May 2010 Archives

Back in Dallas

The research group is back, although not without numerous obstacles on the way home.  It began with everyone waking up early to the volcano making a lot of noise at 4AM, sounding a lot like a train chugging, but significantly louder.  Our van driver had trouble navigating one of the steep hills after picking up our luggage at the cabins, and we almost thought we might not leave.  Without the weight of passengers in the van it didn't have the traction it needed, but eventually did make it and we piled in to get to San Jose.  Not long after getting through the mountains our driver had to stop because the brakes were getting hot, since the traffic was stop and go in the mountainous section and he was on the brake most of the time.  We transferred everything to another van, and made it to San Jose in time for our flight.  However, the new van necessitated a drop-off on a city street and not the airport itself (the new van didn't have the necessary placard for the airport), so each person was carrying a 40lb backpack on his/her back, and another 25lb on a second on the front up the steep hill to the airport itself.

The biggest obstacles didn't happen in San Jose, but in Atlanta.  We arrived again in a thunderstorm (as with the departure last week), and after circling the airport we sat for an hour on various taxiways while air traffic held during lightning was cleared.  We rushed through immigration and customs to grab bags and get to the gate on time for the connecting flight to DFW, but we might have in retrospect been more leisurely.  Due to various stated causes (weather, lack of crew, the crew timing out, etc.) our 9:50PM departure was pushed back to 10:30, then 11, then 11:30, 12:30AM, and 1:20AM as we sat at the gate with 200 other similarly inconvenienced passengers, and when we finally lifted off from Atlanta at 2AM, the group was still getting along but exhausted.

We arrived safely in Dallas just before 4AM, marking about 22 hours from wakeup call to touchdown in DFW, and naturally everyone is exhausted but glad to be home.  The data analysis begins in earnest on Tuesday, and we will be posting here additional photos, data updates and other stories of the trip.

bye bye love

Dear Parents, 

Kelly and I will not be returning home. We have decided to stay and live in Costa Rica.
Ha, just kidding. We are sad to leave this beautiful place, where they have so much respect for the environment and the wild animals. Many countries and people could learn from this culture in that area.  We certainly have. 

In addition to this, Costa Rica also has a lot of fun things to do. Today we went zip lining across the rainforest canopy near La Fortuna. The only word to describe this experience is liberating. It was a series of 10 different zip lines, all at different speeds and heights. The tallest one was about 400 ft up going at the speed of around 30-45 mph. We had an incredible view of the waterfall Pinoblanco as we flew down the zip line. We were a little hesitant of the whole idea at first, but now we would do it again in a heartbeat. On top of that, our guide Robin was pretty great, making sure we knew about safety along with keeping us laughing. 

zip line.jpg

After the zip line, we all met up in La Fortuna for a farewell dinner. It was delicious and a great way to end the day and the trip. 

Another thing Kelly and I realized from this trip is that Toucans are better Monkeys. This statement refers to a ongoing dispute between us and the boys; pertaining to cabin names. So the record is straight-we love toucans!

And you should also be hearing from us soon agin, about the final report of our research.

Until then- PURA VIDA 

Day 5/6 photos

As evident from the student posts yesterday was quite busy.  It was our last official day in the field, and required finishing up bird counts, doing the final insect surveys, collecting soil and HOBO temperature sensors, and writing up as much as we can here.  There is a lot yet to do back in Dallas, but the students had a free day today and were able to get out into the community.

Also evident from our posts is that the geological activity has been significant this trip.  This morning we awoke to find another volcano to the southeast undergoing a fairly large eruption.  The volcano is Turrialba, and has several craters that are active, making it less symmetric than Arenal, but no less active.  The plume of ash was visible through a spotting scope even though the volcano itself is 80 miles away:


The free day took us in different directions, with the girls heading to go zip lining in La Fortuna,.  They have amazing photos of their experience, and I'm sure will be talking all about it in their last post from Costa Rica.  Hector, Chris, my husband Richard and myself went to Proyecto Asis.  This is a very wonderful place that combines wildlife rehabilitation and public education on species conservation with Spanish language classes and volunteer opportunities.  The director, Alvaro del Castillo, gave an excellent overview of the location and the animals, and is highly dedicated to the job of education.  The staff includes his father as veterinarian and founder, and a fantastic group of men and women who keep the place running through donations and volunteer help.  We were particularly happy to work with Carlos and Rigoberto both in helping with some cage construction, clearing trails, and feeding the animals.  It is clear from looking at men like Rigoberto (shown below) how much they love and respect the animals under their care:


The student field assistant from last year, Katheryn Miller, spent five days working at Proyecto Asis, and enjoyed it immensely.  They also remembered her, and it's clear that placing students here makes for an ideal opportunity.  For much of the day we were volunteering, with Hector helping build a frame for a concrete edge around a cage for water drainage, and the rest of us helping to mix and pour concrete:


The raccoon cage was just behind this worksite, and Richard found that either the raccoons were looking to help, or wanting a shovel to tunnel out of their cage:


Hector and Chris later had the arduous task of clearing grass and wood from a pen to be used for a future caiman rehabilitation site:


I was fortunate to spend some time with Rigoberto feeding the animals, including spider monkeys, parrots, toucans, a capuchin, the raccoons, and a kinkajou.  The kinkajou was able to be held while he ate his bananas.  I can say without reservation that he was one of the most beautiful animals that I have ever had the opportunity to work with, and it was such a privilege to have met him:


Hector eventually had the chance to work with the raccoons that had been watching us all day, and even they had a good time outside the cage:


Although our free day still meant work, it did not feel as much like work to be helping out with this program.  Proyecto Asis is a magnificent place to volunteer, and if there's any opportunity you might have to visit it in Costa Rica, please do.  If not, please visit and support their work at the Proyecto Asis website.

