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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ohop Work Party

Today was the Pierce Conservation Districts work party for the Ohop stream restoration project. I learned about this work day through my last volunteer effort with the Nisqually Land Trust. Today's project was to get 1500 native plants in place. The plants had already been placed in rows and arranged in appropriate species distribution. We simply got them into the ground where they were plotted. The long range goal of the project is to redirect a stream into a new channel for improved fish habitat.
Ohop is nestled in a small valley not far from Elbe. When you take Highway 7 from Tacoma to get to Mt Rainier at Paradise, you must first travel the long corridor of chains, strip malls and other suburbia congestion behind Ft Lewis and McCord AFB. Just when you think you can stand no more, the buildings disappear and in very short time you descend into a small valley. You sigh, knowing you are in that place where the mountains begin and the modern world fades a bit.

This is the Ohop Valley. This barn is just north of the field we planted. Very pretty.

This morning it looked grim with rain and darkness as I set out. It is about a two hour drive south, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get there for the 900 start. When I pulled in there were already many people at work. This was certainly a big turnout and better still there was nothing but blue skies above. This Black Cottonwood keeps watch on the new neighbors.

We had a quick instruction on how to clear into the old turf of the pasture and dig a hole appropriate for the plant from the one gallon container. There were Douglas Fir, Black Cottonwood, Red Cedar, Snowberry Bush, a Rubus sp. plant we speculated was Salmonberry or Rose and what appeared to me to be a willow species. Together these will provide a nice woodland mix and provide shelter and food for many species. Birds and small mammals will distribute seeds of other native plants into the area.
Snowberry bush and rose hips along the stream.

It was fairly easy work. Once the long grasses were hacked aside the topsoil was quite wet and dug in easily. Despite the rain the soil was only wet about two inches down and the rest was quite dry and packed. Since this land had been pasture for so long, the grass roots were quite strong and thick. It is old volcanic mud flow and very free of rocks. The majority of the effort was put to breaking down the dry chunks and pulling out as much usable dirt as possible. One woman noted that even though you placed the plant and the nice soil from the pot in the hole, there never seemed to be enough dirt to fill the hole back up.
Pretty yellow roots of a Black Cottonwood tree

I suspected that there was a dirt sucking vortex under each dirt pile.

The organizers were very happy with the huge turnout. Since it is Halloween they thought for sure they would be down in numbers. It was good to see that easily 50% of the workers were junior , high school and college students. The planting was completed by 1100 and not a single raindrop fell. There were a lot of coats shed and everyone agreed that they overdressed for the weather.
As I drove home it was not five minutes north when I ran into driving rain. That went away just the other side of the convergence zone. Heading north on the Valley Freeway I could see way far to the north huge clouds. I am sure there are those hoping they are bringing snow to the upper elevations. The radar looks patchy.

I saw a bit of snow at home though. Returning from the store I heard a flock flying over. I knew they were not Canada Geese, too sweet a honking. Snow Geese, a small flock of 25, have returned. Last winter, for the first time I can remember, we had Snow Geese in the valleys between Redmond and Woodinville as well as the Carnation Duvall area. I even saw Snow Geese frequent Marymoor Park. Usually a small flock congregates in the Kent Valley and most famously in the Fir Island Skagit Flats area. I will no doubt get up to Fir Island for some Snow Goose and Swan observations. You can find two species of swan and the Snow Geese by the thousands.

It is always best done on one of those bright blue days when photographs are a joy to take.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Compare and Contrast

You know, I don't think Costa Rica has sights like this.

I believe these are Sweet Gum trees . They line the road into my place of work. Every year I am in awe of their wonderful display. The piles of leaves attract quite a few folks for shuffling and picture taking.
Sunday morning I was driving in to work and I admit I was slightly distracted glancing at the pretty trees.
The item I hit cost me a flattened tire.

I see the first snow in the mountains, too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Like Here, Only Different - Part 3

Saying Good-bye to Monteverde and our sweet little hotel was difficult. I would have loved a few more days to take in this lovely environment.

