May 2011 Archives

falling awake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. safety first 2. have fun 3. get wet.....4. go home?


Hello Blog!

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

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

Please wish us well with out travels tomorrow. 

Adios Costa Rica, Gracias por su genorosidad.



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

Hasta Luego

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

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

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

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

here's to:

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

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

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

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

Uno mas?

Dear blog readers,

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

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

The staff at Leaves and Lizards rocks,


con mucho gusto

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

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

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

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

Last Day

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

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

Keel-billed Motmot.jpg

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

Broad-billed Motmot.jpg

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

- The Walker Bros

Just Sitting in the Hammock...


Good morning,

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

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

Getting bitten by a number of tropical spiders

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

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

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

Milking a cow and goat for the first time

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

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

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

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

words can't explain

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

The pictures speak for themselves!


soaking up the heat.

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

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

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

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

Photos from yesterday and today:

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

Passerini's Tanager.jpg
Christian with the Passerini's Tanager

Mmm Mireya.jpg
Eating the Chayote Sopa in Mireya's kitchen

Richard the geologist.jpg
Richard sharing his knowledge on our afternoon hike.

- t-t-t tanager.

Last field day

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

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

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


Field photos Day 4

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

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

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

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

Panoramas Completed

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

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


Hard work! Dangerous too


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

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

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

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

Spectacled Owl!

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

Band-tailed Barbthroat.jpg

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

Laughing Falcon].jpg

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

Spectacled Owl.jpg

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

Scaly-breasted Hummingbird.jpg

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

Austin:VASE male.jpg

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

Costa Rica Sunset.jpg

Pura Vida!

- The Walker Bros

Trap-jaw ants

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

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

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


Field Work and Waterfalls

Hello All!

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

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

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

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

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

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

9:30 PM? Past bedtime!

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

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

Field Photos Day 3

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

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

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

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

"Six Snakes One Place"

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So today... the habitat group was working out by the monkey cage... while Dr. Brown and I were distinguishing some of the plant species the habitat group found (Ok I'll be honest Dr. Brown did most of the identifying, and by most I mean all). Then something astonishing happened... something so amazing and mesmerizing that I fear I am not a good enough orator to convey. Thus I shall call upon the wise words of Professor Omar Kamal Faour - to help me sore above the Arenal Volcano (that was a Milton reference by the way) .We found "six snakes [in] one place"... vipers to be more precise. So we had to "bounce" as Omar put it, to prevent from getting... well envenomed.

Now for a moment of seriousness, I will admit that seeing those vipers was immensely petrifying; however I think that the snakes were more beautiful than they were terrifying!!! To elucidate my point... I shall use Einstein's "Theory of Relativity". To put it simply... time is relative not just in physics but also in physiology.  Furthermore space and time are not separate... rather they coexist and that is how we get the space time continuum. The "STC" can best be explained by an analogy... imagine a vacant trampoline. If you were to place a booling ball in the center of the trampoline... there would be an indentation in the center, and if you place smaller objects on the trampoline; tennis balls, ping pong balls etc, then they would move towards the booling ball. In this analogy the sun is represented by the booling ball, the "STC" by the trampoline and the plants by the smaller objects. What I wish to convey is that sun forms an indentation in the space time continuum and that is why things circulate around it. Well in my situation the vipers represented the sun... in that their combination of magnificence and terror seemed to rivet the attention of the whole environment. Every single organism had their undivided attention on the vipers, and we were all revolving around the vipers' trepidation and allure (another Milton Reference) as we watched them flow along like an omnipotent foreboding river. It is not until the sakes were out of sight that time seemed to progress. Hey Kelsey what do you think about the physics?

Following our encounter with the vipers we moved on the section of the property... where Dr. Brown said we would "be most likely to see a viper" (those might not be her exact words ... but that was what she meant, right Dr. B?). Well back to the narrative... we went by the bamboo trees - so that the habitat group could gather more data.  Everyone one was on edge of course... especially Professor Omar to quote him "man look at all these bamboo, snakes be chillin in there whalla (Arabic for OMG) bro one hundred percent snakes is chillin in there".  Shortly after... Joe and Forrest thought they spotted a "massive snake" atop a bamboo tree... in response to this Dr. Omar proceeded to enlighten us with his vast knowledge; "man if there is a big one up there, then there is a million down here". The immensely sagacious words of Professor Faour only intensified our anxiety; fortunately we did not encounter any vipers after that. 

blackbird singing at the dead of night...

and we're taking these broken wings and learning how to fly!

We're all settling into our projects, working so hard, and having the time of our lives! I was trying to blog last night but had the wrong browser up so I'm trying to make up for the pass two days that I haven't been able to blog. It was kind of late at that time - late here in Costa Rica is around 8-9 pm because we have to get up so early and even then the sunsets right around close to 6 pm already - but back to what I was trying to say... even pass our bedtimes, the groups here were still hard at work preparing for their soil samples and the other groups still entering data and sketching after long day.

I wasn't so sure how things would fall together in the beginning for the invertebrate group but everything came together quite nicely! John and I have been taking point counts both early midday and afternoon. Sebastian is also setting his ant traps close by collecting different ant species. We are all hoping the contrast between the two times shows in our data when we calculate the diversity index and the same when we compare different habitats from one another. We also have other data that we want to take into account such as the coverage at each point and making note of other competitive pollinators.

Aside from field work, I woke up early to help out at the barn and was able to help feed the horses and got to brush them. The task made me quite attached to the horses, especially this one beautiful dancing horse named Mr.Big! We were given the opportunity to ride them and I wasn't sure if I could but John was kind enough to do point counts right away and agree to set up the transects for our noon point counts.

