iNaturalist: Gotta Catch ’em All!

So here’s my next favorite Pokemon Go alternative: iNaturalist!

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iNaturalist is a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe.

With eBird, you can catch all the birds, but with iNaturalist, you can go after any and all natural life, from mammals to insects to plants to amphibians, even fungal life! So, while the birds tend to always be the first to grab my eye, there’s so much more to in this biodiverse wonderland to discover, identify and learn about and iNaturalist is a great way to take it all on.

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Gotta catch ’em all!

iNaturalist is a “crowdsourcing scientific observation platform” that is super in assisting you in identification of whatever life-form you’re aiming at, all it requires is a decent photo which you upload to the iNaturalist app and sometimes, from just the photo and the magic of technology, it can identify the flora or fauna for you! Or at least narrow it down to family. From there, you can find help from the iNaturalists social community, including citizen scientists and biologists who can help identify your species in question or verify your proposed identification helping raise your sighting to “Research Grade”, meaning that the the species ID has been agreed upon and confirmed.

By contributing your sightings and photos to iNaturalist, you’re adding to a constantly growing database of flora and fauna that can actually contribute to scientific and biological studies not to mention help map out the current range and distribution of species as more and more iNaturalist users contribute their observations.

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What’s neat about the mapping function is checking out what’s nearby, what other people have seen and you might find yourself searching out a fungus or a tiny flower in a place you’ve always visited that you never took into account until you saw someone’s photo of it on iNaturalist. It really is going to open your world, if you let it!

To date, more than 15 million observations have been uploaded worldwide, making for an ever-more complete documentation of the biodiversity that makes up Planet Earth. As more and more people join and (like me) become addicted, we’re achieving something beautiful and probably more important than we yet can determine.

So join me and together let’s take on the challenge and see if we can..cause ya gotta catch ’em all!

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The Tranquilo Life..

So it’s just been a short bit that I’ve been here at Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge where I’m into my second week as the third resident naturalist guide. My first week was a rainy one, but the forest is lush and bubbling with both local and migratory birds. While we’re heading to the end of migration at this point (I managed to miss a good deal of it while thoroughly enjoying myself spending time with family and friends), I still ended up getting in some good ones both before and after my trip. I think the most plentiful were the bay-breasted warblers, which filled our melastoma bushes, eating their berries with abandon. The melastoma is a wildly important food source for the birds on their lengthy migration. This bush in particular is fantastic because it fruits multiple times throughout the season, providing enough food to satisfy both the early, mid and late migrants.

 

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Bay-breasted Warbler, Eastern Kingbird, Chestnut-sided warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Bay-breasted, Red-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager

 

We’ve also had plenty of Prothonotary Warblers, Summer Tanagers, Northern Waterthrushes, some Red-breasted Grosbeak and a few Catbirds. The prothonotaries seem a dime a dozen lately and we’ll be enjoying them for the duration of the northern winter as well as the waterthrushes and summer tanagers (one of which I can hear chuckling from the forest right now as I write on the wrap-around deck of the main lodge!).

In addition to enjoying the throngs of migrants, I’ve enjoyed settling comfortably into my new home, getting to know the employees who are the local indigenous N’gobe Bugle from nearby Isla Popa. Everyone is so kind, they all have great sense of humors and laugh a lot. They’re also patient with my bad grammar and slow Spanish and they’re teaching me words in their indigenous language (they’re all bilingual!) and it’s fun to learn from Jesenia and Ofelina at the bar and then go speak to Luis, Omeira, Yolanda or Faustina in the kitchen (or vice versa) in their own language and see their surprise! I’m also helping them with English and plan to work further on that with them in the future.

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A sea biscuit on the Zapatillas

We’ve had a birding group and now a big family and I’ve gone along on a few of the excursions thusfar, from the chocolate farm to the nearby Zapatillas islands and out and about snorkeling in various locations. The family was here for  Thanksgiving and we all gathered in the dining room to enjoy a fantastic feast cooked up by jefa Renee along with decadent pies by her daughter Boty. It certainly doesn’t feel like the holidays, but it sure did taste like ’em!

As we enjoy a quick couple of guest-free days before the high season kicks into high gear, we took advantage of the beautiful day yesterday and Ramon y yo, along with Scott, Patrick, Boty and Tres joined some neighbor friends for an day-long caving excursion. The cave is replete with stalactites, stalagmites, shrimp, spiders, whip scorpions, and oh the bats! Hanging in every nook and cranny above, you can hear their sonar squeaks and feel the wind off their wingbeats as they narrowly miss your face. While most of the hike through the winding tunnel is through ankle or knee deep water, there are occasions where you have to full-out swim, dog-paddling your way along with your headlamp shining through the deepest depths of darkness. We had a ball!

Tomorrow we get our next birding group..the high season is on the horizon!

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A Stateside Whirlwind

I flew against the migration a few weeks ago leaving Panama to head north to the United States of IMG_1944.jpgHavoc and Conundrum. I had the opportunity to visit family and friends (and VOTE) before diving into the high season in my new position as a naturalist and bird guide at Tranquilo Bay. Graciously the new bosses gave me some time to see the family since I’ll be busy guiding holiday travelers in the tropics through the holidays. I can’t say I’m sad about missing them, being that the tropics will keep me plenty occupied.

