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2013 Costa Rica Extended Study


Gears have really shifted at our Upper Montane Rainforest Site. We are staying at a site within a biological reserve and which is also a sustainable trout farm. The owner, Carlos, hosts student groups in this frigid, mountainous, and beautiful landscape. Our lunch today was trout! We had only one more bird, insect, and plant census and then data analysis and final write-ups of projects. Some students are writing three papers at once! What once were meaningless or misunderstood terms like: one-way ANOVA, two-way ANOVA with interaction, regression, sample-based rarefaction curves, Fisher's Alpha, Shannon's Index, and EstimateS, are now the vernacular! Conceptual frameworks abound…this is always the most exciting moment for me (the professor). When the thinking really happens and projects stretched over multiple sites come together. 

This work is peppered with walks to the continental divide (our second walk along it, the first was in Monteverde) up to 10,000 feet (3000m) with hundred of Tapir tracks indicating a healthy ecosystem (imagine a forest hippo). Stops at the Mirador (pics below) where we could see the entire Talamanca Range and the Pacific ocean--as well as Chirripo, the highest peak in Costa Rica and one that John G. will be climbing next week! Our arrival from walks is greeted by delicious food, hot chocolate, and cookies. Lovely. 

We passed through Paramo, high elevation bog, on route to Upper Montane Forest (below).

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Gentry Transects!


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                                                         John G. with Chiripo peak behind him. 

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                                                                              TAPIR Track!

La Selva

At then end of of our stay at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve we packed our bags, said goodbye to our no-longer pristine rooms and our rude  hotel- mates  and nervously (or tiredly) boarded marcopolo and went on our way to La Selva Biological Station. On the way we forgot about our projects and had a great lunch next to a dormant volcano that provided an absolutely beautiful view.

We arrived at La Selva with awe, intrigue, and yes- trepidation. What was this magical place we have heard so many wonderful and scary stories about?! Where legends were made?! We were amazed when we arrived, within only a few minutes we saw more wildlife in this great biological station than we had seen in both of our other stations. Sloths, peccaries, iguanas and many colorful birds, they were all there. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately according to Mabel, we didn’t see any snakes. We got a chance to acclimate to the sweltering heat (erm, not really) and then immediately had to prepare to present our project results from our last site after an interesting talk about ecosystem processes.

Our first night at the station Mike Brittion, a 2012 Colgate grad currently working towards a phd at Florida International University in herpetology, led us on a night walk at a swamp at the station. We saw frogs and giant spider about to lay eggs in a bromeliad. Then Mabel’s luck ran out and we saw a snake (don’t worry, it was tiny). We also got to see  BULLET ANTS which are HUGE ANTS whose bite, as its name suggest, feels like a bullet injury (Yeah, we stayed far away from those). After that we had no more energy to speak off- and fell asleep looking forward to enjoying more of La Pura Vida!    

Blog 2: Do you ever wonder what's the best view in the forest? UP IN THE CANOPY! The monkeys have it right,  because there is nothing like chilling on tree branches feeling like Tarzan - all exotic and sweaty.Some of us would say the highlight was the thrill of standing at the top, for others the challenging work of getting to the top, and for even more  it was the relief of touching firm ground- to each their own!  The excitement continued as some of us saw our very first fer de lance snake which had its own bodyguard!

The excitement continued as we went white water rafting the next day. We split up in three groups and had the time of our lives swimming, floating, screaming, boarding and highjacking each others boats - it was paradise. John Garett, who is a certified white water rafting guide, was even allowed to take over control of one of the boats!

Amidst all these exciting things we settled down to do our individual project and truly learned the meaning of being “flexible” in the field. Our well-thought out plans (made in our temperature controlled classrooms and dorms) were destroyed by mother nature’s realities. Nothing we couldn’t handle though- methods were executed and data is streaming in!

Joe’s interesting relationship with nature continued as a frog attacked (aka fell) on him in the bathroom. What a shocker that must have been- we can’t decide who was more shocked and horrified- the frog , or Joe.

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After we left Cabo Blanco on Saturday morning, we embarked on an epic, day-long journey to the cloud forests of the Monteverde reserve. We laughed. We cried. We drank from the cup of life. In reality, we all actually passed out in the air-conditioned Marcopolo bus, something we had missed dearly for the past few days. The view was incredible, and was best enjoyed as a weeks' worth of sweat was evaporating off our skin:

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We took the ferry back across the gulf of Nicoya, and some of us bought ice cream even though it was 9:30 in the morning. Why? Because PURA VIDA. We also enjoyed our casados con pollo, AKA Costa Rican happy meals.


We made a pit-stop at a hardware store to get rubber boots, and decided that arming ourselves with machetes would be a good idea after battling with the Cabo Blanco jungle. Sadly, the store did not sell scabbards for the machetes, so we were forced to wait.

When we got to the reserve and saw our rooms, we were shocked. We were on the verge of tears from seeing glass in the windows and no bugs in the bedsheets. However, there was a SIGNIFICANT difference between the size of the mens bedroom and the womens bedroom (the p-value was way less than 0.05). But considering the fact that we no longer had whip-scorpions in our beds, could we really complain?

After a brief celebration of our new living quarters, we were wined and dined at a nice restaurant in town, where we enjoyed good pizza and good company. In the words of John Garrett, "fair play, mate!" After dinner, we went to bed and had some of the best sleep we've had yet, free of mosquitoes and spiders! 


Sunday morning, we woke up early to collect some data. It was interesting to see how different the animal and plantlife in Monteverde is from Cabo Blanco. After some data collection, we had a big breakfast and went on a 4-hour hike into the forest. We stopped along the way to I.D. plants and birds, and saw some really cool stuff. We took a break on the continental divide (no big deal) where we had a great view of the Pacific and Caribbean watersheds. We ate our lunches in the sun and watched clouds glide through the trees below us. 

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Unfortunately, a wasp copped an attitude stung Hannah on the hand, causing her to fling her camera at the rest of our group. Luckily, the camera stopped rolling right before it went over the edge of the platform. The wasp then landed on Cat's eye (Cardelus, not Kitty Cat Morris) and stung her as well. We took a hint and moved on. That afternoon, we collected some more data for the group studying plants. Dave, Joe, Amanda and Charles found that conducting Gentry transects are much more fun when talking in a thick Italian accent. After data collection, we were once again wined and dined at the restaurant, this time with pasta. 

On Tuesday morning, we did the usual data collection before breakfast. This time, however, we saw some very elusive animals, including a jaguarundi (finally some good luck for Joe) and two quetzals. Below is a picture of the quetzal, zoomed in a lot. It doesn't really do the bird justice, but give me a break, it was taken at 5:30 in the morning… 

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We started off the next day learning how to mist-net birds with Luisa Moreno, which was sweeeeet. We all got the chance to hold birds, although Cat Morris really didn't want Dave to hold one because she let go of the bird before giving it to him. However, despite Cat's malicious attempts to thwart Dave's bird-holding experience, he did eventually get to hold a hummingbird. The tension between Dave and Cat is tangible. Just kidding. Maybe.



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Meanwhile, Grace was continuing her harassment of the wildlife by vigorously shaking a poor, helpless millipede, which released an almond-like smell out of sheer terror. She also held a hummingbird during mist-netting, with which she showed an uncharacteristic amount of mercy by setting it free unscathed. Her unpredictable actions make her all the more terrifying.


 Mist-netting was fun, but we were all anxious to get going on our favorite things ever: Gentry transects. And more Gentry transects. 

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We had an extra incentive to finish these this time, however: zip lining! Some of us had done it before, but it was the first time for many of us. It was a mix of terrifying and awesome, partly because we were so close to hitting trees. Personally, I was most afraid of hitting a Melostomataceae and damaging the parallel venation of the leaves.


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Unfortunately, we weren't always this photogenic. It took us a while to realize that the ziplining guides were actually braking for us, and our panic was seen in our facial expressions. Here are a few gems: 

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 NOTE: Dave may or may not be peeing himself in this picture

Also, Dave and Cat were feuding the entire time and not enjoying themselves, as seen in this photo: 


Overall, we all had a great time, and most of us survived.

