Thursday, 25 July 2013

Beautiful Butterflies

There is a fantastic diversity of Lepidoptera in the tropics and the Atlantic rainforest has a very high diversity. REGUA alone has recorded 570 species but it is thought that this will increase to maybe 800 in years to come as the habitat improves and more research is undertaken.

Unfortunately like many invertebrate taxonomic groups there is very few resources to use for identification. However Regua has its own resident researcher Jorge Bizarro who has produced a leaflet guide to the commoner species and helped publish the field guide to the hawk-moths of the Serra dos Orgaos.

Some of the commoner highlights I have seen include:

Clymena eighty-eight (Diaethria clymena janeria)

Smooth-banded sister (Adelpha cytherea aea)

(Hypothyris ninonia daeta)

(Ithomia drymo) Clearwing

Brazilian or Giant owl (Caligo brasiliensis)

Red cracker (Hamadryas amphinome)

(Hamadryas arĂȘte)

(Consul fabius drurii)

Periander swordtail (Rhetus periander eleusinus)

Anchises cattleheart (Parides anchises nephalion)

Helenor morpho (Morpho helenor achillaena)
One of the most impressive moths that I have found was this roosting white witch that I flushed from a tree on the Sao Jose trail one morning. When it took off it looked like a small owl, before landing back on another tree, hoping its camouflage will prevent it from being eaten. This species may be the moth with the largest wingspan in the world as it reaches 31 cm.  

White witch moth (Thysania Agrippina)

Regua Reptiles

The reptile diversity of the reserve is good compared to many forest fragments nearby and at least 42 species of reptile have been recorded.

The overall count for the Atlantic forest is 311 and about 30% of these are endemic.

The species that I encounter most frequently is the Broad-snouted caiman and they are easy to find basking on the islands of the old wetland around mid-day.

I have also found several Amazonian or Cocha whiptails which is a widespread species occurring in almost all semi-forested habitats but they prefer dryer and rockier areas.

Serpents are very difficult to find as they are anywhere, but I have identified at least 5 species so far.

Tiger ratsnake (Spilotes pullatus) are widespread across Southern America and are usually arboreal, killing their prey through constriction.

Atlantic coral snake (Micrurus corallines) is restricted to the Atlantic rainforest biome and is quite rare to see due to its habits for staying in thick cover. This species has very potent venom but bites on people are very rare, compared to other venomous snakes in the region.




Five-lined burrowing snake is a species of dense forest that spends much of its time below the leaf litter hunting for prey

long-tailed machete savane or (Chironius multiventris) is a colubrid that grows very long like this specimen I found on the 4x4 trail.

Green forest racer is the species I have seen most frequently in the reserve, they vary in colour but typically are greener when they are more mature.


The lodge at REGUA (Guapi Assu) offers guests a choice of well researched offsite birding excursions to sites with different habitats and bird species to those on the reserve.

One of those sites is the Carmo area in the north of the State. The drive is quite long, but passes through the spectacular Serra dos Orgaos National Park. The park is a fantastic example of well preserved Atlantic Rainforest, and rises to a high altitude where the finger of God mountain can be seen dominating the landscape.

Finger of God

The area around Carmo itself is quite different and the habitat is much dryer with patches of savannah and Atlantic forest amongst farmland and scrub. The star bird species of this region is the endemic three-toed jacamar which can easily be found around one of the hills that Leonardo (A REGUA guide) takes the guests to. The jacamar has undergone a serious decline in population due to the loss of its habitat (dry forest) for farming and eucalyptus plantations and is now thought to only exist is small isolated populations.

Three-toed jacamar

Some of the other species we found included hangnest tody-tyrant, grey-eyed greenlet, serra antwren, glittering-bellied emerald, sapphire-spangled emerald, golden-crowned warbler, magpie tanager, pileated finch, yellow-browed tyrant, long-tailed tyrant, streamer-tailed tyrant, double-collarded seedeater, white-eared puffbird, southern-beardless tyrannulet, white-rumped monjta, firewood gatherer and rufous-fronted thornbird.

Golden-crowned warbler

Streamer-tailed tyrant

A night in the forest!

Back at Regua

From recent observations on the camera traps it was apparent that there was a lot of activity at the scratching tree on the 4x4 trail, including the return of the juvenile puma. He may have now separated from his mother and will be kicked out of her territory as she comes back into season.
I decided that with so much activity concentrating on this tree that it would be worth putting up a small hide, that would offer better chances to see the animals.
With the help of many people I found a small camouflaged pop up hide that I could use and I took it up to the trail with a chair and equipment to spend the night. It was a very long night and I did my best to try and stay awake so as not to miss any action. However I had to shut my eyes for some periods but the camera trap luckily revealed nothing had appeared. It was fascinating listening to all the sounds after dark and tracking the movements of creatures moving through forest from the bird alarm calls. It will take a lot more patience than just one night to have a sighting of the mammals using the area.
In the morning I was rewarded with views of rufous-capped mot-mot, blonde-crested woodpecker, blue manakin, rusty-margined guan and mantled hawk.
I have also been out taking guests around the wetlands at night and done some night walks around the schincareol area. These have been very productive for owls and opossums in particular.

