May 2008 Archives

Additions to the Map

The mapping group has almost completed the field work and only has to retrieve the HOBO sensors and to process the remaining data. All the panoramic photos were collected during yesterday morning's excellent weather. Noah has stitched all of them, but they still need to be resized and have their north markers added.

The final plant areas were also collected yesterday. All plant areas are marked on the map.
We need a key, but for now:  red = monoculture, yellow = mixed species, and pink/magenta = ornamental.

The springs and other water points were added using the 'hot spring' symbol. We need more symbols, and the hot spring is not too clear. I shall fix these symbols when I return to Irving.

The road data is ready to add, and we should have it up soon.

Panoramic photo has been resized and had its north marker added. This has been uploaded to the panoramic photo section of the site, as an initial test. The others should follow soon.

Another addition is the Arenal walk (zoom out to Arenal and surrounding area) - click this to see the group photo on the lava flow.

It's a beautiful day!


Finally, after days of forging through the rain and mud, we had some sunshine.  For the mapping group this weather was ideal for taking panoramic photos at all of the bird group's points throughout the property.  We got a little bit of a late start, around 6:30am, but we still had most of the photos taken before breakfast.  A complete 360̊ panoramic image requires 18 individual fames.  After all of the frames were taken, we stitched them together using software on a pc.  We also mapped two final areas for the plant group and we think that we now have all of the data we need for the map.  Now, with a lot of help from Richard, we will begin putting all of the pieces together for the website.

Around lunchtime we walked to the famous Super Kike.  The weather was barely holding out for us, but we all made it before the big afternoon rain.  However, because we went during the typical siesta time, the store was closed.  We thought that we were going to have to walk right back to Leaves and Lizards when Geovanny came roaring up the hill on his motorcycle.  He, of course, knew the owner of the store and convinced her to open early for us.  She was very nice and we got all of the salsa vegetales(our new favorite condiment) and Costa Rican coffee we could carry to bring home to the USA.  We also got some ice cream and ate it right outside the store.  We made it back to our cabins just as the sky was opening for the afternoon rain.

More than Expected...Plus Ice Cream!

   This morning we woke up to a sunny, not rainy, morning.  It was absolutely wonderful to walk around with Geovany and his friend, Ulises who is a plant expert.  Ulises and Geovany worked together to help us identify some more of our unknown plants.  We also were able to finish mapping sloth valley and the cabin areas.  After walking to the Super Kike, we started our quadrats.  By dinner time we had finished 8 out of 12 quadrats (which was more than the 6 we expected to complete).  We are very excited to wrap up our plant project tomorrow.  

Its a lovely day in the neighborhood


Today was a beautiful day, very sunny and hot! We slept in until breakfast and did the first half of our bird counts after we ate. Our first two counts were done without Geovani or Dr. Brown, we are getting much better at identifying species! It has been concluded that the three of us have officially "stepped into the dark side", according to Debbie our host. We find ourselves always noticing birds wherever we go, even during our free-time, rather than relaxing and napping we sit on the porch and look for new bird species. Today, we were very excited to discover three new species of hummingbirds that we had not seen before. It is raining now and we are analyzing data before we go back into the field to finish our bird counts for the day. Tomorrow we will be welly wanging!!

Rain, Clay, and Photo Shoots

Despite dire forecasts of the tropical storm lasting until Sunday, the weather cleared early yesterday afternoon and the resulting mist lifted by about 5pm. Hence what promised to be a wash out for the mapping group actually turned out to be a productive day with a number of panoramic photos shot, and the initial experimental photos were stitched successfully. We are finding that manual exposure and auto focus are good, productive combination. Adaire has been using her artistic talents with the whiteboard images that mark the beginning of each location's photo sequence - see the photos below for some examples.

Yesterday, the mapping group also switched the HOBO temperature sensors at the springs. At the moment, they do not appear to show evidence of a hot spring but surface runoff has been a big problem. An attempt has been made to alleviate this by attempting to divert runoff to the possible hot spring, and to locate the sensors deeper. Digging in the hotspring site found two soil types. This possible mystery was solved when we looked at Spring 3 (more of a storm washout, really). The 'top soil' is a brown soil containing a lot of fine gravel/coarse sand. Under this lies the 'bed rock' - an orange clay, probably alluvial. Dr. B and myself think that soil analysis will probably make a good project for next year.

Map Updates: The main house property line has been added to the online map. The buildings have also been added, but they need photos in their pop-up windows. The Map Group has lots of data that is being processed, and should be online today/tomorrow.

(writing this on our balcony at about 6:30. I have a perfect clear view of Arenal in front of me with a little bit of steam activity from crater C. Parrots are flying around (noisy birds), and there's the general morning chatter of the rainforest below me.)


