Filling the gaps

Last year we didn’t manage to get out into the field to make seed collections until the second of week of July. Prior to that, we had the arduous task of applying for seed collection permits with the 75+ sites we intended to visit for SOS East. The application process was similar for most – they took forever to be approved.

This year, however, all of our permits were already in place for us. Most of them carried over from last year, some had to be renewed, and some were new. I took care of renewing and applying for new permits while I was waiting for this year’s internship to start. That allowed us to hit the ground running after our training here at the North Carolina Botanical Garden at the start of June.

Now, anyone that has any gardening or seed collecting experience can tell you that if you miss a collection time for any of your early summer fruits (the ones birds tend to really enjoy), you might as well hang up your hat and wait until next year. Maybe then you can be the early bird that gets the [fruit]. Anyway, that’s how last year started for us. We completely missed all but one Vaccinium collection in the whole of our range, as well as many of our other enticing fruit collections and early bloomers. Here’s the Vaccinium we were able to collect both last year and this year


Vaccinium fuscatum

So far we have been able to collect 9 species that we missed last year! A few were only just collected this year because we hadn’t found (or overlooked) populations large enough. Others were simply eaten or otherwise dispersed before we could collect them.

Our first was Acer rubrum (Red maple), whose natural period of dispersal is purported to end by July. My mentor, Amanda Faucette, and I took a trip in mid-April to the NC coast and made a collection at that time, after seeing that most Red maples had already disseminated their samaras.

Next we collected Salix nigra (Black willow), which, as with Acer rubrum, does it’s thing early in the year. We didn’t expect to make a collection at all, but we happened upon a fantastic population serendipitously.

We managed collections of Gaillardia pulchella and Rubus pensilvanicus shortly thereafter, and moved on to Viburnum dentatumSambucus canadensis, and Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani.

Rubus pensilvanicus

Rubus pensilvanicus


Viburnum dentatum


Sambucus canadensis (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis)


Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani


















Our most recent collections were Danthonia spicata and Deschampsia flexuosa, which we were astonished to find in large enough populations, especially this late in the season.

One interesting plant I keep seeing time and time again is Platanthera lacera (Green fringed orchid). I hadn’t ever seen it before.  I first noticed it at Smallwood State Park in Maryland about 3 weeks ago. Since then I’ve seen it a couple more times. Here’s what it looks like

Platanthera lacera

Platanthera lacera

And just in case anyone is under the impression that seed collecting is all sunshine and rainbows, here’s a photo of our crew right after we collected many thousands of Eleocharis fallax spikes at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in the rain


We don’t look too bad after a torrential downpour!

But all joking aside, even in the rain when our boots are filling with water, our vests start stinking to high heaven, and we have trouble filling our seed collection bags, this is the most fun job I’ve ever had! I’ll let the others make their own judgements, but I’m sure they feel the same way.

Till next time.

Jake, North Carolina Botanical Garden, SOS East

Birding in the High Desert

One of my favorite parts of the CLM internship is being out in the field all day and having the opportunity to see an incredible diversity of birds.  Almost every day I drive past an Osprey nest, a Bald Eagle nest, and a Golden Eagle nest (alas they have already fledged).  I get to see birds on the road, from California Quail to Sandhill Crane.  Then, when I arrive at my site, I am in the sagebrush and I get the opportunity to see that whole suite of birds in this unique habitat.  Furthermore, since I am doing Juniper clearances, I have the opportunity to see a whole other set of birds.  For the juniper clearances, I am checking the trees for nests so that we can have contractors remove the trees from the landscape.  Due to the Migratory Bird Treaty we cannot remove trees with nests, so those trees will be taken down in the fall after all the birds have fledged.  Removing junipers has many benefits from returning water back into the soil, to improving sage grouse habitat by removing perching sites for raptors and ravens, which predate the sage grouse.


Ferruginous Hawk


Loggerhead Shrike

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow



Prairie Falcon

Recently, I got to see both an Eastern Kingbird and a Western Kingbird within miles of each other.  This may not seem to be too exciting, but this is the very farthest Western extent of the Eastern Kingbird, so it was quite surprising to see one out here.  When I went to enter it in eBird, I got a message that it was a rare bird and that I have to enter additional information about the sighting.  Luckily, I had snapped some photos, so I was able to enter those and have the sighting confirmed without a problem.



