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Conservation in Costa Rica - Monthly Update April 2010
April has been a very strange month for us at Barra Honda, the weather suddenly turned on us and for the first time in almost 30 years the wet season came in the last 2 weeks of the month and it hasn't left yet, nor does is look like it will!
Normally the wet season begins around the 2nd week of May, so everyone usually prepares for this by making some changes in work schedules, doing maintenance on roads, around buildings and preparing land for planting but with the rains arriving almost 1 month early this year it caught a lot of people un-aware and un-prepared and to make things even worse for us the first rains that fell were incredible with almost 13cm in 3 hours and a lightning storm that would scare most people under tables for protection!
These heavy rains had a bad effect on the park's main entrance road, which leads up into the main area of the park. This meant that the main job for us during the end of the month was trying to repair the damage done by the rains and prepare the roads for future rain (which is said to be equally strong for the rest of this year's wet season). This meant filling in all the holes that the rain had created and digging 30X30X300cm trenches along many sections of the road to catch the water that is flowing down the hill from many points higher up.
This work was especially hard going because the humidity of course has shot up. The average humidity during the previous months has only peaked at 70%, which is still a lot compared to most European countries, but for here isn't too bad, The average over the last couple of weeks of April however was 90% sometimes reaching 97%, which means that every time you walk or work hard (or even sit still sometimes) for a few minutes we had sweat pouring off of us. Extra big bottles of water were appreciated!
We hope that the extra work we have done will help protect the road during the wet season meaning that we won't have as much work to do at the start of the dry season.
Another effect from the rain of course is that the forest has changed amazingly in only a few weeks, going from dry and brown to wet and deep shades of green!
We have noticed many changes now that the rains have come; all of our investigation projects have shown huge increases in captures over the last few weeks. On one occasion our butterfly project captured 180 individuals in one week, normally only 30/40 are captured and we are also noting many new species flying around and hundreds of caterpillars are also beginning to hatch. We hope in the weeks that follow we will be able to collect and identify these and watch them grow into butterflies.
The same results have been seen in the Bat project, with many more species flying around presumably because there are now more insects to feed upon. Our Camera project is again showing many species of deer moving around as well as other smaller mammals (who seem to come back into the main area of the park during the wet season). With more food and water available now the animals and plants of the forest are thriving and we are now gathering huge amounts of data! If this level of rain continues over the whole wet season we are confident that we will not only see a continuation of this trend but also an increase in animal movement and hopefully some new species for us!
One of our other main jobs during this time of the year is helping with many community events, so far this month we have worked in one school in Barra Honda village and in the SINAC (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion or National System of Conservation Areas) regional office in Hojancha. During our school work we helped one of the local schools paint the outside of the building which the volunteers loved! We have been to this school a few times in the past, helping them plant trees around the play area, helping to restore the play equipment and to cut the grass in the play area and every time they are very grateful for our help and always provide some lovely refreshments and snacks for us!
Our trip to Hojancha, which is about 40km away from the park, had similar results. It was our first time in the area and although the distance was small there was an obvious difference in vegetation. The area and the weather was much fresher and much more comfortable to work in. The regional office has a small public garden with pathways and information boards running around it so visitors can come and enjoy a small piece of nature for free and I must admit that the garden was in amazing condition. Like many people in Costa Rica they wanted to make a few changes to the area to make sure that the hard work they had already done wasn't destroyed with a few months of rain!
We started by digging ditches along the sides of the trails with a few people putting fresh gravel on the 1km of trails in the gardens, which sounds easy enough but trust me, after a few hours of digging there is more than a little sweat on your brow! The 2nd day that we were there we continued a lot of this work but also helped to clear an area of dry wood which they wanted to move slightly so it can be used as a nature attraction. A lot of insects, reptiles and of course larger animals love having piles of wet, humid wood to make homes in, so we hope we can encourage a bit more wildlife into this small but beautiful area!
Of course with the wet season now in full swing we have also been monitoring the many species of tree in the park, calculating the best time to begin seed collection for our native tree nursery garden. At this time we have many species of tree that are ready to be transferred into the wild, helping us and many people in the area reforest their farms and public areas. Naturally we don't go into an area and take every seed we find, normally we aim for around 25-30% of the seeds on the ground, which is the average that don't grow or get eaten by anything. With this 25-30% we actually help with seed dispersal by throwing a few back out into the forest on walks, which not only helps animals feed but the few that survive and begin to grow are very important in the recovery of the forest.
Of course, like every month, this is only a snippet of the many activities we have done this month and an even smaller snippet of the fun the staff and volunteers have had in and around the park. We are all really excited for the following months and can't wait to see what the weather is going to do this year and for us to implement a few changes to our already fine project!
Barra Honda National Park