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 ‘Perseïds’ 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.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

29 July

Both Louise and Alex have been trying to get some hummingbird pictures but it is incredibly hard as they never ever stay at a flower for more than a few seconds. Even though they look so pretty and cute, hummingbirds are actually very aggressive birds. Like most animals they all have their own territory, but for hummingbirds this includes their own personal flowers that no other bird is allowed to take nectar from. Several times already we have witnessed a hummingbird chasing away others. This includes insects! One time we saw a proper fight between two. When after a long chase one bird fell on the ground the other kept hoovering above and pecking it.
Kristina had her first welcome centre duty this morning. She had an easy morning as only two groups of people came by. Louise, Valerie and Alex went back to the Sentinel trail to see if the hummingbird was sitting on its nest again. When we got there he was not there, but we did see two tiny, perfectly light pink coloured eggs. Amazing to see. We will go back in a few days to hopefully film and take photos of the parent sitting on the nest, so keep watching this page. After this, Valerie and Louise continued their walk to visit one of the bigger waterfalls, Catarata Caldera, on the reserve. Unfortunately it started raining half way down. After sitting in the shelter of some trees for a while we still tried to go down to the waterfall but we decided it was too slippery, so we will be going back some other time. In the afternoon and evening we watched some movies and played games with the whole group which was great fun as always.

28 July

The spot on Sendero El Jilguero where we set up our camera trap seems to be quite a busy wildlife route. Twice now we have had the Tamandua pass and there is also a bird that keeps visiting the camera at night. New on the camera trap is an opossum. It took a while before we could ID it because it stayed quite a distance from the camera. But the most regular visitors are a family of peccary. Apparently there is a small cave close to this side of the trail where they stay. So whenever they go foraging, which is both during the day and at night they pass our camera.
Our night transect today was on Montaña and Sentinal. Sentinel does not take long at all because it only has two transects, both of 100m instead of 150m. Unfortunately only one frog for us tonight, but then also another blue-eyed anole. On Sentinel we made a very exciting discovery: a hummingbird on a nest! We will be going back tomorrow to hopefully get some good photos and maybe do some filming as well.

27 July

Our first night up at the Gavilan cabin was very warm. The temperatures have changed quite a bit since the first week we were here. But this was quite nice because when you wake up you can just sit outside or lie in the hammock and look at the beautiful view over the valley. The rest of the day we spent with the rest at Casita Blanca as that is where most our equipment is and of course where we have wifi, which is a very nice luxury to have. We IDed the frogs caught yesterday and enjoyed the always pretty views from the house as the clouds roll past. In the evening we had surveys up on the steep Watersystem transect and on Rio. Different to normally we actually caught something on Watersystem this time! Two anoles, a blue-eyed anole and a slender anole.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

26 July

Tuesday, moving day! Tomorrow a group with 20 British students is coming to the reserve for 5 nights. This means everyone has to move out of the dorms and into Casita Blanca, Frank’s house or Casita Gavilan. Our team has been moved up the mountain into Casita Gavilan. It’s a very basic cabin with a kitchen and beds for 4 people in the same area. There is also a very nice outside decking area with benches, a hammock and a fantastic view of mountain Uran. Luckily we are allowed to leave our food where it is and bring all stuff that we don’t need at the cabin to Casita Blanca, which is just around the corner from the dorms. So after a morning of packing and cleaning we walked up to Gavilan with our big backpacks. It really feels like an expedition now! Up at the cabin we played some cards and baseball with some fruit that we found before returning back to camp for dinner. After dinner we went out on a transect again, which also happened to be on Gavilan tonight. On the way up Louise managed to spot an Olingo! Our first one so far.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

