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Join us – Education through bird watching: “Give wings” to knowledge

Blogpost by Luis Carlos Solis, Asistencia Técnica

Each year from the middle of December through early January, Christmas bird counts are organized worldwide. These counts consist of the identification and registration of the number of bird species observed in a given period of time. This tradition has been established in the world of bird watchers and is taught to each new generation.

The Osa Peninsula is no exception to this tradition, as different organizations collaborate in December for one day to participate in tracking the progress of endangered species and assessing the impact of environmental threats on birds and their habitat. This year, children and young people from educational centers of the Osa Peninsula, through the coordination of teachers and local organizations, will be responsible for carrying out the first Osa Peninsula Children Christmas Count 2017.

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This event is possible thanks to the coordination and collaboration of several institutions and organizations: Osa Conservation, Neotrópica Foundation, University of Costa Rica Golfito Campus, Ficus Tours, Osa Birds, Osa Wild, Utopia Drake Outdoors, Osa Birders Tours, Lapa Rios Lodge, Danta Corcovado Lodge, and La Palma Academic College. They will lead guided walks around each school, lecturing about the birds that frequent the places and that are observed daily by the children. The purpose of this activity is to improve the relationship between the young population, birds, and their habitat, in order to create new guardians of the natural heritage of the Osa.

The Christmas Children’s Bird Count will take place on Tuesday December 5 – Thursday December 7, 2017 of this year with the participation of 17 educational centers in different sectors of the Peninsula including the communities of Carate, Piro, Carbonera, Saturnino Cedeño of Puerto Jiménez, Dos Brazos of Tigre River, Gallardo, Cañaza, Agujas, Guadalupe, Riyito, La Palma Academic College, Alto San Juan, Chal Bay, El Campo, Admiral de Banegas, Rancho Quemado, and Aguilas de Bahía Drake.

Through experiencing nature and research, each of the participants contributes greatly to the monitoring of the health and long-term condition of bird populations and contributes to their conservation worldwide.

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Photos by Manuel Sanchez

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Spider Monkeys: Reforesting the Rainforests

Blog by Danielle Connor, Undergraduate Student at University of Exeter

Earlier this year, I spent many hours following the endangered spider monkey in the Osa. As part of a new project being carried out by Osa Conservation and my own research with the University of Exeter, I looked for sleeping sites and latrines to better understand the ecological role of spider monkeys in seed dispersal and their potential to regenerate rainforests.

A spider monkey hangs from a tree

 

Spider monkeys live in fission-fusion societies that split into smaller subgroups and fuse into large subgroups. At night, spider monkeys use specific “latrine sites” to excrete at key sleeping trees. These latrines are communal toilets and provide a perfect location for us researchers to examine how the rich fruit diet of spider monkeys are impacting the plant community.

A spider monkey latrine

A spider monkey latrine, indicated by the consolidated saplings

During my research, I successfully found 41 sleeping trees and 30 latrine sites. The sleeping trees were mostly large trees with long lateral branches, but some spider monkeys also slept in very small trees. Latrines were composed of many young tree saplings, excreted seeds and poo! I also found they consumed 32 species of fruit as well as other foods, such as epiphyte leaves that they feed on to add protein to their diet.

Typical spider monkey diet

Typical spider monkey diet

Through their role in seed dispersal, spider monkeys have a capacity to help regenerate rainforests. It is believed that some seeds like dialium rely on being passed through a spider monkey’s stomach in order to regenerate. In the future, we can use this information to assist with restoration efforts by planting the tree species spider monkeys prefer to sleep in, with the hope that spider monkeys will be attracted to them and, through their seed dispersal, continue their role as “an architect of the rainforest.”

If you missed our previous video blog about this project, please check it out here to learn more!

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The Battle: Sea Turtles vs. Predators!

Blogpost by Manuel Sanchez, Sea Turtle Conservation Program Coordinator

 

Nature is not always kind; sea turtles face a multitude of life threatening obstacles that reduce their chance of survival throughout their lives. Predation of eggs, hatchlings and adults by numerous predators is just one of the risks. Raccoons, coatis, opossums, crabs, dogs, birds and ants attack nests to indulge in an egg or a young sea turtle. Once the hatchling emerges from the nest, the challenge continues as hawks, pelicans, frigate birds, crabs and fish await a bite-size meal.  Once the hatchling defeats the odds of predation in their younger years, they reach adulthood where they are relatively safe from  such threats, excluding the occasional shark attack.

