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Conservation and Environment in Costa Rica: Monthly Updates

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Conservation in Costa Rica - Monthly Update March 2012

Nine Banded Armadillo

Here at Barra Honda there is a lot to tell you about this month! It was a very dry, windy and hot March with temperatures up to 40°C. because of that there have been a few forest-fires in Guanacaste and close to the park. At this time forest fires are perfectly normal and nothing to be scared of and we also have a lot of well trained and experienced fire-fighters who have protected the villages and the national park for years. A few days ago we visited one of the previous fire-sights and could see that a lot of the trees and plants already start to recover and grow fresh, green leaves. And that was just after one month from the fire. It is amazing how adaptable and persistent nature is!

Recently we did a big trash collection around the campsite and down the road from the park. After that we had lots of plastic bags full of any kind of trash. So we emptied every single bag again and separated the trash into plastic, paper, glass and "other". Other meaning non-recyclable things. This was of course done so that we could send all the trash off to the Nicoya recycling centre so that Barra Honda is leading the area in being a green eco-friendly place.

Another exciting bit of news I want to tell you is that we have completed a further point in our bat-project by finishing our studies in the area of the big waterfall! So in the next month we will be able to proceed with our project to another area. The new area is further away from the last one, close to the Laguna. We are all very motivated to do the project there because we never did the project there before, and so there might be other species of bats and maybe even a new record for Barra Honda waiting! We will post all information and results about the last area as soon as we have them.

Also this month we started doing an interesting "experiment" in our butterfly project: until now we always used mature fruits like banana and pineapple and had great success with attracting butterflies like that. Now one of our volunteers, Marsha Jacobs, wants to try to see if different baits are even better attractors of butterflies than the fruits. Marsha is doing this study as part of her University course and the investigation goes towards her final marks for this year. Maybe we will be able to work out preferences of different butterfly-species so in future we will be able to attract a certain species of butterfly by using a special bait and find out more about the single species.

Before the fire

So far we have tried fresh fish-heads, rotting fish heads and faeces of monkeys and coatis (a bit of a smelly job!). Despite using the different baits we are not changing anything about the procedure: we are using our older transects again for doing that new project. Each time we are putting our 12 butterfly traps in different areas that are at least 100 metres away from each other and we do that to find out which species of butterfly prefers which habitat. On every area we are putting 3 traps 2, 4 and 6 metres high to see which butterflies prefer which height and the traps are staying out in the forest for about 24 hours.

I have to admit that we have been a bit sceptical about using fish but the results have been very interesting so far: we didn't attract as many butterflies as with the fruits but we have had butterflies in the traps we have caught very rarely and we may have found something new! We are very curious to soon see more results of our work.

We also took a huge step forward with our Macaw Nest site protection project. Until now we stayed at the nest sites from about 10am to 5pm but now we have stayed there over night for the first time. This was part of a test run for following nights and the plan to soon be running the project 24 hours a day to watch and protect the two nest sites until the chicks leave the nests. The Scarlet Macaw is a very rare species in Costa Rica. In the whole of Guanacaste there is only 5-6 free-living individuals left. So the birds and especially their eggs or chicks are in great demand from poachers who can sell them for thousands of dollars on the black market.

One month after the fire

This first night went perfectly how we planned and we spent hours and hours preparing and organising it all. Every single volunteer who took part in this project was honestly astonished by seeing all the sights of nature so close. We went there with 6 people all together then later we split up into two more groups, each group had 3 people sitting at each nest site. They arrived there this time at about 4pm and left there at about 7am in the next morning. During the day they watched the birds with binoculars, were able to communicate with the other group by small radios and they were also writing down the time and movement of the birds. The volunteers said it was fun to talk to other each other and get to bond whilst sharing that experience.

So that we all feel more comfortable while watching the birds or resting (there were always two people watching the macaws and one sleeping during night time) each group has hammocks and chairs but even with this they all said it was a rough night with less sleep and not as comfy as the beds in the volunteer rooms, but just by seeing the sun set and rise again the next morning, hearing the sounds of the night and early morning and watching the macaws live, gave them a really good feeling about what we do here in Barra Honda.

One of the volunteers, Victoria Thompson said that she felt the direct impact of our work by sitting there. She said she's seeing a lot of things from a different point of view now and that "now that I have seen them living and flying in nature I really don't understand why someone would try to capture these wonderful birds and keep them locked up in a cage for the rest of their lives. And that just for earning money! That just seems so wrong to me now!" she also said "after I slept for a bit when we came home I found that this was one of those experiences that will stay in my mind for a long time!" she would do the project anytime again.

It should be mentioned that volunteers who are at the Macaw project for the whole night will always have the next morning off to catch up on some sleep.

Finally I want to take a moment to tell you about a few small bits of news that have happened around the park in the last month or two. We have finally begun renovating the last of the volunteer rooms. We began by cleaning the ceiling and painting the walls in a fresh yellow instead of the old greenish colour. We also replaced the toilet and the sink with new ones. Cleaning the tiles in the bathrooms was a lot of work but now they look white and new again. Now all of the rooms look a lot nicer then just 4 months before. The next step might be to renovate the porches but we haven't decided the colour yet.

For the last few months Eduardo, our Biologist has also been bringing groups of children here to the park, aged between 8 and 13 years, they have been in Barra Honda every second Saturday for a couple of hours each time. They all come from the villages around our park, Barra Honda, El Flor and Santa Ana mainly. The idea is to let them playfully find out more about nature and its benefits and explain to them why conservation is so important for all of us. The main focus of these fun classes have been on birds and their habitats.

And finally there is still space left to tell you about a few cute armadillos we have around the camp. Almost every evening we have a brave one very close to the kitchen sniffing around and trying to find some left overs thrown out from the kitchen. It is amazing to be able to watch these fascinating animals so close up without having to move away from the camp!

Lisa Kubik
Assistant Manager
Barra Honda National Park
March 2012

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