The last day had a productive final round of sampling even with the frequent rain. Many new butterfly species were recorded including many individuals of a rather uncommon species typically only found in intact forest. Upon reviewing the notes and data for the butterflies the highest areas of diversity were, as expected, in the disturbed forest patches that did not have tree monocultures. The tree plantations especially the teak stands were very low in butterfly diversity. The butterflies of the teak areas were the most common species that were present to nectar on the lantana. The tiger pattern mimetic complex of Heliconians, Ithomiines, and a single Charaxinae was very well represented in the two main disturbed forest patches. For the ants diversity was greatest in the forest patch bordering bird points a-n. There were several dominant species of ground dwelling ants. Their dominance should lessen as the restoration process continues and the leaf litter becomes thicker. This gives less dominant species more available niches and microhabitats to live and forage in, and it makes it more difficult for dominant species, like the fire ant Solenopsis geminatta, to establish colonies.
May 2009 Archives
Here is a photo of the students on the boat trip (from left: Nick, Aliza, Kathryn, Natalia):
Today, the final field day, has been a day of tidying things up. We retrieved the last HOBOs (automated water temperature samplers), and both Aliza and Nick have been collecting their last field data. I've also converted the Trimble data into a form that can be used by Aliza and Nick in their write-ups. I've created a new map with bird nest locations. The plan is to add bird nest locations each year as their own layers, so it should be possible to compare the number of bird nests over time. Marcy reports that there are a lot more bird nests this year than in the 2008 field season. This is good news. An intermediate version of the map should be online before we leave Leaves and Lizards. Aliza is preparing a set of photographs for each bird nest point. I shall publish these later in the week after we return. I'll post a note when these are completed.
This weekend has been glorious. The end. Haha no but seriously it has been a little piece of wonderful. First, the horseback ride through the mountains on Friday. Then Saturday was our "free day". We took a boat tour in search of MONKEYS!!! and other animals/birds of water down el Cane Negro that reaches the Nicaraguan border. Our journey began with a 5am wakeup call, a 3 hour car ride to the river, and a successful boat ride. We saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-faced monkeys and the "light haired" monkey (apparently a very rare monkey). We also saw "caimanes" (or crocodiles) and many, many birds (my favorite being the kingfisher). Our tour guide, Dauren, brought lunch for us on the boat form a nearby restaurant with actual dishes and silverware and a table with a tablecloth..it was just precious! We had this huge boat all to ourselves and it was so fun! Then we went to the teeny town of Fortuna to visit Geovany's Parque Natural, which was "Natalia-friendly" ;) since it had nice clear and snake-free dirt trails with many gorgeous flowers among all the trees. After that we did some souvenir shopping, had dinner and crashed when we got home. Today I went bird watching with Aliza before Kat and I went to Mass in the lovely church in Monterrey. I have to mention that the homily was great! However it was a bit comical that there was a tiny chihuahua running around the open-doored church during mass and no one thought it was strange at all..! haha It was actually quite funny because Kat and I had to walk from church to the "Super Christian" (the town grocery store) and find a "ride" (what they call taxi rides) back to Leaves and Lizards or else we'd have to hike up 3 km of rocky roads..luckily we found one and just spent the afternoon packing. It's our last night here in Costa Rica--a little bitter sweet, but all in all I can say it was a satisfying and happy week..totally worth the "Murphy's Law" ailments..ha! ;)
Several pieces of data from the bird and habitat studies have become quite important as well. Unlike last year, we are finding quite (through Aliza's work) a few bird species breeding on the property, and so we plan to add the locations to the map soon. From Natalia's work on photopoints, it is evident that the vegetation has grown significantly from last year, with the teaks quadrupling in size, and much of the mixed forest filling in. This is a good sign for Steve and Debbie's work on reforestation, and the changes are immediately evident from the research.
Posting to the blog may be limited tomorrow--the students will have their free day, and we plan to travel the Cano Negro river with a guide. This will be a switch from the original free day planned for Sunday, but nicely gives them a chance to go to Sunday mass in Monterrey rather than Saturday night. Finishing touches on the research will fill the rest of Sunday, and then the packing and travel will begin. Watch for more news here on any last-minute discoveries....
The red lines on the left and right edges mark North. I will make this more explicit in the descriptive text when I get back.
Not much other news: I've taken lots of photos for PhotoSynth, but it isn't practical to do process these until we're back (Microsoft in their wisdom wrote PhotoSynth so that it only processes when online). Oh, and another big rock/lava fall on the north side of Arenal visible (and audible) from the cabins. Two in one week. Activity does seem to be swinging around to the north side.
