We invite scientists from the Bocas del Toro Research Station of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to come out to Tranquilo Bay and do their research. On March 9, we had a group of three scientists come out to take some photos and videos of the poison dart frogs interacting with robot frogs. They put a number of colored robot morphs in play with our resident frogs to see the interaction between the real frog and the robot. The real frog did not enjoy any other frogs moving in on his territory. We hope you enjoy the video they shared with us as much as we have.
Today’s post is by Scott Viola. Our children, as some of you may know, learned all 200 yard birds we have at Tranquilo Bay for their science class last year. Scott truly took to the birds and was especially interested in their songs and sounds. He has learned to identify many of the birds by sound as well as visually. Here is a report he prepared for me about a strange phenomenon he encountered.
I have acknowledged a phenomenon on which I can find almost nothing: the Variable Seedeater mimics other birds’ songs.
For months after learning the Variable Seedeater’s song in Bocas del Toro, Panama, it made me think of rubbing a wet window with rubber. One day around New Years, I was walking in a semi-open area less than a hundred feet above sea level and heard a string of bird songs issued back-to-back from an elevated position. I was mystified, there being nothing that I could see. I considered that someone had put a playback speaker in a tree, but that was unlikely. After a few minutes, I saw a small, black bird exit the tree, and the calls ceased. I knew what it was, a seedeater or seedfinch, but I didn’t consider that it could have been the thing making the noise. A few days later, I heard it again in a nearby location. This time, I had a clear view and identified it as a Variable Seedeater.
I took two recordings of it singing, and later made videos with text on-screen notifying what bird song it was imitating. I have observed it mimicking Red-lored Parrots, Blue-headed Parrots, something that I believe is based on the Groove-billed Ani or the Common Black Hawk, Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Blue-gray or Palm Tanagers, Tropical Gnatcatchers, Yellow-bellied Elaenias, Great Kiskadees, Boat-billed Flycatchers (probably), and Roadside Hawk, all of which are common in the area. The seedeater also has a “Brr brr Brrr” sound, and a distinctive, high-pitched “eaw.”
It doesn’t include all the birds every time it sings, but there is a loose order in which it tends to put them: parrots, the Ani or the hawk-like sound, and the rest, often with the Black-cheeked Woodpecker next to the flycatchers. The song lasts around seven to eight seconds, with 3-6 dedicated in the beginning to the parrots, the Ani-like song, and its own add-ons.
The song also changes depending on region, as can be seen on http://xeno-canto.org/explore?query=variable+seedeater. I believe this is caused by the birds it mimics, which are different everywhere. On Xeno Canto, I managed to identify a parrot in the midst of unfamiliar noises. The sounds don’t even make me think of birds; they are higher pitched and from a different place, making it sound like the song I had heard before my epiphany. The seeming randomness is stated in every Variable Seedeater resource I can find, except for one. At “The Sights and Sounds of Costa Rica” (http://www.naturesongs.com/CRsounds.html), the author wrote in the section for the Variable Seedeater that it mimics, and had two recordings that clearly contained mimicking. He was hearing the same thing I did. In them, I can tell that the seedeater mimics bird sounds. In one, I hear a Black-cheeked Woodpecker.
Part of a group of Montezuma Oropendolas (Psarocolius Montezuma) flying over the new units and the forest behind them. The oropendolas are common visitors on the grounds around the cabins and the main building.
This quick video shows you a Poison-dart Frog (Oophaga pumilio) male singing a love song on Popa Island. While Natalia was making the video, a hummingbird (female Crowned Woodnymph) came to check on us, unfortunately she could not get her in the video.
Sometimes we capture some pretty cool little clips that we would like to share with you, but we are not ready for a full video. So, to pass on the cool stuff, we are introducing Bocas Shorts – a video series that is well under a minute yet gives you a quick glimpse into some thing uniquely Bocas del Toro, Panama. Here is episode 1 where we show you how a Ngabe woman begins processing the leaves she uses to ultimately make a chacara.
StoryBrand is a great group of people who help business clarify their message. Donald Miller began the company some years ago as he learned how to simplify his own message. I have been interested in his books and other products for some time. I signed up for his newsletters, emails, etc. and watched as his company grew.
