On 7/9 we all went on a staff excursion to Lava Beds National Monument in Tulelake, Northern California. This trip, in combination with the trip down to Camp Tule Lake to assist in bat surveys, has awakened in me a deep love of bats and their ecology! I have decided to dedicate this blog post to interesting facts about one native bat species in particular, Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii).

We had a chance to tour two caves, Valentine Cave and Skull Cave. There was something magical about descending into the depths and feeling the air cool rapidly. We had a chance to learn about cave features, the history of the caves, various cave monitoring efforts at the monument, and how this all relates to bat monitoring and ecology at Lava Beds.

Valentine Cave, Lava Beds National Monument

On to the bat of the hour:

  • Townsend’s big-eared bats fold one or both of their comically large ears against their head during torpor and hibernation, forming coils like a ram’s horn
  • The longest-lived Townsend’s big-eared bat on record was over 21 years old! It could have grabbed a drink at its local pub. Interestingly, they live shorter lives in captivity than in the wild
  • Bats play an amazing role – they are the only night-time consumers of flying insects, so thank your local Townsend’s big-eared bat for being a great camping buddy
  • Townsend’s big-eared bats love cavernous structures; caves, mines, lava tubes, and abandoned buildings all across the upland Western United States suit them fine. They also utilize deciduous and coniferous forests on the Pacific coast and have been recorded roosting in the hollows of redwood trees!
Townsend’s Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) Photo Credit – Ann Froschauer/USFWS

All facts are cited from:

Gruver, J., D. Keinath. 2006. “Townsend’s Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii): a technical conservation assessment.” (On-line pdf). Accessed July 14th, 2019

Besides caving, we’ve been finishing up some work associated with milk-vetch surveys, studying brook trout fecundity, researching beaver-trout interactions and implications for bull trout management, gathering information on endemic sculpin, and getting ready to embark on electrofishing excursions in the coming weeks. Til next time!

Valentine Cave Entrance



Chapter 2: Suckers. Growing up.

This post is long overdue. We finished larval collection more than a month ago, but I thought I should still touch on the subject. Jenny and Jessie have probably caught you up, but here is my summary of events.

We finished up larval collections. It was a success. One day, Jessie and I collected over 9000 individuals. We’d harvest them, put them in buckets and haul them to our satellite hatchery at Gone Fishing. It was reminiscent to me of the fish in a bucket video I was shown in college. The entirety of a species saved by one bucket. Except in our scenario there were many buckets, and many days, and still suckers in the lake. But the principle remains the same.

The larvae that went into our buckets would survive, and those that drifted down the river would not. It was a sobering thought, but it make the late night shifts worth it. On cold nights the larvae would ride in the truck with us. We buckled them in to keep them safe.

We also got to watch the larvae grow up. Through our seven weeks of larval collections, we harvested in the morning, and performed husbandry in the later morning (or the day if we were on the day shift, we rotated on a cycle for the night shift, two on-one off). This involved feeding fish, hatching brine shrimp (yum), cleaning tanks, and doing behavioral observations to monitor fish health. The fish changed so much over the course of our time there. It was easy to tell the differences when comparing fresh-caught larvae to the ones that had just come in that morning. I think I felt the same pride for them as new parents must feel for human babies, but I’ve never had kids so I can’t be sure about that. Leaving them when our rotation with the SARP (sucker assisted rearing program) was over was a struggle.

Week old suckers
Month old suckers

Brianne Nguyen
USFWS, Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office

Its Ne-VADD-ah

Situated at the eastern side of the Sierras, half an hour from Lake Tahoe is the BLM’s Carson City district office.

Carson City is part of the Carson Valley watershed. All of the melt water from the snowy tops of the ranges melt and flow into this area’s lakes and soils. This year was anomalous for its amount of snow and rainfall. In many areas of Nevada the yearly rainfall average was surpassed in May!

Normally one would think that’s great for the plants. And it is! There were beautiful super blooms in the Spring. However, the high precipitation fairs better for the most problematic weeds in the area- medusahead and cheatgrass. We’ve spent quite a bit of time mapping medusahead populations for herbicide treatment. We’re also learning quite a lot about the ecology of these weeds based on our observations and literature reviews.