Next week I am very blessed to be able to stay in Costa Rica. Debbi knows a man named Alvaro who runs an animal rehabilitation center. I get to go help out for the week. They have arranged a home-stay and I'll be in charge of creating some interpretive guidebooks and explanations for visitors. It should be a lot of fun and I'll try to continue the blog while I'm there. I spoke to Alvaro on the phone today and his first words are, "Hello Katheryn, we are waiting for you!" He probably didn't intend to sound creepy and was aiming for enthusiastic.
On Day 3 of data collection, some of these challenges hit frequently and simultaneously, but the resolve held. Although Nick had some stings, he found himself being congratulated for how strong he was by Carlos, our fellow guide who wields a machete like it is a part of his arm. To be considered strong by a Tico who has faced worse is a high honor. Similarly powerful is Natalia's ability to get out there each and every day and pull on her boots and wade through knee-high brush that she feared five days ago. Aliza is gaining the respect of our guide who has led tours for nearly 20 years, and he's quite proud of the fact that he's helped to cultivate a new and excited birder.
I'm quite proud of these guys, and am keeping an eye on or trying to avoid the stings, scrapes and big setbacks. The students can be very pleased with what they've gotten out of the work, though, and for meeting these challenges head-on.
As you can see, the growth around Bird Point C is quite amazing. Look at the teak saplings in the distance, and the cabins (in 2008).
I should have all of the panoramic photos processed by tomorrow, and then I'll start aligning them. First impressions are that alignment is not as critical as I was fearing. (I am also starting to experiment with PhotoSynth - more news when I have something to show)
In other news, this has been quite an adventurous day but everyone else has covered that. The main message is that parents should not be worried!
(oh and there was a small explosion, well really a burp, from Arenal - unusual in that I was actually watching and saw it before the sound reached us)
I quite enjoy observing ants. They put me in a good mood since I can congratulate myself on being human and reasonable.
Just a quick note from me for this evening as I try to avoid the moths attracted to the computer LCD. As may already be evident, the trip has been quite full of experiences, and perhaps it can be challenging at times for them to process everything completely.
I should mention that all of them have their own strengths that have contributed to the project. Natalia, even as a non-biology major, has been game for all the fieldwork, and has overcome fears of dark spaces and hiding creatures. She is doing a great job with our pilot study of soils, and is applying her skills to the photopoints. Her side project is going to be a small orchid study, which we hope will yield a small orchid book for the property owner.
Aliza has gone from knowing nothing about birds to processing huge amounts of information about Costa Rican species--even at times feeling comfortable enough to disagree with our guide on an identification. She sat in the rain today watching the Green-breasted Mango hummingbird, and is diligent in her notetaking.
Nick has brought a whole new area to the research by examining butterfly and ant diversity. In our first day here he had identified 30 different butterflies, and is now at nearly 50. It is amazing to watch process of setting out tuna as bait, and bringing in the ants for identification. He managed even through a sudden nosebleed (taken care of quickly) to net a new butterfly and to collect his ant traps.
Katheryn has been a great and energetic field assistant, and has worked with all the groups on data collection. She has been especially effective during Nick's emergency, and has walked rough and steep roads to do the shopping for the group. I'm very glad she's part of the team.
As for Rich and I, we feel this is a great project that has many more years of new discoveries. We've had our fun watching the students learn, eating termites with them, and find Costa Rica almost like coming home!
The weather has been co-operative. Lots of rain but it is typical rainy season weather, arriving mid-afternoon. So we have some clear mornings, like the photo below of Arenal that I took this morning from our cabin.
It is quite common for strong winds across a prominent peak (eg. a volcano) to form a "cap" cloud or lenticular cloud (similar but above it), as the air is forced up, condenses, and then sinks again. Here we have the 'cap', but the hot steam from Crater D is being carried down the west (right) side of the volcano in the downdraft. Then when the downdraft stops, buoyancy takes over and we get the convection cloud on the right. And this has two lenticular clouds of its own above it! A photograph for the meteorologists, I think!
We have also seen land slides (?active lava?) on the north east side for the first time - this was yesterday lunchtime in the grey area to the right. A large amount of rock fell and it almost reached the vegetation. This has become more common in the past year and many people think activity will switch to this side soon.
Perhaps I shouldn't be allowed to make any descisions for myself while in tropical climates. We were hiking up to the 1993 lava flow on Arenal Volcano and were mired in the middle of a thick patch of forest. Our guide Donald bent down and poked at termite mound until the creatures swarmed up onto his hand. Normally, I would have begun preparing myself for the inevitable. Costa Rican guides like to shock Americans. He held out his hand and said, "Have a termite." Unfortunately, I said "Okay," and quickly consumed two! It was as if my brain failed to receive and reject that proposition. I think it must have hit my spinal chord and then bounced right back to my hand.Termites taste like wet earth, not carrots. I would eat them if I was hungry.
