Hello Friends, Family, and others,
The past three months I have been working as a botanist with the Carson City District Office (BLM). It has really opened my eyes to the importance of conservation, and the general complexity of Nevada ecosystems. Coming in, I was new to an already established crew of six who welcomed a co-worker and me with friendly smiles and helpful attitudes. At once, I felt like I belonged to the group. It has been nothing short of a great time, spending days out in the field with a large group of friends, while still being productive. I came in knowing relatively little about Botany. I had worked with plants in the field before, and understood basic cycles and cues for matured seed, however identifying plants and keying them out were novel tasks. I took them in stride and now, at the end of three months, I have learned the majority of plants we have encountered over the season, as well as successfully able to key out plants. Learning these new skills, as well as practicing old ones has been a wonderful experience. Every time I would get tired, or annoyed, it was so easy to lean back, and study the beautiful surroundings and appreciate just being there.
Two interns look at seed viability of Atriplex with a stunning view
Regardless, I have seen awesome wildlife between snakes, scorpions, a tarantula, many hawks, a few eagles, a bear cub, and many other less memorable animals. This internship has been a ton of fun and I couldn’t have asked for a better time.
Signing out, and have a Thanksgiving stuffed with eating,
There are two weeks left in the internship and things are winding down here in Carson City. The seasons are changing and the last few species are dropping their seed. Our work has turned from primarily fieldwork to primarily office work, trying to squeeze one last field week in before we hunker down and write up our reports. It has been getting quite a bit colder in the past few weeks. There is snow on the Sierra Nevadas now. The season change was one that I had never seen before. Just as it started getting cold enough to snow, the few deciduous trees out here in the desert started to change color and senesce. It made for this weird phenomenon where nothing changed except for small flaming streaks that highlighted riparian areas across the rolling mountains. Other than those small streaks, there has been no significant change in the way this desert looks. It is quite beautiful, but also gave me perspective on the types of plants that can withstand the harsh environment here. While it is fall, it certainly isn’t the rolling autumn colors of the Midwest, which I have been used to seeing these past four years.
(The senescence of the deciduous trees on the eastern side of the Sierras, near Yosemite)
Earlier this week, we went on a small day trip to a nearby town of Dayton, in order to collect seeds. We had found a nice patch of Gutierrezia sarothrae (which we just call Gouda), in the foothills. I sat down to check out the seed viability to see if the Gouda was ready for collecting. Just as I was finishing, one of my coworkers casually said, “There is a tarantula right behind you.” I have heard people prank others by saying “What’s that behind you,” and so at first I thought he wasn’t being serious. Of course, I still reacted to that comment and jumped immediately out of seat, making sure to shake the back of my shirt. Lo and behold, my coworker was in all seriousness; sitting not a foot away was a tarantula! It was both awesome and freaky-looking at the same time. About the size of my palm, this tarantula was hovering, motionless above a hole in the rock. I am unsure how I missed it before, unless I moved the rock somehow and it appeared to protect its home. I had never seen a tarantula in the wild, which was really cool, and now I can check that off my list. This tarantula was weird though, and it took us a few minutes to realize why. I guess some bird or small mammal nearby had a nice tasty snack at some point because this was a seven-legged tarantula!
(Seven-legged tarantula facing down over the small rock hole)
Here is to another two weeks!
It was the most stupendous week for the Carson City Sierra Front intern team. We finished all of our fire monitoring fieldwork. As one of the most recent interns, I am fairly fresh when it comes to experience with fire monitoring. I feel comfortable doing them now, but it was still sad to see them go. The most challenging part of being a new intern is going through the process of learning to recognize all the plants by their full Latin names. While I remember at least the genus, or a 4-letter code for most of the plants we see, if we go to a new area with different diversity, I am fairly challenged when it comes to naming plants. This has made fire monitoring difficult because we have to shout out names of perennials and identify all the plants in our nested square meter area.
Our last fire job was the coolest of all. The standard routine for monitoring a fire is to first find the plot using various maps and a GPS, and then collect and record data. This week, we broke our routine for the first time by setting up two plots in a more recently burned region. When setting up the fire plots, we had to take into account the aspect of the slope, so that the slope was facing east or west, and we had to make sure the area was consistent in slope, as well as a few other variables. We ended up going back and forth between two less than ideal areas looking for the best place to set a center point for the transect that would skew our data the least. It was challenging to find locations that would satisfy the conditions required to create transect lines, however it sure beats having to find a foot high piece of rebar in a field of Sisymbrium altissimum; much along the lines of finding a needle in a haystack.
(Where is the rebar? Here is a fire plot that we had to find in the sea of Sisymbrium)
On our final plot, Mary, the other intern who joined the CLM intern team at the same time, and I collected perennial density, and nested density of the plants along one transect line. This was rewarding in two ways. First, it showed me how much we have progressed in being able to identify plants, as only a few plants stumped us. It was enjoyable for me to feel that I had learned enough to carry my own weight in terms of fire monitoring and plant identification. Second, I felt that it was a larger milestone in terms of having a more equal knowledge of the area as the other interns who had been doing it for longer. It was almost a graduation of sorts into being a full-fledged team member.
It was a good weekend at Sand Mountain. The sun was shining, the breeze was cool, and the ATV engines were roaring. Our botany team set up a booth for the weekend with cool activities and events. We provided information about the animals and plants a person would find there, we sponsored botany walks, and we even had an evening astronomy talk and scorpion hunt event. There was so much information provided by our booth that it was overwhelming to try and see it all in one visit. Despite our effort however, very few people bothered between rides up the sand dune to stop by and check out the cool stuff. Despite the hours of an empty booth, I learned to take everything with a grain of sand. Even if it meant only entertaining one person who stopped by our booth, just the fact that there were some people interested in what we had to offer made me happy and proud. By the end of our weekend, we had a large group of people who came out to our evening session. While this may point to flaws in our advertising campaign, which I sincerely doubt, I think it highlights the fact that if you wait long enough, people will eventually see what you have to offer.