Caiman…Black, Spectacled, Yacare, Cuviers Dwarf Caiman. Brazilian Amazon.

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Caiman….Black, Spectacled, Yacare, Cuviers Caiman.

There are several types of Caiman in the Amazon rainforest…Black Caiman, Spectacled Caiman, Yacare Caiman-(Jacares in Portuguese), Cuviers Dwarf …..The Black Caiman is the largest at 13/20ft (6m) and the Cuviers Dwarf the smallest at some 3ft (1m).
The Caiman resembles alligators. It is a four legged reptile with a long snout and long tapering tail. Their dark coloured, plated bodies have markings, stripes and spots, that help them blend in with the rainforest.
Caiman eat fish, birds, small animals and snakes. They can live for 50 to 80 years.

Caiman lived on the banks of the river close to the lodge.
I didn’t realise just how close, until a friend, a forest guide, went for a late dip in the river. He took a torch and on returning regaled me with a description of the size of the biggest one, worked out by the distance between its eyes, which glow in torchlight.
‘You are joking,’ I said with surprise and ignorance…but no, he was not joking. He assured me that bathing during the day should not be a problem, but to be cautious in the evening.

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I was concerned by the behaviour of Caiman only twice. Once when I was fishing with a local and a large log seemed to be following the canoe. He laughed when I pointed out the ‘log’. It was a Caiman, he said, and it can smell fresh, Britisher flesh!
The other time I was concerned by a Caiman was when I was doing the washing up, sitting on the harbour decking with my feet in the water. I caught sight of the eyes of a large Caiman staring at me from a short distance away, then it sank and I jumped up and moved quickly away from the waters edge depriving the large reptile of its English breakfast.
Sadly, confirmation of their existence close to my lodge was made when, on returning to the lodge during the dry season, I saw the shrivelled body of a caiman on the sandy banks of the river, picked clean by vultures. Maybe it had been surprised by the rivers quick departure or maybe one of the Jaguars who lived in the forest had got him.

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Northern Tegu and Ameiva Lizards versus Silver-beaked Tanagers.(Ramphocelus carbo..Tupinambis and Ameiva Ameiva)

Nesting in the dragons mouth. Silver-beaked Tanagers..Northern Tegus and Ameiva lizards (Ramphocelus carbo..Tupinambis and Ameiva Ameiva)

Sunrise would see me sitting in my rocking chair on the verandah of my Amazon rainforest home, a Brazilian black coffee in one hand, a slice of honey and manioc cake in the other, camera on lap.
I waited to see what new discoveries would present themselves and never was I disappointed.
This particular morning it was the Silver- beaked Tanagers who would surprise me.
Close to the lodge, just a few meters away was a low, thick bush, surrounded by tall grasses. The tanagers decided to make a nest there.
The tanagers were regular visitors around the lodge. I saw them several times a day. There were five or six females and a male. The male was smartly feathered, with smooth black plumage and a contrasting silver beak. The females were slightly bigger, with reddish brown, untidy plumage.
The male often perched above the females and called with a high pitched peep, as loud as his little body would let him.
I had noticed him acting differently as the dry season came to an end. He would peep, peep, peep and shake his feathers vigorously as he did.
On this morning I could see why. A mate had been attracted and they were nesting. The female seemed to be doing all the work making a cup shaped nest, while the male perched above peeping in encouragement.
There was a problem though. Beneath the chosen bush two species of lizard crept. The Northern Tegu and the Ameiva. It seemed the tanagers were laying their eggs straight into the dragons mouth
The Northern Tegu is a rich brown and black striped lizard, heavily muscled and handsome. The much smaller Ameiva lizard is a beautiful lizard, turquoise blue and pale green. Both equally able to crush and eat the two eggs laid by the tanagers.
The nest was finished over the next few days and the little eggs laid, but sadly I had to leave before seeing the final outcome. Silver-beaked Tanagers often nest in low bushes so must be aware of the dangers, it would have been interesting to see how they protected their tiny clutch.

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Reptiles of the Amazon Rainforest. A fifth of worlds reptiles at risk of extinction.

Research by the Zoological Society has found that a fifth of the worlds reptiles are at risk of extinction. The thought fills me with despair.
The Amazon Rainforest alone has three hundred and seventy eight species of reptiles, including varieties of; Caiman, lizards, geckos, skinks, tortoise, turtles and snakes. These fascinating creatures are necessary for the healthy ecology of a forest. They are an essential part of many food webs providing food for big predators as well as being hunters themselves.
Below are my personal observations and experiences.

