Monthly Archives: July 2011

Species Profile: Austral Parakeet

When you think of the arid steppe of the future Patagonia National Park, it’s difficult to picture an environment with colorful tropical birds. That is what makes the Patagonia region so spectacular though, it’s full of the unexpected.  Witnessing a flock of brightly colored Austral Parakeets flying through the grasslands of Valle Chacabuco feels a bit otherworldly. It’s a similar sensation to seeing the Chilean Flamingoes fly overhead; where did these birds come from?

The Austral Parakeet or if you’re up for a mouthful, Enicognathus ferrugineus, is part of the parrot family. These vibrant birds live further south than any other parrot in the Americas and are one of the few non-tropical parrots. They prefer to live in mostly wooded country, but are also found in shrubland and grasslands; making the future Patagonia National Park a perfect home. The grasslands in Valle Chacabuco offer ideal feeding grounds where they eat seeds, grains, and fruits and the neighboring Southern Beech forests provide for the perfect roosting sites. The birds are “cavity-nesters” meaning they usually settle in tree cavities. They don’t only use the Southern Beech forests for nesting though; you can also find the birds feeding on the tree’s leaf buds and seeds. Southern beeches are fundamental to the bird’s existence and vice versa, the Austral Parakeets are vital to plant regeneration, acting as great dispersers for the Southern Beeches and other Patagonia Flora.

Similar to the rest of the parrot family, Austral Parakeets are monogamous breeders, staying faithful to their chosen mate. At any given time you can see the lovebirds flying side-by-side throughout the future Patagonia National Park. The devoted duo remain close during breeding and non-breeding season. Females lay anywhere between four and eight eggs each clutch. The females incubate their eggs for three weeks, rarely leaving the nest. Subsequently the male is on feeding duty, continually visiting the nest to feed his companion – now that’s teamwork!

Not only are Austral Parakeets romantics, they are also very social birds. A typical flock consists of 10-15 individuals, but seeing a flock of 100 individuals is commonplace during feeding when the birds become most gregarious and even feast with mixed-species groups. Just like a normal family dinner, Austral Parakeets tend to talk over one another while eating: click here to listen to their group chatter.

The Austral Parakeet is suffering from population declines due to deforestation, competition with non-native species, and human captures for pet trade. It is important for us to realize these beautiful and intelligent birds do not exist for human entertainment. They are happiest in their natural habitat, which embodies lush forests and wide open spaces, not an enclosed bird cage. Fortunately, within the future Patagonia National park, Austral Parakeets will have the freedom to soar from the lowlands of Valle Chacabuco to the highlands of the Andes Mountains.

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May and June Newsletter from the future Patagonia National Park

NEWS FROM THE FUTURE PATAGONIA NATIONAL PARK

May and June 2011

In the past two months, Chilean Patagonia has made headlines many times, as the campaign to defend its mighty rivers blossomed. Here’s news straight from the heart of this wild region: the future Patagonia National Park.

While the battle over the HidroAysen hydroelectric dams intensifies, Conservacion Patagonica continues making strides in the protection and restoration of our unique part of Patagonia.  Tracking endangered huemul, collaring pumas, surveying habitat recovery, building campgrounds, organizing community events–even as winter begins, the park moves towards completion.

Below you’ll find a quick overview of the HidroAysen / Patagonia Sin Represas (“Patagonia Without Dams”) news, and then photo updates from the park.  Click the photos or links to read the full stories on our blog.  As always, we’re grateful to the staff, supporters, volunteers, and friends bringing this park into existence.  To contribute, visit www.conservacionpatagonica.org or click here.

PATAGONIA SIN REPRESAS NEWS SUMMARY

On May 9th, Chilean officials voted to approve the HidroAysen hydroelectric project, which would erect five dams on pristine Patagonian rivers and construct a 1200 mile transmission line all the way to Santiago.  Studies have shown that Chile can meet its energy needs through instating energy efficiency standards and developing non-conventional renewable energy.

Millions of Chileans have expressed their outrage over the HidroAysen decision: 74% say they’d support higher energy prices to protect wild Patagonia.  Countless demonstrations, such as the May 13 march in Santiago pictured above, have brought hundreds of thousands into the streets to take a stand for clean energy and transparent democracy.

This campaign has put Patagonia in the spotlight like never before, raising awareness of its beauty, wildness, and need for protection.

