Jan. 7: La Selva Scaries

Highlights of Day 9

Walking across the infamous bridge at La Selva for the first time!

We awoke to the refreshing cool breeze of Monteverde for the last time. We were treated to a leisurely morning with breakfast at 7:00 a.m. With bellies full of rice and beans and most importantly, plantains, we loaded the bus with 5,000 pounds of gear, and headed off to La Selva. During the drive we caught up on some much needed zzz’s. While there was initial momentum for a song filled 4 hour car ride, we quickly succumbed to our tiredness and knocked out. We missed Andrés games of 20 questions and riddles that filled up the time on our last car ride. Beautiful sights accompanied the drive for those who remained awake.

              About 2 hours into the drive, we arrived at a small town to stop for a quick bathroom break. However, we drove around the block several times, and could not find a place to stop. A few of our very own ventured out into the wilderness to use the bathroom. The next stop on our journey was to look at views (and take pics for the gram) of the La Fortuna Volcano,  an active volcano in the heart of Costa Rica. We continued on to our lunch stop where we feasted on delicious burritos, garlic bread (multiple baskets), and pasta, and were treated with ice cream to top off lunch. We reloaded the bus and fell into food comas for the remaining one and a half hours until our arrival at the infamous La Selva. The time passed quickly as we all slept for the remainder of the drive (surprise! College students napping!). 

              Anticipation, excitement, and a little bit of fear filled the air as we arrived at the entrance of La Selva Biological Station. We checked in and discovered our luxurious accommodations after a safety talk the night prior that warned us about all the deadly animals we would be rooming with. Next, we crossed the magnificent suspension bridge to journey towards to classroom and lab.  The bridge offers views of birds, turtles, and occasionally sloths or even an ocelot crossing over the river.  We unloaded and set up the lab classroom while the insect group deployed their night traps. We then went to dinner and familiarized ourselves with the packed commodore that is La Selva. With over 90 people at the station, it’s safe to say we weren’t in Cabo Blanco anymore! We had to acclimate ourselves with social interaction again as we mingled in the commodore, pretending we still know how to interact with humans other than our classmates and professor (and TA). After dinner, we went to the lab to work on our papers from Monteverde and some brave souls went on a night hike with the OTS graduate course. They saw many millipedes, daddy long legs, poison dart frogs, and even the dreaded fer-de-lance. Luckily, everyone came back safe and sound, and went straight to bed to prepare for the day of work ahead!

Quick impromptu photo shoot in front of Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna

Rose & Thorn

Rose– Seeing La Fortuna and taking a picture for the gram!

Thorn– The long bus ride to get to La Selva (even though we slept through most of it)

Vibe of the day: Jittery

Quote of the Day:

“I’m sorry I moonwalked into you” – Megan to fellow (random) scientist in the dinner line

Bird ID: Danny, Elena, Jared

Insect ID: Julieanne, Sierra, Lydia

Plant ID: Jacob, Aidan, Cassie

Blog: Megan, Abby, Davi

Scientist Spotlight: Julieanne Montaquila (Junior at Colgate, Biology)

One favorite childhood memory in nature?

When I was in second grade we went to Heller nature center and they gave us a wheat seed and wet paper towel in a ziplock bag. I learned I could grow seedlings and I was fascinated! I loved growing them in ziplocks on the window and even bringing them to school!

What has surprised you the most about this trip?

I was surprised by how much we are able to learn and fit into one day and how much we are able to see! We have already seen 3 different habitats and it has been such a short amount of time.

Dream job?  

I would like to be a professor at a university.  I care about teaching and I adore researching plant ecology.

Another beautiful view of Arenal Volcano from the bus ride to La Selva

Jan 6: Sloths, Wind, and the Continental Divide

Highlights of Day 8

Today was our last full day in the beautiful cloud forest of Monteverde. After breakfast, we had an hour to work on our group projects. The insect group had meticulously pinned several interesting specimens only to discover that something ate them! A few nights earlier, an Arboreal Rice Rat had been spotted in the lab and we figured it was the likely culprit. The intrepid rodent also helped itself to a bag of chips by chewing through the corner of the bag and pooping all over the table. Infestations aside, the main cause for excitement this morning was anticipation for our hike up to the Continental Divide. After a long and looping hike where we encountered many amazing plants, a waterfall, and even a two-toed sloth, (as well as an oddly in depth story told by Megan H.) we made it. At the Continental Divide, you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on a clear day. We were not so lucky and could only see the Pacific. On the Atlantic side, the wind was howling, blasting clouds up the side of the mountain. We also spent some time marvelling at the Elfin forest near the top of the mountain, which is characterized by short trees and dense moss adapted to survive high wind speeds. 

