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On day 9 the sun was out, but it was complemented with rain showers and a strong wind, which meant the satellite link for Nature Live was indoors. Still, a great opportunity to show the table where we sort specimens in the evening, and to have a sneaky peak at what everyone has been finding.

 

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In the Attenborough Studio we had Pat Wolseley, hosted by Aoife Glass, and here in Scilly, my colleague Tom Simpson was joined by curator of Lichens, Holger Thues.

 

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Holger’s smile and enthusiasm really shows how well this field work trip is going in terms of lichen collection. It’s the job of a curator not only to take care of the existing collections and provide access to researchers from around the world that want to use it, but also to enrich it and make sure any gaps in the knowledge are fully filled.

 

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Locals have been coming to our base, the Woolpack, to watch the Nature Live events and to have a cup of tea with the scientists. It’s an opportunity to show what we have been collecting, why we are here and to engage them with the amazing diversity of their own islands, what it means for science and what it can mean for them.

 

Ana Rita

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After all that build up in my first post, the Scillionian boat trip wasn't that good and it wasn't that bad. So no sharks, whales, sunfish, etc but also no vomiting and I ended up spending most of the journey asleep.

 

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The Scillonian after our arrival at St Mary's, Isles of Scilly

 

[I'm going to have to go off at a tangent slightly now and say that I've just this second been recognised by a small blonde lad as I sit here in the pub typing this. I will explain why in a bit.]

 

Anyway, we disembarked and trudged up and over a hill to the most western part of St Mary's which is called the Garrison or Woolpack. I've stayed in a few interesting places in my time but our current lodgings are the first that look like they could withstand a direct hit from a scud missile, being in an old military bunker. However, they are comfortable enough and we soon feel at home, although I can't help but feel sorry for the poor swallows who foolishly decided to raise their family in the corridor leading to the showers and toilets.

 

[I've just been recognised again, this 'fame' will start to go to my head if it carries on.]

 

Once we'd settled ourselves in, Mark Spencer, experienced botanist and exhibition leader took us for a walk around the island in the sunshine and points out all the parts of it that we can graze upon. Particularly nice are plants called three cornered leeks which have a spring onion/garlic taste.

 

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The lighthouse at Peninnis Head.

 

The next day we rise early as one of my first obligations is to help with three talks for children (who seem to still remember me, hence the recognitions tonight as I write this) at the local Five Islands School. These go really well and Jon Ablett, Curator of Molluscs, steals the show with his squid dissection.

 

I don't have any props myself (apart from a baby pollock which is deemed unsuitable for hacking up in front of six-year olds, having proper red blood as opposed to the squid's green variety) so we find a few pictures of deep-sea anglerfish and sharks and I tell the children about those, and then attempt to identify various fishes that they tell me they've seen. I'm also getting a bit worried about the success - or potential lack of it - of my fish collecting at this point so I ask them to bring anything they can find up to our lodgings and give it to me.

 

My worries increase later as we spend a couple of hours fishing beside a sewer pipe with no results. Meanwhile everyone else is gathering buckets full of material - molluscs, plants - and diligently sitting around scribbling in notebooks and writing labels. Determined to get something - anything - of the fish variety, Jon, Tom Simpson and I head down to the beach at Hugh Town with our seine net, and after a lot of mucking about we finally catch our first, a baby sandeel. I hope things improve tomorrow...

 

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Jon and Tom attempting to seine

 

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My first fish, a sandeel

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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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On (our) Sunday morning we did the first Field work with Nature Live events, featuring live-video-links direct to the Museum from Costa Rica. In fact it was the first ever live-link at the Museum using a satellite phone from the field.

 

Tom, the Nature Live host who is accompanying us on our trip (see his own blog), was really nervous despite having spent the last three days getting every last detail right. He had woken up during the night worrying about it, although you wouldn’t have known once everything got going.

 

It was early for us, 6.30 am and bitterly cold (4°C according to the slightly dodgy looking thermometer in the hut) but the shows went well; it was really strange hearing the familiar voices of our colleagues Lee, Jo and Erica back in London in the Museum’s Attenborough Studio whilst we were huddled with a cup of coffee on the veranda of a hut in Costa Rica and desperately trying to keep warm.

 

I’m not sure what the audience made of us: by chance we had the Costa Rican park ranger responsible for this part of the park, Fabricio Carbonal, staying and it meant that he was able to make a surprise appearance.

 

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Tom positioning the satellite phone for our video-link on a boulder in the river to
test the location for our next Nature Live event on Thursday 16 February.

 

After the two Field work with Nature Live events, we sneaked an extra cup of coffee and went to the day's collecting site, a recently discovered ‘lake.’ Well, more of a large pond in the middle of the forest.

 

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The ‘Laguna’

 

To be honest, in terms of vascular plants it was a bit boring. We collected only 43 species, but for mosses and lichens it was much more rewarding with lichenologist Holger Thues getting very excited by a myxomycetes (or true slime mould) which he discovered forming fruiting bodies on a liverwort.

 

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The myxomycete that so excited Holger

 

 

 

Come and see Tom and me at the next Field work with Nature Live events held at 12.30 and 14.30 at the Museum on Thursday 16 February or Saturday 18 February.

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It is 7 pm and I am in my sleeping bag as it is already really cold. Today we walked from our temporary camp where we spent last night up to our main camp in ‘El Valle de Silencio’ at 2,500 m. At this altitude we are in oak forest where the trees are up to 50 m in height, festooned with epiphytes, lichens and mosses and with a groundstory dominated by bamboo.

 

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Oak tree with Tom Simpson of Nature Live for scale

 

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View of oak forest interior

 

It occurred to me as we were walking through the forest that a surprising number of the trees we were seeing would be familiar in a forest back home: oak (Quercus), alder (Alnus), holly (Ilex), buckthorn (Rhamnus) and Cherry (Prunus), not the same species of course, but the same genera.

 

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Quercus costaricensis

 

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Rhamnus sp.

 

As I sit huddled in my sleeping bag I realise that there is a certain affinity with the climate back home too and also a physical one as many of these species, or at least their ancestors would have come from North America at a time when there was a land-bridge between our Continent and North America. So presumably these high elevation forests were colonised by trees coming from North America rather than South America, a phenomenon documented already by several authors.