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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)

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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A Round River Experience: Welcome to Costa Rica

February 13, 2017

Blogpost by Katie Goodwin, University of New Hampshire

 

The semester is getting under way here in Costa Rica! It has been about a week and a half since we got here but I think we all agree that our campsite at Osa Conservation’s biological station  already feels like home. Really, we’ve only been here for a week, since the first few days of the program were spent in San José.

We spent three nights after we arrived staying in a hotel near downtown San José. We woke up on the first morning and had what I think we can all agree was the best hotel breakfast of our lives, which included copious amounts of fresh fruit as well as pastries and a fresh omelet bar. After this delicious introduction to Costa Rica, we had a morning of orientation, before setting out to find lunch and explore the city. After walking through parks and crowded downtown streets, we entered a huge indoor market with tons of stores selling everything from fresh fruit to musical instruments. We ate lunch at a restaurant near the center of the market and bought unusual varieties of fruits to try from one of the stands. We ate maracuya (passionfruit), raw cacao beans, and fresh mangoes that night while continuing our orientation and having our first lectures.

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Carolina, Max, and Brenna enjoying the views at Poás Volcano National Park. Photo by Katie Goodwin.

 

The next day we got up bright and early and headed to Poás Volcano National Park. Poás was our first opportunity to experience up close some of the natural beauty that Costa Rica has to offer. It was the first national park established in Costa Rica, and is also one of the most visited. We got there early before the crowds and enjoyed unobstructed views of the beautiful volcanic crater and lagoon. This was also our first to chance to practice Costa Rican plant and bird identification. A couple of former Round River students, who are now botanists, joined us on our journey because they were looking for a rare fern. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone as excited about ferns as our botanist companions, and I definitely have never learned so much about fern ecology in one day!

 

The next day, it was time to make the long journey to our home for the next three months on the Osa Peninsula. After an eight hour bus ride through varying landscapes, we arrived in Puerto Jiménez. The next leg of our journey, the following morning, was taking public transportation in the form of a colectivo (bus) to the research station run by Round River’s local partner Osa Conservation. This research station hosts volunteers, students, and visiting researchers year round. Our campsite is just a short walk from the main driveway of the station, set a little ways back from the road. We have a tent platform and a kitchen platform with a dining room table and support poles that are perfect for setting up hammocks across, which instructors Eli and Chris did before we got there.

After setting up our tents and organizing our kitchen, we set out on a natural history walk down one of Osa Conservation’s trails to experience the biodiversity of the Osa. As we walked, scarlet macaws flew overhead and toucan calls could be heard from the forest around us. A rustling in the trees above us turned out to be a small group of spider monkeys, which looked down at us with curious eyes before continuing on their way. We saw leaf cutter ant trails crisscrossing the forest floor and learned about how they use piles of leaf pieces to grow the fungus that they eat. The diversity of plants and animals was more intense than we could have imagined, and we spent so much time looking at birds that our two hour long walk only took us half a kilometer or so down the trail.

 

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A pair of scarlet macaws perched in a tree above us. Photo by Carolina May.

 

During our first week here, we surveyed the Cayunda River for signs of the endangered neotropical river otter, which turned out to be the perfect thing to be doing on a hot humid tropical day. We waded down the cool stream measuring habitat features and their use by the otters, while also seeing lots of cool wildlife- like nesting hummingbirds and basilisk lizards that would run across the water to hide on the bank as we approached. Of course, there was also time for swimming in some of the deeper pools when we stopped for lunch or to cool off at the end of the day.

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Walking the trails around the the biological research station.

 

One morning, we went to help out at Finca Osa Verde, the sustainable agriculture project run by Osa Conservation. At this finca, the goal is to be entirely self-sufficient and grow organic and sustainable food. After a tour of the farm, we helped plant a few rows of corn, beans, and garlic. We also drank coconut milk and ate the meat of fresh coconuts from the farm to cool us off as the day got hotter.

 

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Taking notes on the wild vanilla flower we found on the way to Cerro Arbolito. Photo by Carolina May.

 

 

At the end of the week was our short backpacking trip to the old town of Cerro Arbolito to set up camera traps. The site is at the top of a small mountain at the tip of the Osa Peninsula. It was abandoned years ago but the old roads and paths are now used by wildlife and provided us a lot of open areas to set up the cameras. On the hike up we saw and learned about plants that we hadn’t seen before, including the sacred Ceiba tree, whose branches are said to transcend the worlds, and the wild vanilla orchid. The top of the mountain provided views of the Golfo Dulce and the Pacific, as well as glimpses of Corcovado National Park and Panama. We will be going back up to Cerro Arbolito in a few weeks to collect the cameras, and hopefully find photos of some cool wildlife on them!

