Thursday, January 29, 2015

Exploring Costa Rica, Part 3 - Sustainability makes wildlife thrive

One thing I love about traveling is that I can learn a great deal of  that country and their culture. Touring Costa Rica the first time, I picked few top eco-friendly destinations.  La Fortuna was the first stop of my trip. It is a small rural city located just about 115 miles northwest of  San Jose, Costa Rica's capital city. I love rural because vast wildlife present with least amount of human disturbance.  The original name of La Fortuna was "El Borio" and it was changed to La Fortuna after the eruption of Volcan Arenal in 1968. The eruption destroyed two villages located to the west side of volcano and El Borio to the east side of Arenal, was luckily untouched so it was renamed to La Fortuna, means "the fortunate". Tourists visit this city for the beauty of the volcano and its famous hot springs. There are many hotels and backpackers hostels in town and for  my own purpose of "chasing birds", I chose a small, quiet, family-operated eco lodge just 5 kilometers outside the town.

The image below is borrowed from wikipedia. So you know this is a serious "live" volcano. During my three days stay, I was not able to get any volcano shots because the constant rain.
http://www.volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=345033



Continued from Part Two ... Who cares for volcano when you have these many colorful and cheerful birds and butterflies around you? I was "bombarded" by countless hummingbirds and I could not help but took this shot while sipping my coffee.


Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Click image to enlarge


I love bananas and carry few of them with me in my car or my backpack whenever I am out for birding or photographing. Interestingly, Ticos don't sell bananas in bunch, they sell them by "each". First time I stopped at a small road side fruteria ( fruit store), bananas were arranged into three parts, the most yellow ones and they are ready to eat now, the hard yellow ones and these you can leave them out for few days for them to ripe and, the very green ones and they can last for a week at least. I found their "system" very unique and practical. Because why should I buy a whole bunch if I only want two or three and I want to eat them now and fresh? This way you will never waste any fruit. I also noticed some huge banana...I meant they looked like bananas but they are two or three times bigger then the banana, Ticos told me it's called "plantains". I will tell you about this plantain in my next blog :)


A Blue-gray Tanager eating a banana, click image to enlarge


So when I was scouting around Carlos's farm, I saw many banana plants, I asked Alan to take a photo for me. Carlos grows more than ten different types of banana on his farm. I asked Alan, "are they all edible?" He told me they only eat one type here, "We have plenty", Alan said, and "we leave the rest for birds and animals". Something more amazing I learned is that "banana" the edible fruit, is actually a berry from the banana plant. Most of us think banana is a tree, but they are actually a herbaceous flowing plant. After fruiting, the mother plant will die but the amazing thing is that she will leave many offshoots, which will continue to grow into many huge plants and produce many more bananas.  I really admire how a humble farmer like Carlos and his family understand "sustainability". They cultivate their land heartily and they consider their surrounding and environment as their #1 priority. This is something USA should learn and teach children at school.





Right before leaving Carlos's farm, I ran into a wild Red-lored Parrot. According to Alan's sister, this parrot fell from a nest few years ago, since they were not able to put this bird back to the tree its nesting hole, they kept her in a cage with no door under the carport. "No door?" you might ask. That's right, they removed the door so the bird could come in and out anytime as she wished. They told me sometimes, she will come home at night, sometimes she won't. But they will "call" her up by her name, lol, they called her "Barbara". It's funny to give a wildlife an American name. It suits her well because she "talks" a lot. I did not stay long enough to hear how she "talked". Alan tried to call this Barbara out for me but she never showed up until the day I was checking out. I love this photo of me and this "wild Barbara".  She left me a lot of "souvenirs"... many scratches on my left arm and shoulder, ouch! They really hurt when I took showers :) But it was total worthy!


Do you believe that I did not spread myself with any insect replant


So where are the mosquitoes? you might ask. Tropical rain forest country like Costa Rica with average yearly rainfall around 13 feet (yup, 156 inches or nearly 400 cm, OMG) must have a lot of mosquitoes. My friends back in the States reminded me to bring at least two big bottles of insect replant, the funny truth is that I have never used once during my trip. I eagerly wanted to find out where are those nuisance bugs to  satisfy my curiosity. I asked Alan "did you guys spread any pesticide or bug spread on your farm? Where are the mosquitoes?"  Alan told me " No, no, everything you see is all natural and organically grown. Yes, there are many insects, bugs and mosquitoes, but they got all eaten by birds, frogs and bats (Click this link to see the facts of amazing bats)!" Of  the approximate 1,100 species of bats in the world, tiny country Costa Rica has taken 10% of that! Do you know a small Brown Bat can eat up to 1000 mosquitoes in one hour! This is a great result of biological control and sustainability working together! Pura Vida Costa Rica!

To be continued ....

My other stories of Costa Rica
Exploring Costa Rica, Part 1 - Before the trip preparation, money, car rental 1, 2, 3
Exploring Costa Rica, Part 2 - Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna
Exploring Costa Rica, Part 3 - Sustainability makes wildlife thrive

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sustainable Mealworms for Forever Bluebird!

If you don't know what they are...they are the pupae stage of the Darkling Beetles. Maybe you would be wondering why a vegetarian person raising these worms/insects? As you will see from title of this blog post, I am working on a small project called "Sustainable Mealworms for Forever Bluebird". My actual inspiration came from an ecolodge I stayed during my recent tour to Costa Rica.


I got 10 pupae as of the morning of 1/28/15 ..I have feeling that I will get more tonight!

