Some Like It Hot

I find it hard to believe that 5 months have passed.  It feels awkward to walk out the front door and feel a cool breeze rather than a sweltering heat wave.  Moving from Chicago to Southeast California was a definite shock when the internship began.  Reflecting upon my experiences out west I can say that I feel less anxious and irritable.  I have retained some cynicism but nonetheless I am at ease when talking with my superiors and working in groups.  My time in the BLM office has definitely prepared me for a job in the future where I will have to work with people who may or may not share common values.  As a professional I feel that I have gained a great deal of experience doing independent work.  There were many occasions when I had to work solo in the field with little information about where I was venturing.  Every time I drove out of the office parking lot in the work vehicle was taking a great risk.  The venomous snakes, summer heat and abandoned mine shafts were always looming threats.  As tacky as it may sound, I feel like more of a man after the internship.

Rewarding experiences that stand out would have to include my bat surveys with expert Patricia Brown.  I partnered with Pat on more than ten occasions to visit abandoned mines and track bat entries and exits with night vision.  Not only did I have the joy of using expensive, militaristic equipment but I also witnessed some fascinating bat behavior.  I don’t know many people who can say that they have worked this closely with flying, nocturnal mammals.  The rattlesnakes that scared me while navigating dark mountainsides with only a headlamp also added to the fun.  Another rewarding experience was the day I substituted our front desk man Murl.  I talked to visitors from all around the country (many who were driving route 66 to LA) as well as some Europeans who were exploring “the land of gold and cowboys”.  It was a challenge to describe a region that I was only beginning to understand to these visitors, but it brought satisfaction that I made their trip less confusing and more exciting.  Last but not least I cannot stress how great the Grand Canyon workshop was.  I wish I could see the other interns again because many of them felt like old friends despite only knowing them for five days or more.  The smores cookout, the ethnobotany class and the weekend hike down to the bottom of Grand Canyon are all moments I will cherish.  New interns that do not attend the workshop will surely miss out.

Found some bats, but no Batman

CLM Blog Update #2

August 9th, 2010

Hello again from the BLM office in Needles, CA.  I am surprised to find myself getting used to the ridiculous heat.  Light clothing, sun block, shades and plenty of water have kept me going.  It’s going to be very interesting to return to Chicago and be raking leaves during a chilly November.

The internship has been a great experience thus far.  I had the pleasure to assist some coworkers with a birding presentation at the local library in mid-July.  Despite a young audience, most of the kids were very engaged in the discussion and excited to answer quiz questions.  Perhaps they will take time in the near future to visit our parks and identify wildlife.  It is always nice to get involved with the community and work outside the office.

I also had the fortune to help with bat surveys in the San Bernadino County.  On July 19th I helped some graduate students and volunteers to catch bats with mist nets in a wildlife refuge near Lake Havasu.  We identified species, gender, forearm length and general health for each bat. This was the first time I held bats.  I finally felt like one of the scientists seen on Discovery Channel or Animal Planet television programs.

On the note of bat biology, I also spent two days helping a bat scientist, Pat, and her mine-exploration partner, Eric, to locate abandoned mine shafts and assess future courses of action.  Do not fret – I did not enter the mine shafts.  The other Eric did that risky work.  Though many of these mine shafts are scheduled to be sealed, some serve as homes for bats and owls.  Eric even found some gopher and racer snakes at the bottom of one mine shaft.  Later in the evening, I used night vision goggles to do an in & out flight survey for California leaf-nosed bats.  Before departing to go home late that night, Pat was daring enough to walk past two rattlesnakes at the cave entrance to examine the inside, only to declare, “There’s three more rattlesnakes in here and they’re huge!”  I declined the offer to get a closer look.

Monsoon season is expected to hit soon, meaning that some populations of late-flowering plants will produce seed for additional collection.  This is good news because the majority of plants in the region have already shed their seeds.  I am also assisting an effort with my mentor to disperse seed on a stretch of land near Horsethief Spring that used to serve as an allotment for cattle.  The patch of land currently contains dense populations of red brome and there is a serious lack of native grasses and forbs.

It’s hard to believe that two months have already passed.  To my fellow interns I wish you the best in your future endeavors.  The Grand Canyon workshop was one of the best times in my life and it was a pleasure to meet so many of you.  I speak highly of the internship opportunities and the workshop.


– Eric Clifton

Oh Mohave

From the bustle of the Chicago suburbs to the quiet, slow-paced town of Needles, CA, my first weeks of the CLM internship have been a period of great adjustment.  I’m glad to finally be away from the fast-paced days of Gurnee summers that are choked by traffic from the Six Flags amusement park and the mall.  Though not much goes on in close proximity to my residence, I enjoy my work with the Needles field office greatly.  My adviser Tom Stewart has been very helpful with my adjustment to the extreme temperatures and with navigating the region.  I am only beginning to get used to the temperatures that exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a sunny, summer day.  A strategy to combat the summer heat has been starting work early.  My field work is done before the afternoon hours.

What I love about the field work is the many lizards I can see dashing across the rocky terrain, the Joshua trees that I had only seen in photographs and the dry climate.  I don’t mind warm weather, but extreme humidity has always bothered me.  Though it is not work-related, I also love the cheapness of produce at some stores in the region.  I have bragged to friends and family about the affordability of avocados, grapes and strawberries.  The only scary part of the work is the threat of rattlesnake bites.  Though I have yet to hear that fear-inducing rattle, I have made myself a promise to not listen to an iPod while collecting so that I do not foolishly stumble across an angry rattlesnake.

As far as work goes, most of my time thus far has been spent collecting seeds for SOS from key plant species such as white bursage, creosote, indian ricegrass, big galleta and more.  Proper and efficient seed collection from desert plants is a new skill that I am developing.  Luckily I spent a great deal of time with flora and fauna identification in college; thus, my understanding of desert wildlife is rapidly expanding.  I hope that my seed collecting can help to preserve plant species that are at risk due to pests, grazing animals, invasive species, pollution and other causes.  Some seeds are extremely easy to collect (white bursage) but some can be very time-consuming (creosote).  I have noticed that my first days of seed collection were awkward and confusing.  Since my most recent field work, I can confidently say that my skills are improving.

I am also using GPS to mark good locations for seed collection as well as animals that are spotted.  I found two desert tortoises (endangered species) on the same morning on my way to a desert spring.  Some employees at the office say that they have only seen one tortoise after years of working in the field!  Photographs of anything that catches my eye are taken at my leisure.

I am on the verge of working with water source management, bat surveys and other projects in the near future.  Until then, I will see you fellow interns at the Grand Canyon.


– Eric Clifton