2012 Tropical Ecology Field Course – La Gamba, Costa Rica

Tuesday 11 September 2012
Costa Rica field trip
Students on a wildlife field trip in Costa Rica

For the second year running, the Environment & Life Sciences field course inTropical Ecology & Conservationtook place at the end of August in Costa Rica.

The team comprised Drs Robert Jehle and Stefano Mariani, from the Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre, and a group of 24 students now starting their final year  of their BSc (Hons) Wildlife Conservation and Zoo Biology. Building on the previous year's event, the field trip was a wonderful adventure for everyone concerned, providing a unique set of ecological, social and cultural experiences.

After gathering in the somewhat chaotic capital of San Josè, the group visited the food market in Cartagena and then drove to the high Mountains of the Cerro de la Muerte, above 3,500 m, witnessing the typical 'paramo' vegetation found in tropical areas beyond the tree line. Throughout the trip, Jehle and Mariani were aided by the invaluable contribution of Dr Anton Weissenhofer, botanist at Wien University and co-founder of the Tropical Research  Station in La Gamba.

Once on the other side, towards the mighty Pacific coast, the group had a chance to encounter the first few tropical 'stars' of the journey, including the beautiful (and combative) land crab (Cardisoma sp.), the charismatic red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas), and the nursing humpback whales off the coast of the National Marine Park 'Ballena', one of which uniquely appeared to be with three calves.

After one more day of travel, the group reached the La Gamba tropical station, where the full tropical experience started, including the full realisation of what it means to conduct ecological observations, near the equator, with 100% air humidity. Neither the heat nor the occasional tussle with the  local wildlife managed to make the two-week stay anything less than a wonderful journey for all involved, whether it be the first  observation of a toucan eating a pit viper, or  the sudden outburst of the tail-end of hurricane Isaac.

The students embraced every second of their experience and worked  hard on their field project (which included topics ranging from humming-bird, bat and dragonfly behaviour, amphibian diversity, and fish habitat use – though the latter was at times disrupted by the odd caiman  who  wished to take part in the 'sampling').

On the way back to the capital, there was the opportunity to visit another national park, at Manuel Antonio, which provided a more catered-for and polished view of a conservation area, but which still offered wonderful primary forest views, outstanding beaches, and the opportunity to watch sloths rest  in trees and spiny iguanas tussle with white-faced capuchin monkeys for some fruit prizes (see the gallery below).

Now back in Salford, the students are preparing for the final challenge of analysing their Costa-Rican data sets and writing up their projects, but the deep, intense green of the forest, the powerful sound of the afternoon rains, and the magical music of the tropical nights will keep fresh in their  minds for a while yet.

Click on an image below to view the full gallery.