Goodbye Escalante


I’m officially done with my internship, I worked some pretty crazy hours during those last 3 weeks but I finished my hours and I’m comfortably sitting in Aurora, Colorado right now and soon I’ll be flying home to Buffalo, NY. This internship was a really great experience, I did what I expected plus a ton more; bird banding, bat mist-netting, a paleontology dig, endemic plant monitoring, and even camped out in the field and helped remove Russian olive for a week. For being an SOS internship, It really was unexpectedly wide ranging.

Another great experience was living somewhere different from what you’re used to, with people different from what you’re used to, away from your friends, family, and girlfriend. It wasn’t always easy but it gave me a lot of time to work on everything I wanted to do with very few distractions and no excuses. While out here in Utah, I got to know myself a little better and or at the very least became a little less wrong about who I think I am. I highly recommend taking any chance you can to move out of your comfort zone. It makes it easier when you know it’s only temporary but who knows, maybe you’ll like it so much you want to stay. As for me, I’m on to the next place, wherever that is.


The End Is Coming

Escalante in FallIt’s been a hectic month to say the least, I don’t mean in the sense that it’s been busy, but instead slow and full of anxiety. The shutdown isn’t a common issue with CLM employees and would not have been a problem if I still had a car. I mean this in a few ways; since I couldn’t travel anywhere further than my bike would take me, the 16 day shutdown went by pretty slowly. During the shutdown, I went on long walks or bikes through town everyday, studied a lot, got some geographically-limited birding in (front yard, in town, and at the reservoir), worked out, and watched a few movies. I do all of these things normally, but getting out in the field helps make life more interesting. I’m not much of an indoor person, so it started to wear down my spirits.

OK, now to talk about the good parts of the Shutdown! if Anyone spends time in the desert like I have, Desert Ecology by John Sowell is a great read. I’ve been reading it and making flashcards based on some of the topics he talks about. It was published in 2001 but the info seems up to date for the most part. I found out that the 2 most common passerines in town are the White-crowned Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers. I’ve also been seeing Dark-eyed “Oregon” juncos a little further from town but I’ve never seen that variety before so it was exciting. Finally got a picture of a Black-billed Magpie, a super common bird but I’ve never been able to get a picture before now. There are tons of American Coots at the reservoir but I also happened upon a group of Double-crested Cormerants, a Great Blue Heron, and a mystery duck that I’m hoping to figure out (but if I can’t figure it out for sure,  I’d rather say a mystery than guess at it’s ID). Walking through town I noticed a tiny bluish-purple mustard growing roadside and on some lawns, I still need to figure out what it is.This plant was not here during the heat of the summer but only came up recently; temporal partitioning makes the world a more beautiful place.

Finally I’d like to mention that our almost 3 week hiatus didn’t ruin seed collecting for us, the seeds are still there. Actually, for the species we’re interested in they’re even more abundant. Yesterday I made 3 hefty collections on my own, or rather, finished 3 collections we started before the shutdown. I think things should stay pretty busy until the end because of all the time we had off. Two and a half weeks of work left, and I’m excited to finish things up here.

Winding down in Escalante

Three and a half months down, one and a half months to go. We’ve finished collecting most of our species and things are starting to wind down a little. Luckily more opportunities have started to open up. In fact, this morning I’m leaving for a week long camping trip down in the Escalante River for some invasive species removal and plant population monitoring. We’ve done a good deal of population monitoring recently and we’re planning on doing some range land monitoring when we get back. I’m looking forward to learning about that. Another potential opportunity we’ll have is cougar monitoring with one of the office’s wildlife biologists, he’s been tracking one with a collar for a while and examining the kills. We also hope we can get out with the paleontology crew again, but we’re still working on that.
Last week was probably the last Hummingbird banding session we’ll have. It’s been a great season, we’ve caught Black-chinned, Rufous, Broad-tailed, Calliope, and one Anna’s Hummingbird! The Anna’s has never been caught in Escalante before and on top of that, we’ve caught more Calliope than they’ve caught in the past. It’s been a great year for banding.
I’ve been doing a good deal of camping this last month, Zion twice, Arches, and Canyonlands. It’s been great being out here and being able to take advantage of all the great places around me. I don’t know if I’ll be doing anymore major site seeing while I’m here, but there’s still a lot of great local places to check out. It’s also nice that the job puts us out in the field where we end up seeing so much in the first place.

