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Frog Survey Team Assemble!!!

Hey, Mark here again.

It has been a little while since the survey team has let everyone know how we have been doing but don’t worry, we have been nice and busy. We have been conducting out normal surveys in fun and exciting places, such as Morne Bleu Ridge, the highest point you can drive to on the island! Our normal work is great, but last week we had especially good fun. We have been planning a mass capture of Trinidad Stream Frogs -Mannophryne trinitatis at Lopinot and we finally got the time to conduct it.

The mass capture involved taking a team out and catching as many frogs as we could for 2 hours in the morning (10-12) and 2 hours in the afternoon (3-5), as these are the prime catching periods. After we had caught a batch of frogs we would bring them back to the lab and process them, taking photos and measurements of weight and body length. I was present at every capture and therefore had a very busy day; getting about 30 minutes to get lunch before heading back out.

After conducting the capture for three and a half days (14 hours of catching), we amassed an astonishing 91 frogs, substantially more than we had expected. After keeping the frogs for a couple of days in case we needed to collect any more data, we were ready for their release. We wanted everyone to see some of the release, so we made a little video. Take a look.

Lopinot Frog Release – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-yTdKmPZmA

I hope you found it as interesting as we all did.

Bye for now, Mark.

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Ten weeks of field work completed!

That’s our Expedition over for this year! Though plenty of work to do when we get home on the 6th September.

We have all had a fantastic life changing experience – luckily we still have ample tales and photos to share with you and ofcourse the findings from all the work we have done.

We will be out of touch for the next three weeks celebrating and relaxing but please keep in contact over the Autumn when we will continue to write.

Peace and love

Da Trini Family

Rio Seco Waterfall Trip

It was time for a break from field work and an escape from the lab!  On this day trip we all drove North to Salybia where a short hike through the jungle brought us to the panoramic scene you can see above. A turquoise lagoon surrounded by towering trees and birds swooping over head. As we swam in the pool, shoals of fish nibbled at our legs. We were lucky to have this paradise all to overselves after working hard all week! 

El Tucuche: The Quest to Find the Golden Tree Frog

The second highest mountain of Trinidad, El Tucuche of 936 meters above sea level, lies in the Northern Range close by our home. Our adventure was to seek out the elusive Golden Tree frog, Phyllodytes auratus, which is endemic to 2 mountains in the whole world!  We prepared ourselves for a brutal hike through the jungle in high humidity as we set off at 8am through the Maracas Valley to the foot of the mountain. Well equipped, we trekked up the rocky, crystal quartz filled path, accompanied by expedition friends Mike Rutherford, Steveland Charles and Reptile Enthusiast – Adam.

The steep incline proved to be a mental and physical challenge, but comforted by the knowledge we had survived the Ben Nevis climb earlier in the summer, we powered through! The path soon became a tangle of tree roots which we crawled over. The fauna changed drastically as we ventured higher up the trail. Leaving the invasive bamboo and young saplings behind and moving deeper into the forest where native bamboo surrounded us and vines hung like curtains from the towering ancient trees. An assortment of coloured fungi scattered the trail – bright oranges, coconut shell like ridges and small yellow primrose shrooms. Sharp razor grass and ferns grew in abundance and hairy lichens and moss drooped from the trees as we reached the fresher air.

Fallen trees blocked our path which we hurdled over or crawled under. The trees dwindled to few as we emerged out of the canopy, to see we were higher than the surrounding hills. Close to the peak, we walked through the clouds – the rain started to pour, cooling us down. We reached the summit before we knew it – Though we could not see much but the clouds, bushes and wild green and purple orchids! After collapsing and having some jam sandwiches we celebrated in true Trini Family style by creating a pyramid – Becky, who is now home, we left space for you on the top of our tower!