After I collected data I headed to the stable and I thought I arrived too late to join the horseback riding group because the horses weren't at their stables anymore. So I started to head back to the cabins in tears only to hear Elise calling for me!!! Apparently they were meeting at another stable further down the path. All I can say is thank goodness!

We were able to pick a horse to ride and of course I picked Mr. Big and it was ridiculous how fast he could gallop. I seriously thought I was at the edge of falling off at times during the ride but Oscar taught us well! Really well!

Enrique was our guide for our horseback ride to the waterfall and I hope to have him as a guide again! He was so rich in information about the forest that I think that this whole Costa Rican trip up to this point is making me take serious consideration of what I'm going to do with my Biology degree at the end of my undergraduate career.

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself with this. Who knows? But to continue my Beatles reference... all my life, maybe (just maybe) this is the moment I've been waiting to arise!


Whats up hermanos, I haven't had time to blog lately. Too busy with research, its hard work but its worth it. Every time we go out to work it is a new experience.

Danger in the forest.
Watch out team invertebrate, the snakes are very active today and were right around where your ant traps were. We were at quadrat 5 doing our plant count when 5 dark brown white bellied snakes showed up. I was about 10 feet from them when I heard them slithering through the trees and vines. Some of them were pretty big and they were quick as a cat. They were out hunting for some food, pretty scary. Dr. Brown said they look like vipers. She and kabangu were helping us with identifying the plants. They said they saw the huge bees (gigantic) attack the snakes when they came slithering back by us. We finished up counting those plants quick after that and as we were leaving one of the snakes slithered right in front of Forrest and me. Scariest part of the trip so far, pretty cool though. Pretty amazing stuff, the animals seem to be more active today. Either that or I am becoming one with the forest.

Other than that, everyone has been having a great time chillen in the forest. We had a great time doing the flocculation last night. Elise was a great help. But all the groups know how to make this research more fun than it already is. The walker bros have a keen eye for the birds. They showed us a toucan today and a crazy looking owl, it was huge.  My group especially knows how to get the a lot of work done while having fun at the same time. Kabangu hangs out with us all the time when we are done with our work too, which is cool.  

We have one more quadrat to count. It is the one with the most dense vegetation. So I'm sure ill be telling you some more snake stories soon.

Joe from Team Habitat

Pictures from Monday...

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Here are some pictures to go along with yesterday's blog:

Dr. Brown and Roselyn with a Blue-gray Tanager in the hand.

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A Chestnut-mandibled Toucan; very classy, and rather emblematic of things Neotropical.

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Christian with his very own Blue-gray Tanager; he took the photo himself.

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This is a Three-toed Sloth we spotted at the top of a cecropia, scratching his pits...

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And last of all, a close-up of the Laughing Falcon that has been hanging around recently - a very striking bird indeed.

212, 213, 214, 215...


Counting every species of plant and tree in a 10x10 meter square quadrat is probably the most tedious thing I've done in my life.  Our habitat team spent the morning before breakfast recording data from our field notebooks into the grinellian notebook.  After breakfast we spent the rest of the morning counting species in two of our quadrats.

It's a pretty short walk down to the little store where we can get our groceries for lunches.  The place is called Super Kike and it is really neat.  It serves the people in this village where we are staying carrying most types of groceries, fresh fruit, and common items that might be needed on a regular basis.  We walked down there after lunch to get supplies for the next two days.  Bread, meat, drinks, and we also got icecream.

After we got back we made pretty quick work of retrieving the temperature recording devices that we had placed in the quadrats yesterday.  Downloading the information to a computer with the help of Richard (Mr. Marsden)was rewarding because we could see the data plotted on graphs and look forward to the data analysis that we'll do when we finish gathering data.

Gotta say, the food here has been great, both dinner and breakfasts are served at the restaurant on the Leaves and Lizards property.  The staff is friendly, helpful, and excellent at what they do.

Our cabin's porch has become a pretty popular place to hang out and enjoy the evenings.  Some nice chairs, a table, a couple of hammocks, and people to fill them makes the tropical nights all the more awesome after a long tiring day of field work.  We can also get work done too though.  We entered data, completed the first stage of our soil composition tests, and figured out the plan for tomorrow's work.  But that's a reminder to quit typing and get some sleep... We've got another long day of work to do that starts with an early morning.

That's it for now from Team Habitat.  Buenos Noches!

Trapping the beasts

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Yesterday was our first day of real field work. We set up a 30m transect in an original forest habitat. I flagged the line every 5m and set up a pitfall trap for ant collection by each flag. Our pitfall traps are plastic cups set into the ground with the opening level with the surface of the soil. A worker ant will be out foraging, minding its own business, when suddenly it will slip on the smooth plastic edge of the cup, and fall straight to the bottom. Waiting for it in the bottom of the trap is a layer of isopropyl alcohol that both kills and preserves the specimens.

I bought supplies for the pitfall trap at the nearby "Super Kike," a local grocery store. I got several containers of isopropyl alcohol and package of plastic cups to make the traps. It was pretty much the sketchest purchase anyone's ever made. The cashier looked at me funny and asked, "Is that all?" When I said it was, she probably just thought to herself "Americano loco..." and left it at that.
Ant Alcohol.jpg

Today we continued our setup of collection points. I laid down two 10m transects in two different monoculture teak forests, with pitfall traps every 5m. I also started tuna baiting in the teak forest and collected the ants that were foraging on six different tuna baits. I'm not sure whether pitfall trapping and baiting will be sufficient to capture specimens of all the cryptic ant species and specialist predators that are found here, so hopefully we'll be able to use Berlese funnels to extract ants from leaf-litter samples collected from our different habitat sites.