25 July

Today Alex, Louise and Matt were going to San Isidro. Louise had to go to the dentist because her retainer broke a few days ago and Alex had to pick up his new computer screen as his laptop screen had broken during our travels between the UK and Costa Rica. We wanted to get the bus from San Gerardo at 10, but apparently it was a national day so the bus times weren’t as regular. After asking several people we finally got a number for the taxi, who first wouldn’t accept our English phone number as a contact number, but eventually they came. We met two Canadian girls who also could not wait for the bus so all cramped up with 5 people in a 4 seater taxi we drove up to San Isidro. Our next problem was finding the dentist. I put the map from the website of the dentist on my phone, but the taxi driver still could not find it and just dropped us off somewhere close. It turns out that in this part of the city there are about 20 dentists! We went into several shops to ask where it was but also they could just point us in a general direction. Eventually, after calling them, we found the place. The lady was very kind and soon fixed Louise’s braces. The first thing we did then was go to MacDonalds for lunch. It is so funny how you can feel like a foreigner when you walk through the city, but suddenly everything neutralised when you walk into the MacDonalds as all of their shops look the same.
We then walked through San Isidro to find a supermarket and do some shopping. From here we tried to get a 4x4 taxi who would be able to bring us all the way back up to Cloudbridge. We didn’t find any but the taxi driver we spoke to said he was happy to drive us all the way up. We thought, that’s not going to be possible, but let’s see what happens. Before going back we first had to pick up Alex’s computer screen. At least he can now start editing all his photos and videos. Somehow the driver did really manage to drive us all the way up to Cloudbridge!
During our time away Valerie and Kristina had identified all caught frogs from yesterday and then hiked up El Jilguero and down Gavilan to release the frogs again. As it is Monday again, it was our weekly potluck night. We made some honey glazed carrots with onion and pancakes for desert. Last week all food was yellow or brown because no-one had made a vegetable dish, this week it was completely the other way around. Everything was delicious again!

24 July

We started with identifying the frog we found on last nights walk. When we caught it the frogs had a light green/yellow colour, but when we looked at it this morning is was almost black, so dark. This is why we are not allowed to ID frogs by looking at their colour. After IDing we went for another swim by the waterfall. Yesterday the guys had found a new, much higher waterfall of about 15 meters. Eventhough it does look a lot cooler, there was quite a strong current and it was difficult to get in and out of the water. So after one dip Kristina, Valerie and Louise went back the already known swimming spot.
In the evening we had a survey on El Jilguero again. At one spot where there are quite a lot of grassy bushes we found a lot of crassidigitus. They definitely like this vegetation. In between two transects we came to an open patch with little trees and saw that the sky was completely clear. It was such a beautiful starry sky and we even saw some shooting starts. After we finished our transects and half walked and slid back down the trail, Alex went back up to an open space to take some nice starry night pictures.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

23 July

This morning Louise was working at the welcome centre from 8 until 1. It was quite busy with both locals and tourists coming to visit the reserve. Some just come for a little stroll but some people were planning on seeing the Don Victor waterfalls on the far side of the reserve! In the afternoon we went down to San Gerardo. Our shopping day was moved a day forward as tomorrow both Frank and Jen will be away. We also went down to pick up Kristina, our 4th team member, who finally arrived in Costa Rica after a very long travel. Luckily it had all gone well, except that all electronic chargers and batteries had fallen out of the bag somewhere between London and the U.S.
As even after her long travel Kristina had some energy left we went for a short practice walk along the river to look for some frogs. It was not long until we found the first Emerald Glassfrog, but unfortunately it was too high on the leaf and before we could reach it, it jumped off into safety. A few minutes later Kristina spotted her first frog! She already seems to be on it in finding these small creatures. Tomorrow evening we will be going on an official survey again.

22 July

Early this morning 4 of the volunteers left to go to Dominical for a weekend, so camp is a lot quieter this weekend. From 8 until 1 Valerie was on Welcome Centre duty for the first time. This is a small building that all the tourists visiting the reserve pass. Here they can get information on anything from the history of the reserve to the trails to the research that we are doing. There is a rotation scheme so everyone will be there every now and then. Tomorrow it is Louise who will be at the Welcome centre.
In the evening we had another survey. Normally Friday nights are off, but yesterday everyone felt too tired so we moved it up a day. Via Sendero Gavilan we walked up to the top of Sendero El Jilguero. The forest was filled with the calls of tink frogs, but we didn’t see any. Tink frogs tend to be higher up in the trees and thus out of reach for us. Probably the best way to survey these species is using canopy walks, but of course it is hard to set these up. As soon as the drizzle stopped we suddenly had a lot of annoying moths flying into our faces. We ended up taking off our headtorches and just carrying them. Finding frogs already is hard, let alone with moths bombing into your face. We first didn’t see too much, but halfway through the crassidigitus showed up again. We ended up catching 4 frogs, not too bad. Walking down El Jilguero is a lot easier for your muscles than going up. However, because of the high amounts of rain we have had in the past few days it was very slippery and we were all very happy with our walking sticks again. 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

