Trapping Season and Exploring Wyoming

The past couple of weeks have been dedicated to constructing drift fences on the north side of Ferris Mountain. Our project focuses on population density of wildlife within the area; specifically herpetofauna. These drift fences are effective techniques to sample species in a particular area. Each drift fence is built in a Y-shape formation with pitfalls located in the center of each line segment, and a funnel trap connected to the end. There are a total of 12 drift fences within the North side of Ferris Mountain that we will open for ten consecutive days and check each day to monitor our progress. Constructing the drift fences was arduous at times, but when you work in such a beautiful place surrounded by the solace of nature, it is easy to smile. I am excited for trapping season to begin and am ready to find some herps!

One of the 12 Drift Fences built within the Ferris Mountain Range (Whiskey Gap)

We were able to take a break from building drift fences to help with surveys for monitoring Greater Short-horned Lizards, the state reptile of Wyoming. This was the first time I was able to PIT tag a reptile and get an in-depth understanding on why the recapture method is so important. Because evidence indicates that populations are declining in Wyoming, it is vital to gather as much data as possible to understand the resources they are tied to and what may be affecting their numbers. I was so very grateful to be a part of this survey, and look forward to getting the chance to work with these uniqure creatures again!

PIT tagging a Greater Short-horned Lizard
Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi) blending in to his environment

During the fourth of July weekend I was able to hike in Medicine Bow with my roomates. We explored several trails and discovered some hidden gems. The amount of snow left from the late winter lingered over the mountains and I found myself walking in snow drifts knee deep. The beauty was awe-inspiring and left me with an overwhelming feeling of joy and happiness. The ability to be able to explore Wyoming and what it has to offer has only made me more excited for what is to come within my job and out of it. I am so gracious for the opportunities I have had and for what awaits me!

Lost Lakes Trail in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest


Alpine Phlox in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest

Life lessons from plants

This month in southeastern New Mexico has reminded me of the tenacity of life by displays of brilliance in what many would consider an arid wasteland. I am grateful for each of these moments and their valuable lessons…

Rain fell on the distant desert landscape as we hurdled down the highway surrounded a bunch of other over-sized work vehicles. I’ve acclimatized to the shock of existing in a booming oil and gas development town, something I had a hard time stomaching for months. My thoughts of wanting to leave have subsided, and I now see it as a personal mission to do what I can to protect this landscape from exploitation. It isn’t any easier to grasp, but I now collect seeds with a greater sense of responsibility, hopeful that they may be returned to the man-marred earth soon.
One of my absolute favorite plants, Hoffmannseggia glauca or Indian rushpea. This plant’s pioneer nature is evidenced by its success in this freshly-developed sand and caliche road. It also gets it done with the rhizomes. Not even the mesquite stood a chance. Resilience and beauty, this plant has it all.
Unlike native plants, many invasives are bemoaned for their resilience. This Salt-cedar, Tamarix chinensis, situated itself on the historic Pecos River Flume in Northern Carlsbad leaving numerous leaky cracks resulting in algae-slicked concrete below. I’m amused by the conflict between two of the largest catalysts of riparian ecosystem destruction captured in this scene. A humorous reminder that the wheel keeps turning.
Not all plants have the hardiness to persevere as diligently as Tamarix. Despite its looks, this cactus, Coryphantha robustispina ssp. scheeri, is a BLM special status species due to its small range in SE New Mexico and a small portion of Texas. Because of oil and gas development in the region, it’s listed as endangered by the state of NM and a species of concern by the USFWS. This individual was found on accident when scouting for seeds to collect. It was a stone’s throw from a large well pad. I guess the lesson here is that we all need a little help sometimes…
I should end on a more positive note… This Yucca elata is huge!! I stared at it with a child-like sense of wonder for a good minute. I’ll leave the interpretation of its lesson to the reader…

I hope that everyone else’s internship is progressing positively. Mind the summer heat.

Desert wanderer
Alex

A Band of Birders

This week I had the great opportunity of attending a bird banding session with an Audubon Rockies group in Wyoming’s Keyhole State Park. While this was my first hands on experience with bird banding, it was the third of such events this summer. Like any good birding experience this banding event begins at sunrise by setting up ten mist nets in various locations within walking distance of the processing site. These nets placed in a variety of locations allow for the assessment of bird species by habitat as some nets remain in wooded areas while others are in open shrublands.

