The End of an Era

After over 6 years of intensive research and community development work in and around the Yachana Reserve, GVI Amazon is coming to a close. We have finished our final research project (look forward to our Road Effects paper, coming soon!) and are handing over the project to our partner, The Yachana Foundation. They will continue to maintain and monitor the reserve, using it as an hands-on science education center for students -- we're very excited to see what fabulous things this next generation of scientists find! For more detail on GVI Amazon's closure, and our accomplishments over the years, please read on...
GVI Amazon Closure Statement

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Meet the gang!

We've got new neighbors at GVI Amazon base camp, and thought you all might like a little photo-introduction.  A few months ago, base manager Charlie Coupland wrote a report on one of our recent achievements -- the development on a new swamp habitat near to base camp, to provide a safe living environment for swamp-dwelling amphibs whose home was being damaged due to development along the road.  There are few quality swamp environments within the Yachana Reserve, so we wanted to ensure our legacy included leaving at least one more good habitat for these little guys.   We made the new swamp near to base camp so that GVI volunteers and future students at Yachana would have a chance to observe the species in situ, monitoring levels near camp as well as deeper in the forest.  It's a bit of an experiment, as our swamp is, of course, manmade;  but early results have been very promising!

You can read more about the swamp project in the July Achievement Report below, but first, say hello to the gang!

Phyllomedusa tomopterna, a.k.a. Tom -- Tom's bright flashy colors and "look how cool I am balanced on this twig" poses make him one of the most photographed of the swanky swamp crowd.  While it's easy to be fooled and just think he really gets around, there is actually not just one, but a minimum of SIX Toms living at our swamp these days, although you may not see all six every night.

Dendropsophus rhodopeplus, a.k.a. Rod -- At first shown up by Tom's fancy displays, Rod just seemed like another swamp regular, until we realized that we should have named him "Hot Rod"... within weeks he'd already found a mate -- the lovely Rodina -- and has no qualms about showing his feelings for her on a regular basis.  They do make a lovely, albeit tiny, couple, and it's always good fun to try and spot them amongst the plants at night.

Lithobates palmipes, a.k.a. Paul -- We're still not quite sure how we feel about good ol' Paul.  He just sort of showed up one day, and (in our humble opinion) is a bit too large for our little swamp, and yet, weeks have gone by and Paul's still here.  He spends most of the day asleep under a log, and hangs out on the little island at night, and would seem pretty harmless if we hadn't caught him hiding in the grass, spying on a rather personal situation between Rod and Rodina... (see last photo below)

Tom 1, showing off his acrobatics
Tom 2, playin' it cool 

The latest couple on camp, Rod and Rodina, spending some quality time together in amplexus
Paul, in the upper right-hand corner, being a bit of a creeper,
spying on Rod & Rodina's (lower left) special alone time...

GVI Amazon Monthly Achievement Report - July 2012


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

GVI Amazon volunteer hikes over 4 months to raise money for GVI Charitable Trust!

How far are YOU willing to go to fundraise for a cause you believe in?  GVI Amazon volunteer Leif Middleton has set the bar pretty high in terms of fundraising events, and hopefully his story will inspire all of you GVI fans out there to start your own CT fundraiser challenge!  It doesn't have to be quite as massive as Leif's trek; CT fundraisers can be anything from a sports adventure (a race, marathon, mtn climb - whatever you love to do) to a theme party at your home or favorite bar!  The important thing is that you plan something fun, ask for support, donations or sponsorship, and most of all, that you share your passion for supporting GVI's conservation and community cause!

Check out Leif's story to get inspired, and then GO FOR IT!

Leif at the start of the trail

GVI Amazon volunteer Leif Middleton came away from Ecuador with not only great memories, blowdart skills, newfound friends and an in-depth knowledge of fieldwork and monitoring in the rainforest; he also took back with him a deep respect for the work being done around the world through GVI’s Charitable Trust (CT).  Always an adventurer, Leif’s next major journey after leaving the Amazon was to challenge himself with a massive trek all the way up the eastern side of the United States, following the Appalachian Trail as it winds it way through the mountains from Georgia to Maine.  The Appalachian Trail (AT) is one of the longest hikes in the US, covering 2,184.2 miles (3515 km) through the Appalachian Mountain range along the entire length of the East coast.  Only an estimated 10% of people who start the trail actually arrive at the end; those who do take an average of 4-5 months to complete the journey, carrying a 30-40lb pack on their backs, and sleeping in tents and shelters along the way.  Leif chose to take this vastly challenging hike one step further, by making it a fundraiser for the GVI CT, asking friends and family for “sponsorship” through a donation to the CT.  At the time of writing this article, after finishing his journey, Leif has raised over £1,300 for the CT, and donations are still coming in on his site, “Leif’s Walk in the Woods – JustGiving”

