Monday, March 23, 2009

Banding in Nicaragua: Introduction

Sunset at Finca Esperanza Verde.

I'm back from Nicaragua. It was a busy and rewarding trip, and as promised I'll share with you some highlights of the banding we did at Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV), a shade coffee farm in the central highlands east of Matagalpa. Although it is a widely used tool in North America, bird banding in Latin America is limited by a severe lack of funding, materials, and trained personnel. This situation should be of concern to bird lovers here in the U.S. -- remember that most of "our" breeding birds spend more time on the ground in the tropics in winter than they do here in the breeding season. Yet very little is know about the winter ecology of our birds in the tropics, or its link to overall population health.

To address these questions, the Institute of Bird Populations (IBP) started a program in 2002 called MoSI (the acronym comes from the Spanish "Monitoreo de Sobrevivencia Invernal" or Monitoring Overwintering Survival). Around 150 bird banding stations are located across the American tropics, and the goal is to learn more about physical condition, habitat use, and survivorship over the winter, and how various factors impact subsequent breeding activity. The protocol for these stations requires banding for five, three-day periods each winter. Currently, there are not enough trained banders in the area to operate a bona fide MoSI station at FEV, but any data on the winter ecology of migrant and resident birds is helpful. At FEV, this was the fifth year of a banding project initiated by John Connors and John Gerwin of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Shade coffee at Finca Esperanza Verde. Can you tell
what is coffee and what is natural vegeation?

Most people are aware that deforestation is a big problem in Latin America, and much of it is due to agriculture. Coffee is an understory shrub that naturally grows under the shade of other trees. These types of coffee farms provide very good habitat for birds and other biodiversity, often closely resembling the composition of fauna in natural forests. However, in the last decade or so new types of coffee have been developed that can be grown without the protection of shade, in higher densities, and with higher yield. This "sun coffee" not only results in forests being cleared for intensive coffee growing, but these varieties require high levels of fertilizer, pesticide application, and deplete tropical soils. Thousands of acres of forest in Latin America have been cleared for growing "sun coffee." Bird research -- including bird banding -- has helped us understand the importance of shade-grown coffee to migratory and resident birds. I have read a lot of this research, but nothing can quite compare to participating in it myself!

Mariamar and my husband Darrin get ready to process
a bird at the "Yellow Trail Banding Station" at
Finca Esperanza Verde

We joined Curtis Smalling, biologist with North Carolina Audubon and Mariamar Gutierrez, Central American coordinator for MoSI for two days of banding in a section of the coffee farm that had not been maintained in several years. After that, we were joined by Dr. Lynn Moseley and her students from Guilford College for three days of banding in the active coffee production area. During breaks, the students heard short lectures on tropical ecology, birds, and the various uses of banding. Curtis talked about monitoring breeding birds in North Carolina through the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship program, also run by IBP. Mariamar talked about MoSI. And I gave a talk about how I use banding to do stopover ecology research.

Here I am discussing RRBO's work on stopover
ecology with other members of the group from Guilford

And here I am having my talk interrupted by local
campesinos who use this trail to travel between

We banded for a couple hours each morning, and a couple of hours in the late afternoon, avoiding the mid-day warmth. The first couple of days we were limited in the number of nets we could open because of windy conditions. Despite our modest efforts, we banded about 70 birds of over 30 species, both residents and wintering migrants. In my next post, I will talk about what species we banded and post more photos!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Julie, great stuff. Love that trogon.

You have inspired me to get my coffee shade-grown. I am looking into having Great Northern ship me some. I am happy to see that I can support a Michigan business,as well. The prices are not at all unreasonable. I never buy the cheap stuff anyway.

Peace, David