Wandering Minds

I am now in my 11th month in the Buffalo FO, Wyoming. My time here at the BLM is soon coming to a close, though I have a few projects to finish up first. My current responsibility is to use ArcGIS to digitize any type of disturbance in the BFO sage grouse core and connectivity areas. Since the Powder River Basin is a major oil and gas area, there is plenty to digitize. My work will be used by biologists to run a DDCT, a density and disturbance calculation tool. The DDCT is used to help determine where new oil and gas permits can be, so that there is not too much disturbance in any one area.

Basically, what this also means is that I am currently spending all of my time in front of the computer at work. Knowing how important this could be for sage grouse conservation helps to keep me going; however, with spring already showing signs around the field office I am starting to get a little antsy to get outside in the field. Starting next week I’ll be able to go out on some lek surveys, but in the meantime I’ve come up with some other ways to keep me motivated. This mostly comes down to remembering all the good times I’ve had at work and in Buffalo this year and reminding myself that field season is just around the corner. In celebration of this, I’ve posted some of my favorite photos from last year.

P.S. My grasp on technology is not so great, so to really see the objects in the picture well they might take some extra clicking.









The Drive to Eureka Dunes

Writing a blog is a tricky art. I could easily compare it to balancing a herd of cats. Try to write a little bit about everything that has happened since the last entry, and you  end up writing a bullet point summary fit for a lab notebook hidden in a cobweb filled basement. Get too creative or introspective and you end up writing a “Dear Journal” entry that you soon realize should have not been posted for public viewing, but rather taken to your therapist.  With that said, let’s see how this goes!

With a long drive ahead of me from the USGS Biological Research Division location in Henderson, Death Valley’s Eureka Dunes, I cracked my back, jogged in place and with much reserve got into the car that was to be my prison for the following five hours.

As my brain slowly melted into a state of hibernation, dreaming of the beautiful white powdery snow left behind in Chicago I was startled by the vision of a snow covered mountain. Could it be? I looked again, this time coaxing my mind into full alertness and persuading my tongue to move around its coffee infused cavern and ask Sarah, one of my mentors, about the apparition. Luckily for me, Mt. Charleston was no mirage but rather the tallest peak in the county. Who would have guessed that a mere 35 miles from Las Vegas a relatively majestic(?) peak such as Mt. Charleston could be found.  Part of the Spring Mountain Range, it is one of the eight highest peaks in the state, standing at a solid 11,912 ft. It seems my dreams of snow have been answered.

Now, fully awakened by the exciting realization that there is more to this area than sand, I was glued to the window like a kid looking into a candy shop. With NPR playing on the radio and images of hiking with micro-spike in Nevada, I hardly noticed the odd flying airplane like things occasionally visible on the horizon as we approached Creech Air force Base. The vast expanses of land in Nevada have attracted a lot of military activity. The Creech Air force base has been active since the 1940’s. This site is home to the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Battle Lab. Seeing many different flying vehicles pass over our research sites, I wondered to myself whether the pilots and handlers practice by spotting how many freckles cover the faces of researchers hiding in remote areas of Death Valley ….  As I pondered this thought, I look up again only to find myself looking at Mercury.

Mercury is the location of the Nevada Test Site. THE SITE where nuclear weapons were tested. I could not believe it. I was driving past THE site where most of the nuclear testing was done in the 50’s!  I think this topic may deserve a whole separate blog (especially since they do have tours) but for now I will leave you with the image of the blue exit sign that usual shows services, gas stations and food, empty at mile marker HM-165.

With a sigh, and a much needed readjusting of my stiffened legs, I look out the window again. This time thinking back to all the times I had driven from Chicago to Champaign.  The drive is generally considered bland and straight. These adjectives are in fact accurate; however I have an odd obsession with hay bales and was always hopeful for a glimpse. Round hay bales, square hay bales, and heaps, all placed in dizzying arrangements on the field from which they were collected.  Staining my eyes to see any signs of hay bales, though not really expecting to see them in this landscape, I saw a tumble weed crossing the road, right as we hit it. Pshh, typical, exactly what I would expect in a desert. Voicing my observation, I was quickly corrected and informed that tumble weeds are not native! Though a lot of different plants can get up and tumble away (especially in the gusty sand blasting winds that we were facing), the most iconic tumble weed comes from the plant Salsola tragus, more commonly known as the Russian Thistle, a common weed in disturbed areas, that arrived from Eurasia years before! Who would have guessed!


And there she was. Eureka Dune.  A very appropriately named dune, for she, out of nowhere just appears. With a sigh of relief, I realized five hours pasted with a blink of the eye.


I need to thank Sara Scoles-Sciulla for showing me all these points of interest

Life in Klamath Falls, Oregon Thus Far!

I am working with the Fish & Wildlife Service in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The Klamath Basin is a great place to be! Klamath Falls reminds me a bit of Missoula, MT where I have spent my past two summers. It’s a great birding area as many birds migrate through the upper Klamath Basin and there are tons of waterfowl here right now! I am really into birding so I am loving being surrounded by such a great diversity of bird species right now. Waterfowl I have seen thus far include: scaup, buffleheads, western grebe, redhead, goldeneye, ruddy duck, white-fronted goose, snow goose, ross’s goose, canada goose, gadwall, common merganser, eared grebe, mallard, northern shoveler, northern pintail, and too many more to remember!

So far we’ve been done some Oregon spotted frog surveys, bald eagle nest monitoring, water depth sampling and we’ve gone out on boats with USGS to help capture endangered and threatened suckers in the Klamath Basin by seining!

Sadly though, I have been learning that the water quality in the upper Klamath Basin is not so great due to many agricultural operations surrounding the basin. Hopefully though we can help gather data to aid management decisions in the future towards improving water quality in the basin!