StoryBrand did grow and it offered a live workshop to help other companies clean up the information they offer to prospective clients. Given our location, heading to Nashville for a live workshop wasn’t in the cards so I hoped they would offer an online workshop as they have done for other products. They did. Yet, I still didn’t discuss it directly with Jim and Jay. I kept absorbing all the information the company put out publicly and incorporated it as best I could.
Fast forward to spring 2016. It was time to update the website and I knew it really needed an overhaul. StoryBrand offered the online workshop again so I talked to Jim and Jay about it. We decided to make the investment. As soon as I finished the school year with the kids I dug into the class. Then I edited the website and edited it some more. It was a challenging process, but absolutely worth every dollar and hour spent.
In December, J.J. Peterson gave me a call and we talked about how StoryBrand had made a difference for Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge. Now, to be fair, the numbers we discussed with regard to growth of our business are so much more so than just changing our messaging. This has helped immensely, but 12 years in business, trade shows, work with groups, and increasing our available units has also had a significant impact. The increase in individual travelers rather than groups or people booking through travel professionals is the number that ties most closely to our work with StoryBrand. And I must say that the investment in the StoryBrand workshop has paid off more so than any of the other marketing related tools (SEO assistance, business listings, etc.) we have used in the past.
The Building a StoryBrand Podcast is live now. Its feature guest is John Lowry who discusses negotiation skills with Donald Miller. I learned a few new things to consider that I didn’t learn in law school or years practicing law – always a nice bonus. The phone call between J.J. and me is at the end of the podcast. Take a listen. Look out for a sloth and a little bit of Van Halen.
Wasps are insects that can bring mixed feelings, but having a close look at them, proves they are very interesting creatures. This video shows the way they take care of their offspring. By flapping their wings to reduce the temperature inside the nest, they protect the young inside the nest. Animals are not as dangerous as we night think. Respect and distance are the key to living in harmony with all the Earth’s creatures.
Gender bias? Here in Panama, at Tranquilo Bay, not so much, but in many other parts of the world, yes. When many people think of women in science they do not think of the same people who my daughter brings to her mind. Why, well, we are blessed to live on a spot on this earth that brings many scientists to us. And believe it or not, the majority of the scientists that we have met working here in Bocas del Toro, are women.
We welcome scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute out to our place to study whatever it is they are studying. We figure it helps science, we learn something and our kids have an opportunity to meet new scientists on a regular basis.
We have naturalist guides who are on site to work with our guests who have both studied different sciences and who teach us about biology, nature and many different types of science on a daily basis.
We have group leaders who are scientists or naturalists of some form that visit us on a regular basis.
We have a family member who studied ecology and is working with TIDE so that she might become a marine biologist one day.
Why this conversation? Well, one of the scientists we met in October 2015 is also a National Geographic Photographer. Clare Fiesler contacted us to see about working with us on a kayak circumnavigation of Isla Bastimentos while she was studying at STRI. She and her buddy, Becca Skinner, used two portable Orukayaks to complete this expedition. They stayed the first night with us. Both of them have shared some details about their adventure on Nat Geo’s blog and Instagram account.
Since then, Clare suggested that a group of students from UNC Chapel Hill spend some time documenting Bocas del Toro and she kindly gave them our name. The result is this award-winning multimedia website created by the students under the supervision of a great group of professors and coaches. Clare was one of the coaches.
Several years ago, Clare worked on a project: “Outnumbered: Portraits of Women Scientists.” She explains a bit about the project in this video. You can also get more information here: http://college.unc.edu/2014/11/12/outnumbered/.
Most recently Clare used words to explain in An Ecologist’s Guide to Writing Obituaries about the “death” of the Great Barrier Reef as well as obituaries as a genre. We take writing very seriously around here as part of our school curriculum so when we find people who are skilled with this craft, we learn whatever we can from them.
My children have met a number of female scientists and a number of people named Clare, but only one female scientist named Clare. So when I tell them that Clare is in Bocas del Toro working on another research project they immediately know to ask, “Mom, are you talking about the Clare that did the kayak project?” They do this because to them, Clare isn’t the only female scientist they know so they have learned to identify her in a different way. I wish that more people had the same perspective on life – we can work towards whatever interests us and it doesn’t need to fit a specific mold. We can make it into what works for us. Clare’s camera and her words are some of the tools she uses to expand people’s horizons and help tell people’s stories. Many of those stories touch science in one way or another.