UGA Costa Rica Blog

¡Pura vida!

Eye Spy…A Spider Monkey?!

Just the other week, a few UGA Costa Rica interns spotted monkeys while hiking the trails around campus. Seeing a white-faced capuchin monkey is reason enough to do a happy dance, but after getting a closer look, the naturalists realized they were in the presence of spider monkeys – an incredible rarity to spot on campus.

So much so, that no member of the UGA Costa Rica staff can recall ever having seen the orange-tinted primates on campus trails.

The Central American Spider Monkey is among the most active and agile of cebids, (family Cebidae) or New World monkeys. Part of the reason for their activeness is body morphology; their forelimbs and fingers are longer than other monkeys’, and they have a vestigial, or underdeveloped, thumb – it just gets in the way of swinging! Having a prehensile tail sure does help with agility, too. It’s like having a fifth arm. A spider monkey’s prehensile tail is not only defter than other monkey tails, but it also has exposed skin on the underside, like a no-slip grip with which it confidently grasps branches.

Spider monkey diets mainly consist of fruit. Because of the sugars in fruit, they are high-energy, moving quickly and frequently in the canopy in order to find more of their sporadic source of food. To make up for the lack of protein in the fruits, spider monkeys may eat young leaves and decaying bark.

So why all the rave about spotting spider monkeys at UGA Costa Rica?

A species’ reappearance (and disappearance) is often an indicator of environmental changes – both good and not so good. No one is entirely sure why the spider monkeys are here, and whether or not it’s an optimistic find, but there are a number of theories germinating around campus…

The more commonly seen white-faced capuchin monkeys, recognized for their aggressive and territorial behaviors, may have been quite defensive of their UGA Costa Rica territory in the past, thus keeping spider monkeys at bay. The first theory then, is that perhaps the dynamic between monkey groups has recently been changing and the two species are learning to overlap territories?

Another hypothesis is that the monkeys are following their food source. With changing climate, there’s a chance fruit dispersal patterns are deviating from the norm, and spider monkeys are adapting locations as a result.

Over lunch, I chatted about a third, and seemingly promising theory with Jheudy Carballo, a tour guide leading the Morganton Day School throughout Costa Rica. Having worked as a guide for the past 16 years, Carballo raised his eyebrows when I mentioned the spider-monkey sighting. First, he mentioned that he has seen spider, howler, and white-faced capuchins all in one tree, and therefore doesn’t think the sighting is a result of territorial cease-fire.

According to Carballo spider monkeys were supposedly wiped out of the Monteverde region by yellow fever in the 1970s. Their population has since been bouncing back, and it’s possible that they are now expanding their territory from the Monteverde Reserve area into the UGA Costa Rican cloud forest in order to maximize on food availability. He also mentioned that a growing population is indicative of a rejuvenating forest.

Bienvenidos to the spider monkeys!

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism intern

Photo contribution: Will Booker, UGA Costa Rica Moth Researcher

Humans of San Luis: Part VI

I think for me, meeting all of you guys [interns], and talking with the group about your different interests and passions and histories, has been at least as interesting and valuable as coming here to see the place. I think that’s been tremendous. You don’t get to meet folks like that normally, people who have that kind of passion. ~ Paul Garner

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

They soar, we’re sore

It’s difficult to tell whether the fog is coming from the mountain mist or from somewhere underneath my heavy eyelids. It’s approximately 6:00 am and I’m standing in dew-dabbled grass, gazing through misty binoculars, a toothy grin stamped upon my face.

The first bird of the day has just been spotted. UGA Costa Rica Monthly Bird Count day has arrived!

Each month, in addition to scheduled morning bird watching with guests, naturalists and bird watchers alike devote an entire day to exploring the campus canopy for birds… and exercising their neck muscles.

There are two main reasons for the nine-year-old tradition.

The first: spending a day with folks familiar with the birds of Costa Rica – colors, calls and all — is great training. The monthly birding tours are usually led by a Monteverde native or veteran tourists – all knowledgeable bird watching enthusiasts, nonetheless – and is, as a result, a learning experience for UGA Costa Rica resident naturalists, who are persistently practicing bird identification.

