Author Archive | Margot Fass

16. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Anaconda Part V

Tuesday, June 13th, Caimans, Snakes, Frogs

We lingered at the Caiman pond just at sunset, and listened to the 11 baby dwarf caiman bleating.
    

A butterfly on a camera pack seemed almost surreal:
  Back at the lodge, Melvin was busy trying to photograph a poison dart frog on some leaf litter which he raised up in a most creative way. Including his matching boot in my image was more fun.

Resting quietly before dinner, we got a peaceful view of the river:

Suddenly the quiet was broken with a thundering sound across the wooden porch.  From there, out toward the water in the grass, Jaime had spotted his prize of the evening, a yellow snake, and was running towards it!  

Photo Credit Katie O’Donnell

Victor found a purple caecilian.  There was quite a long and ongoing struggle as Victor tried to get and keep it in one place on a leaf.

We went back on the same path we had taken the night before. 

This time I was better prepared with mosquito netting over my head, and it felt much better having seen in the daylight the swamp that I had waded through, nearly blindly, the night before.

This was another time when I felt intensely ambivalent regarding my desire to see whatever was being found, and the need for the creature to be held for a better view for all.

The little caiman that Jaime caught off the pier made me feel saddest. S/he was emitting little eheheh sounds.  When Jaime put it back, it just sat immobile in the water for a while, until it finally swam away.  What would YOU tell your mother if your head had been held in a giant hand that could go all the way around your neck?

But I would go back again on another SAVE THE FROGS! Ecotour in a heartbeat.

 

 

15. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Anaconda Part IV

Tuesday, June 13th, More Lessons in Medicine and Eco-rape

After lunch and a short rest, the remaining half of us went on the two and a half hour walk with Cesar that the others had taken the day before.   Because of perpetually running out of charge or of storage space on my phone, I don’t have photos of the many  plants he pointed out, such as false garlic, false ginger, and false banana plants. 

The flowers in a false banana plant point up like the beak of a bird, and of a true banana plant, point down like the beak of a parrot. 

Ecuador is known as the natural pharmacy of the world.  There is a small region of the Amazon (País de la Canella) that boasts a special cinnamon tree.  The leaves are used as infusions for altitude sickness, and for soaking. The bark is used for making cinnamon sticks and powders. 

The juice from squashing a termite acts as a natural bug repellant! 

Even during the daytime, Cesar was able to spot a tiny frog on a leaf, and pick it up. 

We heard a few conflicting stories about oil drilling under the Yasuni National Park, a pristine Amazon rainforest UNESCO biosphere reserve, first by Americans and now by Chinese in Ecuador.  In August, 2013, the same president Raphael Correa, who had managed to obtain $200 million from the international community to make Ecuador a major pioneer in the conservation of this park, then received $3.6 billion for abandoning the plan. 

Twenty three thousand barrels of oil a day are extracted by a state company, “Petroecuador” from under the rainforest, with the government claiming that with advanced technology and strict oversight, there will be “minimal damage” to the environment. Park Drilling 

It often requires serious bending of the mind to buy into such company or government party lines.  On my visit to Passport Health before the trip, I learned that the only areas where Malaria is a risk in Ecuador is at or near the mining sites.  Mining, of course, kills frogs and other mosquito eating insects, and mosquitos carry malaria. 

We visited a native Quichuan (spelled by Francisco as Kichwan) farm and house. While waiting for other visitors to leave, we practiced blowing a really heavy and difficult dart gun, aiming for an image of an owl. I couldn’t even hold the shaft, let alone blow a dart to the owl. 

Removing our shoes, we climbed some steps and sat on simple stools on the bare open upstairs platform under a thatched roof.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Photo credit: Humberto Castillo

There was a hearth fire on an elevated slab, and as had been done in the community near Suchipakari, the woman of the house made and served us a ceremonial drink.  After the presentation, the woman served warm soft 100% organic chocolate on a leaf.  Cesar, polite, considerate, and environmentally conservative as ever, then collected our “plates” to give back to our host.  We took our time walking back to the lodge. 

