Volunteers and Visitors

A First Impressions of the Osa

Blogpost written by Sawyer Judge, Volunteer

Before going to the Osa for the first time, I was looking forward to seeing rare big cats, incredible crawling insects and of course the famous scarlet Macaw’s that thrive in the region. But the Osa was so much more than I could have ever expected and it amazed me from the moment I got here!

Photo by CIFOR on Flickr

Photo by CIFOR on Flickr

The taxi ride to Osa Conservation’s biological station is bumpy, but with taxi-driver Andi (a man from Germany who has lived in the Osa for 10 years) as your guide, there’s plenty of interesting things to learn. Andi has an incredible eye. Even while driving he can spot a family of tropical screech owls sleeping in a shady branch. In response to my awe, he replied, “when you’ve been here as long as I have, things become easier to see.”

Some things are easier to see than owls, even to the untrained eye. Closer to the biological station we passed something out of Dr. Suess. With skinny trunks about a dozen feet high or more, and wide, almost pentagonal leaves, the trees rise from the ground erect like a field of a telephone poles. “What are those?” I asked. “Oh, those are teak trees – young ones, too – maybe 6 years old,” Andi answered.

Photo by Feona on Flickr

Photo by Feona on Flickr

Andi went on to explain that teak trees are among some of the fastest growing tree species. Their wood is highly durable and makes good construction supply for exteriors and boats, due to the wood’s water resistant properties. Although not native to Costa Rica, these trees are doubly used here for quick forest cover and lumber supply – a good resource for quick wood, whether you want to keep it or chop it.

The fact that teak trees are a prominent source of lumber here is a double edge sword. As natural teak tree forests throughout Southeast Asia dwindle, commercial farms in places like Costa Rica increase to meet high demand. And, unfortunately, this is becoming an increasing threat to conservation throughout the country. Although reliance on teak means less exploitation of endemic tree species, teak requires a lot of land and resources which can harm and often pollute the environment. Teak could be a healthy alternative to lumber but only when managed responsibly.

I have been amazed by the things I have seen and learned in my first few days here. I can only image what the next few weeks will bring. Stay tuned for future blogs as I delve into experiencing the Osa!

Sustainable agriculture

What’s the Deal with Sustainable Agriculture?

Blogpost written by Mollie Carroll, Intern


Most of us never think past the walls of the grocery store when it comes to our food. And, we definitely don’t often go as far as to think about the practices used to produce it. Yet, in an ever modernizing world, we should stop for a moment to question what really goes into making the food that we eat every day and ask ourselves, “What’s the deal with sustainable agriculture?”

In the United States, the amount of farms has drastically decreased as yield from industrial farms skyrockets. The goal of modern industrial agriculture is to increase output produced while also decreasing costs. The main issue with industrial agriculture stems from the negative externalities created when companies are focused on this goal.

A negative externality means that the cost shown on the price tag of food we buy does not represent the true cost to society. These added social costs include things like health risks and environmental problems. The false sense of price causes people to consume more than the socially efficient levels of outcome. Basically, we are lured into over consumption, and nothing acts as a deterrent from buying products that have negative health and environmental effects.

For now, we will focus solely on the environmental effects of industrial agriculture, and there are plenty.

Photo by Rob James

Photo by Rob James Garden Beds Without Pesticides

First, fertilizer use has increased dramatically in recent years, but the products are no more efficient. Only around 1/3 of the nitrogen in fertilizer gets absorbed leaving the rest to enter our runoff. Among other things, excess nitrogen in runoff creates dead zones in waterways.

Dead zones are areas in which oxygen is depleted and nutrient rich water allows for algae blooms. This causes not only asphyxiation of marine life, but can also impact reproduction and longevity of wildlife.

Pesticides cause similar issues with their inefficiency. Only about .1% of pesticides reach their target species! That means 99.9% of the pesticides we use cause unwanted damage. Chlorpyrifos, for example, is used on bananas grown in monocultures. While the amount of the pesticide found in the bananas is often low, communities and ecosystems around the farms exhibit extremely high levels of the chemical.  This damage includes disrupting delicate predator-prey balances. Pests (the prey) often recover much faster from population declines caused by pesticides than predators such as birds. Pesticides also are a suspected major cause in the decline of honeybees because they weaken their immune system and disrupt reproduction.

