From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/tienshan)

Following teams 1 and 2, team 3 also spent their (Sun)day off with a herder. The afternoon was entertaining for everybody, including the family of the herder ;)

At the beginning of this week we resurveyed valleys that we could not reach the end of previously, because of snow. A very promising valley (we named it ‘You Youkon’) attracted our attention from the very first visit. This week Ulf, Ilka, Sheilo and Paul finally made it up to a pass that might give us the chance of advancing further north into what we hope will be undisturbed higher ground. Their findings confirmed our plan to go back there again for an overnighter: many ibex and argali tracks as well as wolf scat.

The Ysik Ata valley can now also be walked up to the very end, up to the ridge where the glacier begins. There we installed two camera traps in promising places (and have now added camera trap pictures to the previous entry on http://biosphereexpeditions.wordpress.com/).

Throughout this slot we have found petroglyphs in many places. We are actually not counting them anymore. Thomas has meanwhile compiled a comprehensive collection of photos of them. Thanks’ for that.

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We have also extended our surveys to the east, checking out a new valley. Again there seems to be a pass leading north into the unknown and hopefully undisturbed parts of the range. Besides the perpetually exciting sightings of several ibex, the local herder told us that last year he saw a snow leopard feeding on a sheep in that area. Well, you can’t take everything for granted, but we will definitely be back. And it feels like we’re getting closer to our quarry…

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, South America (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

We’re all set. Writing this, I am sitting in the Tahuayo Lodge’s lab room waiting for the team members to arrive. Alfredo has taken a canoe to go to the village of El Chino just around the corner from here. We’re after another local worker to guide and help us finding forest trails but it’s quite a task to find a person that knows the area around the ARC AND is willing to work at this time. Soccer championships are running in Esperanza village further up the Blanco river and that’s where a lot of the local people now prefer to spend their time. Anyway, we’ll have three helpers, getting a fourth guide would increase the efficiency of our work.

Brigitte & Tom from Belgium are already here and are as keen as Alfredo and I to get started. Today and tomorrow are going to be training days on the equipment, the research, study species, data sheets, etc., which will also include a training forest walk to practice the skills learned. I’ll be in touch again when everyone has gained their first research experience.

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From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/tienshan)

For the past few days it’s been getting colder every night up to the point where we have to defrost our hand wash basins in the morning.

Despite the icy temperatures and days with all four seasons of the year rolled into one, research activities continue as normal. One of the first tasks for this group was to check whether the Karakol Pass was still blocked by snow. Good news: we were able to find a way around and finally made it to the eastern side. And, Pei Hao, a participant from Singapore, for the first time in his life touched real snow ! The big valley east of the pass is crowded by herders but several deep, long northern side valleys seem to be promising as survey areas.

Another day saw Martin, Liss, James , Pei Hao and Aman survey the first of these valleys. It was a long and strenuous day full of beautiful landscapes, waterfalls and sightings of badgers, marmots and several ibex. We will definitely be back for an overnighter.

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Volodya, Martin, Guenter and Gordon combed the southern valleys. To do this, an early morning icy river crossing is compulsory, but was taken sportingly and in good spirits. Before they reached the terminal moraine of one of the glaciers, they found a long, perfectly clear wolf track, some wolf scat and hundreds of amazing old petroglyphs (showing deer, camels, donkeys, birds and hunting scenes). A remarkable find! But they also found evidence of hunting.

Ulf, Ilka and Agnes in the meantime pushed the survey altitude up to far above 3700 meters.

Our overnighter team of this week was Liss, Martin, Ulan, James and Aman who visited our old “home valley” of Base Camp 1. On their way they stopped at the herder of that valley, where they were served a second breakfast. As the water level of the rivers has dropped noticeably, they managed for the first time to get a car across a ford and penetrate deep into the valley beyond. First, and supported by fantastic weather conditions, they checked the camera traps we installed two weeks ago. Fresh ibex scat all over had everybody looking forward to having a look at the camera trap pictures. And indeed several good shots were taken of ibex, badger, fox and argali. But none of the mountain ghost. On one picture it appears as if the mountain sheep is chasing away the fox!

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On the second day of their overnighter, they installed four more cameras high up on the other side of the valley. Perhaps the ghost will grace those. We live in hope. The stunning landscape, the team spirit, the weather, visiting the herder made it all together an unforgettable experience and they returned to base in high spirits. Well done everyone!

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, South America (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

Iquitos. It’s busy, noisy and hot. I’ve been running around doing what’s always top on the expedition leader’s in-country to do list: shopping ;)

AM diary IQT

Apart from office stuff, batteries and insect repellent, three machetes have been added to our expedition equipment. Due to a jetlag of -7 hours I’ve spent some time in the early hours of this morning with setting up a few brand new GPSs I brought over. They are now ready for being taken out in the jungle: waypoints, tracks and the research grid have been uploaded. I was rewarded with seeing a wonderful sunrise from my hotel room (see picture: Mainai river that connects to the Amazon).

AM diary sunrise IQT

A note on insect repellent: Strong repellent (30% DEET or more) is not sold in Iquitos, but is a good thing to have when working in the forest. I’ve used 40% DEET before and it works well.

