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Archive for August 12th, 2010


We wake up in the morning to the sound of roaring water. In my sleepy state, I think that it is still raining. However, as I slowly wake up, I realize that it is the sound of the stream, which has risen significantly in the nine inches of rain that fell in only twelve hours.

The day begins with a hike. We see a Mallo Blanco and Gallinazo. The latter is a legume, but both are fast growing, early successional plants. The trails are exceedingly muddy today, and everyone takes a spill at some point. It seems that for every one step for which you gain some traction is nullified by you sliding or falling back two. The mud itself is something that I have never experienced back home. It is made up primarily of clay, which results in a thick, slippery red-brown goo two or three inches thick.

Mud

Near the 300 meter mark, we find a black spiky seed pod which looks like a sea urchin. It is known as a monkey comb. A nearby, strange fern catches our eye. It is a salagonella, or spike moss. It is not, however, a moss, but rather a vascular plant similar to lycopodium. There are few mosses and liverworts here because of the lack of constant moisture. Although it rains almost every day in the rainy season, the forest is still fairly dry in the morning and much less rain falls during the dry season. This dryness prevents mosses and liverworts from having a foothold in this forest.

Up at 500 meters, we hear to quick clicks in rapid succession. Andrus tells us that it is a Pale-billed Woodpecker. This woodpecker has a completely red head with a large crest. He is even larger than our pileated woodpecker! Despite its size, it is difficult to spot. That being said, I scamper over a few logs and spot it climbing a tree. It was a treat to see this relative of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which is all but extinct.

Atop the ridge, we are given a chance to see the magnificent view of the ocean and surrounding rainforest. Above the treetops we see Black, Turkey, and King vultures soaring. Black Vultures are the smallest and are entirely black. Turkey Vulture is the middle-sized vulture and identifiable by their v-shaped wings and bald, red head, as they fly slowly above the trees. These are unique in the fact that they use smell to find their food. Finally, the King Vulture is the largest. They can be identified by their white wing tips.

Black Vulture

In the distance, there is a patch of light coloured vegetation. These are ferns which arrest succession. Although they prevent erosion, they also prevent any other plants from growing in the area.

Rainforest (Note the arrested succession in the fern tangle in the middle of the picture (light green patch on the hill))

After this, we descend to the vine tangle. As the jungle (note that jungle is different than rainforest. Jungle refers to disturbed rainforest, where a destructive force has cleared an area leading to intense competition for light and a dense, impenetrable tangle of vines, small trees, and ferns) closes in upon us, we begin our Heart of Darkness journey. The vine tangle was, forty years ago, a bean field which TFI is trying to reclaim to forest. As we speak, White-collared Swifts, the largest of the swift family, dive gracefully while collecting insects to eat. These are the fighter planes of the bird world.

In the vine tangle...

...we see many insects.

The way down from the vine tangle is treacherous. The slope is steep and slippery. I only fall once, but in that moment, land on a fallen branch with spikes on it, embedding some in my hand. Fortunately, I do not come down to inches further to the right, where a spike from a recent machete swipe sticks out of the ground.

We return to our cabins and ate lunch. I go for a run. After attracting some dogs, a Kiskadee, and Black Vultures, I return. Sarah, Bryan and I head up to the trails to survey them for erosion and design and engineer some new trails. This is hot work. We do, admittedly, become a bit machete happy on our first day.

Our team comes back for dinner and lecture. We discuss the importance of nutrient cycling in tropical rainforests. Everyone assumes that because they have high primary productivity and fix large quantities of carbon that the soil must be full of nutrients to facilitate this growth. This is not actually true. Due to leeching of nutrients from the soil by rain, rapid and tight nutrient cycling is needed to prevent loss of phosphorous, which is the limiting factor to growth.

After dinner, the power goes out and we are forced to retire for the night.

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