a picture is worth a thousand words

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and just a thousand words...

The experience in Costa Rica isn't anything these pictures can say completely! But I finally loaded everyone's pictures (the ones I have) and organized them here! It's an album with more than a few sub-albums! There's also a sub-album with just videos!

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If anyone else has pictures to load. You know the password! Photobucket can load ALL your pictures at once through the bulk-loader application. Just load and I'll login to organize them again. As many as there are already, I wouldn't mind seeing more! Also, you can load the photos in their original size and even a full album at once on to your computer if you really want. Just play around with the site some.

PURA VIDA!

falling awake

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and that's just the way it goes...

I woke up today feeling weird in my own room this morning but this is where my journey continues.

I was quite the drama queen coming home yesterday. Elise got the worst of my "laughcry" after Enrique said bye to us all coming home from La Fortuna. I couldn't control myself as we were both trying to go up the rocky hill to our cabin without a flashlight. It makes me laugh thinking about it.

the definition of a laughcry: the midway point between hysteria and abashment; really, it is what it sounds like haha

The morning of our departure I went to the the Toucan cabin to wake John so we can make our last round through the forest to collect flags, blue tape, and my butterfly trap. But he was just waking up and waiting on the bathroom.

So I sat by Joe to wait while looking out the window at the volcano. It made me sad that this is the last morning I'll be waking to this picturesque moment and I pointed at the volcano to Joe and was only able to say "the volcano! :(" before I broke out with a long laughcry episode. I could only imagine Joe sitting there confused because all he did was pat my back saying, "there, there," and then looked at the volcano and said "bye, bye." 

I had everything ready and packed so I could get to the dining early without having a race with time. I wanted to stop by the stables for a bit but I opted not to because that would have been really weird if I laughcried in front of the horses.

Getting in the airport was the peak of my laughcrying tendencies which was pretty entertaining to everyone. I guess I'm still maturing in how I adapt with change because I was still asking where the volcano was when we were going back to the UD campus. So apologies for my childish behavior! But I'm back! The smooth roads feels nice again. I almost feel pro driving on them after being really amaze how Jose, our bus driver, handled the road back and to the airport.

I'm excited to share my experience here in the states and to finish the research paper with my Invertebrate group. We have a lot to talk about. I can't wait to help Sebastian out in identifying his ants and John with the data!

A link to all the pictures of trip will be coming soon. Look out for them in the next blog!


Hello Blog!

The above title conotes the rules during our waterfall rappelling adventures today.  It was awesome. I believe the guides at Desafio took rule # 3 a little to serious, but that did not affect the amount of fun to be had. Today was a great way to end a great week. Everyon had a blast during their free day-fun.  The week has been filled with field work, laughs, cooking lessons, great food, and adrenaline activities.

It is safe to say that most wish to stay in Costa Rica; however I am pretty sure Dr. Brown would dissaprove as would everyone's family.  I won't lie, I kind of wish to stay here as well.  But I have an idea that this will not be my last time here.  I love the people here and I love the research.  It really has been a joy and a priveledge to be the field assistant on this trip.  It has been educational to be on the other side of a research project. And I am really proud of all the student's work this year.  I can't wait to tackle the analysis when we all get back to the Uof S.

Please wish us well with out travels tomorrow. 

Adios Costa Rica, Gracias por su genorosidad.

 

Survived!

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A short post, but we all survived the rappelling today.  Four different rappells, with the shortest at 48 feet and the longest at 150 feet.  Between each we scrambled down a slot canyon through the creek and other mini-waterfalls.  Here are some of the pics--I'll let John, Elise and Roselyn post their pics tomorrow.
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The whole group before our adventure, looking a little nervous.
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This is the short one, at 48 feet.
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And here I am on the big one, at 150 feet with no footholds and mostly freefall.
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Happy to be back on solid ground again, but I think quite ready to do this again sometime soon.

Hasta Luego

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I don't know where to begin to start this blog off. I'm just overwhelm that this trip is coming to a close.

Today we didn't have any field work but knowing that today was our last full day I still woke early wanting to absorb all that I could see. I wish there was a way I could capture all the beauty that floods this place and keep it forever and... and just bring it back with me to the states. 

It shows through my obsessive compulsion in wanting to click away on my camera... as if I'm going to miss a moment that will be gone in the next second and that there's no way of ever retrieving back that moment again. But to be reasonable, moving on through these moments and letting them pass us by to the next, we still take with us what we learned from them in some fashion... whether big or small.