Most eco hotels in Costa Rica have comfortable rooms surrounded by native trees, flowers and fruit plants. Because the things grown from ground provide food not only for human's consumption but also the food source, shelters and nesting materials for wildlife, insects and birds. I visited Los Pinols, an eco-friendly cabanas and gardens hotel located at Monteverde (near Santa Elena, Costa Rica in Decemeber. Besides vast wildlife and hummingbirds, another thing attracted my great attention was their hydroponic vegetable garden. With the usage of total 2500 square meters (or equal to 0.62 Ac) of greenhouse space, it provides fresh organic vegetables for local grocery stores and restaurants as well as the guests that stay at Los Pions. The things inspires me the most are its agro-eco tourism project initiated since 2000 and with the hydroponic vegetable gardens and the trails in conservation areas, property owners still try to build each of their individual cabana at least 75 meters apart. Their sustainable effort benefits 8 local families not to mention how many wildlife, insects and birds have benefited from. That sustainability inspired me to start my own mealworm project and hopefully, not only do all my backyard bluebirds have yummy, fresh and nutritious worms, many other birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, thrashes, woodpeckers and warblers ...you name it, can also benefit from getting fresh worms :)


Hydroponic vegetable garden at Los Pinos. December 2014, Costa Rica
This place is a haven for veggie lovers. I was so amazed to know that this is actually an organic garden!

They don't use any herbicide or pesticide :)


I caught this when I came home today and I was so excited and snapped a shot right away.
...I call it "halfway" pupa, it is in the transformation from it's 2nd stage (worm) into the 3rd stage (pupa)! Amazing!

So when I returned home from my trip, Atlanta was in a deep winter. Here we seldom have snow but cold weather can drop temperature below freezing for days. For about a week, temperatures were 20 to 30 degree fahrenheit. All my backyard birds suffered from freezing weather not because the cold but because they could not find  any drinking water. Water was frozen everywhere. I thought about buying one heating bird bath. But for the purpose of energy conservation, I dropped that idea. I have noticed not every bird will drink after eating. Eastern Bluebirds are exceptional. They love to drink after picking up the "dry" mealworms. If I were a bird, I think I'd do the same. "How could I eat that dry mealworm jerky?" my bluebirds might ask if they could talk, lol. Like everyone else, I too also feed bluebirds with store purchased dry meal worms :( Another alternative way is to buy live mealworms, but I would not be able to afford them for too long. So the idea of raising mealworms came to my mind one day. "What if I raise my own mealworms, bluebirds and many other birds would benefit from fresh, nutritious food with less water consumption!". But how? I had no idea and didn't know any single person in my life who raises mealworms! Wait! I just remembered my bother who lives oversea with his family had experience raising mealworms for their pet lizard. I immediately called him and he knew exactly what to do and gave me a clear instruction. Next thing I knew I got 100 live mealworms in my shoe box!


When I first brought these babies home, they were cold, freezing non-moving. Can you believe store keeping them in a refrigerator, omg! I knew that was the best way not to feed them, yet kept them alive :(  Alas! " So cruel", I thought. How can I judge others? Because my ultimate purpose is to raise them to feed my beloved birds. As soon as I bought them home, I "thawed" them out and kept them in an organic rolled oats medium. For the water supply, I feed them with organic carrots. Why I feed these mealworms everything organic?, you might ask. There is a story behind this. Once my brother's family visited my aunt who lives in a rural country side. He brought home with few green silk worms from my aunt's organic vegetable garden because I told him they will either become moth or butterfly (sorry I was and I am still not the expert in moth and butterfly). But after few days, they all dies because all he fed them were the vegetables he bought from local supermarket ...full of pesticides! Pesticides killed those little lives. :( So I learnt my lesson that I needed to feed my mealworm babies with the most clean food possibly I can.

I kept them in the warmest part of my home, next to the hot water heater. I mean "near" the hot water heater. You know why? I am guessing warmer temperature will keep them more active and hopefully they will be healthy and eating and soon will "metamorphosis" into beautiful adults. You might ask why I want them to become adults...don't they fly away? Oh, no, I studied a little bit about the life cycle of Darkling Beetles, not only do they not fly away, they will lay up to 500 eggs per female and then die :( I don't know if I have some females in these 100 babies but I am willing to take my chances :)


Follow the arrows to find pupae ...Click photo to enlarge


Some of my questions:
1. How long will take from an egg (stage one of life cycle) to hatch into a larva, or the mealworm (stage two)?
2. How long does a mealworm live before transforming into a pupa?
Since I bought my first patch from the store and not sure what or how company fed them so I have no answer for myself. My discover my first pupa after 14 days
3. How long will take a pupa "Metamorphosis" into an adult (4th or final stage of life cycle)?
I know it might be case by case. But I will find out in three to four weeks :)
4. Does a female beetle lay eggs all at once and then die? Or they re-mate?
5. Does a male mate with more than one females?
6. Will a female devour that male after mating?
7. How long will an adult beetle live?
I read somewhere that adults will eat their own eggs so I have to separate all three stages from worms, pupae and adults.
8. How many live worms a bluebird might consume in a day?
I am guessing that since live mealworms are huge and moist, birds might eat less. I hope to find out soon :) .......................

I don't know when I will get my first 500 eggs but I will be patient, very patient, lol. More update will be followed. Happy Birding! -- Linda



.............................. TO BE CONTINUED ...............................

Monday, January 5, 2015

Exploring Costa Rica, Part two - Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna

Waking up in a total darkness, soon I found my iPhone and turned it on, "wow, it was only 4:55 AM!". So happy that I had a quiet (Last night's rain did not bother me at all), a total restful 7 hours of sleep! Birds already started chirping, humming and even " screaming", yup, all kinds of birds and they, most of they, were so new, so unknown to me. Some people are dreadful when hearing strange sounds, unease when exploring places of unknown, scared of foreigners or exotic food, and even more horrified to learn a new language. But to me, hearing, seeing, exploring, trying and even learning any thing new is a completely mind blowing and mentally challenging! " What does  outside of my habitacion look like?, will I see toucans, any toucan?" I thought  and "how about hummingbird? how many hummingbirds will I see or photograph here?" I found my headlamp from my backpack that was the first thing I packed. If you ever want to explore Costa Rica, you definitely want to bring a good headlamp with you. A flash might do the job. The reason I chose to bring a headlamp in stead of a flash light was that so I can free my hands during my "night hike" :) Let me rephrase, I mean I need to hand held my camera :D . It was still too dark  to explore. So I patiently waited for the dawn.


