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

We woke up after an especially chilly night to find the mountains surrounding the camp were dusted with fresh snow. It is all gone now but it was impressive to see and it explained the need for the extra layers.

Fresh dusting Denis

The little stream beside the base camp is deceptively placid looking. Today, the team went on a preliminary field survey to help them find their feet.

First survey slot 5 Deniss

After crossing the creek, glacier-fed from only a couple of kilometers away, it was harder to find their feet than many expected. Some, including our excellent Kyrgyz placement Aliashkar, actually had to get visual confirmation that they were still attached to their legs! No-one fell in though, despite the fact that the last metre of the crossing was very swift and finding good ground with numb toes is not an easy task. The video of our first overnighter at below shows you what a river crossing looks like.

Today I also introduced a piece of awesome technology to the team. The thermography company, FLIR, have lent me one of their quite amazing field units. This device images the world in terms of the heat differences in the landscape. Subtle differences in temperature of fractions of a degree are rendered clearly visible. Mammals of course, being warm-bodied, stand out clearly against the cool alpine background. Perfect, I explained to FLIR, for finding warm white things in the snow at night. We will send the unit out into the field in the coming days, but I expect its greatest utility to be discovered on the overnighters when the team will have the time and the proximity to scan the rocky ends of the valleys from close up. Thanks to FLIR for this generous loan.

Continue reading

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)

Exciting animal encounters! The expedition is in full swing with five teams heading out in different directions for the morning surveys. While three teams leave base by boat to be dropped off at different trail starting points further up the Tahuayo river, two more teams walk the trail grid trails behind base. Our newcomers David and Julian teamed up for a trail grid survey with Alfredo and ran into a group of 20 coatis. Hidden in the undergrowth our surveyors were able to observe the animals for a while.

coatis

Andrew, Shelley and the boys were led by Segundo and found fresh jaguar scat that must have been from the night before. They also encountered titi and squirrel monkeys, learned how to drink water from leaves and had a taste of some exotic forest fruit.

squirrel-monkey titi

Anh & David surveyed a trail leading to cocha (=lake) Yarina. Accompaigned by Julio, another local helper from El Chino village, who joined our team this week, they had a very rare encounter with two howler monkeys. While one of them disappeared very quickly into the thick green foliage, the other one took a second look…

Red_howler_monkey

I followed Ramon, our fourth local guide for this week, on a new trail leading from the Tahuayo to the Tangarana river. We encountered a group of five titi monkeys walking together with a larger group of saddleback tamarins. We were able to observe them for about 15 minutes, standing still as they crossed our trail just over our heads making funny faces and noises to chase us away.

Saddleback Tamarin

Writing this, everyone else is on their afternoon surveys canoeing up and down the river and checking the track traps we have set on various trails. It has become a bit of a habit to be silent about the sightings tally until we all meet at 18.00 for the daily review. I’ll let you know when the teams share their secrets 🙂

Continue reading

From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

This morning I woke to the sound of jackals and it’s good to be back on Okambara. Vera and I did some expedition shopping in Windhoek yesterday, and now we are busy setting up base camp for our six Namibia expedition groups this year. Good and bad news at the bush camp – for our three returning expeditioners, you’ll be sad to know that the elephants knocked down the shade tree we used to use for the trucks. The good news is that we can use its thorny branches to make corrals! Other good news is that we now have nine rhinos on the farm. They are only a couple months old and Vera has yet to see them, so that is definitely something for all of us to look forward to.

elephant

I remember from last year we had some confusion about the “lunch boxes” mentioned in the dossier (myself included!) and so I want to clarify that you’ll be wanting to bring a plastic container to carry around your sandwich. We got so see some really creative ones last year, including recycled ice cream containers and lime Vera’s green one that happened to be the same color as the anti-venom kits. Bring whatever style you like, just know we’ll be packing our lunches every day and using the plastic boxes to keep the contents together.

lunch box

Another thing you need to be sure to bring is a re-usable water container. Backpack hydration packs are great, for example. See your dossier for further details.

One last thing I’ll mention right now to everyone is to bring your valid driver’s licenses! You will be able to drive our 4x4s around the study site (after proper training of course) and while we’ll only be driving on farm tracks, I still need to see your license in order to let you drive (no need to send copies to the office beforehand). Bring them even if you are thinking that you won’t want to drive, because I guarantee you when you see how easy and fun it is, you’ll regret it if you cannot drive. I mentioned the cold in yesterday’s diary, but it deserves mentioning again because when I arrived it was ZERO degrees Celsius. Bring a warm hat, scarf, layers, and especially warm gloves or mittens because the early morning vehicle game counts will be very cold until the sun comes up.

Looking forward to meeting Team 1 in Windhoek at 08:30 am on Sunday!

