June 2017


It has been a rainy month on the reserve and the plants and animals are dripping wet!  The vegetation is very lush and green and the waterfalls are operating at maximum levels of beauty.  We have had a rich month of company and activities, thanks for stopping by to get caught up with the news!

Research and Volunteers:


Cloudbridge had the pleasure of hosting two volunteers from Germany this month, Jasmin Hauch and Jan Emmel.  Jan is a self-employed software engineer and Jasmine works in marketing.  The two are taking a break from their busy lives at home and enjoying some diverse types of ecosystems during their year-long trip traveling New Zealand and Latin America.  Before coming to Costa Rica, they were in Mexico and Guatemala and they are headed to Columbia later this month.  During their two week stay, they helped with all kinds of projects.  They assisted a researcher taking measurements of trees for a study on Habitat Assessment in Reforestation Areas.  They have also helped with carrying a huge amount of lumber harvested from a couple of non-native Mexican Cedar on the reserve.  We have also enjoyed their help in the gardens, planting trees and working at the Welcome Center.   Jasmine has been inspired to work on her painting skills while she has been here and stretching out those stiff muscles she earned during their 3,000 km hike across New Zealand.



Amy is from Alberta, Canada and will be entering her third year as a Zoology student at the University of Calgary. Amy will be at Cloudbridge for 3 months to do bird surveys around the reserve, and add to previous knowledge about known species in the area. In the future, Amy would like to work in wildlife biology or conservation, and she is particularly interested in environmental change and its impact on animal behaviour. At home, Amy enjoys sport climbing both in the Canadian Rockies and in competitions around the country.



Helping out with our camera trap study is Camila Ortiz Giral.  Camila has just finished her degree in Biology at Universidad de los Andes, in Bogotá, Colombia and has had some great experiences assisting in her wide knowledge of the natural world.  During her three month stay, she will be monitoring the camera traps on the reserve, getting the database caught up with a backlog of information, and analyzing the data collected over the years.  Camila has traveled to a diverse number of places in Columbia, studying the biology from the beaches in Providence Island to the Páramo los Nevados. Grateful for her education, she has focused on theory and practical skills, preparing her for a future as a biologist, conservationist, and environmental enthusiast. She hopes to work in wildlife conservation, promoting survival of animals in our rapidly changing planet.



Aislinn, an half Irish half German citizen from the North of Germany, has been volunteering and traveling in Costa Rica and Panama for the last 5 weeks and has now joined the Cloudbridge team, looking forward to helping out in any way she can for the next four weeks.  In September Aislinn will start her studies of Environmental Science in Scotland and is therefore eager to gain any valuable knowledge by reading the books and research papers at Cloudbridge.  She is especially interested in the biodiversity of tropical trees. In her first few days at Cloudbridge she has grown very fond of the Memorial Garden and Waterfalls along the trails.



Laura, one of our research interns, finished her study on hummingbirds and headed back to the UK this month. She was studying how the presence of an artificial feeder affected hummingbird behaviour, specifically, feeding, perching and aggression. She identified the feeding behaviour of the hummingbird species in her study plot either from the literature or from observations prior to beginning her study. During her study, she put up a hummingbird feeder for 4 days made observations on their behaviour, and then took the feeder down for 4 days and made the same observations. She repeated this process for 2 months. The results varied between species, with some species being unaffected and others showing significant differences in their behaviours when the feeder was present or absent. The presence of the feeder significantly increased the number of daily feeding visits for 3 species, while significantly decreasing the time spent feeding for 5 species. The decrease in feeding time is likely due to the feeder providing a higher quality food source, meaning they were able to feed less to achieve the same energy requirements.The feeder only affected the perching behaviour of 2 territorial species, with median perching time decreasing when the feeder was present. Perching within the study area is more likely to be seen from birds that are defending a territory. The drop in perching may be due to the presence of larger hummingbirds in the study area when the feeder was present driving out the smaller birds. Finally, three hummingbirds saw an increase in the proportion of aggressive behaviours displayed when the feeder was present. Hummingbirds are generally aggressive towards other hummingbirds, and the presence of the feeder increased the number of interactions, and caused some birds to attempt to defend the feeder from other hummingbirds, increasing the aggressive displays seen.


