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Wildlife and Conservation in Honduras

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
A Traveling Biologist’s Favorite Honduran Wildlife Species

by Kelly Triece, Wildlife Biologist

As a final chapter to the Honduras blog series, I will be sharing with you some of my favorite wildlife experiences from the trip as a traveling biologist. The country of Honduras has a very diverse landscape including tropical forests, dry deserts, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Luckily, during our trip we were able to travel to all of these locations and that meant we were in a new location almost every night! Our accommodations varied from rustic to very rustic. Hot water was often in short supply, but hot meals and hot coffee were always on the menu and wildlife was plentiful. Honduras is a country of much scenic beauty and many local lodges and accommodations are beginning to attract tourists and travelers from across the world.

 

Emerald Hummingbird (Amazilia luciae) by Greg Homel

Emerald Hummingbird (Amazilia luciae) by Greg Homel

One lodge that we visited has over 100 hummingbird feeders! Hummingbirds travel from around the tropical forest to taste the sweet water and are welcomed by many eager photographers and nature lovers. Honduras has one endemic hummingbird, the Honduran emerald (Amazilia luciae), known only to a few special locations in the country. The Honduran emerald lives in dry scrub habitats of open, arid deciduous thorn forests. The species is declining due to loss of habitat from cattle grazing and development. However, local conservationists including the Honduran Corporation for Forestry Development (COHDEFOR) – a forestry agency, private landowners and non-profits are attempting to work with ranchers to preserve patches of thorn forest amongst pasture land. Through the integration and communication of conservationists and land users (ranchers), conservation has the potential to bring positive results for all end-users. If the Honduran emerald can survive on a mixture of scrub and pasture, then we may have a true success story.

 

While traveling through these various landscapes and working with the local Hondurans who are looking to bring community and wildlife together we were able to see some other great wildlife include leaf-nosed bats and boa constrictors! This boa constrictor (Boa constrictor) was found in a tree near a Neotropic cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) rookery. This boa likely feeds on the cormorants living nearby. Boas can reach up to 13 feet long and feed mostly on mammals and birds. Truly a sight to see!

Boa constrictor (Boa constrictor) photo by wizscience

Boa constrictor (Boa constrictor) photo by wizscience

We also discovered Leaf-nosed bats, tucked in palm leaves in the pine forest. Leaf-nosed bats are found throughout central and south America. Leaf-nosed bats are among the most diverse family of bats in the world and vary in diet, ranging from insects to fruits. The bats pictured here are tent-making bats (Uroderma bilobatum) that make shelters out of palm leaves. These bats are frugivores, but may also eat insects, pollen and nectar. The bats make the tent shelters by biting the mid-section of the leaf to create a V-shape. After the lead dries up, a new shelter must be made. The palm leaves provide shelter from heavy rains, sun and wind. This adaptation allows bat to travel to new locations in search of ripe fruit and to escape predators.

Tent-making bats (Uroderma bilobatum) photo by Kelly Triece

Tent-making bats (Uroderma bilobatum) photo by Kelly Triece

Throughout the trip our group had the opportunity to meet with many local leaders in conservation as well as golden-winged warbler researchers. It is clear that a multi-faceted approach to conservation is necessary in order allow for education, passion and protection to the many landscapes and wildlife of Honduras. It is through a partnership with educators, researchers, professionals, farmers, children and all locals alike that we can work to help promote the beauty of Honduras while preserving its beautiful landscapes and wildlife. These far-reach effects can be seen not just in Honduras, but in North America as well, as many of these species call both North and Central America home.

 

Learn More:

 

Kelly Triece is a Wildlife Biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Ecotourism and Education in Honduras

Friday, May 27th, 2016
Encouraging a Conservation Ethic in Locals and Travelers Alike

by Kelly Triece, Wildlife Biologist

 

Even though Honduras is no larger than the state of Tennessee, the country is very diverse in landscape and wildlife. In a short period of time, you can travel from the Caribbean and lounge on its white sand beaches and then visit the high-altitude pine forests. You can also see the Honduran emerald, an endemic hummingbird in the arid dessert. The diversity in eco-types and warm climate makes Honduras a great candidate for ecotourism, a growing industry since the 1990’s.