I know I'm leaving Costa Rica with so much on my mind. The people here are all so very kind and I want to thank them a million times over!!!

here's to:

Steve and Debbie - who made this place possible and I'm sad that I never got to meet during our time here
Oscar - who was so welcoming and made this place feel like home!
Mireya - who gave cooking lesson, shared recipes, showed me how to make cheese, and bringing Lorita to breakfast this morning
Carlos - who has the best smile and help make it fun to milk a cow and a goat!
Ronald - who I'm sorry that I didn't speak enough Spanish for him to understand me but allowed me to help feed the horses with him
Enrique - who gets the superlative for being most influential to me on this trip! I hope we get to meet again friend!
Chito - for making sure I didn't drown when I jumped into the waterfall and taking the horses out to race them around with us!
Dr. Brown - who made this class possible! her dedication is beyond any professor I know! Especially for kicking butt at water rappelling when she had doubts in the beginning! Soon you all will hear stories of her zip-lining, rafting, and racing horses!
Richard - for his work here with the groups and sharing his knowledge to the class! he was a great help for me in La Fortuna today in getting gifts for my friends back home!
The class - this experience wouldn't be complete without any one of you! you guys really rock! like really really! really really really! The Walker Bros! Christian & Austin, Sebastian, John, Jomar (Joe & Omar), Forrest, Allie, and Turin!
Elise - our field lab assistant! who really help us all out and bring the group together! she had such a pleasant presence here! I can't imagine someone else doing a better job!
The Staff - who help tidy up our cabins and made sure our stay was comfortable
Sam, Beanie, & Chew-Chew - the cute dogs you see in my previous blog

I think I'll stop there since I just started thanking dogs... but you get what I mean.

I'll be leaving tomorrow morning with bug bites all over that I could care less about at this point, 10 salsa bottles, so many pictures waiting to be print, data ready to be analyzed, and memories... memories that I can't decipher into words at this hour but I know they will help prosper whatever lies for me after this.

I hope this isn't adios forever but an hasta luego! Costa Rica! We will meet again!

Uno mas?

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Dear blog readers,

It has been almost a week in Costa Rica now, but it seems like it has been a lot longer. I think with all the hard work and constantly having something on the agenda makes the trip seem a lot longer than it really is. Thats a good thing though, because this trip has been awesome. The research looks to be rewarding as we gather up all the data we have taken and get ready to write our final report and the research team that came out to Costa Rica are all awesome people. I have gotten to know a lot of people from UD that I probably would not have ever known which is cool. Being in the rainforest for a week makes it easy to make good friends fast. I am glad all of these students came on the trip and would not have it any other way. Each one of them has taught me something really cool and has been really nice throughout the whole trip. They are a good group of people and I feel privileged to be a part of the research with them and can't wait to see everyones final results. They all work really hard and it is contagious and I know that we all got some really good data because of it. Of course, Elise is the greatest lab assistant ever. She has made this trip a lot easier on us and tries to help in whatever way possible. And of course I can't forget Dr. Brown and Richard. The way they organize everything and put together this class is pretty awesome. Dr. Brown is such a great teacher and really loves what she teaches and that makes the class really fun. She puts the students first everyday and wants them to have the best experience possible. Both her and Richard helped team habitat a lot this week. Dr. Brown probably cut our time counting species in half and organized everything really well for us and Richard helped us tons with the hobo software which we used to read the air and soil temperatures. He also taught us some pretty cool stuff about the soil and the Arenal volcano. They were both open to any questions we had about our project and gave us a few pointers, but at the same time they let us do our project the way we wanted to do it. The whole experience was just awesome. I really feel like a legit scientist and this class allowed me to grow in so many ways.

The class was really hard work and tiresome, but there is something so rewarding and invigorating about getting to chat about the research and just every day life stuff with friends over a gourmet Costa Rican dinner. I think that is what kept me going throughout the week and I looked forward to it each and every day and now it has me wishing that we had one more week to do more research.

The staff at Leaves and Lizards rocks,

Joe

con mucho gusto

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Today was our free day and I chose to go zip-lining with Turin, Joe, Omar, and Forrest. It was fantastic - although I was scared most of the time. We all loved our exhilarating experience.

