Having a Bovine Time

Lately in New Mexico we’ve been seeing all the storms but missing out on all the rain. Having cloud cover is always sweet relief and somewhat rare for us, but the storms are so scattered over the desert. It always seems to be raining far off and never in town.

Previous Seeds of Success crews in this field office documented a lot of various grass populations, so our crew was really excited initially. As the season has progressed we’ve realized that whether the grass has grown since last season is completely dependent on where the rains happen to land each year. Most “lush” grass sites look more like this–full of a previous year’s growth with no green to show currently. We also have a disappointing recurring experience–many times we find an amazing patch of green grass with multiple species growing, all ready for collection, but when we look down at the map it’s all in state or private land and inaccessible to us! Of course it hasn’t been all bad. We’ve gotten lucky with a few outstanding sites with so many different wildflowers all the in the same spot.

We recently shipped one of our largest collections–Verbecina encelioides. We found this amazing draw that was covered in the colonizing flower. We estimate that we collected over 1 million seeds!

Verbecina enceliodes seeds

Our Seeds of Success work is wrapping up and we have delved almost completely into doing range trend studies. The goal of this study is to compare how vegetation has fared after herbicide application for shrubs. It can be difficult to navigate to the sites and find the markers, but we are already about half way through. We also have to deal with cows a lot more now. We have learned the hard way that staying in the truck and honking the horn to get rid of them actually has the opposite effect! After talking to some people in the range department, we learned that this is how ranchers get the cattle to follow the truck. To successfully steer the cows away from our work sites I have waving branches or flags and yelling at the cows to get them away from us, or away from the gates we have to drive through without letting cows into the wrong pens and pastures!

I haven’t figured out how to upload a video yet, but here are some of our field friends. We did manage to drive through this paddock without letting any residents into an area where they shouldn’t be. Shortly after we ran into the rancher and thankfully didn’t have to deliver any bad news to him!

I don’t usually fear the cows, but I also haven’t had any frightening encounters with them. In a previous post I wrote about Aly’s dangerous cow encounter, so it’s understandable that she’s not the one walking towards them if we can help it.

I spoke with the rancher of these cows briefly about how beautiful and rare his cows were. Considering my transect was going directly towards them one day, I was thankful that they were well behaved and not too noisy.

This Thursday we got to help with a rare plant survey in which we planned to walk eight miles and ended up walking closer to eleven miles. I spotted three gypsum milkvetch and in total we found four Scheer’s cacti.

A rather sad looking Scheer’s cactus, but an important find nonetheless

To do the rare plant surveys we walk in lines 10 meters apart in sections of habitat deemed suitable for the species.

Since our SOS crew has three people, having us help with the rare plant survey really shortened the work for the only rare plant intern. Here’s us getting ready to do our very last line at the end of a very long day.

As usual, the plants we aren’t specifically looking for are popping! (Popping in color, blooms, and out at you. It seems nearly everything here is armed.)

Closeup of a Ziziphus flower. Instead of having normal leaves this plant decided to have modified leaves in the form of spines. There is no soft side to this plant. The flowers smelled so good, attracting me and hundreds of tiny bees.
Christmas cholla, aptly named for its bright red fruits!

As a plant person, I can’t help but post a few more photos of some of my favorite flowers that we’ve discovered. Coincidentally, none of my favorites have ever caused me pain 😉

Eriogonum annuum in all its sweet glory
Ipomopsis longiflora
Potentially the biggest Ephedra I’ve ever seen
A little fella still waiting to be keyed out and identified

As we come closer to the close of our internship, our crew talks more and more about how we’ll miss the skies and clouds that New Mexico offers up every once in a while.

I love when we get to see a dark sky pop against orange and red sands.

–Catherine, Carlsbad NM

Ups and Downs

A good example of the general color scheme we see if there’s no oil development nearby

They say the Carlsbad NM BLM field office is the busiest in the country because of all the oil permitting. Due to the excessive oil and gas development in the Carlsbad NM Field Office, we don’t usually have to do much hiking to achieve our work goals. There are roads almost everywhere, usually with pipelines next to them. There’s been a few instances when we are scouting for seed in areas void of development. Unfortunately those places don’t typically have any plants we’re interested in either. It’s been bittersweet to discover that the most lush places are usually next to oil development, but I try to remind myself that it’s just extra urgent to collect those seeds! When you look out on the horizon and see flares or pump jacks in every direction it can be difficult to stay positive, but we have found a few gems in this dusty landscape.

