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Volunteer Blog Post: William Cliento

Few sensations are strong enough to leave an impression. A 3 a.m. march along Pejeperro beach is one of them. Phosphorescent plankton light up with every step, mirroring the Milky Way above. At times the sea air is so thick with mist that it feels like breathing underwater. A red toned light can be used from time to time if needed, however it is often avoided to minimize interference with the turtles. Over time the beach becomes a long tunnel of sounds and smells, punctuated by tiny scraps of light

Every day, volunteers patrol the beaches near Piro Biological Station in the early hours, looking for signs of turtles coming ashore to nest. These patrols form part of a greater data collection and conservation program aimed at restoring populations of turtles in the area. I was lucky enough to spend five weeks volunteering with this program. During my stay, my work was split between my duties with the turtle program and a range of other projects – both scientific and practical – that were being undertaken at the station. Some days I would be helping milk the cows and plant new crops at the sustainable farm, others I would be recording the tracks of different animals along the riverbanks to assist the big cat monitoring program. The ability to be constantly learning and exploring the fields of passionate people was an immense privilege. While the work was sometimes challenging, it was always fascinating.

Even by starlight, turtle tracks are easy to spot – especially if the tide is low. They appear as a great black line in the sand, gradually resolving to scuffled entry and exit tracks as you get closer. A quick glance at whether the flipper marks form asymmetrical scratches or symmetrical ridges can provide the species of turtle, which is then recorded along with a range of observations on what the turtle actually did on its venture from the water. The volunteers then walk on, searching for the next sign.

Observations about life on the Osa Peninsula:

  1. Pelicans air-surf waves to help them glide further.
  2. Ventilation and acoustic privacy are mutually exclusive.
  3. Spider monkeys don’t like people standing beneath them.
  4. Spider monkeys have excellent aim.
  5. It is best not to stand beneath spider monkeys.
  6. Hermit crabs come out of their shell when you breathe on them.
  7. River otters like to display their feces.
  8. Scorpions like to live in towels.
  9. Scorpions also like to live in clothing.
  10. Leaf cutter ants mostly target leaves, but will also accept sandals.
  11. Turtle eggs can be damaged by changes in orientation.
  12. Fireflies shine both green and orange.
  13. Smokey Jungle Frogs scream when threatened.
  14. Coatis forget where you are if you stop moving.
  15. Nightjars’ eyes shine so bright that their bodies are often never seen.
  16. Cannot confirm that nightjars are not simply pairs of luminescent orange balls.
  17. Armadillos build particularly concave roofs in their burrows to accommodate their “armour”.
  18. Male anole lizards will display their neck-flap if you hold a mirror up to them.
  19. It is mandatory to wave when you see someone else on the road.
  20. There is more than one way to eat a coconut.

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Earth Day 2015 Celebration

Submitted by: Pilar Bernal, Environmental Education & Community Outreach Manager

This past Saturday, April 18, we celebrated Earth Day in the community of Puerto Jiménez, an activity organized by ASCONA (National Association of Community and Environmental Service) in which other organizations joined together to carry out a fun, educational celebration for the participants. Presentations were given on the terrestrial and marine ecosystems of the Osa Peninsula, as well as the traditional timber uses of the forests. The children had fun and learned through storytelling, treasure hunts, and a play called “Living in Paradise,” which narrated the encounter between two migratory species of the area, the Prothonotary Warbler and the Green Turtle, in a mangrove ecosystem.

An eco-friendly fashion competition was also held, featuring dresses made from recycled materials like cardboard, plastic bags and bottles.

Local farmers had the opportunity to sell their products and talk about their sustainable farming projects with the event’s participants.

The activity was a demonstration of how working together can make a day-to-day difference in the community and create opportunities to enhance the environmental and cultural knowledge of its people.

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Meet Rüka: Osa’s Warrior

Juan Carlos Cruz, Osa Conservation’s Feline Program Coordinator, provides some insight and history behind the incredible Jaguar sightings our camera traps have recently provided:

“The Jaguar is the biggest wild cat species in the Americas and the third biggest in the world after the Lion and the Tiger. It is so big, individuals weighing up to 300 pounds have been found in the Amazon. But being so big means that Jaguars rely on big species of prey, such as peccaries, deer, sea turtles and even tapirs. In the Osa, the Jaguar’s home range spans 12 to 50 square kilometers, so big areas are needed to fulfill its ecological needs.

