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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Costa Rica Camera Trap Notebook – The Jabiru Nest

I like to think of myself as someone who is well prepared for their job. I have a field backpack where I keep everything that I may need while I’m out checking camera traps. Having every item for every eventuality means my backpack is heavier than I’d like, but at least I know I’m prepared for what the world has to throw at me.

So, as I stood at the base of a single huge gallinazo tree in the middle of an expansive field of sugarcane, I ran through the checklist of everything that I needed to check the camera trap that was perched some 30 feet up the tree, just below a huge platform of sticks that was a jabiru nest. Really, I didn’t need much. I was preparing to retrieve the camera because I had been told that nobody had seen a jabiru in the nest in the last two months.

To scale the tree all I really needed were eight screw-in tree climbing steps. I screw each one into the tree a meter above the other and each little step can support my weight, allowing me to reach my camera. Just to be overprepared, I slid some SD cards and an 8-pack of batteries into my cargo pockets just in case I ended up wanting to leave the camera in the tree.

To begin my ascent, I screw in the first step at about eye-level, using the same hole that I had made during my previous visit. I screw in two more steps in the same fashion, bringing me to the first V in the tree’s branches. In the base of the V there’s a little hole that I’m always afraid is hiding a snake, but so far there has never been anybody home except for a colony of tiny biting ants. I peer into the hole to check for deadly inhabitants before hoisting myself into the V of the tree.

As usual, no deadly snakes but in order to pull myself into a standing position, I had to rub my body over the hole which angered the ant colony causing hundreds of tiny ants to pour out in defense of their home. At this point, I screw in two more steps to reach a second, higher up V in two big branches. From there, I screw in three more steps which raises me to a level where I can reach up and twist my camera off its camera mount.

At this level, I’m higher up than I’m really comfortable with and I want both hands available to hold onto my little steps, so I stick the camera trap in my one empty pocket. I unscrew the camera support from the tree and look at the sharp screw end that allows me to attach the camera to the tree and I think, ‘I’m going not going to put you in my pocket because you’ll poke me or stab into my leg if I fall.’ With that, I drop the support out of the tree and think to myself ‘Good for you. You may be dangling 30 feet above the ground, but you’re being so careful,’ and focus on my descent.

As I lower myself into the higher of the two V’s in the tree, I wedge myself in and take a quick look at the viewing screen of the camera trap. What I find is approximately 500 videos of two jabiru storks happily galivanting in their nest. Great news! I should leave this camera here! I have a new SD card and replacement batteries, but I just dropped the camera support some 30 feet down to the base of the tree.

Videos of jabirus playing in a nest are worth the effort, so I lower myself down the steps, rub my belly on the biting ants on the way down, and reach my always-full-of-everything-I-need backpack.

I grab an extra camera support (who knows where the other one landed) and climb up the tree, rubbing my belly on the biting ants again, and eventually reach the height to place the camera. I screw the support into the tree, screw the camera down to the other end of the support and Crack!, the part of the camera case where you insert the support breaks off.

No problem! I always keep superglue in my backpack for this exact situation. So, I take the camera, climb back down the tree, rub my belly on the biting ants on the way down and reach for my backpack at the base of the tree. As I look into the empty superglue pocket, I remember telling my wife some three days earlier ‘Hey, next time you’re at the store grab me some superglue for my camera backpack, I’m all out.’

That’s not the end of the world because I always keep an extra camera trap in my trusty backpack. I grab the extra camera trap and give it a once over. All is in order, except it too is missing the place where the support attaches to the camera. This seems to be a recuring problem. The only remedy my backpack provides is some scotch tape. So, I reattach the piece where you screw in the support to the back of the camera with approximately one million wraps of scotch tape. That should work.

So, I climb the tree, rub my belly on the biting ants once more, reach the camera support some 30 feet above the ground, screw in the camera and it gently wobbles in the breeze. The tape will almost definitely give way within the next 10 minutes. This camera is supposed to keep an eye on this jabiru nest for the next two months.

The only way this camera support will support this camera is with more support. So, I climb down the tree, rub my belly on the biting ants yet again, reach my backpack, grab another camera support and the scotch tape. Then I climb the tree, rub my belly on the biting ants, screw in the second camera support right next to the other and use so much scotch tape that in the end there was more tape than camera.

With a job well… done, I climb down the tree, removing my steps as I go, rub my belly on the biting ants one last time and place everything back into my supposedly well-prepared backpack.

Will the jabirus return to the nest in the next two months? Who knows, but when I return I’ll definitely have superglue.

About The Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects at: Instagram and facebook or by email.

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