Costa Rica: Tropical Ecosystems Field Course – Week one

The opportunity to travel abroad is something that is available on many courses within the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health and Zoology is no different. The Costa Rica Field Course is available to all second year Zoology students at the University and is a trip not to be missed. The chance to visit various conservation and biodiversity hotspots, on top of the guaranteed interaction with some of the world’s rarest wildlife, makes this a trip that most people would consider to be ‘once in a lifetime’.

Third year Zoology student, Benedict Wilson, embarked on the trip a few months ago and here, he reflects on the first of his two weeks in Central America alongside a selection of photographs from the trip…

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Week One: Macaw Lodge, Carara National Park

Shortly after finishing my second year exams I jetted off to Costa Rica, brimming with excitement and anticipation for the field course to come. Around twenty prospective zoologists, biologists and a plant scientist had all made the trip across the Atlantic to meet in Alajuela, San Jose for one last night of luxury, before we headed into the rainforest.

The first step on our adventure was a river cruise, on which we had the prospect of spotting enormous American crocodiles. The river was teaming with wildlife and was a great start to the trip with successful sightings of crocodiles, many species of birds and howler monkeys. The boat trip was made all the more impressive by the stunning mountainous jungle backdrop.

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We then made our way up to our home for the next week; Macaw Lodge, an eco lodge nestled on the edge of Carara National Park. The sustainably managed lodge was a stunning setting to work and truly was the definition of paradise. On our first night at the lodge we were served tasty homegrown food and freshly squeezed fruit juices, which became ever more exotic and delicious throughout our stay. The following days involved orientation and exploration of the surrounding forest, trails and waterfalls.

During our week at the lodge we were treated to countless wildlife encounters for everyone to get excited about. Toucans and hummingbirds delighted bird lovers, sightings of glass frogs, the famous red-eyed tree frogs and the most venomous snake in the Americas; the Fer-de-Lance wowed the budding herpetologists among us. All the while we were taking lectures in tropical ecology and ecosystems and learnt so much from our resident staff experts.

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In order to complete our first part of assessment we were required to draw, annotate and research a number of species that we had encountered on our forest walks. With access to lots of scientific equipment such as UV moth traps and bat detecting sonar we managed to discover some incredible species.

Night walks into the heart of the forest provided some great finds and sketchbooks were beginning to be filled with beautiful drawings and notes on fascinating creatures; huge silk moths, brightly coloured hummingbirds, funky frogs, deadly snakes and the creepiest of crawlies. The chorus of whooping frogs and chirping cicadas became our evening playlist and some of us were beginning to hope to stay here forever.

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In addition to our fieldwork in the first week we were treated to a couple of day trips. A visit to Manuel Antonio National Park was a real highlight of the whole field course. It was here that we managed to spot both two and three toed sloths in their natural habitat, as well as more howler monkeys, rainbow crickets and a pair of wrestling parrot snakes, to name a few.

The nature spotting was followed by a group swim in the Pacific Ocean at the beaches in the park, it made for a great day out, despite a mighty tropical storm trying and failing to literally dampen our spirits. Next up was a day out at a private beach resort at Punta Leona, with idyllic white sands and pelicans flying overheard it was another memorable day.

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Our time at Macaw lodge was then rounded off with a fascinating sustainability tour, in which we sampled lots of yummy chocolate and made our own cacao beverages. We left Macaw lodge with fond memories, many incredible photos and eager for the next installment of the Costa Rican adventure.

Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for week two of Benedict’s trip to Costa Rica



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