SOS and then some…

Selasphorus platycercus (Broad-tailed Hummingbird)

Escalante, Utah continues to impress. My personal botany field journal is growing too fast for me to keep up with (a good thing), especially with having to study birds and bats and anything else we end up working with. It’s good my friends and girlfriend aren’t here to distract me, there’s no way I could get so much work done (off hours) if they were here.

Additional bonus: Our boss told my coworker and me that the two of us can work with anyone else in the BLM/Forest Service as long as we initiate it (and as long as we’re keeping up with our collections). And we’ve taken full advantage of that. We’ve been banding hummingbirds and catching bats in mist-nets weekly. On top of that we’ve been invited by local paleontologist, Alan Titus, to come long on a dig with him for a couple days this week (always nice to go camping for the job). It’s extra exciting because he’s recently been in the news for having a new species of dinosaur named after him, Nasutoceratops titusi (I’m legitimately star struck). Another great opportunity has been volunteering with the Forest Service, this includes more hummingbird banding, Goshawk surveys, and HIKING IN A FOREST! Reminds me of home (NY), great stuff. At the end of September my coworker and I get to camp out for 7 days straight on a Russian Olive removal project.

This internship has been far more extensive that I thought it could have been. I’m excited at all the opportunities we don’t even know about yet. Almost exactly 3 months left, pretty excited to find out what’s in store.

First month in the Grand Staircase National Monument

So far, my adventure with the Conservation and Land Management internship has been exciting to say the least. After leaving the workshop at the Chicago Botanic Gardens Friday night, I only made it a few hours before totaling my car. Around 9:30pm I had an unfortunate encounter with a deer on interstate 88 near the border or Illinois and Iowa. Long story short, my car ended up 150+ feet from the side of the road and I was still 1300+ miles (over 20 driving hours) from my destination. With a lot of help from relatives, strangers, and my coworker Zack, I was able to make it to Escalante, Utah and in time for my first day.
The first week of work really revealed what my partner and I had gotten ourselves into, the position is driving intensive to say the least (something I didn’t take out of the interview). The Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument spans nearly 1.9 million acres and it’s our job to find important plant species to eventually make seed collections from. Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t mind having to drive so far each day, I really love the scenery; even when we’re driving through unbearably hot desert-like areas, I still find it beautiful. Sometimes the roads are pretty rough, we’re lucky to have such a large work truck otherwise I doubt we could make it. Sometimes the roads are paved, sometimes not, sometimes you’re on the edge of a mesa and the two-way road is barely more than one lane wide and you have a wall to your left and a sheer drop off to your right. I live for those roads, they’re exciting and terrifying all at once.
In terms of botanizing and plant identifying, the experience has been incredible. Back home in NY, this is part of what I do for fun, I know I’m not cool but I’m lucky to have nerdy friends that like the same thing. Often for me, the recreation and exercise of hiking is secondary to identifying plants, birds, fungi, etc. It’s great to be forced to do it for part of the job. Of course, identification is really as far as we take it for most species in the field, but when we get out of work, I get to studying the plants further, including associates, etymology and anything else I find interesting. I’ve really felt that pay off when I get back to work the next day. Knowing the Latin really helps you connect with the plants in an interesting way. A lot of the time the general and specific epithets are pretty descriptive if you know what they mean, and since I’ve never been to Utah before, I tend to learn what names mean before I actually get to see the plant in person. Finally seeing the plant and realizing why it’s named the way it is, really makes for a fascinating moment. Learning characteristics of plant families and having a good base knowledge in etymology is a great mechanism to identifying plants in the field you’ve never seen before, and it works no matter where you live.
I think this internship is a really great opportunity to study what you love in a place you’re not familiar with. It’s a rare opportunity, and I’ve been lucky enough to experience it twice. I went to school in New York, took an intensive field ecology course in the Florida Everglades during my last semester, and now I get to work across the country on the Colorado Plateau. Each experience so far has been so unique, but at least when I came home from the Everglades I was mysteriously a bit more knowledgeable about ecology in New York. I’m excited to see how 5 months here pays off back home, and I already feel like it will a great deal. I’m sure I won’t live in NY forever, but I know a broad range of experiences in different environments will pay off anywhere I end up.
To wrap up, I’d like to add that I don’t mind not having a car here in Escalante, sure it limits me to areas that are within biking distance but there’s so much to see right in and outside of town that I may have overlooked had I had a car here with me. I’ve had a great first month and am looking forward to what the next 4 will bring.