Carlo's son Alan who speaks some English told me his dad made this farm a paradise! During all these years, he grew variety of plants and fruits. There were nothing here when they  first moved here 24 years ago!

 Do you know Costa Rica does not have address! Even Costa Rica's president Laura Chinchilla (2010 - 2014) one time was asked if she knew what her address was.  She just laughed and said she really doesn't know. Ticos (Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos) use distances from landmark to guide buses, taxi, police and postmen. Because they lack street names and they don't even bother to establish some. But one thing I noticed every where since I've arrived at Costa Rica was this word, "Bienvenido"! Every where is Bienvenido or Bienvenidos. I love this word and this is also the first Spanish word I learned from my Basic Spanish and now I saw it placed just outside my room! I got to snap a shot so I did! You probably have guessed, it means "Welcome". I already fell in love with Costa Rica and I knew it.





I like Tico's relaxed life style and they even put a hammock outside each room. Don't worry, there are more than one hammock. You don't have to fight over one. You can stay inside my hammock because I will be chasing birds and butterflies all day long!






Morning has broken! It was still drizzling before breakfast so I decided to leave my camera inside my room and headed to dining room at 7:30 :)



Carlos, the owner at this eco lodge, showed me the dining room last night with his flash light and I told him I knew where it was ...with my broken Spanish. As the matter of fact I had no idea where the dining room was now so I decided to put on my rain poncho n started to explore a bit. "Maybe I will see some cute Two-toed Sloth!", hoping and dreaming in my head. Intuitively I walked towards a rolling hill, there I saw a free standing yellow building on top of that hill, it was about 300 feet from my room. with an English written sign "Dining room"!Wow I could not believe Carlos put up that sign for me! Silly me, you know I am kidding :) 





Local people love this style of outdoor dining room. Ticos build a rugged dining room with simple material, a kitchen on one side and a huge, spacious, wall-less dining area under a huge tin roof to enjoy nature's everything. My mood was immediately infected by their ways of appreciating nature and wildlife. Alone travelor as I was,  not lonely any more. "Every thing I need is here so close to me, dancing rain, floating butterflies , trembling flowers and indefatigable hummingbirds chasing each other all around me..." I closed my eyes, smiled and wished this moment could imprint inside my mind forever...., Time was not time, time was no longer recognized here. I lost in the ecstasy of my own fantasy. Soon I started noticing something even more amazing (that will be in the Part 3).




Carlos's wife Aneil, who was the wonderful cook,  asked me what do I want for my desayuno ( I love this word, i.e. breakfast). I swear that I told her this "dos toast y uno egg, cafe es bueno"...Photo below was what she made for me, to my surprise, with a large plate of fresh fruit. Lol, I think she made me two eggs with one toast and a pot of freshly brewed Costa Rica coffee! Who care! I am good as long as there is fresh coffee :) These fruit became so much more palatable when Alan told me except for the watermelon, all fruit I had in the morning was from here, grew right here on this fertile land, from this farm I "roosted" my weary body.





Photography is my life. Though it was cloudy and rainy, how can a photographer walk around without a camera? That was the time when my spare camera, my smart phone, came handy! So please be patient with me, most "walking around" photos were taken from my beautiful assistant, iPhone, unless otherwise mentioned.




I sacrificed my binoculars to be my model in the below photo to show you how huge this bromeliad plant is! In USA,bromeliads can grow in a pot, and indoor. Do you see they strive in Costa Rica!





My mother was in a hospital during my field trip. I remembered how much mom loves flowers and I missed her a lot this day and wished she were with me. There are so many different kinds of flowers at Carlo's farm but I knew mom will like this orchid. So I snapped one shot and emailed to her and told her I love her.

To be continued :)

My other adventure stories in Costa Rica:
Exploring Costa Rica, Part 1- Before the trip preparation, books, money and map & driving in Costa Rica 1, 2, 3
Exploring Costa Rica Part 2 - Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna
Exploring Costa Rica, Part 3- Sustainability makes wildlife thrive

Monday, December 22, 2014

Exploring Costa Rica, Part one - Before the trip preparation, books, money map and driving in Costa Rica

Before trip preparation

If you are a birder, you definitely know about the rich flora and fauna of Costa Rica. Non-birder tourists often travel to Costa Rica to enjoy some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. This tropical paradise has been always on my mind. With an estimate 1.5 million species- roughly 5% of all biodiversity on earth, 300,000 insects species, 240 mammal species over half of which are bats, 22 reptile species, 190 amphibian species and 130 species of fresh water fish, OVER 840 BIRD SPECIES.....over 9,000 vascular plant species, 1,200 orchid species, and 1,200 hardwood tree species ....the most impressive, each year dozens of new plant and animal species are discovered by scientists and thousands more likely await discovery! Often time, we give ourselves too many excuses not to explore a foreign land, such as language barrier, busy work schedule or negative opinion from friends and families. The questions I heard the most from others was like this " you live in a well developed country, why are you going to a 3rd world country?" "A third world country?" I replied and asked them "do you know according to the HPI, "Happy Planet Index", Costa Rica is ranking #1, the happiest country on earth?" Speechless them became. I work around my own schedule, I work for whomever I like and whenever I want.  840 species of birds really out weights other people's opinion. However, I have to admit I do have language barrier. I did not speak one word of Spanish! So naively, I thought English should be a common language worldwide :) The good news is that Costa Rica has the highest literacy (96.4%) among all Latin American countries. Most younger adults speak some English. My feet got itchy and my mind was flying higher and farther.