Here's a brief attempt to recap the first three days, take two. The trip has been incredibly exciting, and to research in the tropics is something I've always wanted to do. The experience has been better than I expected. Its easy even easy to wake up at 5:30 in the morning. This is something that I haven't said too often, if ever. The insect diversity is breathtaking, and its really a joy to be able to study the butteflies and ants of Leaves and Lizards. Ant baiting has been really interesting. It not only works as a sampling method, but its also a great way to observe ant behavior. One of the most amazing examples is of some trap-jawed looking ants in the genus Odontomachus. They are large impressive ants that come to feed off of the small ants feeding on the bait. We saw the volcano errupting and a great example of a habitat in restoration while hiking the Arenal lava flows. Well I need to leave now, but tomorrow I'll post some pictures.
As with last year, we'll have blog updates from everyone during the study period. We hope to have some other updates to the site - including the maps, and panoramic photos. Student reports will be posted after they return.
There is a strong chance that Leaves and Lizards won't have an Internet connection when we arrive on Sunday, so do not worry if blog posts are slow to restart. Service should be back by about Wednesday.
Before tomorrow we will be posting the protocols and annotated bibliographies for some added technical background. We hope to be able to post daily blog entries and photographs, pending having the ability to get online.
For now, we can share a photo of what will be our first stop in Zarcero The city is known for a topiary garden in Parque Francisco Alvarado adjacent to Iglesia de San Rafael. The photo below is from Google Earth.
We are in the middle of our last preparation for our trip for Costa Rica. I am really excited and kind of nervous, hoping everything I need to do gets finished properly and accurately. Today is pretty exciting because I had to wake up at 6 am to go bird watching with Dr. Brown and Natalia. It was a very good learning experience and I learned a lot about birds. I even remembered a few of the bird sounds, which I am happy about. Natalia learned a lot about testing the soil color and pH, which is good experience for her. I am a bit more confident about my preparations but still a bit unsure and nervous about what I need to do. In class today, we learned how to use the panoramic photos and designed our objectives and goals for the trip. We're currently working on our timetables, materials and datasheets. It is exciting. Hope all goes well. Also, I am so happy that my lab assistant and I have so much in common. She's so smart and pretty and interesting, I want to be her, even though she told me to say this to amuse her friends. HaHa. :P
Hi Marcy, Richard, Katheryn, Nick, Natalia and anyone else I don't know by name.
Best wishes on your upcoming visit to Costa Rica. May the rains be just enough, but not too much to rain out your work. May the volcano erupt just enough so you can say your seen that geologic excitement, but not enough to put a damper on your efforts. Students: ask Richard about the Wellie whanging competition.
I've dusted off the camera attachments to take the panoramic photos. We will use the same procedure as before: Taking 16 photographs at 30deg intervals using a Panosaurus panoramic head, and a Canon EOS with 20mm lens.
This year we have the comparison tool (which I see Katheryn mentioned yesterday) that allows us to fade from one image to another. A big problem is going to be image alignment. Last year's images were marked with the "North" direction, so lateral alignment should be straightforward. Vertical (azimuth) alignment will be more difficult. Also we are going to have to be careful to choose the exact same spots. We have the coordinates (good to 6m), our memories, and printouts of last year's photos.
For the photography, I am also going to try Microsoft PhotoSynth. This is a sort of pseudo 3d photo technology. Here is an example of our back yard. It takes a bit of practice, and the back yard example could be done better. We may have a lot of trouble with the forest. PhotoSynth does not work well with lots of similar objects - so teak plantations are probably not going to work. I also suspect loreals are going to give trouble. However we could try creating a PhotoSynth for specific areas such as around the cabins, or around the main house. The limited back yard example took over 100 photos. Are there any snap-happy students who would like to help?
This time next week, we'll probably be hiking across an old lava flow in the shadow (and earshot) of Arenal, so time to check the status:
Here is last week's entry from the Smithsonian's volcano pages:
6 May-12 May 2009
OVSICORI-UNA reported that during April activity originating from Arenal's Crater C consisted of gas emissions, sporadic Strombolian eruptions, and occasional avalanches that traveled down the SW, S, and N flanks. Acid rain and small amounts of ejected pyroclastic material affected the NE and SE flanks. Small avalanches of volcanic material traveled down several ravines. Crater D showed only fumarolic activity.
The original MapServer/OpenLayers map continues to be available here:
None of the commercial map systems have sufficient coverage of the Leaves & Lizards property, so in 2008 I had to implement our own maps using MapServer and OpenLayers. In the past year it has become practical to create our own satellite tile layer using Microsoft MapCruncher. This has made a usable Virtual Earth map a practical proposition. Debbie at Leaves & Lizards supplied the aerial photograph which has also been included in the new Virtual Earth map.
9 days and we shall be at Leaves & Lizards for the 2009 field season...