The best part about birding is watching the sunrise. Can you spot the doe?

Capturing birds in any area allows for the collection of very detailed information on diversity and health of ecosystems. Seeing birds up close, assessing their health and mating status provides us with much more information than could be obtained by a simple audio and visual survey. Banding birds means that the data collected at one small sight can be applied on an international scale. By entering band numbers into an international database, recaptured birds can be tracked across vast landscapes and even continents. This allows scientists and the public to gain a greater understanding of these impressive migratory bird species on an individual and population level.

So far this year 105 bird species have been banded at this sight in Keyhole State Park. Among the species I identified and was able to handle were Bullock’s Oriole, Western Wood-Pewee, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, and this handsome Cedar Waxwing.

Cedar Waxwing posing to show off his one red feather

These banding sessions are open to the public and great chance to see what goes into bird banding and data collection, and even get a chance to hold and release a bird if you’re lucky. There are two more bird banding events this summer on July 25th and August 8th. If you are in the area I would highly recommend checking one of these out and spending a night or weekend in the park while you’re at it! Check out Audubon Rockies for more information on how to get involved.

Katherine, Resources Intern at BLM’s Buffalo Field Office

WYLD and wonderful.

These past few weeks have been crazy busy. During the week of July fourth, we were only in the office from Monday to (half of) Wednesday because of the BLM’s Independence Day paid holiday schedule. My Monday was spent reading vegetation transects and monitoring livestock compliance around two of our pastures: Pickett Lake and Eagle’s Nest. Reading transects means that my team and I are physically walking down a straight line between established posts or rebar to record 20-25 points of data. Every 5 or 6 paces, we stop and measure the droop or stubble height of the designated key grass species for that site. This is an important thing to study because if the grasses are getting too low, the ecosystem and landscape can be seriously affected by it and may not be able to recover easily, if at all, once the cattle leave. If we are performing livestock compliance checks, that involves us literally counting any “trespassing” cows/sheep when we see them on pastures that should be empty. This can take us a long time somedays, because our allotments are literally hundreds of thousands of acres. We also have to draw and get pictures of the brands on the livestock. This is crucial for the BLM to know which ranchers they need to contact in order to get the animals moved. That day we found some pretty little forbs, and I even saw my first sage grouse on the way back to the office. 🙂

This forb is called scarlet globe mallow, or Sphaeralcea coccinea.
One of my favorite forbs to identify out in the field: buckwheat. The scientific name for this species is Eriogonum ovalifolium.
One of our upland transect sites — Wamsutter Road Well. We measure the key grass species Achnatherum hymenoides, Elymus elymoides, and Pseudoroegneria spicata. This site almost always has several dozen cattle and wild horses around the well nearby. As soon as we park the truck, they are surrounding it, looking to see what we have for them — which is literally always nothing.
The very first greater sage-grouse hen, or Centrocercus urophasianus, I saw out in the field. I was lucky enough to see her accompanied by a few chicks. 🙂

On Tuesday, I went out to the field with one of the BLM’s wildlife biologists, and assisted her in the procedures for sage-grouse “HAF,” or Habitat Assessment Framework. Her transect-reading protocol reminded me a lot of AIM’s, so I had a little bit of a head start on HAF’s approach. When we first got there, we used a compass to align ourselves and set three 25 meter transects at 0, 120, and 240 degrees. Along the transects, we used the LPI, or line-point intercept, method to record vegetation heights and forb diversity. LPI sampling provides a quantitative look at the cover of important species in the ecosystem. Since sage-grouse feed on forbs, and nest in sage brush, these were our study’s focus. This took us all day to do, especially since we read two sites and had to abandon the second site to wait out a storm for a bit. When we got back to Lander, I was inspired by my fun day and immediately started studying my forbs. I love seeing all of them out in the field and being able to name them has been really fulfilling. Ever since this Tuesday, I have been studying, and studying, and have learned so many of them already!