The second reason for the monthly bird count is to maintain a long-term data set of bird species flocking to and around the San Luis, Monteverde region. These monthly snapshots could be used to study trends, patterns, and anomalies regarding both cloud forest dwelling and migratory birds.

For instance, in 2006, when the count was inaugurated, the melodious blackbird, Dives dives, was occasionally spotted in the San Luis cemetery. Now, it’s among the top ten most commonly seen birds around campus.

Chirp-chirp, hooray!

How does it work? Birdwatchers wander and hike the trails surrounding UGA Costa Rica’s campus identifying every bird with which they cross paths. A designated note-taker jots down what others have spotted and proceeds to tally any additional finds of the same species.

Regan Fink takes her turn tallying birds

Regan Fink takes her turn tallying birds

And to maximize their efficiency, of course the crew brings the essentials: binoculars, spotting scopes, and bird books.

Resident naturalist Louise Beveridge relishes the bonding that comes with the group birding activity. Naturalists spend much of their days leading tours and scheduling with guests individually; therefore, spending time doing one activity together is rare.

Resident naturalist Louise Beveridge smiles after locating a perched bird.

Resident naturalist Louise Beveridge smiles after locating a perched bird.

Becoming a birding fanatic doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. Beveridge wasn’t the biggest fan of birding when she first came to intern at UGA Costa Rica. “I didn’t like birding when I got here, I found it overwhelming. There are over 800 species of birds in Costa Rica. Where do you start?” Beveridge says.

But after spending some time entering the tedious bird count data, she not only grew familiar with certain species, descriptions, and calls but also grew to love it. Eventually, enjoyment swept over her initial anxiety.

Nowadays she’s up before breakfast each morning, meandering throughout campus with eyes glued upwards.

Let’s take a peek at some of the birds that she, along with other naturalists, identified during the Thursday, April 23rd Bird Count.

The bird which racked up the highest amount of sightings was the national bird of Costa Rica: the clay-colored robin! Twenty-nine of this species, Turdus grayi, were counted around campus. The bird has typical robin behavior, hopping around the ground, and can be distinguished from other Costa Rican robins by its yellow-green bill. The clay-colored robin is common throughout the majority of the country, and is recognized by its persistent whistles from the months of March to June.

Arguably the rarest find of the day was the magenta-throated woodstar. Calliphlox bryantae. This male hummingbird has a longer tail than most, with white patches on both sides of his rear and a characteristic magenta-colored throat. Although magenta-throated woodstars typically feed on low-growing flowers, they often perch high in the canopy on leafless twigs, exactly where this little guy was spotted.

Another great find was the montezuma oropendola, Psarocolius montezuma. Although most commonly distinguished either by its call or bright-yellow tail, its defining characteristics are colorful facial markings and a two-toned bill. A fun fact about this species is that it is a colonial breeder. A dominant male mates with most of the females within a colony, which consists of an average of 30 teardrop-shaped dangling nests, built from vines and twigs – quite the sight to see!

And the Montezuma oropendola has a metallic-like call that appears to almost knock it off its feet! Take a listen:

Check our more photos from the April Bird Count on our Facebook page!

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

Humans of San Luis: Part V

Sam & Sage

“We saw an iguana, crossing the road!”

“A coati, in the tree over there.”

“I saw three monkeys, down by the cabin!”

“They were running really fast.”

“And had big faces.”

“And we saw a quetzal!”

“And we saw a black cwano… wait how do you say? It’s a black turkey thing…”

Me: “A guan?”

“YEA a guan!”

“And we also saw a snake, it was really small, and what else did we see? Here we see tarantula and earwig and a lot of ants and tiny bugs and army ants and, what are those big ants called?”

“…Solider ants!”

“And ferns, and palm trees, and rocks!”


Like a number of flowers hidden along the curving trails of our campus, the Humans of San Luis project is starting to bloom! During my time here as the photojournalist, I am aiming to capture and share guest, intern, and local energy pertaining to UGA Costa Rica and this absolutely enchanting cloud forest. Check out the link for more enthusiastic interviews.

