Searching for sloths in the Atlantic Forest

After volunteering as a bird guide at Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for one month, I was asked by the World Land Trust to write a series of blogs about my experiences. This blog was published here first.

Driven by my desire to find and photograph a sloth, I took a route alongside the wetlands leading to one of the forest trails. But, as much as I tried to hurry, the wetlands proved to be full of distractions that couldn’t be overlooked: stunning Blue Dacnis fed on fruit trees as ridiculously bright-coloured Saffron Finches foraged on the ground below; a cloud of Cattle Egrets floated over their reflection in the water; and on the island a beached gang of Capybara kept a wary eye on a sunbathing Broad-snouted Caiman.

Broad-snouted Caiman & Capybara at REGUA, Brazil - Scott Guiver
Broad-snouted Caiman & Capybara at REGUA, Brazil – Scott Guiver

Masked Water Tyrants darted after insects at the water’s edge, a large Squirrel Cuckoo made me jump as it crashed out from a bush on my left, Jacanas and Gallinules tiptoed across lily pads, and three species of heron stood like statues in the shallows as a Green Kingfisher whizzed past. Unseen but certainly heard, a raucous soundtrack of Kiskadee, Red-rumped Cacique and mechanical sounding White-bearded Manakin filled the air. All the while, three species of Vulture and Southern-crested Caracaras patrolled the skies silently above.

Southern-crested Caracara at REGUA , Brazil - Scott Guiver
Southern-crested Caracara at REGUA , Brazil – Scott Guiver

I remember shaking my head as I tried to comprehend the sheer amount of life, how different it must have been before the wetlands and forest were restored. What was once a piece of farmland was now an oasis of life.

I had been told that no one had seen a sloth for a few days, and this made the challenge even more exciting; plus, I was now armed with the valuable nugget of information that sloths love Cecropia trees. The light dimmed as I headed from the open wetlands into the trees. From the darker reaches of the forest floor I trod lightly, my eyes scanning for snakes on the ground and up into the tops of Cecropia trees, hopeful for a sighting of the most delightful of stagnant furballs.

I stopped. A familiar instinct told me I wasn’t alone, something I’ve felt often enough to have learned to trust. I looked up and focused on a beautiful red Cecropia leaf set against the blue sky above. Slowly, I noticed two faces in the leaves that had gradually turned to look at me. A mother sloth with her contented looking youngster clinging to her underside. My emotions suitably stirred, I sat on the ground and watched them going unhurriedly about their business.

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Waking up in a wildlife paradise

After volunteering as a bird guide at Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for one month, I was asked by the World Land Trust to write a series of blogs about my experiences. This blog was published here first.

When I arrived at REGUA it was late evening, and in the darkness all I could perceive were the sounds of insects and amphibians filling the densely humid and sweetly scented air. I had that out-of-body kind of jetlag that meant I wasn’t really certain where I was, but was full of excitement that I would wake up somewhere completely new, somewhere incredibly special.

View of the wetlands at REGUA, Brazil - ©Scott Guiver
View of the wetlands at REGUA, Brazil – ©Scott Guiver

At 6.30am, the sun hadn’t yet risen above the surrounding mountains, but light had started to filter through the darkness, nature’s dimmer switch gradually revealing the sights and drawing out the sounds of a new day. I threw on my clothes, slung my binoculars around my neck, and emerged from my cabin to take in the scene. To the left I glimpsed water, and I could see something moving, a hairy blob with ripples. When my shaky hands lifted my bins, I beheld my first Capybara, and that was the moment that my month-long smile began.

Capybara relaxing at REGUA, Brazil - ©Scott Guiver
Capybara relaxing at REGUA, Brazil – ©Scott Guiver

As I panned right into the restored Atlantic Forest, my ears forced me to look up into the highest tree, where two Yellow-headed Caracara had announced their presence. With the darkness now quickly diffusing into light, three Southern Lapwings called from behind me in the paddock, and as I turned, raising my bins, four Picazuro Pigeons scattered into the air.

In the corner of my eye, I could see oddly shaped silhouettes atop a Cecropia tree that turned out to be a flock of diminutive Blue-winged Parrotlets. I lowered my bins and quite possibly took a breath before I noticed a Southern House Wren busying away under a tree and a White-Barred Piculet tapping away on the branches above. To say that I was like a kid in a sweetshop would be a grand understatement.

Yellow-headed Caracara at REGUA , Brazil - Scott Guiver
Yellow-headed Caracara at REGUA , Brazil – Scott Guiver

Enter the Dragon

Darter by Scott Guiver

Yeah I know, the title’s not very original but it’s all I could think of.

This year I’ve made the effort to try and identify more of the creatures that own four wings. I believe this beauty is a Common Darter, but please do correct me if I’m wrong.

