Costa Rican Independence Day

On Thursday communities all over Central America celebrated 195 years of independence from Spain. After Spain’s defeat in the Mexican War of Independence, news of the region’s freedom spread by a running of the torch, beginning on September 9th in Guatemala and continuing by foot through Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and eventually Cartago, Costa Rica, the capital of the country in 1821.

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Costa Rican “independence was not gained as a result of warfare,” Julio Jurado Fernández from the Tico Times explains. “There was no war of independence. Costa Ricans became owners of their own destiny by simply ratifying Guatemala’s declaration” of freedom.

As a result, Independence Day in Costa Rica focuses less on military victory, especially since Costa Rica holds no standing army, and more on the value of education and a celebration of Costa Rican culture with comida tipica, traditional dress, music and dancing.

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Young girls in traditional dresses march through the streets of Santa Elena.

Here in Monteverde, we celebrate el Día de la Independencia the traditional Tico way, with a lantern march the night before the holiday and a town parade on the 15th of September. Take a look at the photos below to celebrate Costa Rica’s independence with us.

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Blog post and all images by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks.

An Insider’s Tips to Working at UGACR

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Today on campus we welcome three new resident naturalists (bienvenidos Beth, Elizabeth and Insiyaa!) who will be living, researching and teaching with us for the next few months. Here are my top five tips for making the most of your experience as an intern or naturalist at UGA Costa Rica.

  • Be as present as possible. When you first arrive on campus, it’s easy to ask yourself, “what am I doing here?” Living in the jungle isn’t always easy, especially in the rainy season or with pests like lawn shrimp, but life at UGACR quickly feels comfortable. If your mind is focused on life back home or what your next move should be (I’m guilty of both), you won’t be able to fully enjoy your work here. Remember, this is your time for pura vida!
  • The more Spanish you learn, the better. One of the best parts about living and working at UGA Costa Rica is the opportunity to meet locals from Monteverde de San Luis. Ticos here are kind, hospitable and passionate about this small valley town of around 500 people. The more you can communicate with the ladies at the lavandería and other members of the full-time staff, the more Monteverde will feel like home.
  • Just say yes. Whether someone has asked you to share a cup of (locally grown and roasted) coffee with them or to dance at a community celebration, it’s not only polite to say yes, but it’s also a simple way of opening yourself to new cultural experiences. While Costa Rica is considered to be fairly estadounidense, or Americanized, you’ll still find social differences here worth observing and experiencing.
  • Lend a hand. If you want to improve your Spanish or become acquainted with locals, one of the best ways to do that is by lending your time and help. Go to the farm and plant lettuce in the greenhouse with Marlón or pull on a hairnet to help in la cocina after dinner. A friendly attitude is essential to acquainting yourself to campus.
  • Never stop learning. Whether you come here as a student, tourist or worker, UGA Costa Rica functions as a playground of learning. Each person here has a specialty and feels passionate about education. If you want to know more, like how to make the perfect empanada, pin butterflies for a collection or successfully run up la trocha, somebody here will be happy to help, so just ask!

Blog post by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks.

Combating Bird Strikes Through Research and Design

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A rufous-breasted wren, photographed by Rachel Eubanks at the University of Georgia in Costa Rica on Wednesday, June 22, 2016.

At the University of Georgia in Athens, I walked to many of my classes through the open plaza that connects the psychology building to the journalism building. Before skipping downstairs to the basement “photo cave” for my photojournalism classes, I would sometimes see out of the periphery of my right eye a small, colorful creature lying on the gray cement below the building’s four stories of windows.

Sometimes other students would also notice the dead birds on the plaza, stopping to snap photos on their iPhones and sending them to their friends, perhaps alongside broken heart emojis. I, too, would stop for a moment and wonder why birds died so often by my college building, but never bothered to look up and realize the reason.

Bird strikes have become normalized in many of our minds.

One thousand six hundred forty miles away from Athens as the crow flies, the University of Georgia’s campus in Costa Rica conducts research and maintains efforts to prevent the occurrence of bird strikes.

