Tuesday
Apr152014

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

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

Tuesday
Apr152014

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

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

Wednesday
Apr022014

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

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

Thursday
Mar272014

Communications Officer Blog: Data Analysis

When volunteers come out onto the Frontier Costa Rica forest project, they like to get involved in the surveys in the hope of seeing interesting animals. But people don’t always realise where the data they are helping to collect goes. This week on camp ARO Delith Williams gave us a fascinating presentation about data anaylsis so that everyone understood what happens to the data.

Before any survey begins a proposal is created. This will include deciding what question it is you want to try and answer (for example are there more snakes in the dry season). This is then turned into a hypothesis which will say what it is you predict to find (i.e there are more snakes in the dry season) but will also include a null hypothesis which predicts that there will be no correlation between the seasons and the amount of snakes found.

Next, you decide how you will answer the question – the method of data collection – and then carry out a pilot study to see if it is a good way to collect the data.

If it proves successful and the proposal is approved the surveys will begin. Once enough data is collected it is put into an excel spreadsheet and then fed into various statistics programs.

Tables and graphs provide a visual representation of the data so that it is more easily understood. You are able to test things such as correlation – whether one variable effects the results. For the current primates data Distance is being used. The data we collect represents a sample of the total forest area and the program takes this and predicts what the results would be for the whole forest to find out how many monkeys there are in the area.

The butterfly survey data is put into a program called Estimates. This has a species richness curve. When this curve levels off in the table it shows that no matter how many more surveys are carried out we are unlikely to find any further butterfly species. This helps us to know when to stop surveying.

All the programs rely on enough data being passed through them enough times to come back with the most accurate results possible. These results are then used to discover whether the initial hypothesis was correct.

The most important thing to remember is that although data and statistics can seem daunting at first, they can quickly be understood and are a vital part of scientific study – so don’t be afraid!

By Jenny Collins, Communications Officer

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

Monday
Mar172014

COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER & ASSISTANT RESEARCH OFFICER: 17TH MARCH 2014

Frontier are currently studying the butterflies of Costa Rica in a bid to discover how different species of butterflies are more abundant in different heights of the forest. Invertebrates are highly understudied and many butterflies in Costa Rica don’t have even have common names. Butterflies are hugely important however, they are a useful indicator of changes in the environment and the overall health of an eco-system.

Blue Morpho


Our surveys happen 6 days a week, always at 2pm. There are traps placed around the forest at varying heights up to 10 metres. Each survey, every trap is checked and re-baited with fermenting banana.  If a butterfly is found, one person will carefully extract and hold it, and photos will be taken and a book used to help identify which species it is. The shape of the wings and the patterns rather than the colours, which can chance due to gender, are used to identify the butterflies. Because of the survey method being used, we are studying fruit-eating butterflies. The traps are tied to a rope which is looped around a tree so that it is able to be pulled down and put back up relatively easily. The surveys are undertaken at the same time each day so that the results are not bias. It also means that butterflies are not left in the traps too long before being released. The traps work because the banana attracts the butterfly into the net. It is then not able to fly down and out but it is not harmed in the process. If the trap is not being checked the next day, then they are closed so that no butterflies can get in.


It is thought that different butterflies will be found at different levels of the forest because of the variations in plants found and the amount of light that is able to reach through the trees.
Another technique to gain more comprehensive data is to net butterflies on a specific point on specific days and times, and this is something we hope to start in the coming months.

Caligo

This current survey restarted at the beginning of the current dry season and in January we captured 126 individual butterflies including 34 different species. There were several types of Morpho which feature the famous  Blue Morpho (top) as well as the Caligo (above) which have a distinctive eye like pattern on their wings.
Photo thanks to volunteer Alex Arams.

By Jenny Collins, Communications Officer & Assistant Research Officer Jess Dangerfield.