The outpost dragonfly caught my eye, as did the colorful leaves and leaf cutter ants up close: 

          

Leaf cutter ants are also in Costa Rica, where I learned about the division of labor that takes place among them. The smallest (minims)  tend the underground garden and take care of the babies.  Some are the carriers.  The next in size (minors) surround the nest, are the inspectors of leaf cuttings, and will make a porter drop unsuitable cargo to go back for something more passable for food and the nests. The next to largest (mediae) are the ones who do all the work of cutting the leaves and bringing them back to the colony.  Finally, the largest (majors) are soldiers, fending off enemies, keeping the ants from wandering off the beaten path, getting lost or starting a new colony.  Majors carry the heaviest material, and help clear the path.  Which seemed to be precisely the function of our various tour guides. How very like ants we are!

(The wikipedia entry about leaf cutter ants is well worth reading in its entirety) 

14. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Anaconda Part III

Tuesday, June 13th, More Native Medicine

 Cesar told us that the nectar drips out of the funnels in the blossoms of this ascending flowering vine, and makes an infusion to drink.

Curare venamo is a product of some trees we saw. Curare is used to kill when rubbed on the point of an arrow and shot, often through a dart gun, at the victim. (So is poison from the skin from a poison dart frog!) Voluntary and involuntary respiratory muscles are paralyzed, so the wounded being cannot breath.  If kept alive by artificial respiration, the effect of paralysis wears off. Curare, like morphine, is useful in this way during surgery.

Rubber and mahogany trees both are stolen from the forest. The rape of Caoba mahogany in South America began with Spanish shipbuilders, and continues to this day. It is a beautiful hard wood suitable for even the finest of musical instruments, let alone furniture and flooring, and most of it is imported to the United States.  While I don’t know the statistics for Ecuador, apparently 80 to 90 % of mahogany harvested from Peru was illegally taken to supply our appetite for beauty and durability.  Brazil banned the export of mahogany in 2001. The slow growth of mahogany makes reforestation difficult.

Naturally growing mahogany sheds its bark every year, and at this time, was very smooth, red and COOL, and so provides a respite in hot weather (as we had in the jungle in June). There was more than one reason I had to put my arms around it.  

When we got to the bottom of the trail again, Connor discovered a natural terrarium growing in what is called a Monkey’s Comb.  

It is so called, because monkeys use this bristly doughnut shaped casing for grooming. I knew this, having learned about them and taken this photo of a monkey comb tree in Costa Rica.  

It was a day full of information already, but there was more to come! 

13. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Anaconda Part II

Tuesday, June 13th, Painted Faces

Our morning trip was by motorized canoe to the primary forest on the mainland opposite Anaconda Island. The equally wonderful Cesar at Anaconda Lodge is counterpart to Walter at Suchipakari. He too says he is the son of a medicine man.

Cesar, an expert in medicinal and other uses of plants, showed us how to make the face paint by stirring these seeds. He painted some of our faces, and invited us to do the same.

 

 

 

 

First, our fearless leaders, Chelsea and                                                                         

Michael,     then Brian      Melissa and Jennifer      Victor

    

      Cesar painting Stephanie. and in the background, Gennaro Sposato, a Guide at Anaconda Lodge, whose face I painted myself. 

                                                          Cesar called Stephanie the Queen of the Jungle.
He said that we would do our best to fight for her, but if we got into trouble, she would need to be sacrificed. She seems confident that he will successfully protect her.


And so we set off on our hike. We had seen Wooly and Capuchin monkeys on the shores of the mainland from a distance as we came up to the landing.  Francisco said monkeys don’t live on the island because they are afraid of water.  Curious though, they followed us most of the way when we started up the hill.
                                                    
As I was being pulled and pushed up the steep incline, with pretty high steps, I asked Cesar to cut a walking stick for me. He chose a bamboo plant with a stalk which was just the right height, thickness and weight. Jennifer had given me the idea, having brought a pair of collapsible Black Diamond trekking sticks, and I had picked up an abandoned stalk in Suchipakari. My new staff was my pride and joy, and worth more to me than anything I could buy.

