Osa Peninsula Sea Turtle Conservation

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The Mangroves of Rio Esquinas

Head upriver with me to explore the beautiful and complex mangrove ecosystem of Golfo Dulce’s Rio Esquinas to learn about the importance of these aquatic forests.

 

 

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Heading North!

Nope, not me! I have every plan to stay down here, provided I can make it financially possible (feel free to help by supporting my video creations at a mere $3 per creation, visit patreon.com/stacebird!).

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Baltimore Oriole

So who’s leaving? The answer: My beloved migratory birds! I’d say “..from up north” but they spend more time down in the tropics, side by side with parrots and toucans than they do up north among the chickadees and titmice. Some of these migrants have already arrived up in the states, perhaps even Canada, but there are still various species here yet. One who may have recently shown up in the temperate north and looks a lot more striking than this winter-plumage photo is the Baltimore Oriole. This is a photo I made at Saladero Ecolodge a couple months ago of a young male (unless it’s a female?) that might now be bedecked in bright, snappy orange contrasting against dark black and gleaming steaks of brilliant white.

“Our feathered migrant friends, like this Baltimore Oriole, fly over 5,000 miles annually to go between their nesting grounds and their winter territories”

This quote comes from Tropical Wings, an organization that works with Osa Birds: Research and Conservation in efforts to promote conservation of and education about migratory birds that rely on habitats based in both the United States and the Osa Peninsula. Through concentrated efforts, Tropical Wings is working to raise awareness in communities as well as funds to promote conservation of these birds and the important habitats they depend upon in both areas.

I just recently started collaborating with Karen Leavelle, founder and director of Osa Birds and will be taking charge of her blog and social media (stay tuned for my first post about a successful Bird-a-thon here in Puerto Jimenez with Tropical Wings!). Osa Birds is based out of Puerto Jimenez, where I am now and, with her strong background in avian ecology and Karen’s efforts here in the Osa have been monumental in providing and protecting habitat for endangered local birds (including the critically endangered Yellow-billed Cotinga) as well as those that migrate between the tropics down here and the temperate north.

By focusing on my passion, conserving and protecting wild birds, I feel whole. While I enjoyed working with Saladero, I didn’t feel like I was concentrating my efforts in what I care about most. What I’d also like to commit to is more local involvement in these precious resources that exist here. By sharing my passion with those who actually live here, I hope to help more people realize what steps we can take to help preserve this vastly, important, unique and fragile place. Tourists are great in helping the economy, but for long term improvement, we must include the local people.

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The Pura Vida Experience

**While I work out upcoming possibilities, I have more time (and WiFi!) to work on my Patreon page, which I invite you to visit and join as a Patron for as little as $3 (or as much as you care to put forth in support of my work!) per video creation. My videos delve into the vast biodiversity of the tropical nature of Costa Rica. Thanks for reading & please do check out my Patreon!** 

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Become a Patron!

So with my unreal and dreamlike experience of an internship with Saladero at an end, I’m now based in Puerto Jimenez which is set nearly upon the tip of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. The peninsula boasts 2.5% of the biodiversity of the entire world, and being that it is only a tiny fragment of land in comparison to all the landmass of the planet, this makes it one of the most complex biological systems in the world, condensed into a mere 700 square miles.

The Osa Peninsula was originally an island, evolving species of birds and animals separate from mainland Costa Rica, just like Darwin’s finches on the isolated Galapagos islands. Along Costa Rica’s south Pacific coast, a geological uplift occurred 2 million years ago creating the land bridge that now connects the Osa to mainland Costa Rica, creating within its embrace the rich Golfo Dulce, also teaming with life.

With the landbridge connection, some of the species that evolved apart from those on the mainland are found nowhere else in the world, they are thus endemic (found solely in a set location) to the Osa Peninsula. Other species unique to the Osa, those of which had greater mobility, migrated to the mainland and some individuals found appropriate habitat to be able to exist there as well. An example is the critically endangered Mangrove Hummingbird, which now can also be found in mangrove ecosystems along Pacific Costa Rica.

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It’s beautiful here in Jimenez, looking out across the sparkling blue Golfo Dulce with brilliant red, yellow and blue Scarlet Macaws flying over and toucans calling from the trees. As the high season comes to a close and invierno (winter, aka rainy/green season) approaches, I’m here looking toward the next page of this whirlwind life. It’s such an experience, living and working here in Costa Rica, the Ticos (Costa Ricans) are very kind and I’m constantly able to work on my Spanish with a great deal of Tico patience and understanding.

