Saturday, October 31, 2015

Burrow Occupancy

After one full week of having the cameras placed in the field, I went out this morning to download the photos.
 There were birds
 And more birds.
And even mice.
But the thing we found in most of the burrows.... tortoises.  
 We chose what we thought were abandoned burrows, hoping to see who else had moved in.
But instead, we found the gopher tortoises burrowing away
 In pairs.
 At night.

And especially in the bright sunny day.  333 photos had something going on.  Those are all tagged now and ready to upload.  So exciting to see so much activity in such a short period of time!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Camera Trap Photos

We had a camera out on the property to get an idea of who is on the property. 
  Look at who is visiting the property.  
 Here is a nighttime shot.  These are just a few of the shots we captured.

Deployment of Camera Traps

Saturday morning we were lucky enough to go out to the sight to set up our cameras.  
 We scouted for burrows and worked to set up our cameras to see what is living in them.
 Ryan took GPS readings on each camera so that we can make sure we find them later.  Some of the burrows were quite secluded.
Right now we are focusing on abandoned burrows.  Part of the role of Gopher Tortoises as keystone species is setting up burrows that are inhabited by lots of other animals. Hopefully we will see how is coming in and out of these burrows now that the Gopher Tortoise has moved on.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Group Visit

 On Saturday, the Space Coast Eco-Geeks got together to take a tour of the Suntree Study Site.
Anita and Tom along with Sarah and Terry from GREAT!  met us there.  
 There has been quite a bit of rain lately, leaving standing water in several of the basins.
The water was full of birds.  
 So many birds!
We also saw deer, including an 8 point buck.  

 The team is so excited to begin studying the sight.  We are still working through logistical details like permitting and protocols.  Ryan went back yesterday and installed three camera traps as part of an initial information gathering phase.  I am headed back this evening to check on them and make sure they are collecting data as they should.  I also received the two new camera traps funded by my donor's choose grant!  Hopefully we can finalize our plans soon and get all the camera traps set up and collecting data.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

More Good News

I just got an e-mail letting me know that my donorschoose project has been fully funded!  7 donors all helped by sending money to help buy 2 more camera traps to start our gopher tortoise study.  The final donor was an anonymous donor who reads my quilt blog.  She said she also reads my science blog, so if you are reading, thanks to much for helping our project!  We are working on a plan to go out and visit the sight this weekend to figure out what needs to be done before we set up our cameras.  Good things are happening quickly.   

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ready to Move Forward

On Tuesday of last week I went to a meeting of the group working to prevent development of the 114 acres in Suntree.  They are now calling themselves GREAT! which stands for Greenspace Environmental Advocacy Task Force.  I talked about our trip to Costa Rica and how we had gotten training in TEAM protocols which we were ready to put to use to study the gopher tortoises on the 114 acres.  As of Tuesday, the land was in the hands of the county and nobody had permission to visit the site with concerns about liability.  Anita is serving as our conduit of information and I asked her to request permission for our team to access the sight to begin our study.
Yesterday, she met with county commissioner Curt Smith and he gave us the go ahead to begin our work!  Today they had a meeting, and he mentioned GREAT as well as the Eco-Geeks in his report
Follow this link to hear what he had to say.  There is a menu which allows you to skip to the end where he mentions us specifically.  So now we are ready to start working out the details and get our study moving forward.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Camera Trap Grant Proposal

This is one of the pictures we took with a camera trap in Costa Rica.  
We had 10 camera traps to do our collections while we were at La Selva.  Three were borrowed from Conservation International and the rest belong to our group.  We are trying to bring that number back up as we start on the next phase of our project.  After learning TEAM Network protocols during our trip, we plan to set up a local study of Gopher Tortoise burrow habitation.  I have an open Donor's Choose Project to try to buy more traps.  Though I was lucky enough to get two more donations in August, the grant proposal expires in just 11 days.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


I learned how to use i-movie today and put together a video about our trip to Costa Rica.  Check it out.  I am scheduled to share photos of the trip at a faculty meeting next week and I thought this would be a fun way to do it.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Farewell to Costa Rica

It was so much fun to hear about everyones individual projects during our last day at La Selva.  They were all so different!  The California group focused on soil testing.  They even had us test our own samples.   The low pH of the local water made the results a little hard to interpret.  I am glad that we weren't the only ones experiencing technical difficulties.  I never would have thought about brining my own water to assure a consistent pH during field work.  The Frogger Loggers shared lots of frog sounds with us.  So many cute little croakers.  Then the Pennsylvania shared their vegetation measurements.  Hearing about the time they spent out in the field fighting to use equipment in the pouring rain sounded so familiar!  4 people doesn't seem like nearly enough when 2 of them are holding up umbrellas.  The plans people have to extend and share what they learned in their own classrooms when they return are truly inspiring.  
I had no idea ahead of time what an important part the projects would play in the ECO-classroom experience.  I  really didn't think that we would get as much data as we did in such a short amount of time.  It was so exciting every time we went out to check the camera traps to see what animals we had captured.  Looking back, I can see how we could have done so many things better, but we all learned so much though our trial and error field work.  
The trip back to San Jose and a night back at the Adventure Inn helped us to transition and start the process of thinking about leaving.  Everyone was strangely quiet as the bus pulled out of the field station for the last time.  
This was our last group dinner together.  After two weeks of rice and beans with each meal, eating at an Italian restaurant was such a treat.  Such a wonderful group of people!  Being able to share this experience with them was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I am so grateful to have been lucky enough to take participate in this program.  
Text messages and e-mails are starting to come in now asking us to share our experience with different local groups.  So far we are slated for a district inservice day, and something at the planetarium.  I guess we'd better take a look at what we'd like to say.  I am also supposed to share some pictures at our next faculty meeting.  That will be fun!
We had Open House last night and parents were telling me that they had read about my trip on this blog.  How much exciting is that?  Of course I had to include my favorite ocelot picture in my power point.  Hopefully there will be more to share as our follow up projects get under way, for now though, farewell to Costa Rica.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Life at La Selva

