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Friday, January 7, 2011

The BPE Excursion Part II – Tropical Rain Forest at Pitilla

Tuesday January 4th - We left Santa Rosa after breakfast and headed north on the InterAmericna highway, then east to the town of Santa Cecilia, where we found the muddy volcanic dirt road to the field station called Pitilla. Eladio driving ahead surfed the road up with professional skill and more than a little flair, providing a good line of sight for Dan in the following car. 
 We arrived at the station in time for moving in, looking around a bit and lunch. Mike almost immediately found a small coral snake around some bushes near the kitchen reminding us that we visit here on Nature’s sufferance and must be constantly aware of our surroundings. Fortunately coral snakes are very shy, and this little guy slipped quickly into dense vegetation to avoid us.
After lunch, we hiked up a short trail for our first photographing in the high humidity conditions of a tropical forest. The mix of rain and clouds and much cooler temperatures than Santa Rosa made our efforts challenging but rewarding. 
Arriving back at the station, we found a Chauna marina in the advanced stages of infection with the notorious chytrid fungus that is killing high altitude tropical frogs. 
 It was a horrific sight, and we all felt the powerlessness of not being able to do anything except watch. That sad sight was offset a bit by the appearance of an agouti on the trailhead behind the kitchen. Fat and sassy, this little guy has clearly learned how to trade cuteness for food. This was the first dinner we’d had as a group on our own, so it was a good chance to review our day and also get to know each other better.
About 9pm, Ash and Mike went out collecting, and brought back two healthy frogs, what seems to be a species of Eleutherodactylus
and a Incilius coniferus, a climbing toad (we found one individual sitting in a bromeliad in a tree, as well as
 a winged walking stick (no North American species fly), an adult female katydid attempting to resemble mossy, rotting debris and a very cool wheel bug.
Wednesday January 5th - Up about 6:30am after a night of alternating drizzle and downpour, with wind. Many had trouble sleeping due to the noise but Dan – who has been here many times before and loves it – was soothed to sleep. As a result, he was one of the first up and out to photograph the area bathed in fog. Perhaps he was congratulating himself too much but he slipped on a step and went down. Fortunately, no damage to person or camera gear. The noise woke everyone up and we had a “photography in the fog” session before breakfast, which our cook had kindly put off breakfast until 8am.
After breakfast, Ash did a macro-photography demonstration and instructional session focused on obtaining proper depth of field. You can see from left to left to right the progression from a wide open aperture (f2.8) all the way to a pinhole sized aperture (f32). Not since Warhol’s Campbell soup can have over-the-counter objects been portrayed with such skill and flair.
 Lunch was followed by a hike into the old forest. This was our most challenging light of the trip, the rich dark greens and browns of the forest combined with the intense (though diffuse) light from above cutting down through every opening in the canopy. We all managed to get at least a few good shots for our efforts, though, and the hike through this piece of old forest was a wonderful experience. 
After dinner, Ash and Coop led a macrophotography session for some, including a local arboreal anole and a beautiful green katydid
while others downloaded their photos of the day and shared comments, compliments and critiques. Halfway through the excursion, we can see that everyone is taking better photos and a wider range of photos than when they arrived. And that is gratifying for us all.

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