Last day in Costa Rica

 Today was another well productive day. Dr. Brown, Richard, Chris and I volunteered at Proyecto Asis a conservation organization where wild animals are kept that have been confiscated from people.  We worked in construction for few hours building a concrete ramp on one of the cages that is going to be used for a falcon.  We also got to use machetes to clear a space that is going to be used for caimans.  While there we fed some monkeys, birds, raccoons a  beautiful kinkajoo. We also spent few hours at La Fortuna town where we ate a delicious dinner.  After many wonderful experiences in Costa Rica, we are leaving to go back to Dallas tomorrow.

Panoramic Photos are online

Just a quick note: The panoramic photos for 2010 are now online.

birds, rocks, and waterfalls. OH MY.

Hello Hello from Tico Town!

We wish to keep saying hello from Costa Rica, because we aren't ready to say bye to it.  The last week has been more than great and more than what we expected. Kelly and I are still in shock that we get credits for an advanced class for having a fantastic time in Costa Rica. Don't get us wrong- we have learned SO much but have had such a great time doing it. Kelly and I are even inspired to keep watching birds every now and then back in Dallas. 
The past couple of days were spent not just learning about birds and counting them for our research, but also learning about tropical environments-tree classification, some animal behavior, some insects, plate tectonics, and the list goes on. 

Here is picture of the whole group acting like leafcutter ants, a very common activity around the forest.

human leafcutters.jpg

Today was our last day of data collection. We are done with data evaluation and now we just have to analyze everything in whole and make some conclusions about this past week. Don't worry, we won't forget to fill ya'll in. Kelly and I are a little sad because we never got to see a Mot Mot in our bird points, but we are definitely happy to not have a 5:30 am wake up call from Dr. B anymore (which was extremely nice of her). Today Kelly and I had the chance to take a horse back riding trip to a waterfall in between our birds counts. On the way to the forest we found a Dendrobates auratus, also known as a black and green poison dart frog.

neon frog.jpg

The ride there was pretty intense and had great scenery. Our guides were very informative and made stops to point out certain bird nests, monkeys, frogs, etc. 
rad water cross.jpg

The long horse back ride was worth the pain we feel in our muscles now. When we arrived at our destination, we had the opportunity to swim there and walk behind the waterfall. Some rocks were slippery, but Kelly and I are just about hiking pros now so our sure-footed-ways proved to be useful. We even went so far as to jump off some of the rocks around the catarata (waterfall)  resulting in a nice splash, which the guide gave us good direction for along with a perfect score of 10!

After a long day, we were extremely tired and ready to get some good sleep before our free day tomorrow, which we have a ZIP LINE planned for. Wish us luck and don't worry we won't get lost in the canopy.


Woke up with a wobble

     As Richard reported (much better than I will), we had a small earthquake here this morning.  The cabins wobbled a bit, but otherwise, anyone who even noticed probably asked, "Did anyone else feel that or was it just me?"  I think this little event characterizes the last day of our field season.
     Hector, Dr. Brown and I had many odd tasks to finish for the plant and habitat projects--so many that they took until 3:00ish to finish.  HOBOs and marking tape needed to be collected along with soil samples.
     Tomorrow, we will have the opportunity to volunteer with Proyecto Asis, a small organization dedicated to conservation and Costa Rican culture and community.  I am looking forward to a new experience with a different type of conservation group.

Last day of work!

Today we wrapped up with my project.  Chris and I finished our last plots for plant sampling.  We collected more insects for his project and picked up all the HOBOs from the trees that we used to hang them.  We also collected all the plastic tape used to mark all the plots for this field ecology study; Chris was very serious about it! Tomorrow will be another exciting day because we get to see more monkeys.

This is a pictured taken this morning milking the cow that Chris and I have been helping with for the last couple days.



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A couple of days ago we witnessed a series of pyroclastic flows, and this morning it was an earthquake. I was out on the deck of the cabins. The cabins are on stilts but stand firm against the worst wind and rain that Costa Rica can throw at them. However, the structure had what could be described as an unnatural quiver - almost as if the wind had caught it in an unusual way. Except there was no wind.

Others felt it and after breakfast I checked online. The USGS are recording a Mag.4.8 earthquake at 9.894N  85.272W 46.7km deep, "Coast of Costa Rica" (actually locating it just on the Nicoya Peninsula). OVSICORI are giving it a slightly higher energy of 5.1. The differences are probably due to different equipment locations. Also the USGS calculation will be fully automated and as it is only a moderate non-US earthquake, it probably hasn't been examined by a human.

