Bird of prey (19th January)
Back in the forest with Becky today, exploring different areas. There are regions up to a couple of hectares big dotted along the edge of the forest that were once cleared by fire to make way for small-scale cattle grazing. When PLT arrived here they talked to the landowners about the local biodiversity and the prospect of ecological research, and the landowners graciously refrained from pursuing their farming plans. Some trees have survived and the forest is recovering but the decreased canopy cover has allowed for the local dominance of an invasive species of grass. The grass is a tall species brought to areas all over the continent as grazing food for cattle. Without the cows, the fast-growing plants have created a dense bush 8 feet high.
The loss of canopy means low chances of capuchins being in these areas and the poor visibility means even less chance of spotting them, even if they happened to have gone to ground to cross from one canopy to the next instead of circling round. But cutting through it connects areas of isolated canopy with the main forest, creating access for us researchers and the capuchins alike. It is easier to machete through the grass than through the forest but just as slow, and someone just 1 metre in front will be completely invisible in the compact and continuous thicket.
Fortunately, animals have created natural trails that are excellent for progressing through the area at relative ease. A small group of horses originally brought here by farmers have become semi-feral and have stomped through some of the grass. The ecological impact of the horses on the outskirts of the forest has not been studied, but they appear to have little detrimental effect, and even make a welcome token effort at eating some of the invasive grass. Plus their manure makes excellent compost for our vegetable garden.
The canopy-less view does bring one bonus to us that day – the sight of a striking adult female long-winged harrier perched in a near, solitary tree. She spots us but remains relaxed and continues casually surveying the wider area. She allows me a couple of clear shots with the camera before taking off to inspect the land from the sky.