Reptiles seen as food:
Yellow-headed sideneck turtle (Podocnemis unifilis):The turtle in the photo was being readied for the cooking pot. That is one of the problems with being a turtle or tortoise in the Amazon. Apparently these animals are tasty and that is leading to their demise in many areas. I frequently saw much larger turtles being openly killed, sold or prepared for the pot.
The Yellow-footed Tortoise( Chelonoidis denticulata): too, is at risk of disappearing thanks to local appetites.
There are laws in place to protect these animals, but the Amazon is a mighty huge place and trying to implement the law is virtually impossible. Only education and community awareness and self-regulation can work.

Reptiles-Lizards, at risk because of changes to their environment caused by deforestation and agriculture:
Northern Tegus and Ameiva lizards.(Tupinambis and Ameiva ameiva)
Already an Ameiva lizard, Ameiva Vittata, only found in a small area of Bolivia, is now thought to be extinct. Ameiva lizards are often beautiful. They come in a variety of colours, the aqua-blue and leaf-green variety are stunning. They are appropriately known as jungle runners. They race through the undergrowth at great speed when disturbed
I could hear them daily about the lodge area. A rustle of leaves, a movement of grasses and suddenly they would tear across the ground and disappear beneath a shrub. As they got used to me they became much calmer and would stop and listen when I spoke to them.
The brown and gold lizards, skinks, that spent a whole day copulating in my bedroom took no notice of me at all. Even when I lay in my hammock for an afternoon siesta and watched them, the male continued to cling to the leg of the female in an amorous embrace.
Their confidence in my harmlessness was not misplaced. I was only too happy to leave them in peace.
Geckos, Hemidactylus frenatus.
These tiny geckos used to stand stock still if noticed. Their bulbous eyes held a look of surprise. When their courage failed them they would shoot off into the shadows.
Amazon lizards are generally not harmful to people, but snakes all to often are. So I gave snakes a wide berth. I often saw Feu-de-lance. These deadly little snakes seemed to like the corner of my bedroom. They were quickly removed by locals, but their favourite corner was always the first thing I looked out for when I entered my room.
Most reptiles eat insects, fruit, vegetables, birds eggs, birds, worms, grubs and caterpillars. Caiman and snakes eat smaller animals. The Northern Tegu, a heavily muscled and handsome lizard, hung around like a dog after lunch waiting for meaty tit-bits from our plate.
I cannot imagine the rainforest without its many reptiles. It would appear barren. Devoid of life. It is a frightening vision.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/15/reptile-species-face-extinction

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Yellow-footed Tortoise. Chelonoidis denticulata + mites.

Yellow-footed Tortoise Scientific name: Chelonoidis denticulata

The Yellow-footed Tortoise was a frequent walker of the Rainforest trails. In some areas in the Brazilian Amazon the tortoise is becoming rare and is endangered, because they are considered a food delicacy by the locals, but in my forest they could be frequently seen.
They can grow to 94cm, but the tortoise I saw were much smaller. They fed on foliage, fruit, carrion and small, slow moving animals such as worms, beetles and snails.
The rainforest is thickly wooded, damp, hot and humid. The tortoises thrived in such an environment.
One sad encounter I had with a tortoise, was after a bonfire. We had cleared the area around the lodge. The piles of leaves were set alight in the evening and the next day, whilst digging in the ashes to enrich the soil, I found an empty shell.
Somehow, I don’t think the living tortoise got caught in the fire. Large Tegu lizards lived around the lodge and they are tortoise predators, so I think the shell was empty already. That’s what I told myself, but I was careful to dig around the piles of leaves next time we had a bonfire.
The first two photos are of a Yellow-footed Tortoise seen on a forest path. Note the mites embedded in the tortoise shell. The next two photos are of the Northern Tegu Lizard.
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Amazon Rainforest Climate….Wet Season in Amazon Rainforest

The Wet Season (from diary)

The wet season starts at the end of November and continues until May. Rain usually falls in the morning, light showers that cool the air, but quite often a great storm will rage through the forest, lasting for hours.
During the storms, walls of heavy rain move across the forest, saturating everything in their path. Thunder crashes above with such force the ground trembles. The noise must be the loudest natural sound on earth. Despite being warned by lightening of the impending boom and rumble, it always made me jump.
High winds bend and shake the trees and leaves, twigs and branches are thrown through the air. The lodge verandah, when finally the storm ends, is covered with broken twigs, leaves, battered insects and other bits of natures debris. The wooden boards shone as if freshly varnished. The grass roof, rearranged by the storm, let in rays of sunlight………
The rains change the views from the lodge dramatically. Gone are the vast meadows of grasses and wild flowers. Instead stretching to the river mouth is now gleaming, deep water. Deep enough for the dolphins to swim and breed in, deep enough for the caiman and deep enough for the return of lunch. No longer do we have to eat dried up, smelly carcasses, instead the dish is plump and tasty. Yes!
Osprey return to winter in the heat of the forest and sit high on tree tops. Herons and kingfishers return to fish closer to shore on fallen branches.
The rain is welcome, bringing with it fresh water, food and enough water to row the canoes from shore to shore, so much nicer than slurping through the thick, clinging, river bed, mud.
The wet season is back, all is well in the forest.
The first photo shows view from lodge in wet season. The next two photos show same view in dry season. The last photo is of an Osprey and a Heron, happily fishing together.