The coastal location means it is NOT an Arenal earthquake but an earthquake related to subduction of the Pacific Plate under the Caribbean plate. The depth is consistent with this - it is too deep for a volcano, and most earthquakes of this depth are related to subduction.

Here's the seismogram recorded by the OVSICORI Volcan Arenal seismometer (VACR):


The earthquake is the largest squiggle just after 6:45am local time. The seismometer even goes off scale.  It is only a moderate sized earthquake but we are fairly close, and the seismometer is set to detect vertical motions (the dominant kind in a thrust fault - which is the most likely for a subduction zone).

Mot Mot is a Not Not



Today was a very busy day, but filled with lots of excitement. If you have already read Dr. B's blog than you would know that we got to release a sloth into the wild. One of the workers on the property, Enrique, found a sloth in his yard and brought it by Leaves and Lizards to release it to its proper place. We were surprised and over-joyed when he offered the task to us. Of course our answer was YES. Kelly got to carry her and I got to hold her as the sloth grabbed a vine and slowly worked his way up to her new home.

We just feel like this whole trip has been one excitement and priveledge after another. Never did we think we would be witnessing volcanic eruptions or release sloths back into the wild. What a lucky couple of chicas are we?

After releasing the sloth, we headed out to Orlando's forest, which is a property of private primary forest-basically minimal deforestation and tourist activity. Again another priveledge we got to partake it by hiking in it.  With the hopes of seeing a Mot Mot, we entered the forest despite Kelly's outrageous fear of snakes (which this particular forest is full of). Our guide Oscar had promised to help find us a Mot Mot, as a bribe to convince Kelly to join us for the 3-4 mile hike. About half way through the hike, the much desired bird sound was heard- goes something like "hoop hoop or woo woo" . But this Mot Mot was just teasing us, for we hiked miles and miles to find him and ended up disapointed and Mot Mot-less. But we haven't given up yet. Kelly and I will not leave Tico Town until we see one.

Despite not having a Mot Mot in our data collection, all of our observations have been going great. We have seen a few new species at various points including the Lineated Woodpecker-great bird and really exciting to see on the property. This specific woodpecker is related to the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. Another interesting site we got to see today involved a dual between a Rufous Tailed Hummingbird and a Green Brested Mango Hummingbird. The fight went one for quite some time and seemed to be over a nesting spot. From what we could tell the Green Brested Mango was winning, probably due to a slightly bigger body than the Rufous Tailed.

After so much excitement and activity in one day, these chicas are ready to get some good sleep to be ready for our last day of data collection tomorrow!




No wind and no rain, but a lot to do

     Two years ago, when I was enrolled in the field ecology course, my favorite place we visited was Orlando's forest.  This year, I was anticipating the same, and that place delivered.  I think this is because for me, Orlando's mentality toward nature seems to lack the sense of entitlement that seems to have lead to today's problems.  His preserve exists at all because he did not completely use his land.
     A good thing to for the mantled black howlers that live there!  I had only heard these monkeys previously, so it was especially exciting for me as an aspiring primatologist to catch a glimpse of some free-ranging primates.  I'll let my photo tell you something about that experience:

A very exciting day

Chris and I got up early to milk a cow today.  Carlos told us she could produce up to five gallons, but we did not quite get that far. After breakfast we got to see a primary forest, forest where succession has taken place fully and where there is no disturbance. We got to see real monkeys: howler monkeys! Before we went to primary forest we have the opportunity to study a sloth  we found that it has 9 cervical segments which allow the sloth's head to be turned almost three hundred and sixty degrees.  During my plant sampling, I found a snake, not a big deal I only took a picture and went away.  Before dinner we got to see beautiful birds and we spent some time with the horses while eating their dinner. Chris and I are very excited to see more monkeys this Thursday!

2010 Map Updated

I've updated the new 2010 map to include the new buildings, the HOBO temperature sensor points, and the changes to the bird points.

The bird nest data has yet to be collected - I will update this map when we get the data.

Day 4 Photos

One thing that can be seen in many of the photos is that the students are having a good time, and are getting a lot of experience.  What doesn't often come across is exactly how much work they are doing, and how tiring it can be.  The girls get out twice a day for five hours of bird counts, and then spend several more hours transcribing data and analyzing it at their cabin.  For the guys, they are out working in the plant plots from after breakfast until just before dinner, taking a brief break each day for lunch.  The extras have also made everyone quite tired--the four mile hike at Arenal, and today's similar hike through a privately-owned primary forest near the Leaves and Lizards site have taken all the energy they have.  So it's no wonder that today everyone really needed a break and a short siesta, but it's only a short time, and they're now gathering to head out again.

The morning bird counts were in areas of more dense forest, where finding birds can be difficult.  Here are Kelly and Elise trying to spot species in a mixed natural reforestation area:


Their view was a creek area below filled with trees, where birds can be challenging to pick out from the background:


Hector and Chris awoke early not to do plant sampling, but to help out in the barn.  They milked the cows and helped to feed the chickens before breakfast, and were so busy they didn't get pictures!  They plan to do it again tomorrow, so we hope to post some photos of their farmhand experience.

