Sunday, February 28, 2010

2009 Christmas Bird Count Wrap-Up

On January 9th, 2010, the Rainforest Biodiversity Group conducted the 2nd annual Maquenque Christmas Bird Count within the Costa Rican Bird Route. This year a total of 16 people counted at 8 sites within the Maquenque Bird Count Circle to find a total of 3,662 individual birds of 241 species.

The top two sites were Bosque Tropical del Toro and Maquenque Eco-lodge, who both had 107 species. Mi Pedacito de Cielo was right behind these two sites with 105 species found. Click here for a complete report including the bird list for the event.

The Maquenque Christmas Bird Count is an important event that Rainforest Biodiversity Group plans to continue each year as part of our bird monitoring efforts within the Costa Rican Bird Route.

If you have an interest in taking part in the next Maquenque Christmas Bird Count, please contact RBG at

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Eco-Benin visits Costa Rica (Day 7 and Day 8)

The 7th day of the Eco-Benin / RBG journey together was one of many meetings as well as a historic event.

In the morning we met with Melky the Research Program Assistant at Tirimbina. Tirimbina has quite a few new things going on including some cool research. Video cameras have shown that many mammals, including Kinkajous, Raccoons, Ocelots and even sloths are using the bridge that crosses the Sarapiqui River. Tirimbina has also add new rooms for overnight guests, and are doing many things to improve sustainability. They already have 4 of 5 leaves by the Costa Rican Tourism Boards Sustainable Standards. Even so they are putting in a new large biodigestor at this moment, a great sustainable practice for waste management. Additionally they are expanding their research and learning opportunities and have recently teamed with Ball State University for a Tropical Ecology course. Max commented how his dream would be to have a place like Tirimbina in the Lama forest of Benin.

As we had internet access we spent a few hours catching up on emails that morning, ate lunch at my former local hangout los Portones, and then sped on to La Selva Biological where we met with Orlando Vargas. We learned about some very interesting new technology that La Selva will be using with its researchers. Soon they will have three fully powered, internet accessible remote canopy research towers in their forest. Some amazing data should be collected here. We also learned of the continuing expansion of the their sustainable tourism activities. All in all La Selva is receiving more than 30,000 visitor days per year. A good program that limits access to the forest helps keep impact low.

We stopped by CECOS later so that Nadine could meet the staff and we could check email quick once again. We then spent the evening with a local family the community of El Roble, one of the communities CECOS works closely with. We stayed with Don Norberto and Dona Marzarella. Marzarella is very involved with CECOS as part of the Grupo Morpha womens artisan group. Don Norberto manages his black pepper plantation. Also at the house was Douglas their teenage son, and Norberto's mother who was turning 89 that day!
It was a historic day for her. She was so happy and amazed that on her 89th birthday two people all the way from Africa would be at her house. She said never in her life would she imagine this and kept calling me an "angelito" (little angel) for bringing them to her house. I was literally almost tearing up hearing her talk. Especially as we sang happy birthday to her in Spanish then Nadine and Max sang to her in French.

We made tortillas and had a great big dinner with the family. It was a really nice night.

The next morning we were up early, said our good byes and headed to San Jose. The trip would end for Nadine this day. Max and I would meet up with Raquel in the afternoon to work on our mid-term report at Hotel Cacts. The last night with Max in San Jose was uneventful as we worked in our hotel rooms and watched the new episode of Lost.

Max is off to Paris this afternoon before heading back to Benin, and I will be hanging around San Jose or heading back to Sarapiqui to take care of accounting, organizing notes from our trip and planning the next steps of our grant. It was a wonderful trip with Max. I am sad to see him go but know he had a great time, met wonderful people, saw amazing places, and learned a lot.

Funding for this project came from the Programme from South-South Cooperation with financing from the Kingdom of the Netherlands as administered by Fundecooperacion.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Eco-Benin Visit to Costa Rica (Days 6)

Wow. It's day 6 already? The trip is flying by. Nadine already heads back in two days and Maxim in 3.

Today I woke up at 5:30 and went out on to the porch of the rancho that Rainforest Biodiversity Group helped raise funds to reconstruct at Albergue el Socorro after the earthquake a year ago. I laid down on the couch pulled up the covers and awaited the arrival of the mornings birds.

