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Unexpected guests for supper

Blogpost written by Dr. Andrew Whitworth, Director of Restoration Ecology & Biodiversity Conservation

 

Last night, as I prepared my evening feed (rice with something), I heard a strange and unfamiliar squeaking sound from outside. I grabbed my head torch (aka.flashlight) and out I went. This is what I found.

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Eyelash pit viper starting its meal (Photo by Andrew Whitworth)

 

I couldn’t believe it. Ever since moving to live on the Osa Peninsula in February, I have been desperate to see the stunning eyelash pit viper (Bothriechis schlegelii), but so far they had eluded me. This isn’t surprising considering their awesome camouflage- forest green broken up with strokes and flecks of red and yellow. However, this chappie had been given away, by the poor little robber frog (Craugastor fitzingeri) who was now … supper.

I rushed back inside, still barefoot, to grab my camera; and for the next twenty five minutes, watched and photographed (without flash!) while the whole process unfolded. Many people believe that snakes can dislocate their jaws, but this isn’t really true. They do however have some unbelievably loose fitting and complex bone structures in the jaw and head. These can expand away from each other and allow the left and right side of the jaws to move independently; left first, then the right and then the left, and so on and so on…until they finally swallow their supper whole!

What was strange about this encounter for me was that the snake ate the frog from the back first. Most snake species will actually make an effort to search out the head of their prey first, and begin swallowing from there, to ensure no problems in fitting awkward pointing limbs in their mouths. Maybe this froggy was small and flexible enough to pose no issues.

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Eyelash pit viper eating its meal, legs first (Photo by Andrew Whitworth)

 

What was very cool though was that as the right sided fang of the snake moved along, a young secondary fang was visible, tucked away in the protective sheath. Vipers frequently lose these fangs and so new ones grow quickly behind. These cheeky little vipers are never caught without their weapons, just in case a meal is rightly available.

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Eyelash pit viper, close-up of the secondary fang (Photo by  Andrew Whitworth)

 

It wasn’t long until all that was left … was a foot –  just hanging from the viper’s mouth.

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Eyelash pit viper, finishing up its meal (Photo by Dr. Andrew Whitworth)

 

The frog then travelled down through the snakes body, pushed by the rippling muscles and inner organs, where over the coming few days, intense gastric juices would digest the frog, bones and all. This froggy snack could actually sustain this little snake for the next month at least, if food is scarce-  a feat I am extremely jealous of… as I seem to need to feed every couple of hours or so.

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Eyelash pit viper, digesting its meal (Photo by Andrew Whitworth)

 

According to my neighbour and reforestation fanatic, Agustin Mendoza, these snakes aren’t so common in the low lying areas of the peninsula next to the ocean. They typically thrive higher up on Cerro Osa, where there is a cool refreshing breeze; who says snakes aren’t smart?! What an incredible snake and one of my top five herping moments in my life so far!

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Eyelash pit viper (Photo by  Andrew Whitworth)

(To see some of Andy’s free amphibian and reptile field guides from the Amazon, click here, here and here.)

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Celebrating Endangered Species Day! Endemic and Endangered: Stories of a frog and a tanager.

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

 

     black-cheeked-ant-tanager-_low-qualityPhoto 1:  The endemic & endangered Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog  and Black-cheeked Ant Tanager (Photo credit: Manuel Sanchez Mendoza)

 

What does a Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog and a Black-cheeked Ant-tanager have in common?

Not only are they endemic to the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, but they are also endangered – a term used to describe when there are so few individuals surviving that the species is at risk of no longer existing in the wild.  There are many reasons that could drive a species to this status, including: habitat loss, illegal pet trade, introduction of exotic species, diseases, illegal hunting or overfishing.

 

Why does the Osa have so many endemic species?

Because of its geological formation where it evolved as an island before merging with the Costa Rica mainland (nearly 2 million years ago), the Osa Peninsula harbors a high level of endemic species. Endemic species are those which are found exclusively in one location in the world. This endemism, together with the immense concentration of life forms found in this region, is the reason why the Osa is globally known as a biodiversity hotspot and has such an important conservation value.

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Why are these endemic species endangered?

Although the Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog and the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager can be found in areas close to the Osa Peninsula, populations are isolated, and in the case of the frogs, are considered a rarity. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2017) both species are endangered because of their small distribution range, confined to protected areas, where logging and continuously habitat loss around these areas  are the major threats to both species nowadays. In the case of the frog, water pollution due to gold mining in the Osa is also a huge threat.

 

What is it like to experience these endemic & endangered species?

If you have never had the chance to explore nature in the Osa and see these animals, I invite you to go on an imaginary hike: It´s 5:15 am and we embrace an early morning hike into the rainforest. Binoculars in hand, a nice flute-like sound indulge our senses: it is the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager, but we have not seen it yet. This bird performs this particular song only in the early morning, sometimes accompanied by the howler monkeys´ chorus.