Rare Eastern Kingbird at the western edge of its range.


In my time searching for nests, I have found plenty of unoccupied nests, but I have also found some really cool nests.  I have gotten to see Red-tailed hawk nests, Ferruginous Hawk nests, Northern Flicker nests and Prairie Falcon nests (these guys nest on cliffs, so not technically under my purview of juniper nests).

RTH nest active

Red-tailed Hawk nest with chick.

Occupied RTH Nest

Red-tailed Hawk on nest.

Ferruginous Hawk Nest

Ferruginous Hawk Nest with chick (center white blob)

Having a job where I am paid essentially to bird is a dream come true.  Sometimes the birding becomes routine, one can only hear and see so many Vesper sparrows before they start to go crazy.  However, every day has its surprises from Dusky Flycatchers to Ash-throated Flycatchers.  I cannot wait to see what the coming days and months will bring and I will continue to share these birding experiences from the High Desert of Central Oregon.


Ash-throated Flycatcher

The long anticipated FIRST COLLECTION!

After about a month and a half of scouting out sites, meeting with landowners, and learning a LOT of plants, we finally completed our first seed collection this past Thursday! On Wednesday, we went to Harwichport on Cape Cod, to a 40+ acre backyard complete with a bog, some streams, some woods, and a large family of very protective ospreys right in the middle of prime collection area. Clearly they haven’t been filled in about our conservation efforts and still think that the five hippies tromping around the bog are trying to steal their babies…

Alas, nothing to be collected at this site yet. Many species will be ready here in about a week or two. We camped nearby, and Thursday morning went to a Mass Audubon site on the Cape called Longpasture. We made our way down to the saltmarsh, and spread out across the beach to test capsules of Juncus gerardii (commonly called black grass, although it is actually a sedge and not a grass at all). Sampling for ripeness mainly involves breaking open the capsules to reveal the tiny speck-sized seeds inside, and checking out the color. In this species, we are looking for dark brown to black seeds, whereas yellow to orange seeds are not yet ready.


The TINY specks surrounding the pile of capsules are the actual seeds – DON’T SNEEZE! Their dark brown/black color means they are ripe and ready for collection!

We spread out along the beach, and zig-zagged back and forth in our sections, collecting from every third or so plant. Once I go into a rhythm, it was really enjoyable and therapeutic. I didn’t make the connection until I was out in the field pulling up seed, but it’s the same summertime feel as going berry-picking – you just have to keep count (and we can’t eat them…) Needless to say, I am so happy to be doing this for the next five months!

I have to remind myself to look up from the seeds every once in a while - not a view I want to miss!

The patches of the more brown-tinted grass-like plants are the Juncus gerardii. It is more of a high marsh species, hence it is not growing closer to the water. (Also, what a view!)

For each collection, we have three main protocols to keep in mind: 1. Collect from at least 50 individual plants, 2. Collect no more than 20% of the population, and 3. Collect at least 10,000 seeds. This seems like a large number of seeds, however each individual plant sends up a few stems with capsules, each stem has many capsules on it, and each capsule has many seeds inside. So after all the math was said and done, between the five of us we wound up with approximately 630,000 seeds. Go team go!


Bag full o’ seeds. First collection was quite a success!

Krista Heilmann

Seeds of Success Intern

New England Wild Flower Society, Framingham, MA

Time Warp

I’m pretty sure it’s physically impossible for a month to pass so quickly, but here I am!  I’m pretty sure I blinked about twice before July was upon me.  I’ve had a quick, somewhat stressful, and really rewarding month.

My crew mate and I haven’t slowed down one bit, having just completed our 22nd collection (which takes us well over the halfway point to our target number)!  We’ve gotten a ton of good forb species, as well as some grasses and shrubs.  Things are just starting to slow down, with the desert turning brown and crispy.  Some of the later blooming asters and buckwheats will round out our forb collections, and the grasses are starting to seed out like crazy.  I think we will have a strong couple of months ahead of us!