After this great hike, we returned for lunch and the standard afternoon of working in the lab. For dinner we were treated to the traditional Costa Rican meal of Sopa Azteca – a chicken tortilla soup. With hearts warmed and bellies full, each group presented their findings. Then suddenly it was time to pack in preparation for shipping out to our next stop, La Selva Biological Station.

Rose & Thorn

Bouquet- Sloth, continental divide, and the official end of quarantine!

Thorn- Hungry lab rodents

Vibe of the Day: Windy

Quote of the Day:


(Said to Danny, with regards to Megan H.’s story from earlier)

Jan 5: We’re Soarin’, Flyin’

Highlights of Day 7

It was another early morning, especially for the bird group who got up at 5:00, braving the rain and wind. Guess the early bird(ers) really do get the worm. A familiar breakfast of rice and beans was served at 7:00 and then it was off to the lab and field for more identifying plants and collecting insects from traps. All the hard work paid off because today was the day of the long awaited…ZIPLINE TRIP! The course was composed of thirteen different ziplines with the last one stretching a kilometer long. Julieanne tackled her fear of heights and conquered the descent without even breaking a sweat. Lindsay had the pleasure of making a new friend on one of the partner lines, a stranger who grabbed onto her legs out of fear. Lindsay reported back to us that it was an “awkward experience”. Those who did not go ziplining had a nice hike to botanize with Profesor Cardelus, learning about many plant species such as Peperomia, Begonias, and Passiflora

With hearts still pumping and adrenaline rushing the crew returned to the lab to continue working diligently on their identifications. The insect group found their new strategy of taking night samples to be very effective. The plant and bird groups were able to start compiling their data in preparation for presentations the next evening. Overall it was a fun and productive day. 

Rose & Thorn

Rose: Ziplining (duh)

Thorn: Zooming by the trees too fast to identify them

Vibe of the Day: Soaring

Quote of the Day:

The Gentry book is something we all hold in our hands and cherish” – Danny 

(Al Gentry was a famous botanist and author of the field guide that keeps the plant group afloat) 

Scientist Spotlight: Sierra DeAngelo (Senior at Colgate University, Environmental Biology)

One favorite childhood memory in nature?

There were two pretty big trees in front of my house and my neighbor’s house growing up. I remember always climbing up them and scraping my knees but not even caring. The trees had a lot of leaves so we would spy on people up there. I had a bird whistle that I would bring up there and use unsuccessfully. Hearing Professor Cardelus talk about her tree climbing makes me nostalgic for that time in my life.  

What have you enjoyed most about this trip so far?

Honestly I’ve really enjoyed getting to know everyone in the group. I’ve been really surprised by everyone. It’s a really complex and fun group. I’ve laughed more in the past week than I have in years. 

Dream job?

I’d like to combine my passions for forestry and traditional midwifery. I don’t know how that would play out but I feel like if I could combine those two it would be a really perfect career path for me. For now I’m looking into jobs in forest restoration.

Jan 4: Field Work, Field Work, Field Work!

Highlights of Day 6

This morning marked two significant developments, 1) the quarantined individuals started to feel better and 2) the long awaited return of rice and beans at breakfast. All the groups got to work at a ~feverish~ pitch, with the plant people successfully completing all four of their transects by lunch. After lunch, the groups spent the evening grinding away at identification of their plants, insects, and birds. The insect group quickly realized that the number of insects they were collecting according to the protocol used previously at Cabo Blanco was not going to work here. The insect abundance in this wetter climate is just way too high! Meanwhile the plant group got a rude awakening to identifying plants in a tropical montane cloud forest — just because a leaf seems to be coming from a certain tree does not mean it actually comes from that tree. Each tree is so densely covered in other plants that figuring out which leaves belong to the tree of interest takes more than a few glances. 