As soon as you walk to the edificio principal, or the student union, you can see window decals in the shapes of hummingbirds, butterflies and toucans. Birds often mistake reflections for a continuation of the outside environment or see through the windows and think they can fly through them. These window stickers, when used in large quantities, act as one of many ways we can prevent the bird injuries and deaths by reducing the incidence of bird strikes.

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Large windows reflect the environment outside, creating confusing scenes for birds and greater opportunity for bird strikes. Photo by Rachel Eubanks.

I recently sat down with Martha Garro Cruz, UGA Costa Rica’s Academic Programs Facilitator, to learn about her research on bird strikes at UGA Costa Rica. Martha, 29, grew up nearby in Santa Elena and became interested in bird strike research through her past work with Rose Marie Menacho.

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Martha Garro Cruz holds an orange-chinned parakeet on the University of Georgia campus in Costa Rica. Photo by Rachel Eubanks.

Menacho, an environmental educator and researcher based in Monteverde, has worked extensively to research bird strikes in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and recently presented her work on bird strikes in Costa Rica at the Monteverde Arenal Bioregion conference.

While most information on bird strikes currently reflects findings from the United States and Canada, this type of research is especially important to Costa Rica because of the country’s high level of biodiversity and the importance of bird watching to Costa Rica’s tourism industry.

In the United States alone, an estimated 100 million to 1 billion birds die each year as a result of bird strikes.

Thankfully, everybody can do something to combat this problem. Here at UGA Costa Rica, Cruz has incorporated a citizen science component into her research on bird strikes, relying on students and guests to observe and record bird strikes when they occur on campus in addition to her own observations and data collection. Cruz conducts her research three consecutive days per week using a numbered window system to track where strikes occur most frequently and which bird species are most susceptible to strikes.

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For five weeks Cruz worked with Jocelin Alarcon, pictured above, and Christy Li, two interns from Lehigh University, on her bird strike research. She expects the project to take a total of two years. Photo provided by Martha Garro Cruz.

While the majority of bird strikes occur at low-rise buildings, such as the journalism building I frequented on the campus of the University of Georgia, 44 percent of bird strikes occur at residences. So whether at your home or in the workplace, you have the ability to combat the prevalence of bird strikes.

Here are a few ways to prevent bird strikes in your own community:

  • Draw designs on the outside of windows using UV pens or window markers
  • Tie strings to the tops of windows, leaving 10 centimeters between each, or use tape to create a similar pattern of vertical lines
  • Close your blinds when you exit a room or leave the house and turn off lights at night
  • Encourage the companies you work for to invest in high-tech, beautifully-designed methods to avoid bird strikes, like those mentioned in the article below


Learn More:
 View this video by National Geographic on how we can prevent millions of bird deaths through innovative window designs

Blog post written by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks

The Monteverde Arenal Bioregion Conference

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This weekend, over sixty researchers and Monteverde community members gathered for the third-annual Monteverde Arenal Bioregion conference, hosted at the campus of UGA Costa Rica.

“In the last three decades, the regions of Monteverde and Arenal, Costa Rica have emerged as premier sites for research, conservation, and education.  However, this is a critical time for conservation in and around the Monteverde-Arenal bioregion due to both the rapidly changing climate and increasing human activities,” the Monteverde Institute explains of the initiative.

The Monteverde-Arenal protected zone includes over 60,000 hectares of land. UGA Costa Rica, which sits in the San Luis valley of Monteverde, operates within a network of private reserves, sharing boundaries with the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.

Leaders from these well-known reserves along with the Monteverde Conservation League, the Monteverde Institute, study abroad organization CIEE, and others met at the conference to focus on the progress of independent research projects and the potential for collaboration among conservation organizations.

Researchers from the United States also attended MABI, traveling from the University of South Florida, the Soltis Center at Texas A&M University and even attending as independent scientists to learn about current research, communications and outreach. 160812_REE_UGACR_Conference_0006

The University of Georgia, both in its work in the United States and here in Costa Rica, aims to cultivate “groundbreaking research and discovery,” as university President Jere Morehead explains in a video address to UGA students returning to school this month.

