Natural moments

These photos are from last September, a retreat that was hosted for the first-year graduate students in my program. We had a truly wonderful time getting to know each other in a setting where we ecologists are truly at our best–outside! Our weekend spanned forest and coast, and the great moments of sharing science got us started out on what turned out to be an incredible year.

As always, click on any picture to start the slideshow.

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The Little Things

On a clear day, the hike to Hurricane Hill boasts views of the Olympic mountains, Vancouver Island, and even Mount Baker. Those who wander the trails on foggy days are offered sights much nearer and smaller, but no less spectacular.

The forest is my office

To an ecologist, summer means fieldwork. It’s a time to get off our computers and get on the road, migrating to wherever our research calls us. Between early morning starts and hours of outside work, long summer days get used to their fullest. This year, my summer is split between setting up a new experiment in a section of the Sierras that burned in a wildfire last year, and re-sampling my plots in Olympic National Park, Washington.

It’s wonderful being back in the Olympics. The project I’m working on here, a restoration of the Elwha river after the removal of two dams, continues to amaze me every day. The determination required by legislators, engineers, and ecologists to turn a legal decision into a reality is astonishing and motivating. In both reservoirs, plants are seeding in, growing tall in hospitable soils of the valley walls and fighting for survival in the harsher sediment on the valley floor. Take a look at how much things have changed!

The northern section of former Lake Aldwell, 2013
Aldwell reservoir, July 2013
Aldwell reservoir, July 2015
Aldwell reservoir, July 2015
Mills reservoir, July 2013
Mills reservoir, July 2013
Mills reservoir, July 2015
Mills reservoir, July 2015

Everything is bigger and greener, and yet some things don’t change: I’m still climbing around on old conifer logs, finding amazing wildlife from insects to eagles, and generally reveling in the opportunity to spend every day outdoors and call it work.

King Fire

One of my current research projects is examining how plants are regrowing in the King fire, which burned last summer. Later this summer I’ll be setting up a manipulative experiment, to see how climate affects this regrowth, but first I wanted to familiarize myself with the area.

Before the fire, these hills were mostly pine forests, with some sections of oak and a couple hillsides that were dominated by shrubs. The fire scorched through at fairly high severity, burning out all of the shrubs and flowering plants, and killing many of even the tallest pine trees. In some areas, the pines are just black poles, all their branches burned off all the way to the top. Old stumps were completely incinerated, leaving enormous holes in the dirt.

This summer, wildflowers are popping up across the region, taking advantage of the open space to grow quickly. Other areas have shrubs resprouting from the roots of dead plants, and in a couple places where cones have fallen baby pines and firs are starting to grow. The colorful flowers against the sharp black trunks is completely different from anything I’ve seen before. I’m looking forward to taking higher quality pictures later, but I wanted to share with you some shots taken last week with my field camera (which proved itself to be ash-proof as well as water-proof).