Cesar had much more to teach us. Among other firsts, such as recognizing the need for environmental protection and legislating accordingly, apparently Ecuador was one of the earliest sources of rubber tree latex that was turned into plastic.

Here are some of the native trees and plants that he told us about, but as my notes were sparse and I couldn’t keep up,
PLEASE DO NOT USE THIS INFORMATION TO SURVIVE IN THE WILDERNESS!

The Sangre de Drago (Croton Lechleri) tree,  yields a red sap if cut.
       

Sangre de Drago has been in use long before the Conquistadores, and is widely marketed under that name. Besides being used as a liquid bandage for wound-healing, and as an antioxidant, like a natural Neosporin, it can be used in a very diluted form for GI purposes, including the recalcitrant diarrhea of HIV patients.

Cesar told us that many of these trees are hacked to death. There is a way to do it, like a skilled surgeon, so the cut makes the least damage and is the least painful. Before Cesar made a quick clean slash in the bark, he said “Perdon” to the tree.

What an endearing man! Along those lines, whether Cesar has read it or not, there was a lot of talk among the group members about the book called The Hidden Life of Trees – What They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben.  

God knows that anything we can do to sensitize people to the value and importance and complexity of life can only be to the good. Science continues to verify spiritual values of appreciation, gratitude, and respect for life.

 

12. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Anaconda Part I

Monday, June 12th, Island Beneficiaries

Photo Credit: Anaconda Lodge Website http://www.anacondalodgeecuador.com/who-we-are-2/#

Francisco is a very intense guy from Chili with quite the history, which he didn’t hesitate to share with us over the next several days. He had been a heavy drinker, alcoholic CEO of a bank, not knowing what to do with his money other than acquiring many Mercedes, as long as they had fewer than 5300 miles on them. When as a 42 year-old bachelor he met Silvia from Colombia, she turned his life around, and he gave up his lucrative but unsatisfying career to become an activist on behalf of indigenous people and the environment.

When Francisco wanted to buy 9 hectares on the island to start an Eco friendly tour lodge, the broker told him that he would have to pay the same amount of money whether he bought the whole island or only part of it. He chose to get the entire property, and then turned around and sold it, minus 9 hectares, for a dollar per portion to the natives who previously had been driven off their island by the military.

Francisco has been jailed 3 times for speaking against the government, but that hasn’t stopped or slowed him down. On the way to the island, we had passed a Swiss Hotel. Apparently one day the Swiss Hotel drone was hovering around the Anaconda property. Francisco called the owners to cease and desist, and recall their drone. After an hour, there had been no retraction. Francisco got out his pistol and shot down the pesky intruder.

Francisco also said that he nearly threw a CEO of Texaco off his property. He couldn’t understand why such a person would come to his lodge anyway, but got angry when he heard disparaging remarks about the people and the land. Somehow the two were able to resolve their differences and the man ended up staying with a new sense of respect.

About half of the group went for a hike that was going to be repeated the next day. I decided to shower, nap, and get some laundry done, which is the only way in Ecuador to get dry clothes.

Every night was a frogging night.  As usual, we saw as many other interesting creatures of the night as we saw frogs.

It is important to look both on top of and underneath the leaves. Here are some leaf surprises. How many frogs do you see in these four photos?  Is there more than one?

   

Is this limbless amphibian called a caecilian, or a snake? How does one tell the difference?

And is this limbed amphibian a frog or a toad?  Again, how can one tell?

         

 

Monkey Frog

When I followed the hotshots into a swampy area, it was hard to see with mosquitos and other insects swarming toward my light, and I hadn’t brought my head netting. However, my reward was getting to see three frogs. With help as usual, that is.  

Victor stayed out late that night helping Melvin with his photography; I was only too happy to go to bed.

11. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part VIII

Monday, June 12th, The Art of the Wild and On to Our Next Stop

We had one more hike with Walter, Michael and Chelsea.  The itinerary said that it was strenuous, but by this time I was quite used to being pulled or pushed or loaned a shoulder or arm for balance.  In fact, since the helpers were all so wonderful, I rather enjoyed being one of the more dependent walkers on the trip.  Partly I lagged behind because there was so much to see and hear.  In a clearing before we got to a really steep part of the trail, I found  two anthills, about 10 feet apart.

 

Were there two different types of ants?  Was one an entrance and another an exit?  Did some other species construct or step o the one on the left?  The mysteries of nature!

Remember the blue morph butterfly on the “bridge to everywhere” in the photo on the blog 7. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part IV – A Buggy Night? The outer or ventral sides of morph wings look like gremlins, but others call them owl butterflies. See if you can “spot it”(sic!).

The forest floor yields more beautiful colors and patterns with closer looks.

Even leaf litter has potential for gorgeous abstracts, and one leaf had a big daytime surprise.  My reason for being on the trip, and I didn’t remember having seen the creature of my dreams when I took the photo!

Then there are fungi.

  

And red  berries and flowers in the green foliage. The walk was as happy for me as Christmas!  

When we got to the top of the trail, we were rewarded with a beautiful view from the Mirador.

After lunch, the staff once again loaded all of our luggage into wheelbarrows or onto their shoulders and ran it down to the taxis. We had to walk, although hitching a ride in a wheelbarrow, by that time, was tempting. We went back across the bridge for the last time, transferred to the bus, and traveled to a landing at Puerto Ahuano, some miles away.

Francisco, owner of Anaconda Lodge, where we were going to stay, met us there. We took two motorized canoes again, loaded with suitcases, duffle bags, and backpacks, down the river to Anaconda Island. Once again staff helped to wheel the luggage from the landing to our respective guesthouses. After lunch we regrouped on the porch, where Francisco and his co-owner wife Silvia told us about themselves and the Lodge.  

For more about this colorful character Francisco, be sure to look for his story in my next frog-blog,# 12. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs, on this site,  next week.

Speaking of color:  TEACHERS AND ARTISTS AND KIDS OF ALL AGES!!!

Kerry Kriger, founder, has updated the SAVE THE FROGS! art contest website AND extended the deadline to December 10th. If all goes well, he even might let me help!

10. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part VII

Sunday, June 11th, More bugs and FROGS!.

     

Spider Photo Credit Melvin Grey

On our way to go frogging this evening, the group made quite a big deal over this, to some, yukky leech. Leave it to me, I find it stunningly beautiful!

People have similar reactions to spiders. My questions are: Will the leech eat the spider? Will the spider eat the leech? Will they keep a respectful distance? Or maybe become friends?

We found more lovely insects that night, including a green and yellow female mantis and her egg case and a green and yellow stick bug, in perfect artistic harmony with the leaf on which it is sitting.

        

Mantis Photo Credit Melvin Grey

It was more satisfying to me to see my froggy friends in situ. Without their being handled, I was much happier. However, if I hadn’t had plenty of assistance, I may not have seen any frogs.  Thank goodness for STF! friends who want to share the joy of watching them. Here is a frog in a folded leaf, side and frong views, and a spotted glass frog

        

We were frogging on the trails by the river we had walked on earlier. Others were often able to spot things that I couldn’t, although I was the discoverer of a pretty green mantis on the ground (photo not available). Quickly I learned to hang out with certain people with more expertise than me, one of whom is Katie O’Donnell.

Katie, after studying Ecology & Conservation Biology in Missouri, is doing a Post Doctoral Program at USGS, in Gainesville, where she met and became friends with Michael. Katie pronounces her name “AW-sum PER-sun.” She also is  serious wildlife photographer. This is Katie’s second Save the Frogs! trip this year, as she traveled with Chelsea’s Ecotour to Peru. It would not surprise me to see Katie co-leading Save the Frogs! Ecotour herself in the future.