We’ve done some post-wildfire monitoring called ESR (Emergency Stablilization and Rehabilitation). In the course of our data collection we were happy to see a relatively diverse recovering population of native forbs instead of a blanket of cheatgrass or medusahead.

Belt transects at our ESR site. The Earthstone fire was northeast of Reno.

For our SOS work we’ve been mostly on BLM land in Nevada so far- although the BLM Carson City district office has some land in California that we’re going to be venturing off to in the coming weeks.

Mucho rain is bad for the weeds! But good for the double rainbows and Pride month!

Swan Lake, one of the best birding spots in Nevada- near Reno. The most birds I’ve ever heard in one place! Though what you’re looking at is supposed to be a nature walk! Unfortunately the entire boardwalk along the lake is underwater due to the high precipitation in recent years. We’re using GIS to map how the drainages and vegetation have changed in this period!

What I’ve learned so far about Nevada is that the public thinks of BLM land like the wild west. There are signs warning people about the danger of wild fires with gun use during the summer, but there is no enforcement. Always fun to hear gunshots a couple hundred feet away on a 95 degree day with dry cheatgrass surrounding you.

We’ve come across several interesting “targets” used for shooting on BLM land while collecting seed. –also this definitely should be an album cover.

We’ve done some youth educational outreach too. I find it is excruciatingly important for the BLM to provide outreach to youth and the public at large because unfortunately the locals don’t see the benefit of managing public lands. This is because of an education gap. So whenever we have a chance to educate the public we pounce on it. The previous years’ techs focused mostly on botany so we decided to switch it up and focus our outreach on geology! Nevada and the Great Basin and Range region have a fascinating and complex geology, and we’re excited to impart this knowledge to the locals so they better appreciate what they may see as commonplace!

We were able to teach the kids about geomorphic processes and the various energy levels involved in depositing the layers visible in this wash. To the right you can see the remnants of an old rail road track that passed through the region.
Here we showed the kids how wildlife makes use of geology! There were some barn owl nests in the eroded rocks.

From noxious weeds to rare species monitoring to wetland ecology and range ecology — my mind is sponging it up! Happy to be here *dance emoji*

Exploring Oregon

Since the workshop ended, I have been hard at work controlling the invasive plants in the area. Its crazy to me as you start to learn which plants are invasive, that landscape you once thought was beautiful for all its yellow flowers and berries is actually a nightmare. They are called invasive for a reason, they completely dominate in most areas and completely out compete the native species. At times it becomes overwhelming, because everywhere you go they are there and you just want to control that population, but there’s only so much time so we have to strategically plan on which spots to hit and which invasive we want to target. We have been mostly focusing on False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) which is from the Poaceae family and Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) from the Fabaceae family. Most times we will choose to hit areas that are heavily visited by people and areas that lumber sales may take place to prevent further spread of the plant. While it can some what difficult work at times, its truly satisfying to come back to an area and find all the work you did paid off and the weeds are dead.

This is one of our sites and that is a field full of Scotch broom.

Outside of work I try to spend most of my time exploring the beautiful state of Oregon, for anyone else that wants to visit Oregon or for future interns stationed in Roseburg, these could be some suggestions. Ashland is a little town slightly North of California, I went on Saturday and it was bustling with people going to the farmers or artisan market in the downtown area. The downtown consist of a bunch of little shops, restaurants, and coffee shops along with lithia park that is a forested area around Ashland Creek. Next, I drove over to Crater Lake which isn’t too far and I was astonished, I don’t think I have ever seen water so blue before! Unfortunately most of the trails were closed due to the late snow fall, so I would recommend checking before, but either ways its definitely worth it to just to drive around.

Crater lake (sorry I’m not sure how to rotate here)

The following weekend I got to go to Bend and meet up with Jessie and Brianne, who I met at the workshop! They are located in Klamath Falls which is a few hours away from Roseburg and some of the coolest people I have met! We did dispersal camping about 15 minutes outside of town, which made it really convenient to come and go as we pleased. I just want to say Bend is probably my favorite town so far, every block consist of Bike shop, brewery, and coffee shop, there are a couple parks scattered around town and its a very bike/ pedestrian friendly town, you can also see Mt. Bachelor from it.

