Weekend Snapshot: Promoción de la Salud en San Luis

Forget Men in Black, today’s post is all about women in blue.

On Saturday, June 6th, nursing students from Georgia Highlands University Health Science program geared up in their royal blue nursing attire and transformed the nearby San Luis community center into an educational health fair, complete with face painting and give-a-ways.

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Weekend Snapshot: May 30-31

Rrip rrip rrip rrip. My eyes shoot upwards. Nothing.
Rrip rrip rrip rrip. The trees must be talking to me.

Just as I’m about to convince myself that I’ve officially lost my mind in Costa Rica, a flash of green flaps from one branch to the next.

Once you’ve learned the call of the emerald toucanet, Aulacorhynchus prasinus, the cloud forest reinvents itself into a game of hide and seek…though the way this game works, you are always the seeker. With its distinctive throaty call, the emerald toucanet will make your ears perk instantaneously. But its green breast and belly camouflages the bird into the equally emerald canopy, making it difficult to track down.

The emerald toucanet is among the smallest of toucans, the male weighing an average of 5.7 ounces and the female weighing about 5.3 ounces. Although males are typically a bit larger than females, the birds are monomorphic, meaning they are identical in coloration. With an average lifespan in the wild of 11 years, toucanets have a monogamous relationship and commonly nest in abandoned cavities, whose previous tenants were likely woodpeckers.

Fruits and insects are the main part of an emerald toucanet’s diet, hence why they are regarded as an important seed dispersal species. They are native to the higher elevation cloud forests of Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern.

Weekend Snapshot: April 18-19

Shut your eyes for a moment and listen to the sounds around you. Music from your speakers? The hum of an air conditioner? A distant dog barking? Perhaps even wildlife chirping outside your window. That’s exactly our experience here on campus. One moment it’s the howling wind, the next it’s rustling branches or squeaking coatis. Concentrating on any one sound can be difficult – you can’t help but be overstimulated but the rich, lifting orchestra surrounding you. But each sound is incredibly melodic on it’s own, too. And we think each deserves a spotlight. This weekend we honed in on a particular sweet sound of the cloud forest and would like to share it with you!

Listen to the male and female calls of the Yellow-throated Euphonia, Euphonia hirundinacea who playfully fluttered around our grounds calling to one another. They are common in northern Pacific foothills and in northern central Caribbean lowlands, and inhabit forest edge and gardens.

Weekend Snapshot: April 10-12

To the disengaged eye, the verdant forest may appear to be an impenetrable, thick, woven blanket flapping in the wind. Here’s a classic line for ya’ll: don’t judge a book by its cover. Rather, peel away the layers leaf by leaf, tree by tree, one twisting trail after another. If you befriend the Monteverde Cloud Forest, it will share it’s hidden treasures – and we have proof.

Located outside of our resident naturalist office, this white board is used to record wildlife sightings found crawling, calling, slithering or singing on campus grounds. You can certainly expect to see some interesting findings from those who have peeked under the emerald forest blanketing UGA Costa Rica’s campus, and can even add a sighting of your own! Take a look at what guests and naturalists have spotted during the month of April.

Wildlife sightings

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

Weekend Snapshot: Mar. 14-15

Last week, two UGA spring break groups celebrated the culmination of their week in Costa Rica with a homegrown, homemade, local dinner at Rancho de Lelo. The tour bus crawled along rocky slopes, weaving through the narrow roads of San Luis. Within twenty back-massaging, bumpy minutes the doors peeled open and music slipped through the cracks, lassoing ears and pulling students from their seats. Lelo himself greeted all in his open air dining hall. Futbol in hand, he beckoned students onto his field where they worked up a sweat before heading to the oval pond. Occasional quivers and ripples would dance across the surface; though in minutes the water would be alive with thrashing waves from fish and fishermen. After strapping on and securing science goggles, teams plunged into the water. Using a seine net, students splashed around with jumping fish, successfully catching their own tilapia dinner!
Blog contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

Weekend Snapshot: Mar. 6-8

My brown paper lunch bag made more noise than me. It crinkled with each gust of cloud forest wind while the not-yet appetizing scent of peanut butter and jelly danced around my nose. At 5:45 am my eyes finally began to adjust to the sleepy dawn, and my ears perked as the grumpy hum of a morning taxi grew louder.

By 6:30 am seat no. 14 on a bus bound for Manuel Antonio was occupied and I was en route to the sight of beautiful beaches and a national park teeming with biodiversity. A number of times I dozed off, hypnotized by the synchronized undulating of everyone aboard, succumbing to the dips and bumps on the twisting mountain road. And of course, while munching on my PB&J sandwich along the way, cliché thoughts of coconut drinks and sand between my toes popped into my mind. But what I couldn’t have dreamed of was the sublime wildlife and flora I would encounter while spending a weekend exploring the rocky beaches and dense forests of Manuel Antonio National Park in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

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Blog contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

Weekend Snapshot: Mar. 1

Night hikes might more aptly be described as slow walks rather than hikes. The campus trails that students get to know by day harbor completely different ecological communities at night.

