Six Weeks in Costa Rica - Ben Cherry
Forest Road

Flying Macaw

Rain is pouring, it has been for the past two hours and it doesn’t look like letting up anytime soon. this is to be expected when you visit a rainforest at the start of the wet season I suppose. With only a few stubborn mosquitoes for company, I had a moment to take in the six breathless weeks which have flown by.

Ellice and I have undertaken a six month research placement at a private nature reserve called Tiskita in South Western Costa Rica. We shall be continuing a decade-long research program on scarlet macaws, a beautiful and intelligent bird that saw a dramatic population decline in the twentieth century thanks to deforestation and the pet trade.

We arrived excited, yet petrified about what we had volunteered to get into. Susanne and Thomas, the previous couple being the feet on the ground for this project; had two weeks to show us everything we needed to know to get started. The first week was pretty full on as we were put through the long trails (and horseback rides) we had to cover, while still adapting to the intense heat (we’re still adapting..).

Weasel in his nest

Within minutes we would be sodden from our own sweat as our bodies desperately tried to cool themselves down. All the while being taught how to differentiate macaw individuals by scars, spots on certain feathers and ringing tags. Needless to say it was all a bit of a shock!

But whenever it all got a bit much, we reminded ourselves of the spectacular location we are now living in. A rainforest so full of life that it gives you faith in conservation if you’ve ever doubted it; as squirrel monkeys (critically endangered) come to investigate you or the sleeping three-toed sloth nearby, while a wary toucan keeps an eye on proceedings. To the paradise beach just a stones throw away, which is a pilgrimage for surfers and a gathering point for black vultures on skewed coconut trees.

Beautiful Environment

Glorious Beach

I realise now that there is little to no chance of any sympathy which might have initially been creeping in…

Instead, lets focus on the spectacular scarlet macaws. Their vibrant primary colours take grasp of your attention if the humorous squawking hasn’t done so already.

Within hours, we were picking up on certain characters who we see regularly: like Sky, a male who is nearly at the top of the social hierarchy, his intelligence and greed mean that he is always eating and squawking to himself if his partner, Rogue, isn’t around. The only birds to out-rank Sky are Weasel and Melvin, a same sex power couple who are simply fascinating to observe. More on this dynamic duo in due course.

Our role here is to record everything we see the macaws doing, from their location to who they’re with and what they are up to. This information is then fed back to Ilona, a PhD student who set up this project over a decade ago.

A very wet Sky

With two treks each day, and our only real time off being one morning every week, the going is tough but we believe that this will be a very rewarding experience. Last week we set off to David, Panama for a Macbook repair trip (!!) and to get some supplies for the coming months. Though nice to visit some civilisation, our brief visit was more than enough for us and we’re happy to be back in our little bit of paradise. I know I am extremely lucky to be in this situation and I have to thank family and friends for helping me reach this point. A particular emphasis on my loving family though as today is my grandfather’s funeral. My 21st birthday present from my grandfather was a watch, I wear it all the time and by chance, while writing this on today of all days, the battery stopped. Being away from family in times like these are tough but they keep on pushing me to follow my dreams, knowing that Granddad would have wanted me to do the same.

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