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A Round River Experience, Part 4: Our trip to Corcovado National Park

March 13, 2017

Blogpost by Max Beal, Northland College

 

After packing our bags on the last night of midterms, we all woke up bright and early to catch the 7:00 AM colectivo to start our journey into Corcovado National Park, a little up the coast from Osa Conservation’s biological station. We met up with our guide Maikol on the colectivo and an hour and half later we all got off in the small community of Carate and started our 20 km hike along the beach to Sirena station that serves as the main station for Corcovado.

We first walked 3.5 km to La Leona station where we registered. Soon we took our first steps into Corcovado. The portion of trails running between Leona and Sirena station have historically had the most wildlife sightings and, for us, they lived up to the reputation. In the first half of our day we were able to see spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, tent bats, and a few tamandua anteaters. Right before we stopped for lunch we ran into a Baird’s tapir resting in a mud pit. After ten minutes of watching it sleep, the tapir got up and walked within reaching distance of the group!

 

photo-1Photo 1: Juvenile male Baird’s tapir seen by students in Corcovado National Park. Photo by Max Beal.

 

We took a lunch break on the beach and watched hermit crabs fight over our avocado pits as we waited for the tide to go down so we could continue hiking along the beach. When the tide was low enough we began to walk on the beach again but were soon stopped by a large rock outcropping. When the waves died down Maikol gave us the signal to run around the outcropping before the next set of waves came in. After our short run (and a little more hiking) we rewarded ourselves by sticking our heads in a river and taking a long drink. As the afternoon wore on, we had the chance to see much more wildlife including:  magnificent frigatebirds, black hawks, three-toed sloths, and even a few crocodiles.

 

photo-2Photo 2: Hiking around rocky headlands on our way from La Leona to Sirena station. Photo by Max Beal.

 

We reached Sirena station just as the sun was beginning to set and we watched it disappear over the ocean before we hiked up Sirena’s airstrip to the station. To protect both the people and the wildlife, visitors are required to camp on the platforms and can’t leave the station after dark. So, after we got in we treated ourselves to a dinner made by the Sirena staff and passed out.

The next morning, we were up at 5:00 AM to start our day hikes on the trails surrounding Sirena. We ate breakfast out on trail and came back around 10:00 for a short nap and some lunch. That evening Maikol took us over to the swimming hole in the Rio Claro just east of Sirena. We swam until the sun began to set and on our way back to the station we ran into a second tapir resting in the roots on a tree. We all sat and watched (and took a few pictures) until the tapir decided we were a little too boring and wandered off into the woods. When we got back to the station we made dinner on the beach and put on a concert for the rest of the station before bed.

The next morning was another early one so that we could fit in one last hike before we left the park. At the very end of our hike, Maikol heard the call of the three-wattled bellbird and, after searching for a short time, we were able to get a good look at one of the rarest birds in the Osa Peninsula.

 

photo-3Photo 3: Three-Wattled Bell Bird. Photo by Chris Smith.

After our morning hike, we walked back to Sirena, packed up our gear, walked to the beach, and caught a boat to take us to the town of Drake Bay just up the coast. We saw plenty of dolphins, birds, and got a good look at the coastline in the hour it took us to get from the park to Drake Bay. We stopped for lunch after the boat landed and then caught a bus back to Puerto Jiménez. After a few days of rest, we will prepare for our next adventure on our first finca.

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For Earth Day, a closer look at restoring forests in the Osa Peninsula: More Than Planting Trees

Blogpost written by Alejandra Rojas, Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator

As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, 2017, we reflect on the conservation work that we are doing in the special region of the world called the Osa Peninsula. This especially includes the importance of sustainable natural resource management and effective strategic forest restoration for protecting the globally significant biodiversity of the Osa Peninsula in perpetuity. Looking back through the years, we see various historical environmental trends throughout the region and how they have shaped the importance of our own goals within Osa Conservation.