For the 4th of July I stayed closer to town and checked out some of the waterfalls nearby, there are about a dozen but I only visited two Watson falls and Toketee falls. They are easily accessible and both are less than a mile hike to the falls.

Toketee on the left, Watson on the right

Dark, Dank, and Claustrophobic

USFWS biologists stand within Valentine Cave

This week we were lucky enough to meet up with Katrina Smith, the Natural Resource Specialist from Lava Beds National Monument. Only a 40 minute drive drive south into California from our headquarters in Klamath Falls, this was a scheduled office field trip — an opportunity to learn more about the bat populations of the area and the cultural heritage of Tule Lake National Monument (also historically known as Camp Tule Lake). For the respect of the history of Camp Tule Lake and the incarceration of thousands of Japanese citizens and non-citizens, I will write a separate post in the future that is dedicated to this dark time in history.

Jenny helps set up mist nets outside of Camp Tule Lake structures.

A few months back we had worked with Katrina at Tule Lake assisting in bat mist netting, so the opportunity to hear more about her work in Lava Beds was especially compelling. She explained that there are fifteen species of bats found within the monument, and that species monitoring included winter hibernacula surveys, spring mist-netting, and acoustic surveys. There are three stations set up in Lava Beds that use stationary acoustic monitoring to give occupancy model information for population counts of each species; Katrina mentioned wishing the Park Service had access to more, but informed us that each station costs upwards of $2,000 and requires active data analysis in the form of paid employees, of which the monument is lacking in during winter months especially. The three species unanimously found at each site included the silver haired (Lasionycteris noctivagans), yuma (myotis yumanensis), and pallid (antrozous pallidus) bats.

Technicians prepare the acoustic monitor, Sonobat.

Many of us had heard mention of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has affected and killed millions of hibernating bats throughout North America. Until this past year, the disease had not been recorded in any bats in California. However, this past spring in Plumas County (near Lassen Volcanic National Park) four bats have since tested positive for low levels of the fungus, marking the spread of the disease to this part of the country.

Katrina takes a swab sample of a myotis volans.
This particular bat had very healthy and intact wings.

The bats we mist netted for at Camp Tule Lake this April were not affected by white-nose syndrome, but biologists continue to monitor the populations living in the abandoned buildings left over from Japanese internment and incarceration during World War II. Much like the risk to specific bird species in the area, migratory bats also continue to face threats of habitat loss, wind energy, and disturbance of roosting sites by the public. Katrina mentioned the need and desire to better understand the patterns of movement in bats as they migrate, and encouraged us all to come volunteer at any point in the future!

Some of the spaces required crawling to get through.

Our day continued with two cave tours from one of the Park geologists took us deep into Valentine Cave and Scull Cave! We learned about the formation of lava tubes and a little more about the research being done regarding climate change and the unique environments within each cave system.

Each cave boasts complex bacterial communities
The cooling of lava creates different textures on the cave floors.
The entrance/exit of Skull Cave.
Panoramic view of Lava Beds National Monument

The SOS Work Begins !

We have officially made our first Seeds of Success collection! The past three weeks since coming back from training at the Chicago Botanic Garden have been full speed ahead for SOS scouting and collections. We have completed two collections for Seeds of Success, meaning we collected >10,000 seeds each for two separate species – Castilleja sessiliflora and Nerisyrenia linearifolia.

Each collection came with its own challenges. Our first collection, Castilleja sessiliflora proved to be difficult because of the cryptic nature of the individuals. When their seed is ripe, the plant has dried and turned a brown shade conveniently similar to the shade of the soil. There were also relatively few plants in the population we collected from, so we had to be very thorough when scanning the ground for the individuals. We collected 20% of the seeds from every individual, bringing our estimated total seed count to around 15,000. Our collection of Nerisyrenia linearifolia proved to be a much easier task, with an abundance of easily identifiable and conspicuous individuals. We were able to collect more seed from this population because there were more plants with more fruits per plant, so we estimated a total collection of about 30,000 seeds.