20170612_094442 AROvolunteer group from Montreal Canada helping carry wood from non native tree species down the hill to be used in construction.



Frank clearing a new area for tree planting.  What a view to enjoy while working on the side of a mountain!


Christoph Heinrich from Munich Germany arrived in late June as a volunteer.  He loves nature and the mountains in his home country, and that combination led him to Cloudbridge to experience the flora and fauna and mountains in this country.  He wants to help out with the reforestation project.   When he returns to Germany he plans on studying landscape management.



Sophie is a 28 year-old from France, who came to Cloudbridge to volunteer in late June. She found out about Cloudbridge because her brother came here several years ago and told her all about it. She left her job and took a year off in order to take time for what she really wanted and loved to do. After traveling a few months in South America, she wanted to have an experience as a volunteer in a nature reserve. She wanted to be helpful for Mother Earth, in all that she need NOW. She also thought it would be the best way to meet beautiful people with the same convictions, to ‘meet ourselves’.


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Rianne is our most recent arrival, here as a general volunteer. Rianne BeCraft just completed her master’s degree in Water Resources Policy and Management in Oregon, USA. She has a background in environmental science, policy, and conflict management. Rianne wanted to unwind and reset before taking on the next opportunity that comes her way, while also helping out with some manual labor and getting her hands dirty. Cloudbridge offers a wonderful combination of exactly that! Rianne’s favorite things in life include yoga, cider, reading fiction, and wandering outdoors solita.


Cloudbridge News:


On the 15th, of this month we hosted a Community Tree Planting day.  We added about a hundred trees to a research area on a northern slope overlooking Cloudbridge Falls.  We placed some dead down trees into the area and will be monitoring the area for an increase in invertebrates and how that might assist the biodiversity in this area.  We had over 24 volunteers from the surround area and really appreciate the overwhelming support!

Each month we show our commitment to the environment by achieving successes in one of the four foundations our mission statement: Reforestation, Conservation, Education, and Research.  This month, we aim for conservation of our natural resources by installing a solar water heater.  This upgrade will reduce the amount of propane we use and help reduce our carbon footprint.


Camera Traps:


We have had several Capuchin Monkey sightings on the reserve this month.  We even caught a glimpse in one of our camera traps.


We caught a quick glimpse of a coyote trotting by this month.


We think this Paca might be pregnant and is collecting leaves for bedding.


This curious cat is very camouflaged.


These baby coatis are curious about the scent stick set out in front of one of our camera traps.



May 2017

Research and Volunteers:

Augie Blackman is finishing up their biology major at Oberlin College in Ohio, USA. Augie will be researching the geographical distribution of the frogs here at Cloudbridge. More specifically, they will be looking into how canopy cover and vegetation type influences species composition. They enjoy working with amphibians and reptiles, and have previously conducted research on salamanders in the US. Augie hopes to continue working in conservation biology throughout their life. When they are not waltzing through the forest, Augie enjoys playing guitar and petting cats.




Alice and Mike from London, UK, have been volunteering at Cloudbridge for two weeks. Alice has recently finished a postdoc at University College London in the department of Biochemical Engineering; she’s come to Cloudbridge to get an insight into the world of conservation and ecology, and to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the Costa Rican cloud forest!

Mike works as a cinematographer and digital image technician in the film and TV industry, he’s come along to help wherever he can, and capture the flora and fauna with his camera.

Alice and Mike have helped with the reforestation work, built a moth trap, and collected data for the ongoing owl survey. Alice will continue to collect and analyze owl data for another two weeks, with the aim of generating a map of owl species across different habitat types in the Cloudbridge reserve.

Alice and Mike at GavilanAlice and Mike from London



From the Camera Traps:











April 2017

We celebrated Earth Day by offering free tours at the reserve.  Bird watching, information on the history of the reserve, and an explanation of the flora and fauna were included in a Spanish speaking tour with local residents and one tourist, and an English speaking tour that included a few visiting guests and tourists.

Later in the afternoon the Cloudbridge Staff and researchers had a Bird and Beer tour.  We enjoyed bird watching all the way down the road to the Uran Hotel where we finished off the day with drinks and food. We are all grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this project that contributes to education and a greener earth!