 

fullsizerender-36A throwback to the decade of 1930: A time when changes in soil-use in the Osa Peninsula had just started and a time before gold discovery and banana plantations had become widespread. A time when modest human settlements had barely started to attract an influx of new inhabitants to the Osa, which further increased during the next decade from 1940-1950. By the 1960s, large areas of the forests had been cleared for cattle grazing and logging by Osa Productos Forestales- marking a time of intensified natural resource exploitation – historically known as the “Deforestation Age in Costa Rica.”

By the early 1970s, there was an important change to degrading the forests: the creation of protected areas. However, despite the expansion of these much-needed protected areas, many hectares of original forest cover had already been lost forever and simplified into the pastures that remain today. Important buffer areas that are a strong-hold for critical habitat are still affected by forest fragmentation, gold mining and hunting. Thus, we try to understand, how can we revitalize these landscapes for both the people and the earth?

diapositiva30Osa Conservation (OC) is dedicated to strategic restoration initiatives that help restore previously cleared and damaged areas. One main goal of our restoration activities is to transform degraded landscapes into a more “natural status” not only through planting trees, but also through planning the vital connection with the larger ecosystem. For example, we do this by converting degraded areas into biological corridors, a strategy which allows keystone species, such as the jaguar (Panthera onca), move throughout the region and sustain viable populations. Currently, we are working diligently to expand one such corridor from Corcovado National Park, linking to the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, and on into the Piedras Blancas National Park.

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Through ecological understanding of Osa’s tropical forests, our restoration process often starts in the field with the help of Agustín Mendoza and his trusty land conservation crew, who are in charge of the ongoing collection of more than 100 species of native trees seeds. The seeds that they collect are propagated in the tree nursery at our agro-ecological farm and are then planted in specified plots. A complete chain of data is collected throughout the reforestation process, including the types of seeds, amount of water, as well as wildcats and bird monitoring- all types of data which provide necessary information for analyzing the restoration success.

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While it is true that restoring a tropical forest may not return degraded land into its original natural state, strategic restoration like ours is one important tool which can maintain and improve biodiversity and ecosystem services in these key areas (such as nutrients recycling, soil fertility, carbon sequestration, water filtration, and livelihood improvements). Thus, on this Earth Day 2017, we continue embracing these restored areas and focus on striving our best to continue protecting and enhancing the forests around us.


Please help us on Earth Day and every day to accomplish these important goals by donating to our mission, volunteering with our projects or visiting the Osa to see the work we do . We would love to have you participate and help us save this amazing part of the world on this day and every day!  

Happy Earth Day 2017!

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A Round River Experience, Part 3: Birds, Bugs, and Binoculars

March 1, 2017

Blogpost by Max Beal, Northland College

 

After catching a ride in a cattle truck from Rincon, we unloaded our things and settled into our new home at Osa Conservation’s Lomas del Sierpe field station. The station sits just off the road high up on a hill surrounded by dense jungle. We spent the rest of the day furnishing our concrete platform with hammocks and bins, and enjoying the running water, electricity, and refrigeration. Instead of tents, we were able to fit ourselves into a couple of screened-in sleeping platforms.

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Photos 1 & 2: Sunsets from the living platform at Lomas del Sierpe (Photos by Katie Goodwin)

 

We all slept-in the next morning and went on a day hike to familiarize ourselves with the trail system we would be using for our next project: looking for five bird species of concern. For the next week, we were up at 5:30 AM to start bird surveys, which consisted of playing the calls of five rare birds at ten points throughout the morning and waiting to see the presence and abundance of birds at the site.

 

Lomas del Sierpe is located at the northern end of Gulfo Dulce and acts as a biological corridor for wildlife moving to and from the Osa Peninsula, giving us the opportunity to see an incredible amount of species. In addition to finding four of our bird species of concern we saw a pair of collared peccary, a pair of tayra, a tamandua, a spectacled owl, a Lesson’s motmot, a group of bats with suction cups for hands, and groups of red-capped manakin lekking (moonwalking on tree branches to attract a mate).