The picture below isn’t aesthetically one of the best shots I’ve taken of a creature with four wings this year, but hey, who cares – it’s definitely a Norfolk Hawker!

NH

Halcyon lunch

Kingfisher by Scott Guiver

 

I try and get out for a walk every lunchtime, stretch my legs and let my eyes focus on something further away than my computer monitor. I always go to the same place – the Millennium Green in Halesworth, Suffolk.

 

Kingfisher by Scott Guiver

 

If you go to the same place all the time then you get to know the flora and fauna that lives there day by day and season by season. So after catching several glimpses of a Kingfisher lately, I’ve become aware of it’s favourite fishing perch.

 

Kingfisher by Scott Guiver

 

Today was a hot day, there were dog walkers and families on the green…and there was me , camera in hand, crawling across the grass. As my fellow park goers looked on,  I ignored self-dignity and the fact that I might look a bit dodgy,  I didn’t care, stealth was the only way to get close enough to photograph this beautiful creature.

 

Kingfisher by Scott Guiver

Ol’ blue eyes is ready to shed

Adder by Scott Guiver

Yesterday on the heath, Westleton Heath that is, something caught my eye through the vegetation, a pile of Adders. I counted five, but there may have been more as the pile moved separately but as one, interweaving itself under roots and a carpet of dried gorse needles.

As ever, moving as quickly and quietly as possible without one of the above adverbs being compromised, I tried to get shots of the snakes through the grass. I would have liked some beautiful crisp shots of the Adders in the open, it wasn’t going to happen, they knew very well that I was there and they weren’t going to break cover.

The silver lining is that I paid more attention to the snakes that I had the clearest shot of. One of those happened to be the blue-eyed beauty in the photos above. Adders usually have red eyes (see pic of photo-bomber, below) however, when they are about due to shed their skin, fluid builds up between the outer(old) and the new inner skin, which gives the appearance of the adder having  blue eyes. The fluid seems to act as a lubricant aiding with the shedding process and also as a moisturiser, nice, it’s always good to moisturise after exfoliation!…. that’s what my girlfriend says anyway!. Maybe I should finish up with trying to use the correct terminology here – the process of skin shedding in snakes is known as “sloughing”.

Adders by Scott Guiver
Red eye moves in for her big photo opportunity…or to see what I taste like!

Adders by Scott Guiver

 

 

 

 

 

 

An inspiring day

About twenty years ago I decided that I would never visit a zoo again. Last Monday I broke that vow for the second time, at the same zoo…..zoo? Actually, it’s known as the Durrell Wildlife Park, but what really allowed me to override my conscience is the knowledge of what sets this place apart from most other animal collections. Infact, I think it’s more appropriate for me to use the name that greets you as you arrive at the main entrance “Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust”.

Gerald Durrells vision was that zoos should not only be somewhere that members of the public could view and learn about animals that they wouldn’t otherwise experience, but that zoos should aid in conservation and be centres for research and education. This vision certainly became a reality on the island of Jersey and the effects have been far reaching. The Trust achieves it’s goals internationally by  gathering scientific information from field programmes and animals in the wildlife park, by successful captive breeding programmes for endangered species and by running a conservation academy providing a seat of learning for todays and tomorrows conservationists.

for more detailed information, please see: Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust ).

Lee Durrell and Scott Guiver

 

So, on Monday, my good friend James  and I met up with Dr Lee Durrell MBE. Lee gave us a guided tour of the “Gerald Durrell Story” exhibition and made us both feel relaxed, inspired and contemplative with her affable nature and utter dedication.

I’m not going to try and relay  Gerald Durrell’s story or go into great detail about what a great team Gerald and Lee have been or indeed the amazing work that Lee and her colleagues do now, but I will try and convey the abiding thought that I was left with. It’s the example that some people set to the rest of us, that their desire and dedication  to stick to their guns and do what they want to and what they believe in can make an enormous positive difference and not only that, can pave the way for many others to join in the same cause and efforts, it’s a legacy that will live on in this example, forever I hope, but then that’s down to the rest of us too.

Meerkat by Scott Guiver

Amphibious reptile

Common Lizard by Scott Guiver

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a newt swimming , then I turned my head, refocused and…oh hang on a minute…..no, it’s a lizard.  I’m no stranger to seeing Grass Snakes swimming but this is the first time I’ve seen a Common Lizard having a go. I’ve witnessed Basilisk Lizards running on water in Central America, and surely they don’t always manage that feat without the odd dunking, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Infact, after a quick bit of Googling  I found that it appears to be quite a regular occurrence for the C.Lizards to have a dip, they can even swim under water.

Common Lizard by Scott Guiver

So, there it is, I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m surprised by nature again, there’s always something new to see and new to learn.

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