Another one of my favorite forbs to identify. This is a perennial paintbrush flower with the genus name of Castilleja. There are so many varieties of this plant that it can be hard to identify the specific epithet every time… like this time. 😉
This pretty little flower is called bitterroot, or Lewisia rediviva. You can just barely see some bright yellow sedum, or Sedum lanceolatum, flowers blooming in the background too.
The storm that we saw approaching our second transect site from miles away. Once the lightning started, we decided to head back to the truck for a little while and wait it out.
My coworker’s favorite lizard to find out in the field. This chubby little thing is a greater short-horned lizard, or Phrynosoma hernandesi.
A neat little bridge that we crossed while leaving our transect sites.

Wednesday was a shortened day because of the holiday, so we spent it in the office managing various data that we had been piling up for weeks. The long weekend that followed was a really awesome one for me because my boyfriend flew in all the way from my home state. 🙂 While he was here I showed him some of my favorite places like Hell’s Half Acre, Sinks Canyon, and The Bus. We also went to a rodeo for our first time ever haha… I still have some mixed feelings about that! Towards the end of the weekend, we drove into Boulder, Colorado to see the Dead & Company’s last performance of their Summer Tour 2019. It was such an incredible show and the setlist was nearly perfect. This was probably the best way we could have ended Johnny’s visit out here. He had to leave me the next day from Denver, so I dropped him off and then made the 5.5 hour drive back to my little home in Wyoming.

A (surprisingly) cute picture of myself at Hell’s Half Acre, Johnny’s first stop in WY!
A beautiful view up the Popo Agie Middle Fork from our hike in Sinks Canyon State Park.
One of my favorite short hikes to see the sunset. The Bus has lots of small trails for mountain biking and hiking and just so happens to be managed by the BLM! Johnny somehow found the deteriorating bus that the spot is named for before I ever did.
The double rainbow that we saw at the rodeo in Lander. After a tiny bit of rain, something so beautiful was left behind.
I loved my drive back to Wyoming from Colorado; there were so many pretty landscapes!
Naturally, I took about 30-45 minutes longer than I should have to get back home due to the amount of times I stopped to take pictures. I’m not even a little mad about it.

For the past two weeks at work, I have been getting into the routine of transect reading and livestock compliance checks, and learning the country and the vegetative species of our two allotments. Once we spend about a week out in the field, we are usually ready to spend a whole day in the office compiling, summarizing, and scanning all of our data.

A huge caterpillar we found at the Baby Antelope upland transect site last week. I think this is the larva of the pearl crescent butterfly, or Phyciodes tharos.
A large herd of wild horses being directed by their stallion at the end. We saw this group while we were coming home from the field last week.
One of my favorite, and a frequently visited, riparian transect site called Lost Creek. The key species we look at here are Carex nebrascensis, Juncus balticus, and Scirpus pungens.
My pressed forb and grass collection from just yesterday’s day out in the field. This is just a taste of the plant variety that I see everyday.

The weeks are still going by way too fast, but it’s exciting to see how much I have learned, and just as refreshing to know that I have only been out here for a month. Wyoming is seriously WYld and wonderful; I love living out here.

Curlew National Grassland Restoration Project

After nine years of highway reengineering, conservation planning, archeological protection, nonprofit partnerships, and extensive research, the beautiful seed of wetland restoration was planted this week at the Curlew National Grassland in southern Idaho! What exactly does this mean? It means, 3,400 perfect graminoid starts were planted along one mile of Rock Creek to establish a strong streambank stocked with native plant species. With the proposed reconstruction of highway ID-38 back in 2010, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest hydrologist, forest botanist, Rose Lehman, and many other partnered to establish a strategy that ensured the structural integrity of this location in the Curlew (see photo below). This meant a variety of regulations and compromises such as: upsizing culverts, avoiding stream meanders and/or natural springs, and Native American lands.

The red pin indicates the graminoid planting at the
Curlew National Grassland, ID.