The road north out of Monteverde was unmarked, unpaved and slightly different from the one coming in. We went over the Continental Divide and you could see a slight change in the landscape. The hills had less trees, the valleys were not as deep, the hills rolling. But everywhere still green and flowers grow in abundance. Clearly this is still cattle and milk country. There were also a lot of coffee plantations.

We met the little boat at Lake Arenal for a transfer south and across to the foot of Volcan Arenal.

The lake is dam created and forms the largest lake in Costa Rica. Here was yet another diverse environment to take in. The first thing I noted was this extraordinary water flower.

There were some beautiful homes on the hills above the lake. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have the year round vantage of seeing the erupting north face of Arenal. We met another van on the south shore of the lake and drove only a little way when he pulled over to show us an often missed site. The river here runs steaming hot. It is the hot springs that feeds the world famous Tabacon Hot Springs resort. Here the locals come take the water for no charge. All over the rocks there is candle wax from those who come at night. I dipped my hands in and it was easily 110+ degrees.

Our hotel in Fortuna was right on the main street downtown. This was truly a tourist town with tour shops and souvenir stands everywhere. The hotel had a bit of a view of Arenal and at any moment the clouds might break and you can see the summit. Unfortunately the view came with telephone wires, but I did manage this one semi clear shot. It is possible to see the glow of rocks and lava from the north face and night visits to a hot springs with a view are a popular activity.

Most of the time the summit was shrouded in clouds and steam.

We checked in with the tour company and I eagerly booked a visit to Cano Negro reserve on the Nicaragua border. Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge would be a unique environment for my visit and I had it on my "must do" since I booked my trip. The Rio Frio runs into Lake Nicaragua and serves as a taxi course for people crossing the border. We took a boat and slowly toured the rivers edge. There were many birds and animals to enjoy. Kingfisher were a tricky sighting and I am luck to have caught this Amazon Kingfisher. They are much shyer and faster than our familiar Belted Kingfisher.

There were a lot of Caiman, Iguana and Basilisks. This Basilisk showed us why they are nicknamed the Jesus Christ Lizard. When young and small, they can run across the water surface. The event was too fast to capture on camera.

We journeyed downriver to the border and went ashore to get a closer look at a field containing a mixed flock of birds. I would have wished to get closer but between the loose horses and cattle, the mucky ground and the nearness of the border we had to hang back. It was a thrill to see Wood Storks , Roseate Spoonbills and Little Blue Herons... all new species for me. As with so many other venues I would have liked far more time here.

Early the next morning my co-traveler Peter and I ventured off on a hike at Cerro Chato. This extinct volcano just south of Arenal is also known as The Sleeping Indian. We were warned that it was a challenging climb and indeed it was. It was an unrelenting 1 hour(+)climb to the top. The trail was not like those we are use to. Narrow twisting and free-form, it pretty much was a continuous up. Much of the climb was made stair-step wise, using tree roots and foot print steps. There was a fair amount of pull-yourself-up and hugging trees while you swung around their trunks to get a firm foothold on the next step. The ground, while moist, was good and honest footing. I am use to wet ground being slippery ground and this soil acts very different.

To my dismay my camera batteries gave out quickly and I discovered that I had failed to transfer my spares from my fanny pack to my back pack. I kick myself, even more so in the end when I realised that the rain jacket and pants that I brought were never needed. I could have made do with the fanny pack after all. I am hoping Peter will provide a link to the pictures he took on this lovely hike.

It was tough going as it was hot, as usual. I wore a red sweat band and it pulled in more than one hummingbird for close inspection. There were great bugs and butterflies too. We discovered a nest of peeping birds inside a trunk, though the species is unknown and the parents never arrived to scold us.

At the top we were dismayed to see that the caldera was clouded over. The plan was to hike around the rim to the other side and descend "the easy way" into the caldera lake. By the time we got to the other side we could see a bit of the lake. We could also hear the eruptions on Arenal not more than a mile or so away. The "easy" hike down had its moments. It was more or less using roots as steps. At the bottom the area had cleared and we could see sky above us and the jade green water. The inside of the caldera is covered in trees and plants. After almost two weeks in Costa Rica we found our first frogs! So many of the famous, colorful frogs of the tropics live out their lives high in the trees. Here several frogs appeared to be sparing right on the lake shore. They were basic small brownish tree frogs, but it was fun to watch their scuffle and throat pouch blowing.

