Monday 29 August 2016

Finishing up

On the 18th of August the team went up to Skutch for the last time. This time Jen joined them for a night. Instead of only seeing the identification pictures she could now for herself see how confusing the IDing of the frogs is. Many of the frogs we catch have characteristics of two different species according to the identification book that we use (Savage, 2002). It is hard to tell what the reason for this is. It could be that the two species are hybridising or that this is a yet undescribed subspecies of Eleutherodactylus. To find out it would be very interesting to do some DNA tests with these frogs. Hopefully this will be possible for Cloudbridge in the near future.
On the 20th we all arrived back at basecamp again and it was time to pack all our equipment. The next day Kristina was the first one to leave Cloudbridge again after spending 4 weeks here. The rest will stay in Costa Rica for another week and enjoy some more of its wildlife. Today Alex and Louise went up to Cerro Chirripo, which is Costa Rica's highest mountain at 3820m. A very exciting challenge to celebrate the end of a successful expedition.

After 6 weeks of hard work at Cloudbridge Nature Reserve this expedition has eventually come to an end. We have had an amazing time here in Costa Rica and gained so much more experience that we can benefit from for the rest of our lives. We hope everyone has enjoyed reading this blog and maybe even inspired people to set up a similar expedition. It is now our job to focus on finishing the final report and edit the film about not only our expedition but also about the rest that is being done at Cloudbridge.
Once again we would like to thank all the people that supported and sponsored us to make this expedition such a success and ofcourse Cloudbridge Nature Reserve for hosting us. A special thanks to the following organisations who have sponsored a big part of this project:

- Royal Geographical Society with IBG
- Gilchrist Educational Trust
- The Lord Mayor's 800th Anniversary Awards Trust

Wednesday 17 August 2016

14 & 15 August

Today the team came back from their 2 night camping trip up at Skutch. Unfortunately, Louise was again forced to stay at basecamp because of breathing problems when walking up the hill, which turns out to be caused by bronchitis. The first night Alex took a time-lapse of the starry sky up at Vulture Rock. This week it is possible to see many shooting stars from the meteorshower ‘Perse├»ds’ so these are nice and visible on the time-lapse video. Louise also went out to see it together with Emma, one of the volunteers, and they saw many many shooting stars.
The team caught 15 frogs in total up at Skutch, which again we will re-ID back at basecamp using the pictures. After the team got back we went out for our weekly shopping trip at the small supermarket in San Gerardo. In the evening when everyone was relaxing, two Costa Ricans suddenly visited, which normally never happens at this time. They told us that when they went out hiking today, they lost their friend and he had still not returned. Alex and Kristina went out with the two guys to where they had last seen their friend, while Louise and Jen stayed at camp and checked if he was found at the Talamanca Reserve, which borders with Cloudbridge. We all stayed in contact using walkie talkies. Unfortunately, they were unable to find him and had to return. The next day Alex showed Oscar and Edgar, two local workers of the reserve, where he had been seen last and they continued the search. Luckily they know the area like the back of their hand, so they will be able to search on both the Cloudbridge and the Talamancan trails. At around 8am the guys from last night came back to start looking for their friend again. They looked very worried, knowing that their friend had to spend the night out in the jungle. Which is more than logical. After only an hour they returned. With lost friend! Once he got lost and it was dark he luckily managed to bump into a cabin where he spent the night in a hammock. Anyway, we are all very happy that he eventually managed to find his way back and that he is safe.

Thursday 11 August 2016

9 & 10 August

First of all Happy Birthday to our team leader, Louise. Together with the two local workers at the reserve and two of the volunteers she helped clear weeds around the planted trees on the Chirripo trail today. A tiring, blister giving job but it was a lot of fun. After all the weeds had been cut they put cardboard around the trees so there won’t be any new weeds growing directly around the trees. In the evening we had a nice night filled with games with everyone at basecamp.
The next day the rest of the team came back down from Skutch. They almost had to come back down earlier because of a lack of water. The camp is high up the mountain so there is no river close by to get water from, so we always have to rely on catching water from the rainfall. However, the past few days it hadn’t rained at all, so when the team got to the camp they only had a small 4 liters of water which they had to use both for drinking and cooking. Luckily on the second day they had plenty of rain to fill a bucket again, but this was after living off biscuits for a night because of the lack of water to cook with. Things don’t always go as planned in the jungle! But we try our best to make the most out of every situation.
In the evening we all went out for dinner at hotel Uran for Louise’s birthday. That was great fun again. On the way back we spotted two separate tarantulas hiding in their burrow. We tried to lure them out with a piece of grass. The first one we couldn’t fool, but the second one did come out. He surprised all of us with the big size that none of us expected. The body was a good 6-7cm long!