A country with a profound love of wildlife must be a fantastic country to live!

A huge world map hung on my living room wall and I always saw this tiny central American country and dreamed one day I would visit this country see one of the most amazing birds in the world, Resplendent Quetzal. 2011 past, I did not go. I bought a new 2012 Calendar, I marked "TO DO" in 2012 and I did not make my own goal. When I threw away my 2013 calendar, I consciously asked myself "Linda, are you a Freedombird? If you are,  your wings are strong and ready! Go and Fly High!" One morning in April, I received an international airline ticket alert. The first destination on that ticket chart was San Jose Costa Rica. It was a spring morning, too much pollen in Atlanta. My eyes were blurred a bit. I wide opened my eyes and just read the email again, wanted to make sure it was not San Jose California. It was actually San Jose Costa Rica!  Atlanta to SJO Costa Rica was on sale, indeed! In ten minute, I got a round trip ticket! "I am going to Costa Rica", overjoyed I was!




Next thing I did was to start learning Spanish. I tired to learn Spanish about ten years ago and I gave up after two weeks, so hard, I thought :(  But this time, I was determined. I bought a Spanish course with three courses from beginner to advanced levels. I spent my after work  hours learning Spanish religiously and I found out this program was so easy to learn. By the time I was about to go on my trip, I have finished beginner level and could have simple conversation, I hoped. I was exuberant.

Books and GPS
In order to get acquainted with culture, people, food and traffic laws, I bought few books and also borrow some from library and the following are the books I found the most helpful:

The Birds of Costa Rica - this is an every birder's MUST HAVE bird bible. I studies it back home but I did not bring it with me in this trip, a big mistake. I downloaded an APP, it's called BirdsEye CA and it covers all the 1841 species of birds. But the problem is most of national parks or preserves are located in rural area and there is not possible to get any data or cell phone signal. It's a great app but it will not work without a wifi.

Costa Rica-The complete guide by James Kaiser . I was so glad that I brought this book with my in this trip and it helped tremendously. James lived in CR for five years and he writes well and he gives enough information for many birding sites, turtle nesting beaches, surfing playas, national parks and coffee area which is the area if you love coffee, you definitely don't want to miss. If you are like me, love eco-tourism, this book gives you a lot of good information about where to go to see different wildlife and where to stay or to eat.

National Geographic Traveler-Costa Rica - the book starts with a detailed introduction to the country's history and culture. You are then guided thru each of the country's regions from the capital city San Jose, th elush Central Highlands, Guanacaste and its volcanoes, Nicoya Peninsula, the Central Pacific, Zona dur, the South Central and it's could forests, the Northern Lowlands and the Caribbean. This book also gives you detail information for snakes and butterflies.

A "water proof" map - I know I am going to a tropical country but I really did not appreciate this map until I arrived at my first destination, La Fortuna. Costa Rica does not have four seasons, instead, they have dry and wet seasons. Wet season is from June till November. I arrived at the end of  November and it rained on and off but it's so handy to have a map that it stays "dry" :)

Plant guide of Costa Rica  and The wildlife guide are two good books if you are into tropical plants and wildlife.

SpanishDict app - it is a wonderful MUST HAVE app if you travel to any Spanish speaking country. No wifi required to use this app. It will pronounce for you if you have a wifi connection. I literally learned new words constantly and you can save new words into "favorite"! I learned over 300 new words in this trip!

Cen Rut GPS for Garmin - I got this amazing GPS map from my brother! I really had doubt if it really works at all. I had an installation issue so I contacted the founder of this project, David Krause. He was amazingly knowledgeable and helpful and with his instruction, I installed this map on my Garmin GPS in less than 5 minutes. I did a test and it looked fine. I then put the GPS in my suitcase and did not want to think any more. OMG! Not only did it work as soon as I got my rental car, it worked so well! Rental car agent will rent you a GPS cost from $9.95 to $14.95 a day! This is a MUST HAVE GPS program if you decide to rent a car :)

Driving around Costa Rica and high cost rental car insurance
It was a short four hour flight from Atlanta to San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. San Jose is like any other major cities in the United States, heavy traffic during rush hours and air quality is very polluted. I read few travel guides, one book says in order to reduce the traffic coming into San Jose, Costa Rican government established a new law: if your license plate ends in 1 or 2, you cannot drive on Monday; if your license plate ends in 3 or 4, you can not drive on Tuesday; and so on. So I worried how am I going to drive in and out of San Jose on the day I am renting and returning the rental car? My anxiety and the last minute work related issues caused me some skin rashes ....I was not too happy the day I was boarding :(

Buses and taxi are very popular in big city like San Jose and Liberia. But if you are like me want to explore different national parks and wildlife preserves, the best way is to rent a car. Rental rates are much lower (reasonable) during the wet season and they can be double and triple in daily rate in dry season (from January to March). The high cost of car insurance drives most tourists away. Rental car companies will refuse your credit card's coverage because they told me they require you to have liability insurance coverage and none of my credit card companies offer liability coverage. Lesson learned. It cost me a fortune to sign that piece rental document but I understood that I will have zero responsibility if something does happen on the road. I am a good, safe driver but first time in a foreign land, I wanted to be extra cautious. After the end of my trip, I was glad I made a very good decision. Nothing bad happened, I returned home safe and sound. To me it's like paying a tuition to learn how "Ticos" drive. Because I did not have to worry things that could happen to me, to the rental car or to other drivers, I got to enjoy my vacation fully and the experience I gained, people and things I have encountered with during my expedition are so wonderful and priceless!

