My Camera’s Diary

December 25th, 2015, Home – So pumped to be out of the box! My owner’s name is Nick, and I get the sense he’s never handled a camera before. Today he fumbled me around while taking some definitively uninspiring pictures of his family. I overheard something about a trip to Costa Rica. I pray he doesn’t drop me in the mud…

December 28th, 2015, Palo Verde Biological Water hyacinths (Eichhornia crassipes)Station – First day on the job. Even though Nick doesn’t quite know what he’s doing, at least he’s using me, and it’s tough to screw up the natural beauty here. I’m particularly fond of this shot, because the cattle grazing in the background remind me of the park’s thoughtful active management of its wetlands.

Five-legged wandering spider 5

January 3rd, 2016, La Selva Biological Station – The diversity here at La Selva is startling, and I’m spending a lot of time out of the case. Thanks to a science communication workshop led by Morgan Heim (Day’s Edge Production) and Sarah Joseph (Black Llama Films), Nick isn’t relying on me to do all the work anymore. This is the first picture we took without automatic settings. Thank goodness he finally learned what aperture and shutter speed are.

Steph rides a bike 4

January 9th, 2016, La Selva Biological Station
I sense that the students are being forced out of their comfort zones. Watching this
unfold makes me wish I hadn’t been born a camera with a static set of pre-programmed skills. My own existential crisis aside, it’s impressive to watch these young men and women challenge themselves. Steph even tried learning how to ride a bike!

January 12th, 2016, Cuericí Biological Station –  Nick has decided to play with some of my filters. This place is beautiful enough as is, so personally I don’t think it’s necessary, but I’m not the one pushing the buttons.

January 20th, 2016, Las Cruces Biological Station – Nick’s been spending a lot of time in streams studying aquatic Anolis lizards.  We set up a lizard photo shoot with the help of course co-coordinator, Will Eldridge. I’m having a blast capturing these shots, especially because doesn’t make me do all the focusing myself anymore. This boot buried in the creek bank made me a bit nervous though.


January 24th, 2016, Las Cruces Biological Station – OMG it’s over! smh, goin 2 miss every1 sooooo much! thx 2 OTS and 2 all my BFFs OMG : D

January 25th, 2016, Home – Too much rum yesterday. Feel terrible. Should not write when drunk. Back to sleep mode.

Restoring Neotropical oak forests?

Neotropical oak (Quercus sp.) forests are special places. The closure of the central American isthmus around 3-5 million years ago laid down a bridge for northern and southern species to wander and meet, and many did so on the tops of the Cordillera de Talamanca, in Costa Rica. These hilltops contain a unique mix of temperate and tropical genera, like oaks, ectomycorrhizal Amanita fungi, and the same Vaccinium that form blueberry fields in the arctic. Having lived half of my life in the tropics and the other half in the north, I am invariably drawn to those mountains. I thus relished every second of our visit to Cuericí Biological Station.


Some of the most majestic oak forests in Costa Rica occur in Chirripó national park, south of Cuericí. Or actually, used to, because anthropogenic fires have burnt hundreds of hectares. The last major fire, in 1992, produced a landscape that looks like this: seas of dead trees still standing, interspersed with early successional plants and a mysterious fern. The new landscape has its beauty, and incredible vistas that are rare in the tropics.

oaks 2

As a scientist interested in vegetation successional dynamics and as a human with an urge to “repair broken nature”, my first reaction was to devise a restoration plan. Together with a friend we wrote a funding proposal to identify the barriers to natural regeneration and bring back these oak forests to their previous splendor. However, I am no longer sure that restoration is correct. These impressive, open landscapes that the fire created are now part of people’s experience of Chirripó. Who are we to put back a forest there and close up the view? Restoration is subjective, we restore to what we perceive as valuable.