We hiked down the other side of the volcano and emerged onto a private farm. The open ground was slightly rocky and I (and my toes) was glad for the slightly easier down slope. There were a lot of plants to notice. By now the clouds had cleared and the sun was pretty intense. We ended up at La Fortuna Falls. After a quick lunch, we hiked down to the foot of the falls since it was "only 500" steps. This time real stair steps! The force of the water coming over the falls produced quite a bit of water turbulence. I cannot imagine what it would be like during a regular rainy season.

By the time we got back to the top we were ready to return home. Peter and I feel we both accomplished quite a good hike and were very energised. Near the parking lot I saw a cluster of people looking through bins and heard the word "motmot". What can I say, it was a lucky hit. I watched, thrilled at seeing this iconic tropical bird. I pulled out my camera. I knew that sometimes the batteries can juice up after turning the camera off... enough to get a few pictures. I managed three shots, two did not turn out

This one did. Broad-billed Motmot.

Since it was our last day in town we went for dinner and a special event. Salsa lessons. Even though Peter and I had clocked the hefty hike, I don't think you could have kept us off the floor. I admit to pretty much having two left feet but by gosh I wasn't going to let that stop me. As much as I would love to take dancing lessons I have always been reluctant. The young man who instructed us was excellent and he got me moving pretty well, I must admit. You can turn into Ginger Rodgers when you have a partner who makes you feel confident.

The trip back to San Jose via Poas Volcano was long and interesting. Our driver, whom we had met before, had never driven this route. There were some diversions and stops for directions, given the usual lack of road signs. We made safely back to San Jose during the Saturday afternoon gridlock. It was interesting to see the change of lifestyle as we neared the bigger population center. The crowds and traffic were a bit jarring after two weeks of an easy paced life.

I admit to being ready to come home. The journey had been long and filled with a lot of activity and a little less sleep. While I am sure I could have kept going, there is a certain stress that comes from not being in your familiar home. The taxi arrived promptly as booked Sunday morning, and he drove us to the airport in record time.
I know I have many adventures ahead. Some on this trip were a chance of a lifetime and I would not trade all the heat, sweat and sleepless nights for the experiences, sights, sounds and flavors of Costa Rica. I am sure I will return.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Like Here, Only Different, Part 2

After escaping from Matapalo we stopped at Manuel Antonio NP. We arrived very early for which I am thankful. Our leader arranged for a good friend of hers to be a guide, if desired. For myself, I wanted to ramble by myself and have a few hours of solitude.

It had been a long week and I would welcome the chance to "refresh". Off I went climbing to the Mirador (overlook). I learned that heat in the forest is a bit more heated than at the beach. Once again I was happy I had the forethought to get some sweatbands. Using a red one would also prove helpful in future encounters with a hummingbird. I was not the first up the trail, but it was so quiet that the animals and birds were not disturbed by my passing.

I enjoyed being in my first Costa Rica tropical forest. Like home, there are tons of ferns and mosses ... and like home they grow from everywhere! Unlike home, they are Super Sized.

Trees become the platform for everything else to grow from. Here at home, they grow lightly, in the tropical forest even epiphytes have baggage. The legendary frogs of the tropics often live their lives inside the bromelaids which grow high in the tree tops, never seeing the ground. Indeed it was not until near my trip end that I found little frogs in a volcano caldera lake.

Every plant seems to be bigger than life. Everywhere there was something blooming. There are a million shades of green. Some things ask to be touched, others clearly state, DON'T!!!

I was able to walk quietly and had a troop of White-faced Capuchins pass overhead. My camera work was not as nimble as these creatures. Shooting upward in the unique light of the forest presented its own set of challenges.

Birding was also a special challenge. They live much of their life high in the trees and always seem to be back-lit. Like cats, all birds are dark gray in poor lighting. I did manage one great shot of a Fiery-billed Aracari.