After a successful day in the field, it was satisfying to reflect on it while eating a delectable Costa Rican dinner and enjoying the company of my fellow researchers. I'm looking forward to getting a good night's sleep tonight, and waking up tomorrow and confronting the challenges of the new day.

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Jour de papillon.

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Today was super sunny... so we got to see quite a bit of butterfly and actually caught a myriad of them.... Of course it was not as easy as it sounds, for I had to chase this amazing aesthetically pleasing giant butterfly... running in this weather with a back pack is not easy.  Oh yeah the butterfly got away... maybe next time. When we were conducting our point count we noticed that some butterfly where flying further from the ground than did other butterfly. The butterfly that would fly higher tended to have the apsometic coloration and those that were found closer to the ground had more of a cryptic coloration. Furthermore the butterfly and the hummingbirds seem to be competing for the same source of food; both of them were seen pollinating the same flowers... so it can be assumed that there is no competitive exclusion. Thus the butterfly and hummingbirds are coexisting, which requires that they both diverge in their niche. It would be interesting to see how both have diverged... we have reason to believe that they diverged in the time that they feed.


Sebastian also caught the queen of an ant colony!!!! And an ant that resembled a wasp... it had yellow and black colored antenna... so it is probably involved in an apsometaic Müllerian mimicry. Cannot wait to see what else I will discover tomorrow.   

Birds and Bugs

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So over the past two days we have experienced a lot here in Costa Rica. My team is in the field everyday around five thirty in the morning. We check the mist nets and usually catch something. Today I got to hold a grassquip and we caught a woodpecker that tried its best to break Austin's fingers. The poor guy we bleeding from his knuckles! Also, we finally solidified our plan and our field work. We will observe 5 bird points for a total of twenty minuets for bird behavior and record everything we see. This way we can obtain a clear idea of what behaviors are associated with what type of forest and exactly how many birds are in each type of forest. Today was unbelievably hot, but we accomplished a lot.  At our break we saw a toucan and a very large sloth who was fairly active ( well as active as a sloth can be)! Tomorrow we plan on continuing our same procedure to observe birds. Thankfully we are only out during the early morning and evening because the middle of the day is unbearable with the heat. I feel sorry for the habitat and the invertebrate groups! I understand why birds do not like going out in the middle of the day now! 
Partly as reconnaissance for a possible project next year, yesterday we climbed down into "Spring 3". This orange mud hole is where a group of students on the first year, put the final nail in the coffin for the hot spring hypothesis but had quite an adventure getting out. It is just as slippy and steep today.

Anyway, We found ash layers (weathered to white clays) in the main orange clay sequence:


The hole is quite dark, so the flash doesn't really do the layers much justice. The lower layer is where the pen knife is located and is a mix of reddish clay and white clay clasts. The upper layer is near the top of the picture. We cannot be sure which layer refers to which eruption without radioisotope dating, but the top one is probably the 1400 eruption, and the lower is the 1020-30 eruption. The left of the 1400 layer is also split - this is probably post-depositional (eg. slumping of loose sediments) although it is tempting to invoke the much smaller 1440 eruption.

The brown soils on the left are younger soils, similar to the top soil. This appears to have been an old erosion channel that was cut after 1400, but has since infilled. It (along with the older orange clays) are now being eroded by surface washouts. The reforestation efforts at Leaves and Lizards are already making such washouts rare.

So I have some reading to do, but we might have the subject for a volcano-sediment project for next year's class?
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Field photos Day 2

Another busy day starting with the bird group--I opened the nets just before 5 and we had a new net set up that brought more successes (shown in the great pictures by Alli).
Here Christian and Austin are at work setting up a fourth mist net.  This one has proved to be the most productive, with the woodpecker and grassquit this morning, and three Blue-gray Tanagers this afternoon.
And a shot of Christian doing point counts at bird point A, which lies at the end of a tunnel of hibiscus that has grown taller over our years of doing fieldwork here.
Alli and Turin did a great job of working on the nets as well, and learned the proper way to hold birds caught during netting.  Here Alli shows the grassquit caught this morning.
The two girls also perfected their behavioral observation technique today and made some headway in picking up a lot of bird-hours of observations.  They have their observation points in nonforest areas (like this one) for comparison with the reforested sites.
The other teams showed some interest in the bird work as well, particularly when we found nests.  Roselyn (one of our best photographers) managed to get some help from Forrest in order to photograph a hummingbird nest in one of the teak plantation sites.
Keeping up with the students is a challenge, and I don't usually get pictures of me at work but Roselyn was kind enough to catch me while I worked on plant identification for the habitat team and mounted some of their plant specimens on paper for a reference collection.  It took 3 1/2 hours to catalog the plants from two 10m x 10m quadrats, and we still have four more of those to go.  I realized earlier that I'd spent about 10 1/2 hours in the field today, but the day felt productive.  It's not hard to get these students to work, and they've been so excited but precise about everything that they do in the field.

Birds of a Feather - Field Day 2

Turin and I started off the morning with finding two birds in the mist-nets set up by the Bird Brothers. Both Turin and I got to hold our first bird here in Costa Rica, a yellow-faced grassquit, and poor Austin got his hands pecked by a feisty smoky-brown woodpecker. It is a clear sunny day, so we are glad to be observing at dawn and dusk, and not in the mid-day heat. 

We also solidified our plans for observations. We want to compare how the birds behave differently in the monoculture forests versus the real forests.

Turin with the yellow-faced grassquit

Austin and the smoky-brown woodpecker

Buenos dias!