After breakfast we walked through the primary forest with the Leaves and Lizards guide, Oscar Hidalgo.  Oscar has been an excellent resource for the students, using his twenty-plus years of experience as a guide and knowledge of the species found in Costa Rica.  Our second night here he gave an excellent introduction and slide show outlining Costa Rican ecology.  He is also very serious about his work and the safety of the group.  In spite of the concerns anyone might have had about being near the volcano during a pyroclastic flow, Oscar knew exactly what was safe and what was not.  He is similarly careful about safety in the forest, and gave an excellent tour of Orlando's forest.   In the photo below, Oscar is at far right showing the students a strawberry poison arrow frog that he observed in the leaf litter:


One of the nice surprises this morning was that one of the other guides, Enrique, had found a sloth in town that needed to be relocated to the Leaves and Lizards property.  Sloths are at risk in city areas since they can be bothered by children and dogs, and need to be put somewhere that the trees are taller and the habitat more abundant.  Enrique trusted the students to carry it to an appropriate place and to conduct the actual release.  Kelly initially helped to carry him, and he was pretty trusting and calm:


This was a three-toed sloth, with characteristic slow movement and beautifully unusual face.  Its fur is an ecosystem in itself, harboring colonies of algae and lichen that add a green tint to the fur, and moths that cling to the hairs and have life cycles linked to the sloth movement in the trees.  After we arrived to a more secluded area of the forest, Elise took over the actual release, and gave him a boost onto a vine, where he quickly disappeared into the canopy:


The release of the sloth was another of the very close-to-nature experiences that this group has been able to get in our short time here!

Tomorrow we will learn our ABC's


Hello again from Kelly and Elise!!

Today was another exciting day in Costa Rica.  The day was filled with hike after hike and boulder falling after more boulders falling. Not only did Kelly and I begin our morning with a lovely bird counting session, but we traveled out to Arenal, one of the country's hot spost, literally, but also my greatest fear. Nevertheless, I went and survived due to Kelly's overenthusiased/ stellar attitude about the whole shi-BANG...or she would we say shi-RUPTION?  Anyway, it was memorable to witness a pyroclastic flow at Arenal.

oropendola.jpgAnother exciting event of the day involved the siting of the Montezuma Oropendola. The exciting behavior, that we so enjoy, is this birds dance...from which we all could learn a lot. While perched in a tree, sometimes the Oropendola will jump from branch to branch and dance as it sings. A quite delightful bird as well as a stellar accomplishment for us to witness.

Today we sighted a total of 219 individuals. Fortunately the rain was patient until we were done with our evening bird counts. We were very thankful.  We are also so glad to be catching on to this whole world of los aves. Kelly and I are beginning to pick up the different names of species and a few calls. Don't worry we intend to practice and perfect these calls ourselves. So get ready for some extra entertainment when we get home!

And guess what else??!!
It was just as elegant looking as we always hoped it would be.
Now the only other bird that we HAVE to see before we leave Tico Town is: the Mot Mot.
Look it up- it's TOTES fab.(for those who don't speak this language, it means totally fabulous) 

Well guys thats really all the major updates we have for ya right now.

Lesson of the day- Chris is Hector's hero. 

Word of the day-Guanabana
Correction of Yesterday's Word- xibalba

Bird of the day-Oropendola


Roar, wasp, wasp, burp

     Probably this is one of those times I wouldn't enjoy lazy days.  Luckily, we aren't having any.  Field work started bright and early again today, as usual.  I was happy to hear the sound of howler monkeys in the distance as I shuffled around the Toucan Cabin porch, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.  Their roaring sounded like the herald to a good day for us.
     After this auspicious start and some field work with Hector, we made our way to breakfast when, just before I sat to eat, I was stung by a wasp.  How Nick put up with five stings last year is beyond me, but with some ice and a lime (a Costa Rican trick, I'm assuming), I hardly noticed the itch after a few minutes.  Breakfast was, as always, delicious, and, having some warm coffee in our bellies, we headed off for the even warmer volcano...
     ...and wow! what a visit.  I was equally excited to see this wasp:

100_1398small.JPG     She's a digger wasp, related to the very wasps that curious naturalist, Niko Tinbergen himself would have studied (albeit in Germany).  How exciting to see the same preparation behavior when these wasps were leaving their nests!  I suppose I show my true colors here.

     Arenal was apparently having a little bit of acid reflux, and we were fortunate enough to be there to help him through it.  Here, Hector is looking quite serious, maybe because he doesn't understand that if you're on the near side of the danger sign, that mean's you MUST be safe...

We do more than ecology

After few days of sampling plants, we decided to take a very close look at Arenal, the volcano eight miles south of us. We witnessed, close up, the most action we could have seen in a volcano--pyroclastic flows.  It was incredible to watch these for almost an hour. We came back to finish our work after few hours of our trip to the volcano but we helped treating the horses in Leaves and Lizards for garrapatas, a very nasty parasite that lives outside the body mainly in the ear of the horses. We all learned how to administer the medicine, including Dr. Brown who herself inspired our love for nature.