 

While Honduras is very diverse in climate and landscape, for many years it has been a country based on agriculture. Cattle ranching and growing cash crops, such as coffee and bananas, are common. While subsistence farming is essential to the Honduran way of life, the wide-spread slash and burn method to create agricultural land is destroying many Honduran forests and other landscapes. Since the country is rich in forest, marine and other natural resources, ecotourism can have many benefits on the land and the economy. Ecotourism may have the potential to serve as another way of living for Hondurans.

Isidro (on left) and visitor at Isidro's wildlife education preserve.

Isidro (on left) and visitor at Isidro’s wildlife education preserve.

During my stay in Honduras, I had the opportunity to meet many local conservationists eager to make a living off environmental education and ecotourism. We met with one such man, named Isidro on the fourth day of our trip. Upon arrival, we were offered some fresh brewed coffee from his farm and then headed straight through the forest for a tour of his land. Isidro bought the land in the 1990’s and has since been managing the land for bird habitat. Isidro told us he originally bought the land to raise cattle, but eventually decided instead turn the land into a nature preserve for wildlife.

 

He now resides with his wife and children on the property and dreams to have an environmental education program, where people come to hike, eat fresh local tilapia and view wildlife. At the environmental center, adults and children will have the opportunity to go bird watching, take a hike and learn about the importance of the natural world. He grows citrus, avocados and other fresh fruits, leaving many fruits just for the birds as well as shade grown coffee. This form of ecotourism is a way to bring nature and people together. Once children and others care about the natural world around them, they too will work to preserve it. It also provides a sustainable way of living for those like Isidro and his family.

Migratory Bird Festival photo by Kelly Triece

Migratory Bird Festival photo by Kelly Triece

Education about the environment through hands-on experience, as well as formal education, has the potential have a significant impact on local communities. While visiting the Universidad de las Agricultureal (Agriculture University) in Olancho we had the opportunity to take place in the Feria de Aves Migratorias (Migratory Bird Festival). The festival was put on by the Juniata Valley Audubon Society and Ruth Bennett, Ph.D. student at Cornell. The festival was part of a program that educates Honduran families that live very close to national parks. The program teaches children about the national park, local flora and fauna and its overall ecological importance.

Elementary children learning about migratory birds at the festival. Photo by Kelly Triece

Elementary children learning about migratory birds at the festival. Photo by Kelly Triece

We had the pleasure of attending the festival, where we colored pictures of birds with elementary children and spoke to the college students. Most of college students are majoring in Natural Resources and are eager to learn about becoming a biologist. Students also compete in bird photography contests, present posters and learn about the natural history of migratory songbirds. The festival brings education and awareness to migratory songbirds, especially the Golden-winged Warbler.

Jon Kauffman, Raptor Center Assistant Director of Penn State’s Shaver's Creek poses with the elementary children at the festival. Photo by Kelly Triece

Jon Kauffman, Raptor Center Assistant Director of Penn State’s Shaver’s Creek poses with the elementary children at the festival. Photo by Kelly Triece

Through education of Hondurans and visitors alike, ecotourism has the potential to serve both the local communities and those visiting the country. Ecotourism should inform tourists about the environment and wildlife they are seeing, as well as help local populations understand the importance and value of their home. Through the combination of education and ecotourism, a sense of stewardship can be fostered by encouraging travelers and locals to be mindful of their natural resources and instill a sense of wonder about the natural world. For those who are educated about wildlife and the natural world, will often work toward preserving it as well.

Violet-crowned Wood Nymph. Photo by Laura Jackson

Violet-crowned Wood Nymph. Photo by Laura Jackson

In Honduras, wildlife is all around. Melodious blackbirds, Social flycatchers and Violet-crowned wood nymphs, fly tree to tree in and among the villages and farm fields. When children, such as those at the migratory bird festival, learn the importance of biodiversity, they too will want to protect these amazing animals. Ecotourism not only provides a way to travelers to see exotic wildlife, it also provides a way of living for locals. It is through sustainable ecotourism and education that Honduras can continue to be rich in culture and wildlife.

 

Learn More:

 

Kelly Triece is a Wildlife Biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

Bonta, M. (2003). Seven Names for the Bellebird (1st ed.). College Station, NJ: Texas A&M University Press.