2nd Field Day: Bird Censusing

This morning we rolled out of bed at ten to five to go open the mist nets and set up a new one, net 4, on a hill next to some naturally reforested habitat between bird survey points A and N. The three nets we had set up Sunday evening were not productive at all this morning, but net 4 captured a Yellow-faced Grassquit and a Smoky-brown Woodpecker. The woodpecker had gotten rather tangled and gave us quite a bit of trouble and a number of pecks before we finally got it out of the net. Christian found an Olive-sided Flycatcher in a tree near net 4/point A, which are uncommon here generally, but particularly now, as they should be migrating through Texas at the moment.

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Olive-sided Flycatcher

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Austin with the Smoky-brown Woodpecker

As soon as we finished with the two captured birds, we began our morning point counts, starting at point A again and moving in backward order. The most interesting birds of the morning were Lineated Woodpecker, Mistletoe Tyrannulet, and Crested Guan; point J was certainly the most productive point this morning - we had 21 species in our ten-minutes, which is up from the average of 14 or 15 birds per point.

After we had finished our morning point-counts and had breakfast at the main building, Oscar, the head guide/manager here at Leaves and Lizards, took us down to look for the Spectacled Owl that resides on the property. Though the owl was not in residence, we birded around the older, original forest and found a number of good forest species. We had a Great Antshrike, a couple of Little Hermits, two Broad-billed Motmots, a pair of Barred Antshrikes, a Yellow-olive Flycatcher, some Slate-headed Tody-flycatchers, a paid of Black-throated Wrens and a few of their young, a Yellow-throated Euphonia, a Yellow Tyrannulet, and a Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher at its nest. 

A little after three, after some data entry, napping, a Kike trip, and some napping, we opened the mist nets again and caught four Blue-gray Tanagers in net 4 and an immature Black-striped Sparrow in net 1. Christian had to deal with three of the tanagers at once - one was in the net, and when he began removing it, it fussed so much and so loudly that two others flew into the net, perhaps to share in its ostentatious misery. Also, in an interval between checking the nets, a Chestnut-mandibled Toucan flew into a cecropia tree above Dr. Brown and Austin, the first toucan we had seen on the property.

We started the point-counts up again with point G at four o'clock. The most interesting species we had this afternoon included a Laughing Falcon, a flock of 70+ Montezuma Oropendolas that flew over, a Blue-black Grassquit, a pair of Band-backed Wrens, several Black-crested Coquettes, and a pair of Chestnut-mandibled Toucans which were being mobbed by some Tropical Kingbirds.

This is basically the bird census group's average day of field work here at Leaves and Lizards. We are most definitely enjoying the work we are doing in the forest here - it is diverse and rich and beautiful. We will post some more pictures tomorrow, but it is a good bit past bedtime, and it is going to be an early one again tomorrow. Stay tuned...

- The Walker Bros.

Checking out the forest


Wake up call was at 6:00 am and Elise came to our cabin to try to wake us up, fortunately it worked. We went to set up our first quadrat (10 by 10 meter square) and picked a place that was full of different plant species, which was cool and all but was difficult going through the dense vegetation. I was a little scared to enter the area at first because it looked like we would expect snakes, especially vipers. Nevertheless, I was kind of excited since it seemed like a place that a harpy eagle would be chilling at. Unfortunately we didn't see one, but spotted a lot of cool fat fluffy caterpillars. 

Today was out first day that we had lunch and we were just relaxing at the porch looking at the speechless volcano view with some triple stacked turkey sandwiches, just enjoying nature.

After that it was time for some straight up hard work. We set up 4 more quadrats that were tough and measured the pH and temperature at these places. Later it started raining and the sunset was approaching. We headed back to the cabins, rested a while and went straight to dinner, which was very delicious.

After dinner we just chilled back and relaxed at our cabins, then we all passed out.

First steps into the forest


Team habitat had it's first real day of habitat research work today.  Almost a whole day was spent setting up quadrats in the forest and taking soil samples and measurements in the forest.  Since you're probably wondering what a quadrat is, here is a quick description of our research project and method that will help you understand:

Quadrats are square areas in particular areas of a forest where we are going to conduct our research.  We have 3 types of areas that we are studying; original forest, natural reforestation, and monoculture reforestation.  Two quadrats are set up for each type of forest.  Our quadrats are 10x10 meters square.  Within these quadrats we have taken soil samples to study the composition of the soil and measurements were taken of the pH, moisture, and temperature of the soil.  Tomorrow and in the following days we will be counting the amounts and types of species within the quadrats to study the diversity and characteristics of the forest areas.

Setting up these quadrats has required moving through some very dense vegetation.  Despite that, we would like to report that as of tonight, the only bites we've had so far are from spiders.

Keep checking back for more updates from our habitat team and the other teams studying birds and bugs in... that's right, COSTA RICA!

First Field Day

Water.  It's very common down here - after a torrential downpour that lasted most of last night, we got out at about 5:15 to check the nets hoping the clouds would hold off.  Unfortunately it started to rain again and we all got wet.  Despite the weather, we still caught a Clay-colored Robin and a Little Hermit.  

The morning bird counts went well, we went with the Behavior group, Alli and Turin, and managed to cover points A through H before breakfast.  We had great looks at a Green Honeycreeper, White-crowned Parrots, a Squirrel Cuckoo, and many Red-billed Pigeons.  

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This Red-billed Pigeon was seen on our Laurel during the afternoon.  

After breakfast, we went through most of the rest of the bird points before going to mass.  The forest is incredibly evocative.  It is full of interesting plants, including a myriad of different epiphytes and lianas.  There are many bird calls emanating from the dense foliage, and there is so much potential for finding a special bird.  Yesterday it was the Broad-billed Motmots.  Today it was the Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher and the Black-throated Wrens - which filled the forest with their beautiful melodic, liquid whistles.  