 

In addition to all of the wildlife we saw, an incredible amount of insects swarmed the lights on the platform each night including a few of the largest moths I’ve ever seen and a grasshopper that we named “The Cow of the Sky.” To top off the first few days, Tony, one of Osa Conservation’s land managers, grilled us a fish he caught on the beach as a welcome gift.

 

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Photo 3: Spix’s disk-winged Bat (with suction cups)

 

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Photo 4: Carolina walks up the birding platform. Photos by Katie Goodwin.

 

After a few days of bird surveys, we took a day to do an otter survey on a small tributary of the Esquinas River that runs through the trail system. Besides some difficulty with knee-deep mud at the mouth of the stream, we made good time and finished early. To celebrate, we swam in the chain of waterfalls near the headwaters of the stream that, besides the occasional fish bite, was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

With a couple more days of bird surveys under our belts, we set off one morning to replace camera traps set on the property line. After a few steep hills, some river walking, and a sighting of a juvenile Fer De Lance (one of the most venomous snakes in the area) we successfully retrieved our camera traps and over 4,000 photos of animals on the property line! On our way back we stopped to swim in a second chain of waterfalls and some of us finally found a use for all of that red clay soil from the jungle.

 

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Photo 5: Jungle face masks. Photos by Eli Brunner

 

Our last day at Lomas del Sierpe was devoted to taking a natural history quiz, with a break for a photoshoot on a well-placed vine along the way. Now we’re back in the town of Puerto Jiménez enjoying good food, soft beds, and clean laundry while we attend meetings and introduce ourselves to the landowners with whom we’ll be working next, as we conduct rapid biological assessments for FONAFIFO (the Costa Rican National Forestry Financing Fund). But tomorrow we’re back on the colectivo headed to Osa Conservation’s biological station for our next adventure: midterms!

 

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Photo 6: Group photo on a vine. Photo by Eli Brunner.

 

This blog can also be found at http://roundriver.org/student-blog/birds-bugs-and-binoculars/

 

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A Round River Experience: Getting Our Boots Wet

February 22, 2017

Blogpost by Carolina May (College of William and Mary)

 

After returning from our backpacking trip to Osa Conservation’s Cerro Arbolito, we spent the afternoon writing up Grinnell journal entries that described all of the species and ecological observations we noticed on our hike. The rest of the week we continued with field projects around the biological station. On early Wednesday morning, we went with Manuel, Osa Conservation‘s sea turtle research coordinator, to survey the beaches for turtle nests. Once we reached the beach, we turned our headlamps off or onto red light, so as not to disturb any nesting turtles. We were instantly amazed at the number and brightness of the stars over the ocean. After walking a ways up the beach, we found the tracks and nest of a green turtle that had laid eggs during the night. We also stopped by Osa Conservation’s hatchery, where the turtle researchers relocate nests that are in danger of predation or flooding on the beach in order to increase the odds of survival. As the sun rose, we returned to camp for coffee and breakfast.

 

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Photo 1: Sunrise after dawn sea turtle patrol along Piro Beach

 

 

For our last few days, we continued doing surveys of river otters on the Piro River, starting at the mouth of the river that meets the Pacific Ocean and working our way up towards the headwaters. While we didn’t see any otters during our surveys, we found plenty of tracks and scat, some of which were very fresh. We also saw an exciting variety of insects, birds, lizards, mammals, and plants along the banks of the Piro River while walking to survey points. On Friday, we spent the full day on the river finishing up otter surveys. In the afternoon we discovered a small waterfall and swimming hole just in time for a much needed swimming break before reaching our surveying goal of 6 km upstream of the mouth.