Feeling accomplished for reaching the top we set out to find the Golden Tree Frog who lives in the water tanks of the giant bromeliad, Glomeropitcairnia erectiflora, which thrive on the tree trunks and branches.  As we were soon to discover they are home to a range of beasties… Our chances of finding the Golden Tree Frog were slim, as the species is critically endangered and rarely reported in its only habitat on the peaks of the El Tucuche and El Cerro del Aripo. We had previously been permitted by the Trinidad Wildlife Division to collect samples from El Tucuche. Using gardening gloves for protection we dissected 20 Bromeliads and found one Golden Tree Frog (!),  3 tadpoles and a teeny Flectonotus fitzgeraldi  frog in total. This was alongside many a deadly scorpion and centipede. Tityus trinitatis scorpions rushed out from between the leaves of the bromeliad – when stung by these critters they inject a toxin into you which causes pancreatic degradation…

The walk home was easier for some and trickier for others – we recommend sliding down the hill on your bum! More photos to follow!

Fishing Pond Beach Clean

Every second night a team of four members of our Trini Family venture down to Fishing Pond to film the nesting process of a leatherback turtle and to clean the beach for half an hour. It always amazes us what we manage to shift in that short time – the cool nights, clean sea air and fresh coconut water reward helps! However; this is not enough to save the vast number of hatchlings scrambling through the sand to the surface and then attempting to find their way to the sea. The rainy season, ferocious tide and choppy Atlantic ocean sweep an assortment of jungle wreckage and plastic onto the narrow stretch of sand trapping many hatchlings. It is reaching the end of the nesting season and it will soon be peak time for the emergence of the hatchlings! We therefore needed to act quickly to prevent more being tangled and lost in the debris.

The whole team drove one afternoon to Fishing Pond to tackle the beach during the day. As we set off the rain turned torrential but we crossed our fingers and waited it out – luckily Malcolm has his pink umbrella just incase! This was the first time we had seen the beach in day light and we could appreciate its beauty even more – roaring sandy waves, white horses jumping out of them, diverse flora of the mangrove and magnificent frigate birds, Fregata magnificens, gliding over our heads on the look out for hatchling lunch.

Beach Clean Team!

It was beachcombers heaven – Shells, donkey eye seed pods, eagle and elephant shaped driftwood!  And hard work – With the help of Sookraj and Rishi, the local Turtle Village Trust staff, we hauled fishing net of all sizes and colours free from the sand which if left, turtle flippers would have become tangled and whole nests would become trapped. We walked a couple of miles of the beach heaving the long bamboo stems, rolling tree trunks up the beach and scooping the debris further inland.

Night beach clean: so much debris!

We were able to carry bags of plastic bottles back to the car to recycle but due to the poor access to Fishing Pond beach we had no choice but to discard the debris of wood, soggy shoes, polystyrene, bottle tops, rope, net…. further up the shore and in the mangrove. This has been accumulating for years as the local workers have no option but to also do this. The 200 metre board walk to Fishing Pond beach was build in 1995 and despite being rebuilt in 2004 is now lying in disrepair, preventing access for clearing the beach properly as well as the public easily reaching the beach. This has been hindering eco tourism developments in the area as in similar leatherback nesting sites around Trinidad, turtle viewing tours  have supported the local economy by  encouraging tourism and jobs for local people.

Plastic building up in the Mangrove

Back to the Mangrove: Pollution from the washed up rubbish has been leaching into the rare mangrove ecosystem and it is unknown what effect these chemicals are having on the fragile balance of this habitat… It is home to iconic species such as the West Indian Manatee, Red Howler Monkeys and The Washer Woman birds. Investment is needed in order to clean this area up properly and maintain its wealth of biodiversity.

We plan to continue our beach cleaning every night we are there – approx 4 times per week. Feeling like proud parents on their kids first day of school, we watch the hatchlings emerge and reach the sea safely – makes it all worth while!

Mannophryne project!

So hey guys, it’s George here, just wanting to give you all an update on how my project is going!