Aside from seed collecting, my crew mate and I are also performing botanical clearances for proposed developments (troughs, water pipelines, etc.) on BLM land.  Essentially, we take a species-level inventory of the flora present at the project site.  The presence of special status species or noxious weeds at the site then informs how the project is implemented; if either are present, mitigation may be deemed necessary before the project can take place.  These clearances have really helped me brush up on my ID skills and they have helped us discover good collection sites as well.

Calochortus macrocarpus - sagebrush mariposa lily

Calochortus macrocarpus – sagebrush mariposa lily

With so many populations seeding out between several sites, I’m sure I will have an equally busy, wild, and wonderful month before my next post!  I’m still astounded at how much I’ve learned in such a short time.  This experience is exactly what I needed, and I’m excited to see what it keeps bringing!

Smith Rock, outside of Bend, OR

Smith Rock, outside of Bend, OR

Brennan Davis, BLM – Lakeview, OR

Rivers and Roads

Hello again,

Vernal in July, like most places in this part of the country, has been very hot and very dry. Fortunately, we got to spend this past week rafting on the white river! But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m going to rewind back to 4th of July weekend when I met up with some of my fellow CLM interns in Lander, WY. It was so nice to be able to take advantage of our awesome network. We camped and went to a rodeo and had a killer BBQ. Lander, WY, great place for the 4th of July! Below is a picture of our epic BBQ grocery shopping spree:


We also spent a lot of time last week collecting Oenothera species for Krissa’s research! We were able to find Oenothera acutissima, cespitosa, howardii and pallida. Our search brought us up into the mountains to see some big and beautiful Ponderosa Pines. IMG_6017IMG_6016

Last week we scouted more populations and did some more seed collecting. Up on Blue Mountain we found Lomatium triternatum and Lupinus argeneus. When we’re not in the mountains, we spend most of our days at work near drill pads and evaporation ponds, but in the evening we get to escape and explore the beautiful hidden gems of northeast Utah. One evening last week we hiked up to Moonshine Arch . You can’t find this stuff on the East Coast.


But now back to our latest excursion. We spent this week on the White River doing some invasive species monitoring, specifically Russian Olive and Tamarisk, which are both huge problems here in Vernal and all over this part of the country. I wish we had a machete with us, cause this bush is nuts! The BLM has already done some weed removal work along the White River, but it has barely made a dent and it has already cost millions of dollars. Even the areas that have been treated have a significant number of resprouts and new seedlings. Invasive species removal is no easy task. It is costly and requires a lot of attention. The field office here does not have enough time, money, or staff to come back year after year to treat and retreat these invasives, but if nothing is done we will lose our cottonwoods and our native understory completely. Though, this trip was a bit of a depressing reality check we had a lot of fun, rafting, kayaking and camping and of course eating. This is a picture of us trying to fit all of our gear, but mostly our food, on our raft:


More exciting Vernal, UT adventures next time. Thanks for tuning in.


New Horizons

There is a myriad of Latin binomials swirling through my head. My hands are callused from digging soil pits and my elegant farmer’s tan has made a strong comeback. It’s official, field season is really here. We got a late start here in Meeker, CO, doing AIM monitoring for the Bureau of Land Management, but are surely making up for lost time. There has been a plethora of exciting experiences my first few weeks, and I will do my best to highlight a few.


Big skies and pinyon pines (Pinus edulis)

This ecosystem is arid, hot and at times unforgiving, at least to us humans. Yet all sorts of flora and fauna are uniquely adapted to such challenges and make life here look easy. The majority of our plots are in sagebrush, wherein we collect supplemental vegetation data to assess habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse. At various elevations, different subspecies of sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata, are dominant. Luckily, we also get to experience working in pinyon juniper, quaking aspen, cottonwood forests, and salt-desert shrub lands. It’s remarkable to see the diversity of ecosystems in such an immense range of this beautiful state. The greatest challenge of this position has undoubtedly been learning all the plants. Since vegetation monitoring means identifying any species we may encounter on a transect, there has been a pretty steep learning curve getting started.