Photo by Rob James

Photo by Rob James Wild Pepper Growing Without Pesticides

Some of the increase in pesticide use can be attributed to the reliance on monocultures. When breeders attempt to make disease resistant crops under time constraints, they often cross breed plants isolating one resistant trait instead of the complex web of traits that is the cause of a species disease resistance. Because of this, diseases are able to evolve at a faster rate exacerbating the need for new varieties of plants and pesticide use. Monocultures intensify this need creating a vicious cycle.

Today, we rely on monocultures mainly to feed our livestock; 66% of grain production in the United States goes directly to livestock. The same amount of land, when used to plant legumes, can produce ten times the amount of protein.

Meat can also be tricky to produce.  One common inefficiency of meat production is the exorbitant amount of water it requires- almost 100 times the grain equivalent in protein.

Photo by Rob James

Photo by Rob James Commitment to Sustainable Animal Husbandry Practices

Water use in industrial agriculture is becoming an increasingly threatening problem. Around two-thirds of water worldwide goes directly to agriculture leading to the rapid depletion of aquifers. Similarly, the EPA states that 70% of stream and river pollution in the United States comes directly from agriculture.

This list includes just some of the many effects of industrial agriculture that harm our environment and make promoting sustainable agriculture more important every day. But what exactly is sustainable agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is the production of food using practices that protect the environment and may even promote benefits such as increased biodiversity.

Photo By Max Villalobos Bird's Nest Found Among Crops on Wildlife Friendly Farm

Photo By Max Villalobos Bird’s Nest Found Among Crops on Wildlife Friendly Farm

At Osa Conservation’s wildlife-friendly farm, we make conscious decisions to ensure the sustainability of our farming practices.

One major sustainable practice that we implement is growing native crops that support the local ecosystem. Planting a large variety of local crops helps suppress weeds, which then reduces the need for harmful pesticides. It also means that crops can thrive in local soil without the use of fertilizers.

Keeping the farm substance-free is especially important because of the integration of crops and livestock. This practice is said to reduce soil degradation because manure from livestock continuously stimulates soil fertility. Further, integrating crops and livestock ensures that no failed harvests or crops go to waste. This not only means happy animals, but happy farmers too!

Photo by Rob James

Photo by Rob James

Another important task of our sustainable farming is to carefully care for our soil. Among other techniques, Osa Conservation uses reduced tilling methods, such as through the use of compost and biochar. Not only does biochar contribute to carbon sequestration, but it helps transform agriculture waste into soil.

It is hard not to support sustainable farming when you consider the differences in the environmental impact. At Osa Conservation, we are incredibly proud of our wildlife-friendly farm, and not just because our food is delicious!

If you’re looking for a once in a lifetime opproutunity to be a part of the sustainable agriculture movement, come volunteer with our program in the Osa. Learn more about it here!

Sustainable Farm Research Field Assistant

Sea Turtles

Every Day is Sea Turtle Day Here in the Osa

Blogpost written by Marina Garrido, Sea Turtle Volunteer

 

World Sea Turtle Day was just last week and the sea turtle team at Osa Conservation was super excited. Why? Because to us, it is not just a day, but a day in which we hope the whole world can remember and think about, even if just for a moment, these amazing animals.

Sea turtles are one of the most ancient animals alive. They belong to the family Quelonidae, which  also encompasses terrestrial turtles. One interesting fact about sea turtles, is that unlike the terrestrial turtles, they cannot hide their bodies inside their shells.

Photo by Marina Garrido, baby sea turtles journey back to the ocean

Photo by Marina Garrido, baby sea turtles journey back to the ocean

Currently, there are seven sea turtle species swimming in the seas and oceans. Costa Rica is home to four of these species including: the Olive ridley, the Pacific Green turtle, the Hawksbill and the Leatherback. All four of them can be found in the Osa Peninsula!

All sea turtle species are considered highly endangered. Here in Osa Conservation, we are conserving and protecting sea turtles to make a change. How do we do it? We patrol two beaches every day, looking for turtle tracks. If we find a nest, we move it to the hatchery in order to protect it. Thanks to the hatchery we can control the nests and study them to improve the success of the hatchlings. For example, one of the things we control is the temperature of the nests. Why? The sea turtles are reptiles and therefore the temperature surrounding the nest determines gender. Females are born on high temperatures and males on low temperatures. Unfortunately, the temperatures have increased in the past few years due to climate change, and so, more females are being born than males.

Photo by Marina Garrido, volunteers observe a nesting female at night

Photo by Marina Garrido, volunteers observe a nesting female at night

We have been very successful in protecting the turtles thanks to the help of everyone that comes to volunteer. Last year we set around 15,000 hatchlings free. Still we need a lot of help from all of you! Below you can find a little list of things you can do to help the sea turtles:

  • Do not throw any trash into the ocean.
  • Clean the beaches as you walk and close to where you spend time.
  • Reuse and Recycle.
  • Use reusable fabric bags instead of plastic bags.
Photo by Marina Garrido, Sea turtle volunteers release hatchlings back to the ocean

Photo by Marina Garrido, Sea turtle volunteers release hatchlings into the ocean

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE SEA TURTLE DAY FOR YOU TO HELP THE TURTLES. YOU CAN MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Unexpected Values of Vanilla

Blogpost written by Lesley Mould, Intern

Since vanilla is so popular, it was surprising to learn how challenging it is to grow it in the wild! Vanilla is one of the many rare and distinct plants that can be found in the Osa. The uniqueness of the vanilla plant is fascinating, and its potential to both reforest and spur regional development is heartening in a field that can often be cynical.  As an intern in Osa Conservation’s Washington, D.C. office with a strong interest in botany, I find the traits and characteristics of the vanilla plant incredibly enticing.

 

A brief history of Vanilla

Vanilla is the most popular flavoring in the world, the second most expensive, and an incredibly time- and labor-intensive crop. In the 17th century, factories to manufacture the vanilla flavor began to emerge throughout Europe. Vanilla became a common commercial crop in 1841 after Edmond Albius discovered an effective method for hand pollination. This is still the dominant harvesting methodology today.

Photo by Osa Conservation

Photo by Osa Conservation

Fast Facts about Vanilla

The vanilla grown in Costa Rica is a Vanilla planifolia. The vanilla vine grows on a host tree, and if unattended, can grow up to 30 meters and reach the tops of forests. The vanilla bean is the fruit of the Vanilla orchid, and is the only edible fruit of the 25,000 orchid species native to Central America and the surrounding regions. The vanilla flower only blooms for 24 hours, and if it is not pollinated, the plant dies and the beans cannot be used. There are over 50 species of vanilla, but only a few of them are used for flavoring.

Vanilla must be grown in a moist, tropical climate between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and between 10 and 20 degrees north and south of the Equator. It is impossible to grow the same vanilla vine in the more than one country because of soil and climate variances, so each growing region produces vanilla with a slightly different flavor.

Photo by Osa Conservation

Photo by Osa Conservation

Vanilla Pollination

Manual pollination of the vanilla plant is done with a very small stick and takes a great amount of time and precision. Fertilization by a native species is incredibly rare—so rare, in fact, that scientists are unsure of exactly which species are pollinators. It has been suggested that the Melipona bee is a vanilla pollinator, but its small size makes is an unlikely candidate.

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Photo by Osa Conservation

Vanilla Conservation

Conservation of the vanilla plant is of paramount importance. Its labor-intensive cultivation, niche growing environment, short life-cycle, and extraordinarily high demand place a great deal of pressure on vanilla crops. That is why Osa Conservation is excited to help further this conservation research! An exciting project is under development, so stay tuned for more information on what is happening in the field as Osa Conservation works towards gaining a better understanding of the role of vanilla in the rainforest.

Osa Conservation’s BioStation is the perfect place to conduct further research on the vanilla plant and its pollination. We have several vanilla plants, both wild and domesticated, that researchers can observe and study, and maybe even use to find new solutions to the problems of deforestation, regional underdevelopment, and vanilla shortage!

