Hot day of fieldwork with the birds

View of pasture in the lowlands (where it's very hot) looking up toward Monteverde (where it's much cooler).

Yesterday I spent most of the day looking at birds with Ricardo.  Over the past two weeks we’ve been visiting different life zones starting from the highest point in Monteverde and working our way down toward the Pacific Coast.  We’ll visit ten life zones in all … and we just finished number six.  So, yesterday morning we got up at 3:30 am, made coffee and had some breakfast, packed a lunch, and headed down the mountain.  We need to start the birding work before sunrise, which is around 5:30 am, so after the 45 minute drive and 15 minute hike (in the dark, of course) we made it with an easy 10 minutes to spare.

The life zones up higher on the mountain are nice a cool in the morning.  You could wear a rain jacket most of the day (and you actually might need it).  The entire morning is spent walking kilometer-long transects, stopping every 1/3 kilometer to identify all the birds we can in 25 minutes.  Most of it is done by ear.  Ricardo is amazing at identifying the birds with just the smallest amount of a call or song.  He’s been a guide for a lot of his life and grew up in Monteverde.  I’m mostly recording what he identifies, but I’ve been able to get a great look at a lot of birds and learn how to identify them by sound too.  After the forest transects, we visit three pastures nearby and spend 25 minutes documenting the birds we see there too.  We’re usually done around 2:30 and then it’s off home to nap.

The point of all this work is to document the diversity of birds from mountain to coast, mostly as baseline data to see how their numbers change in future.  Ideally, if more land is preserved and reforested there will be an increase in bird populations that now have a hard time finding forest habitat on the Pacific side of the Costa Rica.  I wish I had a lot of great bird photos to show you, but it’s not easy taking pictures of them.  I’ve got a couple I’ll share in a later post.

Back to yesterday … where the morning starts off hot halfway down to the lowlands.  I was already sweating at 5:30am and I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt.  I knew it was going to be a long day (especially after the drive down revealed some car troubles … ask me about that later).  By 11:30 we had finished the forest transects, some of which followed along a stream fed by hot springs:

Hot springs with algae thriving in the mineral-rich water.

Just walking past the stream and feeling the humidity jump up made it was clear how hot and steamy the water was.  The algae was an amazing iridescent green color, thriving in the mineral-rich water.  I couldn’t imagine soaking in it when it was so hot, but people set up rocks to make small pools in the stream so that they can steep themselves.  Whew!

After the morning is over and a quick bite to eat for lunch … we’re off to the three pastures for their bird counts.  No shade.  Middle of the day.  Sweaty.  Very hot!  But still, it’s great fun.  The photo at the top is typical for this region of Costa Rica.  Lots of cow and horse pastures and few forests.  If fact, there are several life zones where it’s nearly impossible to find forests where you can walk a transect continuously for just one kilometer.  Yesterday’s life zone was a good example.  To get to the last section of forest we had to cross a road and continue up a streambed that regularly get trampled by cows.

But the folks who own the land or live around these small forest segments seem to be happy that conservation research is happening.  Recently, one of the landowners put up a sign to discourage people from visiting their stream to collect crayfish:

"Crayfishing" is prohibited.

I thought I’d be able to post updates more frequently than I have been, but it’s been crazy, busy, fun … and exhausting.  So it looks like a post a week will have to do for now.  I’ll be traveling around the country for the next week and hope to put up something when I get back.


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