Saturday, August 4, 2018

Wrap Up

As would make sense with a daily journal, the blog was written by a different person at the conclusion of each day. Despite my interest in writing the blog, the dusk and night time hours are the best to find reptiles and amphibians, and I have my priorities. I asked Echo if I could contribute the last day as a conclusion and list of cool animals/pictures. Although the last day was the night at the dry forest research station, this turned out to not be the case. For those of you unaware, our flight was cancelled for mechanical failures and we were given a free night at a beach side resort. We spent the night swimming, walking the beach, jumping on the beds, and taking long, hot showers. Although it did mess up our departure, it was probably the best final hoorah in Costa Rica. I cannot state enough how fantastic the trip was. No matter how much I write here it would be impossible to fully  portray the biodiversity* and culture of Costa Rica. With that introductory statement out of the way, here we go.

The Costa Rican peoples' way of life is so full of kindness and compassion. Everyone we met treated us as though they had known us for years. The food, people, and culture was so vibrant. Anywhere outside, wherever you step is teeming with life. During our excursions, we encountered an amazing amount of wildlife. As many of you are probably aware, the trip began in Finca la Anita, a cacao farm where we conducted research concerning leaf cutter ants or butterfly caterpillars. The farm was amazing, and the chocolate was even better! During the night hikes and other excursions, I encountered many of the creatures I had on my "list". At Anita, I personally saw two ring necked coffee snakes (Ninia diademata), a blunt head snake (Imantodes cenchoa), a probable, but unconfirmed, narrow bridged musk turtle (Claudius angustatus), and a very nice turnip-tailed gecko (Thecadactylus rapicauda). Surprisingly, I also spotted a very large male green basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons) very far out of its range. We also encountered many species of other insects, various frogs/toads (Most commonly cane toads (Rhinella marina) and leaf litter toads (Rhaebo haematiticus)), and geckos/lizards.

During our stay, we also visited a national park. We spotted various birds and small arboreal lizards in the canopy. As is so often the case with "herping" (the searching for reptiles and amphibians), one finds the most fascinating specimens only if two things are true: (1) you are horribly ill prepared and (2) you are extremely slow to the point of perceived insanity. This is how my hunt for the peanut-headed bug began (Fulgora laternaria). This bug is a species that has been on my "list" since I first heard of this trip. It is a bizarre and unfortunately understudied genus that is both fascinating historically and in modern day. The natives of Costa Rica hold many interesting stories about the large insect. Before our trip to the park began, my camera died while I was photographing comparatively insignificant birds. This completed step one. We then arrived, we hiked, and I went very slowly (step 2 complete). I was actually later told by Russel that I should not be so slow next time, because the jaguars might think I had a broken leg. Luckily, I was not eaten, and survived to see a peanut-headed bug! I don't think it found me to be quite as amazing as I found it to be (it defecated all over me). Foot note: I later found another species that had a red spiked crown on the end of its "peanut", later identified as a separate genus: Pterygota quinquepartitus.

As well as the rich rain forest, we visited the vast dry forest. At the conclusion of the trip, we left to visit another research station near the beach. Within the hour, I had found an anulated cat eye snake (Leptodeira annulata), multiple spiny-tail iguanas (Ctenosaura pectinata), and a very large managua skink (Mesoscincus managuae). I later heard of a baby red tail boa (Boa constrictor) and Costa Rican indigo snake (Unicolor cribo), both of which had slithered away by the time I arrived on scene. Our first night at the station, we left in the hopes of finding a sea turtle. After hours of scanning the beach without light, the radio crackled with the news of a nesting turtle. In groups of four we left to visit the nesting Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea). She first made a tiny rut in the ground, then began to make a hollow chamber in the packed sand. Upon the conclusion of this task, she began to drop ping-pong ball sized eggs into the cavity. Once complete, the nest was covered and all dry sand was returned in a careful fashion by the mother turtle. She then returned to the sea, having taken only about an hour on land. The entire process was amazing and extremely rare this time of year. We had all but completed accepted that we would stay up all night for no turtles, so the sight was even cooler given the rarity. The amount of amazing biodiversity in this country simply cannot be stated enough.

For me, and I'm sure the rest of my peers, the Costa Rica trip was unbelievable. For such a small country, Costa Rica is perhaps one of the coolest places I have ever visited. It has coasts,  rain forests, plains, volcanoes, dry forests, plains, and more. Only here can you find cacti washing up on the beach during a tropical rainstorm with thermal vents on the horizon (which happened).

* Scientific names are written to avoid confusion, as many of my guide books had very contradicting common names.

