I don’t like goodbyes

Well, all things must come to an end, but it is certainly hard to imagine how quickly this summer flew by! My time here in Idaho has come to an end and it’s about time I head back to home to Mississippi for a short break. Before I make it back home though, I’ll be sure to stop by a few national parks and forests on the way that I just can’t go without seeing!

Awesome tree haven found during a holiday trip

This summer was filled with a lot of new friendships and some unexpected lessons to be learned. While unfortunately I didn’t get to certify myself for wildlife fighting, I still grew as a person and renewed a few of my other skill sets. I was able to re-certify my CPR training in the beginning of the summer and throughout, I was able to continue practicing my bird, plant and invertebrate (as well as other organisms) identification skills. Even though I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily learned any new skills, I feel it is still important to keep practicing skills essential to one’s profession, which I am certain I have. The training provided throughout the summer was very valuable and I was happy to add new knowledge whenever I could, whether it be sage brush identification, or riparian habitat training. Also, learning your way around a GPS model that is new to you can take some practice. I had no idea that GPS units could vary so much! In addition, I also feel like whenever you are given the opportunity to work so closely and continuously with people from different backgrounds in your field, it provides an opportunity to grow and this should not be taken for granted. Socialization and teamwork are skills and attributes that continuously grow throughout your lifetime and I believe each year and each new field partner I receive adds another chapter to my growth. I wouldn’t have enjoyed my summer experience as much as I had if I didn’t have a field partner I could relate with so well on a professional and personal level. Experiences and friendships formed such as these are something I cherish forever and will always be grateful for. You really don’t know how much you appreciate a great field partner turned friend until you’ve experienced working with someone in the past who was a total nightmare! Details like these can make all the difference and can make working your dream job either a living nightmare or a dream-come-true depending on what attitudes and energy you are surrounded by. Thankful to be on the lucky end of things!

the CLM crew electrofishing in Ketchum

burrowing owl

Hera buckmoth found near Malta, ID

little garter snake with a water droplet beard <3

What was rewarding to me was being able to give a helping hand to the BLM, as well as other government entities, whenever I could on a variety of projects. Not only did we assist with sage grouse monitoring, but the BLM also got us out there to pursue studying other organisms of interest whenever they could. From raptor surveys, monarch tagging and jewel beetle wrangling to electrofishing some impressive trout, I feel like our field office tried it’s best to fit in as much wildlife experience as they could in addition to our time in the field studying botany. I found it very rewarding to be able to do both whenever possible, as I have a natural tendency to prefer wildlife over botany. There were a lot of first sightings for me in both the wildlife and botanical realm this summer, and that’s always a plus for me too. 🙂

white lined sphinx caterpillar

the smallest of monarch caterpillars during our search for adults and larvae 🙂

Lycaenid butterfly

I wanted to highlight these experiences that I mentioned above because I don’t want to seem ungrateful at all for the time and experience I gained this summer. The Burley field office has a very welcoming crew and I feel like they did whatever they could to preoccupy us with as much biological surveying as possible. It’s an honor to be the first batch of interns they received from this program and hopefully they will continue to do so in the future!

Beautiful rainbow trout caught while electrofishing with USGS

wood river sculpin also found while electrofishing with USGS

However, I would like to be honest and highlight some expectations that were not met, as requested by the CLM program employees as hopefully this can help other interns in the future. Before accepting the position, it was my understanding that this internship would be majority botany and/or wildlife related. After interviews and questions were all said and done, I went into this thinking that I would be utilized the majority of the time for botany field work. While I did end up working outside more than in the office(which personally, I always appreciate), I feel like the botany aspect was not as prominent as advertised. All in all, the data collection for AIM (habitat assessment for sage grouse) plant surveys, which I understood to be at least 3 out of 5 months of my internship, only lasted about a month. On the other-hand, my field partner and I spent nearly two months placing plastic markers on cattle fence in order to lower sage grouse mortality. While I am not refuting the importance of going to these locations to make sure the fencing is safe for this species, my understanding was that we would be doing majority botany work and I would get a greater opportunity to practice my botanical identification. However, we also got the chance to be involved with the data management aspect of AIM, which is just as important. After the field season for AIM was over, we were also involved with some habitat assessment projects which is a great skill and experience to have, especially if one wants to be involved with ecology. So while I am not trying to knock the internship as a whole because I definitely had some great experiences and cherish this opportunity to look into how the BLM functions, I feel like there is room for improvement for the CLM program.