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Why the Osa is Impossible to Forget

Blogpost written by Robert Baker, Volunteer

Hi, my name is Bob Baker. For the past 10 years, my wife Lindsay and I have come to the Osa Peninsula for two weeks every March. We come to enjoy what National Geographic calls the “most biologically intense place on earth.” We typically stay in vacation rentals in the Cabo Matapalo area which is about 18km south of Puerto Jimenez at the tip of the peninsula. Last March (2016), we arranged to visit Osa Conservation’s biological station and during our visit,  Manuel Sanchez (Sea Turtle Program Coordinator) asked if we would like to join him on a sea turtle beach patrol one evening. Joining Manuel, and rescuing and releasing 17 baby Green sea turtles to the ocean was such an amazing experience that I decided to become a sea turtle volunteer with the program again this past March for a week.

Photo by Bob Baker

Photo by Bob Baker

On the first day, we met for an orientation session and learned that our duties would begin at 5:00am the next morning when Manuel, our supervisor, would meet us at the dining station. From there we started our hike to Piro beach and began our first sea turtle patrol.

Beach patrols as a sea turtle volunteer involve walking, paying attention and more walking. Manuel taught us that there are primarily 2 species of sea turtles that visit this beach, as well as Pejeperro beach, for nesting purposes. These are the Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and the Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) and Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) also occasionally visit these beaches. We even got to see a Leatherback nest during our stint. Manuel taught us about the different species and how to identify them. For example, Olive Ridley sea turtles leave asymmetrical, or alternating, tracks. On the other hand, Green turtles leave wider, symmetrical tracks due to their size.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

On this first morning, we recovered approximately 100 Green sea turtle eggs and carried them to the hatchery. The hatchery is a covered area within the vegetation just off the beach. Careful to maintain the same dimensions as the original nest, we dug a hole in the hatchery compound placed the eggs in the new “nest,” We then removed about 25 Green sea turtle hatchlings from another nest and watched them make their small journey to the waiting ocean. Fantastic!

The next morning, we were up at 3:30am to patrol the longer Pejeperro beach. We found Green and Olive Ridley tracks and a few new nests. We did not remove the eggs  from their nests on this beach due to lesser rates of poaching and predation.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

During my week as a sea turtle volunteer, I saw other wildlife including Fiery-Billed aracaris, baby Green iguanas, a Red-eyed tree frog, Yellow-headed caracaras, Squirrel monkeys and a Common potoo. Although we did not see them, we used our skills to determine that other species were nearby.  Manuel, Delaney and I hiked to a camera trap and found an amazing photo of a jaguar. This jaguar had been in front of this camera the previous evening. Manuel was so excited because it was the second jaguar they had seen and documented recently. We also encountered Puma “scratchings” on the trail to the camera trap location.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Later in the week, alone on the Ajo trail I came upon a herd of approximately 50 White-lipped peccaries. At first, I thought they were the more common Collared peccaries. However,  Osa Conservation’s Andy Whitworth later corrected me and explained that Collared Peccaries travel in small groups (usually no more than 10-20). White-lipped Peccaries travel in herds from anywhere between 50-300 individuals.  After showing Manuel my photos he confirmed they were of the white-lipped variety. The abundance of peccaries, one of the jaguar’s natural prey, further explain the jaguar in the vicinity.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

On my last full day, I went out on 2 patrols (Piro at 3:30am and Pejeperro at 8pm), transferred 137 Olive Ridley eggs to the hatchery, hiked the Ajo and Tangara trails, visited 2 camera traps and  hiked to the Sunset rocks to watch another beautiful Pacific Ocean sunset. The next morning, I went on my last sea turtle patrol with Manuel and Marina (a new research assistant). Tired from the night before, we doggedly walked the beach. We ended up transferring 93 Olive Ridley eggs to the hatchery, a great way to end my sea turtle volunteer experience. A big thanks to Manuel, Alejandra, Karla, Rachael and Andy for their support and making this a wonderful life experience. Cheers!