Alfredo, our scientist, and I just met at the A&E Office and we’re about to leave the city. The boat will take us to the main lodge today, tomorrow morning we’ll proceed to the Amazonian Research Centre, our base in the jungle. You will hear from me once we’ve arrived there. From now there won’t be any mobile phone coverage. If you need to contact me (for emergency reasons only, i.e. being late for assembly), please send an e-mail AND contact the A&E office in Iquitos.

Safe travels

Malika

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From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/tienshan)

The start of our 3rd slot has been very exciting for all team members due to fantastic weather on Monday that accompanied us all the way to base camp.  Additionally, the various team members whose interest includes birds are being well served by a great abundance and variety. Marlies in particular was especially thrilled to encounter birds that she was academically familiar with, but had never seen before.

Prior to arrival at base camp we stopped at a herders yurt who treated us to a taste of fermented horse milk. Whilst generous, this treat was not to everybody’s taste ;)

horse milk

As it did for us during set up, the breathtaking panorama – glaciers beetling from rocky peaks over rolling green glades – grabbed everybody’s attention. Despite the beauty of this first evening, that first night’s temperature dropped to near freezing and reminded everybody of the challenges we will face in this mountain expedition.

alatoo

Meanwhile, everybody has passed training with flying colours and have just finished their first day in the field. Spirits are high, even Gordon’s freezing voluntary dip in our glacial stream couldn’t quell his enthusiasm.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, South America (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

Welcome to the first entry of our 2014 Amazonia expedition. My name is Malika Fettak and I am your expedition leader this year. Alfredo Dosantos, our Peruvian field scientist, and I have been busy getting this expedition ready for you. I will make my way to Iquitos on Monday to set things up for you together with Alfredo.

We’ve done this expedition for a few years now, but please still expect the unexpected and be prepared for things to go wrong and all of us helping each other out whilst having a laugh. In return you get the bragging rights of having been on a real jungle expedition, not some cushy wildlife tour in an air-conditioned hotel. Talking about the jungle, yes, it’s full of life, but it’s all very hard to spot and identify. Those of you who have been to the jungle before will know this. Those of you who have not, please don’t come with expectations of animals jumping around all over the place for you to see and photograph. Life is there, everywhere, like a green blanket covering everything and playing havoc with your senses, but it is also a veil that can only be drawn back by those with patience and the right attitude. Science is not safari!

Onto the research. We’ve put some resources of maps, datasheets, field guides, a methodology manual, etc. on https://app.box.com/s/zv38to9cffca5ybqwzjz for you. A map of our study site including the cells we’ll be working in/through is in the folder too.

map

“Cells” I hear you ask? By way of explanation we’ve put a video of our methodology below for you as well.

It would be great if you could watch the video and use the resources provided to do some studying before you arrive. We’ll hit you with lots of information in the first couple of days and the more you’ve swotted up on things beforehand, the more you will remember, and the more useful you will be in the field. The datasheets and methodology may be confusing to start with, but if you read up now, we can explain things in the field more easily if you come with some background knowledge already.

Once you’ve seen all the materials, including the 2013 work plan that we will use as a guideline again this year, all your last hopes of a relaxing holiday in the jungle with monkeys and jaguars posing for bragging shots should evaporate like the downpoars that will hit the roof of our base, turning into steamy tufts of white, making the forest the humid, green paradise it is…. only to be replaced by the knowledge that soon you will be part of something important and useful in biodiversity conservation in the Amazon jungle. And what, I ask, has more value? You could have opted for a beach holiday. Instead you are going to spend your time and money helping Alfredo out in the field. Thank you – I take my hat off to you for that.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back in touch once I have arrived in Peru.

Best wishes

Malika

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From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/tienshan)

Well, time flies and group 2 has ended. With everyone’s help, we packed the entire camp into our truck as we are going to move it further east. So group 3, be prepared for being trailblazers once more. Group 2, meanwhile, has returned to Bishkek and we now have a week off to reorg and regroup.

Unfortunately the weather changed earlier in the week and prevented a second ‘overnighter’. Nevertheless we are happy to announce another remarkable finding: on Thursday a large team decided to explore a hitherto unresearched area – the long and deep Ala Archa valley (west of our “home” valley). As it is not accessible by car, we had to spend hours walking to the higher parts of the valley at its end. At a confluence of two streams, the team split up into two. At the end of the day group one reported sightings of ibex, group two of argali! This is even more remarkable because we have been told consistently by herders that there are no argali left in this area.

argali1

The landscape was something else too and Ala Archa valley has been officially declared the most beautiful valley we’ve seen so far. So there are a multitude of reasons to come back: wildlife, landscape and finding places for camera traps.

Ala_archa

All in all we have covered about 35 cells now. Highlights so far are sightings of argali, Himalayan snow cock, several groups of ibex and clear tracks of a Pallas’s cat.

Thank you everyone on group 2 for your efforts. Yes, we are still at the very beginning of a new project. There is much more to learn about the area, but you have helped enormously to add more pieces to the puzzle.

Finally, a piece of advice for everyone yet to come: if your luggage does not arrive with you, please try, with the help of your hotel, to obtain it before (!) we meet at the assembly point.

Looking forward to meeting group 3 in a week.

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