This morning I asked our guide Enrique if he could sing the Costa Rican National Anthem for us in the car on the way to La Fortuna. He said instead of singing it, he could share a recording with me later. When he drove us back tonight, we ran by his son, Steven, who had taken orders from Enrique to make me a CD of the National Anthem with video. He said, "See? I do my homework!" 

I love that every Costa Rican I've met has treated me with such kindness, respect, enthusiasm, and love.

As a psychology major, I am always interested in and appreciative of people's character. It looks like bird behavior wasn't the only behavior I was observing...con mucho gusto.

Last Day

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Christian just finished gathering up some of the flags marking bird points A through G, and what is probably our last blog post is now being written.  It's been an amazing week - we'll be heading back up to the US tomorrow morning.  We'll spend the next couple of days writing up our paper and analyzing data.  

Yesterday in the afternoon, we all went to Orlando's Forest.  It was magnificent - beautiful hilly country, heavily forested, with a waterfall echoing in each ravine.  It wasn't very birdy, but we still had a blast - checking out scorpions, army ants, and other cool bugs, swinging on vines, and simply being in the rainforest.  It wasn't until the very end of the hike, however, when things got very exciting.  The Walker Bros were bringing up the back of the group, when Christian spotted a motmot perched on a cecropia.  We maneuvered for a bit, trying to get rid of the backlight, before we realized it was a Keel-billed Motmot - one of the rarest of Central American birds.  It is not quite a myth, but it's getting there.  Here's one of the better shots we captured: 

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Today was our free day, and Sebastian and We lived it up, going to El Silencio with Oscar in the morning, and chilling with Fanta and ice cream in the afternoon.  El Silencio was amazing - a legitimate rainforest chockfull of sweet birds and ants.  Seabass found a "golden ant," and we saw some spectacular birds like Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-winged Tanager, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, and Brown-hooded Parrots.  This Broad-billed Motmot gave us great looks.  

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We're extremely thankful we were able to do this amazing research project, especially to Dr. Brown, Richard, our our fellow researching compadres, our parents, and Leaves and Lizards.  Pura Vida!

- The Walker Bros

Just Sitting in the Hammock...

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Good morning,

I'm sitting out here on the porch enjoying the beautiful view of the Arenal volcano and wanted to share a few of my thoughts since I haven't been able to blog in a couple of days.

I think you all have been kept up to date pretty well with our habitat studies here in Costa Rica.  So right now I'd just like to say a few things about our overall experience here.  We've all had a lot of firsts here whether it be seeing or catching a certain bird, butterfly, ant, or countless other things in the forest.  Since coming to Costa Rica I've learned quite a bit about plants and soils, where and how they grow in certain areas, and in the process have gotten to also see birds and bugs that the other research groups were studying.  Some of the things that stand out to me most when I think about the last couple of days in regards to new experiences are:

Getting bitten by a number of tropical spiders

Seeing five snakes all together making their way through the forest on vines and branches as they hunted lizards

Stepping on a snake while walking back from one of our quadrats in the evening; that really startled me...

Seeing a bat snatch a bug out of the air 2 feet from my face as I was lying in the hammock

Milking a cow and goat for the first time

Seeing birds and animals that I've always wanted to see in the wild such as toucans and sloths

An overall awesome experience in Costa Rica of course...

Today since all our field work is done we have a free day for some fun activities and adventures (all the research has been awesome and fun already) such as zip-lining, rappelling, or exploring the canopy of a forest.  We're not able to do everything so I chose to go zip-lining.  I've never done that before so there's another thing to add to the list.

Team Habitat has just a couple of things to do before we write our final paper on the research that we've done.  I'm excited to see how all the data we've gathered is related and how the forests have been impacted by the different conditions, plant species, and soil characteristics that we've observed.

words can't explain

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So of all the pictures I've taken thus far, these are just some of my favorites! I feel like I have lived many lifetimes here and it has only been 5 days! Enjoy the pictures!

The pictures speak for themselves!

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soaking up the heat.

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I think the heat makes the bug spray melt away. Ever since Sebastian, Joe, and Forrest told us about bot flies on our night hike last night, bug spray has been a hot commodity around the cabins and in the field.

Turin and I completed our last observations today. This morning the mist-netters caught many birds, the most special being a Passerini's Tanager. Others were woken up and called down to the field to take a look. He was a refreshing start to a beautiful Costa Rican day.

