Update from our conservation holiday protecting leatherback and other sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

Here’s a first report of the season by our expedition scientist Fabian Carrasco:

Fabian Carrasco

The leatherback season started on 26 February with the first nesting female. Unfortunately she was poached. Later we had a nest in situ on 1  March. Her tracks were hidden by the waves in a couple of hours and the eggs remained safe from poachers. Our patrols with local assistants and international research assistants have started and in the past 43 days we have recorded 52 successful nesting activities:

* 1 natural nest (in situ)

* 25 nest relocated in Styrofoam coolers

* 9 nest relocated higher up the beach between markers 95-104

* 19 poached nests

* 1 nest saved by the Coast Guard and Police O.I.J.

Among the nests relocated in styrofoam coolers is one of green turtle (from 2 April). The others nests are from leatherbacks. No hawksbill have been seen yet.

The fist hatchlings are due between 1 and 8 May at marker 79.

Green turtle returning to sea after nesting
Leatherback turtle returning to sea after nesting

Update from our conservation holiday protecting leatherback and other sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

Welcome to the Costa Rica 2017 expedition diary! My name is Ida Vincent and I will be your expedition leader. This will be my second year on this expedition and I look forward to being back at the Pacuare field station and working together with Latin America Sea Turtles (LAST).

Ida

The field station is located just behind the beach where the turtles nest and during our time in Pacuare we will work closely with the onsite biologist from LAST, Fabian Carrasco, who will be training us in sea turtle monitoring. Lucy Marcus, expedition leader in training, will be assisting me throughout the expedition and we all look forward to meeting you on 8 May.

Lucy

Lucy and I will already be in Pacuare helping to prepare the field station for you arrival, however, Nicki Wheeler from LAST will be meeting you at 09.00 in the lobby of Hotel Santo Tomas. Make sure to be on time as our first night of patrols starts that very evening and there is a lot to learn prior.

Have another look through your dossier and check your packing list, remember that your head lamp needs to have a red light mode.

Hopefully you will all have read the 2016 expedition report too, so you already know why we are there and do what we do. As you can read in the report, support from citizen scientists such as you is critical, so thank you for your support and see you in a couple of weeks!

Ida

Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

Here’s a selection of images of the expedition:

Continue reading “Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)”

From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

This year’s expedition is over and we have all left our cosy base in Švošov. Tomas and I dropped the team at Kral’ovany station and waved everyone goodbye when the train left for Bratislava. We spent a couple of hours more at base checking and sorting out equipment, putting some of it in storage for next year and packing the rest to be taken back. I arrived back home yesterday, dropping three equipment boxes into the Biosphere Expeditions storage facility on the way.

Before saying farewell, let me tell you what happened on the last couple of expedition days: Three teams each day collected camera traps in Rákitov, Blatná and Turecká valley. The main Lubochňa valley was surveyed once more in two sections. Another attempt of finding the green connecting trail in Raková valley failed. 😉 New on the species list we recorded a trout found near Blatná lake – frozen, unfortunately.

As usual, Tomas summarised the second group’s results after the de-brief on Friday evening: Team 2 surveyed 22 cells and 13 transects walking a total distance of 177.7 km, an average mileage of 13 km per team per day, respectively. Lynx was recorded 6x, wolf 19x and bear 32x. Compared to the week before, the number of wolf recordings is much lower. “It is very likely that two out of the three resident wolf packs have moved to the other side of the mountain ridge”, Tomas explained. The tracks that were found in Turecká valley and reports from forester friends both corroborate this hypothesis. By contrast, the bears are active, because plenty of food is available (i.e. beech nuts), so there is no reason to hibernate. Of couse Tomas will look much closer into all data collected in due corse, when writing the expedition report.

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Preliminary overall results after two expedition weeks are: We recorded 20 lynx, 66 wolf and 98 bear signs, the latter number a record in the six years the expedition has run at this site. The 8 (wild)cat tracks we discovered reveal the presence of another small predator in the Velka Fatra National Park. Nesting golden eagles were seen three times. And we also collected 10 samples of wolf, lynx and bear urine and/or scat for DNA analysis. Finally, another great result we found on one of the camera traps: Once more a lynx was photographed, this time during the day and in colour. The picture is good enough for identification of the individual, it shows the whole animal and its unique coat patterns.

So another successful expedition and a big thank-you to everyone involved in the project. František and Ludmilla, thanks for making us feel at home and keeping us very well fed at your house. Noro, thanks a lot for being a great mate & guide and sharing your plum juice. Everyone on the teams, thank you so much for in putting your time, sweat, skills and money into this project, which simply would not happen without your support. I hope you enjoyed our time in the Carpathian mountains as much as Tomas & I did and I hope to see some of you again somewhere sometime!

Very best wishes

Malika Fettak
Expedition leader

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Gone are the misty days. The sky is blue during the day and clear at night. We recorded – 8 degrees C on the weather record sheet on Wednesday morning. Although the snow is covered by a layer of ice in most places, we were still able to find fresh animal tracks on our surveys.

Martin, Timothy and I walked Čiernávy valley on Tuesday and found wolf, bear and many, many foxes. On the way out, we walked past an active wood-cutting site where a massive tree blocked. By the time we came back, it had disappeared.

In Turecka valley Saskia, Vincent and Noro found fresh wolf tracks and replaced a couple of camera traps.

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Ed, Connor, Holger and Tomas found another bear “playground”, fresh wolf tracks nearby and recorded an otter track. “Technical problems” with the snow shoes slowed them down on the way back, they said. They walked the more than knee deep snow without aid – well done guys, that’s expedition style! 😉

Noro’s team had somehow manipulated the GPS – their odometer reading was 30 km. After some discussion during the de-brief, we agreed on a total distance walked of around 35 km for all teams.