Colorful, vocal, mixed-flocks of birds retire to their roosts as bats take their turn to forage for choice fruits and insects. We usually preface our hikes with some information about the species we are likely to encounter, sounds we are likely to hear, and how to spot eye shine. We never know what we are going to see, but we usually expect to hear a chorus of cricket and katydid stridulations, punctuated by the chirping of bats. Night hikes are exercises in patience as a dozen flashlight beams scan the forest floor, dense surrounding foliage, and upper canopy for the creatures of the night. As much as everyone (naturalists included!) would love to see an olingo, kinkajou, sloth, or family of bats, it is important to remember that it is the elusive nature and cryptic colorations of many nocturnal species that enhances their survival in this ecosystem of abounding predators and prey.  We expect to see some animals on every hike- usually some of the six-legged varieties- but sometimes you just get lucky!

On Saturday night (March 1st) I led a group of students from Steller Secondary School in Anchorage, Alaska. Our walk began with a silent passage through the small banana forest on the Cecropia Trail.  The leaf-cutter ants were quite active, in spite of the wind and the rain, and we carefully stepped over leaf-cutter ant highways that cross-cut the trails. Eda, our resident Orange-kneed Tarantula, was in her rock cave near the fork of the Sendero Cecropia and Sendero Buho. Orange-kneed Tarantulas (Brachypelma smithi) are indigenous to the tropic and subtropic regions of Central and South America. This particular species is sexual dimorphic. We know Eda is a female because she is has a dark brown coloration and bright orange bands around her legs and abdomen; males have lighter brown or gray bodies with duller orange bands. In contrast to many web-spinning spiders, Orange-kneed Tarantulas are nest builders and prefer to make their homes on the ground in rock caves or piles of leaf litter, from which they can catch the unsuspecting beetle, ant, or small arthropod and hide from predatory army ants and hawk wasps. Despite their frightening appearance, they are relatively harmless and shy. Their first line of defense is to runaway and hide. If seriously threatened, they will rear up on their hind legs and flick urticating hairs from their abdomen at the antagonist. Biting is an expensive, last resort and their bite is less potent than a bee sting. “No one has ever died from a tarantula bite,” I say as we leave Eda’s hideaway.

We found a sleeping, pot-bellied bird with its head tucked snuggly behind its wings, bobbing up and down, seemingly unperturbed by the movement, at the end of a branch. Contrary to what one might think, many birds deliberately sleep at the end of a branch, far from the trunk of the tree. They do this to put more distance between themselves and any snakes which might be lurking around the trunks or at the base of tree limbs. Farther along the trail I found a Phasmid- stick insect – which crawled around my jacket and passed from palm to palm as students held up the insect for closer inspection. Stick insects are one of the quintessential examples of cryptic camouflage. In addition to looking like twigs, some species are able to alter their colorations to blend into their surroundings like a chameleon. Wood ThrushReturning our phasmid to his post, we moved on to the Casita Trails where Steller students spotted many crickets and katydids, all of differing sizes and colors. As we entered the Casita Trails, we also stumbled upon a Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) perched at eye level on a bush. These are migratory birds that spendmost of their non-breeding, winter months in Central and South America, spending most of their time unseen, rummaging for insects in the understory. Later in our walk we found a Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina). From afar, the Wood Thrush looks similar to the Swainson’s Thrush. At a mere arm’s length away, however, we could see that the Wood Thrush has a starker white belly with more pronounced dark brown spots and a reddish-brown back. The Swainson’s Thrush’s speckled belly is more subtle and its back and wing feathers have a more cinnamon hue.

Turning toward the moth wall – a hallow of light in otherwise impenetrable darkness – we found an iridescent green beetle with red legs, moths of varying sizes, five glass winged butterflies and a blue morpho butterfly. As students peered through the translucent wings of the butterflies, the brown and seemingly nondescript blue morpho took flight, its wingbeats revealing its brilliant blue coloration.

The coup de grace of Saturday’s night hike was spotting a male and female pair of Orange-bellied Trogons (Trogon aurantiiventris aurantiiventris) perched in a thicket over-hanging the trail. The male has a vibrant orange belly separated by a white line from its dark black-green head and neck. Its long, squared-off tail feathers are one of his most eye-catching features, displaying a horizontal pattern of black and white striations. The female has a paler orange belly and brown head and back. Our close proximity allowed us to see her elliptical white eyeing and yellow beak.

Endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama, this species is commonly found between 700-2300m in northwestern Costa Rica. Trogons are secondary cavity nesters. Lacking the ability to bore holes in trees, they use tree cavities made by woodpeckers. Preferring the lower canopies of secondary and disturbed forests, trogons feed on a variety of fruits and insects. They are sally-glean foragers, meaning they will leave their perch to snatch an insect or fruit and return to their perch, using their heavily serrated bills to chew their meals. Trogons are among the most colorful and, arguably, most beautiful birds in the Neotropics.

Saturday night’s excursion was a testament to the sheer diversity of life in our premontane humid forest life zone. I am glad I was able to share this experience with so many enthusiastic students and budding naturalists. Thank you!

Blog contribution by Hannah E. Durick, UGACR Resident Intern Naturalist
Photo Credit: Jonas Banta, Steller Secondary School Group, Alaska

Weekend Snapshot: Feb. 21-22

On Sunday, UGA Costa Rica interns played THINK Global students and staff in a futbol (soccer) game packed with friendly competition, goals, sweat, and most certainly, laughter.

A dramatic golden spotlight illuminated UGA Costa Rica’s futbol field, a small rectangle of thick bladed grass marked by two goals about 1/8 the size of standard stadium goals. Shadows grew and shrank as players raced up and down the field with bursts of wind cooling them down and bursts of laughter leaving them winded.
Blog contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern