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Extended Study 2010

Cuericí Day 2

After  a long day of hiking, failed tree rigging attempts, and adjustment to high altitude, the team needed an easy day.

The insect team set out their traps, but the rest of us worked on papers...sort of. It was more like write a sentence then play a few games of free cell.

Following lunch, several of us finally broke out our cleats and sneakers for a soccer match. Our mad skills were apparent as we saved the ball from barbed wire and urticaceous shrubs. We were all winners, since the game ended in a tie.

Before dinner, Carlos gave us a tour of his trout farm. He has the only hatchery in Costa Rica not run by the government.  During our walk, we had another quetzal sighting!! Following this distraction, Carlos introduced us to tomorrow’s lunch: several gigantic trout. He then proceeded to kill them with his bare hands. Truly a rugged woodsman. Steffan and Tommy helped, but didn’t quite have the same touch as Carlos.

The evening was spent once again writing papers and learning more life lessons from Cat. Tomorrow perhaps we’ll have more energy.

Upper Montane Cloud Forest, June 4th 2010


We are leaving Lowland Rainforest and headed to upper montane rainforest now. It is a rustic site which is very cold, always in the clouds and has no internet!

We will back in San Jose on the 7th and should have a full update then.

So that was a lame post...but luckily the past 8 hours have been rather eventful and we have more to say.  Nothing makes me want to blog more than sitting in a wooden cabin by the fire side listening to Cat talk in spanish to a man who looks like a Costa Rican Paul Bunion (an adorable woodsman). 

    We kicked off our day by once again loading up the bus and heading out.  Many of us were rather tuckered out after having a late night waiting for laundry to finish, just packing up, or contemplating how the depth of a porcupine’s eyes were enough to overcome the roughness of its quills and allow it to work its way into our hearts forever (we saw one on the bridge last night).  So, there was a lot of sleeping going on.  There were several different styles happening.  Some went for the domino effect and leaned on their neighbors, others went for the head back hat down, there were several window leaners, Shelly evidently “perched,” and then there was my own personal sweatshirt caccoon technique.  However, this was far too peaceful for Cat.  There was more to experience and napping had to be eliminated.  It just so happened we were driving up THE elevational gradient.  Cat woke us all up at the beginning of it, but managed to restrain herself after that.      Although I do love a good nap, the gradient was pretty nifty.  There was a very obvious shift in vegetation.  One of the most significant differences was the appearance of red plants to protect against UV light.  Don’t freak out parents we sun-screened up.  

    We took a little pit stop at a swamp.  We saw lots of blueberries that we couldn’t eat because of a funky fungus in the area.  There were also some very different and tiny looking oak trees.  Despite almost not being able to get out of the swamp and Kaitlyn almost getting hit by a Mack truck I’d call the visit a success.

    After another hour or two on the road and a quick pit stop  at a grocery store we stopped at a bog.  We were told it would be freezing at 3400 meters (11000ft), but we’re Raiders.  If your eyebrows aren’t frozen, it’s not cold.  However, we did slightly tarnish our “fit campus” reputation because I know I was a  little on the winded side at such a high altitude. We saw more ferns, dwarf blueberries and some rather uncomfortable urticateous plants.  Unfortunately we ran into some “bros and bras (a female bro)” from California that were rather excited to climb the same rocks we were occupying.  Their gusto was not appreciated.

    After arriving at our destination we participated in the age old bonding ritual, shove-everyone-in-a-bus.  Our driver couldn’t get out without weight on is tires so we were the weight.  Everyone piled into the back of the bus, but had to cram into and even smaller jeep for the ride back.  Carl’s child bearing hips brought us together and we all reformed our bonds that had been stretched at La Selva.  We are all looking forward to our remaining days in Costa Rica.

La Selva Day 5

La Selva May 30 2010


La Selva Day 2

Arenal and La Selva

Today was filled with eating and sitting as we drove from Monteverde to La Selva, Costa Rica’s premier lowland biological station, next to the town of puerto viejo. Along the way we saw some beautiful countryside and Sheila ate moldy cake. The first four hours brought us to the city of La Fortuna, located in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano and created in response to the massive tourism generated by the mountain’s most recent eruption. We ate lunch here and were able to be as close to tourists as a group of smelly ecology students can be.

The two hours between La Fortuna and La Selva were very exciting as we watched the forest composition slowly change down the elevational gradient. 

Once at La Selva we settled in and ate a predictable yet delicious dinner. We then took an incredibly exciting introductory night hike through a small part of La Selva’s property. Right off the bat we saw Caimans, rare frogs, way cool insects and a few lizards. We are so amazingly stoked for all that this place has to show us. 