While I work out upcoming possibilities, I have more time (and WiFi!) to work on my Patreon page, which I invite you to visit and  become a patron for as little as $3 (or as much as you care to put forth in support of my work!) per video creation. My videos delve into the vast diversity of the tropical nature and vast biodiversity of Costa Rica. Feel free to check out the page!

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More than feathers up in those trees..

While I admit that this is a bird blog..I know that I’ve veered a few times away from the feathered kind for the sake of pure natural curiosity which I’m sure all of you can identify with. Thus, today’s blog post is going to get a bit furry–but don’t worry, we’re still up in the branches, hiding among the leaves. Perhaps even eating them..

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Three-toed Sloth, Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey, White-faced Capuchin, Mantled Howler Monkey, Three-toed Sloth in Cecropia Tree

So among the 450 acres of primary rainforest which make up Saladero Ecolodge, surrounding our 30 acres of gardens, we are often visited by the arboreal mammals that carry out life high in the trees.

In the primary forest here at Saladero, we often get great sightings of three of the four different species of monkeys that exist in Costa Rica: the Mantled Howler Monkey, the White-headed Capuchin (formally known as White-faced) and the Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey. The itty bitty Squirrel Monkeys can be seen just north of us in the rich mangrove forests of Rio Esquinas just a 25 minute kayak toward the top corner of the Golfo Dulce, but I can’t explain why they don’t appear to be over on our side of town. 

Anyways, whether they’re near or far, we always know where the howlers monkeys are because, each and every morning, they burst forth into their impressive, otherworldly bellows before the sun has even properly risen. I like to call them our battery-free Costa Rican alarm clock.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 10.36.34 AMMale howlers (called “Congos” in Spanish) sport a massive pouch under their chin and their roar can be heard more than a kilometer away. This is thanks to an enlarged hyoid bone in their throat which helps amplify the call, making them the second loudest mammal in the world, beaten out only by the monstrous Blue Whale. Congos will often call at sunrise or sunset as a means to communicate within the troop and let other howler troops know not to come into their territory. They’ll also howl in response to rain or if startled by loud noises including planes flying overhead or humans nearby. Sometimes they’ll howl in the middle of the night and alone in my tent cabin I wonder what’s caused them to do so, be it a bad dream or an unwanted visitor..

Howler monkeys are folivores, meaning they eat primarily leaves, but they will also forage upon fruits and flowers on occasion as well, depending on the season. When the fig trees are fruiting, these monkeys can be seen eating both the leaves and fruits at the same time in a single fig tree. The fruits already containing maggots up high in the branches are prized for their protein value. Howlers will also feed upon flowers from trees during the dry season.

Since most trees have developed a toxin to resist becoming completely defoliated by these and other folivores, the monkeys can’t stay in one tree for too long because consuming too many of the leaves can be harmful to them. Therefore, as they forage, you might observe them moving from tree to tree, stopping to munch for awhile on one species before carrying on along to another. The monkeys make a special effort to hone in on the younger, more supple and nutrient-rich leaves in each tree over the harder-to-digest mature leaves. Nonetheless, this primarily leaf-based diet results in the need to rest and digest a good part of the day in order for their metabolism to break down the tough leaf fibers.

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 3.45.23 PMWhen I had the fortune of climbing 20 meters up (fully supported by a complex rope system thanks to Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya, a biologist at Osa Conservation who sets up tree-top camera traps), I found myself at eye-level, just another dozen meters away from a couple of howlers. But didn’t matter how hard I howled (I tend to talk to wildlife..), because they were in full food coma. Thus, the only response I got was one suddenly swatting away at a fly by one hunched over individual, as if I were just as annoying. 

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Another of our furry friends from above include the capuchin monkeys, known as “Cariblancas” (white-faced) in Spanish. Capuchins are omnivores, meaning they live on a much more nutrient-rich diet of fruit, nuts, insects and crustaceans (we’ve even seen them on our kayak tour searching for crabs on the prop roots of the red mangroves!). Cariblancas are opportunists, and will even eat bird eggs, nestlings and small mammals, which all together allow for the capuchins tend to be a very active species. If you come across a troop, you’ll also notice how curious they are, staring down at your with furrowed brows, fairly reminiscent of an tiny, angry old man. They have even been known to throw seeds and even limbs at our guests!