Here’s a selection of recent press on the Patagonia Sin Represas movement:

PATAGONIA NATIONAL PARK PROJECT NEWS

The story of Silencio, Huemul of the Baker River: Conservacion Patagonica’s Luigi Solis and Daniel Velasquez tell about tracking endangered huemuls in the impact zone of HidroAysen.

Puma collaring on track: since the beginning of winter arrived, the wildlife team has spent days tracking pumas–and collared their first cats of the season.

Gigapanning Patagonia:one of our Science Advisors, Dr. Stuart Pimm, helped us establish this new photo imaging system, which will generate a detailed record of ecosystem changes throughout the future park.

New video, from our friend Weston Boyles, about the Kayaking School in Cochrane, the closest town to the future park.  The dozens of kids in the program learn whitewater kayaking and rafting, and explore the rivers around their home, including the threatened Baker River.

Species profile: the threatened Mountain Viscacha

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On Track: Puma Collaring Project

From Alaska to Patagonia, pumas are one of the Americas’ most mysterious and celebrated animals.  Sometimes called the “ghost cats,” pumas generally elude human sightings, generating many myths around their behavior.  Conservacion Patagonica’s monitoring program gathers precise data on puma feeding patterns, movements, and home ranges, topics largely unexplored before in the Southern Cone.

Conducting this study, however, requires tacking a major challenge: finding these elusive animals–and then figuring out how to place GPS collars on them.  Tracking and collaring some animals is a piece of cake.  Pumas are among the most difficult.

For the past several years, we’ve been collaring pumas during the early winter months, when snow on the ground facilitates tracking.  Days tracking pumas begin before sunrise, as the team mounts their trusted horses to follow the traces of a puma.   Moving by horseback, the traditional form of transportation in Patagonia, allows the team to cover more ground and more varied terrain than they could by foot or vehicle.  Two or three dogs, trained by CP wildlife tracker Arcilio Sepulveda, lead the way, sniffing out the scent of the wild felines.

The team will spend hours and hours traversing the ridgelines and valleys of the future park, following the path of the puma.  Through these long expeditions, the park guards and wildlife trackers have explored the geography of the park (and taken some amazing photographs in the process).

The task of safely tranquilizing a puma in order to affix the GPS collar proves as challenging as locating the animal.  Once the team determines they are near a puma, they assess whether the animal is a young or mother, in which case they will not proceed with the collaring.  Then, they work to assure that the puma is in a place where darting will not hurt it.  Once the puma is tranquilized, one member of the team approaches the puma and moves it to a flat location.  There, some team members fit the collar to the puma while others gather critical biological data about the animal.  Once this process is complete, the puma receives a tranquilizer-reversant and the team observes its return to consciousness.

As one might imagine, this process poses many challenges.  Luckily, we have a skilled and dedicated team at work on this project.  Cristian Saucedo, Conservacion Patagonica’s Conservation Director, says often that the program owes its success to the diverse experiences and skill sets that each member of the team brings.  Arcilio Sepulveda (above left) hunted pumas when the Chacabuco Valley was a sheep estancia; the knowledge he gained of the valley’s population through these years of hunting enables the team to locate these secretive cats.  Delmiro Jara (above right) and Cristian Rivera spent years riding the hills of the former estancia; their horsemanship and awareness of the terrain assist the team in moving safely and quickly.  Luigi Solis, in charge of habitat restoration, spent years working in forestry; his tree-climbing skills are crucial to transporting pumas to safe locations.  Cristian himself, as a veterinarian, directs the collaring and data gathering.

This winter, the puma tracking expeditions began in late May.  The horses were well-rested but in shape from the fall’s rides monitoring the valley, and the team eagerly anticipated the satisfying challenges ahead.  The early winter saw little snow fall in the valley, making tracking all the more challenging.

On June 10, the team saw its first major success: the collaring of a two-year old male, previously not part of the monitoring study.  At the end of a long day on horseback, the team encountered the puma in the “Veranada” sector of the future park (the name comes from “verano”–summer–because this area formerly served as the summer grazing grounds for sheep).   When they saw he had nestled himself among the branches of a large tree, they darted him with tranquilizers.  As always, Luigi got the thrilling job of climbing up the tree to lower the sleeping puma to the ground.  Along with the collar, the team left this puma with a new name: Portezuela.


Last week, more snow finally fell in the Chacabuco Valley, greatly improving conditions for the team.  They’ve been out tracking all week. The rest of us can’t wait to hear news of their progress when they return for a few days of rest.

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