Earth Day Tours


Jenn’s sock puppet salamander represents the creatures that we are working to protect and provide habitat for.  We happen to have a large supply of abandoned socks.  Stay tuned for more puppet pals in the future.

Birds and Beer tour: P1040670P1040668


There is one new volunteer this month.   Laura Cannon from the UK is doing an internship with Global Vision International. She is a university student in her placement year working in the industry of her studies – wildlife and practical conservation.  Her project at Cloudbridge focuses on how artificial feeders affect hummingbird behaviour.   In the future she would like to work at a reserve that helps to rehabilitate wildlife or in the capacity of education for wildlife conservation and protection.  She also has an interest in marine biology.



Distance Education:


Through a Skype call Frank entertained grade 4 students from Nottingham UK with frogs, very large insects and giant plants.  The students had questions about the ecology in the rainforest.  They wanted to know about the animals that live in the area, how much rain we receive, and  why we reforest.

Talking to these students gives them another perspective on what is happening in other parts of the world and the importance of conservation.

Tree Planting:

It is tree planting season again now that the rains have started.


Then and Now:

blog 2             2013- we had a community tree planting day.  Notice the bare slope up to the left of the photo.

P10406932017 – this is the same slope today.  The trees are growing and there is enough shade below them to deter unwanted grasses and bracken ferns.

Camera Trapping:

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March 2017


Mystical Magical Cloudbridge

Internet Education:

Educational distance learning through video conference is a way for us to bring the cloud forest to the classroom.   We organized a three way skype call that included Linda and Jenn from Cloudbridge, Pedro from the Toucan Rescue Ranch in San Jose, and the grade 4 and 5 class from Georges Vanier School in Saskatoon Canada. The students were introduced to tropical frogs, an anole, exotic plants, giant insects, baby sloths and an anteater . The students learned about forest and wildlife conservation. We also talked about climate change. When Linda and Tom return to Canada in the spring they are planning a climate march with these students.


Research and Volunteers:

Jade Roubert is from Marseille France. She is a 2nd year engineering student in a master’s program at AgroSup Dijon National institute of Agronomy and Food Science and Environment. She is here for a 5 month internship. Her research at our reserve is challenging because she is studying coatis and their problem solving abilities. Finding these guys to observe has been the challenge for her.  Some of her interests are dance, playing the violin and horseback riding. Jade is applying to transfer to a University in Thailand.  She is interested in studying and possibly working in tropical forestry of Asian countries.

Cyrielle Vandewalle from France also attends the AgroSup University. She is a master’s student majoring in environment and natural spaces. She intends on finishing her university studies in the Czech Republic. Cyrielle is an accomplished horse back rider in show jumping.  At Cloudbridge she is researching  small mammal effect on planted seedlings. For example the gophers have been excavating the roots of small trees to the point that they fall over and we lose some of our reforestation efforts to these mammals.


Jade and Cyrielle

Hung-Yeh is a volunteer from Nova Scotia, Canada.  She is a homeopathic healer and yoga teacher. She also teaches Argentine tango.  Hung-Yen is interested in sustainability and volunteering to contribute in her travels. She says that this is a fabulous project and the world needs more reforestation.  Her volunteer experience included watering the seedlings and garden, cleaning the cabins, working in the welcome centre and clearing around the young trees with our local workers.



Ted and Jeannine, Rosanne and Larry – Friends of Tom and Linda.   These Saskatoon volunteers and visitors enjoyed hiking and exploring the reserve, but they also took the time to volunteer.


We put Ted to work because his carpentry skills and handyman experience was just what we needed. He built a wall in the casa, did some electrical retrofitting, and other odd jobs that have been waiting for just the right person to come along.


Larry assisted Ted with his projects and was the car wash attendant.


Jeannine (with the blue t shirt) helped all of us with Spanish. She also helped with  laundry and cleaning in some of the buildings.


Rosanne’s Laundromat. A never ending job here.

It wasn’t all work.  They did take time to enjoy the trails and learn about forest conservation.