Why the GVI Charitable Trust?  In Leif’s own words,  “To be honest I decided to do the AT and then thought: ‘it'd be a good chance to raise money for something... what good charities do I know?’ The answer was obvious.”  He explains, “I have worked with this charity in the past and truly believe in what they do. The charity operates in many countries, combating poverty, lack of education and [providing] disaster relief. A good example of their work is what I saw them doing first-hand in Ecuador: raising money to provide educational supplies to combat illiteracy, teaching English and science in the local schools of isolated communities in eastern Ecuador. This is a genuinely good cause that I think deserves a little bit of support that it didn’t ask for, to help it do the incredible job that it does.”
Leif on McAfee's Knob - a trail highlight in Virginia
Along the way, Leif faced all manner of obstacles, from literal ones such as car-sized boulders and the even worse “ankle-busters” that wreck your joints and even destroyed two pairs of Leif's boots, to mental obstacles such as finding the strength and motivation to carry on day after day, and challenging one’s own beliefs about people in order to accept help along the way.

“Just the last two days I did 53 miles in the rain to get here and every hiker has similar tales, yet there is no drill sergeant screaming in our ears, no parent goading us on... the only thing pushing us is ourselves. Needless to say most do not make it this far, Stats are difficult to calculate but some put it as low as 20% get here. I know that I was the 406th to start at springer and I am the 186th to arrive here. Those that are left are a 'hardened few'. 

The ATC recognizes the 'hardened few' with a picture adorned with their trail name and placed in an annual. I was proud today to have my photo taken and placed amongst these 'hardened few'. But for all that said, and everything that we have been through, we are not even halfway yet. We have 1200 more miles to go, only half of the 'hardened few' will make it our final goal.”

“…what has kept me going and my spirits high through all of it was the trail magic. This much talked about phenomena combined with the hospitality of the south is a combination of charitability and kindness like which I have never experienced. You see the trail is constantly watched over by 'trail angels': ex-hikers, churchgoers determined to help the needy (us), and just good natured people who want to help those of us coming through and see us through to Maine. I will never forget the countless snickers bars and honey buns given to me out of a hikers pocket, the cans of soda left in a cooler by an under used road. One particular act of kindness was at a town called Burke's Garden. The local pastor's wife took us in from the trail, drove to her house, gave us a showers, laundry, a hot meal and organised a bed for the night. I hadn't slept in a bed for 3 and a half weeks at that point. In the morning she made us breakfast and drove us back to the trail. What amazed me was not that she didn’t ask us for anything in return, she wouldn't even accept the money we offered in return. She was doing god's work, she said, and that was enough for her. The truth is all AT hikers are backed up by an army of supporters determined to see us succeed. And they call us the heroes!”

Cascades along the Trail
From Georgia to the Virginia border, the first two months saw over 400 miles of trail and “all the extremes of weather from searing 85°F (27.5°C) heat to 4 inches of snow and all the points in between! “Later challenges included the 6288 ft (1917 m) Mt. Washington, which holds the record for most lives claimed on the trail, and boasts the highest wind speed ever recorded on Earth’s surface, followed by Maine’s daunting 100 Mile Wilderness, and at last, the final, and hardest summit of the trail, the northernmost point of the trail, Mt. Katahdin in Maine.  He hiked at quite a fast pace, finishing the trail in just over 4 months (134 days) – pretty amazing for someone whose longest hike prior to the trail was only 10 days! Leif’s updates from the trail are full of great stories – challenges, adventures, injuries, mishaps and even one very close encounter with a bear.

His favorite spot on the trail?  Mahoosuc Notch:

“This 1 mile in southern Maine has a reputation and it lived up to it! It is a mile long boulder run situated between two mountains, which we have to 'spiderman' our way across (scramble, jump, crawl – anything but walk!). The biggest surprise down there was how cold it was – there was snow and ice in the crevices, in July! I also remember sideling across a ledge and looking down, realizing it was 8 feet to the bottom if I fell, and thought: 'this is awesome!' There was also the 'hole' itself, 2-3 feet wide and 4 yards long (you can squat in the middle, but the opening is only 2-3 feet wide), you have to crawl through. That one mile was like something from another planet!”

Boots drying in the sun
Beyond just a great, and challenging, time in the mountains, the trail was a learning experience.  While defining himself as someone who doesn’t plan things out ahead of time, Leif is a believer in constantly learning, from anyone and anything that is part of his path.  He held this philosophy during his time volunteering with GVI, and took it with him while hiking the trail, building on things he first began to see in the Amazon: “far more important than the skills you'd memorize for a job interview, I learned to appreciate life on a far greater scale; I learned that the natural world is far more beautiful than I, a conservationist, first supposed; I learned that the bug that buzzes around my head has a story to tell as much as the bear that tried to share a shelter with me. That’s what you really take away from a program like GVI, and that’s what really stays with you.”