So, I’ve been spending the last few days collecting specimens and really narrowing down my study. What I’m looking at is the escape responses on the Mannophryne trinitatis frog, commonly known as the Trinidad Stream Frog. The past few expeditions to Trinidad have been looking into the behaviour of these little guys and I’m extending the work done previously.

To begin with I enlisted Tom to help me make this lovely Arena:Full set up

And I then started by collecting a few individuals from Lopinot Road and popping them in the Arena and watching their behaviour. Because I’m looking at the escape responses in reference to the use of shelters and learning, I really wanted to see the frogs exploring the arena and testing out the shelter and the other decoy rocks. Happily this is what the little guys did, some of them found the shelter that I had artistically made out of a rotten log some sticks and lots of wet leaves, and just stayed there but a few went in and out and hopped around the enclosure.

I carried out this pilot study a few times just to practise use of the camera as well as the arena and holding tanks and I really learned a lot. Mostly how to catch the little guys! I have never had to much trouble from tiny little animals! They are so fast and they tend to jump in random directions which makes collecting them very difficult! Luckily we found a nice stream in Caura Valley which tends to have a fair amount of frogs, males and females!

Since I’ve started to understand the behaviour a bit better I’ve  begun jumping  everyday! I am using three different arena set ups to look at the difference of responses involving a refuge as well as learning of habitat. To begin with the frogs are jumped individually with no refuge, this is done by putting them into the center spot and giving a stimulus from behind (a sharp tap of a stick) and filming which direction the frog jumps. Once each frog is jumped i have been putting the refuge into the arena and then doing the exact same thing.

We all then have a bit of a break and after dinner i usually go into the lab and spray the Arena with as much dechlorinised water as i can! I also tend to put a few rotting fruits in! Not that these little frogs eat the fruit, but they like the fruit flies generated. Usually i have around 4 frogs in the tank and the group is popped into the arena for 12 hours overnight for some exploring and learning (hopefully!) and in the morning i jump them a third time!

Hopefully i should be seeing some good results soon and I’ll be able to keep everyone updated on my progress!

Especially on the progress of finding a really good tapping stick! At the moment i am just borrowing the end of a bug catching net and I don’t think this can be a permanent feature! Hopefully I’ll find a good one out on my travels though!!

And for an ending photo, a female Manno!

– George x
Female Manno

Education Project

Last year the Expedition kick started the Education project in association with The Global Schools Partnership. This programme is funded by The Department for International Development and  provides advice and guidance, professional development opportunities and grants to help develop school partnerships between schools in the UK and schools in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Before we arrived in Trinidad, the whole team met with Trinidad and Glasgow teachers at the Graham Kerr Library to introduce ourselves, our project, have a few sandwiches and perform the play! Some members of the team then visited St Bartholemew Primary school in Glasgow to perform the Manno Stream Frog play, which judging by the wave of arms shooting up in the air at the end to ask questions was a success!

Gary, Mark, Hannah, Robbie and Roisin performing the play

Roisin has enjoyed organising the education work since we arrived in Trinidad, co-ordinating with the teachers to set up various days of talks, plays and quizes for pupils of a range of ages at different schools. She feels it is one of the most important aspects of the expedition. In order to preserve the Earth we must inspire the next generation!

The other week we spoke of our excursion to Lopinot with St Joseph Secondary School. More recently we have visited  other schools but we were constraint for time as pupils finished their final exams and the schools began to close for summer towards the end of June. However, we managed to arrange four other trips with a variety of activities!