I followed a little creek down to the beach was delighted that it was alive with exceptionally busy hermit crabs. They too were a challenge to photograph. The beaches at Manuel Antonio are considered some of the most beautiful in the world. I am not a beach person so my experience is limited. It was beautiful in my eyes. I would have wished for more time to ramble and explore but we only had a few hours.

We decided to get lunch at a beach restaurant before making the long drive to Monteverde. I had a delicious ceviche and salad and others clearly were of a similar mind, salad was a draw for most everyone.

The legendary road to Monteverde could only be described as potholes held together by dirt. It is pretty much with intention. There is a desire to make this beautiful and sensitive area a challenge to get to. Indeed some of the venues limit their daily attendance. While this month is the rainy season, and the "low" season for tourists, during the peak season I can imagine how crowded the venues get. We had a private van. I know there is a public bus to Monteverde. After our hair-raising trip to Quipos from San Jose, I am thankful for the careful attention of our driver, whom we would meet again in the later week.

But oh the beauty of the journey up the hills. Steep sided narrow valleys covered in green trees. Farms and crops, mostly coffee and banana hug the hillsides.
Dairy is big here and Monteverde itself is the center of the dairy industry. Established by Quakers from Alabama in the 1950, many farms produce crops and milk cooperatively. This is , in fact , the case with the majority of Costa Rica's Ag industry. There are large corporate type farms in the country, but most are still small holdings with diverse crop rotation. Monoculture is not very common. Along the coast north of Quipos, African Palm oil is aggressively produced and we passed large plantations. Since the fall of its the use diet market, there is a new drive to produce bio-fuel using the rich oil.

Arriving in Santa Elena, a small town near Monteverde, we all gasped with joy when we saw our hotel , El Atardecer (the Sunset) . Beautiful, charming, clean , hot water, no bugs (well hardly) LAUNDRY SERVICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Our hostesses spoke no English but with the help of dictionary, rudimentary skills and the very sophisticated 13 yo niece of owner, we managed quite well.

We quickly went into town to visit the tour company that provided local services. One can choose to join regular tours or just go off on their own. Taxis are fast , inexpensive and know the way to all the sites. Once at a venue you could book a guide or go off on your own. Top guides are certified by the national system and they proved to be engaging and highly knowledgeable (and proud) of their country. We already had a private visit to Santa Elena Cloud Forest as part of our trip. This reserve has a limited entry permitted and is at a higher elevation than Monteverde.

Then to bed in a sweet clean comfortable QUIET room.

Monday morning we were fed to overload status on fresh fruit and juice, eggs and cereal. We had all become devotees of the fruit and water (or milk) drink known as fresco. I favored Guanabana (soursop) while others went for watermelon or papaya. No matter your taste there was a fruit to satisfy it. The trees grow wild and we often sampled on the go.

Our first stop was Santa Elena NP. We were greeted by our guide Johnny and a bevy of hummingbirds and one green viper. I am sorry to say I did not get a good picture of the viper. Hummingbirds, too , proved a difficult capture. We spent about 3 or so hours learning about the overall ecology of the forests.

There is deep concern that the current rainy season is not very rainy and the plants showed lots of evidence of bug predation and stress. Everything was wet , so their lack of moisture must really mean the norm for this environment is super saturated. We climbed up to nearly 5100 feet. Here at home this would be nearing the timberline, but in the lush environment there was no seeing out for the trees.

Where there were open windows to view out, all one could see was cloud vapors and mist. On rare, clear days you could easily see some of the volcanoes we would visit in the coming week, but it was not to be at this time of year. This lack of visual compass was a bit disconcerting and I was never sure of which way was north or east.

Moss grows on ALL sides of the trees.

For lunch we went down to Selvatura Park, a handy center providing all types of activities. Most in the group went for Zip-lining. For myself and my roommate Cordie, we were for nature study, which you cannot do hanging from a wire. We rambled a network of suspended bridges looking down onto the tops of trees from about 150 meters above the forest floor. It was a great way to see into the forests, out to the surrounding hills shrouded in clouds.

After our long ramble, Cordie and I had an hour before meeting the last van back to town, so we spent it agog in the Hummingbird Garden.

