Science and Research

Congrats to this Year’s Greg Gund Fellowship Recipients

The view from Cerro Osa

We at Osa Conservation would like to extend a warm welcome and congratulations to Samantha Weintraub, Kevin Smith and Juan Manuel Ley, this year’s Greg Gund Memorial Fellowship recipients. Osa Conservation’s Greg Gund Memorial Fellowships provide funding for Costa Rican and international researchers to conduct science-based research in the Osa Peninsula. These fellowships are provided through the generous support of the Gund family.

Kevin will be studying amphibian populations, communities and habitat in the southern part of the peninsula and will be developing materials for participatory amphibian monitoring projects on our properties in Osa. These will be a great tool to support of citizen science at our stations!

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Birds

Featured Bird: White-crested Coquette

Male White-crested Coquette

Of all the hummingbird species, the coquette males that are most highly adorned with ornate feathers that are there to likely help in territorial defense and enhance species recognition.  The White-crested Coquette (Lophornis adorabilis) is the only coquette found here on the Osa Peninsula and is regionally endemic to south western Costa Rica and Western Panama.

The male of this species, which is also sometimes called Adorable Coquette, is known for its white crest and long green cheek tufts and may be arguably one of the most sought after birds to see when one visits this region.  They wander through forests high in the canopy and low along forest edges feeding on the nectar of flowering Inga, Vochysia, Stachytarpheta and Lonchocarpus plants and will also take small spiders and insects.  They hover with their tales cocked upward while feeding.

Male White-crested Coquette showing cheek tufts.

While courting a female the male will make short arcs side to side not much more than about a foot in either direction in front of the female.  He uses his colorful good looks to defend his flowers within his territory and the female takes on all nest duties with no help from the male.  The small lichen covered nest holding two minute white eggs is placed on the fork of a branch along the forest edge or a clearing and is not very well concealed.

They are said to be found from 300 meters up to 1220 meters but we have seen them here at the Piro Research Center which is near sea level as well as up along the Greg Gund Conservation Center’s northern border at Cerro Osa which sits at about 300 meters all within the last month.  At the moment they are engaged in reproductive behavior which takes place during the rainy season from December to February with courtship seen as early as October.   The male will lose his ornate regalia when the breeding season is over.

Birds

Featured Bird: Turquoise Cotinga

Male Turquoise Cotinga. Photo by Ulises Quintero

This week as promised I am bringing you the Turquoise Cotinga (Cotinga ridgwayi).  This is definitely one of those species of bird that makes you go “WOW” when you see it.  This is also one of Costa Rica’s most sensitive species to loss of forest habitat.  BirdLife International has this Cotinga species listed as Vulnerable which puts it one step away from be considered Endangered.  It is a regional endemic only found on the Pacific slope of central and southern Costa Rica and western Panama.  Its population is estimated to be between 2,500 – 10,000 birds and declining.

So why the decline?  As with many species, the Turquoise Cotinga is faced with deforestation and severe habitat fragmentation.  This coupled with an already naturally small range makes it difficult for the Cotinga population to remain stable.  This is also true for its closest relative the Yellow-billed Cotinga also found here on the Osa Peninsula whose population is estimated to be much smaller between 250 – 1,000 birds (more on this species in the weeks to come!).

Because of the Turquoise Cotinga’s conservation concern and its rarity, it is a special occasion when we see one.  Now you must know there are certain areas on the Osa Peninsula where this bird is quite common such as Carate and Corcovado National Park and folks flock to these areas to see them.  Since we at Friends of the Osa are in the middle of our seasonal avian monitoring we have had the distinct pleasure to have encountered several Turquoise Cotingas in the last two weeks within our monitoring points and just up the road from the Greg Gund Conservation Center on Cerro Osa.  It is possible that Turquoise Cotingas are more common than once thought on Friends of the Osa property especially outside of the breeding season when they are seasonally migrating in search of food resources.

This passerine species is found mainly in the canopy of humid rainforest and secondary growth and can also be seen along forest edges and in tall trees within shade grown coffee plantations.  They will wander throughout the canopy of wet forests and are known to rest on high exposed perches.  They consume the fruits of fig trees, Cecropia and parasitic mistletoe Psittacanthus and will go down low to gather pokeweed berries Phytolacca in clearings on occasion.  In case you were wondering it weighs in at about 50 grams, just under the size of a Red-winged Blackbird.