A deer alongside the Trail
His two most important lessons from the trail itself?

“What have I learned over the last 134 days in the woods? Don’t judge people, the best trail magic (help) came when I was least expecting it and from people I never expected it from. The most important thing I learned, though, was that we are all stronger and more capable than we think we are. I don’t think I ever really thought I'd get to Maine [when I was] in the south or even reach Katahdin, but I did, just by sheer grit and determination. We all can do what we want, as long as you believe in yourself, keep your wits about you and stay determined to finish.”

Leif’s grit and determination makes him a hero in our book, and we want to take this chance to congratulate him on this incredible accomplishment, and to thank him publicly for his phenomenal effort in support of the GVI Charitable Trust and the work we do around the world.  Way to go Leif!

Leif at the end of the Trail, in his GVI Amazon t-shirt!
For those of you thinking of undertaking similar grand fundraising challenges, some advice from Leif as to what worked for him on the AT:

1) Just do it! I had less than a month's planning for the whole adventure and just jumped head-long in. I know loads of people who planned for months in advance and found they didn’t enjoy it, and if you don’t enjoy something as massive as the trail, you won’t finish.

2) Another good one is actually not to make the fundraising the total focus of the adventure, don’t go for sponsorship, etcetera. I know others who fundraised in this way and got pledges of thousands and thousands of dollars for their hikes off businesses, etc., and they put themselves in a position where they HAD to finish... if they didn’t they didn’t get the money, and some of them were really, really hurting and even if they did finish... 4-6 months of suffering later... it kind of wasn’t worth it.

134 days trekking... what an achievement!


Friday, September 7, 2012

BioBlitz Pt.3 - Canopy Mist Netting

As part of our BioBlitz preparations at the end of the last phase, a group of GVI Amazon volunteers (myself included) assisted Lana – the avian field staff member – in setting up a canopy mist net to try and catch different bird species.  

A mist net is somewhat similar to a badminton net, made of very fine strands and multiple layers, each with pockets to gently hold birds that have flown into the net.  Nets are checked at regular intervals and captured birds are carefully removed, identified, measured and then released.   Normal mist nets are about 3m high; the idea with the canopy net is to string the net high up in the trees to study canopy-dwelling species. After a few practice set-ups around base (the technique is a VERY complicated system of rope and pulleys), we set off to the road to find a suitable location, somewhere with two trees of equal heights with clear space in between to put the net up. Using an adapted methodology from a paper published in the 1960’s, we got our two hoist lines over some pretty high branches by a slow process of shooting a sock filled with sand up into the trees until we finally achieved our goal. Once these were up we could build the rope frame that would enable us to move the net up and down in order to get the birds out and all of this used a series of metal loops to hold it in place. After a long day we set off back to base, looking forward to trying it out the next day. 

Our rolled-up canopy mist net up in the trees, soon to be unfurled
(note the black line stretched across, marked with arrows)
However, as with many science experiments, not everything goes as one would expect. The main problem we encountered was that at this height, it was difficult to keep tension in the net. We attempted to fix this using the limited resources we have at base. Six poles, some duck tape and some string later, we had a net that was tight enough that our catch would not see the net and also stay in the net once caught.

Having fixed our first issue, we reset the nets but unfortunately, we were thwarted again – despite our efforts at improvements we couldn’t move the net high enough to catch the toucans that seemed to live directly in our net vicinity! Instead, not wanting our hard work to go to waste, we decided to try and catch bats in the hopes of adding something new to the species list. This would also give us an opportunity to get an up-close look at these elusive creatures that normally just speed past our heads.

We are still hopeful for toucans in the net someday soon, but until then we are satisfied with the large fruit bat that chewed a hole in the net!

Lois Mayhew – GVI Amazon Long-term Conservation Intern


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

BioBlitz Pt.2 -- The Glass Frog and My Face

The race is on to find as many species as we can over one week! With tension mounting for weeks as we at GVI Amazon planned out the bio ‘blitzes’ the excitement finally began. One of the main events that I was most looking forward to was our Mega VES (visual encounter survey). This involved taking fifteen or so of our best spotters and sending them to search the most densely populated transect we have found, known only as VES A. Previously we had found 87 frog and reptile individuals on this transect with a team of just six spotters so we were eager for similar results.

Having fifteen people instead of the normal six we felt that on this night we would not leave a single frog, snake or lizard unseen. The VES started with quite a shock as we slid down the hill towards the start of the transect, Charlie (Assistant Base Manager) yells out “caiman!” At first I thought she must be joking – there’s no way a caiman would be out here without a stream. But sure enough there was a 2.5 foot caiman in a small creek. With the night off to a good start we plunged into the forest looking for more. We came across many of the usual suspects and diligently took vital measurements and photos of each new species. These will later be used to add to an online database called iNaturalist that compiles data from around the world. We also ran into some rarer species and a couple that had us stumped. The next day, after taking them home for a better look, we discovered that they were new to our species list – success!