Two Idaho native graminoids were chosen for streambank stabilization: Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) and Baltic rush (Baltic balticus). The planting took a total of two days. Co-intern, Olivia Turner, five volunteers from the Sagebrush-Steppe Landtrust in Pocatello, ID, two hydrologists, and myself gathered together for the second day of the project. Buckets filled with plant starts and shovels in hand, we successfully spread out along the parameter of the stream. Each 2-person team would simply create holes in the mucky Idaho clay and ease every juvenile into the soil. The ground along the stream is incredibly moist and idealistic for these younger individuals. So ideal that the estimated regenerative success rate is 90% for this particular project area! That would promote roughly 3,060 individuals to take root and thrive!

Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) left and Baltic rush (Baltic balticus) right.
The perfect Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) finding a new home along Rock Creek.

The project was a complete success. The day was filled with affirmation for the future of this particular site. It was a wonderful experience to step aside from SOS and terrestrial botany for a moment and participate in wetland restoration. The future of this project paints the picture of a lush wetland habitat filled with native sedges and rushes, a running stream, moose in the willows, and the pink flowers of mallow blooming.

Olivia Turner crouches by Rock Creek while planting.

Sending nettle stings, coyote pawprints, and garter snakes where you all may be!

Claire Parsons

Caribou-Targhee National Forest S.O.

Bats!

              On 7/9 we all went on a staff excursion to Lava Beds National Monument in Tulelake, Northern California. This trip, in combination with the trip down to Camp Tule Lake to assist in bat surveys, has awakened in me a deep love of bats and their ecology! I have decided to dedicate this blog post to interesting facts about one native bat species in particular, Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii).

We had a chance to tour two caves, Valentine Cave and Skull Cave. There was something magical about descending into the depths and feeling the air cool rapidly. We had a chance to learn about cave features, the history of the caves, various cave monitoring efforts at the monument, and how this all relates to bat monitoring and ecology at Lava Beds.

Valentine Cave, Lava Beds National Monument

On to the bat of the hour:

  • Townsend’s big-eared bats fold one or both of their comically large ears against their head during torpor and hibernation, forming coils like a ram’s horn
  • The longest-lived Townsend’s big-eared bat on record was over 21 years old! It could have grabbed a drink at its local pub. Interestingly, they live shorter lives in captivity than in the wild
  • Bats play an amazing role – they are the only night-time consumers of flying insects, so thank your local Townsend’s big-eared bat for being a great camping buddy
  • Townsend’s big-eared bats love cavernous structures; caves, mines, lava tubes, and abandoned buildings all across the upland Western United States suit them fine. They also utilize deciduous and coniferous forests on the Pacific coast and have been recorded roosting in the hollows of redwood trees!
Townsend’s Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) Photo Credit – Ann Froschauer/USFWS

All facts are cited from:

Gruver, J., D. Keinath. 2006. “Townsend’s Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii): a technical conservation assessment.” (On-line pdf). Accessed July 14th, 2019

Besides caving, we’ve been finishing up some work associated with milk-vetch surveys, studying brook trout fecundity, researching beaver-trout interactions and implications for bull trout management, gathering information on endemic sculpin, and getting ready to embark on electrofishing excursions in the coming weeks. Til next time!

Valentine Cave Entrance

Cheers,

Jenny

Chapter 2: Suckers. Growing up.

This post is long overdue. We finished larval collection more than a month ago, but I thought I should still touch on the subject. Jenny and Jessie have probably caught you up, but here is my summary of events.

We finished up larval collections. It was a success. One day, Jessie and I collected over 9000 individuals. We’d harvest them, put them in buckets and haul them to our satellite hatchery at Gone Fishing. It was reminiscent to me of the fish in a bucket video I was shown in college. The entirety of a species saved by one bucket. Except in our scenario there were many buckets, and many days, and still suckers in the lake. But the principle remains the same.

The larvae that went into our buckets would survive, and those that drifted down the river would not. It was a sobering thought, but it make the late night shifts worth it. On cold nights the larvae would ride in the truck with us. We buckled them in to keep them safe.

We also got to watch the larvae grow up. Through our seven weeks of larval collections, we harvested in the morning, and performed husbandry in the later morning (or the day if we were on the day shift, we rotated on a cycle for the night shift, two on-one off). This involved feeding fish, hatching brine shrimp (yum), cleaning tanks, and doing behavioral observations to monitor fish health. The fish changed so much over the course of our time there. It was easy to tell the differences when comparing fresh-caught larvae to the ones that had just come in that morning. I think I felt the same pride for them as new parents must feel for human babies, but I’ve never had kids so I can’t be sure about that. Leaving them when our rotation with the SARP (sucker assisted rearing program) was over was a struggle.