21 July

As last night no frogs were caught, we didn’t have any identification to do. Louise and Leo, one of the volunteers went to release the Tiger rat snake from yesterday. So with the snake in a pillow case and in a backpack they set off for Vulture Rock. It is quite a hike and the furthest we have been so far. Although we didn’t choose the best day to do this. Normally a day starts sunny but quite soon the clouds already come rolling in. However, today there was no cloud in the sky until late in the morning. After crossing two rivers, only one of which has a bridge, and climbing over some fallen trees we reached the steepest bit up to Vulture Rock. The last path is in a very open area with lots of grass and ferns and only a handful of trees to give you some shade. It was so hot to walk on here with the boiling sun shining right on you, plus zigzagging up the mountain. It was also quite hard to see the path with all the grass covering it and every now and then when you place your foot a bit too much to the left it would slip down. But don’t worry, we stayed on the path. Once we reached Vulture Rock we took a long break, enjoyed the amazing view and saw some lizards and vultures. The next trail was probably the biggest challenge so far. Frank and the rest who went up yesterday cut a path going straight up from a trail by the river, to Vulture Rock and further. But unlike the normal trails, this path went straight up, without any bends or zigzagging. So as you can imagine it was very steep and extremely slippery with all the loose soil and cut off branches. Eventually, after a lot of sliding we reached the point where we had to release the snake. We were planning on filming the release, but as soon as the bag was open and on the ground the snake took off at a crazy speed. There was no way of filming that. Once we got to the normal trail again our trousers had become very muddy brown from all the sliding down the hill. In the end it took us 4 hours to get up the mountain and back to camp.
At 2 we went down to San Gerardo for Marian’s project presentation. Over the past 6 months he has been studying the different trees and fruits found in this reserve. It was in town so anyone interested in these projects can come and listen. A very good way to engage the community as well, especially when some presentations are done in Spanish when possible.

20 July

It was our first time to check the pitfall traps today, but unfortunately there was nothing inside any of them. As it was a very sunny and warm morning again, Valerie and Louise went for another swim by the waterfall. We just did not expect to see so many people there! There was a group of 5 tourists and then a big group of about 10 kids came! Still no problem for us though, because they all thought the water was way too cold to go swimming, so we still had the whole river to ourselves. Alex went on another photography hike and brought the one frog to release with him. So it’s an easy day for the rest of us.
Today Frank and three others went up the mountain to check the trails and campsite where we will be staying to catch and ID frogs further up the mountain where no research has been done yet. It took them 7.5 hours to get up and back down, so quite the hike. When they came back they walked into the classroom with a massive barrel. Everyone was wondering what was going on. They said they caught a snake up the mountain and that it was in his backpack. Everyone looked really surprised and for a second we did not believe him, but there indeed was a big snake in his bag. We released it inside the barrel and put a rock on top so it won’t escape. It is a big black snake with some lighter patches around the head of about 1.5 meters long. It was later identified as a ‘Tiger rat snake’. Tomorrow Louise and a volunteer will hike up the mountain to release it again and also to have a look at the campsite where we will be staying. Frank also mentioned that they found 7 frogs on their way up, without even looking for them! So we are very excited and can’t wait to go up and explore this never before explored corner of the reserve.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

19 July

Finally, todays attempt of getting the pitfall traps out was successful. We have two buckets per location with tarp in between them at three different locations. Finding the right spot and digging them in still was a slight challenge as the ground is full with roots and rocks and it also has to be fairly flat. We first wanted to get one trap set up around the water system transect, but we just could not find a flat enough spot that was not covered in roots and big rocks. Now we will check the traps every morning so any trapped animal doesn’t stay in the bucket for too long. Then it was time to ID the two frogs from last night. They were both litter frogs again. Emma, one of the internship trainees is really interested in our frog project so she helped us with the IDing today. Only the frog she handled was the jumpiest we have had so far! Within no-time he managed to escape and jumped around the classroom like a maniac, hiding under the sofa and heading straight for the door, which we luckily closed before handling them. These little guys always keep you focussed. Not only was he difficult to handle, also identifying him to the right species was a challenge. There are two main types of litter frogs in this area, but it seems that once in a while you also find a hybrid between these two species. So some of this frog’s characteristics fit with underwoodi whereas others made this frog look more like the podificerus we had earlier. 
On our way to our evening transects Louise suddenly saw some eyes crossing the path. The rest did not believe her and said it must have been a firefly. But when we reached that point we saw an opossum climbing up the tree! Of all evenings, of course today we did not bring a proper camera (sorry for the somewhat blurry photos). Halfway up it just stopped and posed for us. It was great to see it this close. While watching the opossum we heard a screeching sound from an owl. And there it was, 20 metres further along the path. He was hunting and again we could just watch him from a very short distance. You would almost think it was a tame owl! Later on one of the transects he came to visit us again. Maybe he liked it that we were disturbing everything on the ground. In the end we spotted just three frogs and only managed to catch one. In the rainy season the river transect just doesn’t attract as many frogs anymore as in the dry season.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