Violet Saberwing

Steely-vented Hummingbird.

We got back in time for me to grab a night hike in a nearby farm forest. We discovered mostly bugs and the sound of bug night chorus was overwhelming. We also found a sleeping Emerald Toucanet. I was also happy to see that there was a little hole in the overcast sky. Enough to see the Milky Way.

Gratuitous Bug Sex photo

The next day most of us had booked a ride and hike combo. This was my absolutely To Do event, others slowly cottoned on to the idea of a 4 hour horse ride and a hike.

I was in heaven. Nicely trained and cared for horses took care of those not experienced. The hike was much like here at home, following the course of the San Luis river to a stunning waterfall. All along the moist way there were butterflies and bugs to capture my attention. I found some fun birds and creatures. I was also fascinated by Balsa trees, which produce a fabulous purple trumpet shaped flower. There was a nice little farm as the hike start point and the ride to the farm along a winding road down the valley produced amazing views.

Sapo Grande (Marine Toad) HE. WAS. HUGE!

Unknown species butterfly. My camera cannot leave bugs and such alone.

Glasswing, Greta oto.

San Luis Falls

Brown-hooded Parrot

That afternoon we visited a demo farm called El Trapeche. The multi-generational family owned property had fallen out of use when it was decided to reinvent it as an educational / tourist venue. We learned about the diverse crop and harvest culture of sugar coffee banana and the use of small crops such as Tilapia (fish) and mixed fruits and vegetables.

We saw learned about coffee production from growth , harvest (including farm worker issues) processing and roasting. Sugar cane was featured and we saw production (and sampled) fresh whole cane ( what a wonderful discovery, so nice) and cane juice. We also learned about the production of the national drink, Guaro ( much like Pisco, from Peru) and made candy from boiled whole cane sugar juice (an acquired taste, very sweet very potent) . At the end we enjoyed coffee and Picadillo, a chopped meat and veg served in a tortilla.

For me, one of the best parts was a chance to watch an Ox team work using the traditional carts. These carts are hand painted, freestyle. Painting design can be unique to the artist and can often be identifiable to a specific region or family. I saw carts in use in other areas, but not so much as in this community.

All too soon our time in Monteverde was over. I would have wanted a few more days. I didn't get a chance to visit the Monteverde Reserve itself. Nor did we visit the Quaker Cheese Factory or sample the famous ice cream. Most of us were feeling a slight effect of the sudden return of fruit and veg to our diets, but it didn't really slow most of us down one bit.

Like Here, Only Different , Part 1

I had in mind that I would not write about my wanderings far afield. These posts are supposed to be about Washington, but in my heart, they are about the natural world and the wonders in it.

My recent vacation to Costa Rica took me to a place that was beyond my expectations. I admit that I had often heard how wonderful Costa Rica is for nature lovers, but I did not get my expectations up. I did minimal research, confining myself to becoming aware of the bird forms via "Birds of Costa Rica" by Garriques and Dean, and the Travelers Wildlife Guide series book for Costa Rica. Other than that I prepared myself to make my discoveries unadulterated by preconceived thoughts.

I signed myself up for a Gap Adventure vacation called Project Costa Rica, 15 days visiting two of the big visitor attractions, Monteverde and Fortuna /Arenal Volcano. The first 5 days were to be spent doing volunteer work in a Sea Turtle conservation project on the south Pacific coast in a village called Matapalo. That was certainly in keeping with my desire to give back to the environment.

We were a group of six plus a guide/coordinator. After I spent Sunday wandering around San Jose visiting the limited sites of interest, we met for dinner and got acquainted. I quickly determined we were a nice balance of age and interest, male and female from US Canada and Malaysia. Our leader was a Texas ex-pat who had lived in CR for 2 years. My roommate was beginning an extended around-the-world sabbatical. She and I are of a very similar temperament and that last apprehension about the conditions of the next two weeks quickly disappeared.

