Last week started off with the distinct satisfaction of delivering the results of our first set of faculty-led projects at Palo Verde. We seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief after pulling it off. Now we’ve traded out the perpetual mosquito swatting and sweat dripping of the tropical dry forest for misty winds and Three-Wattled Bellbird and Quetzal sightings in the cloud forests of Monteverde.
For a few days our focus shifted towards conducting community research, specifically by surveying residents of San Luis near our lodge at the University of Georgia Costa Rica campus. I had the pleasure of being part of a group that took a particular interest in the Three-Wattled Bellbird. This bird, locally known as Pájaro Campana, has a remarkable call that few will fail to note because it ends with a reverberating ‘bonk!’. Between protected areas in the Monteverde region and the coastal mangroves on the Pacific side lies the Corredor Biológico Pájaro Campana which seeks to enhance connectivity between the high elevation breeding zone of the Pájaro Campana and the lower elevation zones through which they migrate after reproducing.
Wild avocados called aguacatillos are a crucial food source for Pájaro Campana, one of the most sought out birds of the region, perhaps only second to the Resplendent Quetzal. Pájaro Campana is considered the most effective disperser of aguacatillos, closely linking it with the persistence of an important food source for a whole suite of species. One of the main actions occurring in the biological corridor is the planting of aguacatillos to provide stepping stones of habitat for the Pajaro Campana during its migration.
The community of San Luis de Puntarenas, next door to Monteverde, lies within the biological corridor. My group sought to determine how familiar San Luis’ residents are with the bellbird, why they value it and how willing they are to engage in the planting of aguacatillo trees to benefit the bellbird. So we set out into the community for a single day to get our answers by knocking on doors, well, actually by calling out “Upe!”, tico style, from the gate in the hopes of being invited in. We were always greeted warmly and with overflowing enthusiasm for the bellbird. It is clear that this charismatic bird has made itself known among local residents. Yet, we found an important disconnect. While most people knew the Pájaro Campana by its call and appearance and loved opportunities to see and hear it they didn’t know what it ate. After sharing with them that aguacatillos are its preferred food, most were ready and willing to plant aguacatillos on their land and even more eager to do so if some resources like fertilizer, saplings, and labor were provided.
Our findings highlight a crucial gap in effectively creating habitat for the Pájaro Campana and clarify the need for education focused specifically on the ecology of the bird. For me, this highlights the fact that in conservation efforts studying the species of interest, its needs and interactions, and establishing corridors and protected areas to benefit the species is far from enough. Understanding the perspective of the people, the human dimension of the work is a necessity. Research can and should be so much more than the cold hard quantitative data. After these few days immersed in doing community surveys, my mind is churning with ideas for incorporating community research and more outreach events in my work when I return home.
There’s something in the air that makes me want to seek him.
Perhaps it’s the strong winds blowing
that late into the night
remind me of his longing passion.
There’s something in the air tonight that makes me want to find him.
Maybe it’s the silent reminder
of the long lost callers;
the memory of their voices lost in out collective ignorance.
There’s something in the air tonight that makes me hope I never need him.
Because one day he’ll also become silence,
and only the wind rattling the forest will remain.
->Monteverde area, UGA campus, June 18th 2016, while listening to the silence that should have been filled by all the long lost frogs, were we there 20 years earlier. A single caller all night, heavy winds, and rain. The most beautiful forest, straight out of dreams, but all the frogs are gone.
The course is off to a hot and exciting start at Palo Verde Biological Station. Students participated in some introductory workshops (statistics, leadership, experimental design) and are now finishing up their first research projects with invited professors Dr. Luis Sandoval (University of Costa Rica), Dr. Sean O’Donnell (Drexel University), and Dr. Patty Jones (Cornell University). We have seen scarlet macaws, a puma with cub, and some troublesome young capuchin monkeys that keep us entertained at meal times.
One more day here and we are on to Monteverde, even though it feels like we just got here!