Things I've Learnt From Costa Rica

Ex Research Assistant Laura Sheffield's things she's learnt from her experience in Costa Rica

Things I've learnt from costa rica:
1. never take for granted a cold drink or a bed
2. the best places to think are empty beaches and small rivers
3. take every opportunity to try something new
4. always take a camera, the best moments are spontaneous
5. fruit always tastes better in the country its grown in
6. learn the language of the country you go to, it makes life much easier
7. go outside and walk places, its fun, good excersize and you see more
8. nature provides for you, look after it
9. get in the habit of waking up early and you'll get more done in a day
10. the best way to travel is in the back of a pick up truck
11. keep calm and pura vida mea

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.


ARO Blog: John Scott

Becoming bird-brained…

Royal Flycatcher. Image courtesy of Bird Forum

The diversity of wildlife in Costa Rica is a source of constant amazement to me, with an estimated 5% of the planet’s species living here. However, the one class of animals that really exemplify this diversity is birds. There are estimated to be over 900 species that can occur here, and we are fortunate enough to have 420 of those living or passing through our tiny region, the Osa peninsula. Needless to say, this makes the study of birds here a fairly monumental task and (lucky me!) it is a task that has fallen onto my shoulders during my six-month stay on camp.

In order to do this I have spent an ungodly amount of time pouring over field guides, and even more time listening to literally hundreds of audio recordings of birds, as well as many mornings straining my ears, eyes and sanity trying to spot as many elusive species as possible. These struggles have caused me to begin work on a specialised interactive database cataloguing the birds solely within the region. There is currently no such resource available to scientists or bird enthusiasts and the aim is to make it far quicker, easier and less time consuming for anyone looking to put together studies on the avifauna of the peninsula. The information in the database includes the habitats that each species occurs in, the family it belongs to, whether it is migratory or resident, and also its status according to the IUCN Red List. This means that if, for example, someone wished to study endangered resident species here within primary forest, one or two clicks would produce a complete list of which birds were relevant.

Once completed, the database will hopefully be an invaluable aid to volunteers wishing to study here, be it for a BTEC, or simply to enrich their experience of these beautiful creatures. On a personal note, through compiling this data I have been privileged to see hundreds of very special birds and have had some wonderful experiences including spending a morning watching a pair of Spectacled Owls, witnessing the rarely seen mating rituals of Slaty-Tailed Trogons, and watching in person the famous and hilarious dance of the tiny Red-Capped Manakin. Be warned, once you start on this massive subject you will be hooked!

By John Scott, Costa Rica Forest - Assitant Research Officer

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CA Blog: Jess Bridgewater

Arrived at the end of April and it is much as I remembered. I left this camp 7 months ago after a 12 week stay as a volunteer and it hasn’t really changed, except it rains a little less as it is the start of rainy season which continues to December. I definitely missed my hammock at home, which is all set up as before and incredibly comfy. I’m lucky enough to be leading a lot of turtle surveys as a conservation apprentice and have seen lots of tracks on both the beaches, Piro and Pejeperro, including some Olive Ridley eggs.

We collect turtle data to help insure the species survival by monitoring their habits of nesting on the beaches, and also in peak season moving nests to ensure survival from predation and high tides. We mainly see two species of turtles here Pacific Green and Olive Ridley. Occasionally a Hawksbill has been seen, I was lucky enough last year to witness Hawksbill hatchlings go out to see after being cared for in the hatchery.

I also particularly love the birds here. So many species and so colourful compared to the ones where I live in the UK. One of my favourites, which I didn’t get a photo of last year, is the Blue Crowned Mot-Mot. On my second day back at camp I saw one and was lucky enough to get this photo.

I’m very much looking forward to the amazing things I have yet to see, 12 weeks was not enough for me to fit in everything last time. Must run, have surveys to do…

By Jess Bridgewater, Conservation Apprentice

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Volunteer Blog: Alyssa Lemmiman - My first week!

Day 1, Monday 7th April 2014
After catching the ferry from Golfito to Puerto Jimenez (where I saw frolicking dolphins during the crossing), I was met by the Frontier Project Coordinator. He then accompanied us on the Collectivo (a regular public transport open truck) deep into the jungle to camp – it all felt extremely adventurous! I met the rest of the volunteers and staff on camp whilst a troop of squirrel monkeys we passing by amongst the trees and I was pleasantly surprised by the lavish facilities...flushing toilets and high pressure showers!?

