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Brazil

Bird Study, Brazil

Our Brazilian Expedition – Trapping Shorebirds in Panaquatira

One of the many values of catching shorebirds is examining thier condition and molt.  Here we compare two knots, an adult on the right and a second year or sub adult.  The latter molts its flight feathers much earlier than adults and it shows in the fading to brown.

The capture of Arctic nesting shorebirds first brought us to Brazil in 2013.  We also brought 125 geolocators and caught both ruddy turnstones and red knots, attaching 85 on the former and 30 on the latter.  But we also came to create a new perspective on shorebirds in this place, one of the most important shorebird habitats in the world. For all intents and purposes, shorebird work in this area started In the mid-1980’s, when Canadian biologists, Guy Morrison and Ken Ross surveyed from an airplane, the entire coast of South America.  In this monumental and dangerous survey, they established…

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Brazil, rural communities

Our Brazilian Expedition – The Rights of Traditional Communities

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Over the last few days of our expedition, we left the state of Para and flew to Sao Luis in the adjacent state of Maranhao.  There we begin the next phase of our work, trapping red knots, ruddy turnstones and other species, as we have done since 2014.     Traditional Communities Have Rights But prior to leaving Para, while we stayed in the village of Apiu Salvatore, the fishermen asked to meet with Max.  He hadn’t planned it, so at first, the reason was unknown. The fishermen of the village, knew Max represented ICMBio, and but that Apiu Salvatore…

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Bird Study, Brazil, rural communities

Our Brazilian Expedition – Going to the heart of the Mangrove and Beach Ecosystem

heart of the mangrove

It took us long into the night to reach our next port.  We went from the relatively populated area of Braganca to the dark heart of this coastal region of Viseu.   In three trucks, we caravanned through a maze of remnant tropical rainforests, cattle pasture and impenetrable second-growth woodland.  Along the rain-slicked red clay road, small and desperate looking towns popped out of nowhere always looking like the past was a better day. The road cut through countless mangrove forests that define this region.  We reached Viseu too late to do anything but find a place to stay the night….

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Bird Study, Brazil, rural communities

Our Brazilian Expedition – Conducting a Scientific Investigation in a Tropical Wilderness

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  Tough Conditions for Scientific Investigation   It’s hard to imagine the difficulties of people living at latitude 37 degrees north when coming to the equator in northern Brazil. It challenges even the best-prepared field investigations.  But after three days our team has not only acclimated but accomplished surveys in two separate estuaries.     The tide cut short our first day in the field.  High tide persisted longer than we expected and our survey must take place when birds forage.  Shorebirds typically forage until 1 to 2 after before high tide and start again 1-2 hours after, usually resting…

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Brazil, Expeditions and Travels

Our Brazilian Expedition – investigating the plight of shorebirds and rural people

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We leave a cold and dark NJ with mix feelings for our destination tropical Brazil.  It will be warm and sunnyish –  forecasts predict drenching thunderstorms threatening us every day of our trip.  We will explore a very new place, the ocean coast of Para, a largely unsurveyed coast known to be a wintering shorebird mecca.  At the same time, we will undergo trials experienced by few biologists.  Zeke is prevalent in Para, but recent cases of malaria are equally alarming.  Of course one must be ever vigilant for food and water pathogens.  Last year I developed food poisoning ending…

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Bird Study, Brazil, conservation policy, Conserving Wildlife, Delaware Bay, Expeditions and Travels, habitat management, Science, shorebird conservation, shorebird ecology, wildlife conservation, wildlife tracking

Delaware Bay Shorebird Project Continues for 2015 Season!

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The value of a shorebird stopover like Delaware Bay can be seen in the shaky cam movie by this author.  Red knots – some recently arrived after a grueling 6,000-mile flight over 6 days of continuous flying – arrive on the Bayshore desperate for food. Over the last 10,000 years, the species has evolved to fly directly to the Bay to feed on the eggs of the horseshoe crab. The 450-million year-old crab – which is actually in the spider family – crawls ashore and lays pin-sized eggs about 6 inches deep in the sand. When there are many crabs, as…

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Brazil, Expeditions and Travels

Two Countries One Problem (cont.) – A Problem in Common

Two fishing boats from the port of Riposa fishing in the waters of Curupu Island. Fishing anchors the economy of this area, and nearly all of the harvest comes from small boat fishermen. Exploitation at the industrial scale, as is done in the United States along the mid-Atlantic Coast, would not only ruin the fish populations but the main source of income for local people. A similar impact has occurred on Delaware Bay, where most fish are overexploited, barely functional, or classified as endangered. Equally endangered are local economies that are dependent on fishing, such Fortescue.

