Bad weather, good views

Greetings again from North Carolina!  The past couple weeks have been full of adventure for our Seeds of Success East crew.  We got to try something new and collect seeds from a boat at the National Park Service’s Dyke Marsh Preserve outside of Washington D.C.  As a large chunk of our target species are semi-aquatic, we have been longing to use a boat for collections for most of the season.  We finally got our chance, and even had a captain to chauffeur us around in a motorboat.  We worked with National Park Service staff to collect Fraxinus profunda, or pumpkin ash.  The seeds of the ash will be banked in order to provide a genetic repository and a means of replanting after the devastating ash borer insect moves on out of the area.  Brent Steury, a Natural Resources Program Manager from the Park Service who we worked with on this project, filled us in on the threat.  The bugs seem to be just beginning to move into the area, but due to their exotic origins, the trees have little to no defense against them and almost 100% mortality is expected as they begin to prey on area ash populations.  The future looks grim for these trees, but it was gratifying to know that we are working well ahead to ensure that the genetics will not be lost.

The crew wading around outside our collection boat at Dyke Marsh

The crew wading around outside our collection boat at Dyke Marsh

During a quiet moment before the rain hit, we collected Polygonum arifolium in  the surreal beauty of this baldcypress swamp at Pettigrew State Park in NC.

During a quiet moment before the rain hit, we collected Polygonum arifolium in the surreal beauty of this baldcypress swamp at Pettigrew State Park in NC.

The week after that, we had to face the threat of Hurricane Joaquin!  Most of the state of North Carolina was already expecting heavy rains for the few days that Joaquin was cooking up in the Atlantic to our southeast.  As my collection partner and I prepared to head to the Outer Banks, we packed extra rain gear and continuously monitored the coastal weather to make sure we weren’t driving into a dangerous situation.  As it was, we got lucky and didn’t work in anything worse than a light drizzle.  We drove north to Currituck Banks, to check on the maturity of the Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata) that we are planning to collect in that area.  We were greeted by a tumultuous sea and high winds.  We stayed only long enough to take a peek at the Uniola and see that where there is normally a wide, flat, beach that 4×4 trucks use as a road, there were only angry gray waves breaking just below the primary dunes.  We had only spent one day at the Outer Banks when rain, high tides, and wind-driven currents started to flood the roads.  We quickly decided to get off the barrier islands before anything could happen that would leave us stranded out there on what is basically a very thin strip of sand off the mainland.

Winds whip a "No Swimming" flag as the ocean becomes tumultuous ahead of Joaquin's arrival.

Winds whip a “No Swimming” flag as the ocean becomes tumultuous ahead of Joaquin’s arrival.

We kept watching Joaquin, not sure yet if he would hit the coast or veer east out to sea.  We headed north to Virginia and got a head start on the storm.  While we were there, the rain subsided a bit, but again, high winds, heavy rains in the area, and higher-than-normal tides were causing minor flooding all over the place.  We had to cancel visits to all of our National Wildlife Refuge sites, as they closed due to flooding.  We went to a few more sites during the week, but high water made some of our potential collections impossible.  In the end, we headed back to Chapel Hill early and spent more time than normal working on species research and keying out some unknowns.  It was actually great to spend the time identifying some of the unknown plants we have been encountering.  Now we know more of the species that we are looking for in our seed scavenger hunt.

Next week, the weather is supposed to be clear and I’m sure we will be very busy collecting everything that we didn’t get to last time around.  I hope everyone else is staying safe as the weather becomes a bit more tumultuous this month.  Until next time, peace outside!

Emily Driskill

SOS East: North Carolina Botanical Garden


Tut, tut, looks like rain

Greetings from the Ridgecrest Field Office! Over the last few weeks the temperatures here in the Mojave have become more “reasonable” by my standards, and today it is even chilly and raining! Seems like we’ll get two days of “fall” weather before it’s back in the 80s and 90s. So that’s been nice. What else has happened around here? Many things! We’ve made several seed collections over the last few weeks, but that activity (as you can guess) certainly is waning. Our field office now has a wildlife biologist, and I’m quite excited for the opportunity to work with and learn from her.

Recently I was able to visit a wind farm with the biologist, along with BLM employees from another field office and some folks from the Fish and Wildlife Service. The purpose of the visit was to examine the wind farm’s proposed system for California Condor detection and emergency turbine shutdowns. It was very interesting to see the collaboration between the company and agencies.


It turns out, if you look close enough, plants really do have hearts. These are some leaves from an Atriplex species from which we recently collected seed at Olancha Dunes.


The week before last, I attended my alternate training opportunity, which was Fire Ecology of the Sierra Nevada put on by the Jepson Herbarium. It was a 3-day workshop at Yosemite National Park, and it was fantastic. I went up a couple days early to camp, hike, and explore the park as well–which was fortunate timing because one week later, the high elevations are now covered in snow and Tioga Pass closed.


Our workshop was led by several grad students from UC Berkeley, each with research pertaining to different aspects of fire ecology. The first day was about historical fire in the area, changes in policies over the decades, and the effects of fire suppression. The second day consisted of talking about fire regimes and field visits to places where the fire regime has been restored, to look at the forest structure/vegetation communities found there. We also heard about pollinator responses to fire, which was interesting. An aha moment from that day: thinking of “rare” plants/wildflowers, how many of those are really just early successional species that we rarely see because of fire suppression? And when an area finally burns, in some areas the fuel load is so high that the severity of the fire kills the seed bank.


Our final day was spent with one specific case study: the Rim Fire from 2013. We heard from Kelly (with BLM Fire) and June (a fire archaeologist). They were incredibly interesting to talk to. Kelly led us through Tuolomne Grove (where I got to see my first giant sequoia!!!) and talked us through their strategy for preventing the Rim Fire from ripping through the area–which was a combination of having treated the area previously with prescribed burns so that recurring burns were mostly of low severity, protecting the giant sequoias through duff removal and wetting, and backburning starting at the grove and letting it continue onwards to meet the head fire. June told us what it was like being a resource advisor on fires, the processes and considerations that go into planning strategies when fighting fires or deciding to allow them to burn. Ultimately the Rim Fire burned ~250,000 acres of land in Yosemite NP and Stanislaus NF, and the areas of high severity burn were very substantial. Here, we are at a site in Stanislaus talking about how landscape, weather, and fuel load affect fire severity, the difference between low/moderate/high severity burns and what that means for stand replacement, as well as post-fire salvage logging.


I had the opportunity to volunteer for the BLM in the Great American Outdoors exhibit at the LA County fair. Most of the day, we worked at the game table where people had to answer trivia questions to win prizes. I got to hold a rosy boa as we were sitting on the float waiting for the parade to start; and we got to ride with Mohave Maxine, Woodsy Owl, Smokey the Bear, and Seymour Antelope. It was a really fun day.


During a field visit last week, I saw my first Mojave rattlesnake. Unfortunately, he was quite crispy.20150928_150923

After just over two months, I am still seeing new things almost every time we go out into the field. Last week we went to collect information for an EA that is being written. We went out to Robber’s Roost (pictured here) to see if cattle access to a state threatened plant would be reduced by the proposed fenceline.

20151001_110312 And something I was personally excited for: I finished creating the digital record of the RIFO Herbarium. I think this was the prettiest sheet I saw.20150824_164733



Mail Day: Shipping Seed for Cleaning

Hi again!

I’m happy to have the time to post so quickly after my long over-due post just last week. Today we focused on one part of our internship that we haven’t done before: shipping seed.

As a team we have been so busy with field days and collecting seed, but now it’s time to begin the other part of our project which is to ship our collections to Cape May Plant Materials Center in Cape May, New Jersey.

I wanted to focus my blog today about shipping seed because it was my first time partaking in this part of the Seeds of Success protocol and it is quite detailed and important to our goals.

Before we can send out our seed collections the seed needs to be dried and free of pests. We typically allow for seeds to dry for 2 to 3 weeks and place pest strips in the containers we use to dry seeds (typically baking sheets). Whenever we make a collection we immediately fill out the data sheet that records all the necessary information related to our collection and make sure that the data sheet follows the seed wherever it ends up.