The males and females apparently do not form pair bonds.  The males gather in group display leks to attract females.  The female then builds the nest and rears the two young all on her own.  Nesting takes place between January and May.

Conservation measures are to investigate current distribution and discourage the conversion of shade coffee to full sun grown coffee.  Unfortunately very little information is available on the behavioral ecology of this species so the more we learn the more we will bring to you.

Birds

Featured Bird: White-whiskered Puffbird

White-whiskered Puffbird by Gianfranco Gomez

Not only does the White-whiskered Puffbird (Malacoptila panamensis) rank pretty high on the cuteness scale, it is also an interesting species from an ecological perspective.  Puffbirds are most closely related to jacamars, toucans and woodpeckers.  They are primarily insect and arthropod eaters and are considered to be flycatching birds along with tyrant flycatchers, and nunbirds.  Even though they eat spiders, frogs and lizards taken from the ground they are known for sitting perfectly still in the forest understory until a flying insect meal passes by when it darts out to catch its prey in midair.  It will then take it back to its perch to beat it against the branch before swallowing it.  Their apparent lethargy, as they sit and wait for prey to come by, is really a honed hunting behavior.

You can find either White-necked Puffbirds or White-whiskered Puffbirds here on the trails of Friends of the Osa’s Osa Biodiversity Center between Piro Research Station and the Greg Gund Conservation Center.  Both species separate themselves vertically in the forest.  You’ll find the White-necked Puffbird higher up in the canopy and the White-whiskered Puffbird down low where they don’t directly compete with each other for food resources.  In either case however they are difficult to see for their stealthy style.

Puffbirds build their nests in active termite nests or dig out a burrow in the ground or on the side of a small hillock with a short entrance tunnel with twigs and dead leaves extending out an additional 3 inches.  The actual nest is lined with leaves.  Those that build in termite nests seem to tolerate termites crawling all over them during incubation (From Alexander Skutch’s book of Birds of Tropical America, 1983).  Ground burrows can be as long as 22 inches.

So why are they called puffbirds?  As you can see from the photo, they are stout birds with fairly large heads and their feathers have a puffed-out appearance.  When they get excited they puff out and swing their tail back and forth.  Their abundant puffy plumage makes their short legs almost invisible.  Note the striking red eyes as well!

We would like to thank Gianfranco Gomez for allowing us to showcase his photographs.  You can find more of his work at The Drake Bay Rainforest Chalet website.

Birds

Featured Bird: Blue-crowned Motmot

Blue-crowned Motmot by Alan Dahl

The Blue-crowned Motmots (Momotus momota) have been spending a lot of time around a Nance tree (Byrsonima crassifolia), a prolific fruit producing tree in the garden here at Friends of the Osa’s Osa Biodiversity Center.  Lately there have been quite a few hanging around giving their distinctive soft low pitch “moot moot” call at dawn which has sounded like a large choral group, each bird with its own perfectly timed solo, and the group never missing a beat.  With the Nance fruiting right next to the house, one of them actually flew through the front door the other day making me realize that it was time to share this species with you on the blog.  Oh and by the way, he or she did find its way out of the house fairly quickly.

In this species the male and female look alike and as you can see from Alan Dahl’s photograph, they are brilliantly colored.  Motmots in general have two very distinct features worth noting: the racquet-shaped tail and a heavily serrated bill.  The tail is more than half the birds total length and has two long central feathers.  During feather preening sections of the tail barbs fall off leaving the exposed vane.  The tip of the feather or the racquet remains intact forming what looks like a racquet head.  Motmots are famous for slowly and methodically swinging their tail feather back and forth like a pendulum.

The bill has tooth like serrations allowing them to take small snakes and lizards as well as other insects and tear them apart.  They also accompany army ant swarms picking off what the other birds kick-up from the ground.  And yes, they like fruit.

A third and very interesting characteristic of the Motmot is the fact that they dig their nest into burrows.  They are most closely related to Kingfishes and todies which also dig into burrows.  Motmots excavate tunnels in the bank of a road or stream or in the side of a pit or hollow in the ground.  Their nests are unlined and can wind as far back as 5 – 14 feet (1.5 – 4 meters).  Now I don’t know about you all but I have a hard time seeing such a beautiful majestic bird digging a long tunnel in the dirt and coming out looking that good, but I truly hope to see it someday.