The dunes have become a favorite spot for me. I love the color contrast. Here you can see Quercus havardii growing with Artemisia filifolia.

The news came back this week from Bend that New Mexico had the most operational seed collections last year. I think it must be because our sites are so accessible. We have several ongoing collections since it’s so easy for us to go back again and again.

Rain storms on the way home

This week our crew got to do some cross-training with the rare plant intern. It involved a lot more hiking than we are used to. We were going out with the goal of learning some special status and rare plants so that we can keep an eye out for them both in our free time (which is when most of us get our hiking fix) and while we are scouting. Carlsbad has a way of being unpredictable. Some days are great, others feel futile. I found the exploration for rare plants a lot less fulfilling than seed collecting, but we did get to see some incredible sights.

Sitting Bull Falls in Lincoln National Forest. We found 2/3 rare plants on our list for this site, including a golden columbine and a red penstemon.
Found at Sitting Bull Falls. All signs point to it being Lobelia cardinalis, except for the color is obviously magenta, not red, and there’s no records we can find of any other magenta L. cardinalis. Our mentor hopes we discovered a new subspecies.

We found a stunning site for Verbesina enceliodes which we have two days worth of collections from. I’m willing to keep going back for more, but I have a suspicion that Aly may not be so keen. There are often cows chomping away on our sites but typically don’t seem to care about our existence. This week was a little different. Alex and I were collecting on the other side of the road when all of a sudden we heard the truck horn blaring and Aly shouting at us. Sensing danger, Alex ran over to see what was up. I didn’t sense danger so I collected seed on my way back. Turns out everything was fine, but a few minutes earlier a truck with a trailer sped by and excited the cows. Maybe they thought they were getting a special food or water delivery? According to Aly, they all starting moo-ing like mad and started trotting toward the road. Aly was between them and the road. Naturally, she got nervous as she saw the herd jogging towards her! She started running for her life towards the truck with the cows picking up speed behind her. As the herd was spread out, she didn’t have the option to run perpendicularly from them. Her only option was to get to the road–and the safety of the truck–before they did. Luckily for all of us, we didn’t have to file any worker’s comp paperwork that day. The word is that almost getting trampled by cows makes you an official cowboy. Yee haw!

This is the herd that almost caused Aly’s demise

I’m just past my halfway point for the season and it’s causing a lot of mixed feelings. Instead of processing them, I’m distracting myself with awesome trips and the little things! I went with Aly and the AIM crew lead to Big Bend National Park this past weekend and it was phenomenal. From walking across the Rio Grande into Mexico to hiking up to the top of the world, I see why it’s such a popular park. We even saw a few acorn woodpeckers!

Hiking is best done before noon in this part of the world. Anything after that and you die of heat.
We told other hikers this was honeysuckle. Turns out its not honeysuckle. It’s firecracker bush! Bouvardia ternifolia.
The top of the world, Big Bend National Park
Berlandiera lyrata, chocolate flower. It smells faintly like chocolate.
Some sort of sphinx moth loving on the thistle
Horse lubber grasshopper. Wikipedia described it as “moderately sized” but it’s easily the biggest grasshopper I’ve ever seen.
-Catherine, Carlsbad NM

The Land of Enchantment

New Mexico’s flag symbol, the Zia

New Mexico is supposed to be “the land of enchantment” and every week my experiences are proving that slogan to be truth. The state flag has a symbol called the Zia which is a sacred symbol to early people of the region. It is a sun with four sets of four lines that represent the seasons, times of day, stages in a person’s life, and the cardinal directions. This symbol is still found all over the state, sometimes in the most random and surprising places. When we were judging our site’s soil to determine the color we accidentally made a Zia as well!

We each picked which color we thought matched in the Munsell Soil book and then compared.

It’s been an incredible journey already with so much to learn and explore. Perhaps the most challenging part of seed collecting is getting the timing just right. Several plants on our list have longer, more continual flowering periods but others… not so much. There are a few species that will be flowering one week and totally fried the next week. Competing against the cows doesn’t make things any easier. We found a beautiful site of desert marigold all flowering (Baileya multiradiata) only to return and find half the population completely eaten! Finding that sweet spot of seeds is difficult, but it makes it that much more rewarding when we can get a collection in.