Photo credit: Tico Haroutiounian

Near Piro Biological Station, we are lucky to have this very healthy and strong Jaguar since last year that we have named Rüka, meaning “Warrior” in the language of the Ngäbe, who inhabited the Osa Peninsula hundreds years ago and still do today.

Rüka is a warrior indeed, since he is fighting a decrease in prey animals, making his survival harder and harder, and requiring him to travel longer distances to find prey while avoiding hunters and gold miners through the woods and domestic animals in the nearby farms.

At Osa Conservation, we make a concerted effort to provide a good environment for Rüka and assure that he counts on high quality habitat where he can find enough prey and shelter to establish himself in the forest near Piro, where we might observe him for many years to come.”

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Seeing Moths in a New Light

Submitted by: David G Larson, Augustana Campus, University of Alberta, Canada
Photo credits: DG Larson

More than 6,000 species of moths are thought to be found in Costa Rica, and many hundreds of those moth species are found in the wet tropical forests of Osa Conservation. Micro insects, especially micro moths with wing lengths of less than 1cm, fill the air just after sundown and are often the target of the early evening insectivorous bats. Macro moths with 1-15 cm wing lengths usually become more active later in the evening. The variety in form, color and markings of moth forewings and often the hindwings are as spectacular as their near relatives, the butterflies. Thus moths reward the nocturnal exploration of their biodiversity with surprises that never seem to end.

A few examples of this diversity in mid-February from the trails around Piro Station illustrate this.

Monitoring what light responsive moths are present in particular habitats using ultraviolet illuminated sheets and digital cameras is quite feasible today. Moth photos with significant resolution that can be shared electronically combined with the ready availability of moth photos, identification helps and information on web sites are the key starting points. Because of the unique shape, color and markings of many of the moth species, identifying moths to family, genus or even species levels for particular indicator species is realistic. On top of that, the plant food requirements of moth caterpillers and adults are frequently limited to a particular family of plants or even a particular species, making them a very effective group to use to monitor the health, diversity and integrity of plant communities.

With this in mind, the tropical field studies carried out at Osa Conservation Piro Station in mid-February in 2012-15 by faculty and undergraduate students from the University of Alberta Augustana Campus, Canada, included the compilation of the photos of the macro moths coming to UV light sheet surveys. Sampling a different location each night in primary, secondary and riverine topical wet forest sites on the trails around the Piro Station for six to ten nights each of the four years resulted in 577 photos of at least 239 species of macro moths.

Over 80% of the species photos were singletons, having a single photo of the species over the four mid-February sampling periods, and in the 2015 sampling 50 of the 52 new species were also singletons. In addition, no more than five species were repeatedly encountered in any the four sampling periods. While the high percentage of singleton species in the four February surveys is likely a function of the use of a weak 15 watt UV light source in order to ensure a habitat specific draw distance, the species accumulation curve for moth species around the Osa Conservation Piro Station in the mid-February period has not approached a leveling out yet. Based on this data I project at least 300 species of light responsive macro moth species occur in the forest habitats around the Station in mid-February.

The goal of this study was to make this baseline information about the macro moths present in the forest around Piro Station in mid-Feburary readily available to the Osa Consevation scientific and educational programs as well as to contribute to what is known about the moth biodiversity of Costa Rica. To those ends the Piro Station moth photos were submitted and accepted for posting as an album in the moth section of the University of Georgia Discover Life web site (discoverlife.org) which is compiling a directory to the moths of Costa Rica. The Piro Station moth album is found at: http://bit.ly/1aWPSSQ.

Two moths encountered in the 2015 Piro Station moth survey illustrate some additional things about biodiversity projects such as this.

