Uncategorized

The first 24 hours as a volunteer

Blogpost written by Hanae Garrison,  Volunteer

4:30 am – I rise before the sun has woken up and while the nocturnal organisms are still out. I shove some food into my body in preparation of the day ahead. Another volunteer and I are staying at the cabins near the farm, where Osa Conservation grows much of their fresh vegetables, fruits, medicinal plants, and cares for their animals, restoration plots, botanic garden and much more.

5:00 am – After gearing up with our head lamps and day packs, we head out on the main road and walk for 25 minutes to the Biological Station. The stars shine through the trees and the hum of insects is more noticeable. Cars occasionally roll by with people starting their day before the sun’s heat gets too hot.

5:30 am – We meet up with Manuel Sánchez, the Sea Turtle Conservation Program Coordinator.  We hike through the woods as the sun begins to rise. He shows us a taste of what he does every morning to aid the survival of 4 species of endangered sea turtles – Olive Ridley, Green Sea Turtles, Leatherback, and Hawksbill (with the Olive Ridley and Green Sea Turtles being most common in the Osa). We look for threatened sea turtle nests along the beach and, when needed, the team will help excavate and transport the eggs to a protected hatchery, away from predators and poachers. When the time comes many weeks later, the baby turtles are released on the beach with enough distance to imprint on the sand while making their way to the waves, helping ensure their return to this same beach as adults.

blog-photo1_-h-garrison-volunteer

The hatchery allows sea turtle nests to incubate safely, without the risk of predation or poachers.

6:45 am – We release two Olive Ridley nests containing around 100 turtles. All of them safely reach the waves, some faster than others. Crossing the open beach is often the most difficult part of the turtles’ journey.  With this relocation and careful release, we help provide a safe passage for the tiny turtles across the beach and increase their chances of survival. In the wild, it’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 makes it to adulthood. As the waves crash onto the shore and sweep the sea turtles into the water, you can see their tiny black heads bouncing up and down and then diving down under the current.

 

blog-photo2_-h-garrison-volunteer

Baby sea turtles imprint on the sand while they make their way into the ocean

8:00 am – We make it back to the biological station and fill up on some beans and rice, a staple in our diet.

11:00 am – I spot some leaf cutter ants working away carrying their characteristic green pieces of leaves, sometimes as much as three times its weight. One after another, they move along, wearing away the grass and carving unbelievable paths along the forest floor.

12:00 pm – We eat a much-needed delicious meal of rice, beans, salad, banana chips and a glass of fresh lemonade.

1:00 pm – I head out on a trail with Sam to conduct field research on spider monkeys and their “latrine sites.”. We hike for about 40 minutes until we reach a turn in the path under a large tree. Spider monkeys prefer to sleep in trees with interlocking branches near their feeding trees and choose one spot where they all excrete their waste, also known as a “latrine site.” All day, they jump around from tree to tree, snacking on fruit. As a result, we can tell the diet of the spider monkey by going through their waste. The spider monkeys, thus, become primary seed dispersers and the “latrine site” can be identified by many tree saplings growing in one area.

 

blog-photo3_-h-garrison-volunteer

Researchers can determine the diet and ecological role of spider monkeys by examining what grows at the “latrine sites.”

2:00 pm – Our task was to observe the spider monkey poop and notice if ants appeared – which in theory, should attract poison dart frogs. Although field biology can seem repetitive and boring at times, it is extremely rewarding when you find what you’re looking for after patiently waiting. Great to see your work pay off!  As we sit there taking notes, I listen to the sounds around me and start to notice small things in the forest. A dung beetle crawls by, proudly rolling his perfect spherical ball of monkey poop. The beetles are a lot smaller than I had imagined but the impact they have on the forest as secondary seed dispersers is extraordinary!

3:45 pm – A howler monkey starts to howl near us. Sam tells me that howlers howl for only a few reasons: As a “wake-up call,” an “I’m going to sleep” howl, a “territorial” scream, and an “I’m wet and mad about it so I’m going to complain” cry. By this time, the rain had started coming down. We hadn’t felt it much before because the trees had caught most of it. But soon it got darker out and the rain got stronger. so we headed back.

