Rain, Sweat, and Strong Coffee: A Day in the Life of a UGACR Resident Naturalist
My day begins around 5 am, when I hear monkeys above my cabin. They’re strictly diurnal, so that sound means the sun is up. I pull on my clothes, rain boots, and grab a flashlight and camera. I may be gone for the whole day, so it’s good to be prepared for anything.
If a group has scheduled a pre-breakfast birdwatching tour, I meet them on the porch, distribute binoculars, and take them on a stroll around campus with eyes on the trees. Most days we’ll see hummingbirds, yellow flycatchers, motmots, and toucanets. On a good day, especially during migratory seasons, we can see 30 bird species or more in an hour before breakfast, including swallow-tail kites, long-tailed manakins, various songbirds, and even the fabled three-wattled bellbird.
I’ll then recheck the day’s schedule, and head on in to the Comedor, or dining hall, for a traditional breakfast of fresh fruit, gallo pinto, eggs, and the side of the day, served with natilla, or home-made sour cream. Plus a cup of fantastic coffee. Buzzing on caffeine, I’ll then take on a morning activity, usually a guided natural history hike or translation for one of our cultural tours. Each of these will take the better part of the morning. Hikes usually focus more on wildlife, natural history, and forest structure. They either follow a long trail through the different habitats, or wind up our smaller trails to the farm, where I hand off the tour to the resident sustainable agriculture intern. Sometimes I’ll assist with a tree planting workshop, where groups get to take part in our carbon offset and reforestation effort. Translation work usually has me tagging along with a group tour to a nearby coffee farm, where students get to see the whole process from plant to bean to cup, get to taste some free coffee, and buy some to take home. On slower days, the coffee tours are my favorite.
Caffeine now wearing off, I’m usually available to answer some natural history questions guests may have from their morning experiences. “We saw an animal that was like a raccoon with a long nose…?” Probably a coati. “What’s the little guinea pig thing running around?” Definitely an agouti. “Do you have the flies that lay eggs in your brain here?” Uh… I’m not sure about that one. But our director, Dr. Newcomer, once let a bot fly larvae grow out of his ankle.
Lunch comes just in time to refuel: locally grown salad, organic rice, beans, and meat dish. Fellow naturalists and I will discuss the day’s activities, then clear our plates and prepare for the afternoon.
In the afternoon, guests and staff will usually schedule classroom activities like insect ID workshops, plant taxonomy workshops, bird and mammal talks, local history and ecotourism talks, and medicinal garden tours. There might also be translation needs for another coffee tour. At less busy times, I might be free to help out one of the researchers or just walk around the forest on my own, camera at the ready.
Night falls as we’re having dinner, and I’ll usually have a night hike scheduled immediately after. Bats, tarantulas, and large katydids usually make an appearance. An olingo in the trees if we’re lucky. Then everyone drifts off to bed, minds abuzz with new-learned facts about the cloud forest and images of animals they never knew existed. I’ll putter around the library, following up on some topic that came up that day, and then head back to my cabin for some shuteye before another day in the cloud forest.
Blog post contribution by Mac Wing, UGACR Resident Naturalist
Edited by Bilan Haji-Mohamed, UGACR Photojournalism Intern