Tropical Storm and Falling Up? Puh-lease.

As indicated by our title, the mapping group overcame a very wet obstacle in accomplishing our objective today, along with another which will be discussed later. In retrieving our HOBO temperature sensors in the pouring rain from our "hot spring" (results on that later...) and in taking panoramic photos in deep mud, the mapping group effectively accomplished our objectives.

Namely, our main objective was to figure out if a supposed hot spring on the property is in fact a hot spring. At this point, our results seem to invalidate that supposition--the "hot spring" was in fact colder than our control. However, we are running a series of tests over the next 48 hours to validate these results.

More tommorow, ciao.


-P.S. "falling up" means falling up a very slippery slope in a creek bed. Maybe Adaire will tell you one day.

Waterproof Field Notebook

The Plant and Mapping group finished our map of "Mixed 1," perhaps the most difficult patch at Leaves and Lizards.  We had woken up to a dark, gray and stormy Costa Rica at 5:30 this morning and in the hour and a half of sampling, not much had changed.  Stumbling down the side of "Mixed 1," Adaire and I plotted a number of points to form the map.  Lacking any of my field gear and (more importantly), lacking a waterproof notebook, I tallied the Melina trees on my left hand (see below).  Often getting a point for the Trimble took some time (up to 20 minutes in heavier forest).  Nevertheless, we are glad to have finished the map of the patch.

A News Field Book.JPG

Species Highlight: Guanacaste, National Tree of Costa Rica


Enterolobium cyclocarpum

Guanacaste Tree.JPG

                Over the course of our research here at Leaves and Lizards, we have encountered one tree we feel has special significance.  The Guanacaste is a tree endemic to the tropics found in a number of the reforestation patches.  The tree has smooth bark, alternating feathery leaves, and can grow to be 35 meters tall.

                Guanacaste lends its name to the province in which we are staying.  The sampling we have done of this tree will be a good remembrance of the trip.  One of the first trees our guide Geovanni pointed out for us, its name has been locked in our minds since the second day.

rain, rain, and more rain :)


Last night began the first tropical storm of the season, so all day today was rainy and very foggy. We did not see as many species of birds as usual. We did, however see a new species of hummingbird which we have yet to identify. We currently have counted 836 birds (of 63 total species) since the first day of our bird counts. We began our data analysis and density calculations for each species today. The weather finally cleared this afternoon, and we hope for a good day tomorrow, we get to sleep in till 6:30!!

-          The Bird crew!



Three days into research and each project has come to life.   Plants have been counted and in the process of identification, birds have been viewed, and the property has been mapped.   From 5:30am till 6pm we seemed to be completely focused on the projects.  But discussing the projects gives only the surface view of our couple of days in Costa Rica.  So this is where I, the lab assistant, come in on the blogging.

First, we need to let know that we are getting enough to eat.  In fact, the meats and fruits are extremely fresh.  The cook, Mireya, keeps our bellies full with pancakes, cheese, rice and beans, lasagna, chicken, fish, fresh squeezed juice, Costa Rican coffee, and deserts. We have to go to great extremes for processed items. 

One of those places is the Super Kiki, which is the local grocery/all around store in the vicinity.  It thankfully accepts both dollars and colones.  Several hills on a cobble/gravel/dirt road need to be traversed in order to arrive at the Super Kiki.  You are greeted with friendly faces at the foosball table and in the store.  You can find your row of Costa Rican candies, cookies, and breads (of which we have come to enjoy).  There is the beverage section with a variety of juices and Coca Cola made with sugar cane (not high fructose corn syrup).  Two other favorite sections is the jelly, where we find squeezable pineapple jelly, and the salsa.  The salsa has truly changed everyone's eating experience. You will most likely see each of us with two bottles in tow on the way home.  The Super Kiki also carries a variety of household goods, and the one we own our field work sanity is the Wellies.  Translation: Welly à Wellington à Rubber Boot.

Rubber Boots brings us to my second point.  We feeling the effects of the tropical storm and the definition of rainforest wet season. Most of the time we are soaking wet head -to-toe with field notebook in one hand and umbrella in the other.  Luckily the rain is warm, there are no thunderstorms, and we have our wellies.  We will conclude our data collection with the First Annual Field Ecology Welly Wanging Competition.  We will who can kick their wellies the farthest. 

We continue enjoy the beautiful views of Costa Rica and Arenal Volcano, our cabins, the plants, the birds, the terrain, the food, and rain.


Workin' together like birds of a feather...except not.