Capuchins range quite high in intelligence among the New World monkeys, as demonstrated by their use of tools. They’ve been known to rub millipedes, which emit cyanide as a defense mechanism, onto their fur, perhaps using it as an insect repellent. They’ve been documented using hard surfaces to break open mollusks and sticks to explore cavities for food.

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 2.03.53 PMThe Geoffroy’s Spider Monkeys that live in our forest were in decline likely due to overhunting in the past. We’ve been thrilled to witness the species in this area more and more lately because, as we learned from a biologist Jenna Griffiths, who is doing her PhD on spider monkeys, this species has been absent from this area of Piedras Blancas National Park in the past. She is very interest in and excited about these sightings. One of our guests was even fortunate enough to see the mega-troop, of some fifty individuals. These troops break up into smaller groups during the day to spread out and forage for food. We’ve started to see and hear them more and more this season, often up the stream valley up the hill. 

Spider monkeys are aptly named for their elongated appendages. They actively swing through the high branches and forage mainly on fruit but will add young leaves and seeds to their diet to obtain sufficient protein. Watching these monkeys swing their way from one branch to another is always a delight, especially knowing you’re observing an endangered species who’s populations have suffered from deforestation and hunting. While we’re enamored with these charismatic creatures, they definitely have a flare for letting their own opinion of humans known, like when one of us is staring up at it from below, these monkey won’t hesitate to grab a branch with every appendage (including that long tail) and shake everything in their reach with gusto, as if to let you know who’s boss. If I were an endangered animal looking down at the species responsible, I’d likely do the same!

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 4.23.06 PMOur last animal in the picture collage is the beloved Three-toed Sloth. They’ve been a rare sight this season so every sighting has been enormously special. We’ve seen them now three times in the big cecropia tree at the edge of the garden. Sloths seem to have a preference for these trees, and since the leaves of the cecropia have a mild narcotic, that might explain not just their common presence in these trees in general, but likely adds to their very slothfulness! To learn more about the amazing natural ecosystem sloths harbor in their pelt, check out my blogpost up on Saladero’s website describing this fascinating, arboreal and simply adorable creature!

Some other interesting arboreal mammals harbored in the treetops of the forest include the Margay, a small spotted wild cat that has a tail nearly as long as it’s body which aids in balance as it walks along the branches above. The margay prefers life in the trees, hunting birds and even monkeys. It has the unique ability to twist its ankles to aid in its head-first descent to the forest floor as it moves to different hunting grounds. This forest cat is highly agile and is able to jump up to four meters horizontally and 2.5 meters vertically. While I have yet to see a wild cat in the forest here at Saladero, they’re definitely here along with a variety of other wild cats, as our motion-detecting camera traps convey!

Another arboreal creature of the treetops is the Kinkajou. This unique-looking creature is in fact related to raccoons. Similar to the margay, the kinkajou also has the ability to turn it’s feet widely in either direction to aid in its movement through the trees. The kinkajou’s tail is prehensile and used just as often as its other appendages as it travels from branch to branch. It will even use it as a furry pillow to curl up with to sleep. These fascinating mammals also go by the moniker “honey bear” for their inclination to raid beehives for their honey. We have some honey bears here at Saladero that like to make their presence known by dropping seeds onto the roof of our Treehouse cabin. But with that adorable face and huge, liquid black eyes, who could chastise them?

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Birds Abound in Saladero

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Photo courtesy of Patty Godwin

I just can’t believe how time flies out here in paradise! I’m already into my fourth month, with a mere two to go. Interning here at Saladero Ecolodge as the Bird Guide and Resident Biologist has been an experience unlike any other..and that’s saying something, as I’ve had quite a few pretty amazing experiences, you’ll see as much if you happen to meander through my archives and see where this bird-centric life has led me!

Also, feel free to check out my Patreon where I’m posting various videos about life in the tropics. I’m currently working on a series of videos jam-packed with wildlife thanks to all the exciting bird and mammal sightings I’ve been so fortunate to experience throughout my time here. I’ll be posting much more once this internship is over and wifi is more easily accessible..it takes quite a lot of data to upload video, hence becoming a Patreon for a minimum of $3 a creation can help me get more videos up sooner rather than later. That way I can better share these fantastic experiences and all I’ve learned here in the beautiful tropics of Costa Rica!

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Click the photos to view Saladero’s Facebook page!