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Photo by Manuel Sanchez of a sea turtle hatchling making its way into the ocean

In the Osa, the coati populations have increased largely because of a change in the ecosystem balance with a decline of apex predator populations due to habitat loss and hunting. As the number of coatis increases, more of them are taking to the beach in search of food and often finding sea turtle eggs for their dinner. This unbalanced ecosystem is having a cascading impact on the survival of these sea turtle nests and increasing the need for us to help protect these vulnerable nesting areas.

Photo by Janell Canon on predation by coati and birds

Photo by Janell Canon of predation by a coati and birds

Unfortunately, natural predation is only one of the factors contributing to sea turtle population decline. Human actions can also have more of a direct threat to sea turtle survival.  In many coastal communities, especially in Central America, sea turtle eggs and meat can be a source of food and income, although often illegal. During peak nesting seasons, turtle poachers have been known to raid the beaches at night looking to steal eggs from nests, which can unfortunately are often sold to those willing to pay. 

Here on Playa Piro and Peje Perro, sea turtle nests are threatened more by predation than poaching. Our Sea Turtle Conservation team works hard to reduce human-induced threats and to restore the natural ecosystem balance needed to save the sea turtles. This year, our sea turtle hatchery has already protected over 200 sea turtle nests and helped us to release over 7,000 hatchlings already this year! We are greatly appreciative of all our our conservation volunteers & visitors that help us protect these amazing and ancient creatures! Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities with our Sea Turtle Conservation Program!

Sea Turtle Hatchery

Our Sea Turtle Hatchery in the Osa

 

Aquatic Health, Community Outreach, Uncategorized

Rios Saludables First Workshop in Colegio Puerto Jimenez

Blogpost by Hilary Brumberg, Ríos Saludables Program Coordinator 

Students in bright blue uniforms dip nets into a small stream and retrieve soggy masses of leaves, branches, rocks, and candy wrappers. They comb through the leaves with plastic spoons, and excitedly pluck small insects and crustaceans from the foliage and place them into the stream water filled ice cube tray  – our fancy specimen holder.

The students rush the specimens over to our identification station, a tree stump bearing a laminated booklet with dozens of pictures of aquatic critters. They methodically scan each page of the identification guide, enthusiastically pointing at pictures that look like their specimens. When these young scientists finally decide on the identity of the critter swimming around their tray, they return their specimen to the stream and begin fishing again. Other groups of teenagers wander around the stream in pursuit of litter, tossing snack wrappers in black trash bags to help clean the streams.

Students identifying macroinvertebrates

Students identifying macro invertebrates

These students attend Colegio Industrial Técnico Puerto Jiménez, one of two secondary schools on the Osa Peninsula and the closest one to our biological station. In the yard behind their school is Cacao Stream.  Students usually eat lunch alongside the stream, and often snack wrappers mysteriously make their way into the stream.

Today, these students are surveying the stream for macroinvertebrates, mini mighty organisms that are bio-indicators for river health. Many of the students had never thought twice about Cacao Stream, let alone the crustaceans and insects that call it home.

A group of students measuring the water

A group of students measuring the stream quality

This field activity is part of Rios Saludables’ first ever workshop with the Colegio Puerto Jiménez. Before heading to the stream to sample, I began the workshop with a presentation, assisted by one of the program’s community partners.

We discussed the importance of water and specifically rivers for nature and humans. Reasons they suggested included sources of drinking water, important ecological habitat, and nutrient transport.

One of my favorite parts of these presentations is to show a map of Osa’s expansive freshwater network. Rivers and streams expand like a spider web across the peninsula in every direction. Students always gasp when the map is projected, because they realize the extent that the peninsula’s ecosystems rely on rivers.

Hillary and some of the students

Hilary & students analyze their collections

A trademark Rios Saludables saying is “the problem with water on the Osa is not quantity, but rather quality.” This leads nicely into an explanation of the ways we determine water quality, namely water chemistry tests and macroinvertebrate surveys. These students had recently learned about pH and alkalinity  in their chemistry class, and I described what ranges indicate that a river is healthy. Then I passed around samples of macroinvertebrates I collected with community partners across the region, many from rivers close to students’ homes.

Now it is time for these newly ordained freshwater ecologists to head to Cacao Stream to practice these surveys.

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