Here are some great pictures from the past couple of weeks!

What species are we working with today?

The Klamath Basin is a unique area of fascinating volcanic landscape features, endemic plants and animals, and a bird’s paradise (or birder’s, in the case of my co-workers). It has been such a breath of fresh air getting out of the city and into this high desert, where bald eagles can be seen casually flying overhead and river otters play in the irrigation canals. While the flora, fauna and human inhabitants of this sleepy town stir from their winter dormancy, we are spending our days looking to see which nests the bald eagles are returning to raise their young in, surveying frog habitat for the presence of the Oregon Spotted Frog, and collecting mycorrhizal funghi of the highly endemic Applegate’s milkvetch to raise seedlings.

I am extremely excited to have this opportunity to work with so many biologists of different backgrounds and specialties, and to work with such a wide variety of threatened and endangered species. Many days we come to the office uncertain what the day will bring; whether we will be surveying eagles’ nests (weather permitting), collecting soil, recording lake depth, netting fish, or in the office photo-documenting fish samples. Currently my favourite days are eagle surveys. Thanks to nest fidelity (those nests are pretty large and personally I would not be too keen to build a new one each year either), the department keeps their eye on known nests from season to season. In early spring, we drive to a vantage point some distance from the base of the tree and look for the presence of adult eagles either in the nest or flying nearby. If we don’t see any activity, we wait a little while but the nest will be checked again later in the season.  In several months’ time, the nests will be checked again for chicks.

Show us your nest!

Next week promises to bring more frog surveys and I can’t wait to get out in the region’s various rivers and wetlands and find frogs’ eggs.

Desert Expedition

I have the pleasure to be working in the Mojave dessert with the USGS, and three other interns. Within the first week of the internship we were tossed out into the desert. It is amazing learning about the desert and observing it all in person. It is interesting to see how the desert is home to such a vast and beautiful environment that houses multiple ecological systems providing a suitable habitat for a variety of organisms. This multifaceted ecosystem also provides a uniquely beautiful landscape, which makes any field day worth the effort.
While we were driving to our field site we got to see something very unique. The Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) were in bloom. Since this is not an annual occurrence it was a special event, for me anyway. They are beautiful trees with a large inflorescence sticking straight up from the middle of the leaf blade bundles. It was beautiful to look out across the landscape and see a desert full of blooming yucca.

Yucca brevifolia

A beautiful Yucca brevifolia in bloom.

On the first day in the field, our team was given a crash course on the 18 plants that we would be plucking for biomass assessment. Once we were done learning about the different morphological distinctions of each plant, we went straight to work. One by one we plucked out each species, which we then put into a bag that contained the identifying initials for that plant. It was interesting to find out how much diversity can be found in a 50cm by 20 cm area in the desert. It was also fascinating to note that the plots that seemed sparse contained the greatest biodiversity. It became a tedious job at times, but at the end of the day it was rewarding to look back at all the sample bags that I had in my pack and see how much work had been accomplished. It was a greater reward to walk back to camp watching the sun set on the horizon illuminating the red rocks and canyons surrounding us.

The beautiful area (Nevershine, AZ) that we got to work in for the first week of our internship.

Whoever has it in their mind that the desert is a barren wasteland that has nothing in it, should take a deeper look. The desert provides a beauty uniquely its’ own.

First Day of School Jitters

Tomorrow marks the completion of the first week of this internship and I get to spend it out in the desert! This whole week consisted of the usual office paperwork, and now I am excited to finally do some fieldwork. I’m definitely looking forward to monitoring wild horse and burro management areas here in Phoenix and also working on a multitude of other projects to expand my skill set! I’ll admit I was a little nervous because the climate here is so different from the San Diego summers, but I think I’m due for a change in scenery. I can’t wait for all the adventures that await!

Field Season Begins Again!

My second field season with BLM’s West Eugene Wetlands (WEW) started off with a bang! Well, it actually began with hauling several hundred Kincaid’s Lupine plugs and rolls of shadecloth to the upland prairie of one of WEW’s several sites, but you get the idea. Excitement, glorious fresh air, and all that jazz.

Together with my monitoring lead, the Institute for Applied Ecology’s (IAE)–a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of native species and habitats–Native Plant Materials Coordinator, and two of IAE’s dedicated volunteers, we planted over 500 Kincaid’s Lupine over the course of two days.

For those who have never heard of Kincaid’s Lupine (Lupinus oreganus var. kincaidii), it is a federally listed threatened species and the host plant of the federally endangered Fender’s Blue Butterfly. Although I had monitored both Kincaid’s Lupine and Fender’s Blue Butterflies last year, this year I actually got to plant plants.

Between the five of us, we soon streamlined the planting process into an assembly line with three positions: Dibblers, Planters, and Waterers. The Dibblers used an interesting utensil called a dibble to drive holes into the soil–soon-to-be homes for the little Kincaid’s Lupine plants. The Planters were the ones that actually put the plants in the ground, and the Waterers followed along behind with a watering can to quench the thirst of the young plants. Of course, during this we all took turns at moving measuring tapes and placing pin-flags since we were also creating a macroplot that we will monitor later this season.

Planting was a new experience for me, and although the previous field season held a myriad of fantastic lessons, this will always be one of my favorites. There is something soothing  about the silence that accompanies field work such as this. We had some distance from the electronic and industrial cacophony of the city, and though the quiet was sometimes broken by the cry of a red-tail hawk or the light-hearted joking of our miniature planting crew, it was the perfect soundtrack to the camaraderie of people working towards a common goal–threatened and endangered species restoration.

For the time being I am back in the office until monitoring begins. I could not have asked for a better start to my field season.