Mireya, our cook, allowed Roselyn, Turin, Elise, John and me to steal two wonderful recipes from her this morning after some data entry: chayote soup and tres leches! I think we decided only our group gets to know the recipes, so if you are not a Costa Rican Mayterm student, don't ask. It's a secret.

We also went on an afternoon hike today, about which I'm sure others will share. 


Photos from yesterday and today:

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playing in "la katarata" in the middle of the girls' horseback ride

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Christian with the Passerini's Tanager

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Eating the Chayote Sopa in Mireya's kitchen

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Richard sharing his knowledge on our afternoon hike.

- t-t-t tanager.

Last field day

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Today was our final day of work in the field. I collected the last nine of fifteen pitfall traps I had placed. I'll bring the collected specimens back to Dallas with us, and identify them once we're back in the lab. Then I'll identify all the individual ants down to species, and calculate species diversity and abundance in our three habitat sites.

We took a hike to a nearby original forest called Orlando's, where we found two species of live Odontomachus ants, many leafcutter ants, and a raiding column of Eciton burchellii army ants driving across the forest floor, devouring everything in its path. Several of us momentarily had ants in our pants, before we noticed and hastily danced around, brushing them off. We observed the worker army ants using their own bodies to fill potholes in the road and make bridges for their comrades to travel over. Their coordination and teamwork were inspiring to us all.

Tomorrow Austin, Christian and I plan to set out for the far side of Arenal volcano, led by our intrepid guide Oscar. We hope to see many species of birds and ants. In particular, I hope to find bala, or bullet ants, Paraponera clavata. These ants are over an inch long, and have the most painful sting of any insect. The bullet ant is called by the locals "Hormiga Veinticuatro" or "24 hour ant", from the 24 hours of agony that follow a stinging. On the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which only goes up to a 4, bullet ant stings are a 4+. Perhaps we shall find these fierce ants in the jungles of El Silencio.

-Sebastian

Field photos Day 4

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For our last day of field work the students were busy picking up last-minute pieces of data and trying to find out if there was anything else we needed before we leave.  We again got started with the birds early when I opened the nets just before 5, and had the busiest day yet at the nets.  I checked a normally fairly quiet set of nets to find four birds in it at once--two Buff-throated Saltators, one Passerini's Tanager, and a female Variable Seedeater.  The process of removing a bird from the net can't be rushed, but is made more difficult when the bird finds the most sensitive part of your hand and pecks at it repeatedly (as shown by Austin the other morning).  Somehow all four of the birds I removed wound up finding the same spot on me, but perhaps the retribution is deserved since we did interfere with their day by trapping them.  The netting was steady throughout the morning and brought in the most birds we've had all week.
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The reward is of course having one of the most beautiful birds here on the property in the hand, and to realize how rich the color on the feathers really is for this species.
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The other reward is to share this bird with members of other research groups and let them see what the research is all about.  I'm really pleased with the cooperation exhibited by these groups and the assistance provided to one another.
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In the afternoon we hiked to a privately-owned primary forest near the property in order to compare what an untouched forest looks like compared to the reforestation for most of the areas here on the research site.  It was a tiring afternoon hiking in the heat to the forest, then through the very dense and humid trail system with steep climbs and descents.  As seen above the group was fairly tired not just from this hike but from a really long week of very physically demanding work.  The walk just to breakfast each day requires walking up a very steep hill paved with cobble that shifts and threatens to trip them, and that doesn't include all of the hiking and walking for the fieldwork. 
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In this forest they were able to see some new things, including a large trail of army ants steadily bringing food back to the bivouac.  It was amazing to see them build bridges over small dips in the trail, and how many ants were actually part of the colony.  In addition to new ants the students saw bigger and more active leafcutter ant colonies, immense trees much larger than seen at our study site, and greater stratification in the mature forest. 
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Of course, the other abundant elements of this forest include sturdy lianas that make for ideal Tarzan swings.  The temptation was too strong and so a few students managed to swing their way across a small creek for the thrill of it, and it kept them high above the ravine as shown by Omar here during his turn.  I think it was a needed break from all the hiking, and the mood lifted by watching each other defy gravity.

The other mood-lifter was the fantastic Tres Leches cake made by the girls in Monkey cabin and by John during some cooking lessons earlier in the day. Sitting down with a small slice of cake and a big glass of ice water was all anyone needed to feel better after the long hot hike.