Hosting events like the Monteverde Arenal Bioregion conference allows the university to build upon its aim to become a top research center and reinforces UGA Costa Rica’s goals of fostering sustainable living practices in the Monteverde area.

As UGA Costa Rica research coordinator José Montero explains, “the most important or significant aspect [of the conference] was the opportunity to see different organizations with different agendas working for education, conservation, and research, trying to create together a better place for future generations.”

To support UGA Costa Rica in its mission of international education and sustainable scientific research, visit our website and become a friend of UGACR. 

Blog post and accompanying images made by photo intern Rachel Eubanks.

Community Connection: Musical Theatre in Monteverde

This weekend, Far Corners Community Musical Theatre celebrated its tenth year of bringing the dramatic arts to Monteverde with its production of Les Miserables. According to La Nación, this year’s youth production of the classic Broadway musical, based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, was the first performance of the popular play in all of Central America.

Each night the theatre at the Monteverde Friends School hosted a standing-room-only crowd, with fans spilling out into the school’s courtyard to see the performance. Here are some of our favorite moments from the show:

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Thank you to the performers, musicians, staff and volunteers at Far Corners for sharing their talents with the community here in Monteverde. You can support the organization’s mission of providing artistic outlets to communities like Monteverde by contributing to their generosity campaign.

Images and text made by UGACR photo intern Rachel Eubanks.

Costa Rican Traditions: Las Carreras de Cinta

If you had been driving up la trocha this Sunday afternoon, passing through San Luis on your way to Santa Elena, you might have been tripped up by a line of rope strung between a tree and a fence, cutting the road in a limbo.

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You would have also needed to make your way through a rural type of traffic, as a dozen riders mounted their horses for las carreras de cinta, or the ribbon races, where competitors attempted to insert estacas, or small carved sticks, into rings attached to rope.

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Friends from the community gathered at la Escuela de los Altos de San Luis, which educates students from first to sixth grades, to raise funds for the school. The school term starts back today and las carreras provided a way for the school to raise money for its everyday needs.

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On Sunday, families also played bingo, indoor soccer, and purchased home-made food to contribute funds to the school. In las carreras de cinta, people placed bets on which riders would successfully pierce the argollas, claiming prizes such as rope for horses and bottles of wine.

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Sunday’s fundraiser and las carreras de cinta provided an example of what the people of San Luis value most: community events, the agrarian lifestyle and the importance of family.

Post and all images made by intern Rachel Eubanks.

Snaps from Our Camera Traps

This week, head resident naturalist Martha Cruz compiled the best images made using our camera traps during the month of June. Here are a few examples of the creatures we recorded along the Camino Real trail.

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White-Nosed Coati, Nasua Narica

The Latin name for the coati, or nasua narica, translates to “nose” and “nostril.” Coatis can be found from Arizona and Texas in the United States to the northwestern tip of South America down to Ecuador. In Costa Rica, coatis are important for dispersing seeds throughout the forest, as females often travel in bands of up to 25 individuals or more.

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Chiriqui Quail-Dove, Geotrygon Chiriquensis

The Chiriqui Quail-Dove can be found from Costa Rica to Panama, typically from middle elevations in Costa Rica to the major mountain ranges of Panama. This species of bird dwells in the understory of the mountain forest as individuals or in pairs. They feed on the ground, taking seeds and fallen fruits.

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Gray-Necked Wood Rail, Aramides Cajanea

The gray-necked wood rail can be found from Mexico to the north of Argentina. This species is common throughout Costa Rica, from lowland areas to at least 4600 feet (or 1400 meters). These birds forage alone, walking with their short tails pumping. They mostly eat small invertebrates, frogs, seeds, berries and palm fruits.

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Nine-Banded Long-Nosed Armadillo, Dasypus Novemcinctus

The armadillo is derived from Greek meaning “hairy foot.” While novemcinctus translates to “nine-banded,” the bands in the middle of the carapace varies from seven to ten. In Costa Rica, nine-banded armadillos most often have eight bands and live on slopes in forested and open habitats. They live from the south-central and southeastern United States to Peru, Argentina and Uruguay.