You can see the Blue-crowned Motmot all over Costa Rica, and at least at the moment, all over Cerro Osa on the Osa Peninsula.  You can also find them from Mexico down through Argentina and in just about any type of habitat most often perched in the shade saying “moot moot, moot moot”!

We would like to thank Alan Dahl for allowing us to showcase his photographs.  You can find his work at Focused On Nature.

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

California Students Raise Money and Plant Trees on the Osa Peninsula

Tree Nursery - Cerro Osa

A group of 8th graders from Crane Country Day School recently traveled to Costa Rica and fell in love with the country during their ten day stay. The class of forty students ventured all the way from Santa Barbara, California to the Osa Peninsula!

Once the students made it back to California, they realized they wanted to help out in some way. Their trip to Costa Rica had inspired them so much that they decided to raise money for Friends of the Osa. Their efforts proved fruitful as they managed to raise $400.

The class chose to support our forest restoration effort on the Osa Biodiversity Center’s Cerro Osa property: our new program plants one native tree for every $10 donation. With the money raised by these students, 40 new trees were planted.

We are glad that these students felt so inspired by the trip and hope that they will continue to conserve natural habitat wherever they are. We really appreciate the effort made by the Crane 8th graders and send a big thank you out to these students for their support!

Birds

Featured Bird: Crested Guan

Crested Guan by Kory Kramer

Lately we have been seeing Crested Guans (Penelope purpurascens) along the road up in the trees heading up to Friends of the Osa’s Osa Biodiversity Center at Cerro Osa.  I first noticed a family of 4 Guan individuals in one of our forest restoration plots a few weeks back as I was conducting bird counts.  The adult female of the group became fairly agitated as I walked right underneath her on my way to my next monitoring point.  I assumed she either had a nest or was with her young of the year.  Though my nest searching instincts tend to be very strong I left her alone as I continued on with my bird count.  They can be quite loud when they feel threatened and I was unable to hear any other birds in the forest with her so upset. Since then we have seen several Crested Guans (or Penelope, as they are fondly referred to as here in Costa Rica for its genus), along the road and so I thought this would be a good time to introduce them here on the pages of our blog and talk a bit about why it is so special to have them here.  Oh, and they are also called Pava which means turkey in Spanish.

The Crested Guan is quite large, about turkey size, weighing in at about 1.7 kg.  Because of their large body size and evidently tasty meat they have been hunted along with other species in the Cracidea family such as Curassows, Guans and Chachalacas all throughout their range.  Larger bodied birds tend to have low abundance, and that along with a small clutch size of 2 to 3 eggs, a slow reproduction period (incubation alone may take as long as 34 days), and hunting pressure makes this species rare in unprotected forests and more vulnerable to changes in the landscape.

Why are these species so important you might ask?  These species are essential to the biodiversity of the tropical rainforest because they are mainly frugivores (fruit eaters) and play an important roll in fruit seed dispersal which helps with seed germination and forest regeneration.  When we lose large seed dispersers like Crested Guan we lose the mechanism by which larger seeds are moved and placed elsewhere for them to germinate and take root.

This is why it is so special to see them around here as much as we do.  Cerro Osa is a 600 ha parcel acquired by Friends of the Osa in 2008 and is an important area for species protection and conservation.  Now with the decrease in hunting pressure and our forest restoration projects underway, we hope to be seeing a lot more Crested Guans, Great Curassows and Gray-headed Chachalacas here at the Osa Biodiversity Center.

The Crested Guan was photographed here at the Osa Biodiversity Center at Cerro Osa by Kory our managing director here at Friends of the Osa.

Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Visitors at the Osa Biodiversity Center in 2009

Three different student groups visited the OBC last year: The Herpetology classes of the University of Costa Rica and Universidad Nacional led by professors Federico Bolaños and Marco Barquero, plus the Natural History and Zoology classes of the Universidad Latina, led by professor Luis Sandoval.


visitors02The Guides and Scouts of Puerto Jiménez, joined by a troop from Pérez Zeledón, went to the OBC to put in practice their camping skills for the first time, in an improvised camp set up by the children.


A group of forestry engineers from the Cartago Technological Institute, in partnership with CATIE and the University of Connecticut, established a series of plots in the surroundings of the OBC to determine forest structure at different stages of succession and document carbon sequestration.