Monday 8 August 2016

6 & 7 August

Today we all had time to relax and catch up on both sleep and food. Yesterday evening we all went down to hotel Uran to watch the opening of the Rio Olympics. Easier to watch here than at home where it was in the middle of the night. In the afternoon we went down to San Gerardo to do some grocery shopping again. Normally this is just on Sundays but as we are going back up the mountain tomorrow we have to go today. Afterwards we sat down with Jen to re-ID all the frogs from Skutch. Most were still podiciferus or underwoodi but with a few frogs we have serious doubts. Scientists are also not certain yet if podiciferus should be one species or if it should be divided into 7! So we will send pictures of these frogs off to some experts who hopefully can tell us more. Today Frank returned from his forest walk with a milk snake. Juveniles, like this one, almost have the same colouration as a coral snake, but the milk snakes are not venomous. They use this colouration to confuse their predators and stay safe. When they reach adulthood the colours will disappear again and the snakes turn fully black. To keep the coral snakes and milk snakes apart you should look at the order of the colours. ‘Red next to yellow kills a fellow’ – coral snake, ‘red next to black is a friend of Jack’ – milk snake. However, of course they can all still bite, so keep watching them. We should hopefully have a picture of the snake online in a few days. In the evening we watched the Martian with the whole group, but only half of us made it till the end as everyone has an early start again tomorrow.
On Sunday Alex first took photos of the milk snake. Yesterday it was quite stressed and did not want to stay still at all. This morning it was a lot easier to photograph him, but he was always trying to find a way to escape. Today the team also went back up to Skutch and on took the snake with them in a pillow case to release it back to where it was found the day before. Unfortunately Louise is not able to go up the mountain this time as she has been a bit ill. A few days of rest should hopefully get her back fit enough to hike up for the next two camping trips. And staying down at basecamp will give time to work on the data and the report for this expedition.

Saturday 6 August 2016

5 August

It has been a bit quiet on our blog over the last few days. On the 3rd of August we left basecamp to walk up Mount Skutch to our camping place. With 8 people in total and our big bags packed with equipment we set off at 5am. After a steep climb it took us 3 to 4 hours to reach camp. The site is set in the middle of the old growth forest on a massive rock which makes it possible to find a flat spot for our tent. We have a 4 person tent which exactly fits our team. It can get quite chilly outside as we are now at 2300m but at night we were all boiling in our tent. Outside we have made a V-shaped roof with plastic under which we can sit and cook but also to collect water with. You only have to find the right spot where most of the water drips down, place a bucket with a mesh cover over it and wait for 10 minutes to let the rain fill it up. As we are so high up the mountain the closest river is about an hour’s walk, so we really need a good rain shower to get enough drinking water. After everything was set up, Matt, Frank, Jen and Oscar left us and went back to basecamp. For the next two nights it was just the 4 of us. The plan was to go out on two night surveys and one day survey, but unfortunately the first night the rain kept us from going out. The next day we first started cutting a new transect. Normally we would use red tape to mark every 25m on the transect, but as we couldn’t find it we had to improvise. Instead we took some cutlery and marked the transect with knives and spoons. Luckily this worked and we could find out way through the forest at night by following the shiny objects. On our day transect in the afternoon we found a good 5 frogs, a lot more than we would find during the day at basecamp. In the evening we walked another two transects. It seemed like all the frogs were in ‘hotspots’ and Louise was really feeling it tonight. She managed to spot 9 out of 11 frogs! Identifying them the next day was a big challenge again. Most of the frogs were around 20mm and we had to distinguish them by looking at things like ‘hand tubercles’. Alex took photos of all of them with which we should hopefully be able to ID them again later. Back at basecamp we will discuss all the frogs with Jen again to make sure we have the correct ID for each individual.

1 August

This morning the tent arrived. Cloudbridge is hiring a 4 person tent for the coming 3 weeks so we and the other volunteers can go up to Mount Skutch to conduct surveys there. It is at 2300m so too far to keep walking up and down every day. We will be alternating between two nights on the mountain and then two nights here in basecamp. We are very excited to go up and see what species we can find. The trip becomes even more exciting when you think about that we will actually be the first people to do surveys there. Until now people have only sometimes been in this part of the reserve to hike. But as it is quite a long and steep hike up, most people stick to the more well-known paths. The rest of the day we started getting together everything on our kit list to check nothing was missing. Tomorrow is our last day to buy possible missing equipment and then our camping adventure will begin.
Today the group of students also left, which means that we can move back into the dorm. It just makes it a lot easier to have everything in the same place again instead of spread out between several houses.

Sunday 31 July 2016

30 July

This morning Louise was at the welcome centre until 1 in the afternoon. It is so nice to meet people all over the world and tell them about the forest and the project that we do. It always is a mix of locals and people from all different countries, America, the Netherlands, Switzerland, St Martin, Germany, etc. It still amazes me when some locals come running past the welcome centre into the reserve. Of course they are probably more used to it but they really must have some strong leg muscles to be able to run up these hills. Every year there is an annual race up to Cerro Chirripo. Where it would normally take you 10 to 14 hours to get to the top, last year the fastest person made it to the top in just 4 hours! A hummingbird regularly visiting the flowers opposite the welcome centre made the time fly past. The rest of the day we worked on the data entries, report writing and photo editing.