Common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) in a recently burned meadow

The vast openness and big skies of Northwest Colorado have stolen my heart. Having never lived West of the Mississippi, almost everything is alien to me here, but I am quickly acclimating. The plants (of which there is an overwhelming diversity), the birds, and mammals are all slowing revealing themselves. To live in a place where you can drive for hours in any direction and see predominantly wilderness is a true privilege. Sometimes when approaching a plot, we are hit with the strong scent of sagebrush as we hop out of the truck. Just yesterday, I saw my first Golden Eagle on the wing, graciously allowing us a peak at her power and beauty. In my experience, it is these tiny moments of sensory pleasure that make being a field biologist the greatest job in the world.


A typical day in the field may wind down with a pitched tent and some stellar scenery


Coryna Hebert

BLM, Meeker, CO


The wonders of the desert


I am stationed at the BLM office in Palm Springs, California where 3 deserts intersect, the Colorado, Sonoran and Mojave. I came here at the end of May from California’s north Coast in Humboldt County, where the temperature stays a near constant 60 degrees F and redwoods tower over head. When I accepted this position in Palm Springs I had no idea what I was in for. I feared a stark landscape resembling images I have seen on TV or the Sarah desert in Africa. Endless sand dunes, toxic snakes and an unforgiving sun overhead that can make you lose your mind and maybe even your way. “Will I get lost out in the desert and die” I wondered.

After moving here and settling in to work I have begun to learn of all the riches that the desert has. Wildlife far beyond what I had ever thought



Bobcat that we cough with one of our trail cams

Bobcat that we cought with one of our trail cams

Young buck

Young buck

The desert is a very harsh environment

The desert is a very harsh environment

Unknown tracks

Unknown tracks

Lizard on the side of the shop

Lizard on the side of the shop

A desert iguana

A desert iguana

Plants of all sorts that are adapted to this harsh environment (making this place far from what I had initially pictured)





and I am surrounded by beautiful mountains. I don’t think I could ever lose my way in this desert, there are land marks in all directions. My studio that I rented even sits at the base of a 10,000 foot mountain. It’s really neat because at my house the sun will set behind this mountain at 6:30 pm and its great shadow will creep across the valley floor starting with my place and the temperatures will begin to drop.

Sunset in Palm Springs. California

Sunset in Palm Springs. California

Yesterday I got to start my first SOS (Seeds of Success) collection. I learned that collecting native seed is quite an art in its self. One must know where to find the target population, when it will be going into seed, collect proper voucher specimens, and visit many individual plants to make an acquitted collection (a minimum of 50 individual plants is required). As you visit these plants and collect a few seeds from each one, you notice things that you would not other wise stop to take the time and notice. Such as what animals stop to visit these plants, what the animals ate, and a little about their personal habits. You begin to know the plants themselves better too, what constitutes as a healthy (in this case) tree, and who may be struggling.

This is my mentor Joel. We are making a SOS collection of Screw bean Misquote (Prosopis pubescens)

This is my mentor, Joel. We are making a SOS collection of Screw bean Misquote (Prosopis pubescens)




This work is so fascinating and I am learning so much. I am being pushed beyond my comfort zone (in coming to a harsh environment that I would not have imagined myself in this time last year). I am growing and learning in so many ways and I love it so much. I love the desert and I love the CLM internship.


Two months in…

Well, I’m now two months into my position in the Lander, Wyoming field office and I love it!  This place is amazing and the people are great.  So far most of what I have been doing is monitoring riparian areas by taking photo points, stubble height measurements of two key species, and conducting bank trampling surveys.  These riparian areas are in a very remote location in the field office, and I hardly ever see other people out and about.  Recently, I have also started doing droop height measurements around wells and reservoirs to make sure that those aren’t being overgrazed as well.  The next two weeks I will be working for another lady in the office doing a few different sampling methods that I haven’t done since college.  It will be nice to refresh myself on how to conduct the surveys.

I’m continually amazed at how beautiful the landscape is that I’m working on.  Most of the flowers are done blooming and the grasses are seeding out.  But, that doesn’t take away from the beauty of the land one single bit.  It’s such a diverse landscape!  There are areas that are sandy and have natural lakes, rocky areas with seeps, clayey areas that will get you stuck in a heartbeat, and everything in between.  The antelope are uncountable, the elk are a wonderful sight, the birds are singing beautifully, and the one coyote I have seen had a nice lunch of sage grouse.  Probably the most surprising thing I have seen in the past two months was a six-legged sheep.  Yes, a six-legged sheep.  A picture should be attached to this post.  I have always heard of that happening, but never thought I would see it myself.  I have also attached a picture of a field of Wild Irises.  They were at one of the riparian areas we are monitoring for bank trampling, stubble height, and photo points.  The bugs were about to carry me away, but I couldn’t resist stopping for just a few seconds to snap a picture on my phone of the beautiful irises.

