Training and Patience

Recently, I have had the opportunity to attend a couple of training sessions.  The first was a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) training right here in the Prineville office.  It was a 24 hour training spread out over three days.  Since I had no real experience with NEPA I took some pre-requisite courses on DOI learn and familiarized myself with the process.  After reading up on NEPA and taking some relatively hard learning assessments, the day of the course finally arrived.  We entered the conference room and were greeted by donuts, a ploy to keep us coming back every day.  The course was very informative and led by a wonderful instructor.  We learned about the fundamentals of NEPA, as well as applying what we learned to existing EA’s (Environmental Assessments) in the office.  Hopefully I will get the opportunity to put the training in practice by working on some easy NEPA stuff, to gain experience and simultaneously reduce the workload of my supervisors.  

Between the two trainings, I did some more golden eagle monitoring and learned the true value of patience.  To submit a negative observation of a nest (no eagle present on the nest), one must wait four hours to ensure that the nest is monitored for a sufficient period of time to avoid false negatives.  So, I hunkered down by my scope in the cold with a good book on owls and waited, and waited, and waited, until finally the four hours elapsed and I escaped back to my car and to the office.

Then after some office work, I headed east to Vale with a co-worker to attend a GeoBOB (Geographic Biotic Observations Database) training.  We took a mountainous route to get there, not my idea, and after about five hours we finally arrived in Ontario (Oregon, not Canada).  We stayed in a nice hotel there and had to adjust to Mountain Time, instead of Pacific Time.  We rested up and then left in the morning for the first day of the training.  Vale is a really small town that smells like manure and onions, unsurprisingly because they grow onions with manure.  They were especially hard hit by the winter, losing millions of dollars of onions due to snow collapsing many roofs.  The training was informative in the sense that it taught me some of the basics of GeoBOB, but was plagued by technical mishaps and other problems.  Both of the instructors (different people taught the class on the first and the second day) were teaching the class for the first time and therefore it did not go quite as smoothly as they intended.  However, it was nice to learn a new program and get out to Eastern Oregon, an area where I had not spent any time other than briefly driving through.  

Well lek season has started, but I don’t want to use up all of my material, so you will just have to wait until my next blog post to hear about the excitement of watching sage-grouse at leks.

Until next time.

Andrew    

Back in the field (kinda)

In the recent weeks, winter has slowly released its grasp on Central Oregon.  Things were so bad at one point that we recently celebrated being able to see the ground and especially grass.  However, most of the snow has melted, opening up opportunities to head back out into the field and escape the doldrums of the office.  At the end of the snowy period I had the opportunity to go out into the field and trek through the snow.  I set up closure signs that needed to be set up for golden eagles.  These signs restrict travel into areas near golden eagle nests to ensure limited disturbance to allow for successful reproduction.  While heading out to the field was wonderful, hiking miles through 4-12 inch snow was slightly less fun, although it was much better after the fact than during!!  Two hikes were especially tough, post-holing (sinking deeply into the snow with one leg, then extracting it, then rinse and repeat) for miles to put up signs, often without clear trail demarcations due to the deep and ubiquitous snow.  I also got to to install deflectors on fences to reduce sage-grouse collisions with fences.  All in all, I have really enjoyed getting back out into the field, and cannot wait for the beautiful spring weather and the emergence of the forbs.

In other news, two major events are occurring in the office.  The first is a fitness challenge where teams of 7 people record the number of minutes they exercise daily and enter it into a spreadsheet.  Out team is crushing it, with all of the team members greatly contributing towards the overall goal.  It ends in a while, but if we can continue our momentum it looks like we are going to be on our way to victory.  There is also a state-wide photo contest going on.  Our office had open entries and the top three in each of the eight categories will move on to the State office and the overall voting period.  I entered 8 photos, but it looks like one will move on to the state round.  While I was hoping that my photos would do better, there were some great photos to contend with.  Below is the photo that I believe will make it to the State round.

Ferruginous Hawk

Well, the next few weeks are going to be full of training, so I am not sure that my next post will be terribly exciting, but I will see what I can do.

The Wonders of Teleworking

Over the holidays I was able to go back home and spend 3 wonderful weeks with my parents.  Before that, I worked with my supervisor so that I could telework at home.  The process was very simple and I am extremely grateful to my supervisors for taking the time to work through the process with me.