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Plastic Pollution in the Amazon Rainforest. Part One.

Plastic Pollution in the Amazon Rainforest, Lake Manacapuru.

The beautiful waterfall area is used by people from the local town, particularly when I am not there, as a picnic and recreational area.
On one occasion I went there with some friends for a picnic. The first thing I noticed as we rowed our canoes close to the area was silence. The birds had disappeared from the entrance to the waterfall and all along the stream.
I could hear, long before reaching the area, that an afternoon party was in full flow. Loud music blasted from large loudspeakers. Young people hollered, sung and laughed and screamed loudly, chasing each other through the trees and scarring the trunks of trees with deep knife slashes. Families with children picnicked along the shore of the river, disposing of their waste under bushes.
My friends and I walked through the stream and along the banks, picking up the rubbish that had been discarded, including: broken glass alcohol bottles; open, razor sharp lidded, cans; coloured plastic bags; polystyrene food containers; cellophane and metallic coloured sweet wrappers and used nappies. We filled the bottom of two canoes with the rubbish and this was only one days pollution.

One thing that surprised me on my visits to my home in the rainforest, was the amount of rubbish you see floating in the rivers. Plastic is a particular problem. It is sad to find what initially looks like a pristine, untouched, stretch of primary forest or fast flowing river and see, bobbing in the water or washed up on banks, or tangled around roots and branches – gaudy plastic strips, bags and bottles. We, travelling in canoes, always scooped them up, but there were always plenty more pieces of rubbish to take their place.
Plastic pollution is becoming a big problem in many beautiful parts of the world, in rivers and on seas, forming islands of imperishable waste. Sadly parts of the magnificent Amazon rainforest and river are fast becoming polluted, uninhabitable and barren too.
We, in the west, have made mistakes, polluted our rivers and seas and countryside and are now trying to repair the damage. I wish Brazilians would learn from our mistakes and not commit the same ones. They have a chance to rub our faces in our stupidity and show us how it is done. They have a wonderful rainforest, something truly special and unique. It is not so very hard to keep it that way, is it ?
The photo is of one of the two canoes we filled with rubbish from the waterfall area. One weekends rubbish.

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Silver-beaked Tanagers, Northern Tegu and Ameiva Lizards.

Nesting in the dragons mouth. Silver-beaked Tanagers..Northern Tegus and Ameiva lizards (Ramphocelus carbo..Tupinambis and Ameiva Ameiva)

Sunrise would see me sitting in my rocking chair on the verandah of my Amazon rainforest home, a Brazilian black coffee in one hand, a slice of honey and manioc cake in the other, camera on lap.
I waited to see what new discoveries would present themselves and never was I disappointed.
This particular morning it was the Silver- beaked Tanagers who would surprise me.
Close to the lodge, just a few meters away was a low, thick bush, surrounded by tall grasses. The tanagers decided to make a nest there.
The tanagers were regular visitors around the lodge. I saw them several times a day. There were five or six females and a male. The male was smartly feathered, with smooth black plumage and a contrasting silver beak. The females were slightly bigger, with reddish brown, untidy plumage.
The male often perched above the females and called with a high pitched peep, as loud as his little body would let him.
I had noticed him acting differently as the dry season came to an end. He would peep, peep, peep and shake his feathers vigorously as he did.
On this morning I could see why. A mate had been attracted and they were nesting. The female seemed to be doing all the work making a cup shaped nest, while the male perched above peeping in encouragement.
There was a problem though. Beneath the chosen bush two species of lizard crept. The Northern Tegu and the Ameiva. It seemed the tanagers were laying their eggs straight into the dragons mouth
The Northern Tegu is a rich brown and black striped lizard, heavily muscled and handsome. The much smaller Ameiva lizard is a beautiful lizard, turquoise blue and pale green. Both equally able to crush and eat the two eggs laid by the tanagers.
The nest was finished over the next few days and the two little green-blue eggs with black-brown blotches were laid inside it, but sadly I had to leave before seeing the final outcome. Silver-beaked Tanagers often nest in low bushes so must be aware of the dangers, it would have been interesting to see how they protected their tiny clutch.

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