Pyroclastic Flows at Arenal!

With two previous attempts cancelled due to weather, we finally made it to Arenal this morning and were treated to a series of pyroclastic flows. Arenal is slowly becoming more quiet although we have observed the opposite over our four visits - each visit is more impressive.

We walked the usual lava trail - as with last year we walked to the middle of the 1990s lava flow and back again rather than a full transect. Arenal was fully visible once we were on the lava flow. The new active lava flow which the Smithsonian and OVSICORI report has been active since January was visible as a dark area above the youngest scree. Most of the boulders were falling from this flow as it slowly inched forward. Often they would be hard to see on the fresh scree, but would kick up clouds of dust as they hit the older (darker) scree. It seemed like an unusually large number were making it to the vegetation.

Early on we had a number of small collapses at the front of the flow which i guess you could call pyroclastic flows but they were tiny and did not last long.
Our timing was spot on and we did not have to wait long before our first proper pyroclastic flow. In the case of Arenal, these are produced by the lava flow front becoming unstable. The lava flow slowly inches forward. Boulders will often fall, but sometimes the gradient of the front becomes too much and it collapses under gravity. This releases the pressure of the hot lava inside the flow which depressurises explosively. Gases in the lava form bubbles (or are already bubbles) which expand quickly with the depressurisation and drive the explosion.

The result is an avalanche consisting of hot air,gas,steam, and rock that can be very hot (1000C has been recorded) and travel extremely fast (speeds over 100mph are typical). Infamous pyroclastic flows destroyed St Pierre on Martinique in 1902, and Pompeii in 79AD.

Arenal's flows are much smaller and are readily channeled by valleys and gorges. We were not in any danger from these particular ones, and the National Park is generally quick to close when the risk is considered too high.

Here's the first one:


This was the first active pyroclastic flow that I have seen. I have seen the products of pyroclastic flows dozens if not hundreds of times. Indeed my undergraduate dissertation covered a part of Wales that included a number of rhyolite tuffs (high silica pyroclastic flow / ash deposits). However, those were about 450 million years old; and this was the first time I saw a 'live' one.

Shortly after the first one, we started to get a larger flow which lasted much longer:


Note the dust kicked up by boulders bouncing ahead of the flow.

The flow itself is at the base where it is well defined. The billowing clouds above this are where air gets entrained and heated up. The result is a buoyant but dilute dust cloud which lifts up from the flow. The plume from this flow reached a height much higher than the volcano and would have been visible from the cabins (although the flow itself was on the far side from the cabins).


Of course this was also the chance to pose for a photo or two:



As we headed back there were further flows. As we were leaving the park, a much darker 'cloud' from a flow could be seen between the trees and the growing cloud. This would appear to have had much more volcanic dust in it. The park was also beginning to close and had already stopped new visitors from entering.

Costa Rica Field Ecology group 2010

Here is the research team at the volcano, just a few minutes before the pyroclastic flow began (see Day 3 photos for an image of the volcano in action)


In photo (from left to right):  Hector Quijada, Elise Tellez, Dr. Marcy Brown Marsden, Chris Gurguis, Richard Marsden, Kelly Ann Nelson

Day 3 photos

We've had an incredibly busy day, and it's only midafternoon and we're taking a needed break.  The work will start back up again in about 45 minutes with evening bird counts and working with Chris and Hector on insect identification in one of their plots.

I began this morning working with Elise and Kelly doing bird counts.  They're very quickly picking up identification skills and managing a very steep learning curve when it comes to birds.  I'm very impressed with how careful their data collection is as well.  I managed to get a picture of them hard at work in one of the nonreforested areas of the property in a pasture below the field:

Bird censusing

The counts began at 6AM and finished by breakfast at 8, where they were able to get a little closer to at least one bird, the rescued parrot Lorita who is resident now with Steve and Debbie:

Elise and Lorita

The day was beautiful and clear compared to yesterday's heavy rain, which made it a great day to travel to the volcano.  I'll let Richard tell you more geological specifics, and each student will have his/her own take on it, but we had remarkable and close views of a pyroclastic flow. While it was fairly quiet when we arrived, it began to become more active as we sat and watched. The volcano was, in fact, so active that as we were leaving they were trying to close the park and clear out any visitors.  Here's a quick view of the flow from my camera:


Oscar did a fantastic job as guide, and even helped us enjoy a pre-lunch snack on some termites (which still taste like carrots each time I try them).  Chris, using his minor in anthropology, demonstrated the ape method for acquiring them:


While Kelly and Elise demonstrated that it might be an acquired taste to indulge in them:


The students fared better with a more proper lunch at a soda in Monterrey, with arroz con pollo and casados con carne o pollo, y helado tambien. 

