Reports from the Field

Just do it!

Costa Rica: Bird Research and Conservation

Hi, my name is Berni. I’m from the UK and I have just returned from three months working on the Bird Research project at Jalova, Costa Rica.

Well, where do I begin??? … much I want to tell you.

I’ve always had an interest in wildlife but I will confess to being an ‘armchair’ enthusiast. I love watching anything wildlife related on TV, have a love of being outdoors and take an interest in conservation but have never actually done any conservation work before. My work involved helping children and young people with emotional difficulties, so doing wildlife conservation work was very different for me.

Circumstances within my work environment provided me with an opportunity to take some time out…. a gap year. So I decided to stop sitting in the armchair, get out there and do something about my conservation interest. I knew about Costa Rica’s diverse wildlife and, in terms of places I wanted to visit, it was right up there at the top of my bucket list.

I started to do some research into companies offering ecotourism and was overwhelmed by the choice! I’d heard that some organisations would quite happily take your money and not give you a genuine, worthwhile experience, and I wanted to make sure I would be working for an organisation which was credible and was making a real difference on environmental issues. So I contacted several organisations and asked lots of questions! And, for me, this project ticked all the boxes. After a lot of extensive research, I knew I’d found the organisation I wanted to work with.

The weeks leading up to my trip were busy. Flights; insurance; making sure I had all the right equipment… the list seemed endless, but finally the day arrived when I was ready to go. To say I was nervous was an understatement! But as soon as I was met by Vix, Amber and Ben at San Jose airport, I felt at ease and knew I would be well looked after. Some of the other volunteers and interns were also at the airport, and I met others when we arrived at the hostel in San Jose.

Then the following day, we were all transported to Jalova, which was going to be my home for the next three months. After a good night’s sleep, I was able to get used to my surroundings and I fell in love with Jalova straight away. Yes, the facilities are basic and not what I was used to at home; electricity is solar powered – Jalova is in the middle of a rainforest which meant that some days there was no sun – and therefore no power – so charging devices, and even lighting was limited to say the least; there was sufficient water to have a shower each day, but all other water came from the well. Still, base camp has such charm and I saw a multitude of wildlife within a few metres of my dorm. Oh, and did I mention that the beach (and the Caribbean) is only metres from the camp???

Very quickly after arriving at camp, the training began. As a mature traveller, it was several years since I’d done any studying and I felt as though I was never going to learn the names and characteristics of all the necessary birds, lizards, frogs and mammals. But the staff and other volunteers were so supportive. We would all study together and test each other on our knowledge. It seemed the staff’s motto of ‘we believe in you’ paid off and the studying, along with getting out in the field and seeing some of the species ‘in the flesh’ (which I did very soon after arriving at Jalova), helped me to pass the necessary tests.

As I’d signed up for the Wildlife programme, I became involved in all aspects of the project which was exactly what I wanted. Surveys were varied; – forest surveys, butterfly walks, night walks, nest checks, jag walk, jag cams, frog walks and bird boat. I loved going out on the bird boat – the canals which surround Jalova are absolutely stunning – so peaceful and calm, and we saw an abundance of birds and other wildlife (but be prepared to do lots of rowing!). But my favourites have to be nest check and night walk because that was where I had the opportunity to see turtles! For me, seeing these beautiful creatures in the flesh, after years of only seeing them from my armchair on TV, was beyond my wildest dreams! I got the opportunity to ‘work’ some green adult female turtles – this involved counting the eggs as she was laying them (what an experience!), measuring her, marking the nest and doing a body check. I can’t begin to describe the feeling I got the first time I did that. And then on nest check I saw baby leatherbacks making their way to the ocean – so many special memories that I will treasure forever.

Going to Jalova and working with the project has truly been a life-changing experience for me. Every single person I met was warm, friendly, accepting and kind, and we all shared a passion for helping the beautiful creatures we encountered. The staff could not have done more to make me feel welcome, accepted, and that I was truly making a difference to the work we were doing. Their belief in me has really boosted my confidence. I can’t thank them enough.

If you are thinking of doing some wildlife conservation and considering going to Jalova, my advice would be ‘just do it’.

Bird Research and Conservation in Costa Rica



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Berni Gibson