Pura Vida!
Greyson Offermann

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Day 10 - Turtles, Monkeys, and Sadness

When we last left off, we were headed to the beach for turtle sweeps; at about 10:30 p.m, we ran into an Olive Ridley getting ready to nest. We were able to go up in groups of four to see her lay her eggs before she disguised the nest under the sand and took off into the ocean.

Next morning, after breakfast, we had a visit from some monkeys just outside the porch. They were eating fruit from the trees right above us. Soon after, we left to go on a hike to a secluded part of the beach. We saw lots of birds and tiny hermit crabs. We had lots of fun wave surfing and looking for fish under the waves.

Sadly, we couldn't spend as much time at the beach as we had wanted, as it had started to storm. The hike back in the rain was intense but invigorating. After a 30 minute drive, we were back at Horizontes, where we promptly showered and had snacks (including freshly cut coconuts). Some of us played soccer, others played games on the porch, and now we're about to have a wonderful barbecue. As it's our last day, the porch is decorated with lights. I hope there's dancing!

Tomorrow morning, we depart for home. We are all very excited to see our families, although this has been the most wonderful experience. We are very sad to be leaving, as it has become like a second home to us here in Costa Rica.

Pura vida!
Mariah Farley

 (A view of the estuary we walked across today)
 (One of the monkeys outside our dorms)
 (The beautiful Olive Ridley illuminated by red light)
 (The beach we walked today)
 (Cooling off after our hike!)
 (Hiding under the trees during the rain)
(Our fresh coconuts!)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Day 9 - The Calm After the Storm

After waking up early to finish packing and getting ready to leave Finca La Anita, we hiked over to enjoy our final breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and juice. Once everyone was fed and the panic of running over to our cabins to collect the rest of our stuff was over, we said our goodbyes and loaded up into the vans and left for Horizontes.

Like any normal bus ride through Costa Rica, the trip was full of dance parties and weird music. Understandably, everyone was hungry, so we stopped at a shopping mall to get snacks from nearby stores. Knowing full well we would have a have lunch once we arrived our destination, we still filled up with chips, coconuts, and fresh quesadillas. Every time you looked out of the window while driving through the Costa Rican countryside, all you would see is beautiful trees surrounding high mountain tops with clouds breaking through the peaks.

Since arriving at Horizontes, we ate lunch, found bugs and snakes, and ate mangoes fresh from the trees surrounding our cabins. Until our lesson, we were free to roam around and discover all different kinds of wildlife, including massive ant colonies, snakes, and wasps eating the dropped mangoes under the trees. Continuing our experience at Horizontes, we went into the classroom to begin our education on sea turtles and how the process of researching them goes. Kindly introducing herself, Veronica educated us on the different species of sea turtles and instructed us on the process of patrolling the beach for sea turtles tonight. Supper will come soon; until then, we have time to play soccer, hang out, and explore more of Horizontes. 
Despite being in a completely different environment, there was still clear variance in the different species on wildlife. Interestingly enough, our day is barely half over, as tonight after dinner we will be heading over to the beach to try and find sea turtles. Considering our time at the beach, we will be bringing blankets and red light flashlights (because white light repels sea turtles) and breaking up into three groups to patrol the beach. Knowing how to go about our searching and research tonight, we are ready for a fun-packed and long night at the beach keeping an eye out for sea turtles.

Jake Rizzo

 (You should really zoom in on Rhys's face)
                                                                      (Good game)
                                                             (Almost missed these guys)
                                                               (Logan being helpful...I think)
                                                        (The coalition of soccer-moms)
                                                                 (An intense match)
                                    (Rhys makes the most dramatic faces when playing soccer)

Photos by Mariah Farley

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Day 8

After staying up until 2am, rolling out of bed at 5am and scrambling to finish our projects, we all gathered in the classroom to present our final presentations.  My group, Los Zompopos, presented last.  Overall, every group had a fascinating presentation.  I was both sad and relieved that our research projects are done.  I enjoyed every part of the field research.  Watching hundreds of leaf cutter ants devour G. Aborea leaves we placed on the foraging trail was unbelievable to watch.  Our presentation went very well and our results were very promising. 

When we finished our presentations, we helped with a community service project painting a community center and afterwords got ice cream and Cokes. 

The rest of the evening was spent with leisure activities as we celebrate our last day at Finca La Anita before we head out to the beach for sea turtle research.

