Project: Agami Heron Watch
Time of Year: end of January to end of July
Mission: track breeding population of Agami Herons by counting nests and measuring the area occupied

Background:
For about 6 months each year, 15-20 hectares of flooded forest tucked at the end of a lagoon transform into the noisy breeding ground for hordes of water birds like the Agami Heron (Agamia agami), Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius), Cocoi Heron (Andrea cocoi), Neotropical Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus), Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), Hoatzin (Ophisthocomus hoazin), Great Egret (Andrea alba), Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) and Wattled Jacana (Jacana jacana).

The Tapiche Reserve is home to several natural predators of the water birds, their chicks and their eggs, including three species of caiman (Melanosuchus niger, caiman crocodilus, Paleosuchus palpebrosus), several species of majestic raptors (Morphnus guianensis, Spizaetus ornatus, Harpia harpyja), the infamous anaconda snake (Eunectes murinus) and several species of monkey (Lagothrix poeppigii, Cacajao calvus, Cebus albifrons, Cebus apella, Callicebus cupreus). The most ruthless predators by far, however, were the local humans who collected the eggs to eat or sell, often stripping the entire area of eggs and harvesting adult birds as well. After the reserve was established in 2010, it took 2 years of patrolling the area before the birds consistently built up their numbers. We're now proud to welcome their annual return, and the size of the entire rookery expands impressively each year.  

The Agami are the first water birds to arrive to the breeding zone, usually in late January, so they court in relative privacy before other species arrive. The Boat-billed Herons join in March and make use of existing Agami nests to begin their breeding cycle. Since the Agami are so many in number and seem to breed at staggered times, they are forced to share close quarters with the Boat-billed Herons, and sometimes territorial disputes ensue.   

We had the good fortune in 2015 to witness the courtship phase of the Agami Heron, a fleeting event that has rarely been observed and is poorly documented. The header photograph on this page depicting an adult Agami with striking red lore was taken at this time. Unfortunately in 2016 our region suffered a drastic drought for the entire month of January, a sad indicator of the changing global climate during a season when rain should have fallen every single day,  The Agami arrived late to the breeding ground, and because of the low water level and thick overgrowth of vegetation, we were not able to monitor the colony that year. Happily in 2017 we were able to track the growing colony and submit a monitoring report to the Agami Heron Working Group (AHWG). The area occupied by the Agami within the breeding zone measured approximately 300m long by 50-100m wide according to our gps waypoints. For the first time we observed a woolly monkey (Lagothrix poeppigii) steal an Agami egg from the nest and devour it after escaping to a nearby tree. We also noticed a large family of red uakari monkeys (Cacajao calvus) descend from their preferred canopy treetop travel route to the lower trees and bushes at the edge of the lagoon, presumably also for the bird eggs, as they would have no other reason to detour to this area. 

The Tapiche Reserve is proud to be a member of the Agami Heron Working Group, a subsidiary of the international organization Heron Conservation, an independent network of biologists, conservationists, and others interested in research and conservation of herons. 

For more Agami photos, take a look at our Gallery page.


Banner photo: Agamia agami diplaying red lores during courtship
© 2015 Deborah Chen