Time passes and a chatter-like sound captures our attention. Should we look up to the canopy? No, we better focus in the understory, where this species inhabit. As all tanagers, the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager fly in family groups and forage in the lower levels of the forest in search of small arthropods and fruits- a behavior that makes them important for controlling defoliating arthropods and also for dispersing seeds. Wait! Be careful with these bunch of army ants passing through the trail; let´s find a good place to enjoy the show:  the Black-cheeked Ant-tanagers are following the “ant swarm” with a mixed flock. We watch for 10 minutes until they disappear in the vegetation, following the path of the ants.

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Photo 2: Black-cheeked Ant Tanager (Photo credit: Manuel Sanchez Mendoza)

As we keep walking in the rainforest another sound captures our attention:  the Golfodulcean Poison-arrow frog-  a diurnal species (active both day and night).  We can hear two calls but they are far away; maybe if we move towards a creek we can find them. Indeed, as we approach a small creek, we spot two males calling together on top of a log! These frogs are very territorial and we are witnessing a territorial display. Their colors (known in biology as aposematic coloration) are warning us that they are highly toxic. Continuing our walk along the creek, we find another male, but this time carrying tiny larvae on his back. He will soon deposit them in the water for their next life stage. Our hike concludes and we are thrilled to have successfully found these two endangered species that can only be seen in the Osa.

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Photo 3:  The endemic & endangered Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog (Photo credit: Manuel Sanchez Mendoz

Why are endangered species important?

Experiencing nature is one way we can understand the importance of protecting endangered species. Each species, endangered or not, has a role to play in the greater ecosystem, whether by dispersing seeds, controlling other species, or by directly helping other species maintain the ecosystem health. These two endemic species- the Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog and the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager- are also important because they act as umbrella species. This means that if we protect their habitat we are also protecting the habitat of other important species, including other endangered animals and plants as the Jaguar (Panthera onca), the Scarlet macaw (Ara macao) and the Nazareno or Purpleheart (Peltogyne purpurea) found in the Osa.

Is it too late? Not yet!

Do we still have time to save the Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog and the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager? Yes, but we need ongoing efforts to conserve the vital ecosystems that support these animals and the surrounding biodiversity. Because these species are restricted to protected areas and they know no political boundaries, it is even more important to prioritize the buffer areas, forest patches and biological corridors that connect their habitat and are the last stronghold for their survival.

Please help Osa Conservation continue to save these amazing species and so much more! 100% of your donations goes toward helping conserve the habitats and ecosystems on which these species and so many more rely! You can visit our page here to make a donation or visit here to learn about visiting the Osa and seeing these incredible creatures for yourself! Every effort counts!

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Celebrating Migratory Birds! Migratory birds, wetlands and people in the Osa Peninsula

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

Every year, thousands of birds around the world start a long journey that is fundamental to their survival: migration. Each species has its particularity: they fly in flocks or by their own, during the day or the night, they rest or they fly restless, large distances or short distances. Despite their different migration strategies, all of these birds have something in common: they face challenges to survive their “flyway” – a term used to describe the route regularly used by large numbers of migrating birds.

One of the biggest threats to many migratory birds is habitat loss along the flyway due to fragmentation, pollution and human development. Wetlands, in particular, are especially fragile and important areas for a high diversity of migratory birds. Unfortunately, wetlands are also among the most endangered ecosystems worldwide, largely due to loss of forest coverage.

 

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Wetlands, such as mangroves, are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. They provide key ecosystem services such as water storage, nutrients production, protection against storms, stabilization of coastal areas, purification of water and retention of sediments. Humans also obtain other benefits directly from wetlands, such as fishing, aquaculture and tourism opportunities that provide an economic income for local communities.

Indeed, there is a special connection between birds and mangroves! Because of  their sensitivity to environmental changes and the impacts on their flyway habitats, migratory birds are important biological indicators that help us understand the ecological health of an area and can help inform conservation planning.

The Osa Peninsula has large extensions of mangroves, riparian forests and estuarine lagoons that act as a temporary home for aquatic birds that visit Costa Rica during their migration and stop sites. Ducks (Anatidae), herons and egrets (Ardeidae), plovers and sandpipers (Scolopacidae and Charadriidae), terns and gulls (Lariidae) and warblers (Parulidae) are between the most commonly seen migrants in the mangroves.

 

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Conservation efforts like those of Osa Conservation, which include the restoration of wetlands, help ensure the sustainable restoration of migratory bird habitat on which so many species rely. Through education and local awareness efforts, Osa Conservation encourages the involvement of local communities to help mitigate the negative impacts of human activities and to share the message of the importance of migratory birds and their habitat.  Conserving wetlands for migratory birds is crucial for their survival and ours: Their Future is our Future.