A highlight for me, however, was probably when a glass frog decided he wanted to jump into my mouth. We found him on a leaf off which he jumped to land on my bag. As I looked down at him, he looked curiously back up at me with his big eyes and I could just see his thought process “hmm that dark place up there would be a good place to hide from these crazy people.” Then sure enough, he had jumped onto my face and was desperately trying to squeeze his way into my tightly shut mouth. After this effort failed he hung off my lower lip by his hind foot – a common position for a glass frog looking for a fight!

When he detached himself and disappeared off in search of a better hiding place we moved on to find the concluding species of the night, an Enyaloides laticeps – a type of lizard known as a forest dragon – quite content on Charlie’s head. Overall it was a great night with some amazing encounters. 

Sateesh Venkatesh – GVI Amazon Field Staff


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Results are in!

The BioBlitz update is finally here!  The remote location of our base camp means that sometimes news takes quite a while to reach me here in Quito, where I post all these updates to all the GVI Amazon fans out there.  My apologies for the delay, but I don't think you'll be disappointed!  BioBlitz was fantastic, and once again, we want to send a huge thank you to all our alumni, friends, family and fans who donated in support of the community reforestation program in the Amazon -- your donations kept us going through this crazy week of survey madness -- THANK YOU!   And a special thanks & congrats to our top fundraisers, stellar volunteer Carl and GVI Amazon's newest base manager and queen of Candy Mountain, Charlie --- way to go!
GVI Ecuador Country Director, Blaine Clarke   


GVI Amazon’s BioBlitz was intended to be a week of non-stop survey activity for GVI volunteers to find new species for the Yachana Reserve species list.  If we can give a comprehensive species list to the Yachana Foundation when we hand over the project in late September, we know we will have done the best job we can, and the species list will be an incredibly valuable tool for Yachana, in both their ecotourism program (employing large numbers of local people) and the education program as high school students continue to use the reserve as a hands-on science education center. Additionally, the BioBlitz was a chance to catalog many of the species here in the reserve and add them to the international iNaturalist wildlife database (, and a fun way to raise money for our partner's community-focused reforestation program in the Amazon through the GVI Charitable Trust.

measuring a caiman for iNaturalist
Even more, however, it was an opportunity to do things that we have always been curious about: how much would we see if we did a twenty-man (rather than the normal six) visual encounter survey? What comes to the waterhole at night? Is that muddy puddle a peccary wallow? What will we catch if we put a mist net high into the trees?

Abdon and the hide-building crew in front of their work -- can you see it?
And so it was that we, GVI Amazon volunteers and staff, entered BioBlitz week with an intrepid sense of adventure. Abdon, our Reserve ranger, built us a fantastically camouflaged hide of leaves at the waterhole; Lana and her team adapted a pulley system to hoist mist nets into the canopy; whiteboards were filled with schedules and plans; and we were ready to go. Seven, long sleepless days later what can I tell you? As I try to clear the fog from my eyes to focus on the screen, I can tell you we had fun. There were times when we had to draw strength from the fact that our friends and families donated money for the cause, just to get up and get out there again. We had to tell ourselves that a five hour walk in already-wet clothes after a four hour walk at the crack of dawn was a totally acceptable Sunday morning activity!

glass frog
I can also tell you that the muddy puddle IS a peccary wallow (although we sadly have no photographic evidence); and I can tell you that a twenty-man VES – through the forest at night is a NIGHTMARE for the poor staff members trying to keep a track of everything – although we did see some beautiful rarely seen frogs and a bad-tempered caiman. Additionally, there are even more butterflies on the reserve than we realized; previously unseen bat species are what will fly into the tree-top and steam-spanning mist nets, and beautiful leafy hides wash away in storms!

new bat species!
Overall, BioBlitz was a great success. We saw some amazing things, explored our rainforest, registered 12 brand new species for the Yachana Reserve species list (see the additions below), and raised over £1000 (GBP) for community reforestation and education in the Amazon! And now it is time for bed.

Charlie Coupland, GVI Amazon Base Manager

Newly recorded species for the Yachana Reserve, from GVI Amazon BioBlitz 2012

Teratohyla amelie (glass frog)
Leptodactylus hyladactylus
Pristimantis luscombei

Mus musculus 
Vampyressa pusilla (?) -- (A  bat species – not vampire! – species to be determined)

Urbanas simplicius
Quadrus contueeralis
Eunica norica
Strynon bubastus
Hyposcada kena
Anteros acheus

Eunectes marinus (baby anaconda! – technically, this guy showed up a bit before BioBlitz officially began, but we're including him as our first new species that kickstarted the week!)