Continue reading

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

The first day of the fourth slot of the Tien Shan snow leopard expedition was an early test of the team member’s metel. Intel recieved prior to our departure from Bishkek indicated that the terrible tunnel at the top of the main pass into our mountains was the subject of some major works and that a four hour delay could be expected. A quick survey of our new group revealed that we were blessed with a plethora of experienced 4×4 drivers, including a park ranger and some who had completed a 4×4 training course. Just as well because we now had the option of taking our heavily laden cars over the alternate route, which we had discovered on the previous slot. It is by far a more interesting route and as we skirted within metres of the Kazakhstan border and on up into the range beside Lake Issyk Kul, we were treated to some awesome scenery and some great windows into Kyrgyz culture not as evident on the route, which we were now avoiding.

kyrgyz alatoo

As we approached our entry valley we could see that the conditions, which till now were fine, were about to take a turn for the worse. Ahead was a thick dark weather system that clad the entire range down to the foothills. We ascended the valley and negotiated the tricky bits easily. Our drivers didn’t break a sweat, partly because of their experience and partly because it was freezing. When we approached the top, the cloud was so thick that we had to crawl along at a snail’s pace with our hazard lights flashing just to see the car ahead.

fog

It was on the decent that the real test came. The last car came on over the radis ond said they could smell a problem. We stopped and foung that car three had a completely flat tyre and was now running on a rim. The smell was the shredding rubber.

flat-tyre

The team came together then and in the freezing gale and 20 metre visibility, we jacked up the vehicle and with some effort and no feeling in our fingers replaced the wheel. It was a great introduction to the team into the valley that would be their home for the next two weeks. Go team!

Continue reading

From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

Hello everyone! Alisa Clickenger here, and I am your expedition leader for this year’s Namibia expeditions. I am writing (and speaking) to you from Frankfurt airport…

I’m in between my two overnight flights, and should be on the ground in Windhoek by 05:30 Tuesday morning. I am excited to see our expedition scientist Vera Menges, and we’ll begin right away doing the expedition shopping and setting up base camp for our studies there. I am equally excited to meet all of you, and looking forward to another season at Okambara.

Since I’ve yet to land I don’t have a Namibian SIM card for you to contact me yet, but that should be remedied upon my arrival. I’ll send another diary entry letting you know my local contact number in case of emergencies. For now just a short reminder that our meeting point is Casa Piccolo in Windhoek at 08:30. Team 1 will need to be there on Sunday, 03 August. Please arrive on time, and Casa Piccolo requests that you check in with reception when you arrive. After you check in at Casa Piccolo what then happens is that Casa Piccolo staff will put you on a transfer bus that will drive you out to Okambara, our study site (I’ll be meeting Team 1 and riding the shuttle with you to make sure everything goes smoothly with our new transfer company). It’s about a 2 hour drive on the shuttle and then Vera and our ground staff will then meet you in our 4x4s upon your arrival at the Josephine Gate. We’ll have another 45 minute drive to our base camp on Okambara, where we’ll quickly get settled in and get straight to briefing you in order to get you out and working in the field as quickly as we can.

The weather in central Namibia is sunny with temperatures during the day in the twenties (Centigrade) and dropping to single figures at night. Getting up in the morning will feel decidedly cold for the first few groups – there is no culture of heating in Namibia anywhere, so bring warm clothes! Vera gave me some good advice last year that I’ve followed again this year – I brought a lightweight sleeping bag to supplement my covers for the first teams. The good news is that as soon as the sun comes up over the horizon, you will quickly be able to shed those layers.

Here are a few more notes that may help you in your planning / anticipation of your work with us:

1 – There is no internet or mobile coverage at base, so you won’t be able to text, tweet or otherwise type away on your smartphones. Get your internet fix at Casa Piccolo and call all your loved ones and tell them that you’ll be disappearing for two weeks. I invite you to enjoy the serenity of the bush and your first hand experience with the Namibian savannah while leaving our all-too-wired society behind.

2 – Since there’s no internet at base, you won’t need a laptop unless you get withdrawal symptoms without one or you want to tinker with your photos or need a massive hard drive to share them (I encourage you to bring a high-volume USB stick for that purpose). Which brings us neatly to the question of photos. Of course you can snap away, but you won’t be on a photo safari either. We’re there to do serious science so we expect you to perform your jobs first and foremost, and the pictures are secondary. Of course it’s exciting to be in Namibia to see all those wondrous creatures and marvelous landscapes, so we will make sure you have some opportunities for photos. Heck, if we are lucky like last year, the animals will come to us at the base camp water hole once they get used to the activity there after our long absence

I look forward to meeting you and working together over the next several months!

Best regards

Alisa Clickenger
Expedition leader

Continue reading

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 waved goodbye to Brigitte, Tom and Frankie on Friday when our first slot here in the Amazon came to its end. We all went downriver to the Tahuayo Lodge for a final lunch together before the boat to Iquitos departed. Thank you all three of you for putting your money, time and sweat into this project. I wish you a few more enjoyable days at the Lodge and in Iquitos and safe travels back home.