Monday morning, we zipped over to the San Jose bus depot, and boarded our bus for the coast. After the police walked through ( looking for what???) we were off exactly on time. It was a beautiful , harrowing ride through coffee country, over mountains and down twisty hairpin turns. We arrived one-half hour early in the seaside town of Quipos. I decided that the bus driver was eager to watch one of the soccer matches involving the National team. We had a few minutes to visit the bank and take care of any last minute details before the van would pick us up to take us to Matapalo. I quickly determined that I would need a small towel , hairbands to act as sweatbands and some extra bug spray. It proved to be some of the best things I purchased, all would get a good workout in the days to come. It was easily 90 degrees at mid day and the saturation was just below that of a shower.

Matapalo proved to be a dirt road, a surfer camp, some small houses and cabanas, a pulparia and the Turtle HQ and dorm (affectionately called "The Cage") The conservancy patrols 5.4 Km of beach, watching and protecting Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. This is one of 5 species native to the waters on either side of Costa Rica and the only species not on the Endangered List. A pulparia is a community general store and center. Usually there is a " soda" associated with it. Sodas are open air diners where you can get basic food and drinks. Our rooms were above the pulparia and the soda was a happening place for the community with music into the wee hours. They also started work, like many Ticos, at 630 am.

It was not a quiet and peaceful venue.

Three of us crammed into the room which was barely 9x14 and housed 2 bunks and a regular mattress on a platform. At least we could stage our bags and perpetually damp clothes on the upper levels. The trick of fixing up the vital mosquito net was another issue. It became a sweaty knockdown , drag out battle which I replayed over several days. The shower only provided cold water. I am amazed at the fortitude of the pipes that in that hot steamy environment can maintain water in a near numbing temperature.

The work started right away with my first hatchery duty at 2am Tuesday morning. We did have a hatch and release and I spent a quiet 4 hours slowly watching the day come alive. A wonderful lightning storm off shore was almost mystical in its qualities. The clouds remained lit for what seemed an extraordinary length of time. I wish I had the presence of mind to play with my camera in that moment. At the time however I was nearing 24 hours without sleep and I was in a muddle of sensory overload. A slow dawn came with waves and clouds and a flock of swallows and swifts. I was eager to get off duty, to take pictures of the place I released the hatchlings. It was high tide at the time and we had no choice but to release the babies in the softer sand. They need "flipper time" in the sand to imprint with the smell of the beach, allowing them to arrive back in the future for mating at sea and nesting ashore. The resulting pictures are among my favorite of the trip

The days were long, the schedule exceptionally irregular, the food stunningly basic, sleep sorely lacking. I envy those who can fall asleep on a dime, I have never been that person. Diet consisted of rice and beans, or beans and rice, with a small topping of some vegetable or meat flavored sauce. With horror, one day it was canned tuna and that took me back to childhood. Sometimes a fresh tomato or cabbage salad made an appearance. I am happy I brought my vitamins with me and immediately doubled up my intake. The pulparia had a similar lack of fresh fruit or veg. I usually felt too grimy, too tired, to wet or simply too uninspired for a visit to the soda for more diverse fare. By the time my brain caught up to my desires, the tour of duty was nearly over.

Besides there is something about shared misery at three meals a day. It wasn't horrible awful, I was amazed at how tasty the cook could make some of the dishes. She presented plantains in many different ways. I learned the joy of plantains in Belize and found them in many varied forms here. Lemon and salt plantain chips cried out for a Diet 7-Up. Combined with the unrelenting activity, I easily lost a bit of weight on vacation.

Afternoons usually involved some labor and it was not helpful that is was 90 - 95 degrees out at the time. Everyone pitched in with the work, usually involving shovels, sand and bags, and made short work of the task.

It was then everyone to the beach where goofing off in the surf was the only way to cool down and perhaps remove the layer of funk. Some of the volunteers were actually there to surf and be beach bums. They grabbed their boards and went to the surfers camp down the way.

It was hard days with the hours sort of blurring into one another. Moments of free time, I spent reading or playing with my camera taking pictures of birds and plants. There was a trio of horses given to wandering about and a small herd of cattle who could surprise you at 2 in the morning, appearing out of no where as you sleepily headed over to the Hatchery. My Tuesday morning chore (30 hours without sleep but who is counting) was doing cow pie patrol in the front yard of The Cage. I suspected that I was the only one with livestock experience and fortitude so I self elected myself to do it.