International Migratory Bird Day Series: Golden-Winged Warbler

Monday, May 9th, 2016
CWF is celebrating International Migratory Bird Day all week long

by Kelly Triece, Private Lands Biologist

Kelly Triece’s blog on the Golden-winged Warbler is the first in a series of five to be posted this week in celebration of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). IMBD 2016 is Saturday, May 14. This #birdyear, we are honoring 100 years of the Migratory Bird Treaty. This landmark treat has protected nearly all migratory bird species in the U.S. and Canada for the last century. 

 

Ruth Bennett, studying GWWA in their wintering habitat, with a recently banded Golden-winged Warbler Photo by Mayron Mejia

Ruth Bennett, studying GWWA in their wintering habitat, with a recently banded Golden-winged Warbler Photo by Mayron Mejia

The Golden-winged Warbler (GWWA), Vermivora chrysoptera, is a Nearctic-Neotropical Migrant songbird that spends half its life in Central or South America and the other half in North America. This small songbird is less than 5 inches long with a slim body and short tail. GWWA are most noted by their yellow-patched wings, yellow cap and black-and-white face.

 

Right now, GWWAs are migrating to their breeding habitat in North America. They return every spring to the Upper Mid-west and Appalachians, including New Jersey, where they find a mate, breed and rear their young. The breeding range of the Golden-winged Warbler extends along the Appalachians from the northern portion of Georgia in the south to Vermont in the north.

 

Our latest report from the online observation database, eBird, reported a Golden-winged Warbler sighting in Cameron County, Texas on May 3! They are currently migrating north, and do so mostly at night. GWWA migrate at night to avoid predation from day-time predators such as American crows or Blue jays. The skies are also friendlier at night with less turbulence, allowing the birds to stay the course more readily. In addition, migrating birds need to forage to maintain energy during the long migration and must do so during the day. So flying at night gives the bird’s ample time to chow down! Get ready New Jersey!

Golden-winged Warbler Photo by D. Kenny Golden

Golden-winged Warbler Photo by D. Kenny Golden

In September, after breeding season, Golden-winged Warblers migrate south, mainly through a corridor of states east of the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachians. The winter range for this species is southern Mexico and Central and South America, including Colombia and Venezuela. Migrants are seen most commonly in late April and May, and during September.

 

Recent studies have shown that Golden-winged Warblers can also migrate in response to storm events (Streby et al. 2015). While GWWAs migrate long distances twice a year to occupy their breeding and wintering habitat, they may also “mini-migrate” to avoid large storm systems. Last year, a study in Tennessee found that Golden-winged Warblers evacuated their breeding territories days before a large storm system. After the system they returned to their breeding grounds and continued to defend their territories and breed. This research is important as it may provide future insight into the energetic demands and fitness consequences of these “mini-migrations.” As climate change continues to increase the frequency and severity of large storms along the east coast the “mini-migrations” may impact the overall fitness of the species as the energetic demands of migrations are great (Streby et al. 2015).

 

Golden-winged warblers are threatened due to habitat loss in their breeding range and wintering range. Golden-winged warblers require early successional, young forest habitat to nest and raise their young. Young forest habitat, also known as scrub-shrub habitat, is new or regenerating forest that is less than 20 years old.  In its breeding range in North America, habitat loss has occurred as forests have matured. In the past 30 years, over 11,000 acres of upland shrub and emergent wetland habitat have been lost to succession in New Jersey. In a naturally occurring system, where fire, wind, flooding and other disturbances are not controlled by humans this age class would be more evenly distributed. In addition, loss of quality stopover and wintering habitat may also be contributing to declines. Golden-winged warblers are a federal species of concern and endangered in the state of New Jersey. Through management and proper forestry techniques, more diversity can be created to balance the age of the forest. This type of forestry management can help protect the Golden-winged warbler in its breeding range.

 

Learn More:

 

Kelly Triece is the Private Lands Biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

Reference: Streby, H. M., Kramer, G. R., Peterson, S. M., Lehman, J. A., Buehler, D. A., & Anderson, D. E. (2015). Tornadic Storm Avoidance Behavior in Breeding Songbirds. Current Biology, 25(1), 98-102. doi:doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.10.079

 

Connecting the Life Cycle of a Golden-winged Warbler

Friday, April 29th, 2016
A Closer Look at Cutting-Edge Research on the Multi-Country, Migratory Life-Cycle of GWWA

by Kelly Triece, Private Lands Biologist

Don Jose Mendoza, Honduran wildlife conservation leader, holding a Golden-winged Warbler captured on his property in Cerro Agua Buena, Olancho, Honduras. Photo by Ruth Bennett.