I left Oregon the day before a huge snowstorm and managed to make it back to Ohio and back home.  Everyday, I would work from 7am to 11am so that I could spend the rest of my time with my wonderful parents and my cute puppy, Jasmine.  Jasmine just turned one and is still a ball of energy.  I got to play with her in the yard, and attempt to snuggle her.  I played board games and watched movies with my parents, and all in all had a great time. We headed over to my mothers side of the family for a pre-Christmas celebration.  The kids spent most of the time downstairs, which left us adults to have a peaceful time.

Back home we prepared for our own Christmas celebration.  We decorated the tree while listening to Christmas music.  It really brought back memories from childhood and it felt great to be spending time with family.  As for Christmas day, it was a quite peaceful event which went off splendidly.  Shortly after Christmas, my brother came to visit, so we had the whole family back together.  We played even more board games and got outside and visited some parks while walking Jasmine.  Eventually, he left and I got to spend the final days with just my parents and dog.  Towards the end, some part of me just wanted to stay home and forget about work, but I boarded my plane and headed back to work anyways.

I originally planned on working on the plane ride home, but I saw that they had free movies through their wifi service, and couldn’t pass that up.  I watched some decent movies, but heck they were free.  Towards the end of the flight I was pretty stressed out as we left late and arrived even later due to a mix up with the flight controller.  Eventually, I got off the plane and I ran towards my next flight.  I made it just in time before they left, my heart pumping.  Then I proceeded to wait on the flight for another 20 minutes, while we were apparently waiting for another passenger.  I didn’t mind since I could have almost been that passenger.  Eventually, I arrived in Redmond and my roommate picked me up at the airport.

Shortly after, I arrived at the house and I went to sleep immediately (time zones are a real pain).  The next morning I woke up to snow falling, and it just continued to snow and snow.  The snow really piled up over the weekend, but I braved the elements and made my way to the grocery to pick up much needed supplies.  As the weekend faded into the week, my telework-athon faded back into office work.  It was actually nice to be back in the office and be around a bunch of my colleagues.  As the winter weather continues, the office actually closed a couple hours early on Tuesday.  It was almost like a snow day, except it was only a couple of hours.  Well that about sums it up, I look forward to being back in Oregon and continuing to work over the winter.

Office Work, Teleworking and Snow

November has started to fade into December and things haven’t seemed to change much.  While the temperature has continued to fall and now there is a fairly consistent snow on the ground, things seem to keep on going.  Much more of my time has been devoted to office work, given the fact that it is actually winter.  However, I have managed to get out into the field scouting for pygmy rabbits, learning the basics of fence repair, scouting out Oregon spotted frog habitat, and checking nests for eagle activity.  These field days are a breath of fresh air after staying in the office for days on end.

However, I am currently writing this from home, (not Oregon home, but back in my real home in Ohio).  I am working on finishing up descriptions of sensitive species to be used in later NEPA documents, and since that can be done electronically, I am able to telework. The whole process for teleworking was not too arduous, I just needed to jump through a couple of hoops, get some forms signed, and watch a training video.  My supervisor and her boss were wonderful in supporting me to be able to spend the holiday with my family and to help me though the process.

In my pursuit of knowledge of sensitive species, I am currently investigating the Oregon spotted frog, and I am actually reading the paper in 1996 that found strong genetic evidence of a separate species of spotted frog that would eventually become the Columbia spotted frog.  This kind of literature review can be extremely rewarding, especially once you have a finished product after organizing and compiling all of your notes.  If I have to be working over the holidays, there aren’t a lot of other things that I would rather be doing.

Aside from work, I was able to get some good birding in back in Oregon, and hope to be able to do some in Ohio.  There is a red-phase screech owl that seems to be roosting in a set location, so I may take a drive up there and see if I can find it and take some photos!!  Recently, I was able to get some really nice photos of sage-grouse out on a wintery morning in late November, and finally got a decent photo of my frustrating barn owl.

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Prineville BLM: The holidays are coming

Things have really slowed down in the office.  Not only have people been leaving left and right, there is just a different atmosphere.  It doesn’t help that temperatures have recently plunged to their normal range, and that daylight savings time stole an extra hour of daylight from everybody.  It is really a drag that it gets dark at 5.  Getting off of work and having an hour of daylight left can sometimes be demoralizing as well.  But I guess this happens every winter and we just have to adjust.

However, shifting back to work I have been spending much more time in the office.  While it is nice to not be totally worn out after a long day, I am starting to really miss the field.  I am still managing to get out every once in a while whether it is to locate a cave that we missed or to try to finish up some wildlife clearances from earlier in the season.  The cold isn’t too bad, but I am really missing the diversity of birds.  Occasionally I see some interesting birds, but this is mostly while driving instead of actually out when conducting surveys or looking for caves.  I managed to see sandhill cranes, snow geese, trumpeter swans, bald eagles, belted kingfishers as well as the more normal species.  While these birds are fairly exciting, these are rarities and the total number of birds I have seen has taken a nose dive recently.  Hopefully this will be remedied by an influx of winter birds (hopefully Evening Grosbeaks)!!!!