San Luis Day 4

San Luis Day 3 May 25, 2010

Today we all learned what 5 a.m. looks like.  In an effort to make it to the cloud forest before all of the Quetzal stalkers we got up super early, chowed down some breakfast (guess what...rice and beans!) and drove to the forest.  Evidently we failed and arrived in tourist town bright and early.  Luckily Tania knew where to go and we hiked up to the continental divide.  Some of us saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time!  Along the way we saw/ heard grey breasted wood wrens, slate throated red stars, the common bush tanager, black face solitary, scale crested pygmy tyrant, cyclanthacae, black guans, green hermit hummingbirds, a crab, hot lips a.k.a. whore lips a.k.a. the mother-in-law, spangle cheek tanager, and a few lucky people got to see the resplendant quetzal!  It was awesome!    We also got to trounce through some elfin forest.  Here we decided to blend in with the elves and rocked elephant ear leaves as beards because everyone knows elves have beards.  Along the way there were a bunch of millepedes that when shaken emit a cyanide gas.   Cat made us all take a big ol’ waft and I’m sure Richard will want one for his birthday along with the mirror beetle he saw on the way in (a $20 value).  Perhaps it was because Tania is super speedy or maybe it was because Cat didn’t sample EVERY tree we passed we wound up finishing a little early and got to stop by a Cheese Factory.  After having lunch with some very colorful hummingbirds we headed off to the Monteverde Cheese factory.  It was no cabot, but they did have some delicious ice cream Guanbana ice cream two thumbs up!  Mango ice cream...not so much.    

    Then to add to our day of tourism we went ZIP LINING!  After some serious arm twisting we even convinced Cat and Elora to join.  There was an awful lot of nervous jabbering going on before the first line, but judging from the pictures of everyone there was nothing but smiles.  Then there was a fun little surprise half-way through, something called the tarzan swing.  Rose was first to discover what this was when then shoved her off the edge.  Basically it was a fun game our sassy tico tour guides liked to play also known as strap the gringo to a rope and shove them off of high objects.  Rose’s shock response was almost as great as Cat’s.  The general consensus was that this was the coolest thing ever and I’m pretty sure Carl would “do it again RIGHT NOW!”  Kaitlyn is probably still laughing about it.  We finished up the zip line and then headed back to our cabinas. On the drive back it appeared as though we were actually driving through a cloud.    

    When we returned our groups presented the data collected yesterday.  This was a good thing because I feel as though people may have started rockin’ fanny packs and  commendeered the bus to go to the beach if we didn’t get back to the research.  We ended by having a celebratory shindig (hooray real clothing!).


San Luis May 24, 2010

Today after a 7am breakfast, we headed off for our waterfall walk.  Along the way, we saw a whole bunch of awesome flora and fauna.    We also came across an orange tree which had very sour fruit.  Steffan got a lot of tasting reactions on camera.  They were great.  We crossed several bridges along the way which were pretty slippery from the rain but no one fell.  Once we made it to the end of the path, it was only short walk to the waterfall base.  It was a beautiful and very tall waterfall.  There was a nice little pool at the bottom and all of us, minus Tania and Cat, went swimming.  See all the pictures above!!!  We stayed at the fall for a while swimming a bit more and taking a look at the flora in the area.  We collected quite a few samples for identification later in the afternoon.  After drying off, we moved away from the waterfall so we could hear each other and ate the pack lunches we put together at breakfast.  Just as we started heading back towards our cabinas to do a couple Gentry transects of flora diversity, we passed a hidden wasp nest!!  It was in a rocky cliff area right next to the stream.  Our trekking across the bridge right nest to the nest disturbed the wasps.  The wasps started swarming and half our group, Kaitlyn, Tom, Claire, Richard, Shelley, Elora and Mike were all stung at least once.  OUCH!!  Rose’s AfterBite helped a lot.  After recovering, we continued our way back.  Rose nearly stepped on a small brown snake but noticed it in time.  At the end of the path, we stopped at the house of the land owner (who owned the waterfall path) and let him know about the wasp nest so no one else would get stung.

    After we returned to the cabinas, we headed out again to select locations for Gentry transects.  We chose areas near the Botanical Gardens.  After a bit of trouble finding 50m stretches of forest without crossing hiking trails or entering pastures, we recorded the tree species and took samples for later identification and analysis.  Some trees we were unable to reach samples, so we marked the trees with flagging so we could return tomorrow with extension cutters to retrieve samples.  It was pouring rain the whole time so we were quite soggy by the end of the collection but we got back to the cabinas in time so everyone could shower and warm up before heading to dinner.

