Bites of bats, birds, chiggers and mosquitoes- Whitney, the other white meat.

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As an individual focused on conservation medicine, my future goals include conducting research that will reach and influence the scientific community as well as the non-scientific community on a global scale. At the time of applying for Field Ecology: Skills for Science and Beyond, my intensions were focused on learning new and valuable skillsets that would aid in the success of my future endeavors. After four intense and exciting weeks, I can successfully say that my expectations were not only met but surpassed and the knowledge I gained will go far beyond the classroom and used on a daily basis.

The journey started at a Palo Verde Biological station, a dry forest and one of the world’s largest protected wetlands. I was immediately pulled out of my comfort zone as I was taught how to use a statistical program called “R”. Anyone who has heard of or had the “privilege” of working with this program can immediately attest to the love/hate relationship that comes with it… but I digress. Palo Verde was also full of exploration of the natural world. 0500 bird watching, late evening walks, climbing up a mountain, and learning how to use camera traps from an expert were just a few of the exciting activities that took place. But with these exciting activities came “friends”, friends with wings and multiple sets of legs. These “friends” to most people are known as mosquitoes. I made over 300 friends while at Palo Verde and their parting gifts of itchiness, blotchiness, and swelling will forever be remembered even if their presence is no more.

After departing from Palo Verde, the journey continued on to La Selva Biological Station. La Selva is a neotropical rain forest that receives a little more than 4 meters ( >12 feet!) of rain each year. Although our 12 day visit was during the “dry season”, we got to experience the joy of daily rain storms and never having dry clothes. Nature usually tried to be kind and warn us when the rain was nearing. Howler monkeys would yell and birds would call out but when you’re a few hundred meters into the forest there isn’t much you can do but dance in the rain and make the most of it. When I wasn’t drenched from head to toe or sitting in on nightly lectures I was busy conducting research and simultaneously making movies. Using quality cameras and splicing footage together is a skill I’ve always wanted to have but never had chance to master. Thanks to OTS I have had the joy of successfully added this skillset to my “toolbox” in an ecosystem I’ve dreamed of visiting since a small child.

Aside from dancing in the rain and making amazing movies, La Selva produced opportunities of doing other new and exciting things like climbing high into the forest canopy and mist-netting bats! Learning to climb trees was simply amazing. Using a rope and pulley system I was able to ascend into the canopy 15 meters (~50 feet)! The view was gorgeous at sunrise and the observations and research we were able to conduct while in the air pushed me farther than I had ever been pushed. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat if I could. When I wasn’t scaling trees, or assisting my colleagues to do the same, I was learning to mist-net and handle bats (another lifelong goal). Bats are adorable and they do so much for ecosystems, every moment was exciting and I learned so much! I learned vital things about bat behavior, diet, and morphology. I also learned a lot about bat health and how to quickly, and politely, remove their tiny razor blade like teeth from my gloves and fingers. For an animal that weighs just a few grams they sure do pack a lot of personality and wit and I hope to work with these individuals again and again in the future!

After we said “ciao” to La Selva we headed south to Cuerici Biological Station. This place was like no other I have ever been to. Waking up to a montane cloud forest high in the mountains with the crispest air was definitely a God send and a drastic change to the hot, humid ways of the rain forest. Cuerici was filled with hikes lasting several hours with dozens of chiggers, several cups of the world’s best hot chocolate, storytelling by the locals and gracious hosts, sunrise yoga, and a fabulous tour of a sustainable, chemical free trout farm! Every hour of every day was cherished and I only wish that my pictures could do this blessed place justice!

All good things must come to an end, and my OTS journey concludes at Las Cruces Botanical Garden and Biological Station. This station offered many great things but in a much different setting to those previously visited.  This particular environment has been fragmented and changed by the hands of humans over recent decades but yet holds a wide range of fauna and flora biodiversity. I was able to experience some of this amazing biodiversity first hand during my 7 day stay as the research I conducted focused on bats and birds. Birds, like bats, are amazing in their own right and full of spunk! Birds may not have sharp detention like bats but if you’re not careful their beak may give you a nice pinch. Although the days and nights were long and my fingers are recovering from the nibbles of my new found friends, I’m still amazed and thanfkful that I was able to study and handle 14 species of bat and 42 species of bird!

This short blog is just a small view into my four week journey with OTS in Costa Rica and it wouldn’t have been possible without the emotional support of my family and friends as well as the monetary support of my university in the States. The journey, albeit stressful, went by way too fast and was full of so many amazing animals and people and gorgeous scenery.

Until next time, Costa Rica.

Salud,

Whitney Collins

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