Tucans, kiskadees and Short-billed Pigeons were the first to call. Then as the bushes started to move in the morning rain different birds appeared. Many of them Wisconsin migrants...Black and White Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Wilson's Warbler, Northern Parula (Im sure Andy Paulios is jealous as this is one of his favorite birds..if I remember correctly). The migrants mixed with the local tanagers; Crimson collared, Silver-throated and Bay headed.

The rain continued throughout the morning and rained out our hike. Instead we lounged around and relaxed in the cool mountain air.

Around 11 we headed down the mountain to Tirimbina Rainforest Center, had lunch and took the world famous Chocolate Tour. We then met with Helen Rodriguez and had some great conversations about getting some things going with Tirimbina in the next few months for the Bird Route.

Max and I now have a bunch to work on! We have mid-term grant reports due ASAP, meeting notes to type, budgets to review etc, etc. To those under mad amounts of least I am in Costa Rica. :). Sorry, had to get that in there.

Oh Maquenque I saw the tail of an Ocelot! Can't believe I forgot to write about that.

Hasta manana.

Eco-Benin visit to Costa Rica (Day 5)

The Anhinga was again in the Yollilo Palm when I woke up. The next bird I saw was the Bat Falcon. That was a good sign.

Today our party, which is now 3, said farewell to Viki and Pedro and Maquenque Eco-lodge, crossed the San Carlos river with their visitor ferry and began our trip back south to the mountains. After two steamy days in the northern lowlands, we were off to Albergue el Soccorro which sits at 1000 m above sea level. (Im not going to bother to convert meters into feet because everyone in the world except us stub born gringos use the metric system. So if you have not yet began to learn metric I will let you figure out what 1000 m in feet is on your own)

On the way we had an idea of taking a detour and quick run over to La Fortuna to see Volcan Areal, one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. However, when we got to the turn to go Areal there were many clouds to the west, and I decided it was not worth going two hours out of way. So we skipped that idea.

As we headed from Agua Zarcas to San Miguel and then on to Socorro, I thought I heard an Eastern Meadowlark in a field. I pulled the car over to have a look. It was a great idea that I did. Not only was there a Meadowlark which I had not had on this trip yet, but I pulled out a life bird; the Red-breasted Blackbird. I also noted the sign that said Toro River Waterfall. I ask Maxim and Nadine if they had interest in going and they said sure. Great decision. We discovered a great place. The Catarata del Toro Lodge. Here we encounterd Will, the very funny Dutch man, who was co-owner of the lodge, as well as one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen in my life. It was awesome! They are three guest rooms here and great birding. This is another hidden jewel of Costa Rica and we will soon be running trips that will include a visit to this site for sure.

After this unexpected adventure we arrived at Albergue el Socorro about 2 hours late. Don Jose was his happy go lucky self as always and no problem with our late arrival. We ate then took a short walk on one of the trails. The place is very birdy but I didn’t have enough time to stop and identify each one. A good 2 – 3 days here would be fantastic. I look forward to my hour or two of birding tomorrow morning.

After one of my favorite dinners in the world (chicken, vegetables, home made cheese and hand made tortillas with avocado, black beans and rice) Max showed us a film from Benin and the Benin Tourism Board. Man I am excited to go. He thinks I should come to Benin by the first of April at the latest, rather than in May as I had thought, as this is the beginning of the rainy season and still many wild animals such as hippos, lions, elephants and baboons can easily be seen April. Did I mention how incredibly excited to go. Even if it means I don’t get to go to South Africa for the world cup. But I suppose I can watch the World Cup in Costa Rica. That is always a blast. If April is when I get to go to Benin, Africa, April is when I will go!

Eco-Benin Visit to Costa Rica (Days 3 and 4)

I love Maquenque Eco-Lodge. I mean they are doing active habitat management for Pedros’ sake! They have different lagoons and are controlling water levels to attract birds and make sure food is available during the migratory season. This has paid off as during the time we visited Maquenque Eco-Lodge two Wood Storks and 21 Black-bellied whistling ducks. This was the first time either of these species had been seen at the lodge. Of course the lodge has only been open for 8 months. But the farm has been in the family for over 50 years.