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View from just below bird point O

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After we went to mass, we spent a while entering data and chilling on our porch.  Here is Austin doing just that.  

In the late afternoon, we went out again with Alli and Turin to do as many point counts as we could before it got dark.  It rained on and off, and overall bird activity was down, but we still saw a few cool birds, including Orange-chinned Parakeets and a Common Pauraque that scared some of us...

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The Bird People at Bird Point N.  

Looking forward to an exciting day tomorrow.

-The Walker Bros

The Paradox of Arenal Volcano

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Waking up to a volcano is among the top most illustrious things on my commodious list of things to love about Costa Rica. This morning at breakfast I made eye contact with Arenal volcano. The size and beauty of Arenal is mesmerizing and it renders me breathless and stupefied. It is difficult - if not impossible - for me to understand Arenal, no matter how hard I extend my intellectual capabilities. Arenal - to me - is somewhat paradoxical in the sense that it is the most docile feature of all of Costa Rica - that I have seen thus far - however it is also the most dangerous and capricious.  Gazing over the landscape this morning I noticed that Arenal was the most tranquil feature of the environment, the birds, insects and other animals were all active, the trees were shaken by the winds, but Arenal did not move nor make a sound. Arenal reminds me of Plato's philosopher king, for Arenal towers over everything and its looks almost as if it is overlooking all of Costa Rica which is akin to a powerful potentate overlooking his kingdom. Arenal is also similar to the philosopher king, in that it seems as if it is in constant contemplation, furthermore Arenal appears to be inviting all who gaze at its pulchritude to contemplate.

We set up our quadrate today and started gathering data, furthermore Sebastian set up ant traps... However it was cloudy and there was thunder and lightning so that might have slightly affected our data. The very first butterfly we caught seemed to be poisonous, because it had some aposemtic coloration. Thus far all the hypothesis and predictions that were made about the butterflies seem to be supported. We will have to wait until tomorrow to see how effectively the ant traps worked, they seemed to be working well when Sebastian set them up. Hopefully there is no rain when we are out in the field tomorrow, but if there is " ce la vie" or in this case "ce la forêt tropicale".

Field photos Day 1

Some photos of students in action today on Day 1 of their project work:

The habitat team (Forrest, Joe and Omar) install one of their HOBO temperature sensors for temperature readings over the next 24 hours.  They created a small shade out of teak leaves to insulate from the sun, and buried a second sensor in the ground to take soil and air temperatures in a monoculture reforest area.

John takes measurements of the canopy cover and vegetation composition at some of the sites being used for ant and butterfly studies.
Sebastian installs his pitfall traps in order to catch the ant species within the leaf litter.  He has a great story of purchasing his field equipment from the local shop that I hope he posts later.
roselynnet.jpgRoselyn searches for butterfly species in some of the more intact forest areas of the site.  She has fashioned a very interesting butterfly bait trap that I'm hoping works for her tomorrow.

I'll post photos of the four students working on birds tomorrow.  This morning it was so wet (as you can tell from the one of Christian with the Clay-colored Robin) and this evening it also rained so photos of that work were hard to come by today. 

We have four groups overall--habitat, invertebrates, bird diversity and bird behavior.  It makes for a long day working with all of them, since I was out before 5AM opening the mist nets for Christian and Austin and doing behavioral observations along with them and the behavior team of Turin and Alli.  I tried to spend some time with each group throughout the day until we finished habitat work at 5:45, making for a lot of laps hiking around the property. We've tried to stagger the schedule so that they all get at least four hours of fieldwork a day, four hours of data entry and writing, and some rest time as well as mealtimes.  My only problem is getting them to go along with my recommended "lights-out" at 9PM to ensure enough sleep!

Birds of a Feather

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Here are some pictures to go along with Turin's post of our activities yesterday. Today we tagged along with Christian and Austin at bird counts, starting bright and early at 5:30 AM in the rain. Turin and I discovered nesting behaviors might not be our guarantee for data, so we are thinking of narrowing our observations to most common species we see and record what they do in real forests versus teak and "cheese" monoculture forests.

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leafcutter ants on our morning hike on saturday!

Sebastian eating a termite! (morning protein on our walk.)

Elise's mot mot looking at her.

stilt tree roots on the Arenal volcano walk!

Christian, Austin, Richard.

sorry i couldn't rotate this, Christian. our clay-colored robin caught in the mist-net this morning in the rain!


and a shot of health and energy for good measure.

mucho gusto!

Some Pictures from 5/21/11

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Here are some photos Christian took yesterday.  Most are from sticking his little point and shoot held up to the scope.  Works wonders!!Passerinni's Tanager.jpg

A male Passerinni's Tanager poses on an almendra. I don't really know if his uppertail coverts or his bill glows more brightly.  They are very common around the property.  

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This Crested Caracara was perched in a laurel right outside of the breakfast area.  They seem to have brighter facial skin and legs than the subspecies we have in Texas.  

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A Rufous-tailed Hummingbird stretches in our laurel (the one right outside our cabin - it's a very popular perch), showing how appropriate the name is.  


Volcán Arenal in the distance.  

A blog report and some more pictures will be up-and-coming this evening, hopefully.  

- The Walker Bros

Costa Rica Field Ecology 2011

Here's the full group at the volcano yesterday (from left to right)--front row:  John Kabangu, Elise Tellez, Omar Faour.  back row:  Joe Edison, Roselyn Hoang, Alli Faucher, Turin Hansen, Christian Walker, Sebastian Scofield, Austin Walker.  on rock:  Forrest Statler.


