CLM: R&R (Research and Relaxation)
Hello everyone!! Sorry for the lack of blog posts lately! I have been ultra-busy with work and traveling!! I have been giving presentations on my cheatgrass project to Buffalo BLM office staff and officials from outside organizations. There were many small projects I was able to work on during the Fall time. I had NISIMS and a vectorization project to do during the slower days of October and November. Another major work project was to help out the BLM Recreation Department with middle and high school education field days! After all of the major work tasks, I used my comp time to go on two vacations. The first vacation was a week in the Grand Tetons and the other vacation was in New Mexico! The rest of the blog would be dedicated to the following subjects! Brace yourselves!!
Vectorization of Ecosites
This was a busy project for the late Fall era of my internship! I received an old map of ecosites in our area. My goal was to vectorize and digitize the map for future use. The scanned raster map was given to me at the beginning of the project. I was supposed to draw polygons around each of the ecosites. After tracing the polygons around each ecosite, I assigned attribute values to the traced polygons. The scanned maps had range types and capacities written in purple. I transferred that information to the attribute table of the polygons. This project was pretty straight forward, but had many challenges. The scanned map had many holes and missing text. I had to view the original ecosite map and fill in the blanks.
For the Sake of NISIMS
Another side project I have been working on was NISIMS at Welch Recreation Area. Corrine, Nick, and myself have been going to Welch Recreation Area to look for invasive plants. Luckily, we only encountered a few bad invasive plants like houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale) and bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare). Smooth brome (Bromus inermis) was literally everywhere in this area, but this grass was not really bad and was planted with the alfalfa (Medicago sativa) apparently by the landowner. I did encounter reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) along some of the smaller tributaries of the Tongue River. A new plant that I encountered here was European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)! (Bum bummm BUUUUUMM!!!) Yes, apparently this bad invasive shrub that could be found in the understory of Chicago along highways has been found here in Wyoming! I noticed a large patch near the parking area, but apparently, this shrub was not in the Wyoming NISIMS database, so I developed my own shapefile and attribute data and gave it to BLM Legend Dusty to deal with in the future. There were only twelve plants, and only four of those were seeding. Dusty told us to look for whitetop (Lepidium/Cardaria draba) and Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica), which could be found in the western sector of the recreation area. I think we will not be able to make it to the western section this internship…so there will be work for the next intern! Some plants I did notice were field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), common mullein (Verbascum thapsus), and common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) growing along the river. Thankfully, we did not encounter any really bad plants.
The final stage of my cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) project was near completion! After developing large cheatgrass density maps for the field office, I was supposed to present my results of the project. The main goal was to show what I did and how the results could benefit the BLM staff. This was supposed to be a forty-five minute presentation to the Resources and NRS Divisions of our office. People from the County Weed Office and University of Wyoming Employees were welcome to attend as well. The presentation was focused on methodology and results in case other people wanted to use this project for their own field office. My first presentation was in October. Unfortunately, the presentation date fell on hunting season, so some of the BLM employees were not able to come. On November 10th, I would have the rest of the employees attend if they were not able to make it to the first presentation.
The first presentation went great! I was able to talk about the overall layout of the project, the methodology, the calculations, the results, and future applications. The presentation had to be simple, because people from the outside community may not know about raster calculations or supervised classification. Many of the employees were excited over the results and the overall meeting lasted an hour and twenty minutes. The Resources and Fire Planning Divisions at work were especially happy about the outcome.
Soon, the raster data along with the vector cheatgrass density layer would be available for everyone in the office to use. This data would help with NEPA documents, future spraying projects, and fire planning.