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On Monday, we went out dancing after dinner. Cat taught some of us how to dance Salsa, since many of us dance Salsa like a chicken with no head. Joy claimed to be among us "inexperienced" Salsa dancers, but of course she is a complete liar and was inexplicably really good at it….

On our last day at Monteverde we saw a couple more cool things. First, we saw the legend Alan Pounds (AKA Masta P), whose paper we read during our course. We got to tell him about our frog project which was really cool.

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And we saw a Coati! It's like a raccoon but so much cooler.

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Also, many of us began to feel the pressure of getting our projects done. Specimen were identified, data was crunched, statistical analyses were conducted, and blogs were written. Most people were flustered getting all of this work done. Below are some pictures of people finishing their projects and the chaos caused by crunch time:

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Of course, us bloggers had it the worst out of the whole group.

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Cabo Blanco, May 21-25

 There’s nothing like an air-conditioned hotel with fluffy beds and a swimming pool to welcome you to Costa Rica. But for us it wasn’t meant to be and after one night of luxury, we took a bouncy 3-hour bus ride to the coast and to our first field station in the jungle. Cabo Blanco is a pristine (as a of 50 years of re-growth) absolute reserve of dry forest (very wet for 6 months and dry for the rest) on the southern coast of Costa Rica. Only 10-12 groups are allowed to visit Costa Rica's oldest reserve each year, so we were very lucky to spend 5 days exploring the area.


Only a few small buildings represent the world of Homo sapiens, and our bunks are fully immersed in forest, with only the sounds of the ocean and abundant wildlife disturbing the quiet.


It’s an invaluable playground for those looking to study tropical dry forests, and once we arrived we planned our studies. We aim to compare the species diversity of birds, plants, and insects at edges, in old growth and secondary growth forests, and across sites.

To maintain the pristine nature of the reserve, we were to be minimally disruptive, but not everyone could help her self. Gotham City had The Joker, Cabo Blanco has Grace:


Although some lizards shed their tails as a defense mechanism, there’s no telling if this one survived.


For some, day 2 began at 5:30am with birding (unless it had already begun with flashes of lightning and cracks of thunder at 12:01am in a pool of sweat) and by 7:00am everyone was awake and eating breakfast. Our first full group activity was an initial exploration of the reserve with naturalists Federico and Diana. There was no shortage of excitement. At first we couldn’t walk 10 meters without stopping to identify a plant, point out an orange-legged land crab or investigate rustling in the branches above.

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First there were monkeys, including Howler Monkeys and White-Faced Capuchins (pictured below):


Then there was monkey feces. On Joe.

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But Joe got the last laugh:


On the coast, we saw more birds and heaps of hermit crabs. The hermit crabs inhabit the empty shells of terrestrial snails and aquatic organisms that wash ashore, and can bring seashells into the jungle. Grace and Joy were inspired, and collected some for the hike back. The food's been great, but Joy likes her seafood very fresh.


 The fate of Grace's hermit crab in unknown.

Also, we did science...

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We finally took a break from science and went to a bunch of waterfalls, which were AWESOME!!! We did, however, take 

samples of FUN on a horizontal gradient…


We then got to work on our papers and presentations, and the stress got to us. 

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Some of us even experimented with cane toad poison:


We were able to take a break and look at pools in the intertidal zone, which was incredible. We saw everything from an inking octopus to a puffer fish. 

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Costa Rica 2013


La Selva Biological Station. 

I am in the rainforest…my other home. I was awakened by the first big rains of the wet season and by the howler monkeys…truly stunning. I have unpacked my equipment and repacked the books, tape measures, paper bags, projector, binoculars…the gear for the class. Luckily,  my office has a big window that looks out on to a Melastome whose fruits the birds love to eat. Above is squawking a red-crested guan--what a view! 

Going back to San José tomorrow and looking forward to seeing my students on Monday. I am so excited to show them this beautiful country and teach them in the field!  

© Cardelús Updated April 2019