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Giras in My Biology Classes

I am taking two biology classes here at the University and have had several fieldtrips, or “giras,” to various parts of Costa Rica in order to observe that natural flora and fauna of the country. I recently had two giras that were a couple days long and filled with wonderful adventures.

The gira with my Fauna class was the 8th through the 10th of October. This class is an overview of all the species of animals in Costa Rica with a large emphasis on conservation as well. The gira was at a wildlife reserve called Tirimbina in a region called Serapiqui.

We students all arrived bright and early Friday morning, toting backpacks stuffed with flashlights, clothes, hiking boots, sunscreen, binoculars, books for species identification, and other gear. The bus ride to Serapiqui wasn’t long, maybe two hours from Heredia, but it was a tight fit. Upon arrival, we unloaded our gear into our living quarters (conveniently located just outside of the reserve), ate a quick lunch, and then headed into the reserve for the afternoon.

The reserve is a myriad of pathways and small hanging bridges running through the hillside jungle with a river running along the base of the hill. Most of the reserve is primary forest—old growth—and absolutely beautiful.

That night, after dinner, we also went out into the reserve, because many species of snakes and frogs, as well as other animals, are nocturnal. I was exhausted after the afternoon of traipsing around, but still really enjoyed going out late that night and searching through the jungle with flashlights.

Saturday was very similar to Friday. We went out that morning and explored some more as well as later that night. We made a quick trip Sunday morning as well, right before we left to go back to Heredia.

All in all, I saw a poison dart frog, as well as a couple other types of frogs, various birds, lizards, a bright green tree snake with a blue tongue, a black and white snake (both of which I held), and a poisonous viper. And I’ll admit we were stupid enough to mess around with the viper and, consequently, get it irritated enough to lung and snap at the air, fangs fully extended. Sometimes, we came across tracks in the mud of larger mammals too.

This last weekend, the 23rd through the 25th, I had a gira with my plant anatomy and physiology class. This gira was a little different, in that groups of students designed their own research topic and collected data to test their hypothesis against.

Like the other gira, I was near Serapiqui at a research station next to a national park. We were fortunate enough to stay in little cabins at the research station during the three days and two nights we were there.

We arrived Saturday morning and had a short tour of the reserve which extends to the edge of the national park. Part of the reserve is a primary—old growth—forest and part of it is a secondary—developing—forest. I was amazed at the variety of vegetation in the jungle. Everything was huge and leafy. It was strange to see leaves so huge and plants growing out of the bark of trees. I felt like I was in pre-historic times—the huge palm leaves, thick vegetation, sweltering heat, strange noises—and sometimes let my imagination run wild with thoughts of dinosaurs.   

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Saturday afternoon we all convened and went over the group projects together. Afterward all of us headed back out into the jungle to start collecting data. Most of Sunday was spent collecting more data as well and doing some preliminary analysis. My group had a little bit of a rough time at first, because we couldn’t find enough specimens of the proper species and spent hours, upon hours, walking through the reserve looking specimens. We eventually had to change our research topic and use a different species, but it all worked out in the end. We left for Heredia early Monday morning.

Both Saturday night and Sunday night a bunch of us students walked through the reserve to look for frogs and other animals. We were extremely lucky and saw numerous species of frogs and even some snakes. I saw more animal species on this trip than on the previous gira to Tirimbina.  

In all, I saw several species of frogs, a couple snakes, one of which was eating frog eggs off a leaf, an iguana, two toucans, several other tropical birds, a howler monkey, capuchin monkeys, a caiman, a turtle, wild pigs, and what we think was a jaguarondi.

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I really enjoyed both of these giras, not only because they related to my field of study, but also because I really got to know many of the kids in my classes better. I was really nervous for both of the giras initially, because I am the only expatriate in these classes and for me it is hard to push myself to make friends when I don’t speak the language that well.  But now, after these two trips, I would love to take more trips with theses students, all of whom were very amiable.

My biology classes have been really big on giras. I have also had a gira with my Fauna class to the “World of Snakes” and in a few weeks I will have another gira to a marine zoo. There was a gira to a Marine Turtle Reserve too, but unfortunately I couldn’t go to that one. I still feel very fortunate to have been able to go to so many locations and see so many species of plants and animals.

Never a dull moment as a biology student in Costa Rica!


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