The combination of dried seed properly contained in a cotton bag and the associated field data sheet are what we send to Cape May. It is important that the package is lined with bubble wrap/newspaper/packing peanuts/etc. so that the seed is safely cushioned during its travels to New Jersey. The preferred shipment days are Mondays and Tuesdays so that the seed arrives in 2 days and is not left out during the weekend.

So far I only have experience with dry seed, but we do have a few collections of fleshy seed, which requires a different protocol due to the risk of mold. I currently have Peltandra virginica (Arrow Arum) in my refrigerator and will need to ship that collection immediately.

Once Cape May received our seeds they are cleaned and returned back to us. Depending on the size of the collection, portions of the collection are divided between restoration projects with an immediate need for seed, long term storage in Pullman, WA and short term storage at Garden in the Woods.

It has been interesting to finally process the dried seed because so much focus has been on finding and collecting seed in the field. As our internship continues into its final stages, the drying and shipping component of Seeds of Success will become just as familiar as the initial collecting has become.

For now I will continue to tape up boxes clumsily and triple check the protocol as I learn the ropes of this process.

Til next time!

Rolling in Seeds

Hello there!

This past month has been a busy one for the New England Seeds of Success team, we have just reached 140 seed collections! These marks puts us at 70% of the way done to reaching our goal of 200 collections by the end of November. In order to reach this point we have been on the move traveling to collection sites up and down the coast from Maine to Rhode Island. We have been spending a lot of time in the salt marshes and are starting to smell like one too.


In the process of organizing and drying the large amount of seed collections


Monarch Caterpillar feeding on a Milkweed leaf


Monarch butterfly eggs on the underside of a Milkweed leaf

Last month we had the opportunity to be interviewed by Sam Evans-Brown with the New Hampshire Public Radio. We spent the morning with Sam at the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge collecting the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and explaining the goals and collection procedure of the Seeds of Success Program. For more information about our interview check out the following link.

As you can imagine, we have collected seeds from a variety of plant species so far and each different plant requires a unique method of collection. For example, the spice bush (Lindera benzoin) requires the pluck method, salt marsh cordgrass (Spartian alterniflora) involves the use of a sickle, where as most sedges and grasses require a grab and pull method. My personal favorite seed to collect is from the switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), due to the easiness and state of satisfaction you receive when pulling seed off of it’s panicle inflorescence. Before making a collection we first have to take a closer look at the seed to determine if it is ripe. In this process I enjoy observing the minute details of each seed and have realized there is amazing diversity of seed design among each species.


Windy day at Plum Island National WIldlife Refuge, Newburyport MA

It has been nice and warm in New England through out the month of September. As the month of October has come, the temperatures have become much colder with rainy conditions. This may be the point in time we trade in our t-shirts for hoodies and jackets.

Cheers to the Fall!


Chasing Wild Horses

As with many life experiences, I’m sure it will take some time to recognize all the learning that has taken place over the last few months, but there are a few things that I can point to now, knowing that they are significantly changed from when I arrived in Wyoming. For one thing, I have a much fuller understanding of what it means to manage land period, let alone manage it for multiple uses. Land management has always seemed an abstraction discussed in college courses or job descriptions, but now I have a close up picture and have hours spent fulfilling various duties required to manage land. First, it entails knowing what is present on the land – vegetation, soil, livestock, wildlife, abiotic and biotic processes. This, when you’re talking about a field office of 2.5 million acres, requires lots of driving and gathering of data – and still there are places that won’t see a soul for years. Then, after the data gathering, comes decision making and consequential implementation of those decisions. From my observations of this process, decision making has appeared formal at times and yet less formal than I imagined when working for the federal government. Meetings in the field for example are often relaxed without a huge sense of urgency or debate. Many times evaluations are subjective and the outcome rests on a casual conversation about the state of things and possibilities for the future. In our field office the decisions being made affect the content of permits given to ranchers for grazing cattle, the fate of wild horses from year to year, the prescribed treatment plan for dwindling stands of aspen.

Monitoring: Erin measuring stubble height in a riparian area.

Monitoring: Erin measuring stubble height in a riparian area.