The rest of the evening was composed of relaxing, showering, preparing and eating dinner, and getting to bed early for an early morning. The cold refreshing shower was definitely a highlight of my day along with the fresh pineapple with dinner.

Uncategorized

Christmas Bird Count 2017 – Birding in the Osa

Blogpost written by Eleanor Flatt, Restoration and Biodiversity Monitoring Research Field Assistant and Birder.

Black-cheeked ant tanager, endemic to the Osa Peninsula; photo by Manuel Sanchez

Black-cheeked ant tanager, endemic to the Osa Peninsula; photo by Manuel Sanchez

In the 1900’s, the first Audubon Christmas Bird Count was conducted in 25 areas with 27 birdwatchers in the US & Canada. 100 years later, the tradition has expanded to over 2,200 areas in 20 different countries. The Osa Peninsula is one of these locations and this year marked its 8th annual Christmas Bird Count. Data collected from Christmas Bird Counts form long-term bird population studies. These are used by scientists to detect bird declines from habitat disturbances and climate change.

blogphoto2_team-photo-at-rockpool-sunset

The Christmas Bird Count is a 24-hour event that occurs every year in December/January. In 2017, we were excited to work with partners to coordinate the First Junior Christmas Bird Count highlighted in a previous blog, as well as to continue this traditional Christmas Bird Count with community members of all ages. On Saturday, 16th December, 2017, volunteer citizen scientists headed out at the break of dawn all over the Osa Peninsula to count birds and became part of a long-running tradition. Participants included private landowners, eco-lodges, NGOs, local guides, national parks, and travel companies. Our team was 1 of 16 initiatives participating this year.

blogphoto1_osa-team-birding

Our bird count team was up before the sun, beginning the birding at 5am. The team split into groups to survey several habitat types; primary forest, secondary forest, plantation forest, swamp, restored wetland, and abandoned pastureland. This was to ensure we captured a result that reflected the diverse bird fauna in the Osa Peninsula, a global biodiversity hotspot. Birding continued throughout the day until the evening, with all teams finishing at the rock pools to watch the sun settle over the ocean.

Our team walked a total of 30km, actively birded for a total of 12hrs and recorded a total of 142 bird species! This included the Golden-Winged warbler that was featured wearing a Christmas hat for the Christmas Bird Count 2017 logo. We recorded endemic species such as the black-cheeked ant tanager. Also, a spectacular sighting of the white-tailed kite! This data all goes towards valuable birding databases, like Cornell’s eBird, which has designated Osa Conservation’s properties as an official birding hotspot.

blogphoto5_christmas-bird-count-logo

We want to thank all the Osa Conservation’s volunteers, staff, friends and families that joined us to make this day successful. We wonder how many species we will get next year.

Uncategorized

Ornithology & Neuroscience: A Student Research Experience

Blogpost by Patrick Newcombe, Volunteer and Student Researcher

My time at Osa Conservation’s biological station was an incredible experience, full of birds, nature, and exploration in the tropical rainforest. It was particularly meaningful as I got to follow up on my highschool ornithology research in the Osa and present it at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C.

sfn

Society for Neuroscience Conference

Over 30,000 people from 80+ countries attended the annual meeting, which filled DC’s convention center. I presented a poster that included my research on the elaborate courtship displays that manakins use to attract their mates in the Osa. As scientists walked by my scientific poster, they were eager to learn more about my findings!

 

Newcombe's poster on his research

Newcombe’s poster on his research

As a part of my summer research, I hiked the trails around the biostation searching for manakin “leks” – a term used to describe the gathering of two or more males performing courtship displays. I found that for each of three manakin species found in the Osa – including Red-capped, Blue-crowned, and Orange-collared –  each one frequented and displayed in different habitats.

_mg_9086

Red-Capped Manakin, by Manuel Sanchez

The Orange-collared Manakin lived in secondary growth forest, within meters from trees that remain from plantations that previously occupied the same land. This was really interesting as it illustrates Osa Conservation’s success in reforestation and the importance of not just preserving existing rainforest, but also re-growing new rainforest, which is valuable for birds such as the Orange-collared Manakin! I also found Red-capped Manakins in primary forest, although they were near the borders with secondary growth. Blue-crowned Manakins were in both primary and well-established secondary growth rainforest.