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

 

Wednesday
Mar122014

VOLUNTEER BLOG 2: JAMIE THOMAS

30 Days Lost in the Jungle of Costa Rica
I'm not really struggling to find a way out.  And I'm not really lost.

 It seem pretty hard to believe that I've been in Costa Rica for a month now.  These past four weeks have gone by exceptionally quickly.   I'm still as excited about why I am here as I was on the day I left Seattle.

The most significant accomplishment during this first month has been planning and commencing my research project on the human-cat conflict.  I've read more than a dozen papers published on the topic and scanned at least 20 more.  The majority of the work has been completed in Africa.   Others are based in South America, Inda, and China.  Only two reports were about cat research in Costa Rica.
Sadly, there has been no research published to date on the existence of human-cat conflict on the Osa Peninsula.   With only two works of research conducted in the area, the Osa Peninsula is definitely under studied - especially as it relates to the human-cat conflict.

There has been no lack of physical activity.   At least every other day, I've hiked for 2 - 6 hours participating in survey research for jungle animals.   My favorite surveys are the Otter Surveys because we walk the river looking for Otter skat (poop).  It's nice to walk in the river since it is significantly cooler and mostly in the shade.

I'll bet I sweat a gallon of water a day!  Now, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but I sweat a lot!   The humidity is typically around 75% and the temperature 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is critical to drink a lot of water - and even more critical to drink water with electrolytes - especially sodium.   It is very easy to get dehydrated!

Camp life is pretty relaxed.   Every Sunday, a schedule board is posted for the upcoming week.   Volunteers then mark their names on the work they want to participate in that week.   Some work is unlimited in the number of participants, some is limited, and some everyone is required to participate in - such as Camp Maintenance (weekly cleaning and repairs of camp) and trail maintenance (weekly maintenance of the trails on the property).   Other than the required tasks, no volunteers are committed to anything they don't commit to.   So, if you want to plan a day trip, a weekend away, sleeping in or just being lazy and reading your book all day you can do that.   There is a mix of what people prefer to do.   Some folks sign up for work for the significant part of the day.  Some people sign up for just one thing a day.  And there are some who sign up for nothing the majority of the time.   Several volunteers (like me) are participating in a BTEC program where they develop their own research project, conduct reasearch, and present their work prior to their departure from the camp.  You can choose from either a four week or ten week research program.   Obviously, the ten week programs are more involved than the four week programs.   The volunteers working on a BTEC project spend a large portion of their time on their research.  For me it has been about 50 / 50 of time spent on research and time spent on other projects.

Showering is a very important and valuable part of every day.   Since we sweat so much, the only way to cool down from the temps and humidity is to get in the water.  You can go in the river or take a shower for water submersion.  I'll bet that most people shower twice a day on average.   If you go out on a project in the morning, by lunch you will be soaked with sweat.   So, lunch time is a popular time for showers.   Then, if you go out in the afternoon, you'll be soaked when you return before dinner.  Almost everyone takes an evening shower before dinner to cool down and clean up before bed.

It gets dark here at 6:00 p.m. Dinner is usually served around 6:30 p.m. and by 7:00 it is pitch black,   The sky is clear about 80% of the time.   The stars shine brightly and when the moon rises, the ground can be lit up.   After 7:00 the temperature drops pretty significantly to 78 or so degrees.   The humidity seems to drop too and the evening is very comfortable to sit and relax after a hot, wet day.

Many people go to bed by 7:30 p.m. - besides that it is pitch black out, most people have been up and going since 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.   So, it's been a long day.  A late night of movie watching or talking, might take you to 9:30.  Whew!  These are some late nights for us!

Each week I've been trying to get in a yoga practice two to three times.   It is best to finish practice before 7:00 a.m. otherwise the sun gets too high in the sky and shines directly on the open spaces, which then heat up very quickly.   Between 5:00 and 7:00 a.m. the temperatures are still moderate enough to enjoy the practice... It's still like taking hot yoga class and you sweat another gallon!
This is an impromptu yoga "beginners" session while we are waiting for information on our next project.

