Nature Reserve & Biological Station

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Nicole’s year of the bird

Happy new year!!

It’s really been a while since I have updated this blog. Something that needs to change in 2019, so there’s one of my resolutions. 2018 was a busy year! Especially for me. It started in January and February with me sitting down and studying: Ecuador’s history, geography, politics, tourism regulations, National Park system etc etc. The tourism law had changed recently and now every guide in Ecuador, whether a naturalist guide, bird guide or mountaineering guide, every guide was required to obtain a license as national tour guide. And that meant to be familiar with a lot of things that are not necessarily involved when one guides bird watchers around our forests. So I had to study and pass two written and one practical exam. And so I did. Together with a couple of friends and colleagues from Mindo we formed a study group and in February we all had our exams together, and made it! Ironically, we now have to do another certification to become bird guides again! Another time though….

Nicole got her licence as tour guide

But my studying would continue. After I had participated in a bird banding and molt analysis course in Colombia in December 2017, I was really interested in getting certified as a bird bander. I applied for a small travel grant of the North American Banding Council (NABC) to travel to Costa Rica, intern as a bander at the Costa Rican Bird Observatories (CRBO) and get certified there. Luckily, I got the grant and in May I travelled to the Madre Selva Bird Observatory in the Costa Rican highlands. Unfortunately, I couldn`t stay as long as I had wished. Hence, I only had a couple of days to get to know the Costa Rican birds before our certification session started. The certification takes around three days and to get certified as a bander you have to safely extract a certain amount of birds in a timely manner, you have to process and correctly identify species, sex and age of a number of birds. All of this with two trainers looking over your shoulders and assessing you. Furthermore, you also need to measure birds and score their scull pneumatization correctly. It will be checked afterwards! In the afternoon, there was a written exam with over 50 questions that took me almost 4 hours to complete. That was day 1! The next day we had a few more evaluations of extractions and processing birds and in the afternoon we had a specimen exam where we had to correctly identify, age and sex 10 bird specimen. This was definitely the hardest part of the certification for me, not knowing all the Costa Rican species and then to age and sex them! By the way, dead birds on a stick look very different than alive ones….but somehow I also passed this part. Later we had to show how to remove bands from a bird and how to handle different cases of band removal. The next day followed with easier tasks. We had to install and take down mistnets and at the end we had a final one-hour interview with both trainers on the use of Pyle (the North American bander’s bible) and bander’s ethics. And that was it! Not an easy process. It was nerve-racking, but in the end I passed the exams and got my bander certification! Yeah!

Nicole's favorite Costa Rican bird, the Spangle-cheeked Tanager

Group picture with our trainers Pedro Martins from Brazil (left) and Pablo Elizondo from CRBO (middle) after a successful certification session

A short summer with NatGeo in (again!) Costa Rica followed, plus some personal vacation in Panama afterwards. I wasn’t very lucky with the weather though, and spent most of my time on the Caribbean island of Bastimentos in a tropical storm. End of July, I was home at the reserve only for a week and we took off again to Arenillas in Southern Ecuador for the Ornithological conference. The week home I spent putting together a last-minute talk to fill a spot in the bird banding symposium and preparing a few lessons for the bird banding workshop which followed right after the conference. Being (probably?) the first NABC certified bander in Ecuador, I got invited to co-instruct the bird banding workshop which was held at the Jama-Coaque reserve at the coast. It was a great and very rewarding experience! The students were eager to learn and my co-instructors Pablo (Costa Rican Bird Observatories), John (Klamath Bird Observatory) and Steve (Institute for Bird Populations) were awesome.

Nicole with a Royal Flycatcher, a surprising capture on the last day of the workshop

Group picture after the workshop with Pablo (CRBO), Mike (Third Millenium Alliance), John (KBO), me and Steve (IBP)

A few months later, the contact with Steve from IBP turned out to have a major influence on our monitoring work at the reserve, as well. He helped us to make our banding program a part of the MoSI program and since November we are running three different banding sites and share our data with IBP. Furthermore, we established another collaboration, and we are collecting data on migratory species for the Genoscape project.

Unfortunately, the last three months of the year weren’t that great for me personally. In October, after a workshop on the Red List of Birds in Ecuador, I had an accident with my car on the way home from Quito. Luckily, I didn’t get injured, but our car has been in the mechanic since (we’re supposed to get it back tomorrow). Then another workshop in Quito for the EPHI (Ecology of Plant-Hummingbird Interactions) project followed. With a few other unpleasant things happening, I think my stress level was then so high, that end of November I got a pretty ugly shingles infection on my head and had to spent almost three weeks in bed. I just recovered in time to help organizing our 24th X-mas bird count in Mindo a week before X-mas. As usual, our years end and start counting birds and this coming Saturday we will have the X-mas bird count in our reserve.

I mentioned at the beginning that MY year was busy! But Wilo’s year was busy, too. I have only been talking about me and my birds, but Wilo actually built a whole new addition for the station house with six dorm rooms and an additional 18 (!) beds . He is just about to finish the last details (more on that soon!).

Back view of the new dorm building

We are both very happy and grateful for all the new things we have achieved and we are looking forward to see what 2019 has in store for us! Hopefully more blog posts…….

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