However, in my time off I did manage to locate a lifer that I had been searching for a long time.  With the help of a local bird guru, I found and took some fairly poor photos of a barn owl.  I went back there later with a tripod to try to get a better photo, but the barn owls were not cooperating.  I am planning on heading back again to get a really nice photo.

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Looking forward, the holiday season is upon us.  I am really excited about having 3 days off for Thanksgiving, but I am not really sure what I am going to do.  I might just take some time and relax without really doing anything, but I think more realistically I am going to go out and pick up some other new bird species.  After that I am really excited about Christmas as I am planning on heading home and spending time with my family.  I cannot wait to update you once again after all of the holiday goodness.

 

Winter is on the Way

As summer has come to an end and Fall comes into full force, the field season is wrapping up.  As the leaves turn color from greens to dull yellows and reds (I am thoroughly unimpressed by fall out in Central Oregon, Fall in Ohio puts it to shame), so do the opportunities to head out to the field.  While I have been able to go out into the field sporadically, both the weather and lack of field opportunities have kept me in the office.  Recent storms that hit the Pacific have led to dreary rainy windy days and office work.  Due to this recent shift from primarily field work to more and more office work, I have changed my schedule from working 4 ten hours days, to 5 eight hour days.  I like the new schedule, it is really nice getting into the office later and leaving earlier, but when Friday rolls arounds, I regret not having the day off and all of the opportunities that a three-day weekend entails.

While the days in the office sometimes drag on, it is a nice change of pace and an opportunity to focus on another set of tasks and problems.  Another shift in the office is the slow but steady exodus of seasonal workers from the office.  Only this Friday I went to a going away party for another seasonal that I had spent quite a bit of time working with.  I too would have already left if I had not been extended, so it is starting to feel kind of quiet and almost empty in the office.  Hopefully, my time in the office will be broken up by some excursions out into the field to search for caves, survey pygmy rabbits, and other expeditions.

After an initial surge of momentum for surveying caves for bats, it has slowed to a crawl. Surprisingly, these caves that have been previously located, are extremely hard to find. Furthermore, many of these caves are simply erosional caves or shelters that are not able to support bats.  While it has been frustrating to not be able to locate these caves, the search is quite fun.  I spent most of my summer hiking through junipers and sagebrush, it is nice to have a change of pace and explore rocky ridge lines.  The hiking has been physically demanding, but has also been equally rewarding through extremely beautiful views.

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View from a shelter cave on a ridge line.

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Another shelter cave.

I cannot wait to see what the upcoming weeks have in store for me and I look forward to sharing that experience with everybody.

Going batty at the BLM

While the field season is winding down and things may have started to become routine, I can promise you that I am not going crazy.  Instead, I am starting to work more with bats now.  For the past couple of weeks I have been putting out audio surveying equipment near water sources to collect bat calls.  The audio equipment records the calls that they use to echolocate and then software at the office can transform the call into a sound range that we can hear and even identify the species of bat making the call.  This is a part of an ongoing effort to learn more about bat distribution in central Oregon, especially determining the distribution and habitat of each individual bat species.  I have really enjoyed this break from my typical routine as it gets me to new areas.  

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Audio recording device at a watering trough.

I am about to transition to working more directly with bats, but not in actual contact with them due to the threats of White-nosed syndrome that has recently been detected in Washington State.  We will be going through decontamination procedures, which are crucial in being able to go into caves safely and minimize and hopefully eliminate the possibility of disease transmission.  My supervisor has many years of experience working with bats, so I will get to learn more about bats from her and watch as she and other experienced professionals remove bats from mist nets and take some measurements that are used to conclusively identify the species.

Recently we headed out before dark to set up mist nets at a cave just outside of Sisters. We drove on Forest Service roads and then parked on a non-descript pullout.  We then proceeded to walk about a quarter of a mile and a cave suddenly appears out of nowhere. I was not expecting a cave out in the middle of the forest, but there it was.  We set up three mist nets near the mouth of the cave and then waited.  Shortly after the sun set (and I think that we even got a couple while it was still light) we started getting bats in the net.  I was not able to handle the bats as I don’t have a rabies shot, so I helped to record data. The bats were removed from the net, the sex, age and species was determined and then we tested them for Pd (white nose syndrome).  In the end we captured four different species of bats (California myotis, Western long-eared myotis, Long-legged myotis and a big brown bat).  This experience turned out to be much more fulfilling than my previous experience, where we were only able to capture one bat the whole night.