Also, to get a better idea of life here in this little corner of paradise, accessible only by boat and totally off the grid, check out Saladero’s Facebook page, to which I post photos on a daily basis. You’ll see not just birds (although I admit it may be a little bird heavy..) but also what the guest experience is like here be it fishing excursions, kayak tours or simply the stunning evening sunsets. You’ll also get an idea of the tireless work of our dedicated employees, the programs we take part in with guidance and support from the biologists of Osa Conservation, then of course there’s plenty of photos of all the various insects, monkeys, reptiles and various other fauna that we often cross paths with and, last but not least, the glorious food we’re treated to daily by highly capable cooks (including Saladero’s very own owners, Harvey and Susan!).

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Yellow-billed Cotinga

Bird-wise, I’m happy to say we’re still seeing the Yellow-billed Cotingas around the edge of the gardens. They’re hanging out in the trees near the nutmegs (which have finished fruiting) where I first found them. It almost appears as if they’re gleaning insects among the branches as I don’t see anything as far as fruit or flowers nearby. Two days ago, I had three brilliant white males and a female in the same jobos where I first saw them back in January. To learn more about them and my first discovery of them this year, check out my cotinga post.

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Baltimore Oriole

In other bird news, we’re still flush with winter migrants who haven’t yet left for their northern breeding grounds. I recently saw a beautifully decorated Chestnut-sided Warbler, all ready to draw in the ladies with a fresh set of feathers in full breeding plumage. The Summer Tanager was still chuckling high in the treetops a day or two ago and only yesterday I still heard the whistle of the Great-crested Flycatcher. Last week I had a Yellow Warbler and about five orioles as well. Seeing them congregated like that suggested to me that they were on the move. And the distinctive chip note of the Northern Waterthrush behind the kitchen where the dry season has left our stream devoid of even a trickle, continues to sound with gusto.

But they’ll all be on their way soon and I’ll be sad to see them go. How interesting is it that these birds we’re so familiar with up in the north spend more time down here rubbing shoulders with macaws and toucans than they do with chickadees and titmice of the temperate forests?

So I’ll leave you with a little photo collage of my favorite bird photos of late. Thanks so much for reading a please do visit my Patreon and become a Pura Vida Patron for as little as $3 a creation (aka video), to which I will be posting to much more in the near future to help fund my documentation of life here in the tropics!

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Male Green Kingfisher, Scarlet Macaw, Great Curassow, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Chestnut backed Antbird, Gartered Trogon, Yellow-headed Caracara, Black Vulture, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Black-hooded Antshrike, Lineated Woodpecker, Black-striped Sparrow

Thanks again and Pura Vida..indeed!

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A Rich Life in the Sweet Gulf

This painting makes me endlessly happy. As does this magical hidden paradise I’ve been so fortunate to call home for the past four months nestled here within Piedras Blancas National Park alongside the sweet Golfo Dulce..
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The painting was a gift from a dear, longtime friend of mine and is the perfect representation of this richly biodiverse wonderland that I’ve been so fortunate to spend the past four months exploring and sharing with a diverse array of similarly nature-adoring folk. I learn something new practically every moment, both about this place and all the life that exists within it.
Furthermore, I’m learning about life off-the-grid and how a successful, fully sustainable and environmentally conscious ecolodge should be run.
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Critically endangered Yellow-billed Cotinga

By being here, I’ve had a chance to see many changes from week to week, month to month: I’ve welcomed the arrival of rare birds that visit our forest at specific times of the year to forage, seen changes in what plants and trees are flowering or fruiting, followed the courtship and nesting periods of different bird species in relation to food availability, enjoyed the presence our familiar northern songbird migrants (which will soon be heading back north to breed!), followed the movement of the various

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Three-toed Sloth

species of monkeys that move in troops throughout the forest as well as the occasional sloth that occupies our cecropia tree and I have continually observed with fascination and glee a seemingly endless variety of life that traverses the forest, garden and of course our beautiful Golfo Dulce…here at Saladero, there’s always something new going on and there’s still oh so very much yet to be discovered.

It’s been a fantastic ride and I’m stunned at how quickly time is passing. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying every moment and am cherishing every new experience I have here. Harvey and Susan have made

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Mantled Howler Monkeys

this breathtaking paradise that already was Saladero into an even more magical corner of the earth where people can come learn about and be one with the forest & the sea while experiencing all of the wild complexities that makes this a part of one of the most biologically intense places in all of the world. May it forever carry the heart and soul that was so dearly put into the beautiful entity that is Saladero Ecolodge. And what an unbelievable honor to have had this chance to add a bit of my own love to the mix.

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