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A botanical walk for all 5 senses

Blogpost written by Marina Garrido, Research Field Assistant

A few days ago, part of the staff and some researchers went for a walk with Osa Conservation’s botanist, Reinaldo Aguilar, from the biological station to the wildlife-friendly farm. All along the way, Reinaldo showed everyone different kinds of plants that grow in the Osa Peninsula, and shared his knowledge about the flora. We all had a lot of fun and enjoyed each plant we saw with all five senses. Since the staff is comprised of both Spanish and English speakers, we got to learn the plant names in both languages. Now, we want to share everything we learned with all of you.

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We started by learning about the Bromelia, from the family Bromeliaceae. The flower blooms during the night, and signals the plant to begin growing a new branch. Once the flower has been pollinated by bats and the flower is ready to become a fruit, some of the petals are eaten by crabs. We also learned that palm trees are characteristic of the primary forest, eventhough some species, like the royal palm, can be found in different habitats.

 

Along the way, we met some capuchin monkeys eating the fruits of a tree called Cow tongue, or Lengua de vaca (Liconia argentia). It is not uncommon to see capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys, and white-nosed coatis snacking on the fruit of this native tree on a morning walk around the station.

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Once we were inside the wildlife-friendly farm, Reinaldo introduced us to the marvelous Anacardiaceae family. Within this family, there are some of  Osa’s tastiest fruits: mangos, jocotes, pistachios, and cashews. The genus Pistacia used to have its own family, but was recently added to the Anacardiaceae family. One of the defining characteristics of this family is the resin canals visible on the pith of the plants.

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We had some fun with our confusion between the Guava and Inga trees. The Guava tree is called Guayaba in Spanish (Psidium guajaba). Its leaves are opposite and simple, and the flowers are white and very smelly. Its sweet fruit is a favorite of many monkeys and the leaves possess glands that excrete oil to protect themselves from larvae. When backlit, these glands look like tiny cells surrounding the leaf. On the other hand, a species of the Inga tree is called Guaba in Spanish (Inga edulis).  Its fruit grows in a pod, which can easily be opened by hand. The seeds are found inside the pod along with the characteristic white pulp. These fruits can be found all around the peninsula and are a sweet and delicious snack for every wanderer in the Osa.

An additional tree that we all enjoyed was the Pochote tree (Bombacopsis quinata). This tree is common on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Its thorns cover the entire trunk and its white flowers turn red once they fall. These two unique characteristics make this tree quite easy to identify. Its leaves are edible and, according to some of our assistants, very tasty!

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Celebrating Biodiversity!

Blogpost written by Eleanor Flatt, Biodiversity Research Field Assistant

 

In the Osa, “biodiversity” is an  understatement…

In the human world, we select people to represent our countries, our towns, our villages, our communities; it is similar in the animal kingdom. A flagship species is an ambassador for a specific habitat and normally conservation of that species or the area they inhabit has benefits for other species. Here in the Osa Peninsula, we are home to a staggering 2.5% of the planets biodiversity, living on a mere 0.00000085% of the earth’s total surface area. Now that’s impressive! This biodiversity includes many iconic, endemic, and endangered species, which are ecologically important to this region. Here are 7 of the most interesting and exciting examples you might find during your visit to the Osa.

 

Yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platurus)

Photo by www.golfodulce.org/pelamis-en.html

Photo by www.golfodulce.org/pelamis-en.html

This beautiful yellow-bellied sea snake can be found in the temperate waters of the Golfo Dulce. Its physiological adaptations allows this species to become boat-like, with a tapered belly similar to the keel of a boat providing stability in water, along with a flattened and broadened tail, which performs like a paddle for swimming…this is the Michael Phelps of the snake world!

 

 

Yellow-Billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae)

Photo by Glen Bartley

Photo by Glen Bartley

The Yellow-billed cotinga is an endangered bird whose small population occupies only a tiny area. There are estimated to be 250-999 individuals, and only 150-700 of them are mature. They occur in mangroves, lowland forest, scrub, and occasionally in isolated trees in nearby clearings. After completing a radio-tracking study to understand their habitat uses for breeding and feeding, Osa Conservation is now focusing on protecting this land through the creation of a reserve.