And another of them working while at the volcano--it looks staged, really, but I caught them as they were looking at some of the plants that grow between the blocks of old lava and surprised them with a photo. Roselyn is sketching, Elise is photographing and John, Omar and Alli are looking on.


Orientation and Dreams Come True


Just a few (long and detailed) notes from the field assistant-

1.Sorry for not posting yesterday. I had just finished a nice blog entry when the internet cut out due to an intense rain fall.  The rain was beautiful and refreshing, the lack of internet not so much.

2. Mot Mot is a Not Not no more. Yesterday Christian spotted a Mot Mot during our orientation walk through of the property and it was beautiful.  For those of you have not read some of the old blogs, Kelly and I were dying to see a Mot Mot last summer when we took the course and went home to Dallas without a single Mot Mot sighting. It was wonderful to finally see this beautiful bird. Well worth the wait.

3. Orientation was a success. It was beneficial to all the students to see the property and get a substantial idea of what they would be working with.  I can already see quite a few changes in the forest and after talking to Oscar, one of our guides, I am excited to see some new species in the area (around 70). All of the students seemed very eager yesterday to put the protocol into action so I am excited to see what kind of data we get over the next few days.

4. The hike to Arenal Volcano went well.  No eruptions this time.  But to be honest, I was quite content with lack of volcanic activity.  One pyroclastic flow experience is enough volcano interaction for me.

5. Finally, all of the groups experienced their first field experience at Leaves and Lizards this morning.  The bird groups went out despit the rain, kudos to them. I was working the habitat group early today and oversaw their quadrat formations.  Can't wait to see some of their data.  I am also eager to see what the Invertebrate groups does.  Roselyn has made a great butterfly trap. I can't wait to see what they catch! We still have the afternoon observations ahead of us. So now its time to rest and prepare for the afternoon! Will update again soon. 

Pura Vida to all!

First the blog notes: We've had some problems with uploading blog images, but I believe I have the problem fixed - I'll tell everyone at breakfast.

Friends, family, etc are welcome (even encouraged) to post comments to the various blog entries. The best way to do this is to select the "anonymous" option. do this by selecting the "comments" link on the blog entry and then "comment anonymously". Ignore the "Sign in" link unless you have an account already (eg. past students). Originally we had it so you had to register with the site, but there were a number of practical problems with this. The anonymous option is easier and does not attract the spam that I thought it would.

This area of Costa Rica is in something of a drought, relatively speaking. Yes it is still the rainforest but they've only had one big rain all spring. Lake Arenal is by far the lowest I've seen it, the white-water rafting companies are becoming a little concerned, and the springs on the property are all very quiet (similar to the very first year when there was far less vegetation).

So as we're in a "drought", we had a lot of rain last night. As Tico rain goes, it wasn't that heavy but it did go on a while, and we still had some showers this morning. It looks to be starting to clear up, the sun is trying to come out, and I can see a rather hazy volcano.

Arenal is also quiet ("repose" I believe the volcanologists call it). Activity has been limited to fumerole activity from the main crater for six months now.

So all quiet on the Arenal front - but plenty of thunder and heavy tin-roof rain to keep people awake during the night.
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It is raining and it is pouring, and the jungle awaits to be under analyzation in the morning. Team habitat will awake at 5:30 A.M. to prepare for an intense day of research as we hope to make up for the lost time at the airport. We plan on getting a plethora of data to analyze tomorrow and nothing is going to stop us. Not even this massive thunderstorm going on right now as I write this. What we have all been waiting for is finally here, the rain. The balcony of Cabin Toucan is a great spot to relax and watch a tropical thunderstorm. I am not sure that it is quite as intense as those from my home town, Tulsa, but it is close. Haha, that was a joke, this is the most intense rain (So loud I can't hear my thoughts to write this blog) and thunder (Ground shaking!) I have ever experienced. This rain will make the research tomorrow even better and more adventurous. As for today, the research team got to get really familiar with the area under study and went to explore the Arenal volcano. Dr. Brown wasn't lying about the food here, all local and fresh. The build your own tacos were delicious with all the toppings you can think of, including fresh guacamole, salsa, and homemade tortillas. The fresh homemade Chayote soup was the best soup I have ever had in my life and can only be found in Costa Rica. Everything here is really awesome. The cabin alone is worth the trip, with the rainforest in my backyard and a pristine view of the Arenal volcano the instant I wake up. who doesn't like waking up to fresh squeezed guava, mango, and other tropical fruit juices? Not to mention the Costa Rican coffee. I am gonna go now, my computer is getting rained on because this wind is picking up.

Adios amigos.

our first day exploring!

We explored where we will be collecting data for the next few days before having breakfast. The campus here at Leaves and Lizard is beautiful and is rich in nature! The morning walk was refreshing and because of that I don't think it will be hard to wake up early for the rest of the week because there is so much I want to see in this campus alone!

After breakfast, we meet with our group to discuss our plans and then continue our journey and saw a Motmot! I was able to take a photo through the binoculars to document! We then later hiked near Arenal and I begin to sketch some of the plants. I have to say it was fun to pay close attention to the details of the plants here. I can understand how something as simple as sketching can help better understand plant structures and help identify them.

At the end of the day, I believe that we have a pretty great group here in Costa Rica. Everyone has something they are enthused about and it really helps the group to have a good broad understanding of the many ecological aspects that Costa Rica alone offers.

We start collecting data tomorrow and I'm excited to see how things fall together for our group! Though, the heavy rains tonight makes me nervous. We'll see what will happen.

Until then, night all!

First day among the ants

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After a long day, I'm relaxing in the Volcano cabin with Austin and Christian, listening to the deafening sound of a torrential tropical downpour. We can barely hear each other talk over the noise. Outside, lightning flashes and thunder rolls, but inside we're safe and dry. We've lost power once so far, but it's back now.