From the collaborators of the plant and mapping groups:

To fill the map on the website with plant data, the plant and mapping groups worked on a joint venture today. With today's weather we found it rather difficult to keep dry while working in the field (probably because of the rain). However, the plant and mapping groups today were able to slog through nine patches of various types of reforestation; while mapping the area and identifying various features within them, including tree types, we collected data patch by patch. Each patch took us about 30 minutes to do, and in each patch we were bamboozled with many mistakes. Notwithstanding these difficulties, we managed to complete most of our work today, only leaving three more patches that we must do in the morning.

We also visited a preserve of primary forest. Though none of the mammals were out, we did identify a number of birds, a few frogs, and many different plants--of particular interest was a huge leaf-cutter ant hill (ca. 4 m). The howler monkeys were heard but not seen--like bad children.



From Mary Boyum and Lorea Ormazabal:

Bring out the ponchos!

Through rain, sleet, snow, or hail, research must go on...especially in our case, rain.  Unfortunately half way through mapping out our reforestation sections, we realized that we were naming some sections and plants as unknown.  Also, we noticed that for the unknown plants we did not have species descriptions which could lead to duplication of unknown.  So tomorrow we need to go back and recount the plants in former sections.  We got nine out of the twelve areas counted and mapped, Geovanni's list from his studies, and we can definitely tell a mayo tree from a teak, balsa, guanacaste, or almendro.  Then we went on a hike through primary forest and heard howler monkeys and Geovanni's impression of them.  We were able to see the sap (glue) come out of a rubber tree.  Another highlight of the trip was seeing blue jean frogs and used balsa leaves as umbrellas. :-)

 From Adaire Chatry:

Walking Sticks

Today the mapping group shadowed the plant group as they flagged their sample sections.  We used a point-vector feature on the Trimble to get the best polygon shapes to show up on the map.  We walked the perimeter of each flagged section and filled in a series of attributes for each section.  Although we worked all through the rain, we still have a few more plant sections to map tomorrow.  We also checked on our Hobos in the cold and "hot" streams and found that they were still submerged correctly.  We took another flow rate measurement in the control cold stream and found that the rate had increased since yesterday.  We are excited to retrieve our temperature data tomorrow morning and hopefully unearth some useful data on the existence of a hot spring.

Primary Forest

Today we woke up at 5:30 to do our daily bird count and got to see a squirrel cuckoo. After our count, we took a trip to a primary forest with Giovanni. We got to hear howler monkeys and saw a poisonous blue-jean frog, a laughing falcon, and a rubber tree. Overall, we're noticing trends in bird species in the area and the correlation between habitat and birds. Today we've decided what we'll do on our free day- white water rafting through a river in a tropical forest. Kat says hi to the library.
Goodnight from the bird group :)

Our first map updates

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The map group had a good strong first day. The paths roads were mapped, as well as all of the survey points for the Bird Group. The bird points have been added to the online maps. The popup windows have attribute information for each bird point. This still needs to be properly formated.

The grid and property boundary have also been re-aligned with the base point. This re-alignment was in the region of 50m, and some of the color patches on the satellite photo now match topographic and vegetation features. The stable/barn may also be visible (all of the other buildings on the property are newly built).

Great students with great projects


Just two days into our trip, and so much has happened in these projects.  Although each project is different, one common denominator is that I am amazed at the adaptability these students have exhibited.  Yesterday was incredibly full, with the bird and plant groups beginning their work with Geovanni at 6AM, while the mapping group located sites for their water data collection.  They continued with a 3 mile hike at El Silencio, and later another 3 mile hike at the volcano, which ended in eating empanadas and fresh pineapple in the dark rainy night watching the glow of lava flowing down the volcano.

The plant group was somewhat discouraged by changes that would be inevitable in order to implement their project, but they have created a completely new plan that will ultimately be fantastic.  The plant group has a great asset in Lorea, a fastidious notetaker who manages to keep up with the pace of the data no matter how fast the Spanish, common, or scientific names are given for each species.  Mary has added her willingness to climb over or under any obstacle in order to tie a piece of flagging to mark a point.  And Chris has brought his photography skills to the plant group, enabling them to document every species of plant they see, in the hopes of creating a guide to the plants here.

The mapping group has put in the most time on the trails, walking each of them twice today--once to map bird points, and the second to map the roads/trails themselves.  Adaire has nearly mastered operating the Trimble field computer, although the very steep learning curve for the new technology was one of the concerns for the project.  Samantha has found herself having to slide down a  ravine in order to plant the Hobo temperature sensors, and has the ability to remain happy throughout.  Noah is a very effective planner, and has worked well with Richard downloading the mapped data, displaying them, and making arrangements for the collaborative work to be undertaken with the other two groups.