Annabelle Kindig

(The petri dishes for one of the team's experiments)
 (Some of our students on the bus ride to Colonia Libertad  for community service)
(Our lead scientists posing for a picture before their goodbye)

Note: Other pictures will be posted upon return; we have limited access to WiFi to upload many photos

Monday, July 30, 2018

Day 7, Working in the Dirt

Today is full of work. We're scrambling tonight because we have our final presentation at 10:30 tomorrow morning. However, I feel certain that it will pay off.  My group is the first group in the Seeds of Change program to study butterflies and caterpillars.

We are doing a bacterial study of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th stages of Caligo butterflies or owl butterflies. We predict that the more mature caterpillars will have more variety and quantity of bacteria because they will have lived longer and therefore will have been exposed to more bacteria.

So far, in the few results that we have, our data has supported our hypothesis. This fact is very invigorating. We have been working very hard and are looking forward to the reward for all our hard work. Not just my groups, but all of the groups, are very excited and energized because all of our hard work is about to pay off. We're looking forward to the presentations tomorrow and you will definitely hear from us soon.

Jesse Akers
 (One of our teams working vigorously on their final projects)
 (Our work schedule over the past few days)
 (A few of our students analyze their data with the help of Alan)
(Another team working on their projects on the porch outside)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Day 6 - Wading in Waterfalls

Getting up at 5:00 a.m is never enjoyable, but it was made even worse by multiple alarms all going off at different times. However, it was made worth it by a quick breakfast of pancakes and eggs, before rushing off to Rincon de la Vieja, in the Santa Maria sector.

The day started off with surprisingly clear blue skies, something we have rarely seen all trip. Our trail guide, Freddy, was very knowledgeable; he was able to find many creatures and plants, and every hole in the ground, sharing fascinating information along the way. The biodiversity in the forest was something that we haven't seen before in our hikes back home. On our way to the hot springs, we saw many bugs, birds, and reptiles that we definitely have not seen before. Thanks to the sulfur in the springs, we all smelled like eggs for the rest of the day. Even with the the stench of eggs in the air, we still managed to enjoy ourselves. 

 After sitting around in mineral rich water, we got out and started our hike back. Before officially starting our bus ride back, we took a break in one of the beautiful waterfalls. It was quite the challenge to even get in the water, due to the steep decline, mud, and slippery rocks. Once we managed to get into the water, it was the exact opposite of a hot spring. The water was so cold it was hard to even wade in past your knees. Once it started to rain, we rushed out and made our way back, slipping and sliding in the mud to our buses. 

After getting back an hour later than we planned, we resumed working on our projects, only to be stopped again a few hours later for diner. After eating a delicious meal of pork, vegetables, and yucca, we celebrated our friend, Jean-Luc's19th birthday! Directly after that, we went straight back to our experiments and research, which officially ended our day. 

Buenos noches!
-Rhys and Chloe

 (Chilling in the hot springs after our exhausting hike)
 (A toucan spotted at Finca La Anita)
 (Some of our more courageous students braving the freezing water falls)
(A surprise birthday cake for our birthday boy, Jean-Luc, celebrating his 19th!)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Day 5 - Horseback Riding and Cooking Lessons

Two different beginnings to the same great experience! We split into two groups the night before, one left at 6:30 a.m after a standard breakfast of eggs, rice, beans and toast. They then made the trip to Colonia Blanca by car to meet with their riding instructor and caballos (horses). The path took us up and down the hills and plains of rural Costa Rica, providing an excellent view of the mountains and jungles. The second group left at 8:40 and took the same (albeit wetter) trail, before returning to Finca la Anita. From there, we spread out for some free time, some check their experiments, others visit the nearby store in Colonia Libertad, and some just soak in the jungle from their cabin porch.

After some lunch, we're ready to hit our experiments. Each group reviews the results from earlier fungus cultures and then reorganizes to begin work on their projects. Swabs, butterflies and blenders are all procured for various experiments, just watching other groups hustle about the facility makes you want to hear about their projects. 

We find a place to wrap up and drive to a kitchen where we get firsthand experience with local cuisine. Our gracious hosts show us the ins and outs of making fried plantains, fresh tortillas, salad and cheese before adding in some chicken, fruit juice and rice for a wonderful feast! We learn toasts and puzzles (you'll never look at a matchstick the same way again) and we leave our names in the guestbook. I'm writing this after a working session with my team, in which we continued our experiment and cracked open our lab notebook. Today has been a fine of hard work and hard play. I hear we do it all again tomorrow.

Pura Vida from Cosa Rica!

 (One of the horse-back riding groups at the top of the mountain)
 (Annabelle showing off her cooking skills)
 (Rhys displaying the key ingredient to our chicken)
(Our chef showing us the steps)