Matt Smokoska has returned for his 4th visit to Cloudbridge.  This time he is here on a leisure trip, checking out some other areas of the country as well.  He is helping out as a tour guide for us and working the welcome centre.  Eagle eye Matt seems to have the ability to find all kinds of creatures on his night hikes including the rare velvet worm. He is also an avid bird watcher and photographer. I am not sure how he carries that new camera up our mountain slopes, but he does.

Always capturing close ups!

2015 – Back when on his first visits to Cloudbridge he was always taking photos


2017 – Bringing out the big guns – New camera equipment for serious photography


Art Studio – Linda Moskalyk

‘ One of my favourite things about being in Costa Rica is meeting all of the people who visit my art studio.  It gives me a chance to talk about how art can be used for creating change in the world through addressing social and environmental issues.  My art represents forest conservation and awareness of climate change but there are so many other issues that can be explored through the arts.  I am fortunate to meet visitors from all over the world.  Sometimes I am even surprised by visiting tourists from my home town – Saskatoon.  There are so many interesting conversations that happen up in the studio – art, travel, environment, culture, politics etc. I always like to throw in the topic of climate change hoping to get people thinking about taking action.  Everyone that comes to visit the reserve are happy, excited to explore, and just having a good time travelling. Life is good when I am  surrounded by this kind of company and energy every day!’


Art studio visitors






We have so many great visitors that stay at the reserve.  Their stay  in one of our casitas and rental dollars contributes to the program and we get to meet and spend time with people that appreciate the environment and what we do here.

We really enjoyed having Jasmine, Ian and their delightful children from Quebec, Canada here at Cloudbridge. Not only did they take the time to understand the project and immerse themselves in nature, but they also took part in community volunteering. We all went into our little town of San Gerardo de Rivas to make tamales and other traditional foods for a large annual event.



Washing banana leaves for tamales at the community salon




Photo Gallery:

Bird photos by Matt Smokoska









February 2017

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                              Old Growth Forest At The Cloudbridge Nature Reserve



Research and Volunteers:

David Reinhard is a cinematographer from France.  He is taking a break between films to travel Central America.  In the past he filmed a documentary about primary rainforests in Peru and Gabon Africa.  The stories about his work are fascinating. For the rainforest documentary they had to put 400 metres of cable through the forest for the cameras to move along through the canopy. They also used drones.

At Cloudbridge he helped clear around trees, plant seedlings and dig trenches.  Not quite the same as photography.


David helping transplant seedlings

Theresa Bonell from Italy studied art history in Vienna. This is her first trip  outside of Europe.   She was both scared and curious at the prospect of travelling alone half way across the world.  She found the Cloudbridge website and knew that this was a place she wanted to go – away from the cities, into the rainforest and nature.  She says “The most beautiful thing is to see a living tree. I even hug trees”.  Now, thats an admittance we like to hear!    stick_figure_tree_hugger_t_shirts_and_gifts_poster-rbdcc5ff7a5fb487a8b8bfa062cc7aff8_w2j_8byvr_324

Theresa working in the tree nursery

Theresa working in the tree nursery

Justus from Germany was busy building steps into some of the trails, transplanting seedlings, and helped dig trenches for the grey water drain field in the yard.  He used his muscle power to help some visiting tourists who were staying up at the remote Gavalon cabin. The gas tank for their stove was empty and Justis gallantly came to the rescue and hiked up the mountain with a very heavy replacement tank on his back.


Mathijs Van DerSanden and Michon Fleer are both from Van Hall Larenstein University in the Netherlands. They are doing internships for their tropical studies program.  They are continuing the habitat assessment research.

Mathijs is doing a 5 month internship and then 1 month of travel after.  He will return to university and continue studying tropical conservation and also GIS. He is also interested in photography so we expect great photos while he is at the reserve.

Michon is eager to learn about tropical forest trees and ecology during his thesis research. He says that it is important to know about tropical ecology and how it is managed.  He comes from a temperate region but feels that he can learn a wider perspective in the tropics and that there is more to discover.