Finally, the bird group has become fully absorbed in its  work, finding that even today, when there is a chance to have a short afternoon break, they want to continue watching the birds that fly by.  Adriane showed this to the fullest extent, creeping to the edge of the porch of the cabin to watch a flock of Red-legged Honeycreepers feed on fallen bananas.  Katheryn kept up with the fast pace of the data collection this morning, including entering the finds on a very difficult-to-manage datasheet showing the locations of every bird sighted.  Katherine continues to have a keen eye, and an ability to remember all the birds we have seen today when sighting them later, throwing out the names as though she had studied them for a much longer time.

Finally, Johanna is a great asset to all of the projects, dividing her time between the different groups, and finding out where she is needed most.  She has helped with the mundane task of helping me buy food for lunches and protective rubber boots using only a list of shoe sizes, as well as technical tasks related to data from the Trimble and the Hobo sensors.  Although I knew in asking her to be a part of this project that she was a great researcher, I have also learned that she is a very effective team leader.

The groups will continue to enter their reflections in the coming days--it is hard to believe today was only Day 1 of formal data collection, with four more remaining.  I hope that the readers out there and the parents and friends of these students know how great they are, and how grateful I am that they are a part of this project.

Finally Ready for Action!


Today we finally established our revised study.  We found 12 areas of reforestation in Leaves and Lizards.  We labeled them and took pictures of them.  We also started categorizing tree species found all over the reserve, not just in our twelve points.  We also decided on parameters of what we will describe our twelve sections with.  They include grass percentage, proximity to water, distance from plants, patch type, area, % slope, dominant plant, and disturbance.  We will also look at the role and importance of all species found. 

Male Papaya.JPG

Male Papaya Leaves.JPG
Male Papaya Trunk.JPG

The pictures are three standard examples of the type of description we will give for each species of plant we encounter.

Today we began work at 5:30AM, rather earlier than the average tourist.  We set our permanent point-count sites and took our first set of data.  We decided to drop the evening count due to unpredictable heavy rains, and added more sites to the morning count.  We have a total of 14 locations around the perimeter of the property where we stop and count birds for 10 minutes each.  The mapping group followed us and set GPS points and took site data.  Later in the week they will be taking panoramic shots of each site so that any changes in vegetation can be documented as the reforestation project continues.  Giovani helped us out a lot in hearing, sighting, and identifying birds.  He has been a guide near Arenal for many years and knows an amazing amount of information!  We got stuck in a brief but heavy late-morning downpour.  We only spotted one bird during that time - it was a Turkey Vulture, perched on a laurel tree, seeming quite unfazed by the wall of rain that was driving away the more reasonable birds and leaking through our umbrellas.  We noticed a directionless convention of hooligan-like White-crowned Parrots convening in the area.  They roamed around in huge, screeching, flocks of 15-50 birds.  Giovanni told us that parrots scout the area for corn and wreak havoc on farmers' fields.  I think our brains are being rewired to see birds first and everything else second.  We proved to be poor listeners at our meeting this afternoon because we were distracted by every hummingbird, flycatcher, and oriole in the area.  When a flock of 5 Montezuma Oropendulas arrived, binoculars became permanently glued to our faces.  This new development may make it more difficult to eat dinner tonight.

We love our GPS...

We returned late last night from our hike to Arenal to see the volcano and lava.   This morning we got up at 5:30am to go out with the bird group and help them plot their points and set waypoints for future use in our GPS system. After breakfast, we will pick up the HOBO sensors from the  one spring we placed them in yesterday.  The HOBO should have recorded time and temperature data every 15 minutes for the last 18 hours.  Once the data is uploaded, we plan to place one sensor in our supposed hot spring, and one in a nearby cold spring, to evaluate the validity of our supposition.

So far, everything is going well, but we have one problem. Because of dubious reasons, our data corrections cannot be completed here seemingly. This will increase our accuracy error from 1m to 6m and will not provide the opportunity to readjust our GPS lines.

-Mapping. Noah, Sam, and Adaire

Lava Flow!

The UD Field Ecology students after walking the 1992 lava flow from Arenal.  Front row from left:  Katheryn Miller, Katherine Biernat, Noah Jouett, Lorea Ormazabal, Johanna Weston, Samantha Behrent.  Back row:  Adaire Chatry, Mary Boyum, Richard Marsden, Christopher Gurguis, Adriane Smith.


Change of plans!

Today, we realized that the plot of land that we were looking at had some impassable areas; that would not allow for the type of random sampling that we had originally planned to use.  Our focus will become more qualitative, emphasizing reforested areas.  

