Volunteers and Research:
Fabian Konopka from Germany spent 3 months at Cloudbridge. His enthusiasm for learning and experiencing the rainforest was infectious and we all enjoyed his stay here. Here is his account of this volunteer opportunity:
“Dear people and volunteers out there,
My name is Fabian. I am 21 years old and I have been a volunteer at the “Cloudbridge Nature Reserve” for the last 3 months. In this blog I would like to tell you about my time there.
Where should I begin my story after 3 months full of experiences, impressions and adventures?
I would like to tell you about a very special morning for me: James (who worked here as a bird researcher) and I were on a “bird point count survey” on one of our trails, called Montana.
The bird point count survey is one of our ongoing research projects. On these surveys, research teams stop at different points in the reserve to count and identify birds that they can see and hear within a 20 minute time period. Birds are a very good indicator to evaluate the health and restoration of the ecosystem within the boundaries of the reserve. We are tracking which birds come back to our reforested areas and when do the planted tree areas and natural regrowth start to provide habitat for wildlife again.
On this morning James and I started at 6 a.m. to hike up the Montana trail. Montana is a very interesting hill side for bird point count surveys. On the lower part we have a young reforested area which eventually borders an old grown forest on the upper part. When we stopped at our last bird point for that morning, which is directly located on the border of the young reforested area and old growth forest, we heard a noise coming out of the large forest trees. The noise was too scattered to be a bird. When following the noise we realized that a big troop of white-faced Capuchin monkeys were climbing in the trees above us. Very cool, but not too surprising as you can find these monkeys in our old growth forests more or less continuously. The real surprise was when some monkeys started to move closer to the forest edge from where they then jumped onto some of our planted trees to grab their fruits. James and I were amazed that these monkeys came back to an area which hadn’t been used by them for decades, because of the impact of human deforestation. It was the first time we observed, that larger mammals are starting to use the habitat which our reforested area provides. And this magic moment may be the best example of what we are working towards at Cloudbridge: On one hand to protect and conserve nature, but on the other hand to restore the environment that humans destroyed.
I came to Cloudbridge as a volunteer which basically means that I help wherever my hands are needed. Especially in the period before the rainy season there is a lot of maintenance work to do. For example digging drainage systems for the rain which is coming down the hill. Other tasks include to repair the tree nursery where we raise the seedlings for reforestation areas, and to expand the parking lot for tourists who come to the reserve. It is definitely good to do some dirty, difficult work for awhile. The really cool thing about that work was, that we volunteers could help make the decisions on how we solve these tasks. In the beginning it is surprising to get a task to do and it is not “predigested” and you have the opportunity to find your own way and solutions to solve problems. But when it is successfully completed it is an awesome feeling of pride that you had the confidence to find a solution on your own. I definitely took that experience back home as a lesson for my life!
Another interesting work is the duty in the Welcome Center, which is an opportunity to practice your English and/or Spanish and other languages. It is an amazing experience to be in contact with other people, both travelers and locals, and to share with them the work we do at Cloudbridge. It is important to spread the philosophy and work of the reserve. I enjoyed the welcome center, although it gets quiet in the rainy season. For sure the work with our trees was one of the tasks I looked forward to the most. Out of the rainy season we maintain our planted trees in the reforested areas, which means that we cut the grass and bushes around them so that the young seedlings won´t become overgrown. In the rainy season we plant trees, which is the work every volunteer wants to do at least one time. To plant a tree does not take a long time, but to bring it to the point where it is strong enough to survive takes much longer. I enjoyed both tasks a lot, working with other volunteers out in nature.
So back to the beginning -why did I do the work of a bird researcher as well as regular volunteer labor activities? Within the first weeks I joined some of the volunteers who did the bird research work and I became passionate about that immediately. I started to go out to watch birds on my own and after some weeks I asked if I could help the bird researchers. I believe that this is the amazing part of the adventure – to explore new passions. From this point I helped the bird researchers with their work and I am so thankful for all the experiences – like the moments when you see a bird you have never seen before. After a while I was able to guide bird tours through our reserve and I count these hours and moments as the best I had in the reserve! Another part of my work was my documentary. In Germany I have worked as a journalistic freelancer after I finished school which is definitely my other passion. Shortly before I started to head off to Costa Rica, I got the idea of doing a documentary about my time at Cloudbridge. I am not a professional movie maker or documentary film-maker, but because of the experience of these moments in nature and meeting so many wonderful people at the reserve, my plan became a passion.
Before I came to Cloudbridge I wanted to help the environment and become a volunteer. I spent much time thinking and being worried about how to find a good project, how to organize it, and for sure if I have the right expectations about what I will do there. After a while someone told me that I won´t change anything just by thinking about doing something if I do not take action to do it. So I started to search for a good project in which I believe and where I believe that I can help – and now I am sitting here and I am able to write this blog entry for potential volunteers to say: “Be self-confident to take the first step! Ask yourself what you want to do and then take your time to search. You can help the environment and you can be a part of a group of people who make a difference on our planet. But this experience could change you as well as give you the possibility to discover yourself in a new way.
I can say this after my time at Cloudbridge, “I am deeply thankful for my time there and I would like to recommend such an experience to you! Thanks to all the people I met in Cloudbridge, who make this project so great and my time unforgettable.”
Here are just a few of the many photos that Fabian took while he was at the reserve. We are thankful for his hours of diligent recording of wildlife that we can now keep for our records:
Emillee Hernandez (Canada), Alexie Rudman (USA), Nainika Lamba (India) all from McGill University – Toronto are conducting a number of projects. The first is looking at the viability of establishing a sustainable locally produced product that will assist some of the local women to become more financially secure. The second is developing and conducting a field survey looking at local perceptions of conservation, area reserves impact and agricultural attitudes.
Dustin Gay from Tennessee USA is volunteering his time and expertise with tech tasks as well as other jobs around the reserve.
July saw Cloudbridge playing host to two groups of young people from Broadreach Global Summer Education Adventures. For four days students were able to focus on real world learning, gaining first hand experience in field research techniques. Students along with Cloudbridge researchers participated in seed collection, germination, and tree planting as well as bird point counts, butterfly research and camera trapping. Students stayed at Cloudbridge and prepared their own meals as a part of the Cloudbridge experience. For more information on Broadreach programs go to
Our volunteers and researchers work hard and learn something new everyday, but also have time for relaxation and group adventures.
The newest resident at the reserve is a bit of a “ham” shall we say. Harriett is here for a undetermined amount of time. This is not something we can predict right now, but there may be some varying opinions. How can we not consider her as a permanent resident.
Climate Action Leadership:
On July 9,10, 11th Tom & Linda attended a Climate Reality Project Leadership training session in Toronto, Canada. They spent the three days learning about the most current information on the changing climate, successes at reducing carbon, advances in green energy and how we as individuals can make a difference. Over 800 advocates from around the world listened to Al Gore and climate scientists talk about the severe weather changes in recent years. They focused primarily on the successes that are beginning to advance some of the solutions. While most of the examples were specific to Canada change is happening around the planet both negatively and positively impacting our lives.
In the coming months this blog will be discussing climate happenings, but we also wanted to share with you a great opportunity. You too can attend a Climate Change Reality Project Leadership training event. The trainings are free and are led by Vice President Al Gore as well as a team of scientists and experts in this field. The next training is in Miami Florida, USA, in September for more information or to apply to attend go to;http://www.climaterealitytraining.org/florida/
Training sessions are held around the world, so get connected and see when there will be one near you.
Linda and Tom found the training very informative and motivating and they now have the tools to take positive steps towards making a difference through climate action.