There was a major issue I did encounter while working on this cheatgrass density project for the BLM…. I was called and emailed a multitude of times by the State Office or the NOC in Denver, Colorado. You may be asking, why I got all of these calls or messages. Apparently, this GIS project took up a large amount of bandwidth and data from the state servers. Many Computer IT people were baffled at first and were always asking what I am up to. I guess I was taking up the most amount of bandwidth in the BLM agency working on this project. Terabytes of data and hours of processing was pretty taxing to the system. I had a few conference calls and had to show them all of the data I produced. This project was able to help prepare National Internet servers and IT people in terms of planning for future projects. It was an interesting experience overall talking with the NOC! ^_^;;;
Educating the Masses: The Field’s A Stage
Towards the end of September, I volunteered to help out the BLM Recreation Department with educating middle and high school students! The first two days involved educating the high school students. Large groups from Sheridan High School came to learn about Nature in a park near the Montana border! During the mornings, I was in charge of bug collection and identification. The BLM and Forest Service would cycle through eight groups of twelve students and give a lecture at each station. Whenever the students came to my station, I would give the students jars and nets and have them run out into the field and capture insects. Towards the end, I would call them in and discuss about the Insect Orders everyone encountered. I was very enthusiastic with the students. Many of them did not like insects or the colder weather. By the end of each group, all the students were really excited about capturing insects. When they were out in the field collecting, I would run up to each group and look in their bugs nets. Most of the time people caught various grasshoppers (Orthoptera), bees (Hymenoptera), and leafhoppers (Hemiptera). The more unique insects were temporarily put in a jar for the students to look at. Some students found mantids (Mantodea), large spiders (Araneae), gall wasps (Hymenoptera), and moths (Lepidoptera), which was always a treat to see! One of my favorite things to do would be to run up to someone that was hardly trying to capture insects in the net and congratulate them on the successful capture of various insects. They would say, “I did not capture anything…” Then I showed them their net full of small insects and leafhoppers. They become slightly motivated and begin to capture various insects.
In the afternoon, we would take the students to Welch Recreation Area. Each group would talk about what the BLM does for work! Damen and I were in charge of showing the high schoolers what we do for vegetation monitoring. This was a slightly dry subject and the kids loved to hop back and forth along the transect even after we instructed them how to properly monitor for plants. I established two small transects and groups of two people would walk along the transect and record the plant and ground cover. It would take around fifteen minutes for the students to look at ten points. (It would take me under two minutes to do the same thing.) After everyone collected their data, Damen would lecture the students on calculating groundcover and talk to them about the importance of vegetation monitoring on public lands. Overall, the high school education experience was amazing and I was fortunate enough to do this twice!!
The last day, we got to go to Middle Fork Campground up in the mountains and talk about various sciences to middle schoolers. Different forest service and BLM staff lectured on subjects such as water ecology, photography, ornithology, and cleaning up trash. My exciting education subject was geology! Since I am a rock hounder and have a degree in geology, I was pretty excited to teach about one of my passions. I brought a bag full of rocks from around the Buffalo Field Office. I brought various rocks, minerals, and fossils with me to entertain the middle schoolers. I decided to talk about the geologic time and history of the region from the Cambrian Period up to the present and talk about how each of these rocks were made. I found out fast that the children did not like geology…at all. The first two presentations were very rocky (no pun intended). The kids looked bored or gave me death stares. This was the first time I encountered this, so I had to quickly evolve my teaching style and subjects. By the third group, I talked quickly about geologic time and rocks, but then I lectured on volcanoes, earthquakes, and other interesting geologic events of Wyoming. With each group, I honed in my lecture. By the fifth group, all the children were participating and were amazed about rocks and earthquake events. Even when it was raining, they would ask questions and take notes, which excited me! By the last group, the lecture was a work of art and all of the children were excited about rocks, geologic time, and Wyoming’s dynamic past! Phew!!! Tough crowd. I learned a lot from this day and how to lecture to a younger audience! My past experience in education was teaching high schoolers, first graders, and college students. Teaching middle schoolers was a different ball game for me! Overall, I really enjoyed this day! I learned a great deal about educating middle schoolers and adapting my teaching style to interest kids!
I was very fortunate to take a small vacation before my major vacation at the end of September!! My parents, along with myself, went to the Grand Tetons National Park! This was during peak fall color, so every deciduous shrub and tree was a yellow- orange- red color. Most of the days had perfect weather. I had many opportunities to go bird watching and go fishing! During this time, the Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri) and Snake River fine spotted cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii behnkei?) were active! My parents and I caught a lot of nice sized cutthroat trout! I usually catch and release but my Dad wanted to keep all the large fish for future fish fillets. Beyond fishing, we did hiking and bird watching! One of the most common birds to see was the white crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) and the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis). As I was bird watching, I was able to see many moose (Alces alces), which were active in the park at this time. The Yellowstone wildfires this year pushed different mammal species into the Grand Tetons, so we saw a larger number of large ungulates. Overall, this small mini-cation was great! The Grand Tetons is my favorite National Park and I was happy I got to visit them again!!
New Mexico: Beyond the Sands and Deserts
There was a lot of comp time I had left, so I decided to take a large trip down to Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas! I wanted to go during peak bird migration times in New Mexico! For the first few days, I went down to my sister’s place in Denver to celebrate my nephew’s birthday! From there I was able to travel with my parents down to New Mexico to areas like Roswell, Carlsbad Caverns, the Guadalupe Mountains, White Sand Dunes, and Bosque del Apache!
Our first major stop was in Roswell, New Mexico! I was able to go to the International Museum for UFO Study and Research. I learned all about the Truth and how is way out there! Even within a couple of years since the last time I went to this town, the area greatly expanded due to oil and gas development. You could tell that the town got a large upgrade!
After Roswell, I went to the town of Carlsbad! This town was great and I never expected it to be so large! I visited the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park, which was great to see! There were many cacti (Family: Cactaceae), ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), and cholla (Genus: Cylindropuntia) everywhere! To the south of town, I was able to go to Carlsbad Caverns! This MASSIVE cave system existed underneath the desert. I have been to many caves in my life, but I never visited a cave system so large before! There were many amazing stalactites and stalagmites everywhere! With all of the great views this cavern had to offer, we left a little earlier so we could make it down to the Guadalupe Mountains down in Texas. We did miss the bats (Order: Chiroptera), but I have seen bats fly out of caves in great numbers before.
Down in Texas, I was able to visit the Guadalupe Mountains! This place had many migrating birds and I was able to do a lot of bird watching here! Hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus), white crowned sparrows, western bluebirds (Sialia mexicana), white winged doves (Zenaida asiatica), verdin (Auriparus flaviceps), various quails (Family: Odontophoridae), red tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), and marsh wrens (Cistothorus palustris) were the most common species I saw down in the park! It was baffling for me as a bird watcher. I recognized all of the bird songs, but I had trouble identifying the birds due to the environment I was in. I usually associate a hermit thrush melody with a forest or a marsh wren song with a wetland, but down in the yucca and shrubland areas these birds were hard to pick out. I would hear a hermit thrush but my brain had trouble connecting the song with the bird, because I was in a totally different habitat. The Guadalupe Mountains had great trails and I was able to find Apache plumes (Fallugia paradoxa), which were my favorite southwestern plant.
After the Guadalupe Mountains, we made our way to Alamogordo, New Mexico! This area had the New Mexico Museum of Space History and the White Sands National Monument. The museum was interesting! I learned all about the history of the World’s space programs. I learned how to accidentally destroy a $145 million dollar device in a flight simulator! Beyond the simulator, I learned about the rocket tests and important people who contributed to space science! I even got to try on a space suit!
One of my favorite locations to visit was the White Sands National Monument. This area was a large expanse of white gypsum sand that had specialized plants and animals! You definitely had to wear sunglasses during the day! The albedo from the sand and the sunlight was very intense! It was like walking on a different planet! I have been to this location five years ago and I noticed a great change in the southern dune systems! Plants were colonizing like crazy! Alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and various yucca plants were growing all over the shallow dunes! In the past I really did not see this! Another interesting thing to notice was the wildlife! Many of the grasshoppers and Southwestern fence lizards (Sceleporus cowlesi) were a white to grey color! The only thing that stood out was the darkling beetles (Genus: Eleodes), which were black. I loved climbing on the sand dunes and looking for plants and animals. Unfortunately, many people used the dunes for recreation, which is great, but they left their trash behind which was not great.
One of our last major stops was Bosque del Apache! This area was one of my favorite birding places! I always love looking for black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans), greater roadrunners (Geococcyx californianus), and Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii). This time of year, I got to see a huge amount of migrating waterfowl! Northern pintails (Anas acuta), American coots (Fulica americana), mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), Northern shovelers (Anas clypeata), lesser scaup (Aythya affinis), snow geese (Chen caerulescens), Canada geese (Branta canadensis), and western grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)! In the fields, I saw many sandhill crane (Grus canadensis)! These cranes were everywhere and were increasing in number every day!
This larger vacation was just what I needed! Even if I was sick for most of the time, I really enjoyed visiting different ecosystems, exploring caves, and bird watching! New Mexico has been great and I was fortunate to have the comp time to visit many areas and view different flora and fauna!
After my vacation, I arrived just in time for Halloween! The Buffalo Field Office invites young trick or treaters to come to the office and receive candy. The parents were just as excited, because they got to scope out potential candies they could tax from their children. I dressed up as an Australian DAWR (Department of Agriculture and Water Resource) Legend…basically the Australian version of a BLM Legend. I got to wear my j-hat and my safari clothes for the event. I handed out Lindor candy and tootsie roll pops as well! When the pre-school kids did come, they were overwhelmed by the whole experience. They were sort of confused why their parents made them dress up and walk around a dark office receiving candy. Many of the BLM employees brought their children as well! They were more used to the office and people! For the rest of the day, we continued our work and celebrated BLM Legend Charlotte’s birthday towards the end of the day!
Grand Slam of Fishing
Moment of Zen