After realizing that there were certain difficulties with our original project, we toured El Silencio Reserve, a primary forest, and a secondary forest near the Arenal Volcano (the forest has been growing since 1968 and 1992). We walked across the lava field from 1992 and were able to see the lava flowing down the sides of the volcano; also, we heard the sounds of light thunder.

We're here!!!!!!!


Today, our second day in Costa Rica, we woke up at 5:30 and could see the volcano from our beds  with the smoke from the eruption filling the sky.  We met Giovani, our guide, and went on an introductory wildlife walk around the the property. He pointed out different plant species, birds, and a three-toed sloth who was busy grazing on the leaves of a Cecrpia tree. Between 6 am and 8 am, we saw 23 species of birds. After breakfast at 9, we saw 5 different species of birds on the bird trail. We also saw an amazing bamboo tree 15 meters wide.  This afternoon we will be visiting Arenal and El Silencio, an intact forest. The weather is pretty hot and humid and we're currently melting but morale is still high. We'll keep you posted ;) !

~~ Katherine, Kat, and Adriane

From the Field--Mapping and Water

From Noah,

Day 1 of our field work was fun-filled and very productive. We arrived at L&L at about 4PM on Sunday, jotted down some quick data, and rested for today's work.We got up at 5:30AM to get acquainted the property and plot our base point. Furthermore, we planted our first temperature sensors to acquire readings from our first spring. Also, there apparently lies a supposed hot spring which we will investigate later.

From Sam:

I'd like to add to Noah's description that a few of the water sites are somewhat difficult to get to.  In particular, one most likely will require a rope, and it should be interesting to see if we manage to get data from this site.  Tomorrow, we will pick up our HOBO temperature monitors from the spring early in the morning, and possibly map some of the roads and trails on the property.  Tonight, we are going to hike to the base of Arenal.

From Adaire:

It's a jungle out there, but our new friend Louis and his electric machete  helped us to forge a path to two of the four springs we were introduced to today.  We are excited to determine whether or not one of the springs is a hot spring by comparing it with a control nearby.  Hopefully, this data will help our hosts to decide if the spring is an investment worth pursuing. Today we got acquainted with  our equipment and established a few base points with the Trimble.  We are now waiting for the correction data, which will correct our points and polygons within 1 meter. 

Annotated bibliography now online

The main page now offers a link under the Reference section containing an annotated bibliography for the project.  The bibliography was compiled by the students in BIO 3416 as they researched background material on mapping techniques and the flora/fauna of Costa Rica.  It is important to have a broad overview of what this research will entail by looking at what others have conducted in the field.  We hope to add to this bibliography with even more detailed citations and additional references after we return from Costa Rica.

If only there were clever puns for maps.. :(

The mapping group is far less clever than our colleagues, sorry to say.

On Friday, our group finished off our project protocol (like a business plan, except more science-y); we then created our data dictionary via our GPS software, which will enable us to associate features such as text fields, menus, etc. with various points in our study site; and finally, we were introduced (as Richard noted in a previous entry) to the panoramic head.

Also, we met extensively with the bird and mapping groups to enhance our data dictionary through adding the aforementioned features, except tailored to the needs of these groups, thus maximizing the information our map will display. We plan to accompany these groups at least once on the trip to help them find their exact point (i.e. latitude and longitude) and to collect our needed data for our features.


Demo Panorama

I demonstrated the use of the 'Panosaurus' panoramic head to the mapping group today, on the University of Dallas Mall. Alas we didn't have time to stitch the resulting images together, but I've just downloaded the images and stitched them. The result is very long and thin, so I've shrunk it and clipped it into two so that it fits in the blog. (we will use thumbnails next week)


The world through binoculars...


From left, Kat Miller, Katherine Biernat, and Adriane Smith.  Photo by Jim Varnum

Today we went to the Cedar Ridge Preserve with Dr. Brown in order to get first hand experience sighting and identifying bird species. We were even fortunate enough to see a Painted Bunting and Indigo Bunting as well as some other bird species. In class we wrote our finalized project protocol and equipment list. We met with the mapping group and determined that an x-y coordinate system would be used for our labeled observation points. We also decided what information we'd like them to record for each site. We also typed up our data sheets.

- The bird group have just published a 'how the sausage is made' article that I've written:

Using Virtual Earth with OpenLayers

This article concentrates on the Virtual Earth version of our maps, showing how you can use OpenLayers with Virtual Earth. The article example uses OpenLayers to add a SHP shape file layer (served by MapServer using WMS) onto the Virtual Earth base layer.

Our production maps also use OpenLayers to draw the survey grid, and to add KML layers.