 

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Manuel, the sea turtle guardian.

Interview by Alejandra Rojas, Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator

img_8203Holding either his camera and backpack, or plastic buckets filled with sand after releasing baby sea turtles, a young guy approaches the biological station from the trail where the rainforest meets the sea. It is Manuel Sánchez, Osa Conservation´s Sea Turtle Program coordinator.

He was 5 years old when he saw a sea turtle for the first time. A fishing night with his father Miguel became an adventure when they discovered the tracks of a green sea turtle, which they followed to a nesting female laying her eggs. “That is why I love green sea turtles so much;  that was my first encounter with a sea turtle” he affirms. That encounter was in the sector 20 of Piro beach – the same beach he has been patrolling for the past 14 years since he started working for Osa Conservation.

Native to the Osa Peninsula and the only staff member whose own house is located in Piro, Manuel started his work with sea turtles with his father by building a hatchery and relocating the nests to protect them from poachers. Then he continued as a field assistant in Carate, a nearby town, where he was discovered by Osa Conservation. After working as a research field assistant for some years, he was offered the position of Sea Turtle Program Coordinator with Osa Conservation to monitor and conserve the sea turtles that visit both the Piro and Pejeperro beaches.

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The three biggest threats that sea turtles face worldwide are ocean pollution, egg poaching and incidental captures by a fishing practice called long lining. The beaches in the Osa Peninsula are visited primarily by two species of nesting turtles: olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). For Manuel, the most exciting moment of 2016 was finding four hawksbill sea turtle nests.  And so far in 2017, he has already found a leatherback sea turtle nest and relocated the eggs to the hatchery!  Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) and hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are only occasional visitors to the Osa, which explains his excitement (all four species of sea turtles are critically endangered!). And, he is excited to report that last year 17,000 baby turtles were released, with a hatching success rate of 88.85%.

But Manuel´s mission sometimes turns complicated: “The hardest part of this work is to see how your effort is destroyed in seconds by poachers. It is not something that discourages me from doing my job, but it is frustrating. You can spend a lot of hours building a hatchery, or patrolling the beach to safely relocate the eggs, and the next morning you discover the destruction of the hatchery and all the eggs gone.”

His favorite thing about working with sea turtles is knowing that he is helping endangered species thrive in the Osa. Patrolling the beach at night is also one of his favorite things. He says,”It is amazing when you walk along the beach with the stars at night.”

Manuel is also a passionate naturalist. Anyone who has met him can attest to his knowledge and passion for nature. It is a passion that he likes to share with his younger brother and niece who often accompany him hiking, birding, patrolling on the beach or chatting with station staff.

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As he has been working in the field for so many years, he can personally relate the physical changes of the beach: “The ocean level has changed and the temperature has risen significantly in the last two years. High temperatures are one of the leading causes of egg loss in the nests on our beach.” But he can also note some anthropological changes, for instance the decline in egg poaching. “It continues to be a problem, but I do not see as many egg poachers as in the past.”

People like Manuel are a clear example of environmental progress in Costa Rica and in the Osa. In just two generations, many  have been able to build livelihoods working directly in the conservation economy and in sustainable tourism. This is a huge step forward compared to just two generations ago when many locals resorted to logging the rainforests and hunting jaguars for their economic benefits. With an increase in conservation-oriented tourism and priorities in the region, it is hopeful that the impact will continue to increasingly provide the opportunities to nurture the local naturalists and conservation leaders, like Manuel, in the Osa.

fullsizerenderIn the upcoming months, the Sea Turtle Program is expecting construction of a new camp base for the turtle volunteers, a new hatchery, an increase in the number of volunteers and the first leatherback hatchlings in a long time (as the eggs were relocated this past month).

When asked about how he imagines the future of the sea turtles in the Osa, he replies: “One of the thoughts that is always on my mind during all these years working with sea turtles is that I want people to keep working for conservation, as an example for the younger generations. I do not know if it is going to be me, or my successor, but this program needs to continue.  I think education is our main weapon against poaching; if we do not give sea turtles a hand, they can disappear very fast. Sea turtles are in a critical moment and they definitely need our help.”

If you want to support Manuel`s work in the Osa, you can contribute with a donation for the program or by visiting Osa Conservation or volunteering with us.  Trust me, releasing a baby sea turtle is a once in a lifetime experience!