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Big-brown bat caught while mist netting.

 Now I leave for a week of vacation touring the National Parks before heading back to work for the BLM and exploring caves and searching for bats.  I am really excited to be able to take a break from work and go explore the West, but I cannot wait to get back and start going Batty with the BLM.

Buisness as Usual

This time of year, field work starts to become almost second nature.  Monday through Thursday start to blend together and all of the scenery starts to seem the same.  I am of course talking about the doldrums of the field and the brutal repetition of the day to day work.  However, there are always moments of beauty interspersed within the mundane elements of the job.  This could be anything from a towering Ponderosa Pine standing alone amongst the sagebrush, or a beautiful marshy pond out in the barren landscape.  These moments are what keep me going day to day, always exploring and searching out these enchanting elements.

One particular passion of mine is birding, and the landscape of junipers offers up a bountiful habitat for birds off all varieties.  Recently, I have started seeing Green-tailed towhees, a beautiful bird with vibrant greens and red.  My silence has been shattered by the nasal calls of Clark’s Nutcrackers.  Aside from these momentary asides from the typical, I have had the opportunity to expand my horizons through working briefly with a couple of different projects.

Two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to go out to do a project with bats.  I had to adjust to a different schedule with the day starting at 5pm and ending around 3am.  To prepare for this dramatic shift, I stayed up late the day before so that my sleep schedule wouldn’t be too messed up.  We arrived at 5pm and then set out to the Maury forest.  We arrived before dusk and got to our first site, only to find that the pond we were going to mist net, was dry.  Then we changed our plan and headed to a second site.  We found that the stream was running and so we decided to set up our mist net here.  At the stream we set up 3 nets and then the waiting began.  I went out with my mentor and two other colleagues from the office.  Our boss had sent us snacks in a cooler, so during the waiting we went to work on the snacks.  At the beginning we saw bats flying overhead, but the wind started to pick up, making the net move (this causes the bats to be able to pick it up on sonar).  We continued to wait and eventually the other two people had to leave around 11.  Ironically, it was soon after that they left that we caught our first and only bat, a silver-haired bat.  I got to watch my mentor remove the bat from the net (you need to have a rabies shot to handle bats, so I did not handle them).  Then my mentor showed me the different parts of the bat that help to ID them.  Eventually we took the nets down and headed home late, or early depending on how you look at it,

This bat experience was a great break from my normal schedule.  I really had a great time, and will be working more with bats in the future.  Now I have been back on my schedule for a while, but I will give you an update about other adventures later.

Birding in the High Desert

One of my favorite parts of the CLM internship is being out in the field all day and having the opportunity to see an incredible diversity of birds.  Almost every day I drive past an Osprey nest, a Bald Eagle nest, and a Golden Eagle nest (alas they have already fledged).  I get to see birds on the road, from California Quail to Sandhill Crane.  Then, when I arrive at my site, I am in the sagebrush and I get the opportunity to see that whole suite of birds in this unique habitat.  Furthermore, since I am doing Juniper clearances, I have the opportunity to see a whole other set of birds.  For the juniper clearances, I am checking the trees for nests so that we can have contractors remove the trees from the landscape.  Due to the Migratory Bird Treaty we cannot remove trees with nests, so those trees will be taken down in the fall after all the birds have fledged.  Removing junipers has many benefits from returning water back into the soil, to improving sage grouse habitat by removing perching sites for raptors and ravens, which predate the sage grouse.

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Ferruginous Hawk

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Loggerhead Shrike

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

 

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Prairie Falcon

Recently, I got to see both an Eastern Kingbird and a Western Kingbird within miles of each other.  This may not seem to be too exciting, but this is the very farthest Western extent of the Eastern Kingbird, so it was quite surprising to see one out here.  When I went to enter it in eBird, I got a message that it was a rare bird and that I have to enter additional information about the sighting.  Luckily, I had snapped some photos, so I was able to enter those and have the sighting confirmed without a problem.

 

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Rare Eastern Kingbird at the western edge of its range.

 

In my time searching for nests, I have found plenty of unoccupied nests, but I have also found some really cool nests.  I have gotten to see Red-tailed hawk nests, Ferruginous Hawk nests, Northern Flicker nests and Prairie Falcon nests (these guys nest on cliffs, so not technically under my purview of juniper nests).