Work at night on beach patrol involved walking a round trip of about 11 Km (more if you shuttled eggs) in the total dark. We looked for the tracks on the beach that showed where a female had come ashore. When found, the well camouflaged nest was searched for, excavated and the eggs returned to the hatchery where they would be buried and monitored. Eggs would hatch in about 40 days with the hatchlings spending the first 5 days underground while their shells harden. Data is collected under red light, which I know from my day to day work I am somewhat blind under. Glasses steaming from heat and sweat was an added bonus. It is a bit interesting collecting data with someone who speaks almost no English on a form written in Spanish. I muddled through with my grade school Spanish, always stumbling about in hearing the proper distinction between the words for sixty (sesenta) and seventy (setenta). We measured and weighed eggs and hatchlings.

It is an awesome feeling to see the hatchlings as they boogy flipper their way towards the waves, driven only by their instinct to do so. They seem so eager and hopeful.

It is not all wonderful in this land. Eating turtle eggs is still a tradition with some Ticos and poachers are present, particularly at the far end of the beach. On Friday night I had night patrol to the far end of the protected beach, marker 3.5 to 5.4 Km. I had been on two night patrols but nothing like this one.

We started out at 1015 pm timed with the tides. Low tide is optimal as this is when the females tend to come ashore and it is also easier to see the tracks and walk on the firm sand. We found one nest just at 3.7 Km. I shuttled them back to the next zone where there were others who could carry them forward to the hatchery. I moved back up the beach and saw red lights ahead and figured it was my partners. I got to where I thought they were but found a lot of confusing marks, some were clearly of a turtle(s) coming ashore, others of shoes. I knew the others were just ahead so I pressed on. I finally caught up at about 5Km and it turns out all the odd marks were poached nests.

Our leader, a small feisty scientist named Demaris was on the radio and marched us forward while she talked on the radio. When she was done she told us "Sit down on that log while we wait for police." The local Police and the Coast Guard ( Costa Rica has no Army but they do have a Coast Guard for Police and safety services, including wildlife protection) support the work of the conservation community.

The poachers , with their occasional lights could be seen far up the beach. We work strictly without lights except at the nest and then very little. We sat for well on 20 minutes when we saw the poachers coming down the beach. They crossed right in front of us, dressed in black, like we were. In the dark of the night, with barely a moon shine they appeared quite spooky, like black ghosts or Dementors. They knew we were there, we clearly saw them. They appeared to be three, two black figures, one smaller and white. It was only after a day I realized the white was a pair of bags being carried between the two. Fatigue, heat and the dark play crazy tricks on the eyes and mind. Lights on the off shore sea markers appear to fly close then zoom away. I can see how people see flying saucers while walking in the dark. Here space and distance collapse.

Finally it was relayed the the police could not come and so we started back. Before too long I spotted a turtle coming ashore, she was still in the wet low surf. We sat down on the low beach to allow her to move to high ground. Then, there they were , the poachers. They had gone off the beach and were now coming up behind us. Demaris quickly had us move up beach to sit right behind the turtle as she excavated her nest hole.

It was thrilling to watch the turtles effort. Demaris excavated the nest in time with the turtle and was able to create a slot and place a bag inside. This way she caught the eggs as the turtle produced them. If we had not sat on that log for so long, the poachers would have had this clutch as well. Together all the groups were able to bring in four nests that night . It is a shame to think that it could have been seven but a joy that it was one more. This was my first contact with an adult turtle and the only full cycle of come ashore and nesting I witnessed. The whole night was the weeks experience rolled into one huge event.

Saturday night, alerted by one of my co-travelers, we ran to the beach for a rare and staggering sunset.

Sunday morning we departed early wanting to catch the first hours at Manuel Antonio NP, just south of Quipos. I am happy to have had the experience of the Turtle Project. I would certainly consider working in a more dedicated scientific project such as this. Preferably a more isolated living situation in a field station given solely to the purpose. I believe the east coast has more protected and focused stations. It is for future consideration.