Today we discussed specific avian habitat types. We correlated island biography with fragmentation due to deforestation. Based on this relationship, the goal of the Meso American Forest Corridor is to reconnect the forest by creating larger islands and decreasing distance between islands. We talked about bird phylogeny and methods of identifying birds. AND we discussed how excited we are for 6am mornings!

- Katherine, Kat, and Adriane

Mobile technology for the project

We added a new piece of equipment to the range of tools available for the project, a Trimble GeoXM handheld field computer with integrated GPS and Bluetooth wireless:

Photo from Trimble,

The Trimble unit is the essential item to have not only for obtaining our GPS data on specific points, but for allowing us to collect a wide range of data attributes, visualize our data using GIS, and download our information for analysis on-site and back in Dallas.  This particular unit will be able to resolve features within 1-3 meters, which for our purposes should be enough to enable a fairly accurate view of the features of our reforestation site.  The unit retails for about $4,500, which includes the software for both the XM and our own computers for post-processing.

Many thanks go to Cody Cantrell, Western Data Systems, for spending several hours with us yesterday helping to set up the unit and work on collecting a few field points for practice in using the XM.  Cody has extensive experience working with Trimble, and helped us get through a few glitches due to computer difficulties (from our network, not from the unit) to have us in the field collecting data just a short time after the unit arrived.  He also created his own tutorial for the XM, which we'll be able to provide to Samantha, Noah, and Adaire who will be working on the mapping part of the project. 

Cody works for Western Data Systems in Southlake, TX, so if you have a need for tools for a similar application, give him a call (972-245-4337).

Lab Assistant Introduction

Hey blog reader,

Let me introduce myself.  I am Johanna Weston, and I am the lab assistant this class.  I just graduated from UD a couple of days ago, and I am excited to spend my second post graduation week in Costa Rica. 

Today was Day 2 of Class, and the topic was plants.  We went over the generals of plant sampling: quadrants, line intercept, and point-quadrant.  We face the exciting but challenging effort to plan the sampling efforts without being in Costa Rica. Hopefully we will lower the learning curve before we arrive in the Tropical Wet Forest and Premontane Wet Forest of our study sites.

Can't wait till Sunday,


Today we looked into the topic of biological monitoring.  In Costa Rica, we will be conducting baseline monitoring.  Our sampling units will begin with transects and then with the remaining time, we will move on to count quadrats. 

Special attention will be given to five major tree species: Teak, Balsa, Cecropia, Kapok, and Rubber.  We will be noting the development of stratified forest recently reforested areas compared to unforested and naturally forested areas.
The 'Website Technology' page is up. This is an initial page and lists the technologies and data sources that we have used for the site. It will be expanded over the next few weeks to give more information. It may be expanded into multiple pages if I decide to give a more in-depth discussion of specific areas. The page is here:

The descriptions for the website and this blog are only included for completeness. The panoramic photographs and online maps are more interesting.

I always wanted to be a tree-hugger...

   We are the plant group who decided to start practicing our Spanish for the Costa Rica field ecology class.  We are the fantastic senior bio students at UD and our names are: Lorea, Mary, and Chris G for the money...We are really excited to go to Costa Rica to help Leaves and Lizards reforest their property.  We will be looking at the various plant types and recording them. 

Squawk! from the Birds group

Katherine, Kat, and Adriane are the members of the bird survey group. We are all biology seniors of the University of Dallas. Today, May 20, 2008, we had our first day of Field Ecology. We had our introductory overview of the course and detailed information about volcanology and Costa Rican geology. Specifics on Arenal. We were also assigned our groups and tonight we have plans to start our research. In Costa Rica we will be doing birds counts twice a day at 6am and 4pm. 

Hello, from Mapping.


We are the mapping group!

We have three members, who are:

Samantha B: 3rd year Biology major
Adaire C: 4th year Biology major.
Noah J: 2nd year English major.

We are very excited to learn the terrain of CR and to assist with the reforestation project there.  We are even more excited to work with Dr. Brown in this project.

Species spotlight: Red-capped Manakin

The Red-capped Manakin is a member of the family Pipridae, limited to areas of the lowland tropics.  Manakins have experienced a long history of sexual selection, resulting in a selection for brightly-colored males with elaborate courtship displays and females with less coloration.  They are generally lek-breeders, typified by central display areas called leks that are used by several males in order to attract a female.  The females visit the lek and observe these displays before settling on one particular male as a mate. The Red-capped Manakin display on the lek can be viewed in a well-known clip posted to YouTube.

Photo by Lynn Barber, Fort Worth Audubon Society

Birdwatchers looking for manakins find it difficult to see them in the dense understory layers of a forest.  However, the birds can be brought out more into the open by mimicking some of their sounds through clapping and finger-snapping.  The birds, curious about a potential rival nearby, will move into an open perch to investigate the sounds and allow for a closer look.

