s excited for the chocolate museum, another one can’t wait to see the fancy buildings; there’s something for everyone.

We start our tour by climbing out of the Mariposa bus and onto a sidewalk, where Chester announces that we’re visiting a cemetery.
“A cemetery??” one person murmurs, “why a cemetery?”
It’s true, the cemetery isn’t exactly the first place you’d expect to start a city tour… but this particular cemetery is actually extremely important in Granada’s history and identity.
You see, Granada was originally founded (colonized) in the indigenous Xalteva area by the Spaniard Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, who named Granada after his hometown. During the colonial period, it became one of the central cities for commerce… later, it disputed political and historical importance with León (its rival city), saw multiple pirate attacks and invasions, and withstood William Walker’s attempt to burn it to the ground.
sidenote by Hannah: Nicaraguan history is incredible and you should look it up. Also, William Walker was a US American and a Very Bad Person.

The Europeans were the ones to build the enormous cemetery of Granada, as well. Today, it’s the only one of its kind in Nicaragua, marked by chapels and religious statues, mausoleums and marble. The graves near the center of the cemetery are the most elaborate ones, owned by extremely wealthy (and often famous) families — Fruto Chamorro, the first official president of Nicaragua, was buried there. The other graves, with names and dates in a larger structure, belong to soldiers, or are rented out to various families. And the smallest ones on the outskirts of the cemetery, marked sometimes only with a cross or a stake, belong to the poorest families. Inequality persists into the next world, it seems!

After this brief lesson on colonialism, cemeteries, and capitalism, we climb back into the buses.
We hop out again briefly to see the Fortaleza de Pólvora. Originally built to store gunpowder, as the name suggests, this fortress was used to accommodate soldiers and later to imprison people. Today, it acts as a museum with a rotating schedule of exhibits, open to the public. We couldn’t go in that day, though (it was closed?) so we took some pictures and moved on.

We take a quick break at the cigarmaker’sNicaragua is well-known for its handcrafted cigars, apparently, and a pleasant man explains the process while another demonstrates how to bind the tobacco, press it into molds, and wrap it. He hands around a fragrant leaf for us to look at; it’s dark, papery, and unexpectedly sweet smelling. For $5 USD, he adds, you can even buy/make your own cigar here!
(A few students try it, but most of us are content to hang back and watch.)

Our next stop is a church, the Iglesia la Merced. Albeit the facade looks rather old and a little crumbling, it’s lovely and quiet inside, with dark wooden benches, several statues, and a stained glass window. There’s also a small sign advertising the “best view of Granada”, and for thirty Córdoba (about $1 USD) paid to the man at the front, you can climb a short (but narrow and pretty steep!) set of stairs to the bell tower and see the view for yourself. Once we’ve gotten to the top, we can look east towards the Granada Cathedral — the bright yellow and white one near the central plaza — and Lake Cocibolca, or south towards the Mombacho Volcano. Tiled rooftops and colored houses are all around. It’s definitely worth the climb.

From the cathedral, it’s a quick walk to the chocolate museum, the Granada ChocoMuseocomplete with a pool, a hotel, a small café, and a shop where they sell everything from chocolate bars to “Nicatella” to chocolate liqeur to cacao tea. After a brief (and energetic) history of chocolate and some enthusiastic sampling, we browse the shop a bit and then we’re ready for lunch.
We head to the Cafe D’Arte and make ourselves comfortable for an hour or two (and talk to some street vendors who are selling ceramic bird whistles and handmade vases and personalized maracas —  I love the whistles and I can’t help buying one). Then those of us who are heading to the islands pile back into the bus and head for the lake… it’s time for a boat tour!

The islands are mostly owned by Nicaragua’s rich and famous, or rich and famous foreigners who decided that they’d like a personal island in Nicaragua, and our guide seems to enjoy pointing out random islands and namedropping as we go. He also points out the view of the volcano — “we were there last weekend!” one boy notes — and the other islands along Lake Nicaragua. We spot several birds, a heron, and a few spider monkeys, too.

It’s fun for all of us, even the excited four-year-old across from me who keeps leaning out the side of the boat to put his hands in the water; he leans so far that I reflexively grab onto the back of his lifejacket to keep him in the boat, and decide that it’s probably a good idea for me to keep an eye (and a hand) on him at all times. “I wanna swim!” he tells me, and I start to laugh. But he gets his wish when we dock at a small hostel and restaurant, where a small swimming pool (built, apparently, around a huge rock) invites all of us to splash around.

After all, there’s something for everyone in Granada.

 

Hurry, we’re going to Mombacho! (La Mariposa Adventures)

Written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

Just south of Granada, you can find the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve — one of the weekend trips that we offer (there are four!). Standing almost 1400 meters above sea level and bordering Lake Cocibolca, it’s covered in forest and it’s absolutely beautiful.

It takes us a little while to round up everyone and leave La Mariposa, which is sort of stressful because we have to stop by the cajero (ATM) for the students and then get to Mombacho in time for the shuttle transport up the mountain. “Hurry, hurry”, Paulette tells us and we tell each other. Finally, everyone’s hurried enough to climb into the bus, and we’re off!

We drive for about 40 minutes through the Pueblos Blancos to get there… Oscar points out the furniture, plants, sweets, and other artisan work displayed in stands along the main street. When we arrive at the volcano, we’re greeted by a fairly large parking lot and a fairly small kiosk — we park in the former and make our way over to the latter in order to pay our entry fee.

The fee itself is $20 for transport to the top (and back down) but $5 if you’re interested in hiking the 5.5km to the top and back… with inclines of up to 45 degrees near the end of the trail. (As someone who has done the hike, I’d highly highly recommend riding in the truck — the hike is possible, but not particularly enjoyable, and most people who have finished it decide that they’re Definitely Not Interested in hiking back down.)