18 July

This morning Louise braved the cold of the river again for a morning swim, while Alex took some more photos and Valerie read a book by the waterfall. This time it was even colder as the sun hadn’t risen high enough yet to reach the river and it had been pouring with rain the night before. But it still is a nice way to start the day. We checked one of the camera traps today and found footage of a Northern tamandua! It is the most common of three anteater species in Costa Rica. After Alex had gone for a little photography hike again (didn’t see a lot) we finished off the pitfall traps by attaching the tarp between the buckets. Our plan was to get them out in the field as well, but just when we wanted to do this the rain came back and did not stop until mid-afternoon. It just seems like the frogs do not want to be trapped in our pitfall traps because every attempt we make to get them out, something stops us. This time the key to the workshop was lost. And by the time it was found again it was time for our weekly potluck again. We will try again first thing tomorrow morning. For potluck we made egg fried rice and corn bread. We had a lot of rice to eat because some others made a massive pot of rice pudding. But everything was delicious! With full bellies we went up the mountain again to do the transect we could not do yesterday evening. Our days of rest have definitely seem to have helped. Instead of 1.5 hour like last time we walked up El Jilguero in just 40 minutes! Maybe after all our muscles are getting used to this terrain. Our walk started dry but we ended up in the rain again. It seems like the frogs went into hiding not to get wet because we just found two and only heard a handful. Maybe we have more luck tomorrow.

Monday, 18 July 2016

16 & 17 July

It is weekend, so time to catch up on sleep and relax. Most people do try to get a lie in but it is hard when the dorms get light so early. Louise and Valerie still keep waking up around 5/6 every morning. As it was such a sunny and warm morning, Louise, Valerie and two of the volunteers went for a swim by the waterfalls just outside camp. It is very chilly but so nice and refreshing! But you definitely need the sun to be out to warm up again. The rest of the day everyone had time to do something for themselves. Alex went out on a hike to get some photos but came back soaked from the rain.
On Sunday of course it was shopping day. But before this we went for breakfast at the Secret Gardens again and after that for a dip in the hot springs of San Gerardo. It just looks like a normal pool, but in the middle of the jungle and it is so nice and warm that the steam comes off the water. The plan for the afternoon was to get the pitfall traps out at the three different locations, but from 2pm it started pouring with rain and did not stop again until somewhere at night. So our plans for going out on a night transect also got washed away. But just as Louise was going to ask Jen whether to go out or not she bumped into a cane toad, so we still found something!. And that’s a new species for our expedition! The toad looked a lot scarier than the small cute frogs we have found so far.

15 July

Funny thing, again the American group had too much for breakfast, so Louise and Valerie had some left-over scrambled eggs, thanks again. A German volunteer, Tobias, made two prototypes of the new design of the pitfall traps that we are going to try out. In the morning he explained what materials to use and then we made the rest of the buckets. Surprisingly, the buckets we had to use for these pitfall traps used to be filled with delicious flavours of ice cream before, which made us very jealous. This different design of pitfall trap is based on the idea that the frog enters the bucket through a door to hide in the litter inside and cannot leave the trap afterwards anymore because the flap only opens one way. Within the next few days we will be placing 2 traps at 3 different locations. Hopefully we will catch some frogs. As the American group had taken over the kitchen again in the afternoon, we cooked spaghetti and sausages at Jens and Franks house. In the afternoon we had time for ourselves and Louise made great rice pudding (which took over one hour!). Around 17.00 we were asked to join the rest at the Uran restaurant as a French student, Baptiste, was leaving after studying mushrooms for three months. We were with a very big group and everybody had something to drink or eat. The dishes here are huge but very good!

