Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Initial Impressions

On Monday, February 4th, I traveled to Washington D.C. where I met 42 other Peace Corps trainees in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in Georgetown. The group was comprised of future Agriculture and Natural Resource volunteers and the overall composition was about what I had expected. There were 4 married couples: one in their twenties, one in their 30s, one in their 50s and one in their 60s. A day before arriving at staging, my Nana had given me an article on the rapidly increasing rate of volunteers over age 50. Now, about 7% of volunteers are over age 50 and that percentage will hopefully be increased to about 10% by 2010. The number of things an older individual has to change in his or her life in order to do Peace Corps is astonishing. One couple sold their house and set everything anew in their life. I can´t imagine making such a drastic change at such a late time in life; kudos to them.

The average age in this group is about 26, and most of my fellow trainees are between the ages of 21 and 30. It is a great group of individuals, all sharing many of the same interests, all bringing something interesting to the table. Our first "icebreaker" activity consisted of matching names on a list to past experiences and/or accomplishments. It was a great way to introduce ourselves to one another, outshining all other "icebreaker" activities I had done in the past. A few of the first people I met had the following experiences listed: Jason had worked with several large companies encouraging the use of wind energy, Katie had studied birds in Costa Rica, Levi had taught a wilderness education class in Colorado, Craig and Lucy had their own dairy farm in Wisconsin, and Gaby had interned on a congressional committee in Washington. All in all, I am really impressed with the group (Omnibus 99) and am looking forward to working with them more throughout pre-service training.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Snowy Woods

My bed was warm and the winter sunlight punched its way in through the blinds above me. Each new snowflake that rested upon the naked oaks sparkled in the brilliant morning sun and filtered through my window. It was hard to open my eyes but when I did the scene was magical. I was suddenly transfixed, yet I felt an ardent pining to get into the woods before the morning's first beauty had vanished.

I jumped out of bed, ran to my closet where I threw on an old flannel and dug up my new thermal socks out of the top drawer. I donned an old pair of ripped blue jeans, gray velcro boots, my winter jacket and a wool cap. I left the gloves behind knowing I'd need my hands to shoot photos and watch birds with my binoculars. I hurried out with a loaf of bread and a thermos of hot coffee.

The Nipmunk Trail has been one of my favorite places to enjoy Connecticut woodland. Although being rapidly encroached on by development, the trail still offers a hiker the enjoyment of passing through several habitats, including lowland marsh, riverine, and upland varieties. The trail's apex is at the top of a cliff with a lone boulder known as a wolf rock. In the winter, the vista stretches out across Mansfield into the hillsides of Willimantic. It is my favorite spot to reflect upon life.

On this trip, I saw very little life, although wildlife sign abounded. Deer, rabbit, squirrel and coyote tracks were spotted. The only bird seen during the entire hike was a red tail hawk at the marsh. I think I found its old nest in a birch on the opposite side of the marsh.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Exploring Wild Costa Rica

A golden silk orb-weaver (Nephila) waits patiently for its unfortunate victims. This spider is named after the color of the silk it spins, not the color of the spider itself. It is believed that insects like flies and bees are attracted to bright yellow colors and thus become entangled more readily. This spider was one of many (probably about 20) that had spun its web between the roof and railing of the building I slept in.

This wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) was found on a leaf outside our cabin. This bug truly looks like a metalic robot, with its long, slow-moving legs and a large hemi-circle on its back. Wheel bugs are true bugs, or Hemipterans, and can be found all throughout North and Central America.

My guess is that this is a Scarlet King Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides) but I can't be too sure. There are many species of Coral and False Coral snakes in the tropics, the latter mimicking the lethally venemous former, and there is no sure way to tell them apart. In North America, one can get by with the phrase "Red next to black, you're alright Jack, Red next to yellow, you're a dead fellow" but this cannot be relied upon in the tropics. I kept my distance from this serpent.

This green spiny lizard (Sceloporus malachitus) made its home under and on the front porch of our cabin at Gavilan. This lizard is the southern-most representative of a genus that is widespread among the U.S., Mexico, and Northern Central America.

This Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) was one of many that flit about the low altitude mountains of the Caribbean. Other species we watched were Montezuma Oropendolas (Psarocolius montezuma), Collared Aracaris (Pteroglossus torquatus), and White-crowned Parrots (Pionus senilis).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Path of the Tapir

I made this photo upon returning home from a bird survey early one morning on the Sendero Uran. Stepping over muddy slabs in the trail, bouncing from slippery rock to slick roots, I gazed intently on the ground before me and was taken aback with this alien sight. No other animal in the world has a track quite like it - 4 toes in the front (most often only three show) and three equally-spaced toes on each hind foot. Central America's largest wild mammal, the Baird's Tapir Tapirus bairdii had happened upon this spot not long before I. Belonging to the Paridactly family, the tapir is a close relative of the rhino and horse, only it has a short, elephant-like proboscis that it uses to gather plants. Maybe it was returning from a regular bout of water defecating, an odd behavior that has perhaps evolved in order to better conceal their scent, reducing detection from predators like the jaguar Felis pardalis and puma Puma concolor.

My discovery that morning was a first here at Cloudbridge. Reforestation efforts have been taking place since 2002 and pioneer species have been rapidly colonizing areas that once were cattle pasture. The tapir is an animal that is very sensitive to human disturbance, so finding their sign is an indicator of ecosystem recovery and health. Not too sure what to think at the time, I snapped this photo (with a pencil for size reference) and hurried back to the casa to confirm the sighting.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

First Thoughts in Costa Rica

I have been told that the season changes throughout a day here in Costa Rica. The early morning offers clear blue skies for only a short while until rising mist quickly envelops the cordilleran cloud forest. By noon or mid-afternoon the rain comes with fury, and the many rivers and creeks of this region rush and tumble down the steep slopes of the Talamanca to the Pacific Ocean. Night falls abruptly here - in one moment a gray-blue light fades to a blinding darkness and by morning's first light the skies will be blue again.

It's like a fantasy for any naturalist here in the montane cloud forest of the tropics. Life is teeming in every little nook and an organic aroma ceaselessly permeates my nostrils. Strange noises, frightening insects, musical chatter in the canopy, and structural forest diversity beyond comprehension all mark my first impressions of this region. I am ecstatic and overjoyed to finally be here.

The photo above is taken above the Cloudbridge waterfall in the Cloudbridge reserve near San Gerardo de Rivas, Costa Rica. The two men in the foreground are my roommates from Holland. We stay in a rustic cabin not far from where this photo was made.

Friday, October 5, 2007

"Thoughts on the Lumberjack Trail to Beechwood"

Filtered light through hardwoods,

The humming of late afternoon in Autumn,

Wind stirs the branches of the boughing beech

And I ponder this burning aspiration

to capture the moment of

The old trail, never far off course,

Veering in perpendicular shadow with

Undergrown worry,

The old wolf oak is but a stump amid the grassy path,

And its limbs await the lumberyards.

I've known every corner of the solidago field,

The nodding nettle, teetering vulture,

Winterberry, lamb's ear, blackberry thorn,

Fallen white pine, the owl forlorn,

And all of New England's asters seem to agree

That when the air stirs under the cool whim of impulse

There is never a fairer time.

Where the jay brings in the blue day

And the foxtail hay seems to sway

Among the clovers as they sit at bay

Quietly watching the clouds drift away

And I make sure to sing, dance, laugh, and play

Skip on my way to the woodhouse to pray

With applejack brandy

And cold nose a snifflin',

The crows in the cornfield,

The lumberjacks chipping.

I'll make my way down this old weathered path

To the top of a hill where wildness once laughed,

And sit on a carpet of fern


In the burning blue blaze of the beeches.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Riding on the Back of a Risso's Dolphin

I was able to catch a fleeting glimpse of this shy family of Risso's Dolphins in the Santa Barbara Channel. Unlike other curious cetaceans, these dolphins won't often approach boats and tend to make themselves discrete whenever they can. This family dissappeared moments after my shutter fired. I lucked out with this shot.