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Day 4: Licking the Frog
by Tom Bernitt -- February 25th, 2010

This is really Mike Dunn here. I’m only channeling through Tom Bernitt who has kindly lent me his computer. As soon as I can transcribe my longhand notes on Day 4 to this blog, you will be able to finally understand the reference to frogs.

I woke up this morning thinking about my Green Mountain experiences, my college days in the Green Mountains of Vermont and now here in Monteverde, Costa Rica.  Vermont, a northern boreal forest with four full seasons, five if you count mud season; and Monteverde a lush tropical montane cloud forest with two seasons, dry and rainy.  Growth rings are a perfect example of the differences between the two: in New England you can date a tree based on the ring count, here in Costa Rica growth rings merely add character to the appearance of the wood, carbon dating is the method to age a tree.

Memories of Vermont include a plethora of outdoor activities – hiking and camping, skiing and skating (to carbon date myself – snowboarding came of age after my UVM days and Ben & Jerry’s was still in a converted gas station).  From Lake Champlain to Mount Mansfield and all around, Vermont presented me with a canvas of all things green.

Or so I thought.

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010, Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Six a.m. – Bird Walk with Josh, one of the UGA naturalists.  I admit upfront that I’ve never paid much attention to birds.  I grew up with seagulls and terns, seeing osprey fish was as exciting as bird watching got, nowadays pelicans at the NC coast catch my eye.

Time for a real eye opening experience – the sounds are phenomenal; the forest is awake and alive.  I can’t see the sources but I can hear bird calls in surround sound.  We walk for an hour or so.  My personal sighting count was small: Gray Headed Chachalaca; Blue Crowned Motmot; Dusky Capped Flycatcher; and Red Billed Pigeon (yeah, pigeons are everywhere) – but what an experience.    By day’s end I will have seen and identified eighteen birds along with countless hummingbirds. My take away from this – birding can be fun – if you can find them.  [I’m typing this up Thursday at La Selva Biological Station – while on a bird outing this a.m. I spotted an Agami Heron – our guide was stunned as it is extremely rare.  Again, another really cool experience.]

We then go on a nature walk with the UGA station manager.  Fabrizo is just one of the many amazing people Nora has lined up to speak with us on this trip.  All of these people ooze knowledge.  This is another field class and what keeps popping into my mind and is continually highlighted is change and adaptation.  While Monteverde is a montane cloud forest, it is also a transitional zone that plays host to latitudinal migrants like the Three Wattled Bell Bird which migrates at elevation as it moves along the corridor following the wild avocado, among other foods.  (One of UGA’s programs involves planting saplings as a carbon offset and to reforest corridors with wild avocados specifically for these guys.)  The temperature drops 1.5 degrees centigrade for every 305 meters in elevation.  They’re finding lower elevation species are moving up to new latitudinal ecosystems due to climate change induced temperature increases.  These lower level species are adapting but what’s going to happen to those species whose range ends at Monteverde’s 1500m peak?  Unfortunately we already know – they’re going extinct.

The highlight of the afternoon hike through the cloud forest was the Orange Kneed Tarantula (and I do not like spiders of any shape size or color).  Still it was pretty cool.

Ending our evening was a talk by a UGA biologist on the chytrid fungus which has been decimating the frog and toad population in Central and South America among other continents.  While mortality is at 90% or higher for most species, one species, the king toad continues to survive, which while a poisonous toad, has been known to play an active role a role in extrasensory activities when licked by humans.  Hence, Tom’s reference to lick the toad.

So my experiences here have given me a new appreciation of the amazing world we live in.  Seeing firsthand the different tropical forests here in Costa Rica; the complex interchange of flora and fauna with micro climate specific influence; the amazing amount of primary production occurring all around me.

It’s an understatement to say that this has been another magnificent Green Mountain experience.

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