Thus far September has been a lovely month to be in the desert. Some intense monsoons have brought a lot of moisture to the area. The result has been magnificent: lush ocotillo, a variety of flowers in bloom, and beautiful skies. It has been a very pleasant time to be out in the field.
Barrel cactus in bloom
Green sunfish removal has been the focus over the last month. A contract crew from Phoenix has made two week long visits to Bonita creek. We are slowly catching less and less non-native fish! The native populations of Gila Chub and Sonora Sucker seem to be doing really well. A couple minor flood events have occurred in Bonita creek, one which blew out several of our nets. Several days of frantic searching for the lost nets ensued, but fortunately we were able to locate all of the missing units. The contract crews are done for the year, but our BLM crew will continue our non-native removal efforts throughout the winter.
We have also visited a couple new monitoring sites over the last month. One day we took a long bumpy road out to Spring Canyon. It is mostly a dry canyon, but a short portion has annual water and is home to a population of Longfin dace, a native endangered fish species. We were able to monitor adults and juveniles in the population and also spotted some Lowland leopard frogs. Success!
Lowland leopard frog
When in the office I have been working on summary data for non-native removal and from monitoring data from different sites. We have also been preparing for the grand opening of the greenhouse at the Discovery Park Campus. I have prepared information cards for all of the plants we will be growing out for restoration projects. At the grand opening there will also be a native pollinator plant give-away. I made care-cards for all of these plants so people have information on how to take care of their new plants. This has been a nice way to refresh myself on all the different plants we will be growing.
I have also had the opportunity to volunteer with game and fish doing desert tortoise monitoring. I traveled to Phoenix and spent the day hiking around Sugarloaf mountain in search of hidden desert tortoises. Not only did the crew track the 15 juveniles in their juvenile movement study, but 3 additional tortoises were spotted, as well as a Western Diamondback rattlesnake and a Tiger rattlesnake. I also made it out to another Sky Island Alliance volunteer weekend working at the Cobra Ranch, a Nature Conservancy property. We planted native grass seedlings at their native grass hay farm. It was a wonderful cloudy day to be playing in the dirt.
New native grasses planted at the native grass hay farm
- Desert Tortoise
On the search for tortoises
Another great month 🙂
Monsoon season is nearing the end and it has left washed out BLM roads, massively eroded areas, torn up roads and sticky traps for our trucks, but most importantly desperately needed water! Although the torrential rains washed away some seeds it has brought new life to the wildflowers. We are keeping hope alive and patiently waiting for them to start seeding then we will be right there to catch them. With roughly 2 months left we have our work cut out for us but cooler temperatures will make collecting more pleasant.
We had a chance to explore the New Mexico badlands near Angel Peak this week. Standing and looking out towards the horizon, being able to see for hundreds of miles and blue skies, it was almost ethereal. I could have stayed out there for hours. I have learned the desert is not my favorite biome but what it lacks in lush vegetation and cool temperatures, it makes up for in expansive undeveloped territories, covert colorful wildflowers, and brilliant huge rainbows! I want to soak up as much of this area as I can while I still can.
We packed all our gear into USFWS’s largest truck – a Dodge Ram. We had two electrofishing backpacks, waders, nets, 16 gallons of water, and four girls’ worth of camping gear and food. Needless to say packing the truck was a bit of an art. So off we went, the project biologist leading the way in a sedan and the Ram following close behind. The trip was about 2.5 hours, only one hour of which was on paved roads. From there it was an hour and a half driving on dirt roads to a campsite and nearby survey areas. We were conducting presence/absence surveys for endangered suckers (Lost River, Klamath Large Scale, Shortnose) in along streams in the Clear Lake portion of the Modoc National Forest in California. Our supervisor showed us the survey sections on the map with a general idea of site priority, showed us where we should deploy our two sondes (named Curly and Moe), then turned around and drove back to Klamath Falls, Oregon. And so we camped the night amongst coyotes howling and owls hooting overhead and started surveying the next day.
The first section we managed to electroshock successfully and most of the fish were Dace and the beautiful and brightly colored Green Sunfish. We pretty quickly realized pretty much all of our patched and re-patched waders had holes in them. But we caught a few juvenile suckers. For each pool that contained suckers, we mapped and took depth measurements – which, in the absence of a meter stick, involved myself wading across the sometimes deep pools and yelling out where the water came up to (2” above knee! Crotch deep! Brr I’m wet now). Then we reached much larger, deeper pools which were much more difficult to shock effectively. The fish would feel the shock and swim away before we could stun and/or catch them. Many pools were too deep for our (leaky) waders and we gave up part-way. Then we reached a wide, waist deep pool and by shocking along the edges the girls caught a large fish which was – Eureka! A sucker! We hadn’t expected to catch such big guys out here and it was super exciting.
The next few days of surveys yielded many Scaulpin, bullfrogs, and more difficult survey conditions. Our last survey site contained large, deep pools with descent size fish that we suspected were suckers, so we employed as many tactics as we could think of to catch them – we tried herding them to one side of the pond and then shocking, we tried leaving the probe in the water and waiting till they were close and then shocking – but this tactic was not particularly successful; they swam as soon as you pushed the trigger. In the end we managed to catch a few through a combination of herding, sneak attacking, free netting and pure luck. We did catch some more big suckers and the biologists at USFWS were pretty thrilled – their presence was unknown as far up the streams as we caught them. We were not so excited about backpack electroshocking in leaky waders.
With 90+ collections, so far, we have surpassed our original goal by more than 50%. We are now able to slow the collections a bit and shift our focus to packing and shipping seed, and finalizing the supporting documentation for each collection.
- Each collection requires photographs of plant, seed and habitat. From the many pictures taken, we must now choose the best. Thanks to Jonathan, who has been keeping up with this aspect of the project from the beginning.
- From the multiple pressed vouchers that we have made all season, the very finest are being selected to be be sent to the Smithsonian. The remaining quality specimens will be reserved for local and regional herbaria. Labels for each voucher must also be created. It is interesting to look back on all the plants that we have known this year.
- While vital habitat data was collected at the location of each plant population, field data forms now need to be fleshed-out and finalized. This includes updating information such as driving directions to each site. Thank goodness for Google Maps! Also, GIS layers are of great assistance, in filling the ecoregion and geology fields for each seed collection.
- We are also using GIS to create detailed maps for each site.
Although the new seed collections seem to be slowing a bit, there are still several species that have yet to ripen, and 100 or more collections for the season still seems realistic. Here are a few of the later-season plants and scenes that we have encountered:
Our primary work vehicle gets us to the plants
These little ones didn’t seem so cute while they were jumping up on me as I attempted to collect seed
Helianthus bolanderi cooperating for the group photo
Frangula californica with pollinator
The myco-heterotrophic Pterospora andromedea
The appropriately named Rock Creek, Jackson Co., Ore.