June 21st: Our final morning

Returning to Casa Lima last night for one last evening together brought our trip full circle, allowing us to reflect on all the things we’ve learned over the past two weeks. From our first day together at Volcan Poas, to our final stop at the coffee plantation, we packed in many unforgettable educational experiences. La Selva biological station, Volcan Turriable Lodge, and Cuerrici biological station all offered us a unique look at Costa Rican living in vastly different environmental conditions.

We were all surprised by how quickly our course flew by, and how close knit a group we became through the process. On behalf of the entire class, we would like to thank both of our amazing professors, David Kratzmann and Sue Willson for making the trip both educational and fun, and Fernando and Gigi for coming along for the ride. It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to Dr. Kratzmann as we pile into our respective taxis and busses to return to the airport, and all wish him the best with his new adventures on the West Coast. We are already planning a reunion dinner at The Spicy Iguana with the rest of the gang next semester. See you all back in the states!

Post by: Emily Penna

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June 18-20th: Cuerici and a coffee plantation

Cuerici is a family owned and run sustainable trout farm located within cloud forest at approximately 2600 m elevation. They also host visiting universities who come to study the local plants and birds, the trout farm, and the sustainability practices employed at Cuerici.

The days at Cuerici start with a 6am bird walk and breakfast at 7, which sometimes included interesting combinations such as hotdogs in marinara sauce!? One morning the owner Don Carlos led us on a 3 1/2 hour hike through the forest up to around 2850 m elevation (9350 ft).

Dr. Willson led a fruit workshop after lunch one day that ‘required’ we eat a lot of simple, multiple, and aggregate fruit! These early days, long hikes, and elevation usually result in everyone in bed around 8:30 pm.

The students took the final exam late on the last afternoon in Cuerici and “crushed it.” On our last night in Cuerici we got to sample the trout, muy delicioso!

We shared the facilities at Cuerici with a crew of students from Texas. Much to everyone’s delight, Dr. Willson arranged for us to be driven the 6km out to the road and our waiting bus with the Texas driver. Thanks Sue!

After leaving Cuerici we visited the Three Generations coffee plantation near Volcan Poas and toured the operation. The free coffee samples were a big hit. We arrived back at Casa Lima (our starting point in San Jose) mid-afternoon to wrap up the course with a final geology quiz and course evals. We finished our final night together with a fantastic Peruvian meal.

Written by: Dr. Kratzmann

Photos by: Dr. Kratzmann

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June 17th: Trip to Cuerici, or Pollo McCrispy

The day started with an early morning bird quiz before breakfast. Then we loaded the bus and left Volcan Turrialba for the cloud forest. Five hours later, after stops at an ATM, photocopying, the supermarket, and chicharrone, we arrived at the dirt road to the farm at Cuerici. The luggage was loaded onto the truck and the students and I started the 6km hike into the bio station, arriving ~70 minutes later. Once settled into our rooms/dorms, Don Carlos gave us a tour of the trout farm and other facilities. An early dinner was following by a bio lecture, after which everyone went to bed. (Cuerici, turtle in water, is completely off grid-hence no blog activity.)

Written by: Dr. Kratzmann

Photos by: Dr. Kratzmann

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June 16th: Calm day at the farm

Waking up late around 7 a.m. the class started the day with a nutritious breakfast. It was nice to be able to sleep in. After breakfast we took the opportunity to observe several species of local hummingbirds, including the Volcano, the Fiery Throated and the Magnificent Hummingbird, After watching the hummingbirds we had the opportunity to walk along to farm on a bird watch, in hopes of finding more species endemic to this altitude in Costa Rica. We were successful in locating a new species, the Large-Footed Finch. Unfortunately, we were unable to locate the Resplendent Quetzal, which we caught a brief glimpse of on our first bird walk at the Volcan Turrialba Lodge.

After our bird walk we had a morning lecture from Dr Kratzmann. We learned about the different types of Volcanoes found around the world and proceeded with specific topics involving the processes which cause eruptions and the impacts that they have on the world. After our morning lecture we broke for a wonderful lunch put on by the lodge.

When we finished our lunch we were able to tour the farm. We were able to visit with the goats and sheep, and we were able to witness first hand the milking of the cows here at the Volcan Turrialba Lodge. It was interesting to see where the vast amount of cheese that we have been consuming comes from.

When we finished with our tour of the farm, it was back to the classroom. Alternatng lessons and activities we completely immersed ourselves in the subject of volcanology. Our lecture lasted until almost 5:30, at which point we had until dinner at 7:00 to study and relax.