On our return we were fortunate to find Debbie and Carlos in the barn working to inoculate the horses against some of the numerous pests that they come into contact with here in the tropics.  Debbie demonstrated the method for calming and injecting the horses:


Later, she allowed Elise, Hector, Chris and myself a try at doing an inoculation.  Hector showed great promise with non-human patients:


There were other residents of the barn, which Kelly and Elise couldn't help but work with--the 10-day old piglets:


Altogether the day has included long hikes on the property and to the volcano, rare views of a pyroclastic flow, meeting and eating with people in town, and some veterinary practice, which makes for a pretty well-rounded set of experiences for undergrads!
Yes we had a lot of rain yesterday, but I managed to take most of the panoramic photos, and helped with the HOBO placement. I will be adding the HOBO locations to the map soon.

Today is much better and the weather is now clearing quite nicely - in time for the planned trip to Arenal after breakfast.

I have split the maps up into 2008-9 and 2010 due to the various changes. At the moment the 2010 map is identical to the earlier map but I shall be modifying it over the next day or so.

I have also enabled anonymous comments on the blog, so people "back home" should be able to comment. Previously you had to sign up but this wasn't working properly.
The anonymous comments will eventually attract spam so I will switch it off a few weeks after we return.

Friends don't let bugs in other friends' cabins...


Today Elise and I decided to practicar nuestras espanol para todos el tiempo. So far is going asi-asi.  We keep switching to more of a spanglish but whatever works.. 

What HAS been working are our stellar bird skills.  We are slowly picking it up.  Today we did our first official day of bird counts.  This morning we found 40 different species and 114 different individuals total.  We're really impressed with the diverse community we have found already and we're sure that as we continue, the diversity will increase.  We sighted a Volaceous Trogan and a Dusky-Capped Flycatcher along with a Long-Tailed Hermit Hummingbird.  These were all really cool to see.  We don't have any pictures of those for yall but we do have some other great pictures for yall we'll try to upload. 

After the morning count and feast, we drove--well rode with Oscar--to Monterey for grocery shopping and Mass in a very pretty church. Definitely a cultural experience.  

By the way, today was a veryyy rainy day.  We ended up not being able to go out for our evening bird counts because of it.  We were bummed, but we got to organize our data and collaborate with Dr. B.  We kind of modified our plan of action for our area of study--we're going to analyze the diversity at each bird point along with noting the specific tree they may be perched on to see the connection between bird sighting and vegetation. We're pretty excited about this! 

Lesson of the our title suggests...don't let Hector into your cabin because bugs follow close behind. 

Word of the week: Xiabalba (thank you Chris)


More action today

Hello everyone,
Today was the most rainy day of all since our first day in the country, but that didn't stop us from working today. The rain stopped for few hours in the morning, and we were able to deploy some HOBO's (automatic temperature readers).  We also did some more plant sampling.  Our day ended with a warm dinner and a nice view of the volcano, Arenal.


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     After deploying the HOBOs this morning with Hector and a small trip to Monterrey, Dr. B, Hector and I were able to spend a few hours sampling plant growth.  Hector's plant project is coming along quite nicely.  We covered three of the plots from 2008.  I can certainly feel the difference when we are out working--two years ago we were under direct sun, and now we are feeling quite cool under the well-grown canopy.  Perhaps the animals share this sentiment as well, since I almost wound up on top of the notorious fer de lance...I'm glad it was only almost.  After that encounter, we weren't quite so brazen moving through the underbrush.

Ferdelance.jpg     The insect part of my microhabitat project also got off the ground today quite nicely.  Dr. Brown has been extremely helpful in identifying the Orders of insects.  I can't imagine how long it would take me to sort through a single sample by myself.  Or how many individuals I would lose.

      Anyway, we were able to collect some interesting samples today, that I'll upload here.

First dish--Coleoptera:
The so-called "glasshopper" (Orthoptera):

And finally, a couple of pretty Hemiptera:

Day 2 photos

In spite of the rain, we have managed to get some good work done today on our first official day of the work on specific projects (as opposed to just the orientation we did yesterday).  The girls are doing a great job on bird identification, and are quickly acquiring a set of skills needed for locating and identifying the species.  Some of the important finds include Slaty Spinetail, Violaceous Trogon, Long-tailed Hermit (hummingbird), and the Plumbeous Kite, shown below:

Plumbeous Kite

The rain has been intense today, but we have managed to find ways of working between the rain showers.  Chris and Hector have moved more quickly than anticipated with the quadrat sampling, and we completed quite a few areas this afternoon.  We had one close encounter with a fer-de-lance (very venomous snake), but fortunately it was seen and avoided as he slithered away.  The study areas today were thicker and more heavily forested than the teak plantation yesterday, requiring some navigation of steep hillsides:

And occasionally getting stuck in the middle of the jungle:


Chris has been adding to our sampling by doing sweeps along transects to survey for insects as well as plants:


The rainy weather has meant that numerous fungi have popped up in the very soggy forest floor, including some quite beautiful bracket fungi:


I will be heading out in an hour to work on the eight remaining bird points to census today, if only the rain will stop.  At the moment as we sit on the deck of the cabin there is heavy rain throughout the forest, and the volcano has disappeared into the white clouds.

Me gusta mucha Pura Vida!

     Having returned to Leaves and Lizards two years after last visiting, I was happy to see that the reforestation project had grown up from scrub that looked very like some areas in South Dallas to a true tropical forest.  Really some good work is being done here.

     Hector and I were able to start off running from the gate today, sampling 3/4 the number of quadrats we had sampled in 2008 in just one day.  Our work will be cut out for us still, though, because we are now able to really begin sampling the property.  Same goes for my own little project about biodiversity; after practicing twice today, I am feeling very capable of being able to establish a good baseline upon which further projects can build.  More on this later, as the project really begins.

     For now, it's bedtime for this old man before a long day again tomorrow.


The tree of bread

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Hello ecology fans!
After all the hassle yesterday, we are finally doing some real work in the field today.  We were joking  this morning during breakfast about having a tree that produce pancakes and a chicken that makes omelettes. Guess what?  The tree really exists, la fruta pan,  we found that in our first segment we sampled this morning, but we still looking for the chicken.
Tomorrow we'll do more exciting stuff starting by looking at more birds and then going back to sample more plants. 

It's no big's just a Passerini...

Sorry we didn't keep yall in the loop here's an update:

3am makes for a fantastic start to the day.  3 hour layover in Atlanta due to clutzy co-pilots having unfortunate mishaps followed by thunderstorms, we took off for COSTA RICA! When we got here we were met with a van and Michael to drive us 3-4 hours to Leaves and Lizards only to find that the power was out! But that didn't stop us, our view of the volcano from our cabin combined with rufous hummingbirds and a candle-light Costa Rican feast totally made up for everything.  

This morning we started with a 6am hike around the property to relocate the bird points from previous years adding two new ones because of vegetation growth since last year.  We found half before breakfast--another feast--and then hiked a few more hours to find the last half.  During our hike we noted all the birds sited so that later we could bust out our books and learn all about 'em.  Elise and I both found out that our favorite bird so far is the Passerini Tanager--LOOK IT UP!  Now that we got some mad skillz, we hope to be able to identify as many as we can tomorrow (with the help of our rad guide Ocsar and Dr. B) on our first official day of data collection!


Hello to the Super Science Club!

Hello to Mr. Grimes Super Science Club at John R. Good Elementary in Irving!  We know that you're reading our blog and looking at the pictures, and that along with us you're studying about Costa Rica and the kinds of birds we see here.  There have been a lot of birds already, including toucans and lots of tanagers.  When I talked to you last week I described the oropendola to you, with the long nests hanging in trees.  We had a visit from an oropendola today but no nests yet. 

Hope to see you all when we come back!  Keep studying science!

Dr. B

Changes, maps, and a white frog

Well, we've just about finished our first. Very much an introduction day with the students getting their bearings and learning their birds and trees. A lot of progress has been made though.

I've created my first trial panoramic photo, and it worked first time - having a decent tripod makes a big difference.

There have been a few changes to the property. As well as the restaurant, there are a number of new cabins. A new path has been added below the original three cabins, and the turnaround area (Bird Point A) now contains a very young (but quickly growing) hibiscus maze. I've captured these changes with the Trimble and I will be adding them to the map in the next few days. I will probably create a new map for each new year starting with 2010. This time we do not have the insect points, but we've added two bird points and moved two bird points.

As expected, the trees have grown a lot since last year - so much that they are beginning to affect the Trimble (GPS) performance as they start to block out a lot of the sky. I won't be digitizing the new path because it is entirely in the mixed forest below the cabins.

Finally, here's an unusual looking white frog that Chris found near the cabins:


More Day 1 photos

A few more photos of the student experiences on Day 1, starting with Elise and Kelly taking photos of a venomous jumping spider that our guide Oscar helped identify:

Spider Photo

And another of Chris and Hector doing some plant measurement and identification--

Day 1 plants

Here and working

We arrived last night after numerous delays in transit, including a copilot that injured his foot walking down the stairs in Atlanta on the jetway, requiring a new copilot and necessitating a 3 hour delay in our flight.  With the delays we didn't get in until around 6, and everyone was fairly tired.  Most had stayed up all night in order to be awake for our 4AM departure from the tower (not my recommended pre-travel preparation).

The site has changed considerably since last year, including more plantings and a few new buildings, as well as a restaurant.  It makes it seem like we're not roughing it as much as before, with a candlelight dinner last night (albeit due to a power outage that had everyone in the dark, really) and a breakfast in view of the volcano.


This afternoon the girls in the bird group are working on binocular practice and compiling a list of the species seen in our counts this morning, and the guys will be testing one of their first quadrat points in a teak planting area.  More pictures of the work soon!

The team is ready

We have had only a few days to prepare, but I believe that the students are ready to go for tomorrow.  The goals of this trip include assessing plant communities to determine the degree of forest succession and habitat change since our initial assessment in 2008, and we are anxious to have a quantitative view of how things have changed in our time on the project.  For the bird communities we hope to quantify reforestation success by recording basic species diversity and measuring the trophic and nesting diversity visible on the property.  Initial observations last year indicate that we're seeing greater nesting activity, and we hope to confirm that this year.  Finally, Chris Gurguis will be working on a new project examining biogeographical and microhabitat characteristics, and will attempt to combine our plant data with insect, bird and other vertebrate abundance.  We hope that this work might lead into a master's project for him.