Volcano Reference Page is online.

The volcano page in the reference section is now online. The species descriptions in the same section will be written by students.

Volcan Arenal, by Jorge Barquero Hernandez (Lihssa San Jose, 2006) is the last of the volcano books that I shall be reviewing here. It is also the shortest at 50 pages, but contains the best photographs of Arenal of any of the books reviewed in this blog. It is available directly from the Arenal Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal).

The text is bilingual English/Spanish and documents Arenal's activity from 1968 to date.
The only shortcoming is that I would have preferred more text, but the photographs more than make up for this. Photographs include a rare pre-1968 photograph, as well as good coverage of the aftermath of the 1968 Vulcanian eruption, and various activity over the past 40 years. There are lots of good night-time photographs of incandescent lava and Strombolian activity. Also included are some excellent time-lapse stills of pyroclastic flows. These are amongst the best photographs that I've seen for portraying the speed and unpredictability of pyroclastic activity.

Yes a new version of the map but with a Virtual Earth base map is now online.

Virtual Earth gives much better coverage for wider Costa Rica and Central America, but does not work as well when zoomed in (ie. to the Leaves and Lizards property).

Species spotlight: Antbirds


The tropics hold a variety of species that are unique, and none are more interesting and challenging than the antbirds. The antbirds are small passerines within the family Thamnophilidae, and are restricted to tropical Central and South America.  A second ant-dependent family, the Formicariidae, are found more commonly on the ground, and resemble thrushes in behavior and morphology. 

The antbirds are generally insectivores, and gained an association with ants due to their habit of some of following columns of army ants to feed opportunistically on the insects that are attempting to flee the ants' advance.  So while they do not necessarily eat ants (although some are obligate ant-followers), the swarms of ants enhance feeding opportunities.


Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus doliatus) in Jaú, São Paulo state, Brazil.  Photo taken by Dario Sanches, from Sao Paulo, Brasil, September 30,2007

There are a number of species that belong to the Thamnophilidae, and these species are typically divided based on size and foraging behavior.  These species include the antshrikes, which are large and have a hooked bill similar to the shrikes found in other parts of the world.  Smaller antbirds include the antwrens and antvireos, that will forage for tinier insects and often forage on the wing.  All members of the group prefer being in the darker lower levels of the forest under a thick canopy.  They are commonly cryptic, with dusky brown, black, gray and white coloration.  However, some may have iridescent face and neck coloration, as in the case of the Oscellated Antbird.

At the Leaves and Lizards site many of the antbirds can be found in the mature tree habitat, but could be expected to increase in number as the forest becomes more dense and begins to become attractive to insects and army ant swarms.

Volcanoes, by Peter Francis and Clive Oppenheimer (2nd Edition, Oxford University Press 2004) is probably the best volcano book currently in print. The late Peter Francis wrote the original first edition, which quickly became a classic when it was published in 1993. Clive Oppenheimer has done an admirable job of updating the text and covering more recent eruptions such as Soufriere Hills (Montserrat).

The target audience is definitely an educated audience, but a knowledge of geology is not necessary. Volcanology and igneous petrology both suffer from a lot of jargon, but Francis & Oppenheimer do a good job of concentrating on what is important. There are even some witticisms regarding the more obscure (but loudly argued) areas!

Coverage of Arenal is limited to a few sentences in the discussion of Vulcanian eruptions, and whether the bombs erupted in 1968 really were supersonic. Better coverage and photographs are provided for neighboring Poas which is noted for its phreatic eruptions. Despite these limitations for our study area, this book is strongly recommended for those who want a comprehensive and readable book about modern volcanology.

Map Page is online!

The initial version of the Costa Rica map is now up and online, here:

If you are using a small computer screen, you may need to scroll the page down to see three "Zoom To" buttons and some notes. Select the visible layers by using the "+" button on the upper right of the map.

A version using Virtual Earth for the underlay should be uploaded in the next 2-3 days.

For those interested in the technical details, most of the map layers are being served by MapServer as WMS tiles to OpenLayer. OpenLayer adds the (KML) Leaves & Lizards layer at the client level.

Active Lavas: Monitoring and Modelling, Edited by Christopher R.J. Kilburn & Giuseppe Luoungo; UCL Press 1993
This out of print book concerns the monitoring and modeling of lava flows with the intention of improving future monitoring and the protection of civilian populations.