Michon (front) and Mathijs

Spencer and Neil finished up the Bird and Butterfly surveys for their term.  Neil reported 152 species of butterflies that have been identified.  His presentation included identification techniques, trapping methods and data collection.  Spencer’s bird survey results covered a lot of ground.  All of our trails were included in rigorous early morning hikes by these two guys.  In total they saw 713 birds (70 species) at the bird point counts within 3 months.  The trail with the most birds was the Gavilan trail.  Spencer noted that birds are great indicators of forest health and the survey is a good way to keep track of migrants.

Franziska Lex – Germany  She is enjoying her gap year and volunteer experience.  She decided to travel and learn Spanish.  Her trip has included Bali, Argentina, Ecuador and now Costa Rica. She has been helping here at Cloudbridge by working around our newly planted trees, greeting people at the welcome centre, and assisting with construction of the new tree nursery. The end of her trip will be in Cuba where she will meet up her parents before flying home to Germany to start university and study International Management and Communications.


Emma Moore from the US has been here before.  Her parents both work at the US embassy  in Costa Rica and so when she visits the country she comes down to stay at the reserve for a few weeks to do a little volunteering. In her spare time she dabbled with her watercolors, creating beautiful depictions of the insects that can be seen here. Back in the US she is in University studying Neuroscience and Art History.


Uma Thakar makes her home in Australia.  She is a freelance writer and also teaches meditation.  Her trip started in Indonesia where she volunteered at a nature reserve that does reforestation and focuses on protection of an endangered bird, the Starling.  At Cloudbridge Uma is working in the tree nursery and participated in a community event with the other volunteers helping to make tamales.  One afternoon at the reserve she taught us how to use meditation for relaxation and awareness.

A meditation session at Cloudbridge by Uma

“If there is one place on the planet that is the ideal meditation resort it would have to be Cloudbridge. Majestic mountains, beautiful forests that Tom and his team have worked so hard to preserve.

It was a privilege and honor for me to lead a meditation group at Cloudbridge.

The theme was self-acceptance.

Steven Hayes said ‘Bringing love to yourself will help you bring love to the world.’

Meditation provides the framework for practicing self-acceptance. Four steps that are helpful are 1)Practicing self awareness. We go through are day almost mechanically, unaware of our thoughts. Meditation helps us to be present 2)Gratitude. An oldie but a goodie, being grateful for the good in our life and also the difficult people, because they are our best teachers. 3) Having compassion for yourself. Remind yourself that you are only human and will make mistakes. 4)Don’t compare yourself to anyone. You are unique and complete in yourself.

The session began with an introductory talk about meditation, followed by a brief meditation session. After that there was a question and answer session, where participants shared their personal life experiences and how they worked through these issues. One of the participants mentioned a free meditation app called Headspace and also TED meditation talks.

We also practiced walking meditation.

We finished with an acceptance meditation, extending kindness and compassion to ourselves, our friends and family, the difficult people in our life, and extending that acceptance to all beings.”



Volunteer opportunities are ongoing at the reserve.  Whether you are just finished high school, working on a post secondary degree, travelling the world, or just retired and  looking for a way to spend some quality time this place might be the experience for  you.

A morning in the tree nursery.  Transplanting seedlings to add to our forest.

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Our crew volunteering to make tamales for a community event.

Volunteering your time can come in many forms.  Every Monday we have our potluck dinner together.  We encourage people to contribute an educational presentation after dinner.  This month Linda shared her climate change presentation, Frank gave a presentation on butterflies and we watched the video ‘Treaty Talks’ https://vimeo.com/116831814   by a former biologist Adam Wicks-Arshack -Voyages of Rediscovery.  Uma taught a meditation session in the classroom.

Now and Then:

This is the Montana trail. In 2012 Marloes from Wageningen University, Netherlands did a research project along this trail.  This year Mathijs and Michon also from the Netherlands, stopped to check out the progress of reforestation at the same site.  With the right conditions tree growth in the tropics can be amazing.



January 2017


Volunteers, researchers, guests and staff sharing information on a weekend hike.

Finally it is the New Year – 2017.   Not that we have been waiting for it to happen. But, 2016 seemed to come with its challenges – Politics, climate change impacts, race and cultural relations etc.   With world leadership uncertainties and now possible new environmental policies in the US that could effect us all worldwide, we hope for the best.   And also at the reserve as we continue to grow and expand our educational programs there has been some growing pains.  We are accepting more student groups and researchers which comes with infrastructure needs. Now we need more bathrooms, a bigger kitchen, and always newer equipment. But this is all for the better because the more research that is done and the more people we can reach the bigger the impact we will have.