While David, Neil, Alfredo and myself stayed one night at the Tahuayo Lodge to wait for the next team to arrive on Sunday, Anh continued with the research at the ARC having Segundo as her ‘personal’ assistant. 😉 We’re now all back at the ARC indluding Julian, David, Andrew, Shelly and their three boys Jayden, Keiran and Ashley. Today will be a training day for the newcomers, everyone else is already out in the field continuing survey walks.

AM team 2 boat 27-7-14

Continue reading

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

Once more a team stayed out in the field for a night. This time Aman, Ulan, Volodya, Liss, Martin H. and James made it further to the east to explore a big valley. Our maps indicated an accession via a pass to a remote area higher up. They found a huge barren area, which Liss described as ‘Mars’-like. Despite this there was good evidence of ibex and even argali. The next slot has to work out where to place camera traps as there is an old pass that leads into another big valley further north. We don’t know yet if this pass is still being used to move livestock between the two valleys.

Furthermore we installed two more camera traps way up in a valley next to our base camp. All in all there are now 14 cameras placed in the field. It will be a challenge for the next slots to go back to these places to check each of them. But it will be also an exiting task.

Now, this is my last entry as I am handing over to Paul who will lead slots 4 and 5. I would like to thank everybody who supported our common idea of wildlife conservation and helped me personally in many ways to make it fly. It’s you who made my eight weeks in the field a memorable time indeed. Thank you.

I wish Paul and the next two slots a successful (snowy is still the only visible snow leopard in the area) and enjoyable time.

Ronald

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Continue reading

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)

At 05:30, shortly before sunrise the Amazonia Research Center wakes up.The chattering sound of people wandering up and down the wooden gangway and in and out their rooms mixes with the sounds of the jungle. At 06:0 it’s breakfast time. Half an hour later, when we leave for another day in the office, the sun has risen.

DCIM100GOPRO

After a training day on Monday we set up all camera traps, each now surveying a spot within differents cells of 2×2 km in our study area. Thanks to Brigitte and David providing their personal camera traps, nine cameras in total are out in the field to do their job. Furthest away from base are three cameras set up in the terra firme forest. This is “solid earth” forest that never gets flooded. Frankie and David joined Alfredo for a full day hike about six kilometres away from base. That gives you an idea how slow progress in the jungle can be.

camera

Our study area includes different vegetation zones from flooded to seasonally flooded to never flooded areas, palm swamps and islands, so-called ‘restingas’ that stay dry even during the high water season. Different types of animal frequent the various habitats and we are trying, trying, trying to camera trap some of them. Brigitte, Tom and David set up four cameras within the trail grid behind the ARC while Neil went to a trail we’ve recorded last year further up the river. Anh and I set up two cameras on a new trail leading to a lake nearby.

DCIM100GOPRO

On that first day all teams found jaguar tracks and even a puma track not far behind base! The weather conditions have been pleasant since we’ve started our work. I has not rained for almost three days and the waters in the river have already dropped by a couple of metres.

jaguar-track-thankfully-1-day-old-coca

Survey ‘transect’ walks and canoe surveys up and down the Tahuayo river were our daily routine from Tuesday onwards. Apart from our scientst Alfredo we have Alain, Segundo and Oskar with us. While Alain has been working as an English-speaking jungle guide for nine years at the Tahuayo Lodge, Segundo and Oskar live in El Chino, one of five villages within the Tamshiacu Tahuayo Community Regional Conservation Area (TTCRCA). With their help we were able to spot and identify many, many species and tracks while walking the dense rainforest trails. Their amazing skills include hearing, seeing and smelling animals – there is a lot we can learn from each other.

Sightings of study species so far are saddleback and moustached tamarins, saki monkey, titi monkey, squirrel monkey, brown capuchin monkey. Tracks of jaguar, puma, margay, tayra, porcupine, paca, red brocket deer and white-lipped peccaries have been recorded only to mention a few.

white-mustached-tamarin

As regards our trailblazing project, we’ve recorded quite a few new trails. Thanks to Segundo who knows the area inside out, we were able to include another cell in our surveys. Starting from the other side of the Tahuayo river just opposite from the trail leading to the lake we’ve explored the forest by having Segundo cutting a way through the forest followed by us carrying all the research equipment for recording the trail and, of course, animal encounters. Although we offered him a GPS to navigate back to the boat, he preferred to rely on his very own sense of direction, which works just as well.

Rotating through the afternoon activities two teams are surveying the river edges from canoes (one going up and one going down the river) while two more teams have been setting up track traps for the last couple of days. By now we have a total of eight track traps set up within the trail grid behind base to be monitored on a daily basis from today onwards.

DCIM100GOPRO

Continue reading

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 https://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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…

Continue reading

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Continue reading