 

 

Mangrove Humming bird (Amazilia boucardi)

Photo by Nick Hawkins

Photo by Nick Hawkins

Mangrove hummingbirds are another vital species in the mangrove habitat. They feed mainly on the flowers of the tea mangrove and are the only birds that have adapted to collect nectar with a specialized tongue. Their diet of carbohydrate-rich sugar nectar is necessary to support the hummingbird’s significant energy demands, as their wings beat 200 times per second. They will feed on between 1,000 and 2,000 flowers each day, allowing the tea-mangrove flowers to maintain high pollination rates. We are in the midst of starting a new project to protect the mangrove habitats here in the Osa.

 

 

The White Lipped Peccaries (Tayassu pecari)

white-lipped-peccary

Populations of White-lipped peccaries are decreasing due to hunting and habitat degradation and fragmentation. Consequently, this species is now listed as vulnerable. Records indicate that they can form groups of as few as 5 to as many as 200 individuals. In conjunction with the wildcat program, Osa Conservation will be radio-collaring and  monitoring the  peccary population, as they are essential prey for large cat populations.

 

 

Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Green turtles, listed as endangered by the ICUN, are one of the many sea turtle species that come to nest here. It is hypothesised that the hatchlings leave the nesting beach and begin an oceanic phase by floating passively in major current systems, which serve as developmental grounds, after several years. They then proceed to seagrass and algae-rich areas where they forage until maturity. In the Osa, we have the Golfo Dulce, which is rich in these foods, and we monitor Playa Peje Perro, which is considered an important beach because  of its high population of nesting female green sea turtles.

 

 

The Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi)

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Spider monkeys are energetic and agile movers found high in the canopy. Recorded as endangered on the IUCN Red list due to hunting, pet trafficking and habitat fragmentation, spider monkeys are in dire need of protection. Osa Conservation works hard to protect their areas of habitat, including important corridor routes surrounding national parks, and restore other aspects of their habitat. Spider monkeys are typically found in groups of 20-30 individuals, but often split up during the day to forage. In the evening, they all return to a specific “sleeping tree” to be together as a big family.

 

 

Golfo Dulce Poison Dart Frog (Phyllobates vittatus)

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

The Golfo Dulce poison dart frog is yet another species affected by habitat fragmentation and degradation, both of which have caused it to become endangered. As an endemic species here in the Osa (meaning it is only found in this region), this species is all the more special! Females deposit eggs on leaves above the ground, then the males carry the hatched larvae to small pools where they complete their development – a true team effort.

 

These are just a few of the many wonderful and magnificent species you can find here in the Osa Peninsula that we are working to conserve by protecting and restoring their habitats.  These are just a few of the amazing species we can appreciate as we celebrate World Biodiversity Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized, Volunteers and Visitors

Cornell to Costa Rica

A blog by: Cody Stockert

Taking the opportunity to study for a block in Costa Rica is the best decision I have made in my four years at Cornell College.

This beach is located on the Osa peninsula of Costa Rica. My classmates and I accessed it using Osa conservation’s trails.

                       

Why did I go to Costa Rica for class?

Cornell College is unique because we have a block plan schedule, which means we take one course at a time. Right now I am taking Biology 485 which at Cornell is the biology’s department’s senior research block. We do not have to leave the United States to fulfill this requirement, but I paid for the course by dedicating a portion of the income from my summer job. I think you would be a fool to stay on campus when you can have other choices. So while I am enjoying almost a full month in Costa Rica, I am not missing any class, just softball workouts.

My research project is looking at the relationship between the number of fungi and the state of decay of fallen tropical trees. You might think looking at dead trees on the forest floor would be really boring, but it has allowed us to go to the edge of the forest and see many things that we wouldn’t by just hiking a trail. For instance, today as Laurel and I were approaching a tree fall, Kaci gasped and when we looked up we saw a wild cat looking back at us! It was pretty incredible. We stood on the trail astonished it didn’t run away from us, but a couple minutes later saw a little spotted kitten trembling on the log.

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The “wild cat” is known as an Ocelot. Seeing one in the wild is rare; their populations have been depleted because of human demand for their spotted coats. Ocelots are nocturnal, so we probably only saw it during the day because it had a kitten.

