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As you read this I will be flying back to London and I will have filled up on greasy food in Newark airport on the way… I have had a wonderful time; an experience that I will never forget and I hope you have enjoyed the blog so thank you for reading it!

 

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

It's Oscars time so please forgive me but it has to be done... the trip would not have been possible without the following people at the Museum:

 

The Learning Department and specifically Honor, Abigail, Martin and Stephen for letting me leave the office for a couple of weeks. Thanks!

 

The Nature Live team, particularly Jo Kessler for hosting the live-video-link events so expertly, and Ivvet Modinou, Natalie Mills and Ana Rita Claro Rodrigues for your support and good ideas. Also, thanks to Museum scientists Erica McAlister and Gavin Broad for being in the Studio to help prepare the ground with the audience for the live-video-links.

 

Tony and Adam in Special Effects for training me to use the satellite phone and other kit, coming to the realisation that I was likely to break it yet still letting me take it into a remote area of tropical forest in a completely different country (I hope you now feel it has been tested properly!).

 

To Jonathan for posting my blogs every day (even at the weekend) and for providing a forum for the live-chats we’ve held with UK school children as part of Nature Live in the Field - and also thanks to them and their teachers for some great questions and comments!

 

To Grace for developing the schools side of the project and for keeping me busy

 

In Costa Rica, a huge thank you to:

 

Our porters and guides in the La Amistad National Park, and Frank Gonzales at INBIO for sorting out the logistics of the trip and for providing me with a filming permit.

 

The rest of the botany team: Holger Thues, Jo Wilbraham and Neil Brummit - I hope I have been at least a little bit useful and that I have not wound you up too much with endless questions?

 

Daniel Santa Maria for my new nick name!

 

Finally, to Alex Monro for organising the trip and my part in it. I have had a wonderful time and I am so thankful to you for giving me this opportunity to follow science as it happens in the field. Thank you!

 

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I asked the scientists what they thought….

 

 

P.S. This is not the end for Field work with Nature Live as, starting from the 7 March my Nature Live colleague Ivvet Modinou will arrive in the Bahamas with a team of scientists to report on a field trip exploring the life in our oceans. It should have some great footage as they'll be using a mini-submersible in their research!

 

Keep in touch with the Field work with Nature Live community and subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog and you will receive updates whenever a new post appears.

 

And remember, you can meet more Museum scientists every day at Nature Live events held in the Museum’s Attenborough studio at 14:30 (and also 12:30 every weekend and throughout the holidays).

 

I hope to see you at a Nature Live event soon!

 

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Tom Simpson, Costa Rica, 2012.

 

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Note: Tom is currently on his way back to the UK, so I am posting his final blogs from Costa Rica on his behalf.
Jonathan - NaturePlus host

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Our last day in the mountains. Mixed emotions really. We have made some great collections, enjoyed each other’s company (I hope), learnt a lot, had great support from our porters and field team and have been very lucky with the weather. We are a bit tired though and beginning to lose some of our enthusiasm. I even caught myself not being amazed at seeing a Quetzal so it is probably time for us to head home.

 

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Oak forest at 8 in the morning, light streaming through the foliage

 

For me the highlight of the fieldtrip has been camping on top of one of the Cerros Tararias, almost certainly the first Europeans to have made it to the top of one of these 200 m high blocks of gneiss rock each with its mini paramó atop. Not only did we get the first plant collections from here but we also enjoyed spectacular views between Cerros Kamuk and Fábrega and down the valley of the Río Jet. A completely unexplored part of the Park and the focus of another trip should we get the funds.

 

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View of one of the Cerros Tararias and out across to the Río Jet valley

 

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Carlos ‘Leña’ and his son Josué. Carlos has been our guide and lead porter for much of our work in La Amistad Binational Park and has been a key player in our exploration of the Park.

 

It has also been a real privilege to be able to share some of what we have done and seen with visitors to the Museum as part of the Nature Live programme. For that a big thank you should go to Stephen Roberts and Jo Kessler from the Museum’s Nature Live team, Lee, Adam, Alex, Eddie, Ken and Tony from our Special Effects Department and Erica McAllister and Gavin Broad from our Entomology Department.

 

Also to Tom Simpson, who although was of course very lucky to come with us and whose feet in no way smell (no really they don’t), was incredibly professional and did everything possible to make sure that the live video links went well and answered as many of the questions on the schools blog as possible. Last but not least Jon from our Interactive Media team who has been assembling and editing this blog and to Grace from our Learning Programme who set up the events for schools.