One thing I learned about renting a car was that if you want to only tour cities and beaches, a regular car is good enough. But if you are like me, want to explore many national parks, wildlife reserves, stop by rural towns and roadside tiendas to taste fresh local food and fruit, a 4X4 will do you a great service. I have never driven a 4X4 truck in my whole life, but I decided to hire a 4X4 and I was so glad I did. As you guys can imagine tropical weather with non stopping rains, harsh wind and heavy fogs, many unpaved roads could become muddy and slippery My car got stuck twice when I miscalculated and mistakenly parked car at a grassy shoulder lane to photography toucans and roadside hawks. I would never be able to make back on the roads if it was not a 4X4 SUV. Another thing is that most roads leading to national parks or less-known playas (beached) are very narrow and winding, it's nearly impossible to turn around in the middle of the road without going all the way to the end.  Just for you to know that, for a 37 km (about 30 miles) unpaved roads, it will take a good, skillful driver like me over 2 hours during the day with a good weather.  Being say that, an automatic car is definitely the best choice than a manual one unless you can convince yourself that you will enjoy changing transmission non-stopping for two, three hours.

Arriving at La Fortuna, Alajuela
One thing I miscalculated was the driving time. The condition of roads in Costa Rica was much worse than I expected. My flight arrived at 1:30 pm, after picking up my rental car, I gave myself enough time to arrive at my first destination La Fortuna, Aajuela before sunset, that is at 5:15 pm. The rental agent took almost an hour to pester me with his full coverage insurance (Be aware and also to be prepared to put an rental deposit from $500 to $2000). SoI did not start driving until around 3pm. With rains, fogs, unpaved gravel roads, by the time I checked in my hotel, it was about 6:30pm. I thought I can make to my hotel in less than two hours, but it took me 3 and half hour for a short 117 km. Another lesson learned. I was not a bit of upset at all. In my mind I was thinking "if Ticos (Costa Ricans call themselves, Ticos) visit our country, they might not get used to all the nice roads we have here in the US".

I booked my first four nights of hotel back in the States and decided to leave the rest of my trip open. I gave myself three to four days to get used to the locals  and figured out that what if I don't like the place I booked and I get stuck or if I like a place too much I might want to stay for more days....This is another great decision I made for this trip. Most people will book all the hotels before taking the trip because depending on the destinations, during high seasons, you might not be able to find vacancy easily. Costa Rican's busy travel time starts from Christmas, besides, I am all into adventure and this plan suits me well. So I can really take my time to explore this beautiful country.

My anxiety and tiredness dissipated as soon as I inserted my room key into the door lock, turned my key to the right and opened my room door....this was what I saw! "WOW!", was the first word came to my mind.


Spacious room with two large double beds




Towels are artistically folded into the shape of an Elephant and a butterfly (see below)



It was raining heavily when I checked in. I did not have my rain poncho but I wore a boro boro sun hat and looked tired. Carlos, the owner of this family owned and managed eco lodging, did not speak English, greeted me by saying "Bienvenida, bienvenida!", showed me my room and also showed me where the dinning area was. I followed him in the pouring rain walked another 300 feet from my room, then I found out they have an "outdoor" style dinning room. "Very cool", I thought, though I could barely see what it looked like in the dark.  He told me desayuno (breakfast) will be served at 8 in the morning. I replied back  to him with my embarrassing, newly learnt Spanish,  "Muchas gracias, Carlos!" to thank him for showing me my room. He smiled and waived at me then told me to stop by the "recepción", his living room, if I needed any thing. Carlo disappeared in dark with his flash light, then I started inspecting my room everywhere, in between the sheets and pillows, underneath both beds, closet, huge bath room and ceiling to make sure there was no other "wildlife" staying in my room :) I took some photos (see above) and was completely satisfied.

It was very dark outside and rained constantly...After settling down with my luggage, I stood by the door and wondered, "what does this place look like in the morning?, do they have a lot of flowers and trees? What kind of trees they have down here?, will I see toucans or any hummingbird?".... One question after another popped up in my head.  Tonight, I was the only guest at this lodge and for some reasons I was not afraid at all. In fact, I felt very peaceful despite the fact that the rain has been non stopping all night. Soon I noticed there was no wifi inside my room and I did not mind at all because I was so exhausted and drifted to sleep with the sound of million of raindrops bouncing off the metal roof like a rock concert .... Continue to my adventure :)


Exploring Costa Rica Part 2, Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna
Exploring Costa Rica, Part 3, Sustainability makes wildlife thrive

Friday, May 16, 2014

Project Feederwatch

One of my recent photos  Eastern Bluebird, was requested and published in the May issue of Project FeederWatch at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Full article can be seen via the following link Backyard Battles



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Conserving Georgia's Nongame Wildlife Program

What a great news to know that Georgia's governor, Nathan Deal signed House Bill 881 INTO law on April 14, 2014 at Jekyll Island!

"The legislation rolls back the cost of buying or renewing a wildlife plate to $25 and dedicates more than 75 percent of fees to the Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division programs that depend on them. Passed in this year’s General Assembly and sponsored by Rep. Bubber Epps (R-Dry Branch) and Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), the changes are scheduled to take effect July 1." 
Read full report here .


One of three new tags. Image source : DNR website

I would like to give many thanks and great appreciation to all DNR peronnel and to the ones who support and to pass this House Bill 881 (what a lucky number of A DOUBLE 8) and with DNR Tim Keyes to send out this great news to all of us this morning! During my lunch break, I did a quick read for all the links Tim sent out in his email and I got few questions in my mind, "How does DNR conduct their research and work to protect these species and their natural habitats?" and " Where does the funding go towards educational and conservational purpose?"   ...and I thought if you are like me, care for birds, wildlife and native plants and flowers, you will be so proud to know that the majority of all the money we donate to this nongame program or purchase and/or renew your wildlife car tag will go towards to this nongame wildlife program to protect 318 species that are endangered or near threatened. This is the link that will provide you a very good knowledge how Georgia DNR use the funding to protect Georgia's plants and animal species, including the birds we love the most such as protecting American Oystercatcher's nest on the Georgia coast and to restoring Sandhill Crane's habitat with prescribed fire just southwest of Macon and to re-establish over 160,000 acres Southern Pine forest for Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers.