Bare-tailed woolly opossums

Striped owl

Tawny-browed owl

Poco Das Antas Biological Station

At the end of our trip we spent some time in Rio de Janerio, but on one of the days we arranged a visit to the golden lion tamarin project at Poco das Antas. The visit to the reserve is very expensive, but a lot of the cost is a donation to the project. We were picked up from Rio and drove around 2 hours into the Silva Jardim district where the remaining Atlantic rainforest is very fragmented but the area around poco das antas has a large tract of forest that is being connected to the remaining pockets.

When we arrived, we met someone in charge of the project and one of the field researchers who had some radio telemetry equipment to help us track one of the troops of tamarins. Most of the troops have a male fitted with a satellite tag to help monitor their movements. As soon as we arrived in the forest the researcher picked up a signal from a troop and set off into the forest. We mostly followed a small path but at points the researcher had to use a machete to clear the way. When we found the tamarins they actually approached us, to investigate the other primate staring back at them making lots of awwhh noises!

Golden lion tamarins

They even came to within 1 and a half meters of us but always remained in a position they felt safe in the branches. They are completely wild, but have become used to the researchers following their daily movements and some of their descents originate from captive breeding programmes.

After we had our fill we drove to the headquarters of the project for a presentation and small tour.
We had 2 English speaking guides with us that could translate the information. It is only thanks to some passionate conservationists that this species did not become extinct, as the population did reach a low of just 200 individuals, but thanks to efforts to connect populations, re-forest, raise awareness and successful captive bred releases the population is now 1,500 in the wild.

Magnificent frigatebirds (Juvenile above, adult below)

Christ the redeemer

Copacabana beach

Rio de Janerio from Sugarloaf

River Dolphins

On our last day in Manaus we arranged an excursion to the village of Novo Airao (180 km NW from Manaus) on the Rio Negro.
Flight over Amazonia back to Manaus.

There is a small floating house in a part of the forest where the local family would throw out the leftover fish from their meals which attracted the local pod of Boto or Amazonian river dolphin. The family still live on the house but have now built up a relationship with these intelligent animals that allows people to actually get in the water with them as they feed them fish.

Biologists have studied the dolphins behaviour and have decided that this activity is not having negative effects on the animals or population.

The boto is a true freshwater dolphin and is restricted to the Amazon and its major tributaries. They are almost blind because eyesight is almost useless in the murky waters and their echolocation has developed more sophisticated as a result. Unfortunately their population is now decreasing because a market for catfish that feed on dead meat is increasing in Asia and the dolphins are hunted to supply bait for this trade.

We had several good sightings of botos in the Mamirua reserve but the views at Novo Airao were completely unique as we got into the water to swim with them. They seemed naturally inquisitive and would rub their flippers against your leg to feel how close they were to you.

Boto (Amazon river dolphin)

While we were driving by boat through the flooded forest we came across 2-3 groups of tuxuci (Gray river) dolphins which are considerably smaller and favoured the wider channels.



Tuxuci dolphin

Uacari Floating Lodge (Mamirua Reserve) part 2

During the flooded season it is difficult to see most of the smaller passerines such as antbirds but the larger species are still prominent.

One of our target species was the prehistoric hoatzin, a species with its own family (Opisthocomidae) and sub order. The taxonomy of the species is still a debate but it is thought that it shares most similarities with the cuckoo family. The chicks are particularly interesting because they are born with a thumb and finger on their wings to aid them in the trees during fledging. We found 3 colonies of hoatzins, including one right behind the lodge.


Some of the other birds we saw included chestnut-bellied macaw, scarlet macaw, festive parrot, tui parakeet, white-throated toucan, chestnut-eared aracari, black-fronted nunbird, green oropendola, russet-backed oropendola, razor-billed currasow, sungrebe, horned screamer, limpkin, yellow-rumped cacique, bare-necked fruitcrow, yellow-tufted woodpecker, red-capped cardinal, rufous nightjar, black skimmer, black-throated trogon, yellow and large billed terns and buff-throated woodcreeper.

Tui parakeet
Rufous nightjar

The lodge itself is a great place to look for roosting bats, and I found probsicuis bat, black mastiff bat, and a third species I so far have not identified.

There were also lots of Amazonian racerunner, and some amphibians including up to 15 dwarf jungle frogs, 1 greater hatchet-faced tree frog and a large species still to be identified. On excursions I found a huge cane toad resting in a tree and a Amazon bark anole that ran across the water using its tail as a rudder.

Greater hatchet-faced tree frog

Around the vicinity of the lodge there is a good population of black caiman and they can sometimes be found underneath the rooms and even crossing the deck. The black caiman is restricted to the Amazon basin and is the biggest of all the caiman species growing to sometimes 6m in length making them potentially very dangerous to people. I saw eye-shine from several caiman each night around the forest edge from the lodge and we approached several large individuals at night by boat including the monster specimen below:


Black caiman.

Looking around the lodge at night revealed many species of fish including a few catfish, as well as Amazonian river crabs and hundreds of dragonflies and moths. I also had a brief sighting of the massive pirarucu fish (the largest freshwater fish in the world) which occurs in high densities in the reserve.
Amazonian river crab