After dinner the group split up to relax, study and reflect on our trip. It’s been a wonderful trip and the time has flown by quickly. No classroom can provide the experiences that we’ve had in our time in Costa Rica. We look forward to our last stop at Cuerici and the experiences it will bring.

We be pimpin’.

Written by: Kevin Tyler and Oscar Rodriguez

Photos: Oscar Rodriguez

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June 15th: Bird watching, The Great Escape of GiGi, and Volcan Irazu

We started a day bright and early with our binocs and bird books. We ventured around the property of Volcan Turrialba Lodge searching for new bird species. We saw the black and yellow silky fly catcher, Slaty flowerpiercer, the Rufus collared species, and the Sooty Robin just to skim the surface. The birds species here varies greatly from La Selva because of the higher elevation.

As we were about to depart for our trip to Irazu, we had one very important member missing, Gigi. Gigi decided to roam around the property and talk to the animals. Luckily, the search party consisting of the class and staff eventually found her apart half a kilometer down the road. Our trip to Irazu began with Christian’s awesome 4×4. We packed in seven people (two in the trunk) for the 10 kilometer journey up to Irazu. The travel ended up being an hour each way due to the rough condition of the roads.

Once at Irazu, we explored the ash plane from the ’63-’65 eruption. We then hiked to the observation deck where we looked at the different ash layers and drew a stratographic column. Before we left, we took a picture of our huge block of homemade cheese that was mainly consumed by Emily. The day ended up being cloudy but some of us were able to see the Caribbean Ocean from the high elevation.

After our long journey back to Volcan Turrialba Lodge, we had a break before a lecture on explosive volcanism and the distribution of volcanoes. After dinner, we watched a docudrama called The Last Days of Pompeii (where some people took a nap 😉 ) which concluded our second full day at the beautiful Volcan Turrialba.

Written by: Ali Visconti and Ciar Colgan

Photos by: Dr. Kratzmann

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June 14th: Volcán Turrialba

Today began with a 6am bird walk through the beautiful grounds surrounding the Volcán Turrialba lodge. Led by the muddy but loveable Bandito (Volcán Turrialba’s resident dog), we saw a Sooty Robin, a Mountain Thrush, a Blue-and-white Swallow, and the Resplendent Quetzal. In addition to looking at the new and exciting bird species, we also looked at numerous farm animals here including cows, goats, sheep, horses, and a possible “unicorn” or two. The cold mountain air here was a welcome change from the oppressive heat and humidity of La Selva.

Later, we headed off on foot for a casual five hour hike up the slope of the volcano. Along the way Dr. Kratzmann pointed out various rocks and had us draw stratographic columns detailing the various volcanic layers showing the history of past volcanic activity. Huffing and puffing from the steep hike and high altitude, we took a welcome break and ate a lovely lunch (courtesy of the folks at the Volcán Turrialba Lodge) consisting of rice, bean, egg, and suspiciously squeaky but delicious cheese sandwiches. Unfortunately we were unable to go all the way to the top due to safety precautions regarding the volcano’s activity, but other highlights of the hike included smashing apart rocks with a hammer, taking pictures with a cow, and left-handed rock throwing.

When we got back to the lodge we had numerous geology lectures in which we discussed minerals, rocks, the history of volcanoes, and the origin of magma. A delicious dinner of rice, meat, beans, and vegetables closed off the night. Tomorrow we are looking forward to going to Volcán Irazú.

Written by: Kim and Sam Haab

Photos by:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June 13th: Road Trip

We began the day by waking up at 5:30am to unravel the mist nets in an attempt to catch and observe more local birds.  Within just a few minutes, we netted several specimens, including the Orange-Billed Sparrow, Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird, Stripe-Throated Hummingbird, Buff Rumped Warbler, Ochre-Bellied Flycatcher and the Clay Colored Thrush (Costa Rica’s national bird).  Along with netting, we were lucky enough to spot numerous Keel-Billed Toucans – a visually astonishing bird with an array of vibrant colors.

After an appetizing breakfast of fried eggs, rice, beans and pastries, we met Professor Willson for a field examination, involving the identification of various trees and birds.    Needless to say, every student aced it!

We had one last meal before packing up and leaving La Selva.  We piled into the bus, and after a 5-hour ride (with a few pit-stops for snacks and various local goodies) we had risen a few thousand meters through gorgeous winding mountain roads to find ourselves at Volcan Turrialba Lodge.  We settled into our rooms, and enjoyed a delicious home-cooked dinner of on-site veal, cheese, potatoes, and caramelized plantains.