Friday, 15 July 2016

14 July

Can’t believe it’s already been a week since we first arrived at the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve! Louise and Alex had a very long travel by plane, bus, taxi, car and also by foot. And Valerie as she had to travel a distance by foot and over a very bumpy road with the car. The past week we have been learning the trails, practising night surveys and learning the herpetofauna in this reserve by IDing. The trails here are quite steep so it takes some time to get used to this, although we do not notice it yet, I hope we are improving (slowly). The identification can sometimes be very difficult, luckily Jen helps us from time to time. Alex has been photographing these tiny, jumpy frogs and all the other wildlife he could catch on camera. Yesterday, Alex has, just like Louise, become a ‘frog star’ when he suddenly developed an eye to see the litter frogs. So far we have not returned with empty boxes from our night surveys, hoping it will stay like this. Until Saturday we are sharing the classroom with the American high school students. Jen was very pleased that we managed to catch litter frogs (aka rainfrogs) and brought them along with 2 glass frogs for the students to see. In particular the glass frogs are very impressive to see with their transparent body. The group was smaller than we thought: 7 students and 2 supervisors. Jen explained about the herpetofauna and introduced us, then they left to plant trees on the trail Gavilan. We set up our equipment and started identifying the litter frogs. These relaxed, non-jumpy frogs were a lot easier to handle for Valerie, a much better combination compared to the crassidigitus. The 3 litter frogs we found were identified to the same species Craugastor podiciferus and the other Alex caught was an Emerald glass frog. Next we all had time to nap, photograph the coati that lives here and steals food (pineapples) from the birdfeeder or read. After returning the frogs we planned the coming weeks: transects, when to go up to the ‘’tented mountain camp’’ , the pitfall trapping,  and went to Jen to discuss this. There Louise and Valerie had to complete a quiz to assess the skills we have gained so far. Only Alex and Kristina still have to fill out the quiz, so they better start studying! Don’t worry, it is not like we have to leave the reserve if we fail. All tired and a bit too lazy to cook, the American group kindly offered us their leftovers: rice, beans, chili and avocado. We could of course not say no to this. Thanks, now we still managed to get into our beds early.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

13 July

First of all, happy birthday to our camp manager Frank!
We started the day with IDing the four frogs we found last night. Very excited and curious to know what tree frog we had caught we started with this one. However, it turned out to be more difficult than we thought and in the end we spend 1.5 hours going through different identification keys in de book. But we can now at least say that it is an Isthmohyla pseudopuma although we prefer saying that we found a puma. After the reptile volunteers had finished identifying the small snake, it was time for his photoshoot in the lightbox. It is very hard to take photos of a constantly moving snake!
In the afternoon a whole group of American high school students came to camp. They will stay here until Saturday morning, exploring the reserve and helping with tree planting.
For the first time we did the evening transects without the help of Jen, just to see if we would still find frogs. And we did! Quite soon already Alex spotted a litter frog and a glass frog. And higher up the hill Louise found another two litter frogs. For these small frogs you really have to focus on the ground while you are lightly disturbing the leaf litter with a stick. The only way to see them is when they jump because they have the exact same colour as all the brown leaves on the floor.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

12 July

It turned out that all 10 frogs from yesterday were the same species, Eleutherodactylus crassidigitus. That might seem like a let-down but it is so interesting to see how different the colouration can be between individuals of the same species. Some have a racing strip along the back, others are light coloured and some suddenly very dark. At least we now know the characteristics of this species by heart.
In the evening we did transects on the Rio trail. The first one is a very small, steep and slippery path that is barely used, only for these surveys. At one point it even got so steep that there is a rope to hold on to and pull yourself up. Very exciting! Unfortunately, we did not find any frogs on this transect. Jen told us that in the dry season she normally finds lots as this transect runs along a stream, but now that it is raining a lot more frequent the frogs are more spread across the forest. On the other transects we had more luck, finding 5 frogs (of which one escaped) and a small snake! The snake was very well hidden, curled around a branch like a root of a plant, but luckily Louise still managed to spot it. We also found our first tree frog. They are a lot bigger than the ones we have found so far, so a lot easier to find and handle.

Monday, 11 July 2016

11 July

At 7:30 we started the identification of all the frogs that we found the previous night. We caught eight frogs in total which is a really good number. Jen helped us with the first few and then we took over. But when we did it ourselves the identification suddenly took a lot longer! We have brought a lightbox with us to get some good pictures of the frogs which we can later use to produce an identification booklet for the frogs found in the reserve. Afterwards of course we released the frogs at the exact spot where we found them yesterday. This transect will now not be used anymore for a few days, so the frogs don’t get disturbed the whole time.
Every Monday evening we have potluck. Everyone has to bring one dish and then we all share it together. Today we chose to make pancakes and fruit salad. It was great to see the creations everyone had put together. From lasagne to fruit salad, from crisps with bean dip to pineapple curry. Afterwards we went on another training survey, this time on the Jilguero path, so up the mountain again. Quite soon already we spotted a tarantula hiding in a tree hole. Jen tried to make it catch a small twig she was holding but the spider could not be fooled. Soon after the start of the first transect one of the reptile volunteers felt very ill so he and Louise turned back to camp while the rest continued to finish the four transects. They found a good number of frogs again, 10! We will be identifying them again tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