Research and Volunteering:

Britt van Engelen from the Netherlands presented her 5 month research project. Her study was about the relationship and corrilation between food availability (fruits and flowers) and bird abundance on the reserve.

She used data from the ongoing bird surveys and then did her own fruit and flower counts.This was a a difficult research project and she indicated that it will require further data collection, hopefully with a future researcher. In that way more information can be collected throughout different times of the year.


Justin Roberts and Daniella Garvue are travelling for 3 months and volunteering along the way.  They say it gives them the opportunity to get to know the people and the area.  They have taken enough time off to travel and spend all of their money in a very rewarding way.  They are from Seattle Washington.  Daniella works in a children’s museum and Justin is a guide for tourists in the area.  They are staying 2 weeks at Cloudbridge helping out with all kinds of maintenance work and taking time to do some hiking.


Daniella – “I decided to travel to Costa Rica because of its incredible biodiversity and natural beauty, and I wanted to do some good there as I expanded my world.”

Justin – “I see nature/habitat conservation as one of the most important remedies for a world that is rapidly losing the richness of species and ecosystems that make life on Earth so amazing.”


Jacob Suissa and Sylvia Kinosian are both interested in ferns. Sylvia Kinosian is working on her PhD at Utah State University. Jacob is an intern at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.

They were in the Costa Rica taking a fern course through the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). While here they decided to come up to Cloudbridge for a few days to check out the ferns and do a little identification.



Laura Hollingbery from the UK is a volunteer who just finished a degree in Ecology.  Volunteering at a place like this is part of her 3 month adventure. She is interested in mosses and is going to do a project to study them while here. When she gets back home her plan is to do a one year internship before going to India to do a masters program.  There she hopes to study human rights and environmental law.




From the Camera Traps:



As you may recall several months back we captured a photo of our first jaguar at the reserve.  Well, here he is again seen on January 7th.  If you compare the markings on the left (2016 photo) to the new photo it looks like it could be our old friend.  He must have decided to stick around.




Also seen  this month are these characters:

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Long Tailed Weasel

0339:121816:10C:0000:BIRD CAM :5E[101:0415]G[040:0x0036]


1958:121516:12C:0000:BIRD CAM :5E[087:0762]G[040:0x0036]




Weird Orchids

Our biologist Jenn Powell found these amazing orchids




Little people



Study Abroad in Costa Rica – Gatton Academy 2017

Clouds over Mountains

Clouds over Mountains – Gatton students arrive to mountain views and mesmerizing clouds.


Every year we look forward to the visit from the students of The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science (part of Western Kentucky University).  This educational institution has received numerous accolades throughout the years and is named among the top-preforming high schools across the United States.  Their visit to Costa Rica includes a turtle project, a visit along the southern coast for snorkeling, horseback riding and wildlife adventures, as well as cloud forest studies up here at  the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve.  It all sounds like a great holiday; but these students are researching, doing presentations and gaining cultural and environmental experiences every step of the way.




The students begin their day very early in the morning.  They have to be at breakfast by 7:00 am and then out in the field working on their research projects by 8:00 am. (This schedule differs from their time at the turtle project where they were out walking the beaches in late night shifts collecting data for turtle conservation.)  At Cloudbridge they are also studying conservation but this time it is about the forests and ecosystems at a higher elevation.  The 16 students are divided up to do group research on trees, insects, plants and butterflies.


Early morning at the dorms

Early morning at the dorms – every day seems to be laundry day here.


A hardy breakfast to get them up the mountain

A hardy breakfast to get them up the mountain

Everyone eats very well thanks to wonderful cooks.  The food is a fusion of Costa Rican flavours and student favourites – Mango chili, grilled cheese sandwiches, soups, burritos, spaghetti, pancakes, pineapple crisp, chocolate cake and fresh wholewheat bread to name a few. We shop locally for fresh fruits and veggies to provide nutritious plant based meals.