When we arrive at the top, we’re met by several guides who directs us to the main tourist center… there, a guide points out the various types of flora and fauna unique to the volcano (the peak 850km is area protected by the reserve). There are three different trails: El Crater, El Tigrillo, and El Puma. While you need a guide to hike the last two, the first is free… it’s also the shortest trail, at 1.5 hours, and the most accessible. I end up hiking it twice, once with the group that arrived via the truck transport, and again about two hours later when the hiking group got to the top.

“The air feels lighter”, one of the students points out, and it does… everything is cooler and lighter at the top of the mountain. You might even need a raincoat (yes, in Nicaragua!!) or at least a light jacket. In the quiet shade of the trees and surrounded by tall ferns, it feels thousands of miles away from the city… later, when you emerge from the trees to explore the fumaroles (heat vents — they smell like sulfur and vent smelly hot air into your face if you try to look down into them), you’ll be greeted by open skies, orange flowers, and probably gusts of wind.

Mombacho is known for its “cloud forest” — a lush green tropical forest often masked in fog — and especially in the winter, wet season, those clouds can form quickly. For our morning hike, everything is clear (there’s a viewpoint from which you can see all the way to Granada and Laguna de Apoyo), but two hours later the mountain (and all lookout points) are completely covered in mist and it feels like we’re floating in the middle of nowhere. Either way, it’s pretty lovely.

A group of American teenage guys bolt past me, panting heavily up the stairs, and I laugh as a group of other students follow. “Hurry up”, one of the girls calls to someone behind her. Maybe that’s the nature of tourist groups, hurrying. It certainly isn’t a particularly Nicaraguan thing to do… both Oscar this morning and our guides this afternoon seem calm.

The family with me has gone on ahead and there’s plenty of time to sit and eat, so halfway along the trail I find a small bench, kick off my shoes, and eat my lunch… it’s endlessly peaceful, swinging bare feet over the path and greeting guides with an “Adiós” as they hike past me. Outside of the tour that went by before me, it’s also really, really quiet — the only sound is the rustle of wind in branches and the occasional deep bark of what I think are howler monkeys. The dwarf forest, named because the trees grow shorter here (due to heavy winds and lack of nutrients), filter sunshine down onto my head. 

I close my eyes and breathe in the forest.

Now is a time for rest.
There’ll be plenty of time to hurry later.

Nature Reserve, Cañada Honda, Update

Some good news and some not so good!

At the beginning of June the heavy rains started to come in – excellent for all of the tree cuttings and saplings planted last year. We are noting which species are doing well (coppel, madero negro and sacuanjoche – the Nicaraguan national flower – are all flourishing) and in which area. The valleys are suitable for trees which cannot withstand the volcanic gases such as aceituna and cedro. We are also taking full advantage of the rain and doing yet more reforestation, we have already had one group of volunteers from New York out there!

 

 

A wonderful discovery in the dry season has been the amount and variety of wild flowers, which also attract bees and butterflies and other insects.

 

The reserve has had several visits from groups of University of Nicaragua students who have taken inventories of the birds (some 60 plus species), reptiles and the different eco systems. The latter is particularly impressive – there is a wide range of environments, partly due to the fact that we do not grow coffee. This means that the underlying vegetation is relatively undisturbed and allows for a lot more plant life.

It does however mean that as yet there is no income from this land – maybe tourism will, in the future, provide support.

One of the biggest problems is the continued, relentless deforestation in the area. Just last week another 5 acres or so was burnt down, all of the trees and vegetation destroyed, in order to plant more dragon fruit. And this, let us be clear, is not income for poor local farmers – it is for export.

 

The saddest event was the hunting and killing of a largish wild cat which we are pretty sure was an ocelot. He had been sighted several times in the reserve by the caretaker. The two hunters – brothers from another community – were tracked down and confronted by Paulette and the police. One of the most upsetting aspects was the mother quoting from the Bible – that God had sent her sons this animals to hunt!!! Answer that one!!!

The police held a mediation session and the outcome was that the boys did community service work on another of La Mariposas reserves. Pineapple farmers since childhood, they considered everything but pineapple to be better out of the way! But with us, they did remarkably well and learnt a lot about the importance of conservation and protecting biodiversity.

In an extraordinary coincidence, a tiny wild cat kitten (maybe ocelot, maybe magay – hard to tell at this stage) appeared on our doorstep in a shoebox! Named Leo, he currently lives in the office where he gets lots of attention, raw meat 3 times a day and access to the Managua vets if necessary. He will undoubtedly be too tame to release but the hope is that one day he will be able to live in semi freedom up on the reserve.

 

Of course in true Mariposa style we have been working closely with the community surrounding Cañada Honda, Palo Solo. At the first meeting we had (almost all community members participated!), it became clear that the most important issue for all of the families is lack of access to water. The municipality of La Concha delivers a barrel of water (there is no connected water supply) to each family per week – this is for drinking, cooking, washing – everything! People used to rely on local spring water but due largely to massive deforestation in the area – to grow dragon fruit for export – this source is rapidly disappearing.

 

We have responded immediately by sending up additional trucks of water, repairing a water storage tank in the reserve which will collect water now the rains have come in. A somewhat longer term project is to provide every family with sufficient barrels and roof gutters to collect rainwater.

In return we are hoping that close cooperation with this community will result in a high degree of investment in helping us protect the precious flora and fauna which exists there.

If you would like to help us with these initiatives please check out out gofundme campaign  https://www.gofundme.com/ocelot-kitten

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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!

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/

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

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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