8th – 12th August
On Wednesday this week we had a change from the usual routine of activities in Taricaya and went with all the volunteers to Lake Valencia. Lake Valencia is a beautiful oxbow lake about a 2 hour boat ride down river from Taricaya. Many different bird species can be seen along its banks, along with stunning views reflected in its waters. An opportunity for some good photography, some bird watching and a swim in the warm waters of the lake and it is a relaxing day for all.
The lake is entered by a narrow creek and the first task for our two boat drivers was to negotiate the many fallen tree trunks and branches littering the water. If not careful, such branches can severely damage the underside and propeller of the boat. But with the skills of Daniel Alvarado and Oscar Leon, we were in safe hands, and able to relax and enjoy the view with butterflies, kingfishers, and many other birds surrounding us on both sides. It is quite a long journey along the creek, especially travelling slowly and carefully as we were, but finally it all opens out and the panoramic vista of the calm waters mirroring the trees on all sides greeted us.
We continued down to the opposite end of the lake, with sightings of Anhingas swimming with their heads poking out above the water and with Neotropic Cormorants sunning themselves on branches and rocks along the lake. We moored the boat for awhile and jumped, slipped and dived into the waters to swim. The water was mostly beautifully warm although it would turn cold suddenly in places, as we stirred up the water with our movements. After relaxing in the water for awhile, our hunger got the better of us and we came out for lunch. We had brought Juane with us: a Peruvian dish which consists of rice, olive, egg and chicken all wrapped up in a banana leaf parcel. Silence descended on the boat as we all set about eating!
With a short stop at a little shop for refreshments, we headed home, tired but happy after a beautiful day out from Taricaya.
This week has an eventful one for me, the staff and volunteers in Taricaya. I have been writing recently about the start of the turtle project and my first unsuccessful couple of nights camping at the beach. Well, I am pleased to say that now I have finally found my first Taricaya turtle nest!
On Monday we packed up the boat again and set off with some eager volunteers ready to find some nests at Playa Alta, the beach we have permission to patrol every year in order to collect the turtle eggs and bring them back to hatch out in the safer environment of our artificial beaches. I was fairly hopefully that we would find something as since the last friaje (cold spell) there had been quite a few warm days again, which would hopefully encourage the turtles to the beach once again.
The moon shone brightly this night and the stars were just as beautiful as before, as we went, torches in hand, at 2 in the morning on our first search for the nests. After about twenty minutes of walking Melvin, our local guide, suddenly stopped and called my name....I had just walked straight past some turtle tracks! In my defence the sand where I had been walking was not as smooth as where he was! So off we went, following the line of turtle tracks as they wound here and there over the sand until, a little further inland, we saw it: not only the recently smoothed over sand of a turtle nest, but the mother turtle still there by her nest! The back of her shell still covered in sand where she had been digging the nest, she remained still while we began the task of excavating the eggs. We have to record various data before we start, such as the temperature of the sand, the presence of the moon, as well as the size and depth of the nest and the number of eggs laid.
A volunteer carefully scraped away the sand until we reached the top layer of eggs. We measured the distance between the eggs and the top of the sand and then carefully began to take the eggs out, one by one, with two volunteers counting carefully as we placed them into the buckets prepared with sand. After taking various other measurements and recording the location of the nest using GPS, we rubbed out the tracks of the turtle so that we wouldn’t end up following a false trail the next night. The mother turtle, who was still nearby, we returned to the river, just to make sure she got there safely. It’s not only the turtle eggs that are eaten here. Turtle meat is also very popular.
That was it for this night. We didn’t find any more nests. In the morning, on our last check, we did see some more tracks that came up to the beach, but it seemed the sand was too muddy or hard at that point, for the tracks led back to the river again without leaving a nest. Two days later, however, Daniel Neira, our herpetologist in charge of this project, had the most successful night so far: NINE nests in one night!
This week I spent my first two nights of the year at the beach, Playa Alta, searching for nests of the Taricaya Turtle (Yellow –Spotted Amazon River Turtle). The box of food for our dinner on the beach was ready; the box of equipment with temperature gauges, buckets, data input sheets and tape measure was ready; the tents were ready; my bag was packed and ready and the volunteers and I waited for Melvin to arrive with the boat to take us to Playa Alta. Melvin, a local man whose family is from the Ese’ja tribe, helps us every evening, throughout July and August, search for the turtle nests. I felt fairly confident: a few nights had passed since the project began and nothing had been found, but the river had been getting lower and the weather warmer and it seemed that the first nest must be found very soon. It would be any day now, I was told.
We left about 5pm, perfect timing to watch the sun set beautifully over the river and lighting up the beach when we arrived with its reddish glow. We put our tents up rapidly, in the fading light, and then sat down ready to eat. A meal of bread, cheese, ham with tea and Sublime cookies I had made for my group earlier in the afternoon (I was feeling optimistic and in a good mood!) went down well. Well, fairly well, although perhaps the presence of so many mosquitoes and insects, attracted by our torches, made things a little trickier to eat!
The stars in the night sky from the beach are unbelievably clear. The Milky Way stretches across the skies above our heads; stars are glittering all around. As one volunteer commented, her favourite description was that it seemed as if the Gods had pin-pricked holes in the sky to let a little of the light of heaven shine down.
Dinner cleared away and it still felt too early to sleep, despite knowing we would be up again soon to patrol the beach, so we taught each other new card games for awhile before giving in to sleep. My alarm shook me awake at 2 in the morning: time to get up and search. Carrying torches, buckets and various bits of measuring equipment, we scoured the beach. Bird tracks wandered here and there. Then, something bigger: it turned out to be Capybara tracks. Interesting, but not what we were looking for tonight.
Unfortunately I was unsuccessful these 2 nights on the beach. We did find some tracks on the second night, but it seemed as if the turtle was just checking the terrain, as the tracks returned to the river without a leaving a nest. The next night: a new staff member went with different volunteers and guess what they found? The FIRST nest of the season! I was one night too soon and now I have to wait a week or so more before I go again to check!
I will let you know how it goes!
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