Recently in ecology Category

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.

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.


Final Ends!

Well, we've come to the end of our research and it was a sad but really awesome end. Today was a test for me and at first I was a little bit nervous about it but it turned out really well. This is because I did not have Geovanni with me to help me identify the birds today. However, I did have Dr. Brown for the first half which was amazing and we got alottt of the birds down. For the last half I did on my own which went wayyy better than I expected it to go. I am sad that I am leaving tomorrow, but I am happy to go back to dallas. Yesterday was our free day. We lots of cool animals on our boat ride including the golden monkey and a snake bird. They were awesome. Going through Canuonegro reminded me of going through Essequibo River back home. It was a really sensational experience. Taking all the trees and weather and animals was just very sensational. Costa Rica has been an amazing experience and I am really happy I came. All the people here are really nice and really hospitable.The tour guides are really passionate about what they do and everyone seems to have this really great appreciation for life. Anyway, I am off, not feeling so well right now so will pack and go to bed. Until next time, Esta muy pura vida y adios. 

Final Field Day

Well, we've just about finished the last day. For scheduling reasons we swapped Field Day 5 with the free day, so yesterday the group spent their field day with a boat trip along Cano Negro. The students are posting their comments, but this year we saw quite a few good views of unusual birds, Caimens, and all three types of monkey (howler, white faced, spider). This was followed with an hour in La Fortuna, and some time at the reserve that Giovanni is managing.

Here is a photo of the students on the boat trip (from left: Nick, Aliza, Kathryn, Natalia):


Today, the final field day, has been a day of tidying things up. We retrieved the last HOBOs (automated water temperature samplers), and both Aliza and Nick have been collecting their last field data. I've also converted the Trimble data into a form that can be used by Aliza and Nick in their write-ups. I've created a new map with bird nest locations. The plan is to add bird nest locations each year as their own layers, so it should be possible to compare the number of bird nests over time. Marcy reports that there are a lot more bird nests this year than in the 2008 field season. This is good news. An intermediate version of the map should be online before we leave Leaves and Lizards. Aliza is preparing a set of photographs for each bird nest point. I shall publish these later in the week after we return. I'll post a note when these are completed.

Kaieteur Spirited Away!!!

Well there was no new changes to the hummingbird nests today unfortunately. It's been doing pretty much the same thing. However, we've seen some new birds. It was unbelievable and fun. After breakfast I did three things that I have never really done before in my life. Well not too well anyway. I horseback rode an amazing horse named Bomberro and I horseback rode a hiking trail andddd I swam in a waterfall. It was soooo much fun. It was great. However tiring but it was great. Everyone was feeling a bit better today but still a little off but it's been a great day and I think everyone has really enjoyed today. Oh wait. I forgot. We recorded 15 birds nest on the GPS which is pretty amazing for birds including the Green breasted mango, Squirrel Cuckoo and many many more. We still have a few left to do. But it's gonna be great. I am so exhausted but I am so happy for tomorrow. Until then, Esta Pura Vida y Adios. 

Jumanji come Alive...

It was an awesome day. Starting pretty early may not have been very easy but once up I was ready to go. We finished all our bird counts early today and we've seen so many new amazing species of birds including alot of the bird nests that we're going to try to gps and put on the map tomorow. We saw a swallow nest, blue gray tanager nest and we finally saw the Cuckoo and it's baby. We also saw a baby Antshrike. It is awesome and just really great. The afternoon was spent hiking through the jungle practically and after a few slight scares because a my team members got hurt by stings and so on, it became a wonderful hike through undisturbed forest. We saw two snakes - a coral and another as well as a Manakin and Nun bird. They are sooo beautiful. Hiking through the Orlandos brought alive my Jumanji experience because I was just waiting for Anacondas or other really koooll animals but there were none unfortunately. Overall it was a great day with new wonderful experiences. Can't wait for tomorow. Until then, esta Pura Vida y adios.

Darwin is Right!

The entire Costa Rican experience is so amazing so far. It is impossible to summarize it all in one blog entry. Even though we either had no sleep or little sleep on Sunday, we all got here safe, encountering little to no problems.When we got here we travelled around a little visiting a few places - The Fortuna Park and the surrounding towns. We travelled through Monterey and arrived at Leaves and Lizards at about 6.00 pm, three of us having no idea the adventure that awaited us here. We all settled in comfortably and took an early night, even though sleeping was hard to do since we are all so excited. On Monday, every one got a lot of rough work and preparation for the rest of the week. It was amazing. Geovanni, Dr. Brown, and I discovered 56 species of birds and many of them were new from last year. On Monday as well, we hiked up Mount Arenal, the active volcanic mountain in the pouring rain. It was a refreshing experience. When we came down the Mountain, we watched it erupted. Mount Arenal is so magnificent. Tuesday was equally exciting. I discovered a Green Breasted Mango, a species of Hummingbird for my hummingbird study. Even though sitting in the scorching heat with many ants and bugs and dogs, it was well worth the experience. I learned a lot about the nesting habits of the Mango. One thing that was especially interesting about the Mango is not only it's territorial behavior when it is nesting but also the fact that the male Mango is the only parent that was observed so far incubating the young. We've seen so many new bird species from last year, including the Breasted Mango as well as nine plus species of hummingbirds and a few that can't come to mind right now. The rest of the experience is very refreshing and thrilling. Hiking through forests and encountering bugs, possible snakes and the RAINFALL is all an extremely wonderful experience. My Darwin experience - standing beneath this fully shaded tree and still getting wet from the rainfall. It is really intense. The Costa Rican food is amazing and some of the best I have had in a few months. Dr. Brown and Mr. Marsden have helped us so much and Steven and Debbie have been so hospitable to us as well as Madesia. Gotto go. Until next time, hasta la vista.

Your field assistant checking in


[I've copied Katheryn's comment into an proper blog entry as she intended - Richard]

My arduous task today was to post a blog regarding my thoughts as I prepare to return to Costa Rica in a few days. While assuring Dr. Brown of my great competence as a field assistant, I apparently can only figure out how to "comment" on preexisting posts and have no idea how to submit my own. Who knew that blogging could be so mysterious?

My thoughts? In class this morning as we went over the details of our reforestation project for the students, Dr. Brown pulled up a panoramic photograph of one of the bird-points. Having spent 10 minutes a day simply sitting at this particular point counting birds, I was not surprised to remember specific trees and plants. It will be interesting to note how each bird-point has changed over a year's time. I think we are going to take yearly panoramics of these set points.  Then, with our demonstrated technical expertise we will stick them in some sort of program that allows you to move a scroll bar and blend the images as the years progress.

 I was surprised that the picture conjured up more complex memories of smells you can almost taste, the chatter and sounds of colorful tropical animals and shockingly large insects, and the clammy feel of humidity under my ever-present poncho. I am excited!

I am currently resolving to find my poncho. As much as I despise sporting the garbage bag look, and as much as I dislike being trapped in my own Turkish bath, I would not want to be attacked by tropical rainstorms without it. We are practicing low-impact living, but in some cases it is best to keep a plastic barrier between oneself and nature.

Geovani is in the New York Times!


Tropical Storm and Falling Up? Puh-lease.

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

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

More tommorow, ciao.


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

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

From the collaborators of the plant and mapping groups:

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

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



From Mary Boyum and Lorea Ormazabal:

Bring out the ponchos!

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

 From Adaire Chatry:

Walking Sticks

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

Species spotlight: Antbirds


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

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


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

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

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

Species spotlight: Keel-billed Toucan

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

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

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


Species spotlight

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

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

Dr. B.