This week I was feeling the mid-season slump. I felt like we were losing against the weather, cows, and timing struggles and was bummed about not making as many collections as I had hoped for. Luckily, our mentor offered us some perspective. Aly and I had come back in from the field with an easy 200,000 seeds of Ratibida tagetes in our possession (which was already a pretty good feeling) when our mentor saw us and exclaimed, “You guys didn’t get ANOTHER collection did you?!” She apparently wasn’t expecting us to have found much and it was so reassuring that my slump-induced perception of mild failure was just a personal issue.

Melampodium leucanthum–blackfoot daisy
Ratibida columnifera seeds
A beautiful Senna roemeriana site

Although the actual collections have felt sparse, our seed scouting has taken some unbelievable turns in the right direction. We’ve found some breathtaking sites with wildflowers and grass for acres!

Green?? In the desert??? Looks like the grasses are finally responding to the monsoon season.
Our Lesquerella fendleri completely disappeared off this site. Flowering one week and totally gone a week and a half later!

In addition to wildflowers and grasses, we’ve been having a lot of wildlife run-ins. Out of all the places in the world I’d never peg Carlsbad, NM as prime owl habitat and yet, I’ve seen more owls here than I’ve seen total in my life. There’s been a few times we’ve been sure that we witnessed barn owls flying away from us and there’s been several instances where we just have to stop and marvel at the burrowing owls. The other day we saw four leave the burrow one by one, perching on creosote bushes to watch us as we watched them. Believe it or not, we accidentally stumbled onto a sleeping bobcat this past month. In effort to get to some of last year’s scouting points we found the only road completely washed out. There wasn’t water (because, desert) but it was not crossable. Frustrated, we got out so we could at least explore this huge washout. This was the first time we saw a barn owl. Then, while we were walking on top of the ravine we had stopped to discuss our next move. Before I know it, Aly freaks out, pointing down, yelling, “Bobcat! Bobcat!!” I looked down, terrified at the alarm, to see the small spotty cat streaking away from us down the ravine. We figured it must have been sleeping in one of the eroded walls and became scared of us. We left shortly after, not wanting to disturb it further. BUT HOLY COW we saw a bobcat! In the daytime!!

 Coyote tracks. You can tell its a canine because the nails are visible (bobcats retracts their claws when walking) and you can tell it’s not from someone’s dog because the front toes are straight rather than splayed.

So yes, you may need selective viewing to find Carlsbad beautiful with the abundance of oil and gas, but if you stick it out and stay strong, you can uncover the beauty that is the Land of Enchantment.

Me, in the washout/ravine where we saw the barn owl and bobcat

New Flora and New Friends

I took a hike after work to some beautiful waterfalls nearby and got to see so much Fallugia paradoxa!

My group and I during the CLM workshop scavenger hunt


My scavenger hunt team (myself, Lucas, and Claire) perusing our list for potential nearby plants

My first two weeks of work were mostly training, but it was valuable information sprinkled with some fun team building. At our BLM office in Carlsbad we worked together with the fire guys, the other interns, and some younger people in the office in a series of activities that required blindfolding and communication. At one point we had to send everyone through a type of “spider web” made of rope. That involved picking people up and sending them feet first to the other side, all without touching the rope! It was very difficult, but it definitely brought our office together. When I got to the CBG CLM training I immediately felt welcomed and appreciated by the awesome staff who perfectly organized the workshop for us with tons of useful information and even more amazing food during the week. I was taken aback by the kindness, sincerity, and authenticity of Krissa, Chris, Joanne, and the other members of the CLM team. Since these first weeks were full of job and safety training I had a lot of time and energy to explore both Carlsbad and Chicago after work. We have a few really nice parks in our area of New Mexico and I loved getting a relaxed introduction into the new landscape and flora. One of my favorite parts of the workshop in Chicago was Chris’ scavenger hunt around the Botanic Garden. We were all so jazzed for the opportunity to explore, and having a goal meant we were joyfully forced to become fast friends with our fellow interns. I feel so honored to be starting in this position and thankful in advance for all the things I’ve yet to learn!