It was incredibly satisfying to find species and populations with seed that was ready to be collected. However, two collections in three weeks leaves a lot of time unaccounted for. Most of our time has been spent scouting for populations of species on our target list. We have driven many miles scouring the Carlsbad Resource Area for species we want to collect. We have had some very successful days, finding two or three locations with multiple species abundant enough for future collections. We have also had days where we’ve found virtually nothing. These days definitely feel somewhat useless, but it is encouraging to know that we’ve crossed off an area on our list and won’t have to revisit those sites that weren’t fruitful.

The species pictured above are all on our target list for collection.

Carlsbad has been a great place to work in so far, but it is a town of over 30,000 people, with an immense amount of oil and gas development in the surrounding areas. So, my weekends have been spent getting out of town and exploring. Highlights so far have been Guadalupe Mountains National Park which includes the highest point in Texas (8751 ft), the cute mountain town of Cloudcroft (at 8600 ft!) in the Sacramento Mountains, and the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces (my favorite so far). I look forward to more weekends exploring New Mexico and West Texas; I’m learning so many new plants and enjoying the desert heat (mostly).

Field Season in Full Swing!

Field season has really taken off since my last blog post!  In the past 2 weeks, my  partner and I have completed 6 entire collections for the Seeds of Success program. The species that we have collected thus far include Balsamorhiza incana, Townsendia incana, Lomatium foeniculaceum, Cerastium arvense, Oxytropis sericea, and Arnica sp.

Collecting is such rewarding work, but we have definitely encountered a few difficulties along the way.  Due to abnormal weather events this spring, plants within the same populations seem to be very developmentally out of sync with one another.  This finding has required us to return to collections multiple days in a row to collect the individuals that are further behind in their maturation.

This whole experience has been a learning process, but we are getting very good at perfecting our techniques and equipment use.

On a brighter note, this past weekend was the 4th of July.  Lander, Wyoming hosts a fun festival which includes a parade, barbecue, rodeo, and fireworks after dark.  The whole town came alive and it was really great to experience the strong sense of community here.

A beautiful Wyoming sunset!

This double rainbow made an appearance during the 4th of July festivities.

In a field of Wyethia

Exactly a month ago I submitted my first blog post and had been working here in Idaho Falls for a total of three days. Since then, things have picked up at a wonderful rate. The rain has left us (for now), the snow is melting, and plants are blooming! Often times we are traveling from the northern tip of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, far east into the Wyoming ranges, and down south to the beautiful Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest of Utah. Covering an amazing amount of country and finding seeds in between.

Look at this beautiful Oenothera sp. (Onagraceae) at the base of the Lemhi Mountain Range outside of Howe, ID. These flowers were growing with one of our target species, Erigeron pumilis.

The tremendously small Calypso bulbosa (Orchidaceae) nestled underneath a dense Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) outside of Alpine, WY.

In lieu of beautiful flowers, it feels necessary to share with you all the stunning field of White Mule’s-Ear (Wyethia helianthoides) we came upon while looking for a moths outside of St. Anthony, ID. As were were getting closer to this 0.25 mile field made up exclusively of white flowers, I thought to myself, “This is horrible! Look at how prolific this invasive flower is. Think about all the willows that would be growing in this area if this aster had not taken over!” To my great surprise, this beautiful species is 100% native to the region. It is know to dominate rich, moist sites. White Mule’s Ear often hybridizes with Yellow Mules-Ear (Wyethia amplexicaulis) creating a slue of peach or pale-yellow composites! 

White Mule’s-Ear (Wyethia helianthoides) as far as the eye can see.

Olivia Turner was equally enthused about the field of white.

Soon after our hearts melted in front of thousands of Wyethia, we came back the following week with a full itinerary. We managed to have two successful seed collections of Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitata) in a week. This means we collected over 30,000 seeds for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program. Each balsamroot head has roughly 50 seeds. 50% are viable. To gain the 10,000 viable seeds required for SOS and the 5,000 for Rocky Mountain Research Station, we ended up collecting over 1,200 heads to ensure a viable seed count. 

This is a herbarium voucher of Balsamorhiza sagitata pulled from one of our seed collection sites near Swan Valley, ID.

Arrowleaf balsamroot just gone to seed!