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Red-tailed Hawk nest with chick.

Occupied RTH Nest

Red-tailed Hawk on nest.

Ferruginous Hawk Nest

Ferruginous Hawk Nest with chick (center white blob)

Having a job where I am paid essentially to bird is a dream come true.  Sometimes the birding becomes routine, one can only hear and see so many Vesper sparrows before they start to go crazy.  However, every day has its surprises from Dusky Flycatchers to Ash-throated Flycatchers.  I cannot wait to see what the coming days and months will bring and I will continue to share these birding experiences from the High Desert of Central Oregon.

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Ash-throated Flycatcher

CGB travels from PDX to ORD to CLM Workshop and then back to BLM in PRD, OR

Well we just wrapped up out week long training in Chicago and I have gotten back to Prineville, OR and got back into the routine of fieldwork.  My journey to Chicago was quite exciting as well as stressful.  I first traveled to Salem to meet a friend and spent some time hanging out before getting a ride to the Portland airport.  Then I waited and took a red-eye flight to Chicago which got in around 6am.  After waiting around a bit in the airport I called a taxi and got a ride to the hotel.  However, all the rooms were full so I would have to wait until noon to get into a room.  It took my sleep deprived brain a bit to process this, but eventually I decided that I would travel downtown and visit a couple of museums.  I trudged to the train station carrying my backpack filled with everything I would need on the trip.

Eventually I reached the train station and was slightly confused by the rustic setting and wondered if it was still in operation.  My fears were allayed shorty when people started to congregate.  I made my way onto the train and into the heart of downtown.  Then I decided to walk to the museums, a strangely relaxing experience.  It felt almost surreal walking through a bustling city seemingly caught up in all of the activity, but some how removed from the noise of traffic and the yells of traffic officers.  I eventually reached my destination, the Shedd Aquarium, where I had to wait for a while before getting in.  However, armed with my pay stub I not only managed to get free entrance, but the lady was nice enough to give me a free upgrade that essentially let me see the whole aquarium.  Then, after touring the fantastic museum, I headed over next door to the Field Museum.  I totally nerded out with their huge bird collection recognizing species that I have seen and fondly remembering those species moments in time.  However, I also was envious of the species I had managed to miss in my travels and especially those which I had never had the opportunity to see.  I managed to get through the mammal exhibit, also amazing, but I was running out of juice.  So I headed back to the hotel, which involved walking, waiting for the train, taking the train, walking some more and finally checking in.  Then I decided to find some where to eat before taking a shower and heading to bed.  Eventually I came back with a full stomach and finally was able to sleep.

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Shedd Aquarium

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The Field Museum

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Owl exhibit at the Field Museum

The next morning we got our first look at the Chicago Botanic Garden and it was fantastic.  We attended a symposium which covered native seed restoration.  I was fascinated about the private business side of things, something that I had never really considered about native plant restoration.  Then throughout the rest of the days we had the opportunity to meet other interns and chat about out placements over lunch.  The several days of training seemed to pass by really quickly, but it was great to have the Botanic Garden as a backstop to slow things down again.  We learned about the history of SOS and took time to learn field survey methods, and brush up on plant identification and keying out plants.  However, one of my favorite activities was when I snuck out of lunch and headed over to the butterfly exhibit.  I managed to talk my way into a free ticket and then headed inside the building to gaze at the butterflies (the birds of the insect world).  I immediately recognized some of the species from my May Term in Borneo through Earlham College.  During that trip I even got to do a mini-project on butterflies.  Needless to say I was really excited.  It was great to see old friends such as the Clipper as well as new species like the incredible moth.  I had such a great time photographing the butterflies and trying to see them all I even snuck out a second time during lunch.  I also had some great chats with some of the employees at the butterfly exhibit.

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Eventually Saturday rolled around and it was time to leave the hotel and the garden and head back to the airport.  I took the 10am shuttle and got into the airport around 10:45 and managed to get through security in 5 minutes (so much for the crazy long line at O’hair).  I spent the next 10 hours at the airport hanging out watching a DVD that I brought and reading.  I could have spent another day downtown, but I had already done that and I didn’t really want to worry about taking public transportation again and the though of missing my flight somehow was unacceptable).  Eventually I took my late night flight and got back to Portland where I was picked up by another friend and spent the night.  Then I took the Amtrak to Salem and then drove back to Prineville.  Phew, after all that travel I was ready to sit back and relax at home.  I managed to sit back on the couch and watch some golf before watching Lebron and the Cavs finally win their championship.  It was a fitting end to the week and all in all it was a wonderful week.