Not only do GVI staff and volunteers spend hours comprehensively sweeping forest trails and canals in Tortuguero National Park, we also live deep inside the parks southern boundary. Our 24-hour presence either on base or travelling to town establishes a constant connection between us and unbelievably diverse ecosystems. Many of the species we see are ever present in our temporary home. Clay coloured robins Turdus grayi frolicking around our ‘garden’, American crocodiles Crocodylus acutus basking at the river mouth and mantled howler monkeys Allouata palliata alerting the world to the rising sun with a roar that would not be out of place in ‘Jurassic Park’. These animals all have one thing in common; Tortuguero National Park (TNP) falls within their normal distribution and they are abundant here. This does not mean that is not important to record their continued local existence as a change in abundance may signify significant alteration to the parks habitats. However, to record a species that is believed to be rare within the park or that has a normal range not believed to overlap with TNP, really does instil a great deal of excitement and brings home the fact that our research station can add new data to worldwide species databases. And we are in the process of building up a collection of such sightings.
Birds are an obvious contender for such recordings. Although they may have specific distributions mapped in scientific literature, their ability to transcend boundaries through flight enables them to migrate to locations their may have rarely frequented before; a situation which will likely become more prevalent as the effects of climate change begin to take their toll. So what have we seen here that we apparently shouldn’t have been so lucky to do so? Here is a few we have accumulated in 2012:
- Red-legged honeycreeper Cyanerpes cyaneus: A stunning dark blue bird with a glittering turquoise crown; common on the pacific coast but not usually recorded on the Caribbean lowlands.
- Yellow-throated Euphonia Euphonia hirundiacea: A pretty little blue and yellow bird who’s previously known range finishes north of Tortuguero.
- Shiny cowbird Molothrus bonariensis: A blackbird which has a Costa Rican range that is limited to a small pocket in the south east corner of the country.
But it is not just birds of note that we have recorded; there is also a snake that stands out. To me it resembles a mini anaconda (a species I would give my left arm to see in the wild) and one that is also believed to be very rare in this area. It wasn’t discovered on any of the trails or along the waterways but under the staff house! Again illustrating how we can make a contribution to the scientific community by merely taking a few steps from our beds. I give you the orange bellied swamp snake Tretanorhinus nigroluteus!!
So what are we doing with this data? Firstly, all the data we collect goes directly to MINAET, who will hopefully be able to incorporate it into the park’s new management plan. We also report any rare bird sightings directly to Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica (AOCR). And finally, GVI we have begun to collaborate with I-naturalist and an official GVI Tortuguero project has been set up. I-naturalist is a worldwide database that allows experts and amateurs alike to upload photos of species they have seen all over the world; thus documenting a current and accurate distribution of all species in time and space. We are currently developing an extensive photo database of every species we have photographed in this area and aim to upload these to our project on i-naturalist on a regular basis.