Field Notes From the OSA Peninsula



The Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica has been called one of the most biodiverse and ecologically dynamic regions in the world. This resource-rich area embodies the true wonders and beauty of this planet we call home.​ ​ Join Worthy Garden Club as we follow the scientific endeavors of biologist Andres Vega as he seeks to uncover the secrets of the Osa Peninsula.


One of the Most Interactive Rich Natural Areas

by Andre

The Osa Peninsula has been called many attributes referring to its richness in diversity and interactions among that diversity, but the area is rather small. I have always been in awe with the experiences I have had there and the stories told by others who have visited or lived in the area. Much more so of people who have spent a long time or revisited the area through decades because they have a different perspective than those locals who do not notice change for its an everyday thing for them. But these people who have lived there for many decades have an invaluable knowledge which is fantastic to those of us who love nature and always want to learn and understand from it.

I myself have had a few stories worth telling since I got there in 1986. Back then I met a professor from the University of Texas at Austin, Larry Gilbert, who was leading graduate students there since 1979, but visited the peninsula in the 1960's as part of a course led by Daniel Janzen who was doing it for the Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS). Needless to say Larry had more stories and knowledge of the area. \

How I got to Corcovado National Park and met Larry Gilbert.

I will go a little bit further back and say that I have always been a naturalist at heart. I started very young catching cockroaches and putting it in a tin so I could see it run and run around, I was interested in its behavior and what triggered it to run. Later at the age of four I started my first butterfly collection with the butterflies I could catch in the coffee farm in the back of our house. Back then I remember there where many different species but I did not know their names, I made my own categories. As I got into grade school, I looked for books to try to identify them, but most of the books referred to butterflies of the old world, it did not work for me. But I learned about the libraries and that there where other libraries bigger than the ones I had at my school. At middle school I had a classmate who invited me to hunt with his father in a property they had. At the time they had sorghum and cattle, so doves and quail where abundant and that was our quarry. We tried hunting other animals but we had more of a technical knowledge than practical. As teenagers we gave it our best but it was really the outdoors what I liked. I remember meeting a girl my age and I was attracted to her but when I met her father, I really wanted to be friends to him, even if that meant leaving my interest for his daughter. He had a butterfly collection which was larger than the National Museum of Costa Rica's collection! I really got interested in picking his knowledge. To this day, we are good friends and now he picks my knowledge. He was also an instrumental for me to leave hunting, he challenged me! As a testosterone ridden teenager, I took the challenge. He told me once, it is more difficult to take a good picture of an animal than to hunt it. For the picture to be good the subject's eye has to be in focus, which means that the animal could potentially see you and disappear; while hunting, you can manage by looking at a silhouette and pulling the trigger. Which of course has caused of many dead horses mistaken by trophy deer in the United States. So I traded my shotgun for a camera and I started teaching myself how to take pictures. Since then, I do not recall of time where I did not have a camera and use it for taking pictures of nature.

I was known in school for being one of the two kids that went hunting. A pair of US attorneys at Law came to Costa Rica for tourism and stayed at a hotel owned by a family of a classmate who sometime helped at the reception. The attorneys asked her if she knew of a guide who could take them to Corcovado National park and track animals. She said that the only person she knew that might possibly know how to track animals was her classmate… me! She put us in contact and I said that I was good finding animals even tracking them (which was true) but I have never layed a foot in Corcovado National Park but I could get information of how to get there. I went to my friend who had the butterfly collection for information because I knew he had been catching butterflies at Corcovado. After a minute or two of intense information conversation he stopped and said that a friend of his, Larry Gilbert, should be in Corcovado and that I should ask him for information. I tried to make him talk more but he insisted that I should find Larry at Corcovado and did not talk any more.

When I got to Sirena Biological Station I asked the first American that I saw if he had seen Larry and he told me he was in the back lab. I was walking that way when I saw a tall figure approaching and he fitted the description and I introduced myself, and told him we had a mutual friend, Ruben Canet, and Larry started laughing and asked me if Ruben was there. I told him he wasn't but I was. I told him about how I became friends with Ruben and went catching butterflies almost every weekend. Larry started asking me about butterflies, if I knew how to identify them. Long story short I was going to help Larry catch butterflies and mark them, release them for Larry's project in exchange for a trail map that will help me guide the attorneys around. That first trip to Sirena Biological Station at Corcovado and meeting Larry Gilbert did help me figure out the rest of my life. I fell in love with Sirena Biological Station and biology. My first trip was full of wildlife including a female jaguar and three juveniles eating a sea turtle's nest, a flock of over 50 scarlet macaws flying through the air strip but also my mind was in awe listening to projects that biology graduate students from the United States wanted to do in Corcovado, Costa Rica. All this was occurring in my country and there was this American (Larry) who was making all this possible for the students. The problem was that the authorities of Costa Rica (the National Parks System) was making life hard for Larry with what a 16 year old (me) would deem unnecessary. I saw how ingrate people could be, Larry was following all proper procedures (presenting research permits approved by the state) and the authorities where giving him a hard time. I thought we should be thanking this man but the authorities were making him repeat bureaucratic processes over and over just because a typo in a typewriter. I felt ashamed of my countrymen and decided to try to balance trying to help Larry next time he came to Costa Rica. I have always felt honored to know Larry, we became good friends, then great friends!