Victor was another great person to hang out with. Victor found this colony of frogs, which generally are solitary creatures. I couldn’t help but follow the most adventurous of them, starting a climb of 40 feet or higher from the bromeliad up the tree. Watch this guy go:

According to the time stamp on my photos, this climb took less than 3 minutes. The frog was headed to the top of the tree. S/he must have seen the way up as much higher than the Ceibo tree on Day 2 looked to us. And yet they make the ascent many times every day.

The most recent SAVE THE FROGS! newsletter is offering a LAST CHANCE for a discounted price on the Costa Rica and Ecuador ecotours, to which you can add the additional $200 discount for hearing of it from me with the code fass200. The best way to not miss a single story or special offer is to sign up for the electronic newsletter itself; it is always worth reading. Go to electronic newsletter

 

9. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part VI

Sunday, June 11th, To touch or not to touch.

That afternoon, we took another hike around the Suchipakari Trails, and learned more about how the locals use materials, such as catching birds with traps made out of palm.

Michael gave a presentation before dinner that evening on amphibian conservation. One of the most successful of international SAVE THE FROGS! chapters is Save the Frogs! Ghana.  Everyone is extremely proud of Gilbert Adum and the work he does on behalf of African frogs in general, and the threatened Giant Squeaker Frog in particular.  This bad news was posted by one of Gilbert’s friends on July 14th, with a list of the names of those who have died:  “New research shows that environmental defenders are being killed at the rate of almost four a week across the world.”

You Tube videos of Gilbert, include subjects ranging from his talking about the making of charcoal in forests that threaten habitat destruction, to his speech for Ghanese graduates in England, who have gotten their bachelor’s degrees majoring in the study of amphibians.

Sadly, there are a few international chapters, including Save the Frogs! Colombia, that either have become inactive, or haven’t gotten off the ground.  Victor is a scientific advisor for SAVE THE FROGS!  and a professor of conservation biology at the Universidad Autónoma de Nayarit, Nayarit, Mexico.  He is a gentle, sweet man.

Victor is bringing his daughters up to share his love of the natural history and ecology of amphibians and reptiles, and gotten them to do presentations themselves in their pre teen years.  He is concerned about the environment, especially as impacted by human activities, including tourism. If I could peel him away from his cell phone every once in awhile, I would love to help him start a STF! Mexico chapter.

Jaime had a few surprises for us.  He often stayed out most of the night until early morning, and brought back treasures. The first was this scorpion.  Somehow, with all of the crowding around, the headlamps, and flashing cameras, I got some unusual photographic effects.

 

The other was the beautiful  glass frog he had captured.

Ever since I first learned about the glass frogs’ transparent belly, that reveals the stomach, intestines, liver and heart of this tiny creature, I have been completely enamored of it.  What a thrill it was to see it in person!

As they did with every frog they picked up, our guides made sure to put them back exactly where they were found.  We were not allowed to handle them if we had any bug spray on.

It is no surprise that I felt quite ambivalent about the experience; on the one hand, delighted to see frogs and other endemic or native life, but worried that we were frightening or otherwise going to do harm to my favorite creatures.

The SAVE THE FROGS! newsletter is offering a LAST CHANCE for a discounted price on the Costa Rica and Ecuador ecotours, to which you can add the discount for hearing of it from me with the code fass200. The best way to not miss a single story or special offer is to sign up for the electronic newsletter itself; it is always worth reading. go to electronic newsletterhttps://www.savethefrogs.com/media/electronic-newsletter/

8. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part V

Sunday, June 11th, AmaZOOnico

Today we were taken in twos and threes across the river in a pole boat, walked for 20 or so minutes to another  river landing, and  then rode by motorized water canoe to AmaZOOnico Rescue Center.  

A young French guide, who had been volunteering for 3 months, explained that the animals are confiscated from illegal poachers and pet traders.  Many of the animal residents are injured from cruel practices, such as drilling holes through turtle or tortoise shells to hang them on ropes. These guys escaped that torture.

 

The paw raised by the front turtle did not move for a long time.  Our guide told us the turtles are always ready to drop off into the water in case they feel threatened.

Another water animal, definitely prehistoric looking, is the Caiman (in the muddy water, left).  In the alligator family, Caiman can grow from 4 to 16 feet long.