2013 Fiscal Year Report -
http://www.georgiawildlife.com/sites/default/files/uploads/wildlife/nongame/pdf/Annual_Reports/NongameAnnualReportFY13_Summary.pdf

 It is very interesting in knowing that maybe this is a very small amount of money, or maybe it is too small to even think about it...buying/renewing a wildlife plate for $25. I read that $20 of each new purchase or $19 of each renewal will go towards helping wildlife! I hope I can buy more than one plates but Country tag office told me one tag per car :)

Press release -
http://www.georgiawildlife.com/node/3607

There are total 5 wildlife plates. Three new plates can be found via this link
http://georgiawildlife.com/node/340/#License_Plate

One of three new plates. Image source: DNR Website


As a birder and wildlife lover, I would like to encourage all of you, birders, non-birders, friends and family of birders and non-birders, or flowers and plant lovers....all of you who love nature and wildlife to purchase a new plate for this year! The Wildlife Resources Division's Nongame Conservation Program receives no state funding to conserve Georgia's rare and endangered species and other nongame wildlife, as well as native plants and their habitat. Our contribution today will determine if we will see these beautiful birds, animals and the native plants in the future. Your small contribution will make a BIG difference! Just like the Hummer plate says " Give Wildlife A Chance".




I welcome you share this page to all your friends alike. Let's work togehter to make a difference, even it is so small, so insignificant.  It's because these insignificant efforts that you do that makes a person great :)\

Happy Birding! -- Linda

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wild Eastern Phoebe comes to hand!

The Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) is a loner and seldom comes to in contact with other phoebes and to my knowledge they rarely visit feeders. During breeding season, mating pairs stay together to feed their young. Then return to their solitary life as soon as their young fledged. I noticed one Eastern Phoebe came near my suet feeder in November. However I did not pay much attention to him until few days ago when I tried to refill my sunflower seed feeder. Not only was he not shy away from me, he perched on my deck railing and watched me refill my feeder. After I splashed old water from my bird bath, he was still sitting there and watched me attentively. Now, he got me so interested in him. The first sign came to my mind was this little bird  might have a head injury from hitting someone's window. When I looked at him and he then stared back at me. Wow! He was perfectly fine to me and seemed very alerted and smart and had no sign of injury at all. Out of sudden, he flew to suet cake that I put out for woodpeckers and snatched a tiny bite. Eastern Phoebe is a tyrant flycatcher, they are insectivorous and snap insects on the wing. Unfortunately he did not get much out of the suet hanging on my deck because he was not capable of landing on top of my free swinging suet feeder. He is a flycatcher! Out of my curiosity, I got one chopstick poked some suet and put on my hand and imagined he might feed from my hand.  This mischivious phoebe immediately landed on my shoulder, with my left arm all the way stretching out and holding my smart phone in my right hand, I did not dare to make a move.


Eastern Phoebe. Click image to enlarge :)

Overjoyed, I could hardly believe my eyes that a wild phoebe got this close to me and he had no fear what so ever, much like a pet bird... but he is not my pet. He is a happy, free bird, comes and goes as he wishes. At that moment I just enjoyed his company :) For one second, I wanted to name him. But I decided not to. I didn't want to attach myself to him because I'll be so sad if he leaves in spring and not knowing if he will ever return. Wildlife is the happiest when they stay in the wild.

Phoebe did not return the following morning and I was sad for a while. It was freezing cold outside with only 24 degree Fahrenheit and I started thinking if he was warm last night...... The thoughts of my worrying dissipated within seconds, "He is a wild thing, he surely knows how to take good care of himself", I talked to myself with a silly smile! Besides, the main functions of feathers not only provide birds important signals to their mates and rivals, they regulate their bodily temperature. In the mid morning, he returned with Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees and brought me a surprise guest, a Harry Woodpecker! He flew around my head for few seconds and when I offered him my hand, he decided to perch on my right index finger! I now have a great new idea for my little friend. Stand by, everyone!

This short video is composed with few clips taken from my less than ideal phone and its quality is not the best I'd like it to be. I hope you enjoy watching him as much as I photographed him ! --Happy Birding! -- Linda




Note: If I am busy, he will call me by singing his heart out on my deck. It's hard not to hear his raspy calls.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lost or Found - American White Pelicans in Georgia

Two American White Pelicans ( Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) were reported to be seen on and off at Murphey Candler Park last week. I have seen White Pelicans many times during my coastal trip and my recent trips to San Francisco, California. But this is first time for me to see them in the Piedmont region of Georgia. Things really got me so interested in is why these two White Pelicans chose to stay at an intown lake?


After waiting for about 8 hours :) ...They finally woke up for me! Click image to enlarge

Breed in isolated islands of northern states and in central Canada, American White Pelicans migrate through central and western of the states and winter mainly in Southern California, Florida southern Texas and New Orleans and in Mexico. They are the second largest birds just a bit of smaller than the largest bird American Condor, with a wingspan about 10 feet  (or 3 meters) and weigh over 20 lbs (or 9 Kgs)! A birder I met during my photo shoot, told me unlike Brown Pelican plunges into water to hunt, American White Pelicans forage by using their huge, pointed beak spear through their prey while swimming in shallow water. It's amazing to know these graceful birds systematically search for fish when paddling! An adult can eat over 4 lbs fish a day! Unfortunately I did not see them hunt for fish when I was there today.



