What an adventure this internship has been! I have worked at the BLM Field Office in Bishop for two summers now – 9 months in total, and it has been quite a journey. I have learned so much – about driving a huge pickup truck and changing flat tires, to how to identify what seems like a huge number of plants, to using GIS. I have been able to work with wildlife, going on early morning sage grouse counting trips, and late night bat counting trips – where I got to use night vision goggles! I’ve learned a ton of different monitoring techniques and what the advantages (and disadvantages) are of each one. From stream monitoring, to sage grouse vegetation monitoring, to burn monitoring. I’ve collected seeds, so many seeds, despite the lack of precipitation this year.
And I have met some truly amazing people who work so hard to protect the land they love. It has been an honor and a pleasure.
The last few weeks have been a blur, consumed by our new favorite activity – sage grouse nest site monitoring. Sage grouse is the big buzz word around here as the local subspecies may be put on the threatened or endangered list soon. So besides counting males this spring, the Bishop field office put radio collars on a few birds, and as been tracking them as they nest. Now that the females have left their nests, team Botany gets to get off the bench and get into the thick of it – by monitoring the vegetation around the nests.
All I can tell you is that sage grouse like to nest in some pretty remote areas. That we have to hike to. With all of our equipment.
An example of sage grouse nesting spots
Its a great way to see some of the most beautiful mountain views, away from everything 🙂
In between doing SOS collections and scouting this month, we have been going out and doing field monitoring. Monitoring is my favorite part of the CLM internship experience. I’m the only intern in the office, and I spend a lot of time on my own in the field doing seed collections or looking for rare plants. While I learn the plants that I’m looking for intimately, nothing compares with going out to monitor vegetation with my mentor. I find it the best way to learn some of those pesky forbs that are constantly dying, and so seemingly unidentifiable.
Plus there is nothing better than spending a day in the field with other people. And then all the number crunching…!
I’ve been back with the Bishop Field Office for two weeks now. I can barely believe it. I love walking down the halls of the office again.
Its sage grouse season here. Everyone has been involved in counting the males out on the leks, and tagging birds with radio collars. Male sage grouse gather in groups on open peices of land, to call and strut so that the females will come and mate with them. We have been counting them from a distance by telescope to determine the size and health of the population.
I have also learned how to use telemetry (radio signals) to track the hens. The radio collars emit a beep on a certain frequence, and you track the birds by finding the direction where the beeps are the loudest. You end up looking rather demented, standing on the bed of a pickup, turning around in circles with a weird metal contraption held above your head. The first day I went out to do this, we ended up tracking the collar to a grouse wing – something had eaten our hen.
When I first interviewed for this position a year ago, the job description indicated that I was going to be doing a lot more sage grouse work. When I got here last summer, the grouse work season was over. I’m very excited getting to work with these iconic birds now.
Moving back to California from New England, I was not expecting fall colors. Autumn was one of my favorite times in Boston – between the changing leaves and the crisp fall days with their golden sunlight. I was not expecting to find that same autumn feel on the Eastern Sierra. The extent of the forests are by no means equal, but the colorful aspen groves on the snow dusted mountains make a spectacular backdrop to every field day.
This last month has been spent mostly doing data collection for different projects in the Bodie Hills. Bodie was a mining town in the 1880s, but is now a ghost town and state park. The land surrounding the park, however, is managed by the BLM. We’ve been spending a lot of time working on projects there while many 0ther BLM lands are too hot to work on. Recently, we’ve started working on riparian transects – collecting data about the contours of the streambed, how impacted it is, etc. It is not always easy to work along the streams, with the willows and the rosebushes, which sometimes make access both difficult and painful. I’ve found that my favorite part of doing these transects is the hunt to find the starting points that were established in the 80s. Its like hunting treasure – you have a map with the location of the old rebar that marks the end of each transect loosely sketched. From there you can infer were these rebar relative to the landmarks (which are mostly sagebrush bushes) of twenty-three years ago. The fun doesn’t always stop there though. Last week, we enjoyed several encounters with hornets/yellowjackets who decided in two different locations that they did not want us around their nests, and proceded to sting several members of our team, including getting me a couple of times. There was a lot of grabbing of the equipment, and running.
