The time is just flying by here at the Lander Field Office! We now have completed 18 seed collections and have just a few more planned before the end of the season. Some new additions include 3 different species of Penstemon, and important genus on our target list, and Hedysarum boreale ssp. boreale var. boreale (sheesh – what a long name!) which has never been collected in this field office before.
This past week, we have begun packing up our seeds and preparing them for shipment to the Bend Seed Extractory in Bend, Oregon where they will be cleaned and processed for long-term storage or conservation projects. I spend much time admiring the seeds and taking notice of the great variety that exists amongst the different species. This variety carries over in all other facets of life and it amazes me every time I think about it.
Seeds of Lomatium simplex, a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae)
Seeds of Hedysarum boreale, a member of the pea family (Fabaceae)
Seeds of Antennaria umbrinella, a member of the aster family (Asteraceae)
This past month has been very successful regarding collections. My coworker and I have had the opportunity to collect Astragalus drummondii (Drummond’s milkvetch) and Hedysarum boreale (Utah sweetvetch) from a hillside. It’s possible that Hedysarum boreale has never been collected from this area before, so that’s exciting! We’ve also collected three different Penstemon species, including Penstemon humilis (low beardtongue), Penstemon paysoniorum (Payson’s beardtongue), and Penstemon laricifolius (larchleaf beardtongue). We’ve been told that Penstemons are excellent for use in fire restorations, so that makes these collections even more special. This past Tuesday, my coworker and I stumbled on yet another Penstemon (Penstemon procerus–littleflower penstemon) that we are hoping to collect in the future.
Speaking of future collections, we are intending to get at least a few more species before the end of our internship and surpass our target of 20 species. These would include Gentiana affinis (pleated gentian), Astragalus bisulcatus (twogrooved milkvetch), Ipomopsis aggregata (scarlet gilia), and Cordylanthus ramosus (bushy bird’s beak).
On a personal level, I have truly been enjoying the area. My coworker and I have explored Wyoming, Colorado, and most recently, Utah. We even got to swim in the Great Salt Lake, which I recommend doing at least once.
As the funding for our trapping project finally came through, we spent the first two weeks of the month building our trap sites up in the Ferris Mountain region of our field office. It was physically demanding work but essential for our project and rewarding in its own way. Each trap site consists of three cover boards and a Y-shaped drift fence with a pit-fall trap in the middle of each arm and a funnel trap at each end. The fence is designed to encourage animals to either enter the funnel trap or fall into the pit fall traps. We have twelve trapping sites; six within exclosures and six outside of them. This is in an effort to compare the type of species that occur in grazed versus ungrazed areas.
The purpose of the trapping project is to inventory the herptile species that occur in the area, assessing both the diversity and the abundance of species. We will also be comparing species occurrences between grazed and ungrazed sites. We trap for ten consecutive days, checking each trap daily. We will do three sets of trapping total, one set per month. As herptiles go this month, we caught many Wandering Garter Snakes (Thamnophis elegans vagrans), two Bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi), a Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens), and a Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). When we catch a snake we will insert a pit-tag just under its skin to track if a snake is a recapture or not. We will also cauterize a small part of the snakes scales in a systematic numbering system as another way to identify different recaptured individuals. For frogs, we mark them by preforming toe-clippings and again use a specific numbering system to tell between different individuals. Since our traps don’t discriminate we also catch plenty of mammals. Most of what was caught were Deer Mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) and voles. However we also caught Masked Shrews (Sorex cinereus) and Northern Pocket Gophers (Thomomys talpoides).
I hope to catch more rattlesnakes as the season goes on, they are a fascinating species to work with. Before handling a rattlesnake we will use a tongs to guide the posterior of the snakes body into a tube so there is little risk of the snake being able to bite you. Once tubed the snake can be handled safely and is processed the same as any other snake that we catch.
Before trapping we spent a day doing surveys for the Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi). Surveys for horned lizards consists of walking transects and scanning the ground for the well camouflaged animals. Once one is spotted they are pretty easy to capture by hand as they are relatively slow. Horned lizards main defense against predators is their camouflage. Their flat-bodies cast very little shadow and they will often stay completely still when you pass by making them even more difficult to notice. When one is captured, if it was not a recapture, we will pit-tag it.
It’s funny – most folks at home heard of what I was embarking on with this year’s season and although supportive, could not remove the worried shade in their eyes.
“But Bend, Oregon is so far from home…” (I’m from New Hampshire – to give a frame of reference).
“You’ve never even visited and you’re moving all the way there just for a job?” You know it.
