Shortly after arriving at our second site, I realized that a few things I had been considering a chore earlier had become more of a habit. Number one was waking up early. Before this trip I considered 8 am “early”, but after waking up at 6 for the past week, I noticed that I was waking up at 6 with or without my alarm. Number two was toilet paper. On day 1, we were told that due to Costa Rica’s horrible sewage system, we had to throw all toilet paper into the trash can at all times. I was sure this would be a hard task to remember, but after a week without screwing it up, it is weird to think of doing it any other way. And last but not least, was no caffeine. Those of you that know me well know that I usually drink at least 1 Diet Dr. Pepper a day. However, here in Costa Rica there is no Diet Dr. Pepper and at the field stations there isn’t even any Diet Coke. So I have been forced to give up my habit, and though it has been difficult, I have persevered and I am no longer a caffeine addict. Yay!
Our second site, Palo Verde, which means “green stick”, was also beautiful but in a completely different way. When we first arrived, it was hard to believe we were still in Costa Rica. The flat grassland that rolled on for miles in between beautiful mountains made me think I was actually in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, but I had to keep in mind that we were in dry forest territory. There were no lush jungles, no wind swept beaches. Instead there was a large wetland in front of the station we stayed at, with tons of birds. Colleen, another student in the class, is keeping a list of birds we see on our entire trip. She let us know that within one day at Palo Verde, we doubled our previous bird list. I’m not that into birds, but it was hard not to get excited when everyone else was pulling out their binoculars and identifying birds in the trees. On our first day, we saw one of the most exciting birds at the site: the jabiru. It is a huge stork with a black head and a white body that is apparently fairly rare at Palo Verde. Although we didn’t get too close, they looked to be as big as people. Super cool!
But, my favorite bird we saw was the jacana. It is a beautiful bird that looks like it is wearing a bright orange mask. Apparently the females are polygamous and fight each other to guard their territory, while the males protect the eggs. Another thing I am getting used to is walking around with permanent tour guides, because no matter what we find, someone can almost always identify it or tell us more about it than I would know alone. So we are learning a lot from each other. Another cool thing we got to experience at this site was baby crocodiles! The field station guides were collecting and sexing baby crocodiles to track the male to female sex ratio as part of a conservation effort. And because of that, they had a ton of baby crocodiles in captivity so we got to hold them! I was a little wary of squeezing too hard, but luckily I got a calm little guy. They are so cute up close with that permanent smile.
But again, no visit is complete without a project! There were three more awesome projects awaiting us. One of them looked at caterpillar diversity within wet and dry areas, and found that although more caterpillars were found in the dry area, there is actually more diversity in the wet. The other two groups got to clomp around the dry forest, and that was really fun. One group was measuring gaps within the tree canopy and comparing them to measurements taken in 1978, before fire was introduced to the area. They found that although there are more gaps in the canopy, their size is smaller, which could have an effect on forest composition. And the best group was my group! We were studying whether dry forests can serve as a carbon sink by uptaking carbon dioxide and converting it into tree mass. Most forests are carbon sinks, but we wanted to see exactly how much carbon was being taken up by dry forests. We found dry forests are carbon sinks, but how much carbon is converted depends more or less on precipitation.
Of course, we had to take time out for the world cup too. We streamed the Costa Rica vs. Italy game and it was fun to hear the Costa Ricans scream with rage as the internet would suddenly decide to cut out at a critical moment. Luckily it functioned well enough for us to see Costa Rica win! We are all excited to see how they do in the next round, and I am rooting for them to go all the way. The break from the field was much needed, as this field work was a lot more difficult than the last. At least 3 people were stung by wasps as we dug around looking for trees. And we were always on the lookout for snakes, but we didn’t see any. There were some prickly trees though, such as the pochote and the spiny palm, both of which have sharp spines running along the length of the tree trunk. There was also one more tree with spines, but the spines were thick and harmless so it earned the nicknamed “barnacle tree”.
Overall, the week flew by. We spent most of our nights working in an air conditioned classroom, which worked out well because the mosquitos were fairly bad here. Though, ironically, they were the worst in the bathrooms. Must be all that available water left in the showers. So, although we climbed onto the bus scratching our legs and arms, I will miss Palo Verde. It was the first site we could towel off with a dry towel! That was huge! But… here we come Monteverde: the cloud forest.
View from a hike we did in Palo Verde. The wet lands aren’t that wet yet, as the dry season is running long, but it is beautiful.
Jenny, our amazing coordinator, and Megan, another student, showing off the super cute baby crocodiles!
Measuring trees to see how much carbon these dry forests store. Sometimes it was super hard to measure their diameter.
The awesome and spiny barnacle tree. This was a fun tree to take the diameter of.