Week old suckers
Month old suckers

Brianne Nguyen
USFWS, Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office

Its Ne-VADD-ah

Situated at the eastern side of the Sierras, half an hour from Lake Tahoe is the BLM’s Carson City district office.

Carson City is part of the Carson Valley watershed. All of the melt water from the snowy tops of the ranges melt and flow into this area’s lakes and soils. This year was anomalous for its amount of snow and rainfall. In many areas of Nevada the yearly rainfall average was surpassed in May!

Normally one would think that’s great for the plants. And it is! There were beautiful super blooms in the Spring. However, the high precipitation fairs better for the most problematic weeds in the area- medusahead and cheatgrass. We’ve spent quite a bit of time mapping medusahead populations for herbicide treatment. We’re also learning quite a lot about the ecology of these weeds based on our observations and literature reviews.

We’ve done some post-wildfire monitoring called ESR (Emergency Stablilization and Rehabilitation). In the course of our data collection we were happy to see a relatively diverse recovering population of native forbs instead of a blanket of cheatgrass or medusahead.

Belt transects at our ESR site. The Earthstone fire was northeast of Reno.

For our SOS work we’ve been mostly on BLM land in Nevada so far- although the BLM Carson City district office has some land in California that we’re going to be venturing off to in the coming weeks.

Mucho rain is bad for the weeds! But good for the double rainbows and Pride month!

Swan Lake, one of the best birding spots in Nevada- near Reno. The most birds I’ve ever heard in one place! Though what you’re looking at is supposed to be a nature walk! Unfortunately the entire boardwalk along the lake is underwater due to the high precipitation in recent years. We’re using GIS to map how the drainages and vegetation have changed in this period! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_Lake_Nature_Study_Area

What I’ve learned so far about Nevada is that the public thinks of BLM land like the wild west. There are signs warning people about the danger of wild fires with gun use during the summer, but there is no enforcement. Always fun to hear gunshots a couple hundred feet away on a 95 degree day with dry cheatgrass surrounding you.

We’ve come across several interesting “targets” used for shooting on BLM land while collecting seed. –also this definitely should be an album cover.

We’ve done some youth educational outreach too. I find it is excruciatingly important for the BLM to provide outreach to youth and the public at large because unfortunately the locals don’t see the benefit of managing public lands. This is because of an education gap. So whenever we have a chance to educate the public we pounce on it. The previous years’ techs focused mostly on botany so we decided to switch it up and focus our outreach on geology! Nevada and the Great Basin and Range region have a fascinating and complex geology, and we’re excited to impart this knowledge to the locals so they better appreciate what they may see as commonplace!

We were able to teach the kids about geomorphic processes and the various energy levels involved in depositing the layers visible in this wash. To the right you can see the remnants of an old rail road track that passed through the region.
Here we showed the kids how wildlife makes use of geology! There were some barn owl nests in the eroded rocks.

From noxious weeds to rare species monitoring to wetland ecology and range ecology — my mind is sponging it up! Happy to be here *dance emoji*

Exploring Oregon

Since the workshop ended, I have been hard at work controlling the invasive plants in the area. Its crazy to me as you start to learn which plants are invasive, that landscape you once thought was beautiful for all its yellow flowers and berries is actually a nightmare. They are called invasive for a reason, they completely dominate in most areas and completely out compete the native species. At times it becomes overwhelming, because everywhere you go they are there and you just want to control that population, but there’s only so much time so we have to strategically plan on which spots to hit and which invasive we want to target. We have been mostly focusing on False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) which is from the Poaceae family and Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) from the Fabaceae family. Most times we will choose to hit areas that are heavily visited by people and areas that lumber sales may take place to prevent further spread of the plant. While it can some what difficult work at times, its truly satisfying to come back to an area and find all the work you did paid off and the weeds are dead.

This is one of our sites and that is a field full of Scotch broom.