Tomorrow, we are looking forward to more early-morning bird netting, followed by an all-day hike around Volcan Turrialba to delve further into the Geology side of our course.

Written by: Emily Penna & Nick Witherbee


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Even for a geologist!

La Selva is an amazing place, even for a geologist. The biodiversity is truly mind blowing! Millipedes, centipedes, spiders (BIG spiders), ants, monkeys, lizards of all shapes and sizes, snakes (finally), and, of course, birds. We have been completely immersed in biology, with 15 hour days common. This type of intensive, experiential learning is a unique opportunity for the students and will reinforce everything discussed in traditional lecture classes. They won’t soon forget this trip.

While I’m looking forward to our next stop at Volcan Turrialba Lodge and spending some time checking out the rocks and the current activity at the volcano, we won’t stop thinking about biology. We will be moving from 40 meters (~130 ft) elevation at La Selva to almost 3,000 meters (~9,800 ft) at Turrialba, which means an entirely new group of plants and animals.

Dr. Kratzmann.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June 12th: Learning Experience

The group started the day with the first light the sun could provide. With the mist nets already prepared the search for birds begin around 5:30 a.m. The bird we were able to examine was a Plain-brown Wood creeper. The little guy pinched and moved around as Dr. Willson gently extracted him from the soft nets. The details of the bird were amazing, and a good help in identification. Unfortunately the morning netting ended due to heavy rain and thunder. An amazing breakfast was followed by a period of snoozing and studying. Instead of a planned plant family identification quiz, a few geology lectures followed in the heavy rain. After learning a short history of our Earth and solar system, we broke for a nice lunch where the skies opened up, bringing back the heat and humidity quicker then expected.

We quickly jumped into an air conditioned bus en route to a DOLE banana factory a few kilometers down the road. Our humurours and enthusiastic host Carlos shared a quick history of bananas, proceeded by an in-field harvest experience amongst hundreds of banana plants (we were quickly informed that there is no such thing as a banana tree). After another small walk-about through the packing wing of the plant, Carlos waved us off with a complimentary shot of banana liquor.

We got back to La Selva just in time for a small lecture on the red eye tree frog mating patterns, learning that the selection of a mate deviates the coloration of the species, taught by a visiting professor. Ensuring clean clothes for tomorrow, quick laundry loads were done before a nice Azteca soup and rice for dinner. After some more studying for the upcoming plant and bird family quizzes, we ventured into the woods for a night walk through a neotropical swamp, seeing firsthand the mating patterns of the red eyed tree frogs. Many species of spiders, snakes and frogs had to be carefully spotted due to their amazing cryptic colorations. Mindful steps with headlamps led us back to camp, where a common Pauraque awaited our return. Oscar and I ventured to the river bank for some late night geotropic adventures, accompanied by the nocturnal Boat-billed Heron.  Some more early morning mist-netting in La Selva tomorrow morning. Looking forward to a new change in environment in Turrialba.

Written by: Oscar Rodriguez and John Ferguson

Photos by: Oscar

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June 11th: Lost in La Selva

The day began bright and early at 6am with a bird walk. We saw a wide variety of tropical birds, including the Buff-Rumped Warbler, Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan, Crested Guan, Passerini’s Tanager, and the rare Snowy Cotinga, among others. After a breakfast of rice and plantains, we set off into the forests of La Selva with nothing but a confusing (and possibly inaccurate) map to guide us. After a leisurely two hours or so of walking through La Selva looking at plants (from which we practiced our newly-acquired tree identification skills) and animals (still working on identifying birds), it came time to find our way out of the forest. Using the map to guide us, we thought we could quickly take a loop back through the swamp, but two hours later we were still in the forest; tired, thirsty hungry, muddy, sweaty, and eagerly awaiting the end of the so called “Mud March.” Finally, we back-tracked our way out of the forest and with a four hour hike behind us we were free to eat lunch and take much needed showers.

After lunch, a few of us helped Dr. Willson set up mist nets for tomorrow morning’s bird catching. Walking back, we got a spectacular view of a Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan. With the mist nets ready, we heard from a German bat researcher currently working at La Selva.  He showed us a bat colony that he was observing and discussed the topic and methods of his research with us. Following this, we had a lecture on Neotropical bird families, then dinner, then another lecture on tropical biodiversity. It’s currently 9:30 pm, and seeing as how we will be getting up at 5:30 am for bird-catching we’re going to bed.

Written by: Sam and Kim Haab

Photos by: Oscar Rodriguez

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment