Costa Rica Trip, 2001

Tom Davis

Last modified: Oct 26, 2001
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Other Costa Rica Pages

Photos of Costa Rican Animals
Butterflies of Costa Rica (Photos)
Weird Moths of Costa Rica (Photos)
Travel Story—2000
Travel Story—1998
Travel Story—1997
Travel Story—1996

Not too much that was really exciting happened during this trip to Costa Rica, so these pages mainly consist of some interesting pictures. The best are probably those of the Common Potoo.

Most of the volunteer work was directed toward coffee pollinators in general, and to bees in particular. Our job was to see what sorts of bees there were in the Costa Rican countryside, and to see where they lived; in coffee plantations, pasture, forest, or what. Golden Orb Spider

Golden Orb Spider

We arrived in Costa Rica a few days before we were supposed to be at the garden, and spent the time at a place called La Cusinga. It was very nice; we saw a lot of birds and I took a lot of siestas. The name, "La Cusinga", is the local name for the Fiery-billed Aracari.

I didn't take many photos there (I concentrated on siestas), but here on the right is a photo of the golden orb spider that was ubiquitous. This is the female, and from end of leg to end of leg is probably 5 or 6 centimeters long.

Tom and George Tom with sieve

Collecting Insects

Here George and I are collecting the insects from a series of traps in a coffee plantation. The traps consist of 20 little plastic bowls set about a meter apart and filled with soapy water. The insects that fall in the water get their wings wet (and the soap assures this) so they get stuck. In this photo I (the guy in the red hat) am ahead, collecting the insects, and George is following behind, refilling the traps for the next day. We collected the insects after every 24 hours.

On the right is a photo of me with the sieve filled with the captured insects. George suggested that we should both be awarded "The Order of the Sieve".

Loaded sieve

Loaded Sieve

Here is a close-up of a sieve filled with tiny insects. This photo represents the collection from an entire site (20 bowls). Of course the size of the collection varied quite a bit from site to site and from day to day depending on the site and the weather. This particular load is about typical, and although it doesn't look like much, it still takes a while to look at all of them under a microscope.

Ellyn with microscope Pinned Insects

Insert Sorting

Here's how we spent hours and hours. On the left is Ellyn in front of a microscope trying to figure out which one were bees and which ones were wasps, or even flies. It was easy to toss out most of the other orders. On the right is a collection of samples of the pinned bees, divided into "morpho-species".

San Francisco

Saint Francis

Here's a photo of a shrine to San Francisco on the property of a friend that's adjacent to one of the sites. Due to a conflict between the owner and the neighbors, we didn't have permission to collect the bugs there, and since we figured it would be far easier to get forgiveness than permission, we went ahead and collected there anyway. Besides, it was a big property and the chance of being discovered was almost zero, since the entire collection took only 5 minutes each day.

Of course we did get caught, but luckily we were caught by the owners of the property exactly while they were trespassing on our friend's land, so we figured it was a standoff, so we both went on our way, each with a secret that would keep the other from telling. (But now that my part is over, here's the story on the web, so I guess I couldn't keep a secret, could I?

Common Potoo A Common Potoo B Common Potoo C

Common Potoo

We were crawling under a barbed-wire fence to collect the insects from a series of traps we'd set in a pasture when some Costa Rican guy asked us what we were doing. We explained that we were catching bees to see what was there and how they compared with the bees we were catching in the forest and in coffee plantations to try to learn how important the forest is to the preservation of coffee pollinators, et cetera.

The guy was clearly interested, and asked lots of questions about the project which we tried to answer. Finally he asked, "Are you biologists?" When we said that we were, sort of, he then asked if we had any interest in birds, since he had just seen a type he had never seen even after working all his life outdoors in Costa Rica. He said he thought it was some sort of raptor.

Luckily, we had the bird book in the car, so I showed him the raptor pages, and he looked through all the pictures and said it wasn't one of them. But then he turned the page and was amazed to see all the parrots. He had never seen a book with bird pictures, and got really excited, turning the pages and pointing out all the stuff he'd seen. He had certainly paid a lot of attention, since he knew a lot of them, and when he finally got to the owl pages his his finger instantly shot out to point out the common potoo -- "That's it!"

Anyway, he took us to see the bird, and it was nesting on a fencepost about a meter and a half off the ground. It seemed asleep (not surprising -- it was the middle of the day) and all I had was a wide-angle lens on my camera (28mm, for all you photo buffs), but I was able to get within about 30 cm of the bird and get a good shot.

Then the guy insisted on trying to touch the bird which I didn't like, but how do you stop him? The bird opened his eyes, but stayed in place, so I got the open-eye photo as well.

The next day I returned with a couple of friends (and with a much more suitable lens) but the parent was gone, and only the baby was on the post. I took the baby picture but was worried that the adult had been frightened away by the guy.

I left the country early the next morning, but I did get an email from a friend who was there a bit longer who said the next day the adult was back.

I think the only reason the guy found the bird in the first place is that his job was fence repair so I'm sure he looks closely at every fence post, whether he wants to or not. It was strange that the potoo was so low -- the book says that they usually nest a lot higher up.

project arrest potoo sin permiso weird bugs Gail standoff La Cusinga ankle farm at Pablo's