 

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Volunteering with Rios Saludables

Blogpost written by Alexander Cotnoir, Volunteer with Rios Saludables Program

 

Hello everybody! My name is Alexander Cotnoir, and before I share a snapshot of my work at Osa Conservation thus far along with some of the most exciting experiences I’ve had working with the Ríos Saludables Program, I’d like to introduce myself and share why I decided to join the Ríos Saludables Program as a volunteer over the course of the next few months.

 

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I am currently a sophomore at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, pursuing a degree in biology and environmental studies. Despite my current academic pursuits, my passion for ecology and sustainable agricultural/development practices started long before my entrance into higher education. During my childhood, I enjoyed fishing, hunting, swimming, and exploring the great outdoors along the Quebec border in northern Vermont, and later working for a local branch of the U.S.D.A. and birdwatching with my sister. My passion for the intersection between land use practices, native/local cultures, and conservation was fostered through summer jobs (as a Nutrient Management Plan Intern for the U.S.D.A.’s Natural Resources Conservation District), where I worked with farmers to minimize nutrient loading from dairy farms into local watersheds. I have also fostered an interest for conservation and land-use through conversations with my grandfather, who is a Tribal Leader of the Coosuk Band of the Abenaki Nation working to manage our tribal lands in northern Vermont. At Dartmouth, my interests expanded with courses ranging from “Writing Natural History,” to “Climate Change and Agriculture” and “Native Peoples and Environmental Change” which have allowed me to explore the socio-cultural and economic aspects of environmental problems.

 

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(Heading to our first sampling site at a cattle ranch near Puerto Jiménez)

 

As I was searching for an off-term opportunity to gain field experience in biology and environmental science, the Ríos Saludables Program appeared to be the perfect opportunity. Given my previous experiences with macro-invertebrate sampling and hydrological systems, I knew the Ríos Saludables Program would be an ideal opportunity to continue exploring watershed science, as well as to gain new insights into community-oriented conservation initiatives in a foreign country. Aside from my interests in gaining field experience, becoming involved in a community-oriented conservation program, and applying my studies in biology and environmental science, I also saw volunteering with Ríos as an amazing opportunity to practice my beginning-level Spanish, and to explore the amazing flora and fauna that call Osa’s rainforests home.

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(Working at the Osa Verde organic farm to plant native rainforest tree seedlings. These seedlings will be utilized in a number of reforestation plots on former cattle ranching lands)

Although I’ve only been living at Osa Conservation’s biological station for three weeks, I have already observed that the Osa Peninsula rightly deserves National Geographic’s description as the “most biologically intense place on earth.” Within my first week and a half, I spotted scarlet macaws, toucans, black-throated trogans, green and Olive Ridley sea turtles, a false coral snake, four species of monkeys, peccaries, a tamandua, and even a puma that decided to walk down one of the forest trails in front of me (I was told that this is a rare sight that many locals often don’t see in their lifetimes!). Aside from feeling an immediate sense of awe at the plethora of flora and fauna that inhabit the vibrant forests around the biological station, I’ve also found the local community’s excitement about their unique natural landscape very refreshing and conducive for fostering discussions about plants, animals, and conservation initiatives alike. Despite the many mistakes I make using my Spanish, I have never felt embarrassed because the people are all so kind and appreciate the attempts of Spanish beginners.

 

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(Explaining nitrate test procedures to Alex, a local farm co-op employee, at the spring which supplies drinking water to his hometown)

 

 

Thus far, one of the most exciting experiences working for the Ríos Saludables Program was a trip Rachael and I recently took to sample near a springhead feeding water to a community in Venegaz. Aside from the breathtaking beauty of the Costa Rican countryside, with its winding red-dirt roads carving their way through farmsteads and massive ajo trees, I had a great time sampling macroinvertebrates with Rachael and a local community member who joined us at the stream. Almost immediately after we arrived at the sight, I spotted a green and black poison dart frog hopping in the leaves beside the brook, which the gentlemen excitedly identified for us and shared some of his expertise on the animal. The entire time we spent sampling the stream was enjoyable due to the gentleman’s enthusiasm, my attempts to explain nitrate tests in Spanish, and the tangible connection between watershed and community health that was evident as we sampled near the springhead water collection tank.

Over the course of the next two months, I hope to help standardize Ríos Saludables protocols so that the sampling data can be applied to a larger academic context. I also look forward to doing community outreach with students and local community members, and finding ways to better assess the impact of agricultural activities and road crossings near Puerto Jiménez. I am also excited to help establish watershed testing locations along several additional rivers in the area.

Hasta luego,
Alexander

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Interested in volunteering with Osa Conservation? Learn more here about our various volunteer opportunities!

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

March 13, 2017

Blogpost by Max Beal, Northland College

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


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

Happy Earth Day 2017!

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

March 1, 2017

Blogpost by Max Beal, Northland College

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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Photo 5: Jungle face masks. Photos by Eli Brunner

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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A Round River Experience: Getting Our Boots Wet

February 22, 2017

Blogpost by Carolina May (College of William and Mary)

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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Photo 2: Otters near the mouth of the Piro River

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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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.