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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.

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From the field: Insights into the Rios Saludables Program

Blogpost by Rachael Eplee, Rios Saludables Program Coordinator

Hello all!

My name is Rachael Eplee, and I am the coordinator for Osa Conservation’s Rios Saludables (Healthy Rivers) Program. I graduated in 2016 from Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Policy and Planning and a Bachelor of Arts in International Development.  In my first step into the professional world, I started working with Osa Conservation in July 2016 and have had the great pleasure of living in this rich and diverse environment ever since!

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My area of interest lies in human and natural system interaction and how that can be applied to development practices. Thus, the Rios Saludables Program, a community-based watershed monitoring program, is a natural fit!  We seek to engage international students, local actors, and local communities in education, research, and evidence-based decision making in order to contribute to the greater conservation efforts in the Osa region.  In Costa Rica, the greatest risk to water systems is not quantity, but quality.  The Osa Peninsula has 46 individual watersheds, which means there are 46 major river mouths entering the Gulfo Dulce and Pacific Ocean.  Each of these watersheds offer a picture into the composition of the land around it and can allow us to see the impact of land use, human interaction, and conserved lands around the river.  We use chemical, macro-invertebrate, and bacterial testing to measure the quality of rivers that impact Osa’s communities.  Through engaging citizen scientists in the Osa, we collect quality data while simultaneously using nature as a classroom to educate students of all ages and academic levels.

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The goal of the program is to create quality long term data in this region which is home to many farms and is in constant threat of rapid development.  Long term data allows communities and conservationists in the area to advocate to municipalities and people making land-use decisions.  The robust ecosystem has capacity to protect its natural systems internally, but only with the help of dedicated reforestation and wildlife conservation efforts.  Rios Saludables has engaged over 60 individuals in 10 regions throughout the peninsula in education and data collection.  We are excited to expand our impact by creating strategic plans with our local partners, including nearby eco-lodges and biological stations.

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From a personal standpoint, I see the success of this program lying in the hands of the incredible people of this region.  Anyone who has had the opportunity to spend time in this place knows the importance of all conservation efforts in the region and knows that the best way to understand its true beauty is to take the time to see it through the eyes of the people who call it home.  In the Osa, there is a deep understanding of the power and importance of nature – the opportunity to work in this place has given me a perspective that only the Osa can! Rios Saludables is a young program and is the culmination of the hard work of many people.  As it gains strength and grows, this program will undoubtedly be impacted by many incredible scientists and nature lovers from all over the world.  For me, spending the past year with this program has been a great pleasure and I will take the lessons it has taught me everywhere I go.

As far as first professional jobs go, I think I hit the jackpot! 😊

 

 

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Working where the rainforest meets the sea

Blogpost by Alejandra Rojas, Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator

In a remote corner of southern Costa Rica, Osa Conservation runs a biological station that receives researchers from all over the world, as well as students and visitors who share a passion for conservation.  At this station, there is a complete team working on-site: A group of scientists, naturalists and environmentalists doing our very best to apply our knowledge to make conservation possible. I am excited to have recently joined Osa Conservation as their Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator.

The day I learned about Osa Conservation (OC) was in 2012, writing a monograph about the endemic Black-cheeked Ant-tanager (Habia atrimaxillaris), while I was still studying in the university. I read about the efforts OC was doing to buy lands in order to protect the habitat for the many endangered birds of the Osa Peninsula.

I am a ale-imagetropical biologist who graduated from National University (UNA), Costa Rica. After  learning the reality of conservation biology in Costa Rica, I chose a path that I consider fundamental in the work towards conservation: coupling science with people, and understanding that the social backgrounds of communities are the lines between preserving or declining the ecosystem’s health. And this is precisely one of the basis of the organization I work for, and the main reason why I decided to join this experience in the Osa, where I work as a naturalist guide, birder and station assistant.

I grew up surrounded by the rainforest and the sea and I developed a passion for wildlife, which I later turned into my profession. Before graduating, I got trained as a naturalist guide and started working in a nature theme park, the place where I learned the importance of citizen science and environmental education. I have a lot to acknowledge to this place, because I was not really planning to keep working as a guide, but without it, I would have never been able to do what I am doing today.

In 2014, I started doing some freelance work involving teaching people about nature and raising awareness about conservation problems. At the same time, I began birding and I settled tale-blog-imagehe first Christmas Bird Count in Golfito (a small town in the southeast region of Golfo Dulce), where I still manage and coordinate it with a close friend that works in tourism. Afterwards, I got involved in the tourism business by working in an ecolodge as a resident biologist and guest services manager, which of course was a great experience! While working there, I became acquainted with OC through collecting camera trap data of wildcats and their prey as part of their camera trap network program. We even got our work together featured in The New York Times.

I really enjoy working in the Osa! It is a paradise for a biologist: hiking in the forest includes following a mixed flock of birds in the understory, finding a jaguar print, watching the spider monkeys swing through the canopy, followed by the enjoying the sunset on the beach.

My job with Osa Conservation  allows me to do what I love, but also share what I love  with our visitors. When I am not in the field birding or collecting information on natural history,  I am in charge of the details that help our station work properly. I  help maintain contact with researchers and visitors before they arrive, visit near-by lodges and partners to raise awareness about the mission of our organization,  and work hard to make sure that our conservation efforts reach the local communities.

ale-blog-2I am responsible for receiving people from the first moment they step into our place. When you come to visit Osa Conservation, I will always be around to help you when needed and ask you how everything is going –  Have you visited the beach to see the sunset? Did you see the Scarlet macaws along the way? Did you enjoy waking up to the howler monkeys in the morning? Or, I will invite you to go birding with me! We will make a connection here; we will shake hands to say hi and we will hug to say bye. If you have not yet been to the Osa, I encourage you to come and adventure in this mesmerizing paradise!