Lopinot Excursion with St Joseph

Wednesday morning of 27th June, Roger, Roisin, Becky and a few frogs went to St Augustine Secondary school to speak with the 6th Form Environmental Science pupils. A short interactive talk was given, informing the pupils of The Scottish climate, landscape and wildlife in comparison to their own – did you know the Osprey is found in both Trinidad and Scotland? Roger spoke of the importance of maintaining biodiversity and a little on Scottish culture and local frogs! The Sustainable Development Conference, The Rio +20 was also mentioned as it has been making the headlines lately and not baring good news… Pupils were encouraged to comment on how well they think their parents and previous generations are looking after their environment… Shaking heads and ‘Not good!’ was their response… Phew! This was reassuring! The importance of looking after the environment was highlighted with an emphasis on picking up rubbish which is a real problem in the recreational areas of Trinidad. Pupils then had the chance to meet the Phyllomedusa trinitatis frogs – many Trinidadians are feart of these beautiful creatures, in some cases thinking they are poisonous but really they bode no harm to humans. The pupils soon realised this and were gathering round the frogs keen to hold one or stroke their back. Helping to change attitudes to the wildlife is another step towards perserving the flora and fauna of the island.

After lunch, frog masks were constructed and the team set off again, this time to Malabar R.C Primary School in Arima to perform the Manno Stream Frog Play to a group of 200 excitable primary one and two pupils! The play tells the tale of the discoveries of the behaviour of Mannophyrnne trinitatus by previous Glasgow Uni Expeditions, as froggy character Trini (played by Mhairi) hears Manno (played by Robbie) calling from the entrance of his cave. The reproductive lifecycle is described- it is truely special to this species as once the tadpoles hatch, the male Manno carries the tadpoles on his back to a suitable stream. He has to be on the look out for predators such as The Heron (played by Mark) and The Snake (played by Gill) and eventually finds a pool closeby  the Cave Frog (played by Gary) who warns him of the fearsome Cave Toad, and the sacrifice he must make to save his offspring…. What happens? We ain’t telling! The audience decides! The pupils were joining in with all our sounds and sayings and again were able to meet our frogs! A talk was also given to the upper primary school who were keen to ask us questions. We learnt a lot too, of the best beaches and waterfalls of the isle and a few new recipes to try out when we got home!

Early Friday morning Roger, Roisin and Tom set off to St Augustine South Government Primary School. We were welcomed into the Principals office where we rose while the National Anthem was played and then were welcomed into the assembly hall where the children stood in rows. Roger spoke briefly of the frogs and wildlife of Trinidad, of our research and the need to preserve our environment.

Roger talking at a morning assembly

Monday afternoon there, Mhairi, Roisin, Tom and Mark visited Hillview College to talk to a group of 20 6th form pupils about Turtle Conservation on the island, Biodiversity and Scottish and Trinidad Wildlife. We were touched by the closing message from one of the pupils who thanked us for our talk and informed us that they will try to be more conscious and considerate to the environment.

Ro and Mhairi presenting to the pupils

All the schools have kindly welcomed and supported our work. The level of enthusiasm from the pupils and teachers has warmed the cockles of our hearts. We look forward to visiting again and we plan to develop this branch of the expedition further next year!

If you are interested in us visiting your school please contact Roger Downie at Roger.Downie@glasgow.ac.uk or Roisin at trinidadguexp@gmail.com

Many thanks!

Mhairi and Hannah’s Graduation

A tradition of the Trinidad Expedition is to graduate team members who miss out on the Summer Graduation Ceremony. Though they have the chance to in December, graduating in the Caribbean has a better ring to it! After a feast of buss up shut for lunch, Roger gave an emotional speech, wishing our graduates well for the future, not only will they have their degree but they graduate with the life experience of adventures and research in the Caribbean! There may not have been any hat throwing but our graduates were presented with an entirely unofficial scroll from Roger, a hand shake and a round of applause!

Congratulations to our Mhairi Lousie Macdonald graduating with Animal Biology and to our Hannah MacArthur graduating with Msci Zoology ! All the best for the future!

My Time So Far…

Hi guys, Sam here to let you know how im enjoying my time in Trinidad up until now. After only three weeks, I can safely say that I am having the best time of my life. I think possibly I have been to more different sites than any of my fellow expeditioners so far.