References

  • Silva-Caballero Adrian, Montiel-Reyes Fernando, Sánchez-Garibay Eduardo y Ortega Jorge. (2014). Leucism in the white-nosed coati Nasua narica (Mammalia: Carnivora), in Quintana Roo, Mexico. DOI: 10.12933/therya-14- 193.
  • Wainwright Mark. (2007). The Mammals of Costa Rica. A natural history and Field Guide. A Zona Tropical Publication. 454 pp.
  • Stiles Gary, Scutch Alexander. (1989). A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Published by Cornell University Press. 511 pp.

     

Ornithologist Cody Cox Catches His Hundredth Species at UGACR

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Although his tone is typically serious and his expression stone-faced, Cody Cox cracked a smile yesterday when he caught a rufous-breasted wren, his hundredth species of birds recorded here at UGA Costa Rica. Cox, a PhD candidate from Atlanta, has been conducting ornithology research in Monteverde since 2013, moving between Athens and UGA’s satellite campus in San Luis based on the seasons of bird migration. Cody just reached a benchmark of over one thousand birds caught as part of his five-year research project. We sat down with Cody to learn more about his current ornithology research in addition to his initial draw to working with birds. 

“I’ve always liked animals a lot,” Cox said of his introduction to ornithology. “I don’t know that I ever really specialized in birds in my mind until coming down to Costa Rica. Just seeing all that diversity really captured me and seeing some of the charismatic, tropical species [also] really captured me.”

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Ornithologist Cody Cox holds an emerald toucanet on the campus of the University of Georgia in Costa Rica on Thursday, June 30, 2016. (Photo/Rachel Eubanks, http://www.rachel-eubanks.com)

“I really like working with birds and I like that they’re lively and they’re responding to me as I’m manipulating them. I just felt like I made more of a spiritual connection with them [compared to mammals] and so I found that I really liked doing that kind of research.”

With this current project, “we are looking at generally how landscape structure, with particular interest on forest fragmentation, affects bird communities in the upper portion of the Bellbird Biological Corridor.” Forest fragmentation occurs in the Monteverde area as a result of agriculture; farmers often clear land for cattle pastures or crop growth, leaving gaps in the habitat area. Cox explained that fragmentation leads to reduced connectivity between habitats, resulting in birds’ decreased abilities to mate and find food while increasing population predation and competition.

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An orange-chinned parakeet sits suspended in a mist net set up on the campus of the University of Georgia in Costa Rica on Wednesday, June 22, 2016.

Cox and his team primarily use two measurements to determine species presence across different landscape gradients: point counts and mist nettings. With point counts, the researchers simply observe and count the birds present within a certain geographic radius. In mist nettings, researchers set up nets to capture, measure, weigh, photograph and subsequently release each bird. “So by putting those two methods together we’re able to get a pretty good picture of what species are present in a whole bunch of different locations,” Cox explained. “Then when we put all of that data together, we’re able to predict which certain landscape features are indicative of a species’ presence.”

Cox currently gathers this data with two particular species in mind: the blue-throated toucanets (related to the emerald toucanets) and blue diademed motmots. Both birds are generalists in their diets, abundant in the Monteverde area and relatively large, an important factor for attaching GPS transmitters without affecting the birds’ movement.

Upon completion of his five-year doctoral research project, Cody hopes that the data he has compiled will be used to “inform real conservation in this landscape and allow it to be a lot better targeted to some of these species of concern.” Conservation efforts must be both effective and efficient in order to make a measurable impact on bird populations. “I do care very much about the animals and I’m a big advocate for them and wanting them to persist,” Cox said. With a body of research that now includes over one hundred species and one thousand individual birds in the Monteverde area, Cox seems to be making his mark to ensure that these species survive.

All images made by photo intern Rachel Eubanks.

El Día de San Luis

Yesterday marked the anniversary of San Luis, the small town that sits in the valley of the lower region of Monteverde, which was founded around the year 1915. On Sunday students, visitors and staff from UGA Costa Rica ventured down the mountain to San Luis to join locals in the town celebration, which included children’s games, a livestock auction, a race from Santa Elena to San Luis, and a host of platos tipicos de Costa Rica. Below we’ve included photographs from the weekend, both of the preparations for the historic anniversary and the activities of the day, known as el Día de San Luis.