Just this morning it was dry and sunny. We started the day by taking an orientation walk of our project site to familiarize ourselves with the layout of the land and the different habitat types we're going to be surveying. The local ant fauna is diverse and fascinating. One of the most interesting species is the leafcutter ant, Atta cephalotes. These ants harvest leaves from trees, but they don't eat them. Instead, they carry them back to their vast underground nests, where they chew and process the leaves, turning them into substrate for intricate fungal gardens. The fungi serve as their only food source. Each colony can use as much vegetation in a single day as a full-grown cow, so they need to collect a lot of leaves. We watched green tendrils snake across the forest floor, the highways of ants each carrying a small piece of leaf overhead. Other genera have been identified as well, such as Ectatomma, Solenopsis, and a beautiful Aphaenogaster species.

We worked on project protocol today, and decided to set up a transect of pitfall traps tomorrow morning to begin our specimen collection. We plan on doing samples of ground-dwelling ants in each of the three forest habitat types (original, natural reforest, and monoculture) to find and compare species diversity and abundance.

But it's late right now, the 5:30 wakeup call is going to come early, and our roof just sprang a leak. It's time to get some sleep: we have a big day ahead of us. 


First Real Day in Costa Rica

      So after our very interesting travel experience yesterday and our very short nights rest we awoke this morning to the surprising loudness of the rainforest. It is absolutely gorgeous here. Today we mapped out all of the bird points and spotted two nests at bird point K and M. We also familiarized ourselves with the more common bird species such as the Blue-gray Tanager and the Clay Colored Robin. We also have a Blue-gray Tanager nest right outside our cabin which is awesome! 
     After our initial hike we took a well needed nap break and then we traveled to the Arenal volcano. The volcano is much bigger close up and unfortunately, today it was not cooperating and being very docile. However, the hike was still beautiful and it was nice to see rainforest that was original and stratified in its layers. 
      Dinner tonight is of course homemade by the amazing Costa Rican chef. The food here is really divine. The nicest part is that all of it is fresh and usually locally grown. We stopped to pick up some lunch supplies on our way back from the volcano and it was interesting to practice our spanish and try the local snack food. Tomorrow we plan on really doing our first day of hard work. We will observe all of the bird points throughout the day and begin to track behavior and find more nests. Hopefully it all goes well!


The bird diversity group is here and alive

So. We are now at Leaves and Lizards near the volcano Arenal in Costa Rica. We arrived at two this morning and have been enjoying ourselves ever since. Yesterday was a rather (un)enjoyable - depends on how you look at it - traveling day. We got to the airport at 7:30 AM, learned our flight had been cancelled, and relaxed in the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport for the rest of the day until our 5:30 PM flight, which ended up leaving at about 7:30 PM. Two redeeming happenings yesterday were: we all received $20 coupons from Continental Airlines in compensation, and the fact that Sebastian and Austin both slept for more than seven hours on a semi-comfortable armchair and a cot, respectively. This morning, things brightened considerably with the bird activity outside our cabin. A number of tanagers, honeycreepers, hummingbirds, and wrens called and sang - the cecropia tree near our deck was visited by three types of tanagers, Bananaquits, Olivaceous Piculets, and Black-cowled Orioles. We took our first tour of the property, marked the points where we will be doing point-count bird surveys for the next four days, and had a marvelous breakfast at the main building.  We then finished our walk around the property, seeing Black-throated Wrens and a few Broad-billed Motmots.  We hope to run into the Spectacled Owl pair that Oscar tells us lives in this patch of forest...

We spent the afternoon hiking around the Arenal volcano - spectacular views of Lago de Arenal off to the west, and of course of the volcano itself.  A bit of smoke was being let off by some fumarole activity, but towards the end of our visit the peak became wreathed in cloud.  We saw a number of Montezuma Oropendolas in the canopy of the forest surrounding the volcano; several White-throated Magpie-Jays near the entrance were definitely bonuses. Unbelievable. 

We've already seen 49 species on the property, and are going to go to bed momentarily so we can get up at 5:00 am tomorrow and do some mist-netting.  Expect some great photos!!

-The Walker Bros

Getting started

Greetings from Costa Rica!  The volcano just came into view and is here visible as I type, even with some remaining cloud at the top.  This has been a busy morning after a busy travel day yesterday.  The students did very well in spite of all of our hardships in travel yesterday--finding out our first flight was canceled and being moved over to the American flight in the evening, having to hang around the airport all day and then being delayed on departure by 3 hours.  We finally arrived in San Jose at 10PM  but still had a 3-hour drive ahead of us.  In spite of having very little sleep they were all out for our orientation hike this morning at 7.  Partway through our orientation they enjoyed a nice big breakfast and continued orientation until 10:30, and they are now working on their project protocols with a bit more context now that they've actually seen the site.

I'm very impressed with this group of students, since collectively they are seeing everything they possibly can--from Sebastian scouting the ground for ants, Roselyn snapping pictures of butterflies, and John spotting some amazing fungi in the forest.  Our habitat group has been focused on the plants, with Omar finding an interest in Heliconia this morning, Joe checking out the trees and Forrest noting everything in his notebook while we walk.  Christian got an early start spotting birds from his cabin porch, and Austin saw a Mot Mot pair that all of us had good looks at on the trail.  And Turin is picking up her bird skills by spotting a Smoky Brown Woodpecker nest, while Alli has focused a lot on the hummingbirds and is eager to use her background in psychology to study behavior.  All of them are being helped by our field assistant Elise, who is helping hold everyone together with her logistical support.  Richard and I feel very pleased to be working with such a great group.