 

 

 

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Photo 2: Otters near the mouth of the Piro River

 

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Photo 3: Eye-catching caterpillar found along the Piro River during otter surveys. (Photo by Chris Smith)

 

 

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Photo 4: Hidden waterfall and swimming hole on the upper Piro River

 

 

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Photo 5: Emptying boots of water after a day of otter surveys. (Photo by Chris Smith)

 

 

On Saturday we packed up camp to prepare to leave the biological station for a few weeks in order to visit other research destinations. Later that day we attended a local fiesta and spent the evening learning to dance and meeting with local community members, Osa Conservation staff, and some students from another program further up the peninsula. On Sunday morning, we hopped on the early colectivo with all of our bags and boxes and headed into Puerto Jiménez.

We walked to the beach, went grocery shopping, and had smoothies, pizzas, and salads at one of our favorite restaurants: “Pizza Mail.it.” On Monday morning we gathered up all of our things and got on a bus to Rincon, our next destination. The bus driver dropped us off at Osa Conservation’s Yellow-Billed Cotinga Reserve, where there was a small house beside the road that we would call home for the next week.

 

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Photo 6: Hammocks outside our house at Rincon. (Photo by Katie Goodwin)

 

 

The house at Rincon had been recently flooded by a hurricane last fall, so it took us several hours of scraping and sweeping to remove the layer of hardened mud from the floors. But it quickly started looking homey once we began to set up our things inside. Chris built us a bench outside of the house and used an old door to create a kitchen table. We put up our tents and hammocks in the yard, but used the house for cooking, eating meals, and having class.

 

 

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Photo 7: Kitchen area set-up inside the house. (Photo by Katie Goodwin)

 

 

We came to Rincon to study the endangered Yellow-Billed Cotinga, an all-white, silent bird that lives in the coastal mangroves and adjacent forest. Limited previous research estimates that there are between 250-999 of these birds left, so learning more about cotinga populations and habitat is important to inform conservation efforts. Cotingas also display an interesting behavior during mating season called lekking. During a lekking event, males will gather on a prominent mangrove tree at dawn and swoop down as part of their mating display. Our goal with cotinga research was to use these lekking events as an opportunity to observe and count male cotingas.

 

We soon discovered that lekking season came unusually early for cotingas this year, and while we did observe several single males engaging in swooping behavior, we didn’t see large groups of males lekking in the mangroves. Instead of gathering lekking data, we began counting cotingas as they flew from the mangroves to the inland forest to forage. Part of our surveys were done by having a group standing on the bridge that stretches across the Rincon River and counting the contingas that flew by. The rest of us surveyed the mangroves by kayaking through channels and searching for perched or flying cotingas. We recorded observations on behavior, time observed, and GPS locations of sightings.

 

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Photo 8: Kayaking to the mangroves at dawn to start Cotinga surveys. (Photo by Eli Brunner)

 

 

Over the course of our week at Rincon, we began to notice patterns in nature’s schedule that repeated each day. The cotingas would begin flying from the mangroves and into the inland forest just after 6:30 AM. At 4:00 PM a small grey and black lizard would climb up the roots of the tree by our house and begin flicking its tail back and forth, and just before 4:45 PM a flock of parakeets would fly overhead. Then just at dusk, the array of resident spiders of various sizes would take their places in the grass until they disappeared again just before dawn. We only have class for an hour or two each day, but we’re learning and observing nature from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed.

 

We said goodbye to the cotingas and mangroves on Friday and headed up the peninsula a bit farther to another Osa Conservation field station at Lomas de Sierpe. Upon arriving at our new field camp, we were greeted by running water and the much missed luxury of refrigeration. Here we will be staying a week to continue surveying for otters and start a new project studying five birds of concern. While the Cotinga Reserve at Rincon was one of the more rustic places we have stayed, the spectacular diversity of plants and birds we saw while kayaking through the mangroves was an unforgettable experience.

 

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Photo 9: Bare-throated Tiger Heron flying through the mangroves. (Photo by Katie Goodwin)

 

 

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Photo 10: Sunset bird-watching on the bridge. (Photo by Chris Smith)

 

 

This blog can also be found at: http://roundriver.org/student-blog/getting-our-boots-wet/

Osa Conservation is thrilled to partner with Round River’s program in Costa Rica.