Outside of work I try to spend most of my time exploring the beautiful state of Oregon, for anyone else that wants to visit Oregon or for future interns stationed in Roseburg, these could be some suggestions. Ashland is a little town slightly North of California, I went on Saturday and it was bustling with people going to the farmers or artisan market in the downtown area. The downtown consist of a bunch of little shops, restaurants, and coffee shops along with lithia park that is a forested area around Ashland Creek. Next, I drove over to Crater Lake which isn’t too far and I was astonished, I don’t think I have ever seen water so blue before! Unfortunately most of the trails were closed due to the late snow fall, so I would recommend checking before, but either ways its definitely worth it to just to drive around.

Crater lake (sorry I’m not sure how to rotate here)

The following weekend I got to go to Bend and meet up with Jessie and Brianne, who I met at the workshop! They are located in Klamath Falls which is a few hours away from Roseburg and some of the coolest people I have met! We did dispersal camping about 15 minutes outside of town, which made it really convenient to come and go as we pleased. I just want to say Bend is probably my favorite town so far, every block consist of Bike shop, brewery, and coffee shop, there are a couple parks scattered around town and its a very bike/ pedestrian friendly town, you can also see Mt. Bachelor from it.

For the 4th of July I stayed closer to town and checked out some of the waterfalls nearby, there are about a dozen but I only visited two Watson falls and Toketee falls. They are easily accessible and both are less than a mile hike to the falls.

Toketee on the left, Watson on the right

Dark, Dank, and Claustrophobic

USFWS biologists stand within Valentine Cave

This week we were lucky enough to meet up with Katrina Smith, the Natural Resource Specialist from Lava Beds National Monument. Only a 40 minute drive drive south into California from our headquarters in Klamath Falls, this was a scheduled office field trip — an opportunity to learn more about the bat populations of the area and the cultural heritage of Tule Lake National Monument (also historically known as Camp Tule Lake). For the respect of the history of Camp Tule Lake and the incarceration of thousands of Japanese citizens and non-citizens, I will write a separate post in the future that is dedicated to this dark time in history.

Jenny helps set up mist nets outside of Camp Tule Lake structures.

A few months back we had worked with Katrina at Tule Lake assisting in bat mist netting, so the opportunity to hear more about her work in Lava Beds was especially compelling. She explained that there are fifteen species of bats found within the monument, and that species monitoring included winter hibernacula surveys, spring mist-netting, and acoustic surveys. There are three stations set up in Lava Beds that use stationary acoustic monitoring to give occupancy model information for population counts of each species; Katrina mentioned wishing the Park Service had access to more, but informed us that each station costs upwards of $2,000 and requires active data analysis in the form of paid employees, of which the monument is lacking in during winter months especially. The three species unanimously found at each site included the silver haired (Lasionycteris noctivagans), yuma (myotis yumanensis), and pallid (antrozous pallidus) bats.

Technicians prepare the acoustic monitor, Sonobat.

Many of us had heard mention of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has affected and killed millions of hibernating bats throughout North America. Until this past year, the disease had not been recorded in any bats in California. However, this past spring in Plumas County (near Lassen Volcanic National Park) four bats have since tested positive for low levels of the fungus, marking the spread of the disease to this part of the country.

Katrina takes a swab sample of a myotis volans.
This particular bat had very healthy and intact wings.

The bats we mist netted for at Camp Tule Lake this April were not affected by white-nose syndrome, but biologists continue to monitor the populations living in the abandoned buildings left over from Japanese internment and incarceration during World War II. Much like the risk to specific bird species in the area, migratory bats also continue to face threats of habitat loss, wind energy, and disturbance of roosting sites by the public. Katrina mentioned the need and desire to better understand the patterns of movement in bats as they migrate, and encouraged us all to come volunteer at any point in the future!

Some of the spaces required crawling to get through.

Our day continued with two cave tours from one of the Park geologists took us deep into Valentine Cave and Scull Cave! We learned about the formation of lava tubes and a little more about the research being done regarding climate change and the unique environments within each cave system.

Each cave boasts complex bacterial communities
The cooling of lava creates different textures on the cave floors.
The entrance/exit of Skull Cave.
Panoramic view of Lava Beds National Monument