Some animals can be rehabilitated and released into the wild again, but if they have multiple behavioral problems and/or physical injuries, they cannot.    

The baby monkey’s father is called The Killer, and probably will never be let out, although the mother and infant might.  

AmaZOOnico has quite a bit of protected land outside of its enclosures, so released species can hang around nearby in relative safety, and the staff can also keep an eye out for how they are adapting.

One of the criteria for release is that the animals are NOT comfortable around humans.  Too much trust makes them vulnerable to being caught or killed.

The volunteers are supposed to avoid eye, physical, emotional and language contact with them.  The animals are not supposed to be called by name.  One person didn’t follow the rules, and the animal died of sadness when she left.

The animals do have names.

This Martin is not my husband.  

Corn is a popular food both for monkeys and macaws:

Two other birds, a parrot with clipped wings, and a curious toucan, were also behind bars.

  

We also saw kinkajous, quatis, ocelots, jaguar pintas, and aguti rodents. We saw and heard about tapirs who not only have prehensile probosci, but the males also can point and aim urine at an unsuspecting intruder.  In captivity rather than running away as they otherwise would tend to do, a tapir can maul a person to death, especially if there are juveniles involved.  

AmaZOOnico Animal Rescue seems like a really fine opportunity for volunteering or a charity to give to.  To learn more, check AmaZOOnico.  

If I weren’t hoping to volunteer with Victor Luja in Mexico, and to work with elephants, I would seriously consider this myself, though I think we all need to steer clear of the tapirs.

7. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Suchipakari Part IV

Saturday, June 10th, A Glimpse of the Past, Spiders and Bugs

We were on a close schedule to go the Quichua community on the shore of the Napa River.

Our interpreter told us the story of how the indigenous community has been preserved and sustained by a group of women and their crafts. Two local drinks were passed around in these bowls, one made from yucca and sweet potato water, which now is mashed instead of masticated.

                                                                                        Photo Credit, Katie O’Donnell

Finally, after a demonstration of the native clothing, we were treated to a dance, which we all were invited to join.

Birds hung around. The turkey was shooed away two or three times, clearly disappointed that there was no invitation to a turkey dance.

  

 

 

 

 

 

The Macaw wriggled with delight
as Connor scratched its back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our interpreter invited us to climb to the top of the Sacred Rock, although this must be done barefoot.

Two of our three  Canadians, Brian and Crystal, in white hats, made the ascent with Michael and Katie.

Crystal is a self-described shy and timid nurse. However, there was nothing she wouldn’t try, including zip lining with a group a few days later. That was an activity that I chose not to join myself!

Crystal got the absolute best video at Quichua, of a Toucan who was determined to beat her to the toilet. This is her still photo. You can find the video next to it on her Facebook page. Crystal’s Toucan Toilet Trot

Walter seems to belong to all eternity, in time transfixed.

Am I in love? It shouldn’t be too hard to guess.

Saturday, June 10, Part III A Buggy Night

At Suchipakari, right near the dining porch, there is a small and shallow bathing pool. There were frogs around it, and in the evening, they would sit on the side and or go for a swim. Here is one that Jaime caught, in a most unnatural habitat.

As we went out onto the wet trails, each with our headlights, it was possible to get some dramatic glimpses of the trees: A black, grey and white theme, echoed by insects.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victor made a friend. Photo Credit Melvin Grey

Melissa did as well.  She and her mom Jennifer never met a living thing they didn’t love.   Photo Credit Melvin Grey

                                                                                                                 .

A tarantula showed us her butt, and that was all.  Jaime demonstrated the green bug becoming spiney when touched.

As it turned out, we would see many more Morph or Owl butterflies, especially as they seem to be flying both in the  day and at night. My name for the photo: Butterfly on a Bridge to Everywhere.

And so ended my second night at Suchipakari.

The deadline, October 15th, for the SAVE THE FROGS! Art Contest is right around the corner.  For submission directions, click this link: submit your artwork!

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