A tough stream and some don't have any water at all!
In some ways it feels that summer is ending – the high school football teams are already on the fields practicing, a local track team can be seen every morning running in a pack in anticipation of the return to school, and my softball team’s season is at an end. My internship feels like it is already over, even though I’m only half-way through. The dawn is breaking later and later, making it harder to get up in the morning.
And yet, despite all of the evidence that summer is ending, it feels like it will go on forever. New flowers are blooming. It feels like the summer rush is just beginning. There are more seeds than ever to collect, and on top of that, there is trend-plot monitoring from the rangelands to do. It is time outside that feels like will never end.
In time, I suppose that summer will end for me, but until then, I plan to enjoy my extended time in the sun!
Indian rice grass
- Lupinus argentus var. argentus
So what does a seed scouting mission look like? Scouting for seeds takes a surprising amount of time and effort, and my technique for doing the scouting is an evolving process. Here’s what it looks like at the moment:
Monday, I went out scouting. I was scouting for two Crepis species, C. acuminata and C. occidentalis, two hours north in the Bodie Hills. At my first stop I found plenty of C. acuminata, and also stopped to key out and collect a specimen of Calochortus brumeaunis. My next stop was further up the highway. I was concentrating of finding Crepis occidentatlis, as I had not seen any sign of it at my first stop. While I did find lots of the other Crepis species that I was looking for, I could not positively identify C. occidentalis. Instead I identify a large population of Lupinus argentus var. argentus, for which I collected a few voucher specimens in case I decide to go back to collect seeds. My last stop was supposed to check out a population of lupine and prickly phlox further into the Bodie Hills. After surviving road construction delays, and bumpy dirt roads, I turned into the pasture through which I had to pass to get to these two dense clumps of plants. About a quarter of the way down the road I found myself at a stream crossing that had not been there the week before when we found the populations. But I had heard stories about people getting stuck at this spot in the mud. I got out of the truck to look at it. It was 18 inches deep. I could go through and have accomplished something with my afternoon, or I could get stuck, and have to call in to get someone to unstick me from the mud. I decided to back up and try to find another population.
…I don’t think we’re in Massachusetts anymore. And, somehow, I got a job in the most beautiful place I could ever imagine. There was a whirlwind (otherwise known as graduation) that lifted me up over the mountains, and I somehow landed on the Wicked Witch…of the Eastern Sierra.
Driving home from work
Before I started in the Bishop BLM office two weeks ago, people would ask me what I was going to be doing. It was still a little unclear to me at the time. I knew that I would be doing some seed collection for the Seeds of Success program – but how could collecting seeds take up five months of time? So, I would make something up. “Oh, I’m going to be counting sagebrush”. I imagined the Great Basin filled with sagebrush — only sagebrush. Its a desert right? So, not very diverse – its pretty much just sagebrush?
Indigo Bush along HWY 168
Yeah, right. Like Dorothy in Oz, I had (and still have) a lot to learn about the cast of characters that make up sagebrush scrub. First of all, there are the three different subspecies of “regular” sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), and then there are other species, like Artemisia spinescens (budsage), and Artemisia arbuscula (low sage). But I already knew that there is some sagebrush around here; it’s the multitude of other shrubspecies that has flabbergasted me. There is rabbit brush, bitterbrush, cheesebush, and indigo bush to name a few. Indigo bush is a particular favorite of mine, with it’s spectacular blue flowers and speckled seed pods. I really love the whole Fabaceae family, in fact. I’ve spent sometime looking for and IDing lupines, have beautiful spikes of flowers, and the more cryptic milkvetches – of which there are several rare species in the area. Let me tell you a little something about the month of June in the Great Basin – it is wildflower beautiful central. Having never been much of one for flowers – driving up a gully which opens out on a patch of blooming scrub with the white peaks of the sierra in the background is one of the most phenomenally things that I have ever seen.
This is my job? Driving around looking for and collecting seeds from wildflowers? What could be better than wandering around looking at wild-flowers all day? Unlike Dorothy, I am not going to tap my heels together and whisper “There is no place like home”. I’m staying in Oz for as long as I can.
Alabama Hills arch