Click image to enlarge


Not sure if you notice some trash in my second image. There are many beer cans left by some careless human, that really spoiled my photo :( The worst for me is to know that some people choose not to care or just completely ignore the fact that we should all work towards well being of all species on this planet. I believe everyone already know there is a way to reduce human waste by recycling plastic containers, paper and aluminum products. If you are reading this post, I am sure you DO CARE! Start recycling any thing that can be "taken" back and teach young adults and your friends of influence to the concept of "3-R" : recycle, reduce and reuse! To me, reduce and reuse are far more important then recycle. Because if we all "reduce" what we need in our daily living and "reuse" shopping bag or containers or completely ban using plastic bags in our country, we automatically will buy less and eventually create less waste of any kind and, ultimately do less harm and damage to our environment and wildlife.


"Are they lost their way to their wintering ground or they just found each other and decided to travel together?", I asked myself.  We might never know the answer ...But one thing I do know is American White Pelicans hunt in clean pond and lake. Murphey Candler Park definitely offers a wonderful roosting and foraging ground for these two tired rare visitors. When you visit this park, please remember your birding etiquette, be quiet, be sightful and be respectful to wildlife. If you must take something from the park, please take some beautiful autumn photos, and if you must leave something, leave nothing but your foot prints :) -- Happy Birding! -- Linda


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wood Duck

Male Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) is stunning pretty with iridescent green, purple and brown. Female is over all grayish brown with a white eye ring.  Unlike most waterfowl, Wood Ducks are cavity nesters, perch and nest in trees and are comfortable flying through woods. Their broad tail and short, broad wings help make them maneuverable. When swimming, the head jerks back and forth much as a walking pigeon's does. You often see Wood Ducks in small groups (fewer than 20), keeping away from other waterfowl. However, I spotted this stunning male mingling with a flock of Mallards! One time, someone told me when you have your telephoto lens with you, you don't have to take your binos. This person is a photographer not a birder. I think I need to reconsider what this person said.


Male Wood Duck. Click photo to enlarge


Birder and bird photographer are different in many ways. Scouting my surroundings before snapping is a great way to find surprises. Knowing the life and behavior of birds definitely help me to capture magic moments. My target bird might not show up today, but birds always indulge me with their most amazing colors. Cannot wait for the weekend to arrive. Lubricate my gears and ready for my next adventure :)





Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The long way home - Sandhill Crane

"There is no place to where I fly to. Untamed heart is my final destiny".

Sandhill Cranes flying near dusk, no where, USA
Click image to enlarge 

I took the first shot when I was on a long road trip, starving, kind of lost, and freezing cold... I heard cranes calling (Click link to hear their calls) and decided to pull over in the middle of no where.  When I shut off my car engine and grabbed my camera, it was about 8 pm, I witnessed a flock of Sandhills start descending in front of my lens. Even with my camera's aperture wild open, I found this less than ideal, underexposed photo interesting. I did not like the wire in the background as much at the first. But when I take a look this photo after many many days later, a sense of serenity created by the blue hue tells a story of a flock of weary cranes will finally take the long way home. Birds strive to survive with or without human's interference or disturbance. Sandhills breed in the north and migrate to the southern region, mainly to Texas, New Mexico and Florida in winter. A spectacular flock of over 10,000 birds congregate at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife  Refuge  , New Mexico from November through March next year. According to the fossil record, Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadesis) has the longest fossil histories among all birds that have been discovered today, that was back to about 10,000,000 years ago! Wow, just knowing how ancient these birds are really makes me wondering they must "learn" and "know" a lot more than us:)


Central Florida, USA. Click image to enlarge

There are two special people I'd like to thank to for this portrait shot. The first person is my mother. Mom spotted a family of three cranes during our summer trip to central Florida. I tried to pay attention to any thing "flying" during driving but I can only "scout" so much. That proves to you that, mom was not bore with her bird nerd daughter :) She sat in her wheelchair comfortably and enjoyed her breakfast while I was gone chasing these carnes. The second person I'd like to pay my gratitude is a friend from Down Under. When I told a photography friend of mine, this photo was mom's favorite shot from our four-day trip but I was frustrated with my poor photo editing skill. This friend indefatigably helped me to "transform" a mediocre image into a lovely, print ready photograph so Mom can take this print flying 9,000 miles home with her. Thanks TA ;)

-- Happy Birding! -- Linda




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Red-headed Woodpecker, A Naturally Born Carpenter

I am blessed with living on a "tree top" surrounded by thousands of trees around my cozy nest and bestowed with over 76 species of yard birds. Most people worry about having so many trees that dead or diseased trees might fall upon their roof one day, fortunately I never have to worry about that because I have some special "tree doctors", the woodpeckers, regularly visit my trees! One male Red-bellied Woodpecker habitually drums on my gutters in early spring; a pair Downy Woodpeckers will never forget to say good night at my suet feeder; Norther Flickers like to play "seek and hide" with their favorite food, ants and Pileated Woodpecker's (click to view a video ) loud, whinny calls remind me to take a break in my gloomy days. Out of seven commonly seen species in the east of United States, the one never shows up in my backyard is Red-headed Woodpecker.


Red-headed Woodpecker excavates his winter home on a dead tree trunk 


A friend of mine from Down Under was fascinated of knowing these woodpeckers are capable of carving into trees and he gave me an assignment to find a woodpecker coming out of a nest hole. Seeing and finding a pecker is an easy task but photographing one out of a nesting hole is merely a luck or I have to wait till the spring. One day on my way to my fall migration field trip, sluggish morning traffic allowed me to enjoy my slow ride and accidentally spotted a pair flickers trying to excavate their wintering home. Too bad that I did not have my camera with me that day. When I returned to the same spot the very next day, flickers did not show and they never returned for the next seven days. I was disappointed and told myself, maybe they found another better location and moved on. Frankly, this location is not an ideal spot per photographer's point of view. First, this tree is located in a residential neighborhood and I have to park my car in a shopping center and walked for 20 minutes. I might even have to climb on someone's wall to have a better angle. Secondly, the opening of this hole is facing east. Due to the poor light condition, I will either snap the back of birds with great light or the front of birds with dark faces. Thirdly, since I could not seem to relocate this pair and I believed they might move to another better location. I did a thorough research and reading, found out that if woodpeckers lay eggs in a cavity near a busy street or power poles, their chicks might not fledge or survive. I am sure young birds are afraid because I will be so scared jumping into this strange world the first time if I were a young bird seeing no trees around but a train of four-wheeled boxes ("cars" in human term) along the streets and many two legged talking to themselves none stopping. Soon I gave up searching and moved on to my routine boring tasks till one day ... something hit me, A Snag!