Beth, Laura, Angie and Lou provided Cloudbridge cuisine.


The great thing about this visit is that we are in our 7th year of this study abroad program with Gatton.  All of our staff/leaders – Tom, Frank, Jenn, Clarice, and Linda have developed long lasting friendships with the Gatton (Western Kentucky University) staff. We have as much fun (maybe more) than the students.

Martin, Derrick and Frank having a little down time at the coffee table.

Martin, Derick and Frank having a little down time at the coffee table.


Dr. Derick Strode , Dr. Martin Stone, Linda and Tom (Cloudbridge) – Now considered long time friends.

Tom with our good friend Dr. Keith Philips

Tom with our good friend Dr. Keith Philips


Tom still has it when it comes to leading the long hikes - notice the students struggling behind him!

Tom still has it when it comes to leading the long hikes – notice the students struggling behind him!

Frank is our butterfly expert. As you can see he has much finess with his netting demonstration. netting.

Frank is our butterfly expert – as you can see in the finesse of this netting demonstration.


Early morning near the dorms

Jenn Powell has extensive experience in field research.


Clarice and her epyphyte group

Clarice Esch and her epiphyte group –  Clarice was a Gatton student 7 years ago.  Now she is working on her graduate degree, but returns to Cloudbridge every year as a leader for this study abroad program.


Linda assists with the tree group as well as teaching the jungle art class

Linda assists with the tree group as well as teaching the jungle art class and gives a climate change presentation.



Out in the field, or should I say high on the slopes, the student groups are introduced to tropical reforestation and environmental research. This is not necessarily the main interest or career focus of every student. This school has students with engineering, math and computer science minds to name a few.  Never the less everyone jumps into the particular study group that they have been assigned and the magic of nature and the challenges of biology open up new perspectives.

Clarices epiphyte group on their way up the trail

Clarice’s epiphyte group on their way up the trail


Collecting data

Collecting data


Soil evaluation - does throwing it in the air to see if it stays together count as a viable test?

Soil evaluation – does throwing it in the air to see if it stays together count as a viable test?



Identifying the right plants can be a challenge



90% of butterfly species live in the tropics.  Research about diversity of tropical butterfly populations helps to effectively conserve them.  The students in this group didn’t know much about butterflies when they started their week long study. Using sweep nets and canopy traps they were able to catch and identify each species. There is a technique for using the nets. With a ‘swish and flick’ motion they were able to capture them and then learned how to hold them carefully for examination without injuring these delicate organisms.  Learning about coloration, wing shapes, vein patterns, and body characteristics is all part of the identification process. The students soon learn how subtle some of the differences are between species. Using tools such as the Simpsons Index of Diversity along with their collection of data they were able to make some interesting generalizations considering the short time frame and complexity of habitat for the study.



The correct way to examine a butterfly

The correct way to hold and examine a butterfly



Analyzing tree health is vital for reforestation projects. The students took a look at what factors effect a saplings tree health within its first 5 years of growth.  Some of the factors included canopy closure, altitude, slope, soil type and competition from other plants.  Of course there are so many other variables such as climate and insects and diseases that were not accounted for in this short term study.  Never the less they put together some interesting data and looked at correlations that might be helpful for further planting studies.  The success of reforestation projects will determine the outcome of species diversity, wildlife conservation and successful ecosystem recovery.


Determining soil type


Canopy cover data is measured using a decimetre

Canopy cover data is measured using a densiometer


Determining tree health through measurements and observing leaves and roots within a planting plot

Determining tree health through measurements and observing leaves and roots within a planting plot



There was a couple of groups studying plants – epiphytes and understory plants.  You need to know botany basics for identification. Venation patterns, petiole length, texture and serration of the leaf edges are all important to determine the family or genus.  For the understory plants the students concluded that diversity increases as the planting plot age increased until about 15 years.  At that point it started to decrease, probably due to the canopy cover shading out some of the plants.  The epiphyte research looked at bromeliads, lichens, moss, ferns and angiosperms. One conclusion is that moss is always present and the most common of all epiphytes in the cloud forest.  Variables in elevation and slope can also be a factor when looking at plants.