Tomorrow they have their free day to enjoy various fun things in the area.  Austin, Christian and Sebastian are going with Oscar (a great guide here and property manager) to El Silencio Reserve to see more birds, ants and primary forest.  Most of the guys in Toucan cabin and Alli & Turin are going to try out the canopy zip line.  And Elise, Roselyn and John managed to convince me to join them canyoning.  So sometime tomorrow we will be rappelling down a waterfall, challenging my trust in my students and also any fear I might have of heights.  I guess they trusted me to bring them here so I should trust them? 

If you don't hear from me tomorrow we all know that I've either taken to it like a howler monkey or am at the bottom of a waterfall somewhere....

Panoramas Completed

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Late yesterday afternoon, I completed the panoramas and they are now online, here.
The new Bird Point 'O' on the new trail through spring 3's original forest has also been added to the online map (click image to see the interactive map).

And here is this morning's view from the Mariposa cabin:

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Hard work! Dangerous too

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Today was supposed to be a long and hard-working day, but the habitat group worked professionally and was more efficient today. We were able to finish all our fields work today in order to start analyzing the data we collected. We encountered many diverse plant species, some that I have never seen before. Unfortunately we encountered 5 snakes and they looked like they were vipers. Joe was the one who spotted them and then started freaking out. His reaction scared us all and I did not want to go back in there again but you got to do what you got to do.  We eventually calmed down and chilled out until we made sure that the snakes left and the area was safe to go back in and continue our work.

Later that day, Christian and Austin spotted an owl and had the telescope aiming directly at it. We had to be very careful at approaching the telescope and I had to enter my stealth mode in order not to scare the owl away. The owl was starring directly at us just chilling, knowing that we are there but didn't do anything and it kind of freaked me out but was hilarious at the same time.

I am glad that we got done with the fieldwork early and i was very successful day for our habitat group. After having dinner, which was delicious as every night, we went on a night walk to try to observe owls, bats, and other interesting species that are not visible in daylight. We ended up not seeing many animals but was a fun walk with the whole group together.

We headed back to the cabin and chilled as usual, then passed out.

Spectacled Owl!

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Need more be said?  Well, go ahead and assume the affirmative.  Our day started out promising with a Band-tailed Barbthroat in the net.  Here it is in Austin's hands.  

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Our morning point counts were a little slow, especially in the teak and vochesia monocultures. Some highlights included a pair of Gray-capped Flycatchers, a Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, and a very close Laughing Falcon - too close to get a shot of the entire bird.  

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We've managed to average about 11 species of birds for each point count, the max being J where we usually see around 20, and O, where we only had 3 this afternoon.  O is in the forest, and although we may not see that many species in the interior forest, they tend to be pretty spectacular - Spectacled Owl anyone? Christian spotted this bird perched low in the vines and branches after we had flushed it.  Pretty much amazing...

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Before the afternoon bird count, Christian spent some time photographing and videoing a singing Scaly-breasted Hummingbird.  Here is the coolest pic.  

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A male Variable Seedeater was extremely tangled in the net, but Austin managed to disentangle it with a few extra hands - props to Christian Elise, and Turin.  

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The day ended as every day in Costa Rica should - with a sunset as beautiful and splendid as the birds, plants, and people of this amazing country.  

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Pura Vida!

- The Walker Bros

Trap-jaw ants

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Today I placed the last nine pitfall traps, and collected the twelve traps I had placed earlier. The ant diversity here is incredible. The traps caught three Odontomachus bauri workers, a beautiful black trap-jaw ant that is a generalist predator on leaf-litter insects. Its mandibles, used to capture prey, can close at speeds of 145 miles per hour, giving these ants the fastest self-powered predatory strike in the animal kingdom. The average duration of a strike is a mere 0.13 milliseconds, or 2,300 times faster than the blink of an eye.

I also was able to capture a single worker of large, very fast and agile black ant species that I have so far been unable to identify. As John mentioned, it seems to be mimicking wasps, which is not a behavior I have ever heard of. Myrmecomorphy, or the mimicry of ants by other species, is common in wasps; but as far as I know, the mimicry of wasps by ants is not well-documented. Further research will be needed once we return to Dallas to determine the classification of this ant.

All in all, it was a great day of field work. I love it out here. I think I could do this kind of work the rest of my life. Tomorrow's our last day to collect data. I'm looking forward to spending another day with these amazing ants.

-Sebastian

Field Work and Waterfalls

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Hello All!