Coming here as a 3 year alumni from another internship program (Student Conservation Association), I feel like I already had a certain expectation for internships working alongside DOI , which should certainly be taken into account. While working with the people at the Burely office, I could feel that they were doing their best to try and give us as many interesting surveys as possible and I really appreciate that they went out of their way for us, even though they have plenty of their own work to do. This critique is not something that I feel is unique to our field office, as I spoke to other CLM interns in other offices and they had similar thoughts. On the contrary, I feel lucky that our office worked so much to give us as much experience as possible because I feel like compared to other offices, we had more opportunity to work with wildlife and botany surveys. As with many things in life, I am sure this a matter with a multitude of layers and is not something to be pointing fingers at one particular thing. I realize that CLM and BLM are different from other internship programs and government entities, and my only wish is for both of them to continue to flourish despite any obstacles or critiques.

All-in-all with that being said, I know a part of me will certainly miss Idaho and the beautiful views and natural wonders it granted me while I was here. Thanks to this summer, I feel ready and prepared for my next endeavor, which is to attend graduate school, and look forward to what the road has awaiting for me.

Much love to the sagebrush steppe xxxx


City of Rocks reserve near Alma, ID – a must-see if you’re in the area

Journeys in the Land of Salmon and the Cave of Wonders


As promised earlier, This is a continuation of my summer updates here in Burley, Idaho! So much time has passed, I figured it would be more effective to split my updates into two different posts (the last one is called “Did you know there’s a town named Idahome in Idaho?” if interested, if not – that’s cool too.)

Since leaving the Chicago Botanic Garden, this internship has continued to train me in all sorts of subjects. One subject I did not expect training in the dry, sagebrush steppe of southern Idaho was riparian habitat assessment! The training was brief and only lasted about two days, but was very eye-opening nonetheless. The training revolved around a set of questions meant to make you think and look closely as you assess the chosen riparian habitat. The questions can seem very subjective at first, but when you see the thought process of those with more experience go through the questions, it becomes more clear. This experience was different in that I had to look closely at the world around me in order to spot any clues about the stream’s health and history, instead of relying strictly on collected data alone. I almost felt as if I were a riparian detective! Little clues such as plant species, stream direction and stream bank variation can all play a part in telling you what is going on with that habitat. Even though I am used to a different set of wetlands in the southeast, it was exciting to learn about how to assess the streams and seasonal riparian habitats of the west.

Hera buckmoth we found the other day in the field (not near our riparian assessment training site)

Another critter we stumbled upon in the field – Horny toad!

Another training session that gave me life and enough excitement for at least an entire week, or more, was the salmon redd count training that occurred in early August at the Sawtooth fish hatchery! This was a highly anticipated event not only for the fact that we got some salmon training in, but also there would be camping involved. The region around the Sawtooth fish hatchery is just stunning and this was a really great experience overall. There were so many people from all over the state and all sorts of departments and organizations that came for this training. One of the best parts was getting to know those well-seasoned biologists who have already been counting and identifying redds for many years now. Listening to their experiences during their surveys and how they complete them was inspiring. I can’t even imagine having to do some of the things these folks accomplish when trying to collect data. Sure, rafting sounds fun, but having to identify if you pass a redd while floating down a river? Well, I certainly don’t have enough experience to be confident enough to do that successfully on my own. Now, I see I have failed to explain what a “redd” is, and seeing as this is mostly a botanical internship program, I will. So, a redd is a term used to describe the nest made by female salmon once they have migrated up the streams to spawn. These redds can be, in my novice opinion, extremely inconspicuous if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Even if you do, it still takes a lot of practice, if you ask me. The redds consist of a “pillow” which is a noticeable pile of rocks and gravel that the females have formed by using their tails in order to push the gravel in place and lay their eggs in. These pillows normally have small to medium rocks and the size selection can be quite noticeable when comparing them to the surrounding area. Redds will also have trenches and a pit near the pillow. The pit is indicative of the work the females had to put in to select and move the gravel chosen for her pillow. The trenches are also indicators of all the work the females have pushed through despite nearing the end of their lives. These “trenches” are dug by the females and usually on either side of the “pillow”.  They are created in order to direct more stream flow over the pillow full of eggs. This gives the eggs more oxygen and diminishes the chance of the eggs asphyxiating, thus failing to hatch. The act of creating these trenches in order to ensure their eggs get as much oxygen as they need is honestly mind-boggling to me. It’s been truly an honor to receive this training in a field I already had a lot of interest in, especially as a future career. I knew salmon were incredible creatures already.Their resilience and willpower to push through and spawn up streams, far away from the ocean they grew up in, despite the fact that their bodies are starting to fall apart and essentially shut down, is so inspiring. If you have doubts on what animal deserves our admiration for their grit and willpower, I believe salmon are a worthy contender for that admiration.

Chinook salmon at the hatchery.. some seriously huge and beautiful fish!