After dinner a special guest, Emily Hollenbeck, talked about the impact of changing climate on epiphytic plants. In a huge study involving 40,000 plants, she transplanted epiphytes up and down elevation gradients on Costa Rican and Panama mountains, discovering that just 3 degrees temperature change would devastate epiphyte communities. This talk emphasized the dangers that climate change poses for tropical forests and reminded us of the importance of ecological research. We will definitely keep Emily’s talk in mind while studying the rest of our sites in Costa Rica.

Rose & Thorn

Rose Seeing a cute mouse in the lab

Thorn All around a chaotic day

Vibe of the Day: Storming

Quote of the Day:

“I feel like I’m in an alternate universe”- Cassie F.

Scientist Spotlight: Megan Martis (Senior at Colgate University, Astrogeophysics)

One favorite childhood memory in nature?

Walking to the beach and watching the sunset.

What have you enjoyed most about this trip so far?

The New Year’s Eve celebration was really fun!

Dream job?


Jan 3: Off to Monteverde!

Highlights of Day 5

Today we had an early start and woke up at 4:30 to pack the truck with our gear and hike out of Cabo Blanco. We caught up on sleep on the two hour bus ride to the Naviera Tambor ferry where we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of wait for it… rice and beans. We were also introduced to the traditional Costa Rican snack of green mango soaked in lemon juice and salt. We then embarked on the hour-long ferry ride to Punta Arenas during which we were entertained by diving seabirds and jumping fish. The long and windy mountain road provided some breathtaking views along with the occasional car sickness and fear of falling off the edge. Thanks to our wonderful driver we arrived safely at Monteverde and were treated to a shopping spree at the grocery store where we stocked up on snacks including our favorite, Chikys! We were welcomed to a lunch of overcooked fajitas (surprisingly we missed the rice and beans). However, the view from the dining room looks out into the beautiful cloud forest filled with trees covered in mosses, ferns, and bromeliads. Also, the cool climate of Monteverde was a welcome change from the relentless heat of Cabo Blanco. 

The evening took an interesting turn as several people were quarantined on account of high fevers. Turns out a couple of us picked up some sort of virus along the way. Luckily, a trip to the clinic got us a prescription for an antiviral medicine. With the help of some extra strength advil, tylenol, and Professor Cardelus’ watchful eye, we should hopefully be feeling great in no time! For now we are taking over the blog and will be sure to pass on all the wonderful details of our time in Monteverde! Pura Vida!

Birds ID: Sierra, Cassie , Danny

Insect ID: Jacob, Jared, Megan H

Plant ID: Danny, Davi, Elena, Julieanne

Blog: Lydia, Aidan, Megan M.

Rose & Thorn

Rose– Breezy ferry ride

ThornThe early morning

Vibe of the day: Feverish

Quote of the day: “Jared looks exactly like King Julien from Madagascar.” – Megan H.

Scientist Spotlight: Danny Feinbloom (Senior at Colgate University, Biology & Political Science)

One favorite childhood memory in nature?

Going in the backyard as a kid and catching frogs and toads and Garter snakes.

What have you enjoyed most about this trip so far?

I enjoyed seeing all the wildlife at Cabo Blanco including the howler monkeys, coatis, and white tailed deer

Dream job?

Small animal soft tissue surgeon.

Jan 2: Presentation Prep @ Cabo

Highlights of Day 4:

Today we enjoyed a late breakfast interrupted by an American Black Vulture cleaning its wings on a perch next to the comedor. Each group retreated to the lab to finish identifying insects, plants, and birds that they had seen or collected in the field.

In mid-afternoon, we explored farther into the reserve by hiking through the woods to the next inlet. We arrived and enjoyed beautiful views of the namesake of Cabo Blanco, meaning “White Island,” a small island off the coast of the reserve that is painted white by the guano of the brown footed boobies that nest there. We learned that one boobie nests on every square meter of the protected island, and saw hundreds of hermit crabs, limpets (not barnacles), and sea slugs. At lunch, we all agreed on how refreshing it has been to “unplug” over these past several days without cell service on site. Afterwards, some went snorkeling for the last time to cool off and say goodbye to the beautiful fish and animals that call the intertidal zone their home.

