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bye bye love

Dear Parents, 

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

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

zip line.jpg

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

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

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

Until then- PURA VIDA 

Last day in Costa Rica

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

birds, rocks, and waterfalls. OH MY.

Hello Hello from Tico Town!

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

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

human leafcutters.jpg

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

neon frog.jpg

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

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

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


Woke up with a wobble

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

Last day of work!

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

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


Mot Mot is a Not Not



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

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

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

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

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




Tomorrow we will learn our ABC's


Hello again from Kelly and Elise!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird of the day-Oropendola


We do more than ecology

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


More action today

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

Me gusta mucha Pura Vida!

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

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

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


The tree of bread

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

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

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

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

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


The Plantish Plan of Attack: Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get some sleep!

Our area of study....



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

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

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

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



Hola from the field assistant

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

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

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

Just a couple of Bird Brains!!!


Hello from Kelly and Elise!

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

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


Pura Vida!

Field ecology 1st day

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

Leaves & Lizards 4yr Anniversary

Debbie & Steve have put together a video slide show of the past four years of Leaves and Lizards:

Watch closely and you might spot some Univ.Dallas students!

Student Reports are now online

The student reports have now been published as PDF documents:

Final Day


The last day had a productive final round of sampling even with the frequent rain. Many new butterfly species were recorded including many individuals of a rather uncommon species typically only found in intact forest. Upon reviewing the notes and data for the butterflies the highest areas of diversity were, as expected, in the disturbed forest patches that did not have tree monocultures. The tree plantations especially the teak stands were very low in butterfly diversity. The butterflies of the teak areas were the most common species that were present to nectar on the lantana. The tiger pattern mimetic complex of Heliconians, Ithomiines, and a single Charaxinae was very well represented in the two main disturbed forest patches. For the ants diversity was greatest in the forest patch bordering bird points a-n. There were several dominant species of ground dwelling ants. Their dominance should lessen as the restoration process continues and the leaf litter becomes thicker. This gives less dominant species more available niches and microhabitats to live and forage in, and it makes it more difficult for dominant species, like the fire ant Solenopsis geminatta, to establish colonies.

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