Good Bye Taos, I will miss you!

Greetings everyone! My internship is over, and sadly, it’s time to say goodbye. I am going to miss the Taos area and the BLM field office there. I spent the last stretch of my internship happily organizing the TAFO herbarium, entering label data into SEINet, making labels, and mounting specimens. Since returning home, I’ve been reflecting on my internship experience. It turned out that collecting seed was both a simple and complicated endeavor that encompasses a mix of strategic planning and luck. I am very grateful for the experience and for the amazing people I have met along the way! Thank you CLM for this wonderful opportunity!

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge view.


Switching Gears for an Ending Field Season


A lot has happened since I last blogged. The Taos area saw snow in the mountains in early October. It was a beautiful and saddening sight since the event signaled the end of the field season.

Snow could be seen in the Mountains in Early October from the Ute Mountian area

My coworker and I have been working diligently to finish our end of the season work. We have sent off the rest of our seed to bend, mounted our specimens, and finished the annual report. We have a couple of things left to do.

Coworker Organizing Herbarium Specimens

Our last field day was October 18th at San Antonio mountain. It was a glorious autumn day. We made two collections, Artemisia frigida and Ericameria nauseosa.

San Antonio Mt, New Mexico on a beautiful October day

Artemisia frigida collected on a beautiful October day at San Antonio Mt.

Last field day, pressing herbarium vouchers for Ericameria nauseosa.

Around mid-September, we attended the Native Plant Society of New Mexico conference. The conference was amazing! The presentations and field trips acquainted me with the rich history of the area, plants used by the prehistoric Pueblo people, and local research projects. My favorite part of the conference was the Paleoecology of Fort Burgwin field trip. The leader, Richard Ford, show us examples of how prehistoric Pueblo people controlled water flow, areas where houses used to exist, and a mulch garden with Liatris punctata. 

Cute Alpaca for your viewing pleasure! This adorable fuzzy creature is a resident of the Benson Ranch we visited during the Range Restoration Field Trip.

Marking Anasazi Skippers (Ochlodes yuma anasazi) at Wild Rivers

Hello again from New Mexico! The best part of the last four weeks was the time my coworker, and I spent at Wild Rivers National Monument marking and resighting Anasazi Skippers. I’ve never done this before, so the process was exciting.

The Anasazi Skipper is a subspecies of Yuma Skipper (Ochlodes yuma) that lives in the Rio Grande Gorge. Female Anasazi Skipper lay their eggs on the leaves of the common reed (Phragmites australis). Once the caterpillar’s hatch, they rely on the leaves of as a food source. The caterpillar creates a cocoon by chewing a section of one of the common reed leaves until it dangles then adheres the leaf sides together with silk.

Wild Rivers is housed within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The runoff from the roads enables a large population of nectar rich Asclepias subverticillata (Horsetail Milkweed) to thrive. The study wanted to see if a nectar rich source away from the common reed in the gorge lured skippers out of the gorge and if the butterflies returned to the common reed patches in the gorge.
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Seeded Plots, Monsoon Season, and Training

Greetings from New Mexico! Life as an SOS intern has had its ups and downs these past few weeks. For our first collection, we managed to collect in a seeded area. Even though the mistake was frustrating, we learned a great deal about what seeded areas look like and resources we need to consult before collecting a site. Now we are suspicious of areas that are mostly a monoculture. The naturally occurring populations we have gathered seed from tend to show some diversity of plants in the area. Any potential collection sites are checked using a GIS layer and a map in the office with some information on seeded areas, and if there is no information on the area, we visually inspect for plow lines or anything else that might indicate the land was planted using Google Earth. Some example images of what we are looking at are below.

Google Earth images of two areas. The image on the left is seeded and the image on the right isn’t.

The monsoon season here in New Mexico also brings its own set of challenges for collecting seed. The monsoon season brings heavy rains, mostly in the afternoon from mid-June to late September. Generally, the areas we travel in to go collect seed have dirt, or if we are lucky, gravel roads. I am very grateful for the truck we use for our work! We were caught out in a down pour that nearly got our truck stuck in a gully. We barely got out of the area before the brunt of the storm hit. After we escaped, the mountain we were scouting by was barely visible for the rain. We’ve adapted to natures schedule by using rained-out afternoons for work that needs to be done in the office and it’s working out well.

Image of the mountain we were scouting near from the highway.