Bend has always been one of the handful of places I’ve heard many found voices speak of. Additionally, out of those voices familiar with the Bend Seed Extractory, a fondness turns to an admiration. It’s not difficult to assume that I jumped at this opportunity with no hesitation. To become an integral part to an even more integral spoke in the wheel of a nationwide conservation effort, even for just a short while, is nothing to pass up.
Regardless of the move, the expense, the wear on my vehicle, the summer at home spent without me, etc – going around the bend is something to embrace. And happily, the phrase “going around the bend” turned into “going to Bend”, which turned into a reality.
I’m surprised everyday that I somehow avoided flubbing up, and collected enough dumb luck throughout my travels to cash in such a rewarding position. The phrase “I’m not worthy” is pleading to escape my lips on a day-to-day basis.
Anyhoo, enough of the sappiness.
To give a rundown of what I do at the Seed Extractory:
The seeds collected are sent to the Extractory, where they are processed, “finished” and tested.
The photos below will illustrate the steps I take throughout my day. I have to say, I was incredibly intimidated at first…but it’s amazing how comfortable, and confident you can become in such a short amount of time. I’m only on my third week!
So. The photos in order:
I received seed ready for testing. Here, I randomly select a relative portion of the lot that seems like it equates to a 500 count of seed, (giving the sizes of seed, it’s anyone’s guess… It reminds of those contests where you’re guessing how many gumballs are in a jar – needless to say, I was never close to those). From here, you count out in fives, five sets of 100. While you’re counting, you remove any inert material that may have mischievously stuck around.
From here, in image two, I check out each count to confirm there are no inert material present. Also, not going to lie, I use this as an excuse to get a closer look at these seeds under the scope. Although all of them are incredible, some are ABSOLUTELY gorgeous. And some perplexing. My favorites are the ones that resemble food… I swear I’ve seen a few tat look just like steamed dumplings… probably implying I’m hungry.
Next, image 3, you must test the humidity of seed lot before you measure, and package them. Not only will a high moisture content influence the weight of the seed, but it may jeopardize the seed’s viability when it’s send to cold storage. Excess moisture present will expand, and damage the seed when it freezes. So, as long as the percentage of humidity is lower than 38.0%, you’re good to go – looks like this one is a-okay!
Next, images 4 & 5, one of my favorite parts – the X-Ray. Hesitant at first, this x-ray machine emits less radiation than the amount we’re exposed to when the dentist takes photos of your teeth. Always a lovely image: light radiation shot at your head. Anyways, the objective here is to assess the percent fill of 1 count of 100 sampled seeds. Here gain a snapshot of what we’re dealing with inside. Are the embryos present? Is the seed full? Are there any malformed seeds? Any insect damage? In this image the seeds seem full, and content, but there are some sampled absolutely riddled with holes. Victims in the wake of an insect feast…
And finally (forgive me for missing a photo of the scale used to measure each seed count’s weight, )it’s riveting stuff. I feel sorry you’re missing out) The seeds are then sealed in plastic bags, and sent of their way to WRPIS, for further testing beyond my abilities, and others to be saved in the seed vault.
I’d continue with more detail, but frankly I’m unsure as to whether or not folks are actually as interested in this process as I am. So, until next time!
P.S. I receive the paperwork the interns fill out upon their field seed collection. Let’s step up the penmanship, folks 😉
The week before last, we all got our first practical introduction to electrofishing, a technique that allows you to capture fish by sending an electric pulse through the water, momentarily stunning them at the right settings. Our primary goal was to quantify how efficient and skilled we were at electrofishing. Alongside that we took down species, length, and weight and marked the fish by clipping a small portion of the upper or lower caudal fin based on the size of the fish. We set of block nets on either end of a 200 meter section of stream a total of four separate times to close the population and keep fish inside each section. In our first pass we marked each fish we caught and in a second pass we checked to see what percentage of captured fish were recaptures from the first pass. With this data we can make some more sophisticated estimates of our capture efficiency and the stream population and make up. Deming Creek is a beautiful and varied tributary of the North Fork Sprague River partially inside the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness near Bly, Oregon. We even had a chance to camp out by the creek to reduce our footprint, enjoy a camp meal, and get a view of the stars!
Last week was all about writing, researching, and data visualization. I was particularly invested in learning how to use R Studio to visualize data we took down about brook trout fecundity. I wasn’t expecting to love R Studio as much as I did – I’m definitely eager to work with it more. We learned all about the Endangered Species Act (thank you Elizabeth!) and the fascinating ways it dictates conservation policy and also scouted an unnamed tributary of the Sprague River as possible bull trout habitat, an endangered trout that also inhabits nearby Deming Creek.
Had a blast over the last few weeks, can’t wait to see whats in store!
Cold days and nights with snow, ice, and few plants or
animals: my initial thoughts on spending time in the Arctic Circle were well
off the mark. Instead, the month I spent above 66° 33’ northern latitude didn’t
drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, rarely included snow and even then
only at high altitude, and gave me the chance to find some of the most
remarkable alpine plants I’ve seen. I’ve taken loads of photos so I’ll talk
through my last month with those!
We got a lot of work done in the month on the Dalton Highway and managed to make the most of the few days off we had. If you ever get the chance to make the trip up here, it is well worth your time. Here are a few more photos with wildlife, trees, and a few more pretty flowers…
New Mexico is supposed to be “the land of enchantment” and every week my experiences are proving that slogan to be truth. The state flag has a symbol called the Zia which is a sacred symbol to early people of the region. It is a sun with four sets of four lines that represent the seasons, times of day, stages in a person’s life, and the cardinal directions. This symbol is still found all over the state, sometimes in the most random and surprising places. When we were judging our site’s soil to determine the color we accidentally made a Zia as well!
It’s been an incredible journey already with so much to learn and explore. Perhaps the most challenging part of seed collecting is getting the timing just right. Several plants on our list have longer, more continual flowering periods but others… not so much. There are a few species that will be flowering one week and totally fried the next week. Competing against the cows doesn’t make things any easier. We found a beautiful site of desert marigold all flowering (Baileya multiradiata) only to return and find half the population completely eaten! Finding that sweet spot of seeds is difficult, but it makes it that much more rewarding when we can get a collection in.
This week I was feeling the mid-season slump. I felt like we were losing against the weather, cows, and timing struggles and was bummed about not making as many collections as I had hoped for. Luckily, our mentor offered us some perspective. Aly and I had come back in from the field with an easy 200,000 seeds of Ratibida tagetes in our possession (which was already a pretty good feeling) when our mentor saw us and exclaimed, “You guys didn’t get ANOTHER collection did you?!” She apparently wasn’t expecting us to have found much and it was so reassuring that my slump-induced perception of mild failure was just a personal issue.
Although the actual collections have felt sparse, our seed scouting has taken some unbelievable turns in the right direction. We’ve found some breathtaking sites with wildflowers and grass for acres!
In addition to wildflowers and grasses, we’ve been having a lot of wildlife run-ins. Out of all the places in the world I’d never peg Carlsbad, NM as prime owl habitat and yet, I’ve seen more owls here than I’ve seen total in my life. There’s been a few times we’ve been sure that we witnessed barn owls flying away from us and there’s been several instances where we just have to stop and marvel at the burrowing owls. The other day we saw four leave the burrow one by one, perching on creosote bushes to watch us as we watched them. Believe it or not, we accidentally stumbled onto a sleeping bobcat this past month. In effort to get to some of last year’s scouting points we found the only road completely washed out. There wasn’t water (because, desert) but it was not crossable. Frustrated, we got out so we could at least explore this huge washout. This was the first time we saw a barn owl. Then, while we were walking on top of the ravine we had stopped to discuss our next move. Before I know it, Aly freaks out, pointing down, yelling, “Bobcat! Bobcat!!” I looked down, terrified at the alarm, to see the small spotty cat streaking away from us down the ravine. We figured it must have been sleeping in one of the eroded walls and became scared of us. We left shortly after, not wanting to disturb it further. BUT HOLY COW we saw a bobcat! In the daytime!!
So yes, you may need selective viewing to find Carlsbad beautiful with the abundance of oil and gas, but if you stick it out and stay strong, you can uncover the beauty that is the Land of Enchantment.
Another week, another federally listed threatened or endangered species! This past week we were introduced to the threatened fluvial bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) of Deming Creek. The bull trout of this particular region fall within the Upper Sprague River core area of the Klamath Recovery Unit. Deming Creek is believed to support the largest local population of the species in the Upper Sprague River core area, with high relative abundance, quality habitat, and a stable population number. Deming Creek is also unique in that it is free of nonnative brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), a congeneric species that competes and often hybridizes with bull trout.
Our goal for the next two weeks is to determine just how effective backpack electrofishing is in achieving a high recapture percentage in bull trout, and therefore a higher confidence interval in population size. We are sampling two hundred meter reaches of Deming Creek in two day increments; the first day being the capture and mark portion of the study, with the second day acting as a 24 hour buffer for the fish to re-acclimate to their habitat. The second day we will conduct the same survey of the reach, walking upstream and e-fishing and capturing any fish we see. By comparing the recapture counts to the previous day’s capture numbers, we get a percentage of our productivity, with that goal to better understand the confidence interval of our population estimate.
After about an hour and a half drive east of Klamath Falls toward Gearhart Mountain, we entered Winema National Forest, and the location of our survey site. We began by setting up an initial block-net that spanned the creek from bank to bank. We configured another identical net two hundred meters upstream from the first with the purpose of maintaining the same density of fish within the two nets for the duration of our sampling. Starting at the lower block-net, the four of us (Nolan, our mentor; Jenny; Brianne; and I) began the arduous journey across the slippery rocks and deceptively tumultuous riffles in search of any flash of the white underbelly of a trout that has lost equilibrium due to the electric current.
Within the first twenty seconds we’d caught our first fish: a 124mm red band trout! The next three hours entailed rotating of tasks between the four of us — electrofisher, first netter, second “ghost netter” and bucket holder — the latter being the most awkward of the four as you are the one to transfer each catch to the bucket while protecting the bucket from the imminent and inevitable dangers of capsizing through your own demise due to the slippery creek bottom.
I think my favorite role is that of the primary netter, but as Jenny and I were reflecting on how reminiscent this week has been to our pasts of playing high school and college sports, I was reminded of how gratifying and crucial each role is to the greater purpose of the team. The thrill of netting a >200g red band or bull trout is palpable as Brianne locates the convulsing fish, Jenny lunges forward towards the anode for it and I shriek with excitement when I realize it’s a recapture from the day before as I gingerly transfer it to my bucket.
This week, Claire and I assisted with the absolute coolest long term vegetation monitoring initiative known to human-kind: GLORIA (GLobal Observation Research Initiative in Alpine environments). It is just as intense as it sounds. We went with a group of botanical scientists, fellow interns, and volunteers to the Lemhi Mountain range in Idaho to establish the fourth GLORIA site in all of Idaho. Just last year the first three were established, which is the minimum number of plots allowed according to GLORIA standards. This fourth peak would bring Idaho up to the preferred number of GLORIA locations and allow us to extract more data about changes to the alpine environment over the years.
Starting the day early we scrambled up to 10,000+ ft. with packs full of survey equipment. Once up there, we quickly began conducting the measurements and calculations needed to set up the many sections-essentially making a cardinal directional pie out of the mountain peak. We then got to crouching. The real work of a GLORIA plot is the thorough surveying of existing vegetation on the peak so that changes can be noted through the years. This includes monitoring soil temperature and snow pack by burying four tough temperature loggers up on the mountain (those little nuggets have a lifetime of 5 years! How incredible!)
The sun moved across the sky as data sheet after data sheet was completed and plot after plot was delineated. Our brains were steeped in the wonderful names of the teeny-tiny alpine plants, picking out some rare ones here and there and marveling at the flowers of so many others. After one task was done, there was always another to move to. The sun and wind kept us company and on our toes with multiple sunscreen applications and rubber bands on clipboards to prevent flyaways!
Right before the sun set we were safe off the mountain, marveling at the work we had accomplished and already missing the beautiful alpine. It was truly thrilling to be part of such a top-notch research team, preforming globally recognized science, and learning from the top notch botanists of Idaho. The entire experience had a surreal feel to it, and is one I wish I could rewind and live all over again.
Some people may think of Wyoming as just wide open land. A vast swath of desert with not much to see. Some might even think it’s boring. But, once you work out there you know that there is plenty to see and learn about. A variety of flora, fauna and a range of features that create different biomes. The evolution of my perspective from learning more and more about the natural world is amazing to me. Before I did any field work with plants, they just didn’t appeal to me much. I was one of the people that would look out onto the open plains of Wyoming and think that there were some shrubs, and along with the blue skies it was kind of nice to look at. A desolate, homogeneous landscape that stretched on forever. Chances are that I would take a quick glance and keep on moving. Now I realize that those shrubs stretching to the horizon are sagebrush, and a few other things, but mostly sagebrush. Just learning that single genus began to pull me in a little. I wanted to learn more. I was told that there were several species of sagebrush, and several subspecies. Some species prefer certain soil conditions and other abiotic factors. The charismatic genus Castilleja, or Indian paintbrush, is a root parasite that steals resources from sagebrush (from other plants too, but in dry areas sagebrush is a common host). Becoming aware of different species and how they are interconnected in complex ecological webs has opened my eyes. Now instead of seeing an expansive monoculture, I look closely at individual plants. Seed heads, leaves, and other morphological factors that set them apart. It’s like I’m seeing a whole new world.
Animals on the other hand, have always captured my attention. In addition to the variety of plants in Wyoming, there are some pretty charismatic animals. I’ve seen pronghorn and wild horses every day in the field. Some raptors, the occasional elk, prairie dog, or sage grouse…and one rattlesnake.