Day 2 Tuesday 8th April 2014
I was keen to get stuck in and decided on a very challenging 10km forest walk, the amount of sweat shed felt like half my body weight, but i was rewarded by a wonderful view of Piro beach, Peje beach with Corcovado national park in the distance, spectacular! Later I went on a primate survey where I learnt about the different types of equipment used and the importance of time management on surveys. We spotted 5 Spider monkeys and 2 Capuchin monkeys which I assisted in recording their data. The primate surveys are one of my favourites as by walking at a slow pace you get to encounter more than primates and on this particular survey I got to see an endemic Black throated Trogon bird which was beautiful.

Day 3 Wednesday 9th April 2014
Every Wednesday we work with the community and this week we went to Osa Verde to do sustainable agriculture work with locals where we produced irrigation channels for the development of a plantain plantation. The plantation will provide Osa Conservation (the partner we work with) with their own food supply and it's a great time to interact with the community and try out our Spanish skills. In the evening we played Volleyball at Piro beach which is always great fun however what made it even more amazing was that on the way back, we were lucky to come across baby green turtles hatching! We helped secure their safe entrance into the ocean which was just an amazing experience – I even felt a little emotional!

Day 4 Thursday 10th April 2014
A Science presentation started the day led by our Principal investigator Nathan. We learnt about the different types of animals on the Osa Peninsula, what to do if you encounter them and different types of surveys we would take part in. After the presentation we had our BTEC introduction talk where we received lots of guidance from the staff who are all really approachable and really keen to assist in the topics we are interested in studying. I attended the primate data collection workshop afterwards which was a great way to see how the data your gathering is presented and how it produces assists the long term monitoring programmes which is really interesting and important to recognize and appreciate whilst volunteering.

Day 5 Friday 11th April 2014
Woke up early to do a Turtle survey along Piro beach and came across a Green Turtle laying her eggs, which was unbelievably exciting. Afterwards I went on a butterfly survey, which involved a highly enjoyable walk along the Piro river and in the evening we walked to Bijagual Farm and stayed at the Cabinas there to await farm work early the following day

Day 6 Saturday 12th April
During farm work we milked cows, made cheese with the local farmer and herded cattle into the ranch on horseback, it was an unforgettable experience. A few of us in the afternoon then caught the Collectivo into Puerto Jimenez where we had a great meal at a Pizza place in town and stayed the night awaiting a Dolphin Tour excursion the following day.

Day 7 Sunday 13 April
We woke up early (had left over pizza for breakfast!) and then headed out for a very exciting dolphin boat ride! In a few minutes of whizzing across the ocean in bikinis we were surrounded by 50+ spinner dolphins leaping, spinning and gliding in every direction. It was unbelievable! We got the afternoon collectivo back to camp. I couldn't sleep as I was so excited what the next week adventures would bring :)

By Alyssa Lammiman, Costa Rica Research Assistant volunteer

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Conservation Apprentice blog: Sophie Burns

I have been lucky enough to have spent the last 6 months living on the beautiful Osa Peninsula; a place which harbours approximately 2.5% of the planet’s biodiversity. Therefore as a keen biologist and wildlife enthusiast, it did not take long for this place to feel like my home, but unfortunately my time here is coming to an end and on reflection of this I now find that one of the farewell messages written by ARO Delyth Williams becomes particularly helpful..... 'Don’t be sad that it’s over, but smile because it happened.’ I have had some incredible experiences during my time here and made some amazing friends and memories along the way. Some of my highlights include watching the sunrise over the lagoon, with a freshly picked coconut in hand, at the end of the 4.5Km turtle patrol along Playa Pejeperro, one of the primary beaches we patrol.

I have even seen a good few sea turtles come up the beach to nest.

I have also had the privilege of tagging one.