The afternoon consisted of troubleshooting R code and polishing up presentations for the evening mini conference highlighting and celebrating the research that we did over the past four days. We were treated to cupcakes that were graciously made by the wonderful cooks at the reserve for dessert and headed back to the lab after dinner. Each group gave a 10 minute presentation on their work and the floor was opened for questions and discussion. As quick as a flash, we packed everything up for an early next day departure and went to bed dreaming of the next field station: a beautiful high elevation wet cloud forest.

Rose & Thorn:

Rose- Coming across a Jesus Christ Lizard on our afternoon hike (watch them walk on water here)

Thorn– Bidding farewell to Eddie, Santi, & Andres 🙁

Vibe of the day: Productive.

Quote of the day: “People are still putting toilet paper in the toilet!” -Lindsay

Scientist Spotlight: Abby Sotomayor (Senior at Colgate University, Biology & Environmental Studies)

One favorite childhood memory in nature?

My brother and I used to build teepee forts out of sticks in the woods behind our home to play in.

What have you enjoyed most about this trip so far?

Snorkeling in Cabo Blanco was really fun because I like swimming and it cools you off. And we saw cool stuff like fish, eels, and coral.

Dream job?

Something in the field of sustainability and conservation.

*Hi mom and Archie! 🙂

Jan 1: A Hot Start to the New Decade

Highlights of Day 3:

We woke up early on this surprisingly chilly morning to the first day of the new year and decade. After breakfast and preparations for the day, we conducted more Gentry transects, which are used to quantify plant species richness and abundance by identifying each species of tree with a DBH greater than 10 cm on a transect of 25 m. This standardized method allows us to compare the diversity of plant life across the ecosystems we visit. After our morning in the field, the insect, bird, and plant groups worked to identify their samples in the lab.

After a joyous lunch filled with coati, iguana, and howler monkey sightings, we took advantage of the low tide to escape the midday heat and went snorkeling in the lagoon. After trekking out over sharp rocks in the hot sun, it felt amazing to slide into the water and immediately see an orange spotted eel. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the lab working on group projects and a lecture on R, a statistical software commonly used in the field of ecology. It is exciting to learn R, as most undergraduates are not given the opportunity.

Everyone was in high spirits during dinner. The food was good and the company even better, a scorpion was spotted, and Eddie and the kids said their goodbyes to the class. Afterwards, we once again divided into groups to work on our projects, followed by a peaceful excursion to the beach to stargaze. The night ended with a serenade by Sierra singing her hit single “Chocolate Covered Mountains” featuring Davi on the guitar, accompanied by Megan H. and Lydia as background dancers. Pura vida!

Rose & Thorn:

Rose- Observing baby howler monkeys and their families hanging in the beautiful fig tree outside the comedor (dining area).

Thorn- Biting ants invading the boys’ room (ouch!)

Vibe of the day: Pura vida.

Quote of the day:

“Sierra, no offense but you look like someone who would be dumb but isn’t.” -Santiago (Professor’s son)

Scientist Spotlight: Lindsay McCulloch (Course TA)

Favorite childhood memory in nature?

Camping in the Adirondacks. We hiked two of the high peaks.

Why did you want to come to Costa Rica?

I like the humidity, the gallo pinto, the diversity of the forest and the size of the trees, and the calm chaos of the forest.

Dream job?

A professor at a small liberal arts school.

Dec 31: New Year’s Eve in Cabo Blanco

Highlights of Day 2:

Today was jam packed with field work and New Years Eve festivities. The bird group was up before dawn – when the birds are most active – and quietly made their way to the beach, where they identified birds by sight and sound. They met up with the rest of the group for breakfast, before departing on a nature walk. On the walk, Professor Cardelús and Professor Watkins explained the basics of how to identify trees, lianas, and ferns by their leaf morphology. The insect group also deployed their first day of traps along the way.

At low tide, Juan, a park ranger, was generous enough to give us a snorkeling tour of the intertidal zone. We saw mollusks, puffer fish, coral, sea slugs, sea urchins, Pacific conch, and lobster! With a few sun-burned-backs and tired limbs, we enjoyed some good ole’ rice n’ beans. After lunch, we immediately set out on another hike to conduct tree identification and Gentry transects.