Pedro and Viki are the members of the Artavia family that live on the property and manage the day to day activities. Seriously, this place is Great. Note the capital G. Fantastic. So many good things to say. I am not sure what else one could ask for. The morning chorus was magnificent with monkeys and macaws, the back porches with forests and wetlands right out the back door, the neat, clean and attractive cabins, the solar water heating systems, the steamy jungle river, the 60 species of birds in short morning walk, I could go on and on. There is just a lot to like about this place. Go there! And do so before the crowds; because it will happen. The place is too nice not to.

While in the area we also visited Laguna Lagarto Lodge and Mi Pedacito de Cielo. Mi Pedacito has done a lot to improve their site for visitors. That is not to say the place wasn’t already a good site to begin with. However, they implemented many things to meet the sustainable standards of the Costa Rican Bird Route. They have installed energy efficient lights, water and energy meters to measure water and energy use, put hand painted cloth bags in the rooms for laundry instead of having people use plastic bags. They have new interpretive signs up, have field guides in the rooms, have trail maps and a folder with ways visitors can be sustainable while visiting.

It was also great to see Marco Tulio, Pavel, and Hugo. I noted the Partners in Flight pin Hugo had in his cap that Terry Rich had given him as well as the binoculars that Lisa Garrett had given him during the first FAM trip to the bird route. Mi Pedacito de Cielo, aka My Little Piece of Sky, was Maxim’s favorite site thus far.

At Laguna Lagarto Lodge we had a chance to see the hides that a Hungarian photography company has constructed at the lodge. Someone like Dave Edwards would love these blinds. While at Laguna Lagarto I was also able to take Maxim canoeing in one of the lagoons. This was the first time Max had ever been canoeing! It was cool to be able to experience this with him. As we left the lagoons we had a pair of Scarlets AND and a pair of Great Greens flyby.

When we returned to Maquenque that night Nadine was there waiting. She had finally arrived. There was however bad news upon arrival as well. The “Casa Lapa”, the house I lived in, In Boca Tapada when I was part of the Great Green Macaw research project had been burned down the night before.

Boca Tapda needs some help right now in the form of environmental education. We hope to work with the lodges in the area to do so in the next 4 months so that this critically important forest and related biodiversity can be around for generations to come.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Eco-Benin visits Costa Rica (Day 2)

Max was already out of the room when I awoke at 6 am. It turns out his internal clock was still on Benin time and he ended up waking up at 3 am! I headed out to get some quick birding in but was quickly stopped by Maximin in the lobby when he told me Nadine our other participant from Benin was stuck in Paris. A large snow storm in Paris, and an airport crippling storm along the east coast led to a canceled flight to Newark. Her internet connection died apparently and we were left to wonder what might happen.

A windy morning in Santo Domingo de Heredia held back bird observations. The only thing fun to note was Tennessee Warbler and White-eared Ground Sparrow so we ate a nice long breakfast of croissants (as a shout out to the France - Benin connection), Gallo Pinto (the spotted rooster that wakes you up in Costa Rica), fruit (Papaya, Melon, and watermelon, but no pineapple. I still am protesting Pineapple) and Costa Rican coffee.

Our rent a car was late of course, so the rest of the day was pushed back a bit. We cruised over the mountains stopping to snap nice shots of the large untouched virgin forest of Braullio Carrillio National Park. We decided to stop at Quebrada Gonzalez the newest site to be added to the Costa Rican Bird Route for 2010. We were very glad we stopped. We had a chance to drop off some map and guides, but more importantly we were able to meet with Ivan a guide for the Guapiles guide association called AGUTI. It turns out that the latest developments at Quebrada Gonzalez were very similar to some of the developments in the Lama Forest in Benin ( Max and Ivan hit it off very well and much was taken from this short meeting. I also talked Ivan into taking a short walk with us into the National Park. Quebrada Gonzalez never disappoints and in my book is a top 5 birding site in all of Costa Rica. We had a great mixed flock come through and had really nice looks at the very elusive Brownbilled Sythebill a type of Woodcreeper (google it!), the very large Spotted Woodcreeper, the Streak-crowned Antvireo, as well as Dusky faced Tanager and the really cool White-throated Shrike Tanager!