We hike the volcano in a couple of hours, and they'll get a chance to see the surrounding area on the drive.  I hope everyone gets a better rest tonight (with homemade tacos and tres leches on tonight's menu they will eat well!), and be ready for tomorrow's earlier wake-up call at 5:30 AM.  With the enthusiasm they've had so far I think they'll be great!
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Habitat Observation Site 1: DFW


After arriving at DFW airport early this morning, we were faced with the disappointing news that our flight has been canceled.  The good news is that we're still going to Costa Rica... This evening.  So we've got a long wait in the airport, and that means we won't be in Costa Rica until tonight.  Even though this is a setback to our research, don't think that our habitat studies are halted!  What better place to conduct human habitat and behavior studies than a major human migration waypoint?

We do hope to utilize this time to work on our project protocol plan and do as much preparatory work on paper that we can so we can jump right into things when we finally get to our site in Costa Rica.

Stay tuned and we'll be back just after this...


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Hello All!

My name is Elise Tellez and I am on my way back to Costa Rica for the second time, only this time as the field assistant. This next school year I will be a senior graduating with a B.A. in Biology and a concentration in Environmental Studies. As of right now I am just trying to soak up all of the field experience I can get.  Hopefully I will be of help to all of the students this May-term.  Last May-term I participated in the Bird project group, so I am excited to see what kind of changes in growth the forest has undergone and how it may have affected changes in the bird diversity.  

I am very thrilled to be apart of the Field Ecology project again.  The class started off with a great first week of prep and now they appear to be ready for the real deal.  It is apparent that all of our project groups have a lot of great goals set and I can't wait to see the results.    
I'm also a big soil nerd so I can't wait to see what the habitat and invertebrate groups do.  I definitely am looking forward to working with them.  

Off to bed now, with a big day ahead of us! The next time you hear from me I will be singing PURA VIDA!!!

p.s. I will be missing Kelly Nelson and Hector Quijada

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Bird Diversity Group


This is Christian and Austin Walker reporting for the Bird Diversity Group.  We are the sole members of our group, and we're super excited to be heading to the Neotropics tomorrow.  

We're planning to study bird diversity with respect to forest type (whether it's original, natural reforested, etc.), and are hoping to be able to use mist-nets in addition to point counts to help us assess bird diversity at Leaves and Lizards.  

We've been birding for the past 7 years or so, and we've had experience birding in Central America before - we went to Belize for 10 days in December 2006.  Christian is a biology major, and Austin is a Classics major.  Christian hopes to go on to graduate school for ornithology to continue with his interest in birds, and Austin wants to get another degree in Classics.   

We'll be sure to keep you updated on our unofficial goal of finding 136 species of birds on the property - that's currently how many are on the property list.  It's definitely doable, and although we've got zero right now, that'll definitely change tomorrow evening.  

Hasta mañana, 

-The Walker Bros

Hola de hábitat del equipo!

Good Afternoon everyone, from team habitat. We are done with class in North America for now. We just gathered all of our field equipment and we are inventorying it now. pH meter, compass, test tubes, extra batteries...check. We can't wait to get to Costa Rica and survey different parts of the forest. We are going to be testing the soil for different properties such as pH, temperature variability, and its composition to help us with tracking the progress of the reforestation project. Other tasks will include taking photographs of the forest stratification at the previously designated bird points and analyzing the numerous plant species found in the forest. We will see you in Costa Rica. So long; from Omar Faour, Forrest Statler, and Joe Edison.


Greetings from the Invertebrate Group!


Hi everyone, we are the Invertebrate Group! John Kabangu, Sebastian Scofield, and Roselyn Hoang! :D

We are all excited about this trip and can't wait!

Sebastian has done ant research in the past and is looking forward to doing more in Costa Rica.

John has been doing soil research during the semester and is just looking forward to jumping off a waterfall!

Roselyn is excited for new adventures in Costa Rica and the FOOD! But isn't excited about waking up early tomorrow!

Goodbye for now! We're waking up at 6:00 am! 

First day on the job.

This is Turin and Alli, writing from Irving, Texas. We are anxiously awaiting our departure from the Tower at 6:30 AM to Costa Rica. 

While in Costa Rica, we will be observing bird behavior and nesting habits. Turin has taken Gen Bio at UD, while Alli's last time in a biology classroom was four years ago in high school, so this should be interesting.

We have a rough outline of what we would like to study, but once we arrive at Leaves and Lizards we will know more about our project. As an interesting side note, we are both excited about trying mist-netting for animal sampling. 

Turin really likes learning about all the tropical birds, specifically the Toucans. Alli is interested in humming birds and finding trees that have stilt roots or buttressed trunks.  

We look forward to keeping you updated on our adventure!

High resolution "3d" ant photos

The BBC have a slideshow of high resolution "3d" (ie. very high depth of field) photographs of ants that are being created as a part of a global ant catalogue by the California Academy of Sciences. Included is a Costa Rican leaf-cutter which we shall probably see next week:
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With the 2011 field season imminent, I've been reviewing the website and adding some updates. A 2011 map has been created - currently this is identical to 2010 except the HOBO points have been removed - we'll have new HOBO points to put on the map. The main map has been moved over from "Bing Maps" to "Google Maps". Google have finally fixed some bugs that finally make their software usable for our needs, and Bing Maps have some problems in their latest version.

I've also added "2011" to the years listed in the panoramic photo viewer. Of course at the moment we don't have any panoramic photos for 2011, so the various photo links still compare 2010 to 2008.

I will be making a number of other minor changes to the site over the next few days.

See y'all on Tuesday for the Volcano Lecture!

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