Recently, Erin and I had the opportunity to observe a bit of interagency collaboration between Wyoming Game & Fish, the Forest Service, and the BLM. Decisions had already been made about how to manage the areas of land that included both national forest and BLM by the time Erin and I entered the picture, but it was still very interesting to finally see how collaboration between agencies works and who is involved. We had a team of four wildlife biologists (including one from each agency) as well as several ecologists on hand to look at old growth aspens stands that were being encroached upon by more competitive conifers. The Game and Fish department had mapped sections of the aspen stands for us to flag the perimeter of for easy visibility by contractors when they come in next year to cut the conifers.

Another land management issue that Erin and I have been working on is the hot topic of wild horse management. We’ve spent the majority of our time lately chasing down wild horses within the northern “horse management areas” (HMAs) in our field office. Despite many hours spent in the truck, this has been a rewarding endeavor. The horses are enchanting. Many times, when we get close enough and the horses have adjusted to our presence, Erin and I will spend our lunch break just sitting and watching them from a short distance. We’ve begun to pick up on key elements of their behavior and look for trends in when and where they are spending their time.

Wild Horse Monitoring

Some herds are less concerned with human presence than others.

A lone paint stud - one of my favorites

A lone paint stud, healthy and strong

There are close to 50,000 horses currently on BLM land in the western US and a comparable number in holding. The Appropriate Management Level (AML) as stated by the BLM is ~26,000. Controversy on the topic lies in management of public land for multiple uses. While environmentalists advocate for the horses’ rights to life, health and freedom, the ranching community would like their numbers to be kept much lower for preservation of rangeland health for their cattle. Erin and I monitor the horses by visual counts, recording location, behavior, and health and taking photographs. Monitoring should allow BLM staff to make more accurate estimates of horse numbers and track their behavior in certain areas to make decisions about when to round up horses and remove them from the HMAs.

We've learned how to earn the horses trust and what will make them run.

We’ve learned how to earn the horses’ trust and what will make them run.

Our SOS season is winding down quickly. There are still a few collections left to be made, but it is no longer taking the majority of our time. We are waiting for four species of sagebrush seed to be ready to collect, as well as a population of winterfat. All of this, including the processing of all of our SOS data, should take us right up until the end of our season in two months!

Farewell, summer.

Summer has come and gone, and what do we have to show for it? Well, the SOS team at the NC Botanical Garden has over 100 collections of native seed!

In anticipation of the Emerald Ash Borer, we helped collect pumpkin ash, Fraxinus profunda, at Dyke Marsh in Alexandria, VA. Little did we know that Pope-a-polooza was upon us! Wading through the traffic, we made it to our field site and finally got to collect on a boat!

Collecting Fraxinus profunda.

Collecting Fraxinus profunda.


The most recent update for the east coast is Hurricane Joaquin. While it looks like he’ll be avoiding landfall with the U.S., we are getting a lot of rain and wind. We moved off of the NC Outer Banks and onto the mainland in Virginia to wait out some of the weather before resuming our seed collection.

I’ll leave you with some photos of our beautiful collection sites.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, MD

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, MD

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, NC

Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, at Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge, NC

Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, at Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge, NC

Jockeys Ridge State Park, NC

Jockeys Ridge State Park, NC




It’s almost over!

Hi all,

Things have been busy, busy, busy here at the Lockeford PMC so this, regrettably, will be a shorter post (but I will come back to edit and add pictures when I get the time)! This week was very cool for many reasons. First, Jeff and I started herbiciding the invasive blackberries (Rubus armeniacus) in our restoration area. On Tuesday we spot sprayed in the more woody areas with backpacks, while today (Thursday), we used a large Case tractor with a tank to get the large areas. I genuinely dislike herbicides, but they are useful for managing invasives during the site-prep stage of a restoration project. I personally believe they should be phased out during maintenance if a restoration is performed correctly.

Another thing I have been working on is preparing for our cover crop adaptation trial. Jeff and I figured out seeding rates for different cover crops, weighed out the seed, created a randomized design and organized our seed packets so everything will go very smoothly when we start planting, which should be very soon.

This Tuesday, Dr. David Morell from the Sonoma Ecology Center came to the PMC to discuss with Margaret the possibility of holding biochar trials at the PMC. I was fortunate enough to be invited to that meeting, which was a great learning experience in seeing the thought process that goes into making management decisions, and also learning more about biochar, which is very interesting thing.