Watch for more blog posts as we go, and more pictures of the students in action!

The Plantish Plan of Attack: Trees

Today, the Plantish group outlined our four days of field work:

On the first day we plan to start in the monoculture area of the property to the east of the cabins, and then proceed to the ornamental around the cabins.

On the second day, we will cover Mixed areas M1 and M2 directly south of Teak area 

Day three will cover Teak 2, Teak 3, Teak 4, and Patch 1.

Day four will be Teak 4, M3, Almendeo 1, P2 and P3.

We also hope to survey as much as the Sloth Valley area on the east side as possible by setting up quatrats around the permeter.

We have decided to specialize, and limit our sampling to the types of trees.

Tomorrow is the big day! We get together at 4am to depart Dallas!

Get some sleep!

Our area of study....



We had our last classroom lecture today before we leave, which is TOMORROW!

Today we wrote our protocol describing our plans for our trip.  Now that we have a good understanding of what we are going to do at our area of study, we can't wait to get started!

Dr. B just gave us some of our equipment today that we will be working with at our area of study. And now we just have to pack it all up along with our things excluding our straighteners and blow dryers...those won't be going to Tico Town with us. We both have to start the packing today when we go home.  Hopefully our fully packed backpacks won't weigh more than us! 

Wish us luck and pray that we stay safe and away from scorpions!



The new Plantish Group

This is Chris, Hector, and Casey AKA the Plantish Group

Today marks one less day that we have to wait for Costa Rica!
Looking at a map of the Leaves and Lizard's property we have chosen the first quadrat in which we will be surveying plant species.

Tomorrow, we have settled on doing a practice quadrat in the woods near campus in the hopes that we will be more efficient in the field and have more time to work towards cataloging animal and insect species.

Creepin with binoculars


Hi it's us again!

Went over the plant assignments today...tomorrow is for us--BIRDS! We picked out our binoculars for the trip and tonight we've been told to practice. Despite the early wake up, we are excited to go out and see the birds.  Elise wants to go and look at the reptiles, but Kelly definitely does not. We'll let yall know how it goes!

Pura Vida!

new version of the map

Yesterday I linked in a new version of the online map that uses Google Maps. This is similar to the other maps, but uses Google's new experimental "v3" map interface instead of Bing Maps or OpenLayers/MapServer. Although this means it has a couple of bugs (icons are too big, and it eventually crashes an iPad), it does support multi-touch interfaces, as used by the iPad and the new generation of tablet PCs.

Hola from the field assistant

     My name is Christopher Gurguis and I am not unfamiliar with Costa Rica and Leaves and Lizards.  Two years ago, I was part of the plant group with Lorea Ormazabal and Mary Boyum.  That Mayterm was to be my last course at the University of Dallas, although I had developed strong connections and friends with whom I kept contact.  Hector Quijada I met first semester of my freshman year in college, for example.

     I have spent the last year-and-a-half at Loyola University Chicago.  There I earned a B.S. in biology (emphasis in ecology) and picked up a minor in anthropology.  But it was the course in 2008 that enkindled my love of field work, and directed my course choices while I was at Loyola.  This process culminated with an acceptance to Columbia University's MA program in Conservation Biology.

     This year, I hope to gain some valuable experience in a teaching element as well as lend my prior experience to this year's plant project.  The biogeography and microhabitat study should prove a good learning experience.  I look forward to getting back to the tropics and the place where I learned to love field biology.

I do it all

Hey everyone!

This is Casey Lemke. I just finished my sophomore year as a English and Theology major.
I chose to take this class for my bio credit because I love to travel, be outside, and I looooveee tropical weather.  This class allows me to do it all while learning the fundamentals through personal experience. I'll be working on project four: the everything project.  However, Im most excited about the crazy snakes and deliciously fresh home-cooking.  Im not exactly looking forward to the tropical bugs though.

Sooo, If yall ever need bug spray, Im definitely the one to ask!


Just a couple of Bird Brains!!!


Hello from Kelly and Elise!

Just got done with our first day of class and couldn't more excited about the trip.

We received our assignment today- BIRDS. We aren't quite sure what we are going to be doing yet, but we are definitely ready to learn. Two more days of classes and then it is off to Tico Town! We will keep ya'll posted.


Pura Vida!

Field ecology 1st day

My name is Hector, I'm a senior biology major, interested in medicine. I was attracted to the course because I want to have a broader understanding of biology.
I'll be working on the plant project this year.  Our primary mission is to monitor plants for continuing conservation of the property.

Welcome to the 2010 Field Season

I've just been going through updating the pages for the 2010 class and field season. The class starts on Tuesday  (18th), and we fly out on Friday 21st. As with previous years, students will be blogging their experiences on this site.

I've updated the panoramic photo viewer to include 2010. It defaults to comparisons between 2008 and 2010 images. 2010 images are currently black. As with last year, I hope to be able to update these images whilst we're in Costa Rica.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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