Upon returning to the lab, we received presentations on the history of the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve by Juan and on ferns by the one and only Eddie Watkins. New Year’s Eve festivities commenced after dinner and included music, cards, and Salsa and Merengue dancing. Sierra had a close encounter with an unidentified spotted feline, and later in the evening, two scorpions were spotted by Danny, Elena and Jared. A select few actually stayed up until midnight, though most of the group celebrated the arrival of the New Year two hours early. Professor Cardelús introduced us to the Spanish New Year tradition of eating 12 grapes, one at every ring of the bell until the clock strikes midnight.

Rose & Thorn:

Rose- Danny’s dancing during the New Year’s Eve festivities

Thorn- Discovering a giant spider in the dorm that migrated between the rooms

Vibe of the day: Bustling

Quote of the day:

“Barnacles have the largest phallus to body ratio of any animal.” –Eddie Watkins

Scientist Spotlight: Professor Eddie Watkins (Professor of Biology, Colgate University, helping lead Cabo Blanco activities)

Favorite childhood memory in nature?

In my sophomore year of high school, my biology teacher showed us a bioluminescent fungus that was found in the area where I lived. That night, I went outside looking for the fungus on our property and found tons of it. It was exciting to see material learned from class applied in my own life.

Why did you want to come back to Costa Rica and help with this course?

Any way to spread the word of fern! I like to excite young people about ferns and how cool they can be, and to share my passion of ferns with you all.

Dream job when you were our age?

I always knew I wanted to be an educator and quickly decided on professorship once I got to college, especially after having the opportunity to TA. Education provided a path for success and elevation from my childhood socioeconomic status.

Dec 30: Drive to Cabo Blanco

Highlights of Day 1:

We woke up at the crack of dawn and packed the bus to depart from San José by 6:30 AM. We had rice and beans for breakfast, rice and beans with chicken for lunch, and rice and beans with steak for dinner. Do you see a pattern yet? The 8-hour drive to our first destination, the Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve, consisted of riddles, bad dad jokes, and 20 questions. We finally arrived during peak heat and were graciously greeted by a family of howler monkeys. To get to the field station, we lugged over 1,000 pounds of field gear and luggage 1.5 miles through dense jungle. Along the way we were introduced to many plant species and saw beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. After unpacking, we scarfed down some dinner and planned out the day to follow. We were each randomly assigned to one of four groups – bird ID, insect ID, plant ID, & blog – for our time at Cabo Blanco (see below). The groups will rotate at each field station so that every student can practice each skill. We eagerly showered away the sweat of the day before crawling into our bunk beds and falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves.

Bird ID: Davi, Megan H., Julieanne

Insect ID: Cassie, Aidan, Elena, Abby

Plant ID: Jared, Megan M., Lydia

Blog (that’s us!): Sierra, Danny, Jacob

Rose & Thorn:

Rose – The ocean views upon arriving at Cabo Blanco.

Thorn– Each of us having to carry two or more backpacks to the field station.

Vibe of the day: struggle-bus

Quote of the day:

“Jared, you are the most vertical person I have ever seen.” –Davi

Scientist Spotlight: Professor Catherine Cardelús (Professor of Biology & Environmental Studies, Colgate University, leader of this course)

What is one of your favorite childhood memories in nature?

When I was 8 years old, I lived in Wisconsin on Lake Michigan and I loved to play outside. My mother would open the door and say ‘come back at dark,’ so I had all of this space to explore. I distinctly remember the freedom to go outside and play in the pond with the frogs and the dirt. It didn’t matter how dirty I got. Then we moved to the city and it was terrible. I guess I didn’t learn my lesson because I went to Barnard where I composted on the roof. I wanted to be a medical doctor up until I had this amazing professor who taught me about plants and I dropped everything to study them.

Why were you excited to teach this course?

It turns people on to the world of ecology. It brings alive everything that I teach. When the students see the tropics it allows them to visualize what I teach. Don’t make me cry…

What was your dream job when you were our age?

I wanted to run La Selva Biological Station. I never imagined myself outside of a forest after I discovered it. Somehow, I still manage to get into the forest a lot, both in the tropics and in New York. I don’t know how I managed to build the perfect job.