 

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Tom uploading his blog from the base of the Cerros Tararias

 

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Our camp at the base of the Cerros Tararias

 

The plan today was to walk from our main camp at the Albuerge (see the map on Tom's blog) at 2,500 m to a smaller one, Casa Coca, at 1900 m so that tomorrow morning we can get back to the park entrance in good time for the eight hour drive back to San José. It was a beautiful sunny morning, the light streaming through the trees as we set off.

 

The plan was to interrupt our walk and sneak in a sample point half way, in the Pacific drainage. It was really amazing how dramatically the forest changed once we had crossed the main pide between the Caribbean and the much drier Pacific, the understory becoming more open and the canopy lower, possibly because of less rain and more wind?

 

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Holger at the Continental pide collecting a sneaky lichen from the back of the Park sign

 

Scientifically the trip has been a great success, Jo Wilbraham made about 340 moss collections, Holger Thues about 500 lichen collections and Daniel Santamaría (from Costa Rica), Neil Brummit and myself about 640 vascular plants collections.

 

I think that Holger has certainly been the most enthusiastic about his finds with new records not just for Costa Rica but the whole of Tropical America. We are quietly confident of having collected some new species but will need to wait until we get back to a herbarium to be sure. This highlights the importance of global reference collections, such as our own, to identifying new species.

 

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Jo with the bulk of our collections, bagged up and ready to be transported
to the INBio herbarium for drying, sorting and identification

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Last night, we arrived back at the hut just before dark and ate a dinner of soup (chicken) and rice (sin bean). Over dinner we learnt that, in our absence, Holger and Jo had a productive time (more on that below) and it was nice to be all back together again.

 

Today I stayed at the hut (checking everything was working for our next live-video-link back to the Museum which will be happening just as this is published) so I had the chance to chat to one of the porters assisting our trip.

 

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(From left to right) Leandro Vargas Astavia and Greyner Vargas Astavia
Daniel Lezcano Arguello and Carlos Godinez Cardenas

 

Daniel Lezcano Arguello started off by apologising for laughing at my new nickname - which has morphed from Yeti via Crouchy (as in Peter, the lanky, robot-dancing footballer) to Pie-Grande. I pointed out that Yeti and Pie-Grande are absolutely fine but Crouchy has most definitely got to go - I am an Arsenal FC fan!

 

He told me about his life when he is not working as a guide or porter. He is a farmer and has 5 hectares near the entrance to Amistad National Park where he grows coffee and bananas and keeps pigs and cows. The coffee he sells to a large Costa Rican company although he keeps a bit back for personal use as he prefers to know what is in his morning cuppa. The bananas are used to feed the cows and pigs.

 

The cows are for milk and he makes cheese, and the pigs are for meat. He also grows some vegetables and we swapped allotment stories although he seemed pretty unconvinced it was possible to grow anything in British temperatures.

 

He said he is typical of the porters in that they all farm when not guiding people through the park. This trip (like most field work, I imagine) would be impossible without the help of the porters.

 

They prepare trails and camps and ferry specimens and food to and from the field, and they carry extraordinary amounts and move incredibly quickly through the forest. This is the head porter and our guide Carlos.

 

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Head porter Carlos making his work look easy while I struggle to keep up (hence the blurry photo!)

 

He is carrying a backpack, a few litres of water, camping equipment for 4 and - if that wasn’t enough already - a shovel.

 

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Leandro taking a breather

 

I am in awe of their strength and athletic ability at this altitude and their commitment to our trip. They have an invaluable knowledge of the forest and are key in helping us find interesting sites and species. Also, they are vital for the conservation of the park so we are doubly thankful for what they do.

 

Species of the day today goes to Holger - the result of 2 hours hard work, blood, sweat and tears!

 

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Holger found three different stream lichens with a high likelihood that they may be new for Costa Rica and maybe even new to science.

 

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This lichen is a representative of the family Lichinacae and fresh water species of this family are commonly found in Nordic countries.

 

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Holger didn’t expect to find something like this here and all of the lichens Holger has found reflect a climate far, far colder than would have been expected - something we can vouch for during the long cold nights!

 

This is why lichens are so important in that that they tell us so much about our environment. Sadly, no video today – I hope to get back to business tomorrow.

 

(Just a quick reminder that Alex is also writing his own blog about our trip and you can read it here and that our next live-video-links with the Museum are at 12.30 and 14.30 on Saturday 18 February)