First, to date this particular moth in the Erebidae family has not been encountered yet at any of the moth web sites nor was it recognized so far by anyone viewing it in the Facebook- Mothing and Moth Watching group. At present three-quarters of the Piro moths still have this nameless or genus name only status. Posting their photos in the Discover Life album and subsequent referrals to moth family specialists may result in some more of them getting named . However, the fact that their photos are in a moths of Costa Rica database at least provides a benchmark for what is present around Piro Station in mid-February that is available to anyone doing any follow-up moth sampling in this area.

Second, the above moth is the white witch moth, Thysania agrippina (Crawer 1776) [24.0 cm wingtip-to-wingtip], also in the Erebidae family, which came in February 2015 to our survey sheet at the junction of the Ajo and Interpretive Trails in the mature primary forest north and upslope of Piro Station. Web information about this moth claims that using the wingtip-to-wingtip parameter, a 30 cm specimen of this species from Brazil is considered to be the largest moth in the world and that T. agrippina is thought to be a relatively obscure species in the Brazil to south-Texas range from which it has been reported.

These two erebid moths reinforce key things about biodiversity sampling for me. The first is that moths are a largely hidden component of biodiversity for most people but once seen, can readily capture people’s imagination. Second, you can never predict what will be found in the next sample you take because new moths are always present. Third, do not stop sampling too soon – four seasons and 39 sheet samples later produced the white witch moth and pushed the bar for my moth bucket list to unforeseen horizons!

For these two moths and for all of the rest of the moths in the Discover Life photo album, I am very grateful to Osa Conservation and all the staff at Piro Station for the opportunity to explore the moth biodiversity on the Station’s pacific slopes of the Osa Peninsula over the past four years and to be able to bring our undergraduate students so they also could experience what this site is about!

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Volunteer Blog: Edd Hornsby

Costa Rica and the Osa particularly boasts many claims to fame; its frequently cited as the happiest nation on earth; as containing the ‘biodiversity nucleus of the world; and recently, it may have popped up on your news feed as having derived 100% of its energy from renewable sources so far in 2015. All laudable claims to fame!

Less frequently celebrated, however, is the nation’s cuisine. Menus in Cost Rica, along with much of Central and South America, are often described as consisting of two choices: Beans and Rice or Rice and Beans. Of course this criticism is unfair, not only are these two staples delicious but the national cuisine extends far beyond these mainstays.

At Osa Conservation our food is provided by a wonderful ensemble of Ticas; Amelia, Anhia and Elizabeth, who do a wonderful job of keeping this army of fieldworkers marching on their stomachs.

The day typically starts, unless fieldwork gets in the way of course, with breakfast at 7.00am. This has quickly become my favourite meal of the day. Desayuno tipico is a frequent feature, consisting of the classic Gallo Pinto (you guessed it, rice and beans!) and a combination of plantains, eggs, meats and whatever else is available. Now the brilliance of this meal cannot be underestimated, the energy it gives is remarkable, it is the perfect way to start the day and I cannot wait to get home and start knocking this up every day myself. Testament to the meals excellence is its favourability ranking in the station; it is universally felt it beats any other contenders, whether its pancakes, arrepas (delicious homemade scones) or scrambled eggs, to the stations top spot. Of course this doesn’t include the mountains of seasonal fresh fruit available daily from pineapple to papaya, mango to watermelon.

Next is Lunch at noon sharp, where a wide range of dishes are presented, tuna, pasta, chilli, hamburgers anything and everything seems to be available from these ladies and if the main (or seconds) doesn’t fill you up, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Gallo Pinto is always available.

Dinner arrives at 6.00pm and again variety is massive, soup, Pizzas from the stone oven, lentils, taco bowls, steak, which is then followed, if you are lucky and if the ladies are in a good mood, by local treats such as flan, sweet breads or cake.

It should be noted here that Ticos and Ticas (Costa Ricans) often share an incredibly sweet tooth and this means special occasions such as Birthdays are highly popular events at the station. Here impressively decorated cakes really take centre stage and tradition often dictates a face be planted before the first slice. Finally, if you’re down here, it’s your birthday and you have a sweet tooth, then just be sure to ask for some of the station’s very own, carefully cultivated Synsepalum dulcificum, aka the ‘miracle fruit’…

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