So while in the states, it certainly has been a whirlwind, starting off with three days in Sarasota to see my grandmother, then five with my brother in LA, then just under two weeks seeing the parents and other family and friends in the DC/MD/VA area. And back in Florida for one last goodbye to Grandy before heading ever further south!

During this stay, I was lucky enough to get into nature and see some great birds in each state I found myself in. The fall migrants are well on making their way south but I did see some remnants, a blackpoll warbler, pine and palm warbler in VA and DC. The western version of the yellow-rumped warblers (Audubon’s) and white-crowned sparrows were in LA and the white-throated sparrows, kinglets and juncos are flooding into MD/DC/VA to spend the winter! So while I was sad to leave Panama’s perspective of the migration during my stay stateside, I got a lot more than I expected here up north and I’m sure to see a bit yet when I get back south!

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Check out my eBird and iNaturalist page for these sightings and more!

Not to mention I had the thrill of getting a good taste of autumn colors and a bit of the briskness that is taking over upon the approach of winter to these northern latitudes.

So with the smell of fall in my senses, I’m ready to start the high season. Not a bad way to get started!

 

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A Fond Farewell!

This is my tribute to Dave, Suzanne and Mina for a glorious two-month run at Casa Cayuco.

I’m moving a short jaunt down-island (Isla Bastimentos of the Bocas del Toro archipelago) to join the Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge family as their third guide and I’m beyond thrilled!

Before I go, I want to share my love for Casa Cayuco and the beautiful hidden nature I’ve discovered during my time there..

 

 

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The Tropical Life

Whew, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted..a lot has gone on since I first arrived here in Panama just two months ago! It’s been a dream, staying at Casa Cayuco and helping out with guests, slinging drinks from behind the bar and taking folks into the forest on the hunt for red frogs, sloths, monkeys and birds. Dave and Suzanne are magnificent, hard-working human beings who have created such a beautiful refuge and place for guests to experience the beauty of the forest and Caribbean and all they have to offer. And Mina is my little buddy for life.

And oh the wildlife..

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Nonetheless, I have a big new adventure ahead of me, as I’ve been invited to become the third guide at nearby Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge. I’m going to be sad to leave the amazing friends I’ve made here, but I believe that I will be much more in my element and put to good use at Tranquilo which is a lodge hugely dedicated to birding–I mean, they have a 60ft birding tower for one thing, where you can watch in awe as parrots fly by at eye level! I’m going to start out shadowing their star guides, Natalia and Ramon, who have an infinite knowledge of not just the birds and wildlife of the archipelago and mainland Panama, but also the life under the sea.

How on earth did this happen? Well, I’m certainly still reeling and can’t believe this has basically fallen into my lap! How it fell into place was, Dave and Suzanne had family visiting and gave me a week or so off and they set me up to spend several days at Tranquilo. Renee, Jim and Jay have run this lodge for 10 years and have created a stunningly gorgeous haven for both nature-loving guests and the enormous variety of garden and forest birds that reside there along with the long-distance migratory birds that spend their winter months here in Panama. They’d been looking for a third guide to add to the team and, with the skills and knowledge of the birds and tropical ecosystems I’ve gained over the course of my ~2 years spent in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and here in Panama, I managed to fit the bill..with glee!

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View from their birding tower, Casa Cayuco is close to the farthest right of the island quite a ways in the distance. I think they’re waving!

Dave and Suzanne were kind enough to let me fly and so, I’ll be here at Casa Cayuco for another few days to help with some big groups that are coming and then they’ll take me the 10 minute boat ride down-island to my new home. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity and I already know that every minute spent with Natalia and Ramón will massively increase my knowledge of this tropical world I adore so deeply and get so much out of sharing with others. I’m looking forward to starting out shadowing them as they lead birding hikes on the mainland where we’ll be seeing a wider range of species in a variety of ecosystems as I work toward eventually leading those very tours myself!

This is a pretty incredible new development and I will certainly be keeping you all updated. Also, check out my Patreon page where I’m headed right now to upload my newest video, Hidden Nature of Casa Cayuco. Thanks so much for following along!

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Red Tide: Florida’s Plague

I made this video last month while I was in Sarasota, a beautiful tourist destination known best for its pristine, award winning Siesta Key beach. I’ve been lucky enough to frolic in Siesta’s clear waters along southwest Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coastline just about every year of my life. Visiting Grandy and Gramps always meant major beach time, running across the vast expanse of immaculate, soft white sand and throwing ourselves into the gentle waves of the warm, gleaming blue waters.

But this year, Sarasota ands Tampa area beaches are experiencing one of the worst red tide blooms in history. While red tide is a natural occurrence, it is happening more frequently, for longer durations and with much greater intensity. Polluted runoff has triggered extensive blooms which have muddied the clear blue waters with house damage of dead, rotting fish. Hundreds of manatees, sea turtles and dolphins have also been found washed up dead, their bodies riddled with the toxins.

This video isn’t pretty, it’s reality.