Adrián García, working with bioacoustics in amphibians, has visited the OBC several times to record the songs of various species. His research is part of a project funded by an Evergreen grant.


Stuart Jeckel, of the University of North Carolina, was in the OBC in search of the Túngara frog Engystomops pustulosus, as he is studying their breeding behavior at the neural level.


Guido Saborio keeps impressing volunteers at OBC. He received this message from one of them who spent three weeks at the center:

Dear Guido,
Thank you so much for everything. Our time at the OBC was an absolutely amazing experience; we learned so much and met so many new, interesting people. It also was very helpful to me in realizing what I want to study in college, because I remembered how much I like plants and how interesting botany is for me. Thanks so much for everything you taught us!

-Brook Theis


Karen Masters brought a student group to Cerro Osa for their Sustainability and the Environment course.  They inaugurated the new camping platforms and composting latrines.visitors03

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Reforestation in Osa Peninsula

Lending Nature a Helping Hand

The Cerro Osa Reforestation Project

The Tree Nursery at Cerro Osa Reforestation Project

The Tree Nursery at Cerro Osa Reforestation Project

Cerro Osa’s local staff, Juan and Agustín Mendoza, worked hard in 2009 to improve Friends of the Osa’s native tree nursery. We now have more than 4,000 seedlings of over 40 native species.

Seeds are collected by hand from the mature forest of the Osa Biodiversity Center.  The seeds that are easiest to find often come in a delicious fruit package, making these trees good candidates to stimulate natural forest restoration by attracting seed dispersers such as birds, bats and fruit-eating mammals.

Many of these seedlings will be used in the forest restoration of Cerro Osa’s teak and pochote plantations.


Treeplanting in Osa PeninsulaIn June we partnered with conservation-minded neighbors to plant 60 trees of 13 native species to return part of their property to forest.  We also donated 100 trees to La Palma high school as part of a senior project.

Science and Research, Sea Turtles

Friends of the Osa – Protecting the Wildlife of the Osa Peninsula

Welcome to the new weblog of Friends of the Osa. Here we will post news and updates about our programs, activities and important developments affecting the ecology and wildlife of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, Central America.

Friends of the Osa (FOO) also known as Amigos de Osa, runs a research station and field programs working to protect the globally significant biodiversity found on the Osa Peninsula.

At the Osa Biodiversity Center work centers around supporting scientific research and environmental education, as well as hands on programs like the Sea Turtle Conservation project. Each year researchers and volunteers follow the arrival of several species of sea turtles that nest on the nearby beach, tagging turtles, protecting nests and hatchlings, and compiling important data on the numbers of animals and the success of their nests.

At the Cerro Osa Station, FOO is working to reforest areas adjacent to the Osa National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR), a stewardship program in partnership with local landowners. This important refuge forms a biological corridor through the privately held lands outside the protection of the nearby national park. Managing this important corridor for the Osa’s monkeys, jungle cats and other species is another of our projects.

At our offices in Puerto Jiménez, the small town where most of the local population live, our Costa Rican staff are involved in several programs designed to help the region deal with rapid development, and the rising amount of trash and pollution that come with it. Here our work on clean water and recycling efforts have had the most impact.

Osa is a rare and exceptional place, for it’s beauty and because of the high diversity of species, one of the most biodiverse places in the hemisphere. Despite this world class status, it is a remote and often ignored corner of a developing nation. It is under extreme threat as pressure to develop and modernize reaches Costa Rica. Threats include projects for industrial scale fish farms, increase in the scale of gravel mining, efforts to reopen old gold mining operations, even within protected areas, over-development for tourism including increased air traffic, new airports, water use by and sewage from hotels. Meanwhile, global climate change and increased pressure on species outside the peninsula threaten to make Osa a biological island. There is a dire need for the completion of the plan to create protected corridors between Corcovado Park, the major national park on the peninsula and the Piedras Blancas Park on the mainland.

In Washington DC, our staff work to provide funding and to raise awareness about our programs. We have worked to build strong alliances with local, regional and international partner organizations including The Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, ACOSA, MINAET (Costa Rica’s Ministry of Energy and Environment) and others.

Your support is important to us, too, and by signing the email list and keeping in touch, by fanning our facebook page and getting your friends to do the same, or by becoming a volunteer and helping us in our work, or by donating and showing that you think what we are doing is important.

Any way that you can join us means a lot. So keep reading this blog, check back and comment on what you see.