How the search for a rare bird lead us to an endemic tree species

Written by: Pablo Porras

Edited by: Florencia Franzini

Osa Conservation’s Yellow-Billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae) Sactuary is a special place born from the inspiration of a two-year monitoring and tracking program. After the hard work performed by fellow researchers, the only logical process that seemed to follow was for us to create a stronghold for this struggling, endemic bird – Today this little stronghold is the place where OC studies the local population of this endangered bird.

YBC Sanctuary location as shown on GoogleMaps.

YBC Sanctuary location as shown on GoogleMaps.

The Sanctuary is located in the heart of one of the most significant bird corridors known as the Mangrove-Premontane tropical rainforest ecotone. According to Reinaldo Aguilar, a renowned dendrologist from the Osa Peninsula, this environment is, “an exceptional grove.” Here you can find an impressive forest network that, quite suddenly, stops immediately, giving span to the mangroves – the juxtaposition of these two biomes result in the presence of very unique, and rare trees from both ecosystems.

Photo of the Bourreria grandicalyx.

Photo of the Bourreria grandicalyx.

On June 25th we were patrolling the YBC Sanctuary and taking photos of some of the trees in the area – we shared these photos with many of our nature enthusiast friends on the Peninsula, and to our surprised were contacted by a very excited Reinaldo Aguilar. His news? That the tree we had snapped photos of was an endemic Costa Rican species with an incredibly restricted range of growth within the peninsula. Aguilar identified the species as Bourreria grandicalyx, commonly referred to as the J.S. Mill & Sirot, a name given in tribute to the men who published the first descriptor of this tree in 1997. This species belongs to the borage tree family, known as Boraginace, and as of 2007 there were only 30 known species recorded within the genus. Aguilar also told us that only eight unique, individual samples of this tree are currently kept at our National Museum, with two of the samples belonging to trees he had encountered personally, but that he believes are no longer alive today.

All in all these findings prove that Osa Conservation is heading in the right direction with it’s mission to protect endemic corridors on the peninsula through methodology based on scientific evidence and local expert assistance – It is a win-win situation towards the goals of conserving Costa Rica’s natural treasures.

Uncategorized, Volunteers and Visitors

A Poem by Neil Deupree

Inspiration comes in many shapes and forms – the medium from which we craft our thoughts and feelings, too, are many. On his last visit to the Osa Peninsula Neil Deupree wrote this lovely poem in his journals, and he has so graciously decided to share  it with everyone so we too can experience a bit of the inspiration the Osa Peninsula has to offer. Thank you, Neil.



Sitting on the front porch at Piro

The surf is distant thunder  – be sure to pack the poncho.

The cicadas are way more than white noise in the background.

The tortuguitos finally made it to the ocean.

Papaya and piña spark the taste buds for breakfast.

The anole ambles across our front yard in fits and starts.

The howlers start their “hello” at half past four in the morning.

The clouds are wisps of cotton against the cobalt sky.

The hummingbird (which one of the thirty?)

makes the rounds of the verbena by our front porch.

We are called to see the aracari –

which, of course, are gone by the time we get there –

keeping us humble.

“I am soooo humble,” says Frank, our filmographer.

Damselflies wearing blue and yellow mittens flit through the forest.

A hawk with red wings and a banded tail traces circles in the sky –

followed by a turkey vulture coasting in a straight line – for once.

Heliconia spear their orange among the oars of green leaves.

I hear a bird in the distance that Nito could identify in an instant.

The breeze wicks away the heat –

this part of our home in Osa is truly a breezeway.

Neil Deupree

January 26, 2014


Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Marine Conservation

We Arrive, the Aliens!

Written by: Luis Alberto Williams Fallas

Translated by: Florencia Franzini

We find ourselves in the middle of a project titled “Conservation and Management of Marine and Forest Resources in the National Terraba Sierpe Wetlands.” Our associates are APREMMA: a local community of fishermen and piangüeros working out of the Ajuntaderas area, a small community off the Southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This newly formed group is looking for a method to develop a healthy relationship between their community and efforts to conserve the local wetlands.