As such it is is probably a bit specialized for our needs. However, of interest to us is Chapter 2, The blocky andesitic lava flows of Arenal volcano, Costa Rica (pp 25-72). This takes advantage of the almost-constant effusion of Arenal's lava flows over the preceding 15-20 years to study lava flows on all scales from individual flows up to an entire volcano.

The result is a very good description of the morphology and dynamics of Arenal's lava flows. Of particular note are the field observations of which could be easily mis-interpreted by a field geologist studying an ancient lava field. For example, striations of lava flow levees could be mis-interpreted as fault slickensides. Selective erosion, truncated lava flows, and accretionary levees are also analyzed.

There are some useful lava flow descriptions which I shall be using in my volcano presentation, but otherwise this book is for a technical (field geologist) audience.

The The Volcano Adventure Guide, by Rosaly Lopes (Cambridge University Press 2005) is intended for volcano visitors who want more than what the usual tourist guides can provide. As well as an introductory section on volcanism, chapters cover safety and planning a volcano trip. Most of the book covers a range of volcanoes that are (generally) readily accessible. Volcanoes are chosen according to notoriety, things to see (eg. an eruption in progress), and accessibility.

Regions covered are: Hawai'i; Continental USA; Italy; Greece; Iceland; Costa Rica; and the West Indies.

Volcano coverage includes history, maps, places to visit, and guidelines for repose (or in the case of Arenal, "bad weather"). Lopes also adds personal accounts which range from the human (1 million people living on the slopes of Vesuvius) through to her own potentially hazardous experience on Arenal.

The technical level is aimed at the interested lay reader. Gives a good sound coverage - much better than the average tourist guide, but does not get into technical details that might swamp most readers.

This is an excellent book for someone considering a visit to a volcano or two. It can be used to choose volcanoes to visit, and also to plan your actual visit. Of course volcanoes have a tendency to change, but the book should give you enough information so that you can find out the latest status before your planned visit.

Species spotlight: Keel-billed Toucan

The Keel-billed Toucan, Ramphastos sulfuratus, is one of the most distinct and charismatic species of the Costa Rican rainforest.  Readily identifiable by its bright green red and orange bill, this species is a common resident of the rainforest canopy.

Toucans are members of family Rhamphastidae in the order Piciformes, and have several qualities in common with another family of this order, the woodpeckers.  All members of this order have zygodactyl feet, with two toes pointing forward, and two toes behind.  This toe arrangement provides the greatest possible traction for hanging on to tree trunks.  Like woodpeckers, the toucans are hole-nesters, and due to limited numbers of natural holes and crevices will often be forced to share the holes with other toucans.

The diet of a toucan is mainly fruit, although they will sometimes consume eggs, insects and vertebrates (mostly frogs and lizards) to add protein to their diet.  At the study site we have found that the resident toucans will sometimes move from tree to tree monitoring the ripeness of fruits in order to get the fruits at their peak.  We hope that restoration of the Costa Rican rainforest helps to provide more space for these birds to live, and a better food source for them and their young.


Species spotlight

We will periodically be posting a species spotlight, which highlights the habitat, behavior, and general importance of one of the species found at the Leaves and Lizards site in Costa Rica.  These species will be among those that will be the focus of the research project, and we hope will continue to be restored to the site over the years.

If you have a species you would like to have more info on, please let us know!

Dr. B.  

Chaiten Erupts

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The volcano of Chaiten in Chile abruptly woke up on 2nd May. I have yet to see any official analysis, but reports and photographs suggest a Plinian eruption is in progress. Some impressive photos can be found at Times Online and other newspaper sites. The Smithsonian pages for Chaiten have yet to be updated with news, but include some useful background.
Last eruption was about 9000 years ago. Caldera with rhyolite lava dome - famed as a source of obsidian in archaeological circles.

Chaiten is a long way from Costa Rica but both are home to subduction zone volcanism. Also, Plinian eruptions are relatively rare - there have probably been about half a dozen worldwide during my lifetime - so this is of note.

Regular reports of activity at Arenal are produced by the Observatorio Vulcanologico y Sismologico de Costa Rica - Universidad Nacional (OVSICORI-UNA). English language translations are usually published by the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program roughly every month. The latest report is typical of recent activity from the past few months:

16 April-22 April 2008

In March, activity originating from Arenal's Crater C consisted of gas emissions, sporadic Strombolian eruptions, and occasional avalanches from lava-flow fronts that traveled down the SW flanks. Volcanic activity was at relatively low levels and few eruptions occurred. Acid rain and small amounts of ejected pyroclastic material affected the NE and SE flanks. Eruptions produced ash plumes that rose about 2.2 km (7,100 ft) asl. Small avalanches of volcanic material traveled down several ravines. Crater D showed only fumarolic activity.

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