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Exploring Costa Rica - Part 1

Posted by Jonathan Twining on Jun 9, 2015 2:00:00 PM

Costa_Rica_-_Arenal_VolcanoThe alarm went off at 4 AM, and I scrambled to get together my video gear and eat breakfast. We were leaving at 4:30 AM to drive to the top of Cerro de la Muerte, the 4th highest peak in Costa Rica at 11,322 feet, to catch the sunrise. From there my colleagues, Dr. John Cossel and Dr. Leslie Hay of Northwest Nazarene University, and their 19 students would hike down to the Quetzal Education Research Center (QERC) through the cloud forest. We caught just a glimpse of the sunrise before the clouds moved into the valley below us, obscuring the sun’s rays.

This was the beginning of my two week adventure in Costa Rica from May 11-26, as I continue to explore ways to get ENC students to the country. I was accompanied for part of the trip by ENC Provost, Dr. Timothy Wooster.

Costa_Rica_-_Two-Toed_SlothFrom QERC, we visited the Mora Farm (Armonia Ambiental), where we stayed in rustic accommodations and learned about the sustainable farming methods used by the Mora family to grow coffee, sugar cane, bananas, and a variety of other crops. Then it was on to Hacienda Baru on the Pacific Coast. We spent a day snorkeling at Isla del Cano (see video below), and then a couple of days and evenings exploring the private nature reserve. Two highlights of this phase of the trip were seeing a two-toed sloth hanging out in a tree (see photo) and hearing the story of Hacienda Baru from its founder, Jack Ewing.

When you hang out with herpetologists, you have to expect night hikes, and we did a number of these at Hacienda Baru. We saw a variety of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates including a cat-eyed snake, green and spiny tailed iguanas, basilisk lizards, tarantulas and wandering spiders, millipedes and centipedes, and around 10 species of frogs. I was also able to help Dr. Cossel collect photographic and audio data on the brown foam frog and Stejneger’s rain frog for an e-book he is preparing on the amphibians of Costa Rica.

In stark contrast to the lowland rainforest was Palo Verde, a much drier forest and wetland. Here we saw a wide variety of birds and mammals, including howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys, coatis, collared peccaries, black-headed trogons, and great kiskadees.

Costa_Rica_-_Red-Eyed_Stream_FrogWe ended up the trip at Bosque Eterno de Los Ninos (Children’s Eternal Rainforest) and La Selva Biological Research Station. At Bosque Eterno, we went out in a pouring rainstorm to collect a variety of frogs and snakes, including a red-eyed stream frog (see photo), a blunt-headed tree snake, a gray earth snake, meadow tree frogs, and dink frogs.

At La Selva, I had a remarkable encounter with a snake I have been looking for since going to Costa Rica – the terciopelo. But I will save that story for another blog post. On the way back to San Jose, the students got to zipline across the rainforest. We were supposed to go white water rafting, but there had been too much rain and the river was too swollen and dangerous.

I learned so much on this trip, and I really look forward to going back to Costa Rica as soon as possible. One thing I appreciated about the NNU approach to the trip was to offer more than one course to the students so they can get additional credits. Besides the Tropical Ecology Lab, students could get credit for a course called “Writing About the Environment” taught by Dr. Darrin Grinder, and also cross-cultural experience credit. After the course was over, the students had additional opportunities for a missions trip, or for staying in Costa Rica to do research with the biology professors. Some also stayed to learn the Spanish language while living in Costa Rican homes. Opportunities abound, and I hope other ENC professors will join with me to do something similar for our students in the near future.

ENC science majors can currently take advantage of the Spring Semester in Costa Rica offered through Southern Nazarene University at their Quetzal Education Research Center (QERC) in San Gerardo de Dota. For more information, email Prof. Twining at Jonathan.Twining@enc.edu.

To find out more about the Biology Department at ENC, please download the Fact Sheet.

Snorkling Adventures!

Written by Jonathan Twining

Jonathan Twining teaches the ecology and environmental science courses for the Biology Department and is the advisor for the Animal Caretakers Team (ACT). Twining worked for a number of years as an environmental scientist and project manager with consulting firms in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He has been very active in the greater community, partnering ENC students with organizations like the Quincy DPW, Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, Massachusetts Audubon, the South Shore Natural Science Center, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. His passion and primary research interest is the ecology and conservation of vernal pool habitats. He has written numerous articles for NCM Magazine, and has been a speaker in local congregations about the care of creation (environmental stewardship).

Topics: ENC Faculty, Academics, Environmental Science