Again, I hope to post pictures soon. I have two weeks left with the NRCS and I expect them to be very hectic. Cheers!



USDA-NRCS, California

The amazing Big Horns


The fall is firmly here, leaves are changing and the workload is tapering down.  I got to spend a week in the Big Horns working on a timber sale.  It was a great experience, as we got to see some of the issues facing forests elsewhere.  The Big Horns have a lot of diversity when it comes to their tree species.  Trees like douglas-fir, limber pine, ponderosa pine, subalpine fir, and lodgepole pine and exists in very close proximity, all with different needs and issues.  While in the Black Hills the predominate tree species, by far, is ponderosa pine.  Ponderosas in the Black Hills have been hit hard by mountain pine beetle while the Big Horns has been largely spared this fate.

Seeing how a mixed conifer forest is managed, balancing different light tolerances and regeneration levels reminds me of the issues facing Eastern forests.  One thing that I had not anticipated is the destruction being caused by white pine blister rust.  Limber pine is a white pine, generally having five needled, and there was not one stand that we saw which was not infected.  As such, there have been a lot of sanitation harvests to stimulate regeneration and reduce fuel loads.  This is one of the main purposes behind the timber sale we worked on, improving the health of the forest.  The douglas-fir are showing their age as well as some massive lodge pole pine; these trees are reaching the end of their natural life and instead of creating excessive down woody debris a useful product can be created.

Besides the fun new trees to look at there was so much wildlife.  Just driving to our work site we saw a huge bull moose eating some willow.  It’s amazing just how big they are.  There was also amazing raptors present; we saw countless hawks as well as a bald, golden eagle and a northern harrier.


A great place to spend the week in the Big Horns

A great place to spend the week in the Big Horns

Our final day in the big horns.  Checking out a burn site and firewood sale.  Such a great ending to a great week

Our final day in the Big Horns, a great view of Cloud Peak. Checking out a burn site and firewood sale. Such a great ending to a great week.

While in the Big Horns we were able to go to a Society of American Foresters meeting.  This is a great organization that provides a lot of information on what is happening within the forestry arena.  We met at and got a tour of the Tensleep Nature Conservancy Preserve.  This is a great place to visit, amazing views and an abundance of petroglyphs. If you are in the area it is worth a stop.

Back in the Black Hills the end of the tourist season finally came and with it the last hurrahs of many of the places that have been so much fun over the summer.  Custer State Park, home of one of the largest bison herds, has an annual roundup where they collect the bison and preform health checkups and have an auction.  It was amazing seeing 25 people on horseback trying to corral wild animals, at times the bison were very uncooperative. I just can’t believe that the summer is almost over and I have to go back to real life.

Bull Moose eating willow

Bull Moose eating willow


Hazelton Peaks, this is just some of the great views and settings that I get to experience.

Hello Fall.


Alia and I at the ponds in Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.

Efforts at the Fish Evaluation Station (FES) came to an end early September. There was a large decline in the amount of suckers observed in week 4. This is due to a peak in entrainment that may have occurred earlier than expected based on historical data. I spent the next two weeks monitoring fish ponds at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and setting trap nets in Tule Lake. At the ponds we were measuring water quality, conducting predator surveys, and setting minnow and crab traps out in the channel. It was fun to take the jon boat out on the big pond, but we did not catch much. We caught a few Sacramento Perch (Archoplites interruptus) and Fathead Minnows (Pimephales promelas). These fish were measured, weighed, and visual implant elastomer (VIE) tagged. There were a lot of signs (scat and tracks) that coyotes occupy the area surrounding the ponds. We also saw Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis)! They are such beautiful birds.

Photo Sep 03, 10 42 07 AM

Adult Sucker Caught at Tule Lake!

WE CAUGHT A SUCKER IN TULE LAKE! This is the first adult sucker I have seen here so far. It is also the first sucker we caught in the trap nets at Tule Lake. Josh believes it could be a Klamath largescale sucker (Catostomus snyderi), but it is hard to know for sure. The Klamath largescale sucker is closely related to two other species of suckers, especially the shortnose sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris). Hybridization can occur, so it is possible that the sucker we caught could be a hybrid. We took measurements and checked it for a PIT tag. No tag was found, but sometimes PIT tags that were not inserted correctly can fall out over time, usually resulting in a scar. No scar was found on this sucker. Next week, we set more traps. We did not have any luck catching other suckers. The mud boat was acting up again, so Josh decided to stop efforts of trapping on Tule Lake.