It is not just the turtle patrols I have thoroughly enjoyed; I have been involved in the bird surveys, butterfly trapping and netting and otter surveys along the two rivers near to camp that also contain a few good swimming spots which we occasionally go for a dip in. Finally, I have also participated in a lot of primate surveys, another one of my favourites! Although you rarely have to walk far to find a primate, all four of the monkey species found on the Osa are regularly spotted around camp, feeding or sleeping in the surrounding trees. However, there are more than just surveys to occupy yourself with; most evenings there is some activity planned such as movie/documentary nights, beach volleyball, quiz/games night, football with the locals (I prefer to just watch on that one) and some Saturdays we even visit the local bar 4Km down the road for party nights, a great way to practice your Latino dancing!

My only regret is not taking enough photos, you can never have too many, Costa Rica is full of delightful surprises; you never know when you might need a camera. I have seen a variety of wildlife just along the road, including tayra, a female tamandua with a baby on her back, caiman and many colourful birds and butterflies.

By Sophie Burns, Conservation Apprentice Costa Rica

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Volunteer blog: Danny Parker

My first week with Frontier, Costa Rica... Firstly, and I can't portray this in words (unless I went back in time for Shakespeare's help), this entire country's landscape absolutely took me. The moment I landed in Golfito I was in awe of the flora and fauna of the tropical forests surrounding me and without even realizing I had already made a swift move straight into my camera bag and began snapping way. I don't recall putting my camera down for a second until we arrived in Puerto Jimenez and took the local Collectivo to Playa Piro, where I was introduced to my fellow research assistants and staff members.

Image courtesy of Danny Parker

After a tour of the campsite and an introduction to day-to-day functions of the campsite I began to settle rather quickly. I signed myself up for plenty of surveys and had my first sleep with thoughts and inspiration racing through my mind. The energy this place gives you is just incredible. It was my first morning when I shared my breakfast with a passing troop of squirrel monkeys with their young. I was aware that the campsite was integrated into the surrounding environment in a way that wouldn't promote any danger or disturbance to the wildlife, but I never quite expected so many opportunities to interact with and study the nature around me. It was shortly after this I was informed of a Tamandua (ant eater) with her young foraging for food just at the perimeter of camp. I could barely contain my excitement!

Fortunately enough, my luck continued and I also had the privilege of not only releasing a clutch of pacific green turtle hatchlings onto the beach for their first dash for the ocean, but watching a Pacific Green turtle burying her freshly laid eggs the following morning and watching her make her way back to the sea in broad daylight. An incredible privilege! Just when I thought I'd seen it all in my first week, the appearance of a 2-toed sloth just put the cherry on the cake. My favourite animal in the world a mere few metres away from me!

A few words to summarise my first week: Serene, Captivating, Inspiring, Motivating, Unforgettable .... and I still have 9 more weeks to go!

By Danny Parker, Research Assistant, Frontier, Costa Rica

(And I'm never going home!)

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Project Manager Blog: For the love of camp!

So this week has been great and I’m starting to really understand why people love it here on camp and why they’re so sad to leave! The atmosphere is so friendly and welcoming and even at the weekend the activities are fun and pitched at just the right level. I arrived on Saturday afternoon in the midst of cake baking (!) and feverish volunteers running around taking pictures so I wondered what was going on!

I soon find out that a treasure hunt was almost finishing and the cake was to be had at the end of the day to reward everyone’s efforts. I soon find out about the setup of the competition which was formed of three riddles which needed photo answers and a photo competition. I am then very flattered to hear that I am one of the honorary judges along with Nathan Roberts (our Principal Investigator) and Jaz (Jennifer) who has become camp’s unofficial “Fun Organiser”. 

We see all the entry photos and the three of us make our votes. Photo categories included Landscape Category, Comedy shot and something with the Frontier flag. Some of the entries may have been a little too risqué to publish but most of the entries are on the Facebook page. Everyone had a whale of a time with prizes of biscuits and sweets much appreciated (food is king on camp!). Well done to the organisers Jaz and Nathan for such a great activity which encourages team work, forest know-how and good old fashioned clean fun!

By Hariette Rothwell, Costa Rica Project Manager

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Volunteer blog: Jenny Dent

Google maps informs me that I am about 12000 km from home, but to be honest, staying out here in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle feels like I’m on a different planet. It’s said that Costa Rica contains 5% of the world biodiversity and that around about half is found right here on the Osa Peninsula. By my calculations that means I still have an awful lot left to see but in my first week here I’ve certainly made a good start.