The past few days have been packed with all kinds of adventures. Like Dr. B said, it is beginning to show how tired everyone is.  I am beginning to realize just how different this field experience is from last year's, for me.  Being a part of the bird group last year is completely different from being a field assistant.  Running around from group to group, bird point to quadrat, can be tiring yet educational. Props to Dr. B for doing this all the time.  I am just trying to learn as much as I can about field work and be helpful where I can.  To be quite honest, I am quite impressed with this group of students. I happen to be learning a lot from many of them.  In addition, their energy level and perseverance towards the project is impressive.  

The invertebrate group has made a lot of progress. Roselyn and Jean have caught a lot of butterflies and have been doing well at their point counts.  Sebastian has been very successful with his traps.  They are definitely getting a lot of data so their analysis should be very thorough. 

Team Habitat has also made a lot of progress and ran into a lot of interesting situations on the way (or so I here a few things about vipers).  I have been specifically working with them on some of their soil tests, but also look forward to helping identify some plants with them.  

The bird group is, of course, going above and beyond.  Christian and Austin need little help from me.  Every now and then I get a question about a tree, but overall I am just impressed with their skills and excitement about the project.  Lately, I have been doing the bird behavior points with Alli and Turin.  We have had a lot of fun working together.  In addition, analyzing bird behavior has been a great opportunity to partake in.  These girls have been very on top of their data analysis while they are here, so I know they are taking their project serious.  

Today, the girls cabin and I kind of took a small break from the field and went horseback riding to a waterfall. I was very lucky to be able to go on this adventure again.  As always, I was very impressed with our guides, Enrique and Chito. They are always great to be around and so kind to share their knowledge of the land with us.  I know that the girls and I were very tired after our adventure today, but it has not affected our energy towards the field work.  I believe we are all just trying to ignore the tiredness until we arrive back into the US.  There is no time to be tired in Tico Town.  

Well we are are looking forward to our last day of field work and the big free day. We will all let you know how it goes!

9:30 PM? Past bedtime!

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Turin and I have been going to be around 9 (last night 8:30PM). We haven't gone to bed this early since...a long time. We are exhausted from waking up at 5 AM to join the mist-netters and start our bird observations. After some data-entry this morning, Dr. Brown allowed for the girls to go on an amazing horseback ride (which Roselyn has beautifully described) since horseback riding was my first choice for free day. Since there wasn't anyone else who had it as their first choice, I took the opportunity to go today. Oscar, one of the workers/guides here, arranged for a ride for us gals down and up to a beautiful waterfall in Monterrey. Upon our return, Turin, Elise, and I rushed out to do our evening bird observations, and Turin and I are up "late" entering in our data.

Henceforth, pictures will come tomorrow since the shower and my bed are calling my name. 

Field Photos Day 3

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So--day 3 is usually the day when the workload starts to push past the Day 2 high intensity effort into the downswing toward our Friday departure, but also when the heat and lots of hiking/less sleep tends to hit the students as well.  It's also the day when a group of vine snakes turn into vipers, so before anyone worries the students were all fine and the snakes were nonvenomous.  It is unusual to see that many at one time, so it was perhaps something that was a bit scary!
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The habitat team did have some rough terrain to cover today and some thick plants to thrash through, making their concern about snakes very real.  They had a huge number of plants to catalog but got more efficient in their work today.
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Here's Joe working to pick up the string that helped them to delineate the quadrat to make counting easier, and I can say after this they may never want to see another plant again (or at least for a while).

We were followed around by a motmot for a while, and maybe it could be considered their guardian motmot after the snake encounter.

The bird teams continued to get great data from point counts, netting and behavioral observations, and I'm looking forward to spending more time with them tomorrow.  Sebastian was showing me his collection of amazing ants, and he's very excited to get back to campus to get them identified.  There's only so much he can do here, but I think he'll have some interesting surprises once they are under a microscope.

Finally, there's one other support team member that I should acknowledge here in addition to our great field assistant Elise.  My husband, Richard Marsden, has been a part of this project since it began, and has worked a lot with the students both as an additional chaperone as well as in the field with tech support. 
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Each year he gives the volcanology lecture back in Texas, and then shuts down his business at www.mapping-tools.com for a week to be here.  He created the EcoMap website, maintains the technical stuff and then does our panoramic photos, as well as works with the students on the gadgety stuff.  So a big thanks to my beloved at-home tech geek!