Posted: February 09, 2017 10:53 AM
Jackson Sanders lived and learned in Costa Rica as part of the Avian Biology Maymester program.
Jackson, a 4th-year Biological Science, was part of the 2016 Avian Biology Maymester group. He studied the amazing ecological and avian diversity while also enjoying zip line, horse back riding, and hiking adventures in the jungles and beaches of Costa Rica. Now that the February 15 deadline to apply for the 2017 program is approaching, we wanted to talk to Jackson about his experience last year. Here's what he had to say.
What was the most exciting thing you did in Costa Rica?
The single most exciting thing I did in Costa Rica is tough to pin down. The entire trip was so rapid fire and incredible that its hard to pick just one memory, but based purely on raw emotion, the most thrilling memory is of our horse ride through the sprawling fields of Ensenada. Having spent limited time with horses, I was entirely unprepared for the viscerally raw and exhilarating experience that is riding a fully grown horse at full gallop. The horse trail brought us up a small mountain to a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape, and because it was so early in our trip, it was really the first time that I fully understood just how foreign and incredible of a land we were in.
What bird was your favorite?
My favorite bird from the trip was the Three-Wattled Bellbird. We saw so many birds with splendid colors and fascinating stories, that to pick one based of looks alone would be a shame. What I loved about the Three-Wattled bell bird was its out of this world call, which when heard though the sea of mist and foliage, gave an effect akin to a sci-fi sound track. Hearing the distinctive hollow “bonk” of the bell bird completed the illusion that we had left the comfortable and entered the occult.
What is something unexpected you learned?
While the lecture portion of the class was ripe with interesting facts, I wouldn’t call any of them unexpected. What was unexpected, however, was waking up at 5 in the morning to the sounds of the howler monkeys welcoming the new day. The term “howler” is appropriate yet entirely inadequate to describe the sounds that these animals make. The sound is more accurately a deep, throaty bellow, and the monkeys are not shy about doing it 20 feet above your head as you sleep.
What was your daily schedule like?
Our trip took us to 7 unique locations, each with their own unique ecosystem, so our daily schedule changed depending on whether we were traveling or stationary that day. On stationary days, we would begin with an early morning bird hike before breakfast. We would then eat, and the day’s activities would unfold from there. If we were to be horseback riding or zip lining, that would take up the morning, but if not then we would usually have a break to explore or relax before lunch. In the afternoons, we would generally have another bird hike, led by our fantastic guides Roy and Patron. Having multiple hikes a day allowed us to see completely different wildlife, not only because we would be taking a different path, but also because different animals operate on different schedules.
On lecture days, Dr. Davis would gather us either in the afternoon or right after dinner and fill our heads with knowledge. Dinner was always an exciting affair, thanks to the wonderful food and endless generosity of the people of Costa Rica. Occasionally, we would take back to the trails after sunset for a glimpse of the bustling nighttime ecology of the Costa Rican jungles. If there was no hike, many students would take the night time freedom to contact loved ones at home, hang around the pool, work on expanding bird lists, or descend into a deep, deep sleep.
What’s your advice to a student who’s interested in this experience?
If you have an inkling of a ghost of a whim that this trip might just be something you can do and are interested in, I can promise that you will thank yourself endlessly for following that whim. On a less abstract note, buy a birds of Costa Rica book before you go, you won’t believe how invested you get in identifying birds.
"My advice to anybody interested in this experience at all is absolutely DO IT.
On our trip there were people from all walks of life. Some were drawn by the birds, some by the teacher, or the gorgeous country, and some it seemed were just fortunate enough to stumble into the experience, but all of us took away more than we ever could have imagined."