APREMAA, like many of the local communities throughout the country of Costa Rica, still maintain a great level of distrust for external organizations, interpreting their work as being “urban,” and having “first world” aspirations in their investigations, projects, studies, and diagnostics.

Is there a stranger in the photo? OC staff during an interview with locals throughout an APREMAA diagnostic.

Is there a stranger in the photo?
OC staff during an interview with locals throughout an APREMAA diagnostic.

For some it may be hard to reach the conclusion as to why a local community might be unwilling to work with outsiders, but we must first take a look at the whole picture before making this sort of judgement. Take this example into account: Imagine that a UFO landed in front of your home – If that image seems weird, I would agree, but take the time to actually imagine this scenario. The Alien comes out of his craft, and somehow you manage to partially communicate with one another; You speak two different languages, but you are able to come to some sort of communal understanding. The alien wants to know about your life, and how life works on your planet. You go ahead and share all of your problems with the alien: war, famine, misogyny, everything. To you, at first, it seems only natural that an Alien who lands in front of your house might have the resources to help alleviate all of these issues, right? The Alien offers to perform investigations that will help detect where these problems are stemming from through the use of discussion and workshops.  You willingly share your knowledge with the Alien about your society, and take notes on all of the workshops and meetings throughout. After analyzing all the information you have given them the Alien decides to publish his findings in an intergalactic science magazine, and then gets in his shuttle and goes home. The issue with this scenario is that you are still left with all the problems you originally described, and worse off, you are also left with the hopes that you once had to solve your problems with the Alien. You are essentially left high and dry, and at that moment you think to yourself, “I shall not again open my doors to another alien.”

This example, though ironic, reflects the work that a lot of NGO’s have done in the past with foreign communities, and for that matter, work they will continue to do as well. This metaphorical scenario reflects how we as NGO’s are viewed by these local populations, who have come to harbor so much distrust and resentment to outside coalitions. And to be fair, this resentment may be very well justified. NGO’s have become accustomed to disrespecting communities by extracting the woes of locals and thusly empowering themselves off this information as if it were gold. NGO’s operate only as “distant observers,” as alien who would rather impose external knowledge. The truth is that NPO’s are undoubtedly guilty of these actions – sometimes without the intent, and other times on purpose, but this is the reality of their situation.

It is with this in mind that we who are working on this “Conservation and Management of Marine and Forest Resources in the National Terraba Sierpe Wetlands” project are attempting to incorporate ourselves into another type of work asides from the general extraction of knowledge. We aspire to work backwards from the usual scenario, and to work from the bottom-up. On one side we want to desperately understand the needs of the community that we are working within, all the while at the same time helping realize the aspirations of these existing needs. We believe that the needs of a community cannot just be recorded, they must also be solved in order for this exchange to be truly beneficial.

With this being said, we have outlined some of the internal dynamics that have already been reached between ourselves and APREMMA:

  • Working through resentment by having creating many long work sessions (5 – 6 hours) where (aside from exhaustion) there has been an expressed enthusiasm to understand and resolve the problems of the community
  • Their have been creation of work teams between the associates who have had conflicts with one another. They have united through their differences in order to have the best supervision in their work
  • In each work session we have seen the confidence of all the board members, and the means that they are taking upon themselves and the group in order to succeed. There has been horizontal unity between the community groups and us. There is recognition between both groups of bing co-workers
  • For our part, a fundamental part of our work has been the transparency and sincerity of our organization. Our goal is not just to study the community, but also to work with the community as collaboration.
  • We have also been dedicated to bringing with us to every session the issues generated in prior visits. By bringing the information we’ve obtained from prior sessions (some with solutions, and some without,)we promote the idea that this kind of work requires constant collaboration between ourselves and the community.
  • We have been empathetic in regards to the enhancement of kowlege and capabilities not just of the group, but of the individuals within the community as well

Out relationship with the members of APREMAA may be new, but we are already looking to turn the general distrust and resistance of outsiders into a situation of cordiality, open dialogue, trust , and cooperation in order to continue building real knowledge. We arrived from the outside, from far away, like aliens – but we are trying to incorporate ourselves to this local lifestyle and culture with the hope of becoming more human in the process.