Historically in the United States, an alliance of sportsmen and animal lovers formed coalitions that aided politicians to get the job done. Now sportsmen are more concerned by gun rights and conservative politics than their own wildlife (bobwhite quail for example), and the people who love wild animals pretend they have no useful role in their conservation and sit by idly paying nothing for the privilege of their recreation. Both groups buy into industry-led efforts to draw conservationists into fratricidal bickering over issues that divide, as they do in most issues of importance in our nation. From my perspective Brazil…

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Brazil, Conserving Wildlife, Science

Two Countries One Problem – Industry Uncontrolled

The Reentrâncias Maranhenses region supports the main portion of at least six species of Arctic nesting shorebirds, as well as legions of native birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals including the West Indian Manatee (pictured).

The contrast between the states of New Jersey in the United States and Maranhão in Brazil cannot be greater. In Maranhão, Brazil, the small town of Panaquatira, the larger town of São José de Ribamar, and the city of São Luís would shock most visitors from the U.S. They lack proper sanitation, litter fouls most roadsides and intertidal areas, theft and violence abound, and by all appearances poverty pervades all but the most exclusive communities. New Jersey suffers the same problems, but on a much smaller scale. Here in Brazil, most people endure these harsh conditions while only a few…

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Brazil, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Maranhão Lost and Found

Joe Slusher and Humphrey Sitters work on captured red knots during our previous expedition to Curupu. In retrospect, the 115-knot catch we made in 2013 was miraculous compared to our experience this year.

We knew it was too good to be true. On the first day of trapping, we set our net in a section of the Panaquatira beach close to a site where we caught 85 ruddy turnstones last year. Our success depends most on catching turnstones, and most importantly, re-catching the ones we affixed with geolocators last year. We knew the geolocators had accumulated a full year of movement data and hoped to catch more than a few during our trip. With this effort, our team could create a new emphasis on the migratory ecology of ruddy turnstones, a Rodney Dangerfield-type…

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Brazil, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Curupu: Kindness and Grim Deprivation

The author wonders what else could go wrong, while Joabe paddles his boat after running out of gas.

Last year, our work at Curupu went off without a hitch. Curupu is an island just off the coast of Panaquatira, composed mostly of mangrove swamp and miles of unpopulated sandy beach. Two years ago Guy Morrison, then with the Canadian Wildlife Service, performed an aerial survey of the island and found nearly 800 red knots. Last February, after catching ruddy turnstones on Panaquatira, we took the hour-long boat trip to Curupu Island, and in fairly short order found Guy’s knots and caught 110 of them. We were off the island by the next day. And when we arrived three…

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Brazil, shorebird conservation, shorebird ecology

Down to Work

Mr. and Mrs. Sousa and their daughter Ana Paula pose with the author in front of their home in São José de Ribamar. Mr. Sousa served his country in the military and ultimately retired from a job as a bus driver. The day Carol took this picture, Ana was accepted into the University’s Masters program to study contaminants in shorebirds, a project we hope to help support back in the states.

We spent most of our first day in the field getting ready for the second day in the field. A trapping expedition differs significantly from most ecological investigations in that failure is a real possibility. Usually when a biologist goes into the field, he or she looks for or counts something. If there is nothing to be seen or counted, it might be disappointing, but it’s still data. In other words, zeroes count. When trapping birds, however, there is no such thing as a zero. If we are unable to catch birds, it’s simply failure. Cannon netting in a remote…

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Brazil, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Good Water is Hard to Find

The mechanic fixing our generator drains the water-contaminated diesel fuel into the street gutter.

We finally reached Panaquatira beach just as the tropical sun fell like a stone, leaving us under a brilliant starry sky. The several-hour trip from São Luís to Panaquatira through the sprawling city of São José de Ribamar once again left me sad and discouraged. The roads shift from dirt to pothole-strewn asphalt without warning. The houses and commercial establishments look like there was once prosperity, but it has since been lost – or everyone just gave up trying. The disparity of income is obvious and frightening. Slums of unimaginable squalor lie adjacent to wealthy enclaves with high, mean-looking concrete…

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Brazil, Expeditions and Travels, Science

Braving Brazil

Heavy projectiles powered by gunpowder pull the net over birds quickly. The speed of the cannon net is key to catching fast-moving shorebirds.

When most people think of Brazil, they think of Rio de Janeiro, a modern city that will soon host the World Cup, and in a few years, the Summer Olympics. Or they may think of the Amazon jungle, and all the wonders of a wilderness alive with fascinating wildlife and plants that can found in no other place. Except for an eight-hour layover in Rio, we are not going to these places. Instead, we will go to a tiny town on the northern equatorial coast near the bustling city of São Luís, about 250 miles east of the mouth of…

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