Matthew, our Principal Investigator in Frontier Costa Rica, shares some of his favourite wildlife moments.
The wonderful big cats of Costa Rica are always highlighted as a charismatic species that encapsulate the mystery behind the jungle’s predators. I have seen this species a few times, but one of the first encounters was the most special.
Ocelots are most active at night, crossing between the fragments of forest under the cover of night to avoid anthropogenic disturbance. I was walking to a night patrol with two young new volunteers, our head torches illuminating the path in front of us. Suddenly, the individual was in clear view, moving parallel to us for around 30 seconds to a minute before it moved deeper and out of sight. I know to some that may seem like a short time, but for elusive and secretive species like this that is a long time and a highlight of my early time on the Osa.
Bare-Hearted Glass Frog
I have spent most of my time here try to master the world of amphibians and reptiles. For the last few years, I’ve been focusing on this taxa and it has been a challenging time, with so many different species. Despite this, I have enjoyed it immensely because of encounters just like this.
I went out one night on a photography trip with another staff member to look for a common species of glass frog, but when we began our return I spotted a slightly different frog on a fallen log overhanging a fast flowing river.
My childish tree climbing days and curiosity lead me face to face with the tiny creature (no more than 3cm) and I identified it as a bare-hearted glass frog. The best way to confirm this is to turn the frog over and see if its heart is visible. It is a special thing to be able to see every beat of the tiny animals heart pumping away. It is hard to explain the effect it had, but I felt very connected to nature during the encounter and I’m happy I got to see it.
A Granular Glass Frog
First Turtle Nesting
Over the course of the year I have had the privilege of spending many late nights watching turtles lay their eggs on the beach. However, this experience was particularly special for me, as I have not worked with turtles before. Although it is one of the most physically and mentally demanding areas of field work, it’s very rewarding.
Arriving on the beach well after the sun had set, I had obviously done my homework and knew what we were doing, but nothing could have prepared me for the event I was about to witness.
First, I walked along the shoreline searching for some tracks. Once I found the turtle and been given the all clear to approach, the experience began, as the turtle laid her eggs. The focus and state of mind that the turtle is in is the first thing I noticed; she almost ignored my existence, allowing me to get incredibly close. There was a loud sound of her exhaling as she dropped the eggs in a variety of ones, twos and threes. The impression that these animals are cute or anything of that nature is a mistake - the intensity of the process removes the question that these are anything other than tough creatures evolving through millions of years of evolution.
It was amazing to watch her complete laying and then watch the performance to cover and disguise the nest with amazing dexterity of her flippers. She then flattened the sand on top with her considerable frame and retreated to the ocean - only to repeat this process in the not too distant future.
Watching Nests Hatch from Start to Finish
Having spent countless hours on the beach at night protecting the turtles as they lay their eggs, the end goal and most enjoyable part of the season for me is if you are lucky enough to witness a complete purge. This is when all the baby turtles make their way into the ocean.
I most memorably did this with Charlie, an old Assistant Research Officer here, who was one of the major contributors of the successful season during my time and a big influence on my new interest in turtle conservation. He had predicted the time and date of the purge due to his understanding of the beach, so we went down just before sunrise and as if by magic, the turtles made their way out, each one making their desperate scramble to the ocean. If you aren’t impressed by their determination and apparent understanding of the environment around them without any guidance, I don’t know what will impress you!
We kept the birds away and escorted the baby turtles into the ocean, where they will start another potentially greater and more dangerous journey. These are the reasons people work in conservation - seeing direct results from hard work is what it’s all about.