Team work

Team work

Mapping epiphyte research areas on the reserve

Mapping epiphyte research areas on the reserve


Dung beetles are a good indicator of biodiversity in the area.  They exist on every continent with the exception of Antarctica.  Keith Philips is an expert on this subject and provided a wealth of information from his years of research.  The students set traps in the primary and secondary forests as well as in adjacent pasture land.   Learning how to make their own traps, collect the beetles and then ID them was all part of the process.  They concluded that there is more diversity and abundance in the primary forest.

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Keith demonstrating how to set dung beetle traps

Keith demonstrating how to set dung beetle traps



Scientific investigations in the realm of biology and environmental studies are complex.  Often results are inconclusive and there are many variables at play. The field research provides an opportunity to explore the environment with hands on experience.  The students learn how to gather and integrate information through observations, identification, and sampling methods. Critical thinking, communicating and proposing solutions are also part of the process.  These skills will be useful for all of their future studies.

Part of what was so interesting with these young people was how innovative and creative they could be.  For instance, one group needed to measure the slope but they didn’t have any tools on site with which to do this.  Within minutes they began to collaborate on what would work and they came up with a protractor of sorts using the back of a notebook, a weight, and a string.


Measuring slopes by improvising

Measuring slopes by improvising


Another group didn’t have the densiometer to measure canopy cover and so someone used their glasses to receive the reflection and then they did a % calculation from that observation.

Not too scientific but its a good example of problem solving!

Not too scientific but its a good example of problem solving!


Talking Climate Change

The reality of climate change at our reserve has never been clearer.  The last two years have seen much warmer temperatures on the mountain.  This equates to lower survival rates of our seedlings and changing ecosystems for wildlife.

Our solution is education. We have 3 climate leaders at Cloudbridge. Tom, Linda and Frank took the world renowned Climate Reality Leadership Corps training  and now give presentations to student groups, volunteers and researchers who come to the reserve.

We hope that educating our visiting Gatton students about climate change will inspire them to be leaders in their future careers in a way that will be sustainable and bring climate action to the forefront of their work environments.  After all, it will be within their lifetime when food and water security will be at risk along with species extinction if they don’t choose to act.

Leading by example can challenge students to make changes …



…and then challenging them to do what they can:




Time for some relaxation and fun!

The San Isidro farmers market is a great place to find new and exotic fruits

The San Isidro farmers market is a great place to find new and exotic fruits


No shopping trip is complete without purchasing some Costa Rican machetes



Mountain swimming is not for the faint at heart - BRRRR

Mountain swimming is not for the faint at heart – BRRRR


A long hot hike into the bordering national park.

A long hot hike into the bordering national park.


Sketching lessons can teach observation skills and might be needed out in the field to record ideas or just for fun!



Sketching Classes


A cultural night included Costa Rican traditional food and music.




We have some strict rules for those who leave their stuff lying around and cluttering up the dining area.  At every meal there were a few who were disciplined and had  to sing a song because of their clutter bug tendencies.

Dr. Martin Stone and The Forgetful Four singing "My Old Kentucky Home'

Dr. Martin Stone and The Forgetful Four singing ‘My Old Kentucky Home’


2017 Gatton Academy visiting groups at the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve




“Thanks for the immersive education in all things ecological.  Makes me more committed to fight for a cleaner future than ever! Muchas gracias.”   – Tony

This place is the most amazing place I’ve been!  There is no place on earth where you will find so many different plants and animals or feel so close to nature”    – Marco Garcia

Cloudbridge is ecotourism at its finest. Conservation is key to all that they do and education is everywhere.”  – Olivia Simpson

“Amazing place! Thank you for everything.  Changed my perspective.”  – Xander Bowen

I learned more about the earth and myself everyday.”  – Sarah

“This is the seventh time visiting this magical place – one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet and recognized as a biodiversity hotspot.  There is so much more to the tropics than just the beaches!” –  Dr. Keith Philips

“Thanks for your hospitality, friendliness, and knowledge. What a great few days.  See you next year.”  – Dr. Martin Stone

Thank you all for making Cloudbridge the magical perfect place it is.  Your hospitality, teaching, and interest in our students is unmatched.” – Dr. Derick Strode