Robbie has already mentioned the swim up Marianne River and other things the group enjoyed in the first week, so ill talk about other stuff we’ve done. Perhaps the best experience I have had so far was my first visit to Arima Valley, this area is the most diverse area of the island, with hundreds of species found within a small area. Sadly, many quarries have popped up in the region which is slowly creating a large scar on the landscape. Along with Mark, John Murphy and his assistant Gabriel, we visited the William Beebe Research Station at Simla which up to this point was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. This station is set to be a major survey site for the lizard surveys and the frog surveys.

After this, we decided to stop for lunch at the Asa Wright Nature Centre, one of Trinidad’s top tourist destinations. As I walked through the lobby of the ornately designed visitor centre, I wasn’t warned about what exactly I was about to witness. Stepping out onto the deck my breath was taken away as I was greeted by a view straight down the middle of several valleys, with so many species of hummingbird flying around, agouti (imagine a big guinea pig with short hair) running about, and countless other bird species. WHAT A PLACE TO SPEND YOUR 21ST BIRTHDAY !!!

After enjoying a hearty lunch John took us on a snake hunt, driving around the roads of the Arima Valley looking for any snakes on the roads. After a while this began to get a little tiring, but we were quickly bolted awake as John spotted a small Fer-de-lance lying on the road. This snake is one of the most poisonous snakes on the planet, and is not to be messed with! Exciting stuff!

As Roisin has mentioned, we are doing a lot of work with turtles, and my experience at Fishing Pond is extremely memorable. But I won’t dwell on that for too long. Instead ill talk about the visit to the William Beebe Tropical Research Station at Simla where myself and the team doing the frog surveying stayed for the night. We travelled there in the afternoon and had a look around Morne Bleu and then stayed the night at the research centre. The caretaker Ronnie Hernandez is a lovely man who has been working at the station for 22 years, and has many stories about the previous expeditions, some of whom spent extended periods of time at the centre. We also saw several species of lizard, after dark the geckos came out, beautiful looking lizards which walked up and down the walls of the station. There was also one individual who had taken up residence in our bathroom, so I named him Gerald.

The next morning we met up with a man named Nigel, who runs the Hamjel Research Station, where the expedition hopes to spend some time. He filmed some of the work we were doing that day in order to make a short film for the local people. He feels that many of the locals aren’t aware of what work we do when he visit Trinidad, and so thinks a short film outlining this would help. We all think so too !

Whilst I have the chance ill quickly talk about my project, the lizard surveying project. It is fully up and running, with many sites having been visited throughout the northern range of Trinidad. Using the McKinnon’s List method of surveying, we have been surveying different habitats in order to get a an idea of the possible distribution of different species. So far this project is going extremely well, and I’ll be back in a few weeks to tell you more about this.

One of the sites we have visited is Maracas Waterfall, the largest waterfall on Trinidad. I don’t think I can really sum up the beauty of this place in words, so ill let the pictures do the talking.

So, yeah so far this has been just a small fraction of the things I have been doing on Trinidad thus far, and im sure you’ll agree that it sounds amazing ! Somebody new will be up next to tell you about their time so far and the other things the group gets up to. TTFN ! Tata for now !

John and Gabriel Return from Tobago

We missed our Herpetologist friends John and Gabe who were exploring off Trinidad’s North Coast in Tobago for a week, looking for lizards and snakes. Tobago is a much smaller isle than Trinidad, only 300 square kilo though still rich in flora and fauna with many endemic species! The pair stayed with the Glasgow Exploration Society Tobago Team who are monitoring Hawksbill and Leatherback Turtles, based in Charrlotteville and travelling round to many beaches of the island. Unfortunately it has been reported that not many turtles have been sighted. We wonder if this is due to the increased poaching in the area or perhaps habitat destruction to the nearby coral reefs.

Previous Expedition Member and Curator of the UWI Zoology Museum, Mike Rutherford joined the adventure, alongside Stevland Charles of the Field Naturalist Club.

Check out John’s blog for more photos of  flora and fauna of Trinidad and Tobago:

http://squamates.blogspot.com/

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