All images by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks.

 

Shooting for Moments: My First Few Weeks at UGACR

Hola! My name is Rachel Eubanks and I’m the current photojournalism intern here at UGA Costa Rica. For the next six months, I’ll be the one creating and curating the posts you’ll find our social media accounts. If you have anything you’d like to share, just tag @ugacostarica


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This week, my camera malfunctioned.
Normally, this situation would only bring me a moderate amount of anxiety (even though these little pieces of metal and glass we call cameras make up my livelihood). Typically my routine would go something like 1. text former photo professor 2. heed his advice and 3. take my baby to a local camera repair shop that could help me in a snap. But moving to Monteverde makes experiences like camera problems a bit more interesting. In my first two weeks of living at UGA Costa Rica, here are a few things that have changed in my daily routine:

Everyday tasks require more work, but the payoff feels more satisfying. Many small moments feel drastically different once you live in Costa Rica, especially here in the mountains of San Luis. Buying wool socks or candles for our humid casitas involves catching a ride twenty minutes into Santa Elena or taking the hour and a half walk up la trocha, the steep, gravel path that proves to be a challenge even for four wheel drives. But what some may see as inconveniences really become habits that simplify our lifestyles. Everything we really need we can find right here. And because I have fewer distractions than in my life back in the States, I have a better ability to focus — not only on my work as photo intern, but also on the joys of the company of those living here with me.

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Hot gossip sounds nothing like what you’d expect. Most of the time when you hear people whisper with excitement, it’s about a sloth. Or a snake. Or an emerald toucanet. The priorities of researchers, naturalists and visitors to UGA Costa Rica feel vastly different than those of my circles back home, but I’m grateful to be able to focus more of my energy on learning and less on petty arguments and Instagram likes.

At a rural campus, sometimes you feel stuck. I can’t just hop in the car and drive to see my friends in Atlanta or set off on a spontaneous weekend trip. But I can take a thirty-minute walk down to the river over a suspension bridge, climbing up the falls to cool off. I can also grab some friends and pop into the heladería, or the local ice cream shop, while taking in an unmatched mountain view. If you stay long enough somewhere, it’s easy to feel stuck, but it’s up to each of us to adopt what I call an “attitude of gratitude” instead.

“Going out” takes on a pretty different meaning. Nope, no rooftop concert or karaoke for me tonight. We’re grabbing our headlamps and knee-high boots to search for frogs instead. The kinds of students who opt to study abroad in the mountains of Central America rather than the French Riviera often come here with an inclination to explore. The folks who visit UGACR, students and travelers alike, care more about the authenticity of their travel experiences than the luxuries of home. With this sense of adventure, travelers can more easily experience local culture, such as milking a cow on the campus farm in the morning, then sipping the milk during dinnertime with a mug of hot chocolate, or learning to dance merengue with a tico guide.

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Just because you leave a place doesn’t mean you leave your problems. Most of the time, pura vida moves at a slower pace than life in the States, which comes as such a refreshing change. But the more time I have, the greater opportunities my mind has to wander, especially by dwelling on the past or worrying for my future. “What am I going to do after this? Why didn’t that friend say goodbye before I left? Don’t they care about me?” Part of me hoped that many of my internal struggles would fall away once I arrived in Central America. But instead of abandoning my problems, I simply have more time and mental space to work through them.

Sometimes I wonder what I am doing here. I know nothing of the natural world. I’ve only been camping a handful of times and the primary form of exercise I used to get was standing up at my service industry job (compared to the 30,000 steps I took today alone). At the end of each day here, I feel sore but happy. I feel overwhelmed with new information (about sustainability, environmental fragmentation, how to decipher different bird calls and classify types of macroinvertebrates) but I’m also excited to absorb even more. My advice for traveling and starting new experiences, no matter where they may be? Shoot for moments. When you focus on the individual moments of your trip rather than getting every detail just right, you can experience pure life.

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