Don Jose Mendoza, Honduran wildlife conservation leader, holding a Golden-winged Warbler captured on his property in Cerro Agua Buena, Olancho, Honduras. Photo by Ruth Bennett.

While in Honduras this February 2016, I had the opportunity to meet researchers studying the Golden-winged Warbler (GWWA) in their wintering habitat. The GWWA is Neotropical Migrant songbird that breeds in New Jersey, but migrates south for the winter. Golden-winged Warblers migrate south in September, mainly through a corridor of states east of the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachians. Their peak return migration to the Upper Mid-west and Appalachians, including New Jersey, occurs in late April where they find a mate, breed and rear their young.

 

This neo-tropical songbird is a species of special conservation concern in the U.S. and endangered in New Jersey, experiencing population declines due to loss of young forest habitat on their breeding grounds, habitat loss on their wintering grounds and hybridization with the Blue-winged Warbler (BWWA). The GWWA has experienced one of the steepest population declines of any songbird species in North America. The population size of the GWWA has decreased by an average of 2.6% every year, according to the USGS Breeding Bird Survey, since the survey began in 1966.  In particular, the Appalachian populations are now approaching a rate of -9% per year. Due to the difficulty of tracking birds over large distances, the effects of their multi-country, migratory life-cycle are poorly understood.

Ruth Bennett and Miguel Ramirez attaching a geolocator to a GWWA in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. Photo by Liam Berigan.

Ruth Bennett and Miguel Ramirez attaching a geolocator to a GWWA in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. Photo by Liam Berigan.

 

While many songbirds, migrate thousands of miles every winter, most research has focused on their breeding habitat in North America. Recently, researchers have begun exploring and understanding the importance of conserving the entire life-cycle of migratory birds or any wildlife species. Ruth Bennett, a Ph.D student at Cornell University is one such scientist. Ruth and collaborators at the American Bird Conservancy and Indiana University of Pennsylvania are linking breeding and non-breeding Golden-winged Warbler populations through geolocator technology. Ruth is also studying how changes in land use that lead to habitat loss on the wintering grounds of the GWWA are linked to population declines, with support from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Region 3.

Miguel Ramirez releases a Golden-winged Warbler with a geolocator in Rio Dulce. Photo by Ruth Bennett.

Miguel Ramirez releases a Golden-winged Warbler with a geolocator in Rio Dulce. Photo by Ruth Bennett.

 

Ruth Bennett, P.h.D. student, aims to connect the wintering habitat of the GWWA and its breeding habitat through her research in Central America. Between November 1, 2015 and March 15, 2016, Ruth and collaborators deployed geolocators on 145 GWWA and 35 BWWA at 9 sites from Belize through Panama, including Honduras. She will then recapture the individuals next winter, 2016-2017. These geolocators supply location data for up to 12 months, giving insight into the full life-cycle of the Golden-winged Warbler and closely-related Blue-winged warblers (BWWA). Through this research she will be able to establish the migratory pathways for all recaptured individuals. She will be able to compare how habitat loss on their wintering grounds and land use changes correlate with population trends described on the breeding grounds.

 

This will be one of the first geolocator studies to establish the connectivity of a migratory species from a winter grounds origin.  This research is important, because it creates a connection between non-profit, local and state governments in the United States and those in Latin America. This may increase funding opportunities and increase the efficiency of conservation action taken on the winter grounds. This research is especially important, as it forms one of the core informational components of the Golden-winged Warbler Non-breeding Season Conservation Plan (currently in review, soon to be available at gwwa.org). The conservation plan provides a regional strategy for conserving Golden-winged Warbler wintering habitat based on the wintering ecology of this species. The plan furthermore outlines conservation projects and budgets within high priority wintering focal areas that have been developed by Latin American partners. Ongoing research will be critical to ensure that these conservation actions effectively conserve the non-breeding habitat of this declining species.

This Golden-winged Warbler is fitted with a geolocator in Honduras. Photo by Ian Gardner.

This Golden-winged Warbler is fitted with a geolocator in Honduras. Photo by Ian Gardner.

 

Ruth has a small crew of local biologists who assist in her research in Latin America. Through her research in Honduras and Central America, Ruth has been able to connect with many local biologists and conservationists. It was great to meet Ruth in Honduras and learn about her research, which so important to New Jersey, but taking place so far away.