Shortnose Sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris) from net pens. PIT tagged and released.

On September 14th, we went to our net pens in Pelican Bay to check on the suckers from the FES. Unfortunately, none of the suckers in the floating cages survived. On October 2nd, the floating cage located in the Link Dam Canal was removed. 1 out of the 3 stocked fish was alive. This sucker was released. This past Thursday we went to release the suckers we caught as larvae from the net pens. It was exciting! We removed 21 suckers. They all looked healthy. We PIT tagged them and released them in nearby vegetation. It was rewarding to see them school together and swim away.

Photo Sep 29, 12 42 30 PM

Nolan and Alia electrofishing at Threemile Creek.

Nolan, a fish biologist here at the Klamath Falls USFWS, had us help survey Threemile Creek for fish. This area is known to have endangered Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus). Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust is planning to restore the stream this week. Wood will be added into the stream to level it out and create better fish habitat. We set up block nets so no fish can enter the area they plan to add the wood into. We walked downstream electrofishing areas that looked habitable. We did not turn over any fish.

Alia and I are finishing up labeling and entering data for the old specimens of suckers. They will be X-rayed to determine vertebral counts for each species. These suckers are various sizes and have been sampled from numerous habitats. We are also finishing up our final projects. Mine focuses on the pilot sucker rearing project we established at the FES. I recently wrote a USFWS Field Note about the pilot project.

I can’t believe I only have a month left!

Till next time,


Wildlife Monitoring: bats, pygmy rabbits, raptors, swans, and a beetle

Now that the long-term trend and Habitat Assessment Framework monitoring has been completed, we’ve been doing grazing reintroduction surveys (monitoring grasses at previously burned sites to determine when grazing can be reintroduced), scanning allotment study files (done!), GIS projects (also done!), and some highly anticipated wildlife monitoring.

I have been looking forward to getting wildlife experience pretty much ever since I interviewed for the job. We were getting experience indirectly by gathering data on habitat and learning about the forbs that are palatable for sage grouse. And, similarly, we have become extremely familiar with the diets of cattle. But what I was really looking forward to was bat and raptor monitoring, which due to unforseen factors was not as heavily emphasized as anticipated. Luckily, the wildlife biologists at our office were in close communication with one at Fish and Game and our mentor Joanna has been really flexible and supportive of us getting involved in any and all projects we could get our hands on.


Another hidden Idaho gem unearthed by our wildlife outings… Sand dunes!

Our first bout of wildlife monitoring involved two days of bat surveys. It was the first time any bat population monitoring had been done in over a decade. I’m sure most of you have heard of the white-nose syndrome (WNS), but for those who haven’t, it’s a rapidly spreading disease among bats that causes a prominent white fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) to grow around their faces. And it’s just terrible. Some colonies and even entire species have been nearly decimated, populations dropping 90%. It has mostly been documented in the east, the first sighting hailing from New York in 2006, but is anticipated to spread westward any day.

So, to establish a baseline population of the bats in preparation for its imminent arrival, we used acoustic monitoring technology specifically designed to pick up the distinct frequencies of bats. The device is called AnaBat, and it’s pretty amazing. Before we set up the devices, the wildlife biologist established a grid with 4 quadrants in the study area, which encompassed sections of the Snake River as well as some residential and agricultural areas. In each quadrant, a portable AnaBat device was strapped to a post (either pre-existing, like a fence post, or a stake that we hammered) that is strategically facing an area with known bat activity. We also have to try to limit unnecessary ambient noises, like making sure the strap of the device is tucked in to make listening to the recordings less painful if it’s windy.

FullSizeRender (20)

AnaBat doin’ its thing

Next, we programmed the device to start recording data at sunset. While we drove between quadrants to prepare the devices and waited for the sun to set before the next step, we were able to watch an incredible amount of birds, mostly raptors, in and around the Snake River Canyon, such as burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks, ferruginous hawks, eagles, prairie falcons, barn owls, great horned owls, magpies… It was great, and with the extra help of a high-powered Fish & Game spotting scope, the wildlife biologist, and a teenage birding prodigy intern, there was never a dull moment (or an unidentifiable bird).