    After dinner, we headed to the classroom for a lecture with Mark Wainwright, an illustrator with a strong interest in herpetology.  He gave a really great talk about the sudden decline of frogs starting in the late 1980s.  Together, we hypothesized many reasons as to why this decline took place and realized that no reason along was a sufficient explanation.  There are many reasons for the decline of the frog populations and nothing is known definitively.  Mark Wainwright did suggest that the strongest player in the decline was the Chytrid fungus which affects the skin of frogs leading to death.  After a thoroughly engaging but pretty depressing talk, Mr. Wainwright ended the talk by telling us that several frog species have been recovering.  Many species, including the Green-Eyed Frog, have been observed once again in Costa Rica when there were previously no known populations.  It was a great note to end the talk on.  We then grabbed our flashlights and headed back to the cabinas for bed.

Montane Cloud Forest-San Luis Day 1 May 23 2010

Like most of our days at Palo Verde, we began with a bird walk. We saw about 4 new species and TOMMY HAS LIST. 

We then left Palo Verde at 7:30am. The drive was stunning as we slowly left the dry forest and drove east up the pacific slope of Monteverde where moisture gradually increases with higher the elevation. We stopped at an ecolodge where they have a Macaw breeding program and we got to see Scarlet and Blue Macaws up close--was well as howler monkeys. 

The University of Georgia Biological Station (previously known as the San Luis Ecolodge) is a field station that was  started by two ecologists about 20 years ago and then it was bought by UGA in 2002. This field station/ecolodge is fully integrated with the community, grows 10% of there own organic products with a goal of 50%, and buys the rest locally, and hosts many different kinds of courses including one that is overlapping with us: Art & Culture.

The students were GIDDY when we arrived at the University of Georgia Biological Station. The lowland dry forests of Costa Rica, Palo Verde, are physically challenging! Intolerable dry heat by 10am, mosquitoes that you find youself breathing in, spiny trees, crocodiles in the lagoon, and acacia ants everywhere--overall, harsh conditions but gorgeous nonetheless. Premontane cloud forests, 1200m, are  cool, dense, full of birds and very few mosquitoes. The Ecolodge is there--a lovely station with local wood furniture and paneling and gorgeous views from every room.  Each walkway is lined with beautiful wildlife, the flowers are especially breathtaking.  Everywhere we walk we have to watch out for leafcutter ants because they crisscross the trails all through the area in well developed paths.  

After a yummy lunch at the student union we had an orientation talk about the area.  We learned about the history of the park and the climatic characteristics that cause this area to be a cloud forest.  Then we went for a walk the long way back to our cabin on the camino real trail, which took us really long because we couldn’t help stopping every 3 feet to check out another species of plant, bird, or insect.  We then had some chill time in our sweet breezeway/classroom in between our rooms before dinner.  After dinner we had a talk by our TA Tanya on highland Costan Rica birds who did her masters work partially in Monteverde on bird diversity and genetic divergence.  The talk was very interesting and introduced us to some birds of the area that we can look out for and also showed us the patterns of endemism of birds in the different areas.  Walking back to our cabinas was basically a night hike, and after that we were able to bunker down for the night.

Cool Videos

Palo Verde Day 4

The less lazy/tired people in the group went for an early morning walk at 5:30. We did some bird watching  on the way to see the white-faced capuchins in the mango trees near the station, but saw so many interesting birds we never even made it to the mango trees! We saw caracara, turquoise motmot, cuckoo, whistling ducks, cattle egrets, roseatte spoonbill, common ground doves, jacanas, limpkin, a moscovy duck flying in the air above us, several cinnamon hummingbirds, rufous-naped wren, manakin, oriole, kisskadee, and a great currasow. We also heard a laughing antshrike. We saw an agouti running through the woods. The early wake-up time was definitely worth it!

After breakfast at around 8:15, we hopped on the bus and drove to the boat for our mangrove tour on the Tampisque river. It is a tidal river that leads into the Nicoya Gulf. The tide fluctuates about 4 meters every day! It was about a foot below high tide when we started off and we could see the water mark on the vegetation on the bank. 

We saw black mangrove and collected some samples of the leaves and flowers. Unfortunately, because the tide was so high we didn’t get to see any pneumatophores. It was interesting to see that there were no mangrove trees in the areas in which the agricultural lands (mostly cattle) could be seen from the river. We collected samples from many other types of vegetation for identification later. 

