October 14, 2013
This month I had the opportunity to work with two people I consider very knowledgeable in their fields: Adam Hannuksela, an ornithologist who came to the Northern Jaguar Reserve to mist net and band birds as part of a fall molt-migration study, and Sallie Herman, a botanist surveying vegetation at sites on the reserve and Viviendo con Felinos ranches.
We started our adventure with endless rain, as our journey began at the same time Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel made landfall in Mexico. That made our trip a little tedious at first, since it isn’t very pleasant to hike all day through dense vegetation when you are soaking wet. Regardless of the uncomfortable conditions, we all understand that fieldwork cannot be neglected. We began at Rancho Bábaco looking for a cattle-exclusion zone that was made a few years ago in order to measure how the vegetation had recovered over time.
The best part of that particular day was discovering a female coati (Nasua narica) with her young. When the coati family spotted us, they quickly ran away. We caught glimpses of a few of them, but they were out of sight as soon as they climbed some nearby oak trees for shelter and protection. It is amazing how a brief sighting like this can be so exciting, since we usually do not get to see these animals up close.
Unfortunately, we could not find the exclusion zone, given that the landscape is very rugged to navigate, with many sheer drops and cliff faces, and rain was falling. The next day we tried to return, but again we failed because dense fog kept us from finding a way across the steep terrain. We realized we had no choice but to change course and conduct our vegetation work elsewhere.
We decided to sample vegetation at two sites – one was Las Tésotas, where we established six transects, and the second was a location close to La Hieleria, where there had been a small wildfire in July. The wildfire site was very interesting because we could already observe how quickly it had started to recuperate after three months of summer rain. The most important thing was that we did not see any invasive species like buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) in the sample area. We noticed that many of the oak trees that had appeared to be dying the first time we visited the site in early July were now coming back after the fire.
The fauna were also taking advantage of the vegetation. We saw white-tailed deer eating the new grass that had grown and were lucky enough to see young Montezuma quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae). It was interesting to watch the quail parents try to scare predators away from the chicks. They were singing and flying around us trying to get our attention and persuade us to leave their young alone.
Until next time,
Javier Valenzuela Amarillas has worked on the Northern Jaguar Reserve and Viviendo con Felinos ranches since 2012. As a jaguar guardian, he helps to maintain an extensive network of motion-triggered cameras, inventory the ecological health of the land and water, and work with ranchers to support local wildlife.