 

Our next Honduras blog, will feature our time with Ruth at the Feria de Aves Migratorias (Migratory Bird Festival) at the Universidad de las Agricultureal (Agriculture University) in Olancho, Honduras!

 

Learn More:

 

Kelly Triece is the Private Lands Biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

“Bird Friendly” Brew: Honduran Shade-Grown Coffee

Thursday, April 7th, 2016
While Studying the Golden-winged Warbler in Honduras, CWF Biologist Learned about “Bird Friendly” Coffee

by Kelly Triece, Private Lands Biologist

Neotropical birds like this Gartered Trogan (Trogon violaceous) may benefit from the available fruits and insects on a shade-grown coffee farm © Laura Jackson

Neotropical birds like this Gartered Trogan (Trogon violaceous) may benefit from the available fruits and insects on a shade-grown coffee farm © Laura Jackson

Did you enjoy a warm cup of coffee this morning? I know I did. Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed every day.

 

Coffee is also one of the world’s top agricultural exports in many developing countries. While I was in Honduras, with the Pennsylvania Golden-winged Warbler working group, I was given the opportunity to visit a shade grown coffee farm!

 

As I traveled across the country, I was able to enjoy many fresh cups of local Honduran coffee and learn about the importance of coffee as part of the Honduran history and local economy.

 

In 2011, Honduras became the number one coffee producer in Central America. Today, there are over 100,000 registered coffee producers in the country and over 90% of them are small producers. Coffee has become a vital part of the Honduran economy and family system, helping to generate small businesses and bring revenue to the local community.

The coffee fruit, or the cherry, is red upon ripening and is laid out to dry © K.Triece

The coffee fruit, or the cherry, is red upon ripening and is laid out to dry © K.Triece

 

In Honduras, coffee is harvested from November to March every year. Coffee is hand-picked and resembles a green or red cherry fruit when ripe. After ripening and picking, coffee must be dried and the outer coating, called the parchment, or pergamino must be removed. There are various methods of parchment removal and drying. Different drying and roasting techniques give way to differing quality, taste and aroma.

 

In its wild form, coffee is a small tree or shrub that grows in the understory of a forest. Traditionally, coffee production occurs on large farm fields, where the land is tilled and little native vegetation grows. Coffee producers often use this traditional method as a way to increase yield and fight off diseases susceptible to the plant. Recently, however, coffee producers have begun to grow shade-tolerant coffee which is grown under a forest canopy.

 

Shade-tolerant coffee production is a method which intends to incorporate the natural principles of ecology into agricultural production.  Shade tolerant or shade-grown coffee is grown under a natural forest canopy. Shade grown coffee can have multiple benefits — reducing pests, increasing pollination and creating important wildlife habitat. Shade grown coffee plantations often have increased leaf litter which reduces erosion and allows for improved water quality.

Coffee plant while it is flowering © K.Triece

Coffee plant while it is flowering © K.Triece

 

Through the incorporation of native trees on farms, birds and natural predators will help reduce pest insects, which in turn, helps reduce the need for pesticides. Bird diversity is often higher on shade grown coffee farms since they eat the fruit, insects and nectar in the native tree canopy. These types of farming practices have also be termed “bird friendly” coffee, because they help support local bird populations, including migratory birds that stay in Honduras during their wintering months.

Lenca farms, a shade-grown coffee farm © K.Triece

Lenca farms, a shade-grown coffee farm © K.Triece

 

Upon our visit to a shade-grown coffee farm, called Lenca farms in the little town of Marcala, we were greeted with a Golden-winged Warbler! Most of the farm grew coffee right under the native forest canopy. Many of the native trees, leaf litter and herbaceous plants were left intact. It was great to meet with local Honduran farmers, who are eager to create and maintain wildlife habitat on their farms. Many Hondurans recognize the value in wildlife and are willing participants in wildlife conservation.

 

Shade-grown coffee may be important as coffee continues to be a growing commodity crop worldwide. When farmers learn to grow food in conjunction with nature, not against it, the best yields and benefits for the environment can result.

 

We were very appreciate of our time a Lenca Farms, and we didn’t leave without a fresh cup right on site!

 

Check out Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center online to learn about the certification process for coffee farms called “Bird Friendly Coffee” and to learn how to buy bird friendly coffee!

 

Learn More:

 

 

Kelly Triece is the Private Lands Biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

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