Conservation in Nepal - Monthly Update: October-November 2014
Hi! Namaste everyone! Here we are back again with a most exciting and interesting newsletter with updates from the Conservation Project in Ghandruk, Nepal. During the last two months we had our largest amount of volunteer arrivals to work with us and so far they are enjoying the work here and time with us. We also had two new projects launched in this period and some surprising finds on the camera traps which will aid in conservation of the species in the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA).
We try to locate the birds by using the McKinnons list method. This means that we try to locate 10 different bird species along a pre-chosen route or transect line. The identification of birds is done through call identification and/or sight (visual encounter). Once ten species have been recorded the timer is stopped and GPS coordinates are recorded. A new McKinnons list then begins. This procedure continues in this format until the transect line is completed. There are 488 bird species recorded in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) and two new ones have been added since July, namely the Pied Cuckoo (Jacobin Cuckoo) and the Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica). These new species were officially recorded by Seejan Gyawali, the Projects Abroad Conservation staff bird specialist, and the ACAP respectively. With the continued dry and clear weather conditions, as well as a drop in temperatures in the afternoon and evenings, it has become easier to identify species from further away. We are still also continuing our work surveying the Nepal House Martin (Delichon nipalense) and Himalayan Swiftlet (Collocalia brevirostris) colonies. These surveys are conducted at two recognised colony sites and are conducted in the early morning or late afternoon, when they are leaving the colonies to feed and returning to roost respectively. These birds are excellent flying insect pest controllers, and so monitoring the colonies to determine used and abandoned nests is very important for getting an indication of the colonies health. During October one of our most exciting bird survey projects also began and continued through the whole month.
As the temperature started to drop, the birds from the higher altitudes were seen coming down towards lower altitudes. Some birds which had disappeared during the summer season, like the Blue Fronted Redstart (Phoenicurus frontalis), Blue Capped Redstart (Phoenicurus caeruleocephala) and the Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) were seen around Ghandruk (1950m and below). This information is playing an important role for the indication of the arrival of the winter season.
The Migratory Raptor Survey at the Australia camp
The much anticipated “Migratory Raptor Survey” was conducted during the months of October & November. The survey was started in the middle of October and ran until the middle of November over the period of one month. This survey will be conducted every year during this time period, and the volunteers along with the Projects Abroad staff member will also contribute and help to conduct the Migratory Raptor Survey. The work is based at a place called Australia Camp, because it is located under the direct route of the migratory path of some of the world's most threatened raptors such as the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Steppes Eagle (Aquila nipalensis), Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata), Himalayan Vulture (Gyps himalayensis) and the Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus). Nepal, and in particular the ACA, has the highest Vulture species diversity than anywhere in the world with 9 species present. During this survey, Seejan Gyawali, one of the staff members from Projects Abroad, was present at the Australia camp for the full 30 days, recording the number of species migrating through that path and their abundances. He was accompanied by a small group of volunteers (between 4-6) and they partook in the survey for 4-7 days. They would then leave and a different group arrived to help Seejan conduct his valuable research and work.
As has been previously mentioned in the last report in conjunction with our local partner the ACAP we have begun placing the camera traps in a new area which is lower in altitude than we previously used to place them. Again, as same as the last transects too, we to try to gain an idea of abundance of certain species so some camera trap points had two camera's placed on opposite sides of a potential trail used by mammals, this meant we could have a photo of both sides of the animal making it easier to identify and separate individuals giving an idea of abundance of species in the area as well as presence. After examining the camera traps this period, we also made a shocking and surprising discovery. One night the camera traps recorded some men going into the forest at night with torches and sling shots (catapult). They were bird poachers and their aim was to collect both live and dead birds for the illegal pet trade and for eating or selling meat to their relatives or black market. This was a huge and disturbing find, the footage was immediately given to our local partner, the ACAP, and the perpetrators were eventually identified and are now being dealt with the correct authorities. This unfortunately demonstrated that the area is still in danger of poachers but it also demonstrated that our anti-poaching campaign is working. The more poachers that are caught by our anti-poaching campaign the less attractive area ACA will seem to them and eventually the fauna will be protected to the point that poachers will no longer have the opportunity to conduct their work. As well as catching the poachers, we also caught footage of a large Indian crested porcupine, this was just the second time this species has been recorded by us and so was a very exciting find!!
Honey is an important local product to the people who live in and around Ghandruk. It is used by those in the village who collect it as well as being sold as a source of sustainable income. To gain an understanding of the impact of honey hunting on wild bee populations, we map the different hives. Bees play an important and valuable role in nature, as they are vital plant pollinators in agricultural and natural ecosystems whilst also maintaining the mountain biodiversity. All over the globe there have been scientific studies documenting the decline of bees. There has never been a more urgent need to further our understanding of bees and how environmental variables – both natural and man-made – affect their ecology. The methodologies used in this survey will combine several methods: Questionnaires with honey hunters and hive owners, GIS software to map hives and analyse spatial distribution, as well as field surveys examining the harvest in action.
Interviews with local honey hunters and beekeepers will be conducted to gather qualitative data and gain a further understanding of how bees are used among local communities. Questions we ask will include; what period of year is honey collected? What quantity is collected from each hive? And any change of variables that affect the harvest or bee activity?
From our findings this year it was noted that at one particularly popular hive area in a village directly below Ghandruk, known as Kyumi, the collection was lower than normal in the first collecting period, with only 4 litres being collected, and the second collecting period had better results, with 17 litres. From these findings and an examination of the area and the weather at the time of collection, we concluded that the first time the honey was collected was too late in the season. In the picture you can see a honey harvester collecting honey on combs along the cliffs near Kyumi. A very dangerous and skilful traditional job, not for the faint hearted! Note the smoke as a method to deter the bees from attacking the harvester.
We also have a Nursery project where we grow our own organic vegetables. Volunteers are usually involved from the beginning i.e. from preparing the nursery field to the harvesting or distributing the small saplings to the local villagers. The saplings mainly include pumpkins, cabbages, cauliflowers, spinach and cucumbers. For this project we own a greenhouse where we grow all kinds of vegetables, such as carrots and pumpkins. The vegetable saplings are given to the local farmers and, of course, we also enjoy from the organic vegetables from the garden. Currently no planting is being conducted as it is the wrong time of year, but regular watering of crops and weeding of the patches still continues.
Other news and projects
Since the butterfly surveying began in September we have identified many species and our species lists are increasing steadily at all 7 survey sites. On the 14th of October we were surprised by some extreme weather as the area was hit with the tail end of a Typhoon. For safety all projects on this day were called off and everyone remained indoors as the winds were very powerful and the rain extremely heavy.
We’ll be back again with our butterfly survey results and much more exciting findings in our next bimonthly reports.