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

#EveryDayShouldBeEarthDay

After the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, then-Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin decided that environmental awareness needed to become high-priority. The following year, Nelson launched the first Earth Day on April 20, 1970. Over 20 million people rallied across the U.S., germinating conversations about conservation and environmental awareness. Continuing to grow over the years, Earth Day went global in 1990, with 200 million people in 141 countries participating, according to Earth Day Network and LiveScience.com.

As an institution whose mission it is to increase the understanding of the fusion between humans and the environment, University of Georgia Costa Rica strives to use instruction, research, and outreach to achieve socio-cultural, ecological, and economic sustainability. What better day than Earth Day to highlight the number of ways in which this campus continues to blossom in its daily environmental efforts!

 “The mission of UGA Costa Rica is to advance our understanding – through instruction, research and outreach – of the interconnected nature between human and environmental systems, particularly the concepts of socio-cultural, ecological, and economic sustainability.”

UGA Costa Rica’s campus is nestled in the cloud forest of San Luis de Monteverde, Costa Rica. Prior to 1975, the surrounding area was a coffee plantation and dairy farm. As a result, the lush primary forest that once blanketed these mountains was heavily deforested, significantly affecting wildlife and biodiversity.

But now, through reforestation and other conservation practices, the UGA Costa Rica campus is bouncing back, 62 hectares (155 acres) strong! In 1995, the land was part of the Ecolodge San Luis and Biological Station, and was purchased in 2001 by the University of Georgia Foundation.Rainbow

First fun fact: Only 10 of 62 hectares were used for construction – the rest is a private reserve for the wildlife, with trails meandering through the cloud forest’s massive strangler figs and umbrella-like cecropia trees. According to the 2013 UGA Costa Rica Sustainability Report, about 60% of campus remains forested, 30% is used for sustainable agriculture, and 10% is developed.

What else, you ask? I’m just getting started.

The campus has an organic farm, located close to campus – only a five-minute hike along a leaf-littered, winding trail. A yearly average of 15% of the food comes directly from the terraced beds and hard work of agriculture interns and farm manager. Lettuce, carrots, limones, radishes, eggs, tomatoes – I’m salivating just thinking about how fresh all of it is!

After having a hearty Costa Rican dinner and a day’s worth of adventures zip lining or exploring the cloud forest on foot, it’s time for hot showers thanks to the solar heating systems perched on top of bungalow roofs! And while we’re talking about bungalows, let’s appreciate the means by which they were constructed. Most of the material used to build campus lodging is a beautiful dark, orange-tinted wood, which is; drumroll please… sustainably harvested teak wood.

It’s the little things that count, too; UGA Costa Rica uses and sells bars of soap and other hygiene products, locally made. The best part – they’re organic and don’t have harmful antibiotic properties that would harm the hard-working microbes in the biodigesters.

Ah, the biodigesters.

Biodigester

UGA Costa Rica has two biodigesters. It’s essentially a fancy word for waste cleaning machine. Waste, anything from human or livestock fecal matter, is disposed of into one end of a balloon-like cylindrical tube. Microbes living inside the digester break down the matter, releasing water and methane as byproducts. The methane rises and collects in what appears to be a floating tube. The gas is syphoned via a long hose to the kitchen and used to fuel certain kitchen stoves! Recycling resources – yeah!

Another major benefit of the biodigester is that during the microbial cleaning process, things that would cause serious harm to the environment, like fertilizers, methane, and waste in general, are filtered out, so the water that is being emptied back into the ecosystem is much more pure –great news for water quality in the area!

All extra food scraps are either gratefully garbled up by our humanely raised campus pigs, or taken to our compost pile to be broken down and used as soil for the farm.

UGA Costa Rica also has plans to become carbon neutral, meaning it will offset the carbon it has emitted, mainly via its reforestation program, a project that sprouted in 2008. Campus biodigesters, composting, and recycling habits also play a roll in offsetting carbon.

And don’t forget about social sustainability; the majority of UGA Costa Rica employees are local Ticos (Costa Ricans), which not only provides them economic benefits, but also cuts the need to drive to more distant jobs and generate more emissions.

If you’re interested in learning more about the campus’s daily quest toward sustainability, be sure to check out the detailed 2013 UGACR Sustainability Report.


Happy Earth day from the UGA Costa Rica staff and interns! Use the hash tag #everydayshouldbeEarthDay today to show and share your support for our home!