La Selva is a biological research facility not far from Saripiqui in Costa Rica.  It is run by the Organization for Tropical Studies and is also one the TEAM network sites.  Scientists and students come here for short or long amounts of time and stay while they go out into the forest to do their own individual research.  Birders and tourists also come and naturalists and guides are available for day and night hikes.  
I was informed, that as far as field stations go, this one is the equivalent of a five star Hilton.  The main dining hall has beautiful wooden ceilings with both inside and outside seating options.  
There are various sleeping options available.  Professors are placed in more prestigious houses, but as students, we were assigned to dorms which were similar to those used for summer camps.  There was a shared bathroom and a fan to help keep things cool.  Most of the time, rain kept the temperatures pleasant, but on the few days it didn't rain, it could get a little sticky.  There was no glass in the windows, just screens to keep out the bugs.  
A suspension bridge allowed us to cross over the river to get to the trails and classroom area.  It was about a mile round trip each time we went out, so we tried to take everything we would need each day, coming back only for meals.  Closed toed shoes were required on the trails, and we never went anywhere without an umbrella and a flashlight.  
We were in the Jaguar classroom for most of our time.  Peggy, Steve, and Jimmy each gave different presentations while we were there, and they brought computers and a projector with them.  
 Meal times brought us all together back at the main hall.  The menu was posted both in Spanish and English each day.  We were left to wonder what "mixed meat" meant, but there was a nice variety each day.
Meals were centered around beans and rice with a meat and a vegetable or starch.  There was also a salad bar with local fruits and a juice dispenser.  Coffee, tea and water were available 24-7, but the food was there only during scheduled meal times.  Scientists could request a bag lunch if they were going to be in the field all day.  
Here is a view of the serving line, all the food was cafeteria style, allowing you to choose what you would like at each meal.  The ladies were always willing to give you "mas" is you wanted more of a specific food.  Dinner even had dessert available!
 One thing we all noticed was how focused on recycling they were not just at La Selva, but everywhere we visited.  Plastic, paper and organics were all separated into different containers.  
Meals were a time to sit and relax, sharing stories of what we did during the day.  Most of the talk was centered around the research we were doing or the animals we had seen that day.  
Dr. Smiley was one of the scientists we shared several meals with.  He is a retired professor who always wanted to return to an unanswered question about beetles he found while working on his doctorate in 1971.  So after his retirement, he decided to come down and spend some time doing further study.  We would see him out on the trails going out to the succession plots, or at dinner excited about what he had found.  

Banana Plantation

There were a few days at La Selva when I was just too tired to set up a post, I'll make those up now though, so that there is a complete record of what we learned. Here is the first of the makeup posts.
 Did you know that the small black specks in your banana are rudimentary seeds and are not able to grow into a banana plant?  It's not a tree at all, but an herb.
Tuesday we traveled to a Dole plantation to learn more about how bananas are grown.  
 Bananas grow in blue bags to protect them from the bugs and to maintain temperature and humidity. Apparently the bananas grown without the blue bags aren't at all pretty.
 We practiced putting the blue bags on the bananas and marking them with the colored tags that are used to help with inventory and planning.
 First though, we got a talk about how the banana plant is propagated.  Everything in the story had to do with the number three, which was actually pretty funny after a while.  So here is the banana plant which was used to show us the process.  Bananas today are not only monoculture crops, but also clones.
 Traditionally a corm was divided and mature plant grown from the shoots that grew via asexual reproduction.
 Today though, the plant is split to reveal the meristematic tissues which are harvested and then multiplied in the lab via cell culture.  Though efficient at isolating the best traits, it does leave the plantation open the threats such as the T4 fungus which is wreaking havoc already in other banana growing regions.  There is much talk at banana conventions about finding new, fungus resistant strains.
 This is the banana flower which grows up and out of the middle of the shoot before falling under its own weight to point toward the ground.
Each banana grows from a fertilized flower.  After fertilization, each flower is removed by hand from the ripening banana.  The bunch is also trimmed to remove the bottom three hands of bananas, allowing the extra energy to concentrate in the top bananas.  Always wondered where that phrase came from?  The top bananas get the most nutrients and are least likely to be bruised are damaged by nearby bunches.  
To remove any chance of bruising, each round is separated and wrapped to isolate it from other bananas.  They are cut down and placed on a cable system where donkeys help pull them down to the packaging facility.  
There, the banana are washed and separated.  
Alum is brushed on the cut end to seal it and prevent latex oozing.  Stickers are added by hand wile inferior bananas are pulled to go to a baby food factory.  
Finally, the bananas are sorted onto trays, each weighing 42 pounds, before being placed by hand into boxes for shipping.