 

sfn-at-poster

Students at the Society for Neuroscience Conference

 

Overall, I had a great time doing my research in the Osa and enjoyed being able to present what I found in the field to bring together ornithology and neuroscience at a conference in DC! What an experience!

 

Note: Patrick visited Osa earlier this year and is part of the Sidwell School’s Upper School’s BRAIN Club. Click here to learn more about the students and their “Biological Research and Investigations in Neuroscience” Club!

Uncategorized

Cornell College Field Course: Reflections from Students

Blogposts written by Cornell College students

Cornell College visited our biological station for week-long field trip. While at the station, they collaborated with our science team, carried out primate point count surveys every morning and afternoon, and participated in the sea turtle program. The primate data collected will be analyzed and paired with the dung beetle research we have been carrying out, investigating the patterns of this link. The students worked incredibly hard trekking through the jungle for hours and we can’t thank them enough. Below is a series of short blogs about their experiences with us.  We can’t wait to see you next year Cornell College!

The Cornell College Field Course Group

The Cornell College Field Course Group, photo by Eleanor Flatt

Where Forest meets Beach

 By Andrew Hanson.

My experience on the Osa Peninsula was absolutely incredible. From tromping through the rainforest looking for monkeys to being on the beach patrolling for sea turtles, this was an experience unlike any I have ever had before. The highlight of this experience was exploring the vast sandy Piro beach where the sea turtle hatchery was located. While the waves and riptides were not conducive to swimming, the amount of wildlife near the beach made up for it. Both times we went we observed around 10 capuchin monkeys and their babies. While we were able  to watch the capuchins interact,  they did begin throwing coconuts if we got too close! As a whole, I cannot explain everything about the Osa Peninsula. From the people to the places, this is a truly incredible place.

img_8324

Capuchin Monkey, photo by Manuel Sanchez

My Osa Conservation Experience

By Katie Stieber

This has been my first ever experience hiking in a tropical rainforest. On the second day, we ventured off on a 1-hour hike at 05:00am to reach a point to survey primates. As I am not very athletic, I struggled at the start but I eventually made it.  As we went to each of our points, we were surrounded by singing birds as the sun rose and I had a great sense of achievement that I completed the hike and participated in the survey. Then, at the last point in the hike, three scarlet macaws, the one bird I had hoped to see, flew over our heads while squawking loudly. I was taken away by the beauty of this sighting and it definitely made the hike worthwhile! If hiking at the biological station means I get to see beautiful wildlife in natural habitat, then I cannot wait to go and hike through the rainforest again.

img_0455

Scarlet Macaw, photo by Manuel Sanchez

Leaf-Cutter Ants

By Danielle Polson

Like a single parent with two jobs of the rainforest, these little leaf-cutter ants never stop working. It doesn’t matter if its dark, raining or even flooded – they keep going. With their “rain hats” made of leaves, the leaf-cutter ants carve pathways throughout the forest as thousands of them walk one-by-one in a line. They all go to the same plant, cut out what they will carry and then make the return trek back to their underground nest where they harvest and feed on the fungus that grows on the leaves. These tiny workers remind me of what “hard work” means and inspire me to reflect on my own work ethic, knowing that I like to sleep a lot and run for shelter when it’s raining. I admire the leaf-cutter ants for their work ethic and adorable choice of hats. I hope one day I can just keep moving through the mud with my very own little leaf hat.

Hidden treasures

By April

The rainforest is for the brave, but still full of charming creatures like sloths, ocelots and coatis. However, there are plenty of creepy-crawlies that are still very cool to observe. I saw many Golden Orb Weaver spiders, a boa constrictor as thick as my arm, and many interesting bugs. To see all these wonderful sites, you need to go out and adventure, hours of hiking in the mud uphill through the humid air and sometimes rain. While not everyone is naturally used to this type of adventure, the experience can be much like how Bilbo Baggins describes adventure: uncomfortable sometimes, but forms bonds between those in the group and not without its rewards. Overall, the adventure is worth the trek and I have seen animals here that I have never heard about before and found many hidden treasures.

 

A coati in the forest

A coati in the forest, photo by Eleanor Flatt

 

A boa

A boa, photo by Eleanor Flatt

 

Some students on one of the hikes

Cornell College students observing the biodiversity in the Osa, Photo by Eleanor Flatt