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Casa Cayuco: A Panama Eco-Adventure Lodge

IMG_0593 2I’m here! Wow, it’s officially been about three weeks since I first arrived to this Caribbean island paradise and I’m just blown away by this beautiful locale, the wonderful owners, their lovely daughter and an array of sweet and hard working employees. I’ll be working as the resident naturalist guide and helping in guest services here at Casa Cayuco.

Since I’ve arrived, in addition to getting to know my way around the lodge, I’ve enjoyed taking guests on rainforest excursions, sharing my knowledge of the birds, trees and plantlife of this extraordinary island.

Welcome to Casa Cayuco, Eco-adventure Lodge!

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To give you an idea of where I’ve touched down this time around, I made a handy little graphic:

Casa Cayuco Map

 
IMG_0599I’ve already had many memorable experiences as I get to know this lush, off-the-grid wonderland that also happens to be a marine national park with protected reef and rainforest. The coral reefs here are magical and I’ve found myself entranced on multiple occasions with the diversity supported by these underwater worlds. Parrotfish, sergeant majors, snapper, butterfly & angelfish, colorful wrasses and triggerfish swim among colorful forests of elkhorn coral, seafans, brain coral, sea anenomes, zooanthid mats, featherduster worms and blade coral. Dave and Suzanne also have a secret mangrove reef that boasts color combinations that dazzle, with the added delight of seastars, brittle stars, seaslugs and sea cucumbers. I see an underwater camera coming in handy here..

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Oh and I even “swam” with my first shark! Well, it was asleep, out cold. It was a small nurse shark..docile and harmless to humans, but it’ll happily chomp down on some fish scraps that Jose, our boat captain and hombre of all trades, tosses off the dock when filleting some fresh fish for dinner.

IMG_0837Above the surface, I’ve enjoyed taking guests on excursions into the rainforest here on the island. Often, one of the main objectives of our walks tends to be to spot a sloth, which thrive here on Bastimentos. Read about these fascinating creatures in my previous blogpost. I’m still honing my skills on finding these elusive critters, but with the help of my hawkeyed local indigenous N’gobe guide, Belamer, we’re guaranteed at least two (if not five!) along the two hour hike. I supply the natural history and ecology of the forest, answering questions and identifying plants and birds along the way. We make a good team.

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Another highlight along the trail is the strawberry poison dart-frogs which, while red on our island, sport unique color morphs on the different islands along the archipelago, as a result of divergent evolution. They are tiny little critters and harder to find than you’d think. But their loud daytime trill clues you into where they’re hidden. The bright coloration is a warning to predators: I’m poisonous!

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 10.05.55 AM.pngThe bellbirds are here too, bonking high in the treetops! Three-wattled Bellbirds are a threatened species that migrates altitudinally, meaning the species moves between montane moist forest where it nests before descending to the lowlands to spend the neotropical winter, which is what we would call summer up in the states. I’m hearing less of them lately, so I think they might have started heading back up into the mountains..

IMG_0598Since I’ve arrived, our guests have ranged from France, Australia, the Netherlands and the states. They’ve enjoyed swimming in these clear Caribbean waters, kayaking, paddleboarding, surfing, snorkeling..we’ve had families, newlyweds on their honeymoon, friends groups and even some friends of Dave and Suzanne’s. Aside from taking folks on forest excursions, I’ve been expanding my bartending experience. I’ve already mastered my painkiller, messed up on two caipirinhas, made some killer piña coladas, a caribbean sunrise that didn’t so much look like a sunrise and perfected my margarita. Dave and Suzanne have been very patient with me.

On our free time, we’ve managed to get over to Salt Creek, the indigenous N’gobe village where all the employees of Casa Cayuco live. They play a mean game of volleyball, we’ve had quite the blast mixing up the gringos vs. N’gobe since we have no chance when it’s us against them. On Mina’s birthday, we had a big group over to the dock to share in the festivities and Dave had a net set up in the water and played for hours. They’re huge into baseball, too and it was really fun to go into town on the day of their school’s anniversary celebration and watch them play. These folks are really good at sports.

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For somewhat regular exercise I’ve enjoyed getting out and swimming. It’s partially snorkeling since I wear the mask and snorkel, but while keeping a steady forward pace. I’d like to think I can do a mile in a half hour, but I can’t really measure how far I’ve really gone at the 15 minute mark. Plus I tend to meander. Yesterday I had a start when I found myself face to face with an enormous, four foot barracuda flashing it’s mouth full of razor sharp teeth at me. It circled closer as I slowly moved off, wondering if I was in for it and suddenly it headed slowly straight for me before veering off several feet away. It was very curious. I turned to swim away just waiting to feel those teeth ravage my legs. I was a 12 minute swim from shore. Jose told me, when I hit the dock that they won’t bother you unless you’re wearing something sparkly. Luckily it didn’t hone in on my silver ring or metal and crystal embedded ankle bracelet. I’ll be definitely leaving those behind on my next foray out..

So there you have it! Casa Cayuco! I will be here for awhile yet, no set end date in mind so far unless that barracuda decides to have the last word. We shall see!

 

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