Osa Conservation – Costa Rica Part 4: Turtle Hatchery, Vultures and Hawks

My experience with releasing the turtle hatchlings was incredible and I was keen to take part in another part of the work the volunteers  undertake.

The goal of our Sea Turtle Program is to ‘guarantee the health and ecological success of the sea turtles that nest on the beaches of the Osa Peninsula’. The Program monitors the nesting activity, predation rates and hatchling success of the sea turtles that visit Osa’s southern beaches: Piro and Pejeperro. Their work focuses mostly on Olive Ridley and Pacific Green Sea Turtles who are abundant visitors to these beaches, and Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles when they make an occasional appearance. Together with other partner organisations, they patrol and protect 18 km of beach on the Osa – one of the most important nesting areas for these species. The staff and volunteers gather important population and reproductive data and deter both predators and poachers who collect turtle eggs for consumption or sale. Protecting these turtles is a large undertaking and they rely on conservation volunteers who choose to spend time at the centre.

I had already released some hatchlings into the sea, earlier in the week, but another important daily activity was to monitor the beach, both early in the morning and at night. At night, the females come up on the beach to lay their eggs. All the nests are recorded and the tracks in the sand make it easy to locate them, even in the dark. To ensure that we did not disturb them at all, we all had red head torches. We were not allowed to use any flash photography, so all my images are rather blurry due to the lack of light. We reached the beach as the light was fading and started walking along the shore, looking for tracks. Within minutes, there was much excitement as we could see a large shape moving down the beach! A female was heading back out to sea, after laying her eggs! It was just incredible to see this huge individual up so close as she moved determinedly back to the sea.

I felt quite emotional watching this female. She paused as I crouched down next to her.  I knew that the adults were huge, but crouching on a beach, in Costa Rica, right next to such a species was something I had only dreamt about. As she disappeared into the surf, we headed up the beach, following her tracks to locate her nest. It was documented for the morning group to locate. We spent nearly 4 hrs patrolling the beach that night and located 12 nests from that evening and saw three females returning to the sea; the most they had done this season!  Normally the morning groups would relocate the nests to the hatchery, but one individual had laid dangerously close to the river. We decided that this nest need to be moved. The team have built a hatchery in a safe part of the beach. The nests of up to 100 eggs are carefully relocated, monitored and cared for until they hatch.

Crouching down on the warm sands, we located the chamber where the female had laid. We placed sand in the base of a bucket, reached into the hole and carefully removed the eggs, one at a time, being carefully to keep the same orientation. One at a time, we took out over 90 eggs from this chamber.

We then measured the depth and the dimensions of the chamber, as this would be recreated within the hatchery. These eggs were then safely transported up to the secure hatchery, where they would develop, hatch and be released safely into the sea. I felt very privileged to have contributed to this incredible conservation work. There is information about how you can volunteer for this program  HERE 

Returning to the camp after midnight, we made our way, wearily back to camp. The croaking around camp drew my attention to the large number of cape toads around. Earlier in the week, I had shared my shower with a particularly impressive specimen!…

I located one toad and, crouching down on the ground, I positioned my head torch and put the TG-5 onto the ground and managed to photograph this beauty..

An early start the following day and the grasshoppers were chirping. I found a couple on some longer grass in the camp..

This Road Hawk gave me a wonderful opportunity for photography, when it alighted in the tree in the camp after a shower. This species are regularly seen around camp and along the tracks. This individual was stunning and I was thrilled to have the chance to get some shots of it in decent light .

Another bird species in camp, that gave me a photographic opportunity, were the black vultures. These are a really common species and can be seen soaring or perched everywhere! This individual came down into camp to drink from a puddle…

The Osa Conservation  avian conservation program focuses on the monitoring and protection of bird-friendly habitat on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. Our projects include scientific investigation of endemic and endangered bird species, monitoring of the abundance and long-term health of both resident and migratory bird populations, and activities and partnerships promoting bird conservation throughout the Americas.

Costa Rica’s south Pacific coast is home to over 400 species of birds. About a dozen of these species are endemic and restricted to the Osa region and adjacent Panama. These include at least five species of conservation concern which inhabit the lush tropical forests and coastal mangroves of the Osa Peninsula.

  • Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae)
  • Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager (Habia atrimaxillaris)
  • Mangrove Hummingbird (Amazilia boucardi)
  • Turquoise Cotinga (Cotinga ridgwayi)
  • Baird’s Trogon (Trogon bairdii)

Birding in the Osa Peninsula is an unforgettable experience. From the minute I landed, I saw species everywhere… none of which I could identify! It is a weird experience when you can identify many of the uk species. With over 460 species of birds, the Osa packs an incredible array of wildlife into a relatively small area.

With the limited time I had there, I really just got a snapshot of the incredible bird life in the area. Obviously I am going to have to return for a second look!