Birds, Community Outreach

Ornithological Union of Costa Rica Conference

Karen Leavelle presenting the Yellow-billed Cotinga spatial distribution project

The Costa Rican Ornithological Union’s second annual conference was held July 28 – 30th 2010 in the school of biology at the University of Costa Rica in the capital of San Jose.  The conference was dedicated to Daniel Janzen and his pioneering work in the field of conservation and reforestation in Costa Rica over the last several decades.  Attendees present represented national and international organizations working hard at avian science and conservation throughout the country coming together to share common interests in the more than 830 resident and migrant bird species found in this tropical landscape.

Friends of the Osa’s avian ecologist Karen Leavelle was in attendance to present a poster outlining the upcoming Yellow-billed Cotinga radio telemetry project slated to begin at the end of this year.  Also in attendance were Liz Jones and Abraham Gallo to present their findings from a two year study looking at the current distribution of the Yellow-billed Cotinga, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager and the Mangrove Hummingbird all of which are endemic species considered to be endangered by BirdLife International.  This project was supported by Friends of the Osa, the American Bird Conservancy and the Evergreen Foundation producing vital information highlighting the conservation status of each species and the importance of the rainforest and mangrove habitats to species survival remaining on the Osa Peninsula and surrounding areas.

Elizabeth Jones presenting Yellow-billed Cotinga project results

The Yellow-billed Cotinga project was born out of Liz and Abrahams results on the species current distribution.  This project will focus on tracking Cotingas throughout the Osa Peninsula in order to determine the spatial and temporal distribution of a population of Cotingas from the Rincon area.  Essentially this project will show temporal habitat use and the spatial movements of the birds between feeding, nesting and roosting areas.  Information gained will indicate forested areas in need of protection for this species and others that also depend on the same habitats for their survival.  Keep your eye for more information on this project as its December date approaches.

The conference itself and Friends of the Osa’s participation proved to be important as a manner of disseminating information to a national and international ornithological audience on project results, upcoming studies and our role on the Osa Peninsula in avian science and conservation.

Environmental Education, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles

Raising Awareness About Sea Turtle Conservation and Marine Ecosystems of the Osa

Friends of the Osa’s Environmental Education program is carrying out educational activities on the conservation of sea turtles and marine ecosystems in the schools of the Osa Peninsula.

The objectives are for students to learn the importance of sea turtle conservation, why Golfo Dulce is a tropical fjord, and the ecological and scientific implications of this designation.

Students learn about the four sea turtle species that nest every year on the beaches of the Osa Peninsula: Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), East Pacific Green or black turtle (Chelonia mydas agassizii), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea). They also learn about the nesting process, migration, life cycle, threats and efforts being made in the conservation of these species.

Marine Ecosystems Section of the Environmental Education Program
Students learn about the Osa Peninsula’s marine ecosystems

The topographical features of the Golfo Dulce, major ecosystems, both resident and non-resident species, such as humpback whales and the environmental impacts on ecosystems, are topics that are treated within the marine ecosystems program.

This section of the Environmental Education program seeks to foster student interest in understanding this unexplored area within the school curriculum, which has traditionally focused only on terrestrial ecosystems.

It’s really interesting for students to learn about species previously unknown to them, such as marine plankton, species that make aquatic ecosystems sustainable and contribute between 50-90% of the oxygen to the Earth’s atmosphere.

Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Conservation Program Piro-Carate: July Results

This year we started our Sea Turtle Conservation Program with a great challenge, to expand our project to the beaches of Rio Oro and Carate on the southern side of the Osa Peninsula. With an excellent group of Field Coordinators (Geri Cubero, Erick Gomez and Greivin Barroso) and Research Field Assistants (Phoebe Edge, Heidi Montez, Courtney Thomas and Carlos Garcia), under the direction of Manuel Sanchez and Guido Saborio, we have taken the challenge with great enthusiasm. We also have help from Frontier, a volunteer program based in England with whom we have a working agreement that allows these volunteers to participate in Friends of the Osa’s various research projects. It has not been an easy job, because even with the help of volunteers, we are few people to monitor over 18 km of beach. However, the commitment and effort of all participants has allowed us to record a good number of sea turtle visits to the beaches from Piro to Carate in July, the first month of the season.  Without adjusting for people-hours on each beach, Pejeperro beach was the most visited by Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) during July.  On all the beaches we see the false crawls were the most reported, which could indicate that turtles are making their first expeditions to choose their nesting sites (Fig 1). Although we do not have many reports of East Pacific Greens, or black turtles (Chelonia mydas agassizii), from what we do have, most records are from Pejeperro beach (Fig 1).

July Sea Turtle Results

Unfortunately 39% of depredated nests found in our monitoring is due to egg poaching by humans.To prevent this situation from getting worse during the rest of the season, we will need the support of local people, MINAE (the government authority in charge of enforcing conservation laws), and you.