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Sea Turtles

My personal favorite thing we have done on this trip is release baby sea turtles. Osa conservation has committed to restoring sea turtle populations by digging up their nests and moving them to their hatchery. The hatchery protects the sea turtle’s eggs from predation and habitat destruction. When hatched, the hatchlings are relocated to the beach and allowed to walk to the ocean. The female sea turtles, will return to their home beach in about 15-20 years to lay their nests. The largest nest we found was 54 cm deep and 31 cm across, with 111 eggs in it. I was amazed by the size of the nests created by animals that are typically half a meter in size!

Snake Encounter

On our first day in the field we were collecting tree fall data. I was climbing across a down tree with the measuring tape to get the height. The log was very decayed so as I was walking to the far end away from my class, the log collapsed and my foot went straight through the log. At the same time a brown coiled snake popped its head out of the log. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever moved faster. I jumped off the log cursing, heart beating, and shouting “SNAKE!” Professor McCollum then went to check it out, and informed me the snake was a fer de lance, also known as a tericopelo in Costa Rica. Fer de lance’s are a species of viper and also the most venomous snakes in Costa Rica. Once bitten, their venom solidifies your blood. Fortunately, I saw it before it saw me.

Small things Matter too!

Studying fungi has given me the chance to see how unique the rain forest is and to take a close look at some of the forest’s smaller organisms.

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For Osa it is a big pleasure to hear back from all the experiences our visitors have! A big thank you to Cody for sharing his own.

 

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The Great Hummingbird War of outside our cabin

Written by Jeremy Novak (Cornell University Student)

In all honesty The Great Hummingbird War is a tad misleading for three very important reasons: 1) it is really more of a series of fights; 2) it wasn’t that great, more or less as entertaining as the morning news; and 3) the most recent fight had nothing to do with a hummingbird, but rather a moth. The Great Hummingbird War does have one big thing going for it, it sounds a lot more exciting than The Just as Entertaining as the Morning News Series of Fights That Were Only Partially Fought Between Hummingbirds of outside our cabin. It also rolls of the tongue just a little bit better.

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The best place to start when talking about any war is the beginning: Many moons ago, long before I arrived at the Osa peninsula, someone planted two clumps of Rabo de Zorros (Stachytarpheta cayennensis) outside the cabin we are staying in. The only way to describe this battlefield is… lovely, as the two plants are wonderful and provide a nice purple contrast to the landscape. They also serve as a food source for the local hummingbirds, and here is where the conflict begins because hummingbirds are by nature are territorial. And Hummingbirds that feed off of these two plants are very territorial, thus every morning when we woke up for breakfast we would witness a spectacle that can only be described, with complete honesty, as an overly aggressive dance with juice breaks. When one hummingbird spotted another hummingbird in its territory it would fly aggressively towards this new rival. Then the rival would zip away to find a new spot just out of view of the first hummingbird and enjoy the nectar from the flowers. But our fierce battle is not over as this “juice break” is often short lived, when the hummingbirds encounter each other again they repeat this dance darting around the plant flying quickly and gracefully between flowers and stems in their rivalry over this one plant. But we must not forget the second Rabo de Zorro across the path from the first, for it is host to the same type combat each morning, featuring smaller but no less persistent and territorial hummingbirds. All wars must at some point come to an end, and the larger hummingbirds do so in a spectacular fashion. When their dance comes to an end both rivals fly straight up above the roof of our cabin where the sunlight makes this spectacle almost impossible to see, what happens up there I can only imagine, because when they are done, both hummingbirds return to the Rabo de Zorro then one of them leaves.

Now if this were a children’s story and not an overly dramatic rendition of one person’s morning observations, we’d have to end the story with “…one of them leaves never to be seen again” but it’s not because I’m pretty sure that the same hummingbird comes back to try again the next day.