Post contributed by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

Weekend Snapshot: April 18-19

Shut your eyes for a moment and listen to the sounds around you. Music from your speakers? The hum of an air conditioner? A distant dog barking? Perhaps even wildlife chirping outside your window. That’s exactly our experience here on campus. One moment it’s the howling wind, the next it’s rustling branches or squeaking coatis. Concentrating on any one sound can be difficult – you can’t help but be overstimulated but the rich, lifting orchestra surrounding you. But each sound is incredibly melodic on it’s own, too. And we think each deserves a spotlight. This weekend we honed in on a particular sweet sound of the cloud forest and would like to share it with you!

Listen to the male and female calls of the Yellow-throated Euphonia, Euphonia hirundinacea who playfully fluttered around our grounds calling to one another. They are common in northern Pacific foothills and in northern central Caribbean lowlands, and inhabit forest edge and gardens.

Humans of San Luis: Part IV

 Can you pose like your favorite cloud forest animal?
“Raaawr! I’m a Jaguar-raaawr.”


What makes this girl and so many others animated and ebullient? Check out our previous Humans of San Luis mini-stories to learn more about Costa Rica’s innumerable, stimulating facets.

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

Pop Quiz #5

Test your knowledge on the flora and fauna growing along UGACR campus trails and throughout the Monteverde Cloud Forest here in Costa Rica. You never know when a trivia night will call for tropical ecology facts…

Myth Buster: Will white-faced capuchin monkeys throw their fecal matter at you if feeling threatened?

White-faced capuchin monkey
Sounds gross, but tis in fact, a fact.

White-faced capuchins are one of the smartest species of monkeys. Not only do they use tools, but they also do full-body rub downs with citronella leaves, which act as an insect repellant. Traveling in troops, capuchins are not the quietest canopy dwellers, and can be heard cackling and rustling branches as they move swiftly overhead. You’ll likely see more than one at a time, but stopping and smiling in awe is strongly discouraged! Smiling at a capuchin monkey is the equivalent of a dog bearing its teeth – and the primates will take it as a threat. Because capuchins are aggressive, they won’t hesitate to lob nuts, fruits, and yes, even fecal matter, to let you know how they feel.

Post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

Weekend Snapshot: April 10-12

To the disengaged eye, the verdant forest may appear to be an impenetrable, thick, woven blanket flapping in the wind. Here’s a classic line for ya’ll: don’t judge a book by its cover. Rather, peel away the layers leaf by leaf, tree by tree, one twisting trail after another. If you befriend the Monteverde Cloud Forest, it will share it’s hidden treasures – and we have proof.

Located outside of our resident naturalist office, this white board is used to record wildlife sightings found crawling, calling, slithering or singing on campus grounds. You can certainly expect to see some interesting findings from those who have peeked under the emerald forest blanketing UGA Costa Rica’s campus, and can even add a sighting of your own! Take a look at what guests and naturalists have spotted during the month of April.

Wildlife sightings

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

Humans of San Luis: Part III

Enjoy more of our new project – pinpointing what it is about Monteverde, Costa Rica that makes everyone’s hearts flutter. Check out Part I and Part II for more!

Michael Killian, Toronto, Canada

Michael Killian, Toronto, Canada

“One of the things that really stood out to me about the area, was that everyone that we talked to, everyone in the community, has the same set of values and is so proud and feels so lucky to live here. And their number one priority is to preserve this area, to pass on the information and to really cherish the wildlife that lives around here. That seemed to be everyone’s priority, living with the environment rather than against it or for self-serving reasons.”


Reena Killian, Toronto, Canada

Reena Killian, Toronto, Canada

“I’ve been interested in edible gardening and local sustainable food for a while. My mom is a nutritionist so we grew up eating organic food and then we made a switch from organic to local because it seemed to be more environmentally friendly and healthier. And I see that here – in such a big way – there’s such a beautiful, close loop between the garden, the farm, and the livestock and our eating in this dining hall. Everything feeds into everything else. And it’s on a small scale. It gave me hope that when I eventually get a house and get to have a farm that I can actually do it in a sustainable way without having a big impact on the environment. It gave me little bit of hope.”

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

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