 

I've tried a couple times to work on some art projects.   I brought oil pastels and pencil/water colors.   Thus far, I've tried using the oil pastels three times.   It is great fun and also a challenge.   In the heat, the pastel medium reacts very differently than using them in Washington.   From the time I start applying the pastel to paper until it dries completely is about 3 hours.   Once the pastel dries, it is no longer very workable for blending colors.  So, I either need to finish a piece in this time frame, or plan for the drying and then work on top of it.  Blending colors is very different.   In Washington it takes weeks for the pastel to dry and set.

Reading is one of my favorite pass times here.  I've read at least six books in the past month.  I brought one paper back and four electronic books.   I've been avoiding reading the electronic books because I might need to read them when I've exhausted all of the other interesting books AND because charging my ipad is somewhat challenging - it takes planning.   Luckily the camp has a library of books to share.   There are books of all genres.   My favorite are mystery type books based on historical events.  Sort of like Indian Jones stories.


This a pretty good summary of life for the past month.  I'm excited and ready for the next month and I'm worried because the time is passing so quickly.  It's a pretty amazing place!  I'm sure that I could easily stay six more months and feel like it has only been three.

 

By Jamie Thomas, Volunteer

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

Tuesday
Mar042014

Volunteer Blog: Jamie Thomas

It's Week Three!  The time has really flown by!  I'm very surprised that I've already been here for 21 days. This week one of the coolest things I was able to participate in was setting up a camera trap.  A camera trap is used when the animal is the "ever elusive" Jaguar or other equally "ever elusive" animals. The camera takes photos based on motion and heat sensing, so we are able to take pictures of animals even though we are not there.  

We will pick up the camera trap next saturday and see if we've had any luck with photographing a kitty!

The other unique project I worked on this week is the re-vegetation project. This work is aimed at growing saplings of indigenous trees to replace areas that have either had foreign tree species invade or areas that have been deforested. The tree farm grows five or six different types of trees for this purpose.   


The coolest critter of the week - had I not seen this insect on a stick I would have known for sure it was a leaf! I saw a couple pretty unusual sights - at least for a girl who is just now spending her first time in the jungle.


The smallest frog I've ever seen - he's less than 2 cm (0.5 inches)


Check out the middle of the photo... Do you see the Spider Monkey?

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

Tuesday
Mar042014

Communications Officer: 4th March 2013

At the beginning of the week we had an unfortunate toilet breakage – so we had to build a new pit out of the back – everyone got stuck in digging and carrying rocks. Our quick work meant we only had to use our make-shift (though very well made) jungle loo for a few days!

There was an impromptu stretching and yoga session on main deck on Wednesday morning with Central America trail leader Julia. Some of us definitely proved less flexible than others but we all had a good laugh regardless of our abilities!

New volunteers arrived on Tuesday and got stuck straight in with camp life. And at the end of the week 2 teaching volunteers and one forest arrived in town.  We’ve had some good meals this week with scrambled eggs & guacamole, bean burgers and spag bol!

This week we were given a frog presentation by ARO John Scott. We learnt that there are 133 species in 8 families found in Costa Rica around a 3rd of all frog species in the world.

Frogs are roughly defined as tail-less amphibians. The majority of adults are carnivorous – feeding on small invertebrates and insects. They are mostly active at night because of their porous skin which means they dehydrate quickly in sun. It also means they can drink through their skin - absorbing water from moist ground and shallow pools. The males are the most vocal but it is the females that are generally larger.

We hope to start up a frog project soon. If we do, we will use colouration, feet shape, head shape, pupil shape, webbing and frog size to help us determine which species we find although variation within species makes frogs one of the harder animals to identify.

In general Costa Rican frogs are in decline so it is highly important to study them.

On Saturday night volunteer Jen held her much requested quiz again this week’s rounds included a logo picture round, geography and a science & nature round where we learnt that about various strange animal combinations such as a grizzly bear and a polar bear which is apparently called a grolar!

At the end of the week we headed over to the local bar to send off some more volunteers in style. This week we lost Erin, Loz and Mary. But March is just beginning, and we’ll be filling camp back up with 6 more volunteers across the month.