As far as the issue of the moth is concerned one would think being able to tell the difference a hummingbird and a moth would be easy, but it is surprisingly hard when they are about the same size and both hovering about looking for nectar.  Our first morning here my professor, Andy, and I were watching the hummingbirds darting around the flowers when I saw a hummingbird smaller than size of your thumb, and pointed it out to Andy. He saw only a glimpse of it and told me that it was too small to be a hummingbird and that it must have been a moth, thus a week long argument began. Each morning that first week we would stand out by the Rabo de Zorro watching for the bird/moth to return. Latter during this week Manuel returned to the station and we got him to weigh in on our argument. He confirmed that some very tiny hummingbirds do visit the Osa on their migrations. A quick internet search reveals the same thing but where’s the fun in that? With new resolution that we could have seen a hummingbird that small, we continued our search. That is until the fateful day, when Andy managed to get a blurry, but convincing photo (below) of our little hummingbird, or should I say moth. Andy had been correct that the hummingbird we had seen the first day on the Osa peninsula was a moth.

screenshot-27

Thus ends The Great Hummingbird War of outside our cabin, while the daily conflict of the local hummingbirds is not going to end anytime soon, we can rest easy knowing that the biggest conflict in this long great war has been put to rest.

Thank you Jeremy for sharing your experience !

 

 

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Feeling Froggy- When a professor and his favorite amphibians meet

This blog and all photos were provided by:

Steve Ressel|Professor at College of the Atlantic

This past August, I had the good fortune to visit Piro Biological Station for a few days. Piro was one stop on a seven-day scouting trip with another colleague where we explored different areas in the Osa for a future tropical ecology course. My days at Piro BioStation were few in number and mostly filled with logistical considerations associated with bringing students down to the Osa. However, I still left overwhelmed by the amount of biodiversity I saw during my brief, busy stay. I did have one thing in my favor, it was the rainy season and amphibians are my thing; the frogs did not disappoint.

 

TadpolesMy last day and night at the field station stands out in particular, because of the torrential rain the night before made all of the surrounding forest dripping wet for the next 24 hours . As the rain poured down, Manuel started thinking that it may be enough to prompt another round of explosive breeding in Agalynchis spurrelli (The Gliding Tree Frog) and he suggested that we head out early in the morning to see if that indeed was the case. It wasn’t, but I was blown away by the number of egg masses clinging to vegetation from previous mating bouts. Upon close inspection, I saw that many of the eggs contained well developed, squirming tadpoles.

 

TreeI am an avid photographer of nature and in the aftermath of the previous night’s storm, I was mesmerized all day long by the intense colors of the forest, which were hyper-saturated by the diffuse sunlight created by lingering cloud cover and a film of water on everything terrestrial. Please take me on my word that the color of these tree buttresses (Tachigali versicolor) and that of this male anole’s dewlap (Norops polylepis) were not enhanced with software.

 

lizzard

 

Back at the dining area at dinnertime, I heard frogs calling at an intensity level that wasn’t evident on the previous nights of my visit. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore with my ears and eyes. So, with some suggested field sites from Manuel and Renee, I set out into the night with my camera and headlamp. The first stop was along the banks of Piro River to look for glass frogs. I heard them calling in the overhead foliage but the tadpolespersistent wet conditions did not stimulate them to descend within reach of my camera’s lens. However, I could see that there were numerous egg masses of Cochranella granulosa (Grainy Cochran Frog) that were deposited some time before my arrival. Like The Gliding Tree Frog eggs I saw during the day, many of these masses, like the one pictured below, were “ripe” with very active tadpoles.

 

 

 

 

I was then drawn to standing water, by the call of a frog that I was hearing for the first time during my visit. After a little searching, I discovered it was Scinax elaeochroa (Sipurio Snouted Tree Frog) that I was hearing and now seeing for the first time ever. 

frog

Look at those coppery eyes!

 

 

 

 

There was another species calling alongside S. elaeochroa and I knew it well. It was Dendropsophus ebraccata (The Hourglass Treefrog), that I studied in Panama while in graduate school, and their abundance that night was staggering. My mind flashed back to 1992 when I spent many wet, warm nights studying the biology of this frog because of its impressive capacity for calling. Fast-forward to the present, I was now focusing on the multitude of D. ebraccata around me because they are just so damn photogenic.

tree frog

The Hourglass Treefrog

 

I went to bed that night – or rather, early the next morning – reluctantly because, for the frogs, the night was still young. My hope is that in the near future, I can share these amphibian experiences with students. Although, I must confess that as I drifted off to sleep, I relished the fact that I had the frogs to myself that night.

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned for 2017 courses with Professor Ressel!