Written by and photos courtesy of Jasmine Clark
You know you are deep in the jungle when the dawn chorus is not birds, but the strange call of the howler monkeys. To the untrained ear of a newly-arrived research assistant, it sounds like a distant wind blowing through different-sized pipes, punctuated only by the chattering of nearby squirrel monkeys that have appeared in the nearby tree to see what is going on.
I have been volunteering with Opwall in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve in Amazonia, Peru, for three weeks now, undertaking important research investigating the effects of climate change on biodiversity and sustainable resource use. It took a few days to adapt to boat-based jungle life, with manually flushing toilets, cold showers, and having to carry a water bottle about like a hip-flask!
I grew up on a diet of Natural World programmes, so to be able to live in the Amazon Rainforest for a month is incredible. The Pacaya-Samiria is roughly the size of Wales, and I can totally see why it is called The Land of Mirrors. The light here is so clear that almost everything reflects off the water, and there are so many shades of blue it is breath-taking. Even the stars are reflected in the inky blackness of the river at night. It is always worth getting up for the early morning bird surveys because alongside the birds, you are guaranteed a beautiful sunrise. White mists rise from the river as the jungle slowly wakes up, and if you are lucky, you may even see a juvenile ornate hawk or a yellowlegs.
My first fortnight was spent learning about the biology of the rainforest, and rotating between all the surveys; from caimans and dolphins to habitat and primates. Now, I am specialising in my particular areas of interest. A keen birder back home, I thought it would all be about the tropical birds here. Although I’ve done a healthy amount of bird surveys, I’ve been totally captivated by the butterfly research, and so have been specialising in that as well.