10 July

Sunday is our day off. Every Sunday morning there is a trip going to the supermarket with the pick-up truck because it is quite far to walk. So with 8 people in the back we drove down the mountain to San Gerardo. We first visited the secret gardens where we also had a Costa Rican breakfast. I had no idea they existed but they had trees with pink bananas! I wonder what that would taste like.
After dinner, when it was dark, we went out with a few of the volunteers on a training night survey with Jen. Our bags packed with gloves, plastic buckets and indication flags we set off to the transect close to camp to look for frogs and anoles. After not too long, close to the river, we found our first frog! An Emerald glass frog. They are very hard to see because they are as green as the leaf that they sit on and they are very small. On their stomach, where the intestines are located, their skin is see-through. We caught quite a good number of frogs in the end, two anoles and one crab. I did not expect to find a crab in the mountains! Every time a frog is caught we place a small orange location flag in the ground so we know where to release it again the next day. Clean gloves have to be warn whenever a different frog is handled to prevent the spread of the Chytrid fungus. We don't know whether this fungus is also present in this area, but to prevent any possible contamination we act like it is here. All the frogs are brought back to camp for identification as it is very difficult to correctly ID them in the field. The identification and taking of photos will be done tomorrow morning.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

9 July

This morning we only did a small walk by the waterfalls. But the distance was evened out by the steepness of the path. The waterfalls are beautiful but very rough and make so much noise you can still hear them at the top of the mountain. We set one camera trap along the path next to the river, so hopefully in the next few days we will find some interesting photos on it which we will post on this blog. In the afternoon we tried a longer hike, longer than we did yesterday. We started with the path Jilguero and then turned back to the camp via Gavilan. Basically, Jilguero was straight up the mountain and Gavilan back down. Flat ground does not exist here in Costa Rica it seems. My knees were shaking after walking down for such a long time. The Jilguero path is where we set up the second camera trap. The views on the way were amazing again and we spotted several Emerald toucanets and a Black guan. Right at the top we were in the middle of a cloud which immediately made the forest a lot darker, as if the sun had suddenly set. With this it also became a lot more quiet and for the first time we could not hear the waterfalls but just the wildlife around us.

8 July

Still not being used to the time difference we all woke up nice and early. We first got a tour of the camp: the kitchen, dorms, welcome centre etc. We then had a meeting with the research coordinator, Jen, who also focusses her study on frogs. She will help us set up the project and train us to hopefully not walk past all the frogs as most of them are very small and brown, some only 20 mm.
Our initial plan of pitfall trap surveys we are going to have to adjust as the frogs here can easily climb out with their sticky feet. Instead of placing the bucket in the ground, with the edge at the same level as the ground we are going to make holes halfway in the buckets in which the frogs will hopefully enter. With the lid on the bucket we hope this will create a more ‘safe space’ for the frogs which will make them stay. Our plan of walking transects of 1 km we also have to change to about 150 meters as otherwise we will be walking through different habitats: old growth forest, natural regeneration and planted regeneration.

In the afternoon we went on our first hike around the Rio path where we saw a whole group of white-nosed coati. Some parts are very steep and a walking stick is a must, but the views are so amazing. I could sit there for hours watching the clouds roll over and through the mountains. Back in camp it turned out we had just missed 4 armadillos visiting camp while we were away. There is so much to see! In the evening we managed to spot two screeching owls just outside camp.

7 July

After travelling for more than 40 hours, having taken two flights, two taxis and 3 busses, we finally arrived at Cloudbridge Nature Reserve. It is unbelievable how green Costa Rica is, even around cities and villages. At only 60 km an hour the bus calmly drove us to San Gerardo on windy roads going through the green mountains while we got to listen to some Spanish music in the background.
In San Gerardo we were picked up by the reserve manager and that was the most exciting car drive so far. Standing in the back of the pick-up truck we raced up to mountain to the reserve.
In the evening we had dinner out as it was Valerie’s 20th birthday, which unfortunately ended up walking back to the reserve in the rain and thunder.