I look forward to continuing my internship for the next four months and learning so much more than I thought I ever would.  BLM Wyoming has captured my heart and I hope to stay here for the rest of my life.  I hope everyone else’s internships are going well and that you are as happy as I am.  🙂

Wild Irises Six-legged Lamb

ATV Training

Working for the BLM or any government agency requires many training classes on a myriad of subjects, usually mundane and somewhat self-explanatory. However, this week I did the ATV training class and it was so much fun and different! Nine of us from the field office participated in the day-long course that required us to learn about safely operating an ATV while showing your abilities and proficiency in driving. We learned about important laws and regulations, safety tips and how to avoid dangerous situations, and basic mechanics of the machines. It was a lot of fun buzzing around the designed course and practicing fast turns and going over large bumps. With nine of us on the course at a time we had to get good at looking ahead and reading other drivers. I don’t yet know if we’ll use the ATVs for botanical work, but it sure was a fun training to have! We also experienced  a storm develop and come in as we wrapped up the final driving tests. The clouds and lightning were incredible against the mountains.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 11.53.35 AM

Until next time,

Austen, BLM Salmon Field Office, Idaho

New Protocols!!!!


Fire Re-entry Data Photo

One of our fire re-entry plots

Last week we officially wrapped up our Habitat Assessment Framework monitoring for sage grouse habitat. We spent the next week working on Fire Re-entry! It was a nice change of pace to see other parts of the field office. We worked in the Timmerman Hills looking at areas that were seeded after the fire. This involved doing a point intercept to look at cover, looking at whether plants had seed heads or not, and pulling the grasses to see how well they were rooted. It was really interesting to see how the BLM makes decisions about how to manage after fires. We also got to see the fire plan, which details what was done to help the area recover after the fire. We got to get a look at the seed mixes the BLM plants after the fire. Most of the sites we looked at had non-native seed mixes, but two of them had native seeds planted. It was a really good look at the importance of establishing perennial grasses in these previously burned areas. We also did some fire re-entry in Beaver Creek, which was part of a massive fire in 2012 that burned in the northern part of our field office.

After the fire re-entry was done we moved on to Trend data collection. Trend is a long term data collection on grazing allotments. Trend sites are returned to every ten years to help look at how land management decisions are changing the landscape. For most of these sites we are returning to the Clover Creek allotment, but we are also doing one in the more northern parts of the field office, near the Sawtooth National Forest. This was a really fun site to do, because it is so different landscape wise from the area we have spent most of our time in.

The Clover Creek and Davis Mountain Allotments are in areas that have been shaped by volcanic activity. Craters of the Moon National Monument is in our field office. The Monument is lava fields, cinder cones, and lava tubes that were created millions of years ago by the same hot spot that is now underneath Yellowstone National Park. This means that a lot of the field office near it have lava rock and caves formed by the eruptions. While this makes for a really interesting geological area (that is really tricky to drive in), it was really nice to see some different landscape. The Elkhorn allotment was gorgeous. The forbs were still in flower and there were some beautiful flowers and some sage grouse preferred forbs! The area was also lacking the invasive plants, like cheat grass, in the lower part of the field office.

View from the trend plot in the northern part of the field office

View from the trend plot in the northern part of the field office


Trend is a completely different protocol than HAF, instead of line point intercept we were doing nested frequencies across four different transects. There is also a photo plot were you estimate cover of all the species present. Then you get to color! There is data sheet were you mark in all the species you see in a 3 by 3 frame.

Data sheet for 3 by 3 photo plot

Data sheet for 3 by 3 photo plot

While I was expecting to do HAF all summer I am really excited to get to do some other protocols. It is really interesting to see how the office makes management decisions and how all of these different monitoring activities come together to make decisions about land use.