Environmental Education, Uncategorized

“Termites & Tamanduas – The Role of Wood Eating in Tropical Ecology” An Excerpt.

"Many termine species have soldiers with enlarged heads that have sharp, defensive mandibles. Worker termines, by comparison, have smaller heads with chewing mouthparts.  The Mexican burrowing toad (Rhinophrynus doralis) feeds almost entirely on termines. It spends most of its life underground, emerging only to breed after heavy rains."

“Many termine species have soldiers with enlarged heads that have sharp, defensive mandibles. Worker termines, by comparison, have smaller heads with chewing mouthparts.
The Mexican burrowing toad (Rhinophrynus doralis) feeds almost entirely on termines. It spends most of its life underground, emerging only to breed after heavy rains.”

“They are creatures of interiors. Social but reclusive, all but a few shun the light of day, avoiding even the moonlight. They live underground, in logs or sealed nests, and conduct their social lives within dark labyrinths often created and cemented together with their own dung – termites are nothing if not economical.

Numbering about 2,200 species, most of which are tropical, termites evolved from highly social cockroaches. Dependent on the digestion of woody material, termites have the remarkable ability to build a life entirely from wood. Colonies of some species thrive for years with nothing more than a chunk of wood from which to build their muscles, skin, nerves, mandibles, and minds.

Like subterranean beings the world over, termites tend to be pale and soft, save for the armored soldier castes that stand ready to venture out into the light to defend their colonies against invaders. The workers usually live retiring, sterile lives, forgoing reproduction and chewing their days away building the domestic empire of their parents. For this specialized role, they have evolved an aspect not unlike that of the modern dairy cow – their swollen bellies stretch glistening and taut over a massive gut of dark ferment.

Like the digestive systems of cows, those of termites are made possible by microbes. Several dozen species of protozoa and bacteria live within the intestine of termites and nowhere else. The microorganisms do the heavy enzymatic work of cleaving cellulose into usable sugar. The fact that special microbes must be passed from parent to offspring by anal feeding to inoculate the newborns sterile digestive tract probably explains why the ancestral wood-eating roaches begun to live in extended family groups.

Their gut microflora give termines access to a huge resource base denied to other herbivores. Much of a rainforest is pillar after pillar of inert cellulose and lignin wrapped by a thing sheath of living, growing cambium and capped by a paltry 220 pounds (100 kg) or so of leaves; less than 2 percent of the rainforest  is leaf matter. The bulk of the rainforest is tons of cellulose in the form of tree trunks and limbs. That cellulose is a reservoir of solar energy converted into chemical energy as carbohydrates.

Plants construct sugars as a store of energy, but the sugars can be repackaged in various ways. Sometimes, they are stored as nutritious chain such as starch; more often, the solar energy ends up as cellulose.

Wood is composed of 60 to 70 percent cellulose and 10 to 25 percent lignin, a three-dimensionally branched polymer that stiffens cells walls, strengthens wood, and is one of natures most indigestible molecules. Ecologist John Janovy gives a good summary of the functional significance of such molecules; as he puts it, ‘The human sits on a chair and eats a French fry.” Tropical rainforest is full of materials that is suitable for chairs, but only a small fraction of the forest is as digestible as a starchy french fry.'”


Excerpt from “Nature of the Rainforest” Chapter/ Termites & tamanduas, Page 110. By Adrian Forsyth. 2008.


This excerpt comes from one Osa Conservation’s very own founding members, Adrian Forscyth.


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