by Dr. Paulette Goudge
Over the seven years that we have been open, the Mariposa has made strenuous efforts to conserve, protect and
increase the bird and general wildlife on our tiny piece of land. The challenges are enormous. Firstly, this
is a heavily populated area, though it does not look like it as it is so green and beautiful with trees everywhere.
Closer inspection however reveals that the majority of the trees are fruit trees - not a bad thing (especially for
accessing delicious fruit easily!!!) but not always compatible with wildlife. Secondly, there are kids who hunt -
both at night with dogs, usually after armadillo, iguana or the guatusa (the long legged guinea pig) - all of which
are eaten though less and less frequently. And sometimes during the day younger kids are out and about with their
catapults shooting at anything that moves. Many small insects, rodents and reptiles are also killed by the fumigations
carried out by the local health authority in an attempt to prevent the spread of dengue fever which is actually on the
rise due to the rise in temperatures associated with climate change. Ironically the natural predators of the dengue
carrying mosquito are also killed in the process!
wildflowers planted to attract butterflies
However, by far and away the biggest threat to wildlife here is loss of habitat. Trees are cut either to
provide precious wood (especially for the furniture making industry) or to plant crops of corn or beans.
Pineapples are particularly strong sun lovers and so every tree in the field is cut where they are grown.
Land is also cleared wholesale to make room for new, Western style developments. It is very sad to see roadside
hedges, once full of wildflowers and butterflies, simply uprooted to widen an already perfectly serviceable road.
So what have we done at the Mariposa?
But on the positive side -many people are now trying to respond to this problem. There are small and larger scale
reforestation projects all over the place. One intensive example is being funded by the Managua city council as a
way of trying to look after their future water supply. And both the local council in La Concha and many individuals
are trying hard to replace some of the already cut varieties such as cedro and guanacaste. Another example is the
efforts of the staff at the Masaya Volcano National Park who are very aware that people living on the edges of the
park forest cut the orchids from the trees to sell, especially at Xmas time. They have asked us to work with them
to see if there is a way of helping replace the income with a more eco friendly, probably tourist based activity.
It is one of the many projects under current development!
- Planting trees is obviously crucial. In fact we have planted so many on the land at the original Mariposa that we
now have so much shade it is hard for flowers to grow successfully. Our butterfly project has therefore been less
successful so we are keeping some land at the farm and at the study centre relatively tree free and sunny. Varieties
of trees have included chilomate, capulin (both excellent seed producers and therefore great food suppliers for birds,
squirrels, bats), guanacaste, roble, coppel, aceituna and many others. A particular delight is the marango tree which
is also known as the miracle tree because people can eat the leaves and obtain the daily requirement of protein. This
tree grows from just cutting off a branch and sticking it in the soil (we are lucky to have super fertile volcanic soil
here) - within 3 months it will have leaves and little white flowers. These flowers are loved by many insects, including
bees, hummingbirds and other birds such as the tanagers. Having noticed this (right outside my bedroom window) we have
now planted loads of them!!! Last year we planted around 2000 more trees on the study centre land and already there are
more birds and iguana to be seen.
- We also plant fruit trees - citrics, bananas, guava, almond and leave the harvest for our wildlife. We also hang
bunches of bananas especially in the dry season when the food supply is at its lowest. This also has the advantage of
bringing birds in close!
- Our woodland garden is well under way. The Mariposa is part of an old coffee plantation so, whilst not
destroying the coffee bushes, we are gradually working our way through the woods planting a much more varied undergrowth.
We use a mulch of leaves and some food waste to provide organic fertilizer as well as holding water.
- Santos, the Mariposa gardener has built little houses for iguana, guatusas, rabbit and also water
drinking bowls out of left over building materials.
- We use whatever works to create more habitats and care for existing ones. Around the Mariposa land, there was
already a traditional fence of a large cactus type plant, called pinuela, which not only looks terrific and provides
excellent homes for spiders, lizards and hibernating places for frogs in the dry season….but is also very effective
at keeping unwanted guests out! Sadly many Nicaraguans, having been told for 500 years that traditional ways of doing
things are backward, are tearing them out and replacing them with barbed wire (horrible for wildlife and actually
super easy even for an unfit 60 something year old to climb across). But we look after ours and have planted much
more in the study centre and around the farm.
- Our small frog pond has also been remarkably successful. Really nothing more than a hole in the ground lined
with concrete it has attracted at least 3 species of frogs including the orange footed, red eyed tree frog. The
frog and tadpoles are of course also a very good way of naturally controlling unwanted pests such as mosquitoes.
Whilst continuing to take care of those birds and animals which cannot be released back into the wild (the monkeys
for example are just too tame, they would not survive without stealing someone's bananas!!!) we are still taking
care of a few wild animals brought to us and then releasing them as soon as possible. Our roadside hawk, for example,
released about 4 years ago still lives close by and visits occasionally much to the disgust of the chickens!
This is the magnificent Panama tree which volunteers from the Mariposa have worked to protect
by building a retaining wall to keep soil around the roots, soil which we enriched with compost
from our worm project. This year a pair of aracaris nested in the tree which is also home
to hundreds of orchids and bromeliads!!
a tiny white jumping spider
a tree frog by the pond
Birds of La Mariposa
observed in July 2009 and July 2011
by Steve Hampton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Roadside Hawk Buteo magnirostris
Red-billed Pigeon Patagioenas flavirostris
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
Inca Dove Columbina inca
Ruddy Ground-Dove Columbina talpacoti
White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi
Grey-headed Dove Leptotila plumbiceps
Pacific Parakeet Aratinga strenua
Orange-fronted Parakeet Aratinga canicularis
Orange-chinned or Tovi Parakeet Brotogeris jugularis
Squirrel Cuckoo Piaya cayana
Vaux's SwiftvChaetura vauxi
Cinnamon Hummingbird Amazilia rutila
Steely-vented Hummingbird Amazilia saucerrottei
Canivet's or Fork-tailed Emerald Chlorostilbon canivetii
Black-headed Trogon Trogon melanocephalus
Turquoise-browed Motmot Eumomota superciliosa
Blue-diademed Motmot Momotus momota
Hoffmann's Woodpecker Melanerpes hoffmannii
Streak-headed Woodcreeper Lepidocolaptes souleyetii
Rufous-naped Wren Campylorhynchus rufinucha
Banded Wren Thryothorus pleurostictus
Plain Wren Thryothorus modestus
Barred Antshrike Thamnophilus doliatus
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush Catharus aurantiirostris
Clay-coloured Thrush Turdus grayi
Boat-billed FlycatchervMegarynchus pitangua
Dusky-capped Flycatcher Myiarchus tuberculifer
Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus
Common Tody-Flycatcher Todirostrum cinereum
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher Myiobius erythrurus
Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus
Long-tailed Manakin Chiroxiphia linearis
Rose-throated Becard Pachyramphus aglaiae
Masked Tityra Tityra semifasciata
White-throated Magpie-Jay Calocitta formosa
Lesser Greenlet Hylophilus decurtatus
Rufous-capped Warbler Basileuterus rufifrons
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Black-headed Saltator Saltator atriceps
Greyish Saltator Saltator coerulescens
Blue Grosbeak Passerina caerulea
Melodious Blackbird Dives dives
Altamira Oriole Icterus gularis
Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus
Grey-headed Tanager Eucometis penicillata
Blue-grey Tanager Thraupis episcopus
Olive Sparrow Arremonops rufivirgatus
Yellow-faced Grassquit Tiaris olivacea
Blue-black Grassquit Volatinia jacarina
For more of Ann Tagawa's photos of birds at La Mariposa,