My fellow intern and I attended a pollinator training in Santa Fe at the Institute for Applied Ecology and a supplemental AIM training at Wild Rivers Visitor Center put on by the NRCS Soil Survey Division. The main topic at the pollinator meeting was on Hymenoptera. I had no idea that the diversity of bees in the U.S. was so high with around 30,000 species of bees. I was further surprised to find out that New Mexico is in the top 3 states for bee diversity, with around 1100 species inhabiting the state. We learned that bees and wasps are within the same clade and closely related to ants. I assumed that native bees behave in a similar way to honey bees, but this is not the case. I learned at the training that most native bees are solitary, have shorter lives than honey bees, and often nest in the ground, or wood cavities.  I also enjoyed trying to catch pollinators in Diablo Canyon. It was oddly satisfying to catch something in your net. The soil training we attended drove home the importance of understanding the geology of the area you are working in when soil typing.

– Bureau of Land Management (Taos Field Office)

About a Month In!

The past four weeks went by crazy fast! Most of the time comprised of training and getting my bearings in my new job. I am an SOS intern placed in New Mexico along the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Being from the upper mid-west, the region I am interning in is both very different and yet somewhat similar to where I lived. I’ve noticed that Northern New Mexico shares quite a few plant species as the upper Mid-West, with lots of new ones to learn.

New Mexico is beautiful with its mountains, dry shrubland, and desert grasslands. I love the diversity of species here. My favorite plant in this area so far is a Cholla (Cylindropuntia sp.). From the road, it looks like an unearthly spiny shrub, but up close it is a jointed, tallish cactus with pink flowers and yellow, semi-star shaped looking fruits.

Cylindropuntia sp.

After a week of orientation, lectures, and hands-on training at the Chicago Botanic Garden – we spent a week attending an SOS training geared toward all the New Mexico SOS interns. During the first few days of the Santa Fe training, the instructors covered what a day in the field would look like, data management, field safety, and the target species on our list. We ended the week by camping at a ranch about 3.5 hrs away from Santa Fe where we made a supervised SOS collection of wooly plantain, (Plantago patagonica).The last day at the ranch, we drove into the nearby mountains. At each spot we stopped, we keyed plants using New Mexico keys and field guides.The gravel roads we drove on in this area were rugged with sharp edged rocks which probably caused the flats a couple of vehicles experienced during the trip.

I think my favorite parts of the training in Santa Fe was the section on pressing plants in the field and the University of New Mexico (UNM) Herbarium tour. I have done a fair amount of pressing, but not in the field. Pressing attractively arranged plants that display the necessary features for identifying the plant is not easy in the wind. The instructor for this section did a great job giving us some tips and tricks for pressing our vouchers effectively in the field. The UNM Herbarium is amazing! Phil Tonne (the Senior Collection Manager) set out examples of well-pressed specimens for us to admire.

Echinocereus coccineus – Photo credit: Sierra Carey

They were all lovely! One of my favorites is above. Preparing and pressing cacti is no cakewalk, and this specimen was beautifully done. Almost nothing warms my heart more than attractively pressed specimens with all the identifying characters. During the tour, he told us that once the FBI came to the UNM Herbarium with a bloody plant fragment for them to identify. The FBI wanted to know the species because they could use the habitat to narrow their search area. How cool is that!

We have started scouting potential collection sites within this last week. “We,” being another CLM intern and myself. The rough, rocky roads made me appreciate the large 4×4 truck we use for work. Thanks to a heads up from a botanist in our office, we found a population of Bottlebrush Squirreltail (Elymus elymoidies) that was more than large enough for us to make our first collection without supervision. We also a found large population of Scarlet Globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea) that will make an excellent collection once the seeds ripen. Although, we didn’t know whether it would make a good collection at first. While walking around, I saw that there was a group of Sphaeralcea plants that looked the same, but with larger flowers. One of the challenges of collecting seeds in nature is making sure you are collecting all the same species. Sounds easy, unless there happen to be two species that look almost the same within the same area. With this in mind, we brought both plant types to the office for our supervisor to examine. It turned out that the plants were the same species.

The morphological difference in flower size was probably the result of genetic variation in the population. However, if the two plants were different species – we would not have been able to consider the Sphaeralcea for collection. Telling the plants apart once they had gone to seed would have been impossible.

– Bureau of Land Management (Taos Field Office)