We will be collecting camera traps from Thursday onward, in order to have brought back to base all 18 of them by Friday afternoon. On the cameras that have been replaced on Wednesday we found a great video, have a look:

Besides quite a few pictures of fox, wolf and wild boar were also recorded by the cameras, but no more lynx. Keep your fingers crossed for more good results in the coming days.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Team 2 consisting of Ed (U.S.) in his second week, Sakia (NL), Connor, Martin and Tim (UK), Holger (D) and Vincent (S) have arrived safely on Sunday and are preparing to head out for the first full survey day. As ususal everyone ran through briefing and training sessions over the last two days. On the training walk on Monday, we went up and around Blatna lake again, tried the snow shoes in various terrains, recorded fresh wolf tracks, collected wolf urine from a marking place, saw a golden eagle and had a nice cup of hot chocolate at Pod Lipami. Everyone is now well prepared for the surveys to come.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Video by ORF journalist Christian Cummings about our Slovakia lynx, wolf and bear expedition. A radio programme about this will be broadcast on Sat, 25 Feb 2017 on Austria’s ORF FM4 (see http://fm4.orf.at/chriscummins).

Continue reading “From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)”

From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

On our last survey day on Friday the teams again walked more than 40 km overall, checking parts of the main valley, collecting some of the camera traps that were set on Tuesday, but also placing a couple more in promising spots, i.e. near a fresh wolf kill.

The snow conditions have worsened over the last few days. It’s been thawing during the day and freezing at night. In many places the snow is covered with a solid layer of ice, so fresh footprints and tracks are much more difficult to spot.

In the evening Tomas summed up the provisional results of the first week:

  • The teams walked a total of 173.5 km, covering 14 transects and surveying 15 cells of 2.5 x 2.5 km
  • 18 camera traps were set up
  • Five samples of our target species were collected for DNA analysis: Two bear scats, one lynx and one wolf urine as well as one wolf scat.
  • The teams recorded hazel grouse once, two golden eagles, otter four times and wildcat seven times. They also found 17 lynx, 47 wolf and an overwhelming number of 66 bear signs. Never before on this project (in February) have bears been that active.
  • Pictures of red deer, fox, pinemarten, squirrel and lynx were found on the cameras brought back to base (see pictures).

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It was almost midnight when we went to bed after a shot of Tatra tea or Frantisek’s homemade ginger/honey vodka. The week has gone so quickly!

Thank you everyone of team one, you’ve done a great job collecting a huge amount of data every single day on long distance walks equipped with snow shoes, clipboards and GPSs. Thank you so much for putting a lot into this project, which could not happen without you. It was a great pleasure to meet you all. Safe travels or enjoy your onward trip.

Team 2, I will meet you at Bratislava station at 9:00 on Sunday morning.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Most of the main part of the 24 km long Lubochňa valley was surveyed on Thursday. Gilli, Idan and Ed started at the very end together with Noro and worked their way downwards, dipping into smaller side valleys as they went along. Close to a rock providing a perfect vantage point, they found a lynx marking place, collected samples for DNA analysis and set up a camera trap. There is a good chance of a lynx revisiting what looks like a favourite place. They also found very clear otter trails around a small lake (see picture), a first on this year’s species list. Other than that, they recorded evidence of wildcat, wild boar and pine marten. By the end of the day, their odometer reading was 14 km.

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Angela, Phil and Peter started mid-valley towards Lubochňa village. Right opposite the starting point close to a house, they found their first wolf tracks, then more crossing the main road as they went along. Past the National Park boundary, they spotted bear tracks on a flat area stretching out for about 100 m towards a river. Following them, they could discern that one big and two small individuals must have walked together. The track then led them into some small bushes and trees, where they discovered remains of a very old kill and lots more bear tracks all over the place. Another promising spot for a camera trap? Tomas will go and check out this location soon. Remarkably, this exciting discovery was made only a few hundred metres away from the first houses of Lubochňa village.

Team three tied a record of finding wolf tracks in Lipová valley. On their 18 km loop Anne, Angelika, Karl-Heinz and Marina found a nearly eaten carcass of a young deer, several wolf tracks of up to five individuals, as well as a lynx trail. They then set up a camera trap in a place where lynx and wolf have been seen before. They were late for the hot chocolate at Pod Lipami but will make up for that today, I am sure. 😉

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

On Wednesday we surveyed Honiaca, Rakytov und Rakova valleys.

During the de-brief the valleys were renamed more appropriately as Getting Lost, Death Valley and Bear Paradise. In the latter Tomas’s team must have been surrounded by bears. Tracks of a couple of mothers with young ones were found. On one of the meadows the bears must have thrown a party. The whole area was covered with footprints. Not much other wildlife, though, for this group, but the first sign of wild boar presence this year.

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By contrast, Death valley, surveyed by Noro and his team was more or less abandoned, except for one bear and one pine marten track. Quite a few pictures were taken of funny snow shapes that still would not pass for an animal track for our scientist, despite persistant bargaining during the de-brief. Tomas finally admitted a 50% bear, track but didn’t allow an entry into the data sheets. Everyone was happy in the end. 😉

Getting Lost during this expedition is classified as a medium risk. Statistically it happens to one group during each slot. It was team 1’s turn yesterday given that being (very) late would also count for this category. But their data sheet included more than thirty entries starting from squirrel, pine marten, badger to bear and lynx (two walking together) and once more wildcat. Everyone was back at base by around 17:15, some with, others without having had a hot chocolate or two at Pod Lipami.

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