The view of the canyon as the sun sets before we drove our transect

Next we mounted another AnaBat acoustic monitoring device onto the top of our truck. This time, the device is facing the top of the truck. The flatness and smoothness actually helps the acoustics bounce back at a good angle that makes the recording clearer. This sensor is connected to a handy palm pilot from the 80s that has an application installed that visualizes the frequencies of the different sounds that are picked up. Before we started driving along the transect, we recorded the temperature, time of sunset, lunar phase, temperature, wind speed, cloud coverage, humidity, etc. Bats tend to be more active the fuller the moon due to increased insect activity (attraction to light).


AnaBat sensor mounted on the top of the truck

Next, we drove and watched and listened for bat noises on the palm pilot. The sounds that the palm pilot picks up are echo location and hunting calls. Different species of bats have specific associated frequencies and ranges. Although some visualizations are pretty definitive, all recordings must be listened to in elongated 15 second sections by a biologist who has been trained in using the device (which involves a lot of sound physics).  We were able to identify large and small brown bats, long-eared, Townsend’s big-eared, and a few other species. 

Jesse, one of the wildlife biologists at our office, trained us to do pygmy rabbit surveys, which are usually done in the winter when there’s plenty of snow and easy to identify active burrows and fresh scat. The process is pretty straightforward. We monitored previously inhabited areas and a couple where they were suspected to be present based on the habitat. In general, they like loamy, soft, deep soils that are easy for burrowing (they are the only rabbit species that dig their own burrow) and tall sagebrush with at least 30% cover.

Their burrows are pretty distinct due to their size (about the size of a softball) and sightings of their scat nearby, which are incredibly small pellets the size of tic tacs or smaller. Trying to find them reminded me of looking for sheds with my co-workers while we were driving through pastures for use supervision. There are so many things that look like what you’re looking for (i.e. a dead sagebrush branch can look a lot like a mule deer antler when you’re in a moving car) and it almost always isn’t. Similarly, when you approach a mound of tall sagebrush with the right soil, good cover, not too rocky, and actually find a burrow. A lot of the times I’ll find a promising burrow and it’s slightly too big or too small or somewhere in between but no scat to confirm.


Most recently, we went out with Ross from Fish & Game again to do swan surveys. Tundra and Trumpet swans are known to migrate here during the winter, but unfortunately we weren’t able to spot any. This could be a result of the recent cold snap scaring them off to warmer areas. Nevertheless, I got a lot of practice identifying waterfowl and saw some familiar species I saw a lot in Florida like pelicans, gulls, cormorants, snowy egrets, blue herons, and sandhill cranes.


On our way between swan monitoring sites, we were able to stop at the Bruneau Dunes to look for the very rare Bruneau Dune Tiger Beetle, which we were not able to find but we did learn quite a bit about what to look for when trying to spot beetle burrows and how to lure them out (with a blade of grass!). And of course, the views were pretty breathtaking.

Lastly, we spent a couple hours getting trained in radio telemetry. Ross hid 6 sage grouse collars outside the Fish & Game office (in trees, bushes, etc.) and taught us how to use the radios and antennas while adjusting the dials (volume, gain, etc.) to key in on a frequency and locate a collar.



We learned about the different types of collars (radio vs. satellite), different sizes for different age classes and species, how to deactivate a transmitter using a magnet, ones that are solar-powered, and pre-programmed duty cycles (i.e. when an animal dies or goes into hibernation, the transmitter can either turn off completely or reactivate when they are awoken, or to turn on and off depending on the time of day to save battery).

In addition, we were able to practice using two different types of antennas (Yagi vs. “H”). The H antenna was a lot smaller and lighter and easier to use, in my opinion, but Yagi tended to be more accurate when trying to determine where a collar was once you get pretty close to its location. We also learned how to navigate when there are tall, dense, or metallic/electrical, structures that may be interfering with our signal and how to triangulate to find a location.

Anyway, that about sums up our wildlife training for the season!

Until next time,


BLM Shoshone, ID