Take a look at this link and  learn more about what Osa Conservation is doing in the Osa Peninsula.

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Why I learned to use a machete over winter break

Blogpost by Revée Needham

¡Buenos dias! My name is Revée Needham and I spent 4 weeks working in the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica with Osa Conservation from December 2016 to January 2017. I came to the Osa to complete my Alumni Memorial Scholar’s project through Colgate University. Majoring in Environmental Studies and Geography, I started my interest in agriculture after debating in class the ethics of eating meat. Since then, I have developed a passion for learning more about the food I eat and how to reform industrial agriculture in the US. I applied to volunteer at Osa Conservation with their sustainable ecological farm, packed my bags, and made my way to Costa Rica for the first time!

img_2692As I thought about the role of this  farm, I became more aware of the mission and importance of Osa Conservation. Options for organic food are limited throughout much of Costa Rica, and relying upon on traditional farming techniques would mean pollution with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. However, Osa Conservation’s sustainable farm uses all natural techniques and serves as a model for other farmers. Techniques and methods are tried and tested to determine what is best suited for that environment. Then, other farmers can come and learn how to work with the forested land in the Osa peninsula instead of against it. Another unique feature of the farm is that most of the farm acreage is reforested land. The land was previously a cattle ranch, but has now been reforested with native species. Although it is currently in the beginning stages, I can’t wait to follow the farm’s journey into the future.

img_2663After a delicious homemade breakfast by my favorite cooks, Rob, Emilia, and Annia, I slathered on sunscreen to begin my day. Then I walked or biked to the farm, usually accompanied by multiple blue morpho butterflies. At the farm, I followed the direction of Paola, the farm manager, for our daily tasks. I spent most of my time weeding, with the use of a machete, or planting seeds. While I wasn’t at Osa Conservation long enough to plant a seed and harvest the fruit, I was able to see incredibly fast growth while I was away over holidays and even over a long weekend! One satisfying part of staying for an extended period of time was that I could see the progress at the farm. When I arrived, the greenhouse was empty but throughout my stay, the beds were built and filled with soil; we built and installed an irrigation system, and we planted seeds and seedlings!

One main observation I gathered right away from my work is how labor and time-intensive the work is. I could spend the whole morning weeding, or clearing a plot to be planted, then look out and see how much more there was left to do. If anything, I’m so glad to be making a difference, simply by providing the womanpower. I learned of the devastation to the crops from the hurricane that ended shortly before I arrived. While I wasn’t affected, the impact of the hurricane could be felt throughout many farms in Costa Rica.

revee-and-goatAnother highlight from my time was befriending the baby goat, who was born shortly before my arrival. This cabrita acted very similar to a human child or puppy and loves to follow her favorite people around! In addition, I was able to help release baby sea turtles. I’m so glad I chose to visit Osa Conservation, where I could partake in many different types of conservation efforts.

  Muchas gracias to my fellow farmers- Paola, Juansito, Christian, and Chonga, and those at the station- Manuel, Rachael, Alejandra, and Rob for helping me make a home in Costa Rica. ¡Pura Vida!

 

 

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Introducing our new field staff!

We are pleased to welcome new field staff to Osa Conservation! We are excited to have these wonderful new additions be a part of our team in the Osa Peninsula and we look forward to building on their expertise, knowledge and excellent enthusiasm to help us conserve “the most biologically intense place on earth.” Please join us in welcoming Andy, Karla and Alejandra!

 

 

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Dr. Andy Whitworth, Director of Ecological Restoration and Biodiversity Conservation

  • He is originally from the UK;
  • He lived and worked in Manu, Peru for the past 6 years, including as the Biodiversity and Conservation Coordinator for the “Sustainable Manu Project” and as a Research Manager for The Crees Foundation;
  • His PhD thesis is from The University of Glasgow in Scotland and  entitled “Conservation Value, Biodiversity, and Methods of Assessment in Regenerating Human Disturbed Tropical Forests;”
  • He started keeping pet snakes when he was 7 years old, including venomous ones by the time he was 11 years old (unbeknownst to his mother);
  • He is most excited to finally see the silky pygmy anteater, which is one of his favorite animals and is what brought him to the rainforest.

 

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Karla Funes, Conservation Experience Manager

  • She is from Golfito, Costa Rica;
  • Previously, she worked as the Operations Director of Osa Green Travel Agency and as Administrative Coordinator at Lapa Rios Lodge;
  • She holds an International Master in Auditing and Business Management, FUNIVER, Costa Rica; Bachelor of Business Administration, Tourism, Metropolitan University Castro Caraz, Costa Rica;
  • She received her Certified Tour Guided License by National Institute of Tourism;
  • She loves to run and to be in nature; She enjoys traveling and aims to visit a new country every year.

 

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Alejandra Rojas, Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator

  • She is from Costa Rica
  • She holds a BSc in Tropical Biology from National University in Costa Rica;
  • She grew up surrounded by the sea and the rainforest, which is where she developed a passion for wildlife;
  • Previously, she worked at an ecolodge near the Esquinas River estuary, where she had the chance to learn all about the biodiversity of Golfo Dulce;
  • She started working as a freelance Bird Guide in 2015;
  • Her favorite bird is the Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans), but she also enjoys watching the understory mixed flocks that follow the army-ant swarms.