May

RFO off Bridger Pass Road

I have had the opportunity to work on a multitude of different projects over the past month and gain many new experiences. We continued to monitor Greater Sage-grouse leks into mid-may and I enjoyed getting to observe these birds unique behaviors. The week after leks we started on night call surveys for the Great Basin Spadefoot (Spea intermontanus) and the Plains Spadefoot (Spea bombifrons).  It was a bit of a challenge switching from waking up at 3:30 in the morning to monitor leks to staying up until 3:30 in the morning monitoring for toads but I am definitely glad for the experience.

Spadefoot toads prefer friable soils where they can easily burrow down using their cutting metatarsals or tubercles on their hind feet. They breed quickly after heavy rains and prefer ephemeral streams which can make them difficult to locate.The procedure for night call surveys starts just after dark. You begin on a predetermined route and stop every half mile to listen for calling amphibians. After three minutes of listening you record everything that you heard and take a bearing on the direction you heard the call. Later if you want to search for the source of the call you can follow the bearing and set out a recorder or do dip-net surveys. The first two nights that we went out we heard nothing calling at all. I believe this is because it was to cold outside for the amphibians to be breeding. The third time that we went out we heard a ton of Boreal Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris maculata) but unfortunately no spadefoots. It’s interesting being out in the field so late into the night as you notice things you would normally miss like the international space station, distant thunderstorms, or packs of calling coyotes.

Wyoming Traffic Jam

I have also had the opportunity to assist with monitoring Mountain Bluebirds (Sialia currucoides). The BLM maintains and monitors nest boxes for the bluebirds mostly around the Sinclair area. Most of the boxes were originally placed by a worker at the Sinclair oil refinery but when he could no longer take care of them he asked the BLM to step in and we did. Since then we have added more boxes throughout the field office and there are plans for additional ones to be added. Mountain bluebirds naturally nest in tree cavities created by woodpeckers so in areas such as the RFO where trees are scarce the nest boxes help to maintain their populations. When we go out to check the boxes we look for male and female birds hanging around the nest, check to see if the nest inside is actually bluebird or a different species, and count the number of eggs or hatchlings inside. Bluebird eggs are usually a light blue but we have one nest where the bluebirds eggs were white which is a relatively rare phenomenon and fun to see.

Female Mountain Bluebird Sitting on Her Nest

I have spent a few days out in the field helping survey raptor nests. When you find the raptor nest the goal is to determine first if it is still active and the species that is using it, then to monitor for chicks. We have some artificial structure that we have placed to keep raptors from nesting on power lines or on the tanks at well sites, but we monitor natural nests sites as well. One thing that we are hoping to learn more about is if the placement of artificial structures is deterring raptors from building natural nests and how big of an impact these have on their behavior.

Greater Short-horned Lizard

I also had the opportunity to go on an onsite a couple weeks ago for some proposed gas wells down in the chain lakes region of our field office. It was definitely an informative experience and I am glad I got to learn more about how the BLM works with oil and gas companies to maintain both their and our goals. While there are definitely difference on both side of the issues everyone was willing to work towards a satisfying compromise. I also caught my first herp of the season, a Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi), while walking one of the proposed roads. The only other herp we’ve caught so far was a bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) that was sunning himself on the road. These are interesting snakes that will mimic rattlesnakes in an attempt to frighten off predators. One way they do this is by vibrating their tail back and forth and making a hissing noise meant to sound like that of a rattle. Hopefully we will start hearing and catching more amphibians and reptiles in the coming weeks as it starts to get warmer. We placed some cover board up near Ferris Mountain and I am looking forward to see if we will find anything there. Until nest time.

Bullsnake

-Keri – BLM – RFO

In the Beginning

Ferris Mountain RFO

I have only been at my position here in Rawlins for one week so I am still getting my feet under me and figuring out the lay of the land. I was surprised on my first day by the size of the office. Rawlins is a small town but the BLM Rawlins field office has 3.5 million acres of public lands with around 100 people working here. Everyone that I have met so far has been incredibly kind and genuine and I am looking forward to getting to know them better. I am the only seasonal intern at the office currently and it is likely that will not change for a couple more weeks, I look forward to meeting the other interns as well.

The main project that I will be working on this season will be inventory and monitoring of the amphibians and reptiles in the Rawlins Field Office (RFO). However, since my partner wont start until June, I will be helping with other projects until she arrives. This week I have been helping mostly with Lek Monitoring or ‘Grousing’. This entails rising a couple hours before sunrise and driving to know lekking sites for the Greater Sage Grouse. Around sunrise you count the number of male and female sage grouse that you see. These are amazing birds! A lek is the area where the male grouse preform their mating display and where the females watch from the sage brush to choose their mate.The mating display is unlike anything that I have ever seen. To display, they spike their tail feathers, hold up their wings, puff out their chests 3 time in a row, and inflate the bright yellow air sacs on their chests to produce a type of popping or bubbling noise. The grouse will preform their displays every morning for all of the breeding season, sometime starting in the middle of the night and going until just past sunrise. Grouse return to the same lek every year (with some exceptions of course!) and usually all of the females will choose the same one or two males to mate with. Most of the occupied leks that we’ve seen so far have had around 30 birds on them.

Greater Sage Grouse displaying on a lek

As for the amphibians and reptiles, I have done a little bit of training with them this week. We took nets out to two different water sources to try to capture some amphibians. We heard Chorus Frogs but only caught one Northern Leopard Frog. We also tried to noose some lizards, which consists of lassoing a lizard with a small piece of string (in this case dental floss) tied to a snake hook. For some reason the string doesn’t frighten the lizards so you can slip the loop around their neck and have a better chance of capturing them. My mentor is also working with people from the Game and Fish Department and the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNDD) who are doing amphibian surveys in the RFO. I got to sit in on their meeting the other day which turned out to be pretty informative. If plans stay the same we will hopefully be working together to survey for Spadefoot Toads in the coming weeks. I’m excited to work with them and learn from these other agencies.

Seminoe Reservoir

Overall it has been a good first week in the office and I am looking forward to what the rest of the season will have in store.

Keri-RFO-BLM