If you’re asking yourself, “How can I help?”  here are several ways: 1) Let others know about our Sea Turtle Conservation Program and the importance of protecting sea turtles, 2) Sign up to volunteer and 3) Make a donation to allow us to continue our sea turtle conservation efforts in the southern Osa Peninsula.

Science and Research

The OBC and studies into microhabitat preferences of focal group taxa

By: Zia Mehrabi, University of Oxford.

The Osa Biodiversity Center (OBC) provided a brilliant opportunity for biological research at an accessible location bordering Corcovado National Park (CNP). CNP represents the largest remaining tract of tropical lowland forest left standing on the pacific coast of Central America. The Osa Peninsula is phytogeographically unusual with high floral species diversity of an estimated 500 species of woody plants and exhibits high primate abundances as well as being home to charismatic large felids such as puma and jaguar.  The work undertaken at the OBC during April 2010 primarily aimed to clarify insights into the microhabitat preferences of particular dung beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) identified in earlier study investigating the fidelity of ecological methods used for inventorying insect functional groups at Sirena Biological Station (CNP) during the months of July and August 2009.  In order to efficiently and cost effectively map diversity it is widely recognised that the use of indicator groups is necessary. The sensitivity of Dung Beetles to light, soil type, moisture, temperature, leaf litter, structural complexity, vegetative cover, and resource type are widely recognized, advocating their utility as an indicator of the influence of abiotic environmental parameters on patterns of diversity in tropical ecosystems on a global scale. In order to map spatio-temporal distributions of biological organisms it is important to measure habitat variables on the scale at which they influence the taxa studied. If the habitat is not defined from the perspective of the organism then inference made from data reporting environmental influences on distribution of populations may be inaccurate.  The material generated during the study at the OBC will be identified at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It is an exciting prospect that the work at OBC may back earlier work that has identified a microhabitat preference of dung beetles on trap placement, work that potentially has serious implications for sampling methodologies currently employed in comparative ecological work which  aims to report the influence of deforestation and habitat degradation on tropical biodiversity.

All photography by Zia Mehrabi on night walks at OBC during April 2010

The accommodation facilities at the OBC are superb, with comfortable beds, clean running water and delicious food. Furthermore the staff are extremely friendly and helpful, facilitating communication with the local community and achievement of research objectives. In addition, accessibility from the nearby town of Puerto Jimenez and contact via satellite connection ensure ease of logistics. There is a nicely set out trail system that provides some great tracks for night walks where a plethora of insects , arachnids and reptiles may be easily observed and photographed. Overall I was very happy in the time I spent at the OBC and would recommend it to other researchers wishing to explore this interesting region of the world.

Birds

Featured Bird: Common Pauraque

Common Pauraque by Karen Leavelle

Have you ever been out at night driving along a country road and been startled by red ember eyes darting across the hood of the car, and then to have it happen every few hundred meters or so?  If you are driving anywhere on roads, especially dirt roads, from South Texas on down to Argentina you are bound to see the Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis).

Here on the Osa Peninsula on the road to the Osa Biodiversity Center it is a common sight to see the nocturnal nightjar hunting along these roads or other open areas at dusk, dawn or during the night.  As twilight approaches, Pauraques will position themselves on the ground which is a good spot from which to see insects backlit against the night sky, or on a favorite perch sallying around in search of the nights meal.

They have very small beaks yet large gaping mouths with which to scoop up large insects such as beetles, moths and fireflies.  The bristles around the face resembling whiskers are modified feathers which are highly tactile and controlled by muscles and are used to help hunt insects at night.  They are likely there to also keep out-of-control insect legs and wings out of the bird’s eyes!  This 11” (28cm) bird also has low wing loading which means their body is proportionally small to their large wings which makes them powerful flyers through wooded areas especially at night.

The genus Nyctidromus gives the Common Pauraque its first name “night runner” describing its nighttime ground foraging behavior and the species name albicollis is in reference to its white throat patch.  In various parts of Central America it is commonly refered to as “Don Pucuyo” or “Caballero de la noche” for its association with love.  Some parts of Costa Rica call this species “Tapacaminos comun” meaning common road coverer.  Here on the Osa Peninusla it is known as Cuyeo.  There is lots of legend surrounding this and other nighthawk (goatsucker) species related to both love and darkness.

Its cryptic browns, tans and buff coloration make this bird hard to see unless you are about to step on it.  It will flatten itself close to the ground when danger approaches and then will flush at the last moment.  It will then keep its eyes slightly open as you can see from the photograph to keep an eye on the possible ensuing predator.  It places its nest of two eggs right on the ground with no pomp or circumstance usually in shady wooded areas.

So why hunt from a country road exactly?  Studies have shown that Pauraques will actually sit along the side facing the road and are more likely to be found there during a full moon which reflects light on the dirt surface making it easier to find and catch insects.

You can find this and other photographs from Alan Dahl at Focused on Nature.  The light morph bird was taken by me along the trail up on our Arbolito property just last week early August.  This bird flushed from my feet and was very cooperative with her photo shoot allowing me to get quite close so I could bring you her image today.