My most exciting sighting to date is probably the two toed sloth which moved into a tree just outside of camp (I’m counting on him staying there for quite some time which is a bonus). I’ve also been lucky enough to see some Pacific Green Turtle HATCHLINGS, Spider Monkeys, Tucans, Scarlet Maccaws and Tamanduas (I’ll stop my list there before I get carried away). I’m growing increasingly suspicious that I have yet to see a Fer de Lance snake as they’re apparently pretty common around this area (I’m hoping I’m not just bad at spotting them).

Life on camp is like nothing you will have experienced before but so much fun. I must say, I’m really warming to the idea of sleeping in a hammock, which, after a wee bit of “hammock-yoga” is surprisingly comfy. I’m also in love with the outdoor showers, it sounds crazy but you’ll understand when you get here. My advice to anyone coming out here is to make sure you get on as many surveys as possible. So far I’ve been involved with the turtle, bird, primate and turtle projects which have all been really interesting (and much more enjoyable when you finally embrace the fact that you will be eternally drenched in sweat). Even when you’re not out and about on a survey there’s plenty to do. I was very glad to realise that the weekly volleyball match was more about enthusiasm than skill. This weekend I’m going snorkelling which should be really cool.

All in all, just 6 days into my stay here, my biggest regret is that I not going to be staying longer (I have a sneaking suspicion that just three weeks won’t be enough!!!).

By Jenny Dent, Forest Research Assistant

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ARO Blog: Kirsty Hunter

Well my first week has been quite busy as you can imagine! New country, new culture and new set up to get used to. After an eventful 4 days of travelling to Puerto Jiménez I safely made it onto the collectivo for the bumpy hour and a half journey to camp.

I arrived at camp to be met by the staff and volunteers who all seemed very friendly. Having been at Frontier Madagascar I was surprised to see a gas stove and flushing toilets when I was given the camp tour, which was definitely a novelty for me! After my tour I settled into my hammock spot which I don’t think will take long to get used to as its pretty comfy (apart from maybe the first night when there was a tsunami warning). I don’t think the early mornings will be a problem when we have Howler monkeys as an alarm call.

I joined in on the re-vegetation that Frontier help with every week to give something back to Osa Conservation on my first morning followed by a nice walk to the beach to see the sunset. The next few days consisted of me being taken on some of the trails so I can start leading my own walks and getting to know how things work around camp. Also enjoyed a game of volleyball and a games night, which I think I will get way to competitive for. I’ve already seen so much here (pics to follow) so can’t wait to see what the next 6 months hold, especially as we are heading into rainy season which means fantastic wildlife spottings!

By Kirsty Hunter, Forest Assistant Research Officer

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Communications Officer Blog: 2 April 2014

This week our surveys have been continuing as usual but it was on a night stake out on the nearby river when volunteers had the incredibly lucky sighting of a Kinkajou!

On Wednesday everyone headed up to Cerro Osa to continue with the re-vegetation work. This week it included seed collection and working in the nursery where the plants are waiting to be put out in the forest when the wet season arrives again.

A group of volunteers returned at the start of the week from a trip to the national park – Corcovado, the entrance to which is a 40 minute drive and then a few hours walk away from us. They were lucky enough to see 2 Tapiers and a pit viper!

Soundscaping with CA Hal has been continuing at the various points across our survey area. Hal takes one or two volunteers to the points, sets up a microphone and then waits for an hour at dawn and dusk. Some of the points are at the top of hills with great views and others are in the middle of lovely forest areas which are so relaxing - I may have fallen asleep! The idea of soundscaping is to record the forest sounds to measure forest disturbance.  

This week another group of volunteers headed over to Bijaguel farm. This time we were lucky enough to be given papaya and ice cream – a very very rare treat! The farm work included the usual milking cows and cheese making but also the braver volunteers helped to kill and chop up a pig! Definitely not to everyone’s liking, particularly the vegetarians, but the dissection was of interest to the aspiring biologists on camp.

Other spottings this week included the very rare white-lipped peccary!

The weekend saw a max exodus with two long-standing AROs Delyth and Jes leaving along with 7 volunteers. Everyone spent Saturday night in town eating pizza, dressing up a little more than we bother for camp and giving them a good send off!

By Jenny Collins, Communications Officer

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