Sunday, December 31, 2006

Boa Constrictor on stage

Sometimes I receive visitors who want to see a snake in the worse way. I always say that if you are looking for a snake, you'll never see one. But just when you least expect it, they catch you by surprise. Better that way than you catch them by surprise! In September of this year I was finishing up a tour with a small group of professors and their ex-students from Springfield College in Massachusetts when I heard someone say in a very emphatic way, "Chuck, look back here, quick!" The tone of the comment told me that someone had spotted something important, so I looked back too. Chuck (one of the professors) and I had walked right by a boa constrictor that must have been between 2-3 meters in length, the largest I have ever seen at the Bosque. Someone grabbed the snake by its tail to keep it from disappearing into the woods and photographs were the order of the day. I had forgotten to take my camera on the tour that day so someone promised to send me an image via my e-mail address. It never happened, of course, but I still have hopes that Manolo Aquino (a professor at the University of Pará-Santarém, who was hosting the group) will make good the promise.
The photograph I present to my readers was actually taken at the Bosque in May of 2005, by Ashwin Budden, graduate student at the University of California-Berkley. The snake was brought to us in a cardboard box by one of our neighbors, who had captured it in his manioc field. It was a very young boa constrictor, maybe 16 inches in length. I'm not sure what my neighbor thought I was going to do with the snake but he accepted the proposal that we release it back to woods.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Wild Passion Fruit Flower

Before actually visiting the Amazon forest, many people visualize an environment full of flashy-colored flowers. To their surprise they see green, green, green and more green. Obviously all the trees and plants bloom but the flowers are found mostly up in the tree tops, way out of sight. One exception is the wild passion fruit flower (Passiflora) , which can be seen from far away. I filmed this flower and bud at a very comfortable position of about one meter from the ground. I thought it is the P. coccinea species of wild passion fruit but recently a specialist in the area concluded that it is P. glandulosa.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Geniparana (Gustavia agusta) on stage

This picture was taken about two weeks ago at the Bosque and I used it for my Christmas card, which I sent out over the internet. Several friends commented on the beauty of the Amazon flower, a show presented by the geniparana tree, relative of the Brazil nut tree. If you are impressed with the image, you should see it personally! It is about the size of a saucer and makes for quite a contrast with the dark green of the lower forest leaves and the seasonal dust from the dry dirt road passing through the Bosque.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Guaraná Fruit (Paullinia cupana)

Most guaraná is produced in the States of Amazonas and Mato Grosso. To my knowledge this is not a commercial crop for the Santarém region. As a matter of fact, I may have some of the only guaraná plants around here. I came by a hand-full of seeds some years ago, given to me by a pilot who was returning from a guaraná producing area south of the Amazon River in Amazonas. I planted them at the Bosque around the old maloca (roundhouse), which is a forested area. Under these conditions, the plant becomes a vine, climbing up into nearby trees and it is difficult to get a good look at the fruits. Just a few days ago I was doing a tour in that area and found this beautiful bunch of fruit no more than 2 meters off the ground. In recent times I have planted other guaraná plants in sunny places around the museum. In this environment they will remain bush/small trees, making it much easier for visitors to see the fruit.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rainy season view

This is the same area shown below during the dry season. Those two beautiful trees are Pau Brasil (Brazil Wood) from which the country gets its name.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Dry season image

The bone-dry area around the museum at Bosque Santa Lucia in November, 2005. It could easily be confused with some desert environment in Arizona.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Rain, or the lack of

Will the Amazon actually become a desert in the future? Well, I'm beginning to think so because every year the dry season is becoming more dramatic. I should know because I haul water from Santarém to the Bosque almost every day during these dry periods in order to keep new trees and plants alive. 2005 was the year that the Amazon River almost dried up, relatively speaking, and it was the year that we went four months without a drop of rain at the Bosque. As depicted in the image, the flora is still alive because of daily watering but it took on the appearance of a desert rather than the rich, lush tropical environment associated with a "rain forest".

The last four months of this year have not been much better in terms of rainfall at the Bosque and Santarém area. It remains very dry. As I like to point out to visitors and others, our salvation was a good rain on the 10th of November. Prior to the rain, dust was several inches thick on some parts of the dirt road leading from BR-163 to Poço Branco, where Bosque Santa Lúcia is located. Like magic, all this dust turned into thick impassable mud ... and vehicle traffic was reduced to almost zero. Eventually the clay-like mud was compacted down by logging and grain trucks and now the dust continues to build up again as we wait anxiously for the rainy season to begin.