We were late to visit the Sarapiqui Conservation Learning so we had to quick leave the National Park. We ate lunch and were joined by Gerardo Vega the CECOS Director, Kattia Craddock the Tourism Coordinator and Kaity Fitzgerald the Volunteer Coordinator. After a tour and long conversations about all the programs Max came away with ideas as well as content feeling of so many similarities between the RBG / CECOS projects and his projects in Benin.

About 4 pm we received word the Nadine would be arriving at 4 pm on the 11th. A day late. Luckily we are not a dollar short and will bus her up to Maquenque Eco-lodge to meet us there. I am not sure if I will have internet connection in the next few days as Boca Tapada is pretty remote. Ill let you know the results of the days in the lowlands of northern CostaRica where the last Great Green Macaws nest in Costa Rica.

Tonight we visit Chilamate Jungle and share stories with the Davis and Meghan.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eco-Benin visits Costa Rica (Feb. 9)

As part of our grant entitled " Supporting Conservation through Tourism Development in the Forest areas of Benin and Costa Rica" RBG is hosting a visit from Eco-Benin, our partner organization from Benin for this grant. The grant is provided by the Program for South-South Cooperation with funding from the Netherlands. The delegation from Benin consists of two people Maxim Djondo and Nadine Worou. I will be sharing our adventures as I guide them through a week long trip to Costa Rica and the Costa Rican Bird Route (

Today, Feb. 9 Maxim arrived after two long days for travel from Benin, via Paris and Mexico City. I was up early as well, and went and got some birding in at the Hotel Bougenvillea gardens where we were staying. Good birds for the morning included Blue-crowned Motmot, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl and Yellow-throated Vireo. After birding, breakfast and a battle with fax machine along side the very helpful recepcionistas I met Maxim. A very nice, joyful conservationist of 34 years. We briefly made introductions, spoke about advances with the project and went over the days itinerary. During lunch we asked eachother lots of questions as we were finally working in person together instead of over the internet. After two years of communicating over email it was nice to be able to speak face to face.

In the afternoon, we visited with the grants national mechanism Fundecooperacion and were able to organize plans for the remainder of our grant, further ask questions and get to know the players involved with this particular grant.

In the evening we got right to work at Hotel Bougenvillea. That was until Smallville (Max's show) and Lost (My show) came on. I was suprised to find Maxim was not only familiar with both but was a fan of both and knew all the characters. "Its a small world after all".

Tomorrow we head to Sarapiqui and meet with the Sarapiqui Conservation Learning Center, in my old stomping grounds of Chill-a-mate, and will be staying at Chilamate Jungle with Davis and Meghan.

To be continued..

Costa Rica Makes History

As reported by the BBC, Costa Rica made history Sunday, February 7th, with the election of its first female president, Laura Chinchilla, head of the National Liberation Party. Ms. Chinchilla, who won 47% of the vote, is committed to advancing open-market policies in the country. Also recently reported, a study by the New Economics Foundation, the Happy Planet Index, ranks Costa Rica in first place above all other nations as the most happy, making a connection between happiness and the health of the environment.

Costa Rica is a stable nation with a growing tourism industry and sound environmental policies, something that many people attribute to the nation's protection of their forests. As stated by the BBC, "more than half its territory is now covered in trees, compared to 20% in the 1980s." It is one of the only developing countries in the world rated so high in being happy and green when compared to other nations, and the two measures seem to be related. People profess to being more in-tune with the natural world, a characteristic integral for the active participation in environmental protecion.

Costa Rica was the first developing nation to commit to being carbon neutral by 2021, has implemented a carbon tax, and is currently getting 90% of its energy supply from renewable sources. Costa Rica is right on track for preserving their fragile environment. Yet there is room for improvement, since the government still allows open pit mining and the unfettered melon and pineapple growing by multinational corporations threatens the ecosystem through the use of many agrochemicals.

Hopefully the newly elected president will, in an effor to promote open-market operations, direct more attention to making the tourism industry in the area more eco-friendly as it promises to raise revenues while maintaining what seems to make Costa Ricans most happy, the health of the environment. One Costa Rican, Juan Francisco Montealegre, explains, "We don't have a sensation of death. Nothing is arid here, you can see life everywhere."

Referenced BBC reports:

Photo by Alex Villegas