"In forest ecology, a snag refers to a standing, dead or dying tree, often missing a top or most of the smaller branches. In freshwater ecology it refers to trees, branches, and other pieces of naturally occurring wood found sunken in rivers and streams", per wikipedia. Standing snags provide crucial habitats for as many as 1,200 species of insects, amphibians, fish and birds. Tree frogs and beetles may use the empty space between trunk and bark as their shelter at night, woodpeckers excavate nesting holes on snags and search termites and beetle larvae as food, many fish use snags at their spawning sites and the top of the snags become an important look-out for hawks to catch prey. That day I was 20 minutes early on my meeting. While waiting for my meeting to start, I birded around a street near by and suddenly I heard this loud calls, without a second thought, I knew it was a Red-headed Woodpecker! In a split of second, I noticed a snag just across the street. A Red-headed was sitting on top. It would be nearly impossible to photograph this bird without going to someone's private backyard. After my meeting, I visited the home owner and expressed my intention of photographing this woodpecker. They were so kind in allowing me to go to their park-like backyard and investigate the possibility of photographing the woodpecker I dreamed to snap! It was late in the afternoon so I told them I will return the next day. They don't want to be named here but I owe my gratitude to these nice, nature-loving people. They assured me I can stay as long as I like.





I always run into nice folks around town. Talking and advocating the importance of wildlife protection and habitat conservation for birds often make new friendship. Woodpeckers are not song birds, they don't sing, instead, they drum on trees, chimney, gutters to attract mates and deter their rivals during breeding season. Unlike other woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers do reuse their nest year after year and they are also the only woodpecker catching insects on wings. During breeding, bonding pair will  vigorously defend their territory and they live a separate life during non-breeding. Another interesting behavior of Red-headed is that they start caching acorn in crevices when insects slowly dying out in fall. Though not much research has been conducted, the number of Red-headed Woodpeckers has declined steadily according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey and it has been listed as "Near Threatened" species per IUCN. Besides the scarcity of seeds and nuts during winter, removal of snags from many manicured community causes the greatest concern. Red-headed Woodpeckers live in an open forest, they prefer to nest in older trees, but they also can be seen throughout younger forest. If you happen to have few snags in your backyard, or if you are about to develop a new construction by deforestation, please leave those dead trees for woodpeckers. Even fallen logs can be a food source and shelters for them! When we learn to protect birds and their habitat, we actually protect ourselves from going "backwards". It will take 30 years to grow into a mature forest but it will only take one match to destroy it. Be a tree hugger and I hope you are inspired!

Happy Birding! -- Linda


Note: font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 13px;">have few questions here after my observation:

1. I noticed Red-bellied and Red-headed are excavating their nesting holes. But for this time of the year, I will assume they are making this for the winter. Since most the male does the excavation, so I'm wondering if females will also excavate her own place during non-breeding? Of, they just stay together in winter? I know bonding pairs live a separate life during non-breeding but I could be wrong. This is just a general knowledge I have and I am sure every species might behave differently

2. Do woodpeckers use their roosting hole for breeding in the following year? 

3. Is there any research done for woodpeckers nesting in man-made nesting box/hole and if the answer is yes, what is the successful rate of fledgling? I know some smaller woodpeckers use power poles, but unfortunately with unknown reasons,  not much successful rate of survival with young fledgling.



Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration

I try to have some fun with few of my remaining hummingbirds. Weather is not helping me. It's getting cooler these days in northern hemisphere with not much flower left for these hungry migrating hummers. If you have watched hummers, you will know that they are territorial and will guard their food source and chase other hummers come in their way.  My last male was gone two weeks ago, young and immature will hang around for another month, possibly they need to grow more feathers and eat more nectar to fatten themselves up for their first journey of non-stop flying across the Gulf of Mexico!

For this shot, I waited for a week and they did not like this exotic flower I left for them. One day I was called from my work and I hurried out. When I returned, I noticed a tiny hummer sat on the flower. He flew off as soon as I grabbed my camera. Wow! I was not upset at all, Actually I was quite excited and thought they finally noticed my flowers! Then, it's another waiting game for me and he never returned.


Immature male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, click image to enlarge


I decided to leave this flower outside under the sun and I know it will not last too long. But again, it does well in South America so I went ahead to continue my work and once a while came back to check to see if this "banded" hummer returned. Finally my patience got paid off, I snapped him behind my window. I especially love this shot with his wing flapping and show how eager and anxious he is ready for his long journey! 



Click image to enlarge


Before I called my day off, I saw him flying and chasing other hummers on my deck. So I decided to give him a treat! I then set up my camera 15 feet from him and patiently wait for his arrival with all that vicious mosquito hoovering around my head. But all I cared was looking into my view finder to capture that magic moment. This young male was so curious and wanted to find out what I prepared for his dinner. He zoomed in the position precisely and showed me how great a hummingbird he can be (Click the link to see some amazing facts of a hummingbird)! Like a tiny flying vessel floating in the air! Gosh! I have imagined this particular angle for so long and finally I got one! I was so happy this evening! I can never love hummer enough! 

 --- Happy Birding! --- Linda
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