We also saw many birds - muscovy ducks, tiger herons, green-backed herons, spotted sandpiper, great-tailed grackle, mangrove swallows, and Amazon kingfishers. We heard the distinctive call of howler monkeys and the boat driver backed up so that we could watch them for a while. We also saw Jesus Christ lizards, many crocodiles, and green iguanas. One of the times we neared the shore while taking a sample from a tree, we were surprised to see that about ten green iguanas ran towards the boat. Rafael told us that they have changed their behavior as a result of humans feeding them. 

When the tour ended and we got off the boat, someone saw an africanized bee swarm and so we had to quickly and quietly load onto the bus. All in all, it was a pretty exciting trip!

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the classroom. Team leaders gathered data and prepared their presentations while the rest of us identified plants and insects and prepared herbarium samples. 

Palo Verde Day 3

Thursday May 20th, 2010 Palo Verde

This morning we collected more data for our class-wide research projects on insects and tree diversity.  We collected some cool beetles, grasshoppers, and ants as well as some beautiful trees, including an Apocynaceae with bright yellow flowers, opposite leaves, and white latex; a Bombacacae with spikey bark, and a Sapotaceae, the rubber tree, with awesome red bark.   After our work in the forest in the early morning, we spent the rest of the morning taking a fun hike through the dry forest.  We walked to the mangos where the white faced capuchins like to hang out, and although they weren’t where we thought they might be we walked past the station troop on our way back.  They we so cute, lazily hanging out in the trees looking back at us.  They didn’t seem too bothered by us, but we learned later in the evening from a woman from the University College of London that human presence has been theorized to cause decreased play and increased aggression in primates.  She studied the troop that we saw and said that she hadn’t seen much increase in aggression, but since humans have been influencing these monkeys for thousands of years there is really no comparison to how the monkeys would be without our presence.  She did say that sometimes she saw them fight more when humans were present, but thought that it might be especially a problem if humans try to feed the monkeys who are already prone to fighting over resources.  

We took a night hike after dinner to the ‘watering hole’ but found now water nor frogs. So we went back to the Lagoon Bridge where we could hear the frog cacophony from the road. We heard at least 6 species of frogs. We also saw large orange eye shine from about 8 animals on the water. It took us a lot of looking, but we finally saw that these were Crocodiles!

Palo Verde Day 2

Palo Verde Day 2, May 18th


Started off the day with birding.  We saw a Jabiru, whistling ducks, jacanus, blue heron, mexican tiger heron, snow and cattle egret, turkey vulture, grove billed ani, white ibis, stork, plover, greater yellow leg, a brown dove, hoffman woodpeckers, and scarlet macaws.

Then we had Rafael take us on a natural history walk. We saw oriole nests, dung beetles, and acacia trees with ants. It started to get hotter, and we climbed up a calcareous rock face. “La Roca.” We had a great view of the wetlands from up there, and saw some orchids on the rocks.  It was incredibly hot at this point, and we all needed to come back to the air conditioned room to recover from our heat stroke.

Once we were rested and ate lunch we started to practice some plant identification before heading out into the field to do Gentry transects. This process was a pain. The cutters were not sharp at all, and moving them through the jungle was quite difficult.  From there, a few of us went with Tania, our T.A., to set up some mist nets to capture birds.  After having little luck cutting branches, we retired back to the classroom to identify our Gentry transect plants.  This proved to be fairly difficult, but after dinner we were back out again for a night walk.  Despite the clouds of insects swarming around our headlamps, the walk was gorgeous, with thunder and lightning illuminating the sky.  In the middle of the walk, we encountered (and nearly trampled) what we think was a boa constrictor. But no worries, everyone (including the snake) came out alive. After a downpour of rain, we checked out the insect lights, which were covered in gorgeous moths and other cool insects.  But soon, we were getting covered in moths, so we called it a night. 

Palo Verde

Tuesday May 18th, 2010

We arrived in PV today--tropical dry forest. Hot! Mosquitoes!

On route we saw lots of snowy egrets and roseatte spoonbills. Two black iguanas and a nonpoisonous snake, possibly a roadguard (Conophis lineatus) greeted us warmly upon our arrival on the grass and in the bathroom, respectively.

Took a walk to the mirador and saw the endangered Jabiru mycteri, the largest bird in Costa Rica. We also saw male and female crested guans, howler monkeys, and lots of anolis lizards. 

Extended Study 2010

May 17th - June 8 2010

17-May  Arrival in San Jose

18-22 May  Tropical Dry Forest

22-26 May Montane Cloud Forest

26 May - 2 June Lowland Rainforest

2 - 7 June Upper Montane Rainforest

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