Palo Verde: Days 5-8


By now, we’ve gotten the hang of how FSP works.  The good, the bad, and the beautiful of it all.

There are now two projects presented and behind us — well, at least the fun parts mostly done.  Several rounds of drafting lie ahead, before our papers can be published in the Bio FSP 2016 book.  I wouldn’t call the writing the most enjoyable part of FSP; we’ve all already had our fair share of stress and late nights, and there’s plenty more to come of that.  Not to complain at all though.  In fact, the intense workload is one of the most important and fulfilling parts of this program, and I think it’s definitely what I was looking for.

Eva points at a troop of howler monkeys while demonstrating to us a perfect rendition of their call.


On Sunday the groups presented our findings for the ant-acacia projects.  This symposium went surprisingly well, and all three presentations were concise and stirred interesting discussion.  With that work wrapped up, I just might avoid any other acacia ant stings….bummer, I’ll miss those.


Since my last update we’ve also begun and wrapped up our first student-initiated projects.  I was excited that my research question made it through the cuts and got adopted by my group.  It considered the time management of northern jacanas — beautiful waterfowl, but I now realize that, despite the fact that I saw hundreds of them, I don’t have a single good picture.

This is the best look you’ll get.

Jacanas spend most of their time out on the marsh looking for food, among many other birds.  However, their chicks are incredibly exposed in this open range — and as highly territorial birds, there are plenty of disputes among themselves.  Therefore, our research question considered the effect of bird density (as in, how many birds/unit area) on how much time an individual jacana spends foraging for food, versus looking around for predators or territory invaders.  We predicted that with increasing bird density, individual jacanas would be less vigilant (i.e., spend less time surveilling their surroundings).

And we were right!  Well, sorta.  Obviously our statistical analysis was a little more sophisticated than answering a yes/no question, but our primary analysis was statistically significant.  Really satisfying to have these results this early on.

Ryan’s notes from our first symposium.  Seems like I made a good impression.




I’ve spent a decent amount of time with the park ranger currently in charge of running the Palo Verde.  He goes by “Boa” — I figured we’d get along.  He’s from the other side of the country, has had some schooling in Biology, but switched to Ecotourism due to how expansive the industry is comparatively.  So, he’s worked at a couple of national parks in his tenure, and has amazing knowledge of the wildlife here — especially the herps.

A few nights ago, he asked me if I wanted to come check out some pitfall traps with him that night.  Hell yeah!  Gathered up a few of our troop, and headed out at about 9:30.

Boy did we see some cool stuff.  Along the way, we ran into a few scorpions.  Boa whipped out a UV light and shined it on the arachnid:

Scorpions glow under UV light; it’s part of their visible spectrum, and so they’ve evolved to reflect it too.


The pitfall traps were sunk into the ground next to a 120-m tin fence.  They were purposed to catch amphibian life, but anything that walks along the wall will fall into the buckets.

Collared Snake (Enulius flavitorques) 









The most exciting find of the night was quite rare– a Mexican burrowing toad.  Completely fossorial and nocturnal, they rarely come to the surface.  Sweet.

Juvenile Mexican Burrowing Toad (Rhinophrynus dorsalis)











There’s so much going on, even though we’ve so far stayed in the same place and are around the same 15 people all the time.  So much I could talk about, but not enough patience on your part.  Or sleep on my part.

Prom Photos!



FSP hasn’t been without its casualties so far.  David Polashenski was reaching into a pile of books yesterday when he suddenly let out a mighty yelp.  A 4-inch long scorpion scuttled away.  No lethal species in the country, but apparently it hurt “ten times as badly as any wasp sting.”  Yikes.

Another injury to a poor soul came along with a triumphant success.  Beth and I have been absolutely set upon catching a ctenosaur before we left.  But it was our last day, and we still had had no success.  So we set out on a determined expedition.

Several failed chases and escapes later, we had a cocky male pinned up against a wall.   Closer we crept, closer, closer….got ’em!  I dove forward and secured him behind the neck.  What a catch.

Beth and I after victory.


We then brought our new friend into the classroom where everyone else was working, so they could get a look.  I warned the rest of the crew to be careful.

Me: “Their claws are fine, but you DON’T want to get bitten by this guy.”

Robbie: “Oh yeah, for sure…..


It was quite the sight seeing Robbie, eyes wide open, with the ctenosaur dangling from his thumb.  Luckily, I still had a secure hold on him, and Robbie was freed soon enough.  Lesson learned though.


From left to right: Helena, Perri, Tara, and Robbie.


We spent this morning, our last day in Palo Verde, on a boat tour of the Rio Tempisque.  It was a glorious time; besides the many basking crocs we saw, we passed a bird nest refuge, which held an inconceivable amount of bird biodiversity.  Check out the photo gallery to see the wood storks, macaws, and all the other birds we saw.

American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)


Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)
















While I was writing this up, right before heading to bed, Boa came into the classroom with a couple of cloth bags.

“Coral snakes, man.”

No way! I hurriedly followed him back to the lab, where he’s been keeping the crocodile babies they’ve been studying.


Pure beauty.


I’ve spoken with Boa some about being out at the station.  He spends a lot of time pretty much alone, away from civilization and out in the wilderness.  Only a few cute girls come through, and stay for just a week!  It’s a tough life.


But there’s incredible value in constantly being in the field.  You can’t replace hands-on exposure.  Lab work, policy, absolutely crucial for sure.  But it’s nothing like being out there, finding exotic creatures, witnessing how these ecosystems function first-hand.  Field work has value that is unique in its own.


Ryan said something scary at the end of the day: that we’re one-fourth of the way through FSP now.  Jeez.  I gotta really embrace this time while I have it.


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