By Jenny Collins, Communications Officer

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

Friday
Feb282014

Volunteer blog: Jamie Thomas 


The otter surveys are looking to determine the population and territory of the River Otters in the area.  Our best guess so far is that there are only 2 or 3 otters in the region of study. There are few actual sightings of otters and so most of the data collection is done by looking for otter scat and documenting its location. When scat is located, the river width and depth are recorded along with the GPS location.

Butterfly Surveys

There are many species of butterflies in the region. The team is documenting as many species as possible to understand how many exist in the area. Butterfly trapping and netting are the methods used to capture the butterfly. It is then identified and released. I have taken butterfly netting training, but have not worked on the traps as of yet.

Bird Surveys

As one might think, birds are abundant here. The people working on bird surveys use the point observation method to document the birds. The team hikes to a specific GPS coordinate, then records, listens and watches for birds for ten minutes. During this time the birds are documented and identified if possible. Then the team moves on to another GPS site. Once we return from the hike, the recording is reviewed to ensure that all birds are identified and recorded.  

Other Research

At times teams also work on amphibians and wild cats.


The other portion of my week was spent spent gathering research for my BTEC project, which will analyze the human-cat conflict in this region. My mentor on the project has a lot of experience working on big cat human-field conflicts and has many contacts that we may be able to tap into to understand the situation better.   The final step will be working toward developing viable solutions to improve the cat-human relationship.

Piro Beach Sunset - Dinner and volley ball on the beach followed by a fabulous sunset

My final job this week was to help cook on Sunday.  We are assigned cooking duty in teams of three.   The lunch team made eggs, refried beans, and handmade tortilla chips.  People got one egg each!  As an experiment, for desert  I made cookies with corn flower, nutmeg, cinnamon and BUTTER! (I love butter).  They were lightly fried and then drizzled with honey.   If I do say so myself, they were pretty good!  

Then for dinner, we pulled together a tomato stew.  We used stewed tomatoes, pinto beans, onions, more onions, garlic, paprika, basil, and rice.  It cooked and stewed for four or five hours.   I was amazed how much water was absorbed by the beans and rice.  I thought we would have more of a soup, but ended up with more of stew.  We also made a chick pea salad with onions and bell peppers then finished with an oil and vinegar dressing with salt, pepper, and basil.   It was a big hit!  I think people enjoyed having something fresh tasting that was not hot.   Next time I will make a larger quantity.  We served 24 people and there was enough food for a serving for everyone, but I really thought it would go further.   

My little buddy. This little lizard comes and visits my tent almost every night and turtle tracks on the beach.

By Jamie Thomas, Volunteer Blog

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

Thursday
Feb202014

Volunteer Blog: Jenny Summers

So it's the end of week five and it really is hard to believe that I've been here for over a month. On camp you can here the cicadas at least 10hours a day. (You do manage to drown it out from time to time) and if you aren't sure what noise a howler monkey makes you are defiantly going to think you've arrived in the film making of Jurassic Park. Camp life has difficulties; trying to get used to a hammock for example. It does take a night or two, you've just got to get the right levels that suit you for that magical sleep with the ocean crashing in the background.

An early morning turtle patrol

Well enough about sleep as getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning or rolling in about 6am doesn't sound all too appealing but when it's for the chance of seeing turtle hatchlings or a nesting mother it is defiantly worth it! With the thought that 300 years ago there were over 100million Green turtles in the Caribbean Sea alone, where they controlled most of the life on coral reefs, it's hard to believe that now the 7sea turtles of the world are now a major conservation effort. To be able to assist in keeping turtles, a species who have been on the planet since before the dinosaurs, from extinction - I'm in true paradise. Green Turtles (scientifically known as Chelonia Mydas) are an incredible species capable of hauling themselves sometimes over 30meters up the beach and weighing up to 204Kg to create a nest, lay her eggs, close the nest and make her way back down the beach, a process that can easily take over two hours. I have fallen in love with Sea Turtles and have such pleasure being able to help conserve them.

By Jenny Summer, volunteer

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