It is quite the opportunity to continue learning the greater impacts the SOS program has on restoration projects. Simply knowing each seed collected by my hands could one day be part of a site reclamation project is amazing in itself. 

Claire Parsons

Caribou-Targhee National Forest S.O.

Road Trip Stories

Wyoming is a big state and our field office covers a lot of land. That means that we do a lot of driving. I’m still getting used to driving all the long distances but one of my favorite things about driving is looking out the window and seeing a lot of country. All the country that we drive through has stories attached to it, in driving around I learn not just about the plants that we are collecting seeds from but the history of the landscape, how it has been shaped by the people who lived here and how it has shaped them. Below are some of my favorite driving stories and factoids that Frank has told me and Sydney over the past few weeks. I think that learning about the people and land use practices is incredibly interesting and relevant to my experience as a CLM intern.

One day while working in range more than twenty years ago, Frank walked up on a sand dune on a lunch break and saw a showy flowering plant. It was in the Penstemon or beardtongue genus, but it wasn’t a species that he had ever seen before. He took a picture and went back to the field office. Folks at the office thought that it was probably a common penstemon that had been found in the area before; however, the characteristics of this plant didn’t match up with the dichotomous key. Frank investigated further and eventually found out that he had found the first recorded population of the endangered blowout penstemon plant in the state of Wyoming. This was also the first endangered plant species found in the state of Wyoming.   

A long time ago miners found a mummified native American, in a mountain north of Rawlins. However, unlike most mummies this one appeared to be a tiny, fully developed red-haired man, about the size of a toddler. The mummy went on tour as a freak show, where it was claimed to be part of a race of little people with red hair, described in local native American legends. Legend has it that these little people were extraordinarily fierce fighters. This apparently was bad news for red haired American cavalry men who were treated especially harshly in battle with native Americans. Unfortunately, when someone at the university examined the mummy, they figured out that the “little man” was actually a human infant with a rare genetic disease that made him look older than he was.

Liberty Rock was a stop along the Oregon trail. Pioneers tried to get to this unassuming but important land mark in time to celebrate the fourth of July there. Today it is arrest stop and local attraction.

And so much more: A gorge along the highway that was used as a Bison fall. A valley used as a polo stadium by the local ranchers. Hundreds of new roads created by oil and gas development. A gap in the Ferris mountains where government agents caught a band of whiskey smugglers during prohibition. Etc.…

Sand dunes and mountains
Blowout penstemon Penstemon haydenii

Super Science Students

I was fortunate enough to spend a week helping lead the BUDS camp in the Black Hills. Run through a joint cooperation by a local middle school and the BLM, this program had 10-20 middle school students spend a week in the Black Hills learning about various components of science through lessons, adventures, and games. While each day was themed – wildlife, water, geography – the whole week built upon itself to provide a lasting base of nature knowledge for this kids.

I was generally the plant person for the camp. The day before the camp, I had gone round to all of the flower shops in town in an attempt to find lilies, the ideal “perfect” flower to dissect due to the large size of all flower components – the stamen, style, petals, etc. Lilies acquired from the shop and a variety of other flower from my supervisor’s garden, we were all set to teach about plants. On the actual day, the kids loved dissecting the flowers, quizzing each other on the parts and generally exploring and observing, an activity that was…immediately overshadowed by spear throwing with atlatls. When asked at the end of the day what their favorite activity was, the atlatls were a universal win, although one student took pity on my and told me that the flowers were their second choice.

Over the course of the week, we collected and identified “herbarium specimens,” went Hiking with Lichen, discovered all of the weird designations for fruits, learned the stories behind the constellations (despite dense fog), did water tests, panned for gold, learned about maps and GIS from professionals, and played endless rounds of improv and tag games that made me thankful for my camp counselor background. Even though there were sometimes tears at the occasional fall during tag or frustrations with the other campers, our kids did really well. My favorite line was when one student said “It’s like science in school, except actually fun,” a testament to our efforts to make every child there comfortable, happy, and receptive to learning. Because, while a large part of being in the CLM is interacting with nature ourselves, it is doubly important to make sure the next generation of scientists discovers its joys and beauties while they still exist, pushing us all towards preserving what we have left.

Rec Intern, BLM Buffalo WY