Part of a trail we managed to fit in after training

Near our campsite

In order to wrap up this blog post, I’d like to end with a summary of another exciting activity that happened at work just this past week. We had the opportunity to work with those in the Shoshone BLM office in order to explore Gypsum Cave, one of the longest lava tubes in the lower 48! It has certainly been a while since the last time I was in a cave, but I believe this was my first time ever entering a lava tube. The entire experience was thrilling. Just being able to feel the temperature difference between the cave entrance and inside the cave was so cool (in an eerie sort of way), that I got goosebumps! If you can’t handle small spaces, even for a short amount of time, I wouldn’t recommend it however, as there were a few times we had to crawl our way through the next large, open pathway. The moment we crawled through the entrance where the cave opened up into a large, rocky hallway, I felt as if I had entered another world. The underground realm still contained some familiar sites, such as rats and frogs and all the excrement that come with them, but the further I walked in, the further away I felt from our world above. There were sections of the cave where the floor and ceiling sparkled with minerals, as if someone had glitter-bombed the cave before we entered. Feces left behind by some unknown guests in the past were covered in fluffy, alien fungi that shone white in the light of our headlamps. We passed by bones of rats that have long since perished and carcasses of rabbits that still appeared intact, untouched by time. My only regret is not having enough time to explore the side passages as we only had enough time to hike straight to the end of the cave. By the end of trip, I definitely felt tired but it was exhaustion in the most rewarding kind of way. We had the opportunity to experience something so unique and after that day, I definitely felt a flame spark within me, urging me to keep this experience in mind and to pursue this new found fascination for caves in the future.

Beginning of Gypsum Cave as it slowly begins to open up

Tiny footprints left behind some cave residents – most likely pack rats

If you leave a cave without a cool picture of yourself, did it really even happen?

Until next time – stay curious


Did you know there’s a town named Idahome in Idaho?


Well, it has been a while since I’ve previously updated this blog on my adventures with the BLM office in Burley and as one can imagine, there are certainly a lot of gaps to fill. I’ll be posting twice this week in order to make up for lost time. If you thought there was going to be more discussion on the town name of Idahome, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I just thought it would be an interesting tidbit of knowledge to add to your day. The rest of my blog will be entirely on what we have been up to at the Burley office! But gee, isn’t that town name awfully silly? (No offense directed towards anyway from Idahome or Idaho. It definitely puts a smile on my face!)

Following my first few weeks at Burley, we were given the opportunity to assist with an on-going raptor nest monitoring project. These surveys entailed us tracking previously marked points where nests have been found in the past and investigating whether or not the nest was still active — and if so, who is using it. Unfortunately, we ran into a lot more raven nests than I would personally like to find, however we did run into a few swainson’s hawk and ferruginous hawk nests along the way. It’s astonishing to run into so many ferruginous hawks and golden eagles up here, honestly. As a transplant from the southeast, I am used to having these birds cataloged as “rare” in my brain, and to see them in such abundance here in their prime habitat is truly amazing. Getting a chance to brush up on my raptor identification isn’t too shabby of a perk either, if I do say so myself! Not only did we get to track down previous nest sites, but we even had the opportunity to try and identify new nests built this year!

Mountains near some of our raptor nest survey sites

In addition to surveying for raptors and working on AIM transects, our office gave us a chance later in the season to do an overall biological survey on certain significant points on BLM land. One of the BLM biologists needed us to survey as much as we can including birds, small mammals, insects, etc. While we didn’t see anything too rare or unexpected, it certainly beats staying in the office, especially when you are surrounded by common nighthawks. I even spotted my first badger on one of our surveys! That’s exciting stuff right there.

Scarlet Gilia we found during our AIM transect. The camera really can’t do that color justice!

Indian paintbrush

Raptors have certainly not been the only focus in our lives though. We’ve dipped into surveying for multiple taxa including beetles! Idaho Fish and Game took time out of their day to take us, as well as the CLM interns based in Shoshone, for a day of surveying. The biologist was specifically looking for a certain species of jewel beetle, but welcomed all of our catches, with or without jewel beetles. The specific jewel beetle he was looking for fed on the roots of buckwheat plants, but due to their feeding habits and elusive nature, these little guys are apparently pretty hard to get a hold of! Nevertheless, it was a wonderful day to learn some entomology and get a chance to swing some nets outdoors. I would like to mention though, one of the Shoshone interns did manage to capture a beetle of interest! Exciting news that made the day well worth it. What’s more exciting is when you consider the fact that according to the Fish and Game biologist, there is a significant lack of data in the field of entomology, especially with concern to beetles, here in Idaho. That means there’s an entire world of entomological discoveries yet to be explored here in Idaho, waiting for someone to answer the siren call! If only there were more time in the season to go play with bugs..

Last but not least, I can’t forget to mention the workshop provided at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The garden itself was truly a spectacle. I’ve only been to Chicago a few times myself and never in any of those trips was I even aware of the botanic garden’s presence. Walking through the garden during and after the workshop was like strolling through a dream. Each section of the garden was immaculate and you can certainly tell there is a lot of love and hard work put into it. To top things off, there was even a butterfly garden exhibit on display that week! (self-proclaimed butterfly maniac over here) I was honestly very upset to have to leave so soon! I’d probably be content to live among the butterflies for a few months…. That’s normal, right? This feeling may also be attributed to all the friends and acquaintances I made during that week as well. It’s hard to say goodbye! Between the educational workshop sessions, the blooming of beautiful and strange flowers and friendships, it was surely a week to remember.

(Prepare yourself – picture dump ahead!)


One of many bonsai displayed at the Chicago Botanic Garden. So vibrant!

Beautiful succulent with a diamond (raindrop, if you look with less imagination) in the middle.

Big Ol’ Dr. Seuss lookin’ onion

From the butterfly garden

Leaf or butterfly? You decide.

Caught some summer lovin’ at the garden.

Nothing like making new, long-lasting connections at something so brief such as our workshop. 🙂

Southern Transplant

It’s a long way from Starkville, Mississippi, but I feel confident when I say, I believe I’ve found my own little piece of home here in Burley and Twin Falls, Idaho. To say the BLM team in Burley are an accommodating and friendly folk would be an understatement. Not only have they made sure I get to expand my experience in certain fields I’m interested in, aside from the initial job I came here for, but they made a girl feel like she’s at home away from home on her birthday. Homemade cake and donuts while working out in the sagebrush steppe all day… now, how can you find anything wrong with that kind of birthday celebration? Celebrations aside, this field season has commenced with a great start.

Views of Sheep Mountain and Black Pine MT range during a plant workshop

To be honest, the highlight of my month has been two things. First and foremost, the opportunities to complete some raptor nest surveys for the BFO (Burley Field Office) biologist. Being able to jump back in the raptor survey and identification saddle was a nice change of pace from training and office work. Most importantly, at least three life birds were crossed off the list when golden eagles, ferruginous hawks and sage grouse decided to grace us with their presence! I wish I had pictures as proof, but unfortunately they weren’t up for a photo shoot. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Second place actually ties with two highlights from the past month. One would be my growing knowledge and library of plant identification for this ecosystem that is entirely new to me. I have had a blast collecting samples from the field and keeping them in a makeshift press in order to have real samples on deck just in case. The surprising amount of diversity here can be breathtaking, but who knew there were so many species of sagebrush? (Probably many people, but I certainly didn’t until a few weeks ago). Thanks to Roger and the rest of the crew at our initial plant workshop, I feel like I had a great start and great group of teachers to help me along the way.

Chocolate lily found in City of Rocks area.

It has been quite the adventure so far, roaming around the sagebrush steppe and marveling at each new jewel I discover when I look closer (or when a plant guru points them out to me, which happens to be the case the majority of the time).

Another beautiful discovery hidden away in a nook somewhere in City of Rocks reserve.

I suppose I should tell you the last experience that tied with second in most exciting things to come from my first month in Idaho. Now, this could have turned into a major inconvenience for our other team that was completing raptor nest surveys in the area, but thankfully with a little bit of brain power and a whole lot of horsepower, inconvenience was avoided. I realize there may be some folks here in CLM who don’t have experience with backcountry driving, which is why I’ll explain what happened in hopes that just maybe, this will help someone out in the future.  First off, take it from first hand experience, but don’t go driving off into two tracks that sort of appear like roads if you glance real hard. The risk and time it will take from you is just not worth it. Secondly, if you believe you’ve gotten yourself stuck in a field truck, give yourself a few minutes to calm down and think. Yes, I’m sure you can probably guess what happened by now. We might have run into a bit of trouble with a few, well hidden dips in the road, but rest assured, there’s a happy ending! After realizing what had happened, all it took was a few minutes of contemplation to realize 1) Hey dummy, you should have put the truck in 4 wheel drive ages ago, and 2) if you’re losing traction, look for a wooden plank. Why a wooden plank you ask? Well, I can’t necessarily explain all the logistics behind it, but if you feel as if your tires are losing traction in mud (bits of mud are flying everywhere when you hit the gas), it’s always good to have a wooden plank on hand to stick under the tires. This will allow more traction for your tires when you try to drive out of that mess and can hopefully save you from having to wait to be pulled out. The relief from realizing this worked was enough to make my entire weekend! This was also an important reminder that if you aren’t sure you can clear something with your truck, it’s better to get out and inspect the area yourself before driving through it. Now, if this little tangent didn’t teach you anything at all because you have more sense and/or experience than me, then I hope that at least you got a chuckle out of it. I’m a firm believer in not taking yourself too seriously and learning from past mistakes.

I’m sure I could fit more into this post if I rattled my brain hard enough, but I’ll keep my first post short and sweet. Until next time, stay safe and keep on, keepin’ on!

Best wishes,

Isabela V