Am I Going Around the Bend?

It’s funny – most folks at home heard of what I was embarking on with this year’s season and although supportive, could not remove the worried shade in their eyes.

“But Bend, Oregon is so far from home…”
(I’m from New Hampshire – to give a frame of reference).

“You’ve never even visited and you’re moving all the way there just for a job?”
You know it.

Bend has always been one of the handful of places I’ve heard many found voices speak of. Additionally, out of those voices familiar with the Bend Seed Extractory, a fondness turns to an admiration. It’s not difficult to assume that I jumped at this opportunity with no hesitation. To become an integral part to an even more integral spoke in the wheel of a nationwide conservation effort, even for just a short while, is nothing to pass up.

Regardless of the move, the expense, the wear on my vehicle, the summer at home spent without me, etc – going around the bend is something to embrace. And happily, the phrase “going around the bend” turned into “going to Bend”, which turned into a reality.

I’m surprised everyday that I somehow avoided flubbing up, and collected enough dumb luck throughout my travels to cash in such a rewarding position. The phrase “I’m not worthy” is pleading to escape my lips on a day-to-day basis.

Anyhoo, enough of the sappiness.

To give a rundown of what I do at the Seed Extractory:

The seeds collected are sent to the Extractory, where they are processed, “finished” and tested.

The photos below will illustrate the steps I take throughout my day. I have to say, I was incredibly intimidated at first…but it’s amazing how comfortable, and confident you can become in such a short amount of time. I’m only on my third week!

So. The photos in order:

I received seed ready for testing. Here, I randomly select a relative portion of the lot that seems like it equates to a 500 count of seed, (giving the sizes of seed, it’s anyone’s guess… It reminds of those contests where you’re guessing how many gumballs are in a jar – needless to say, I was never close to those). From here, you count out in fives, five sets of 100. While you’re counting, you remove any inert material that may have mischievously stuck around.

From here, in image two, I check out each count to confirm there are no inert material present. Also, not going to lie, I use this as an excuse to get a closer look at these seeds under the scope. Although all of them are incredible, some are ABSOLUTELY gorgeous. And some perplexing. My favorites are the ones that resemble food… I swear I’ve seen a few tat look just like steamed dumplings… probably implying I’m hungry.

Next, image 3, you must test the humidity of seed lot before you measure, and package them. Not only will a high moisture content influence the weight of the seed, but it may jeopardize the seed’s viability when it’s send to cold storage. Excess moisture present will expand, and damage the seed when it freezes. So, as long as the percentage of humidity is lower than 38.0%, you’re good to go – looks like this one is a-okay!

Next, images 4 & 5, one of my favorite parts – the X-Ray. Hesitant at first, this x-ray machine emits less radiation than the amount we’re exposed to when the dentist takes photos of your teeth. Always a lovely image: light radiation shot at your head. Anyways, the objective here is to assess the percent fill of 1 count of 100 sampled seeds. Here gain a snapshot of what we’re dealing with inside. Are the embryos present? Is the seed full? Are there any malformed seeds? Any insect damage? In this image the seeds seem full, and content, but there are some sampled absolutely riddled with holes. Victims in the wake of an insect feast…

And finally (forgive me for missing a photo of the scale used to measure each seed count’s weight, )it’s riveting stuff. I feel sorry you’re missing out) The seeds are then sealed in plastic bags, and sent of their way to WRPIS, for further testing beyond my abilities, and others to be saved in the seed vault.

I’d continue with more detail, but frankly I’m unsure as to whether or not folks are actually as interested in this process as I am. So, until next time!

P.S. I receive the paperwork the interns fill out upon their field seed collection. Let’s step up the penmanship, folks 😉

Corey from the Bend Seed Extractory

Deming Creek Electrofishing

The week before last, we all got our first practical introduction to electrofishing, a technique that allows you to capture fish by sending an electric pulse through the water, momentarily stunning them at the right settings. Our primary goal was to quantify how efficient and skilled we were at electrofishing. Alongside that we took down species, length, and weight and marked the fish by clipping a small portion of the upper or lower caudal fin based on the size of the fish. We set of block nets on either end of a 200 meter section of stream a total of four separate times to close the population and keep fish inside each section. In our first pass we marked each fish we caught and in a second pass we checked to see what percentage of captured fish were recaptures from the first pass. With this data we can make some more sophisticated estimates of our capture efficiency and the stream population and make up. Deming Creek is a beautiful and varied tributary of the North Fork Sprague River partially inside the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness near Bly, Oregon. We even had a chance to camp out by the creek to reduce our footprint, enjoy a camp meal, and get a view of the stars!

Marked native great basin redband trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss newberrii) from Deming Creek
Marked native bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) being weighed
A block net spanning Deming Creek to block off a 200 meter section to fish movement

                Last week was all about writing, researching, and data visualization. I was particularly invested in learning how to use R Studio to visualize data we took down about brook trout fecundity. I wasn’t expecting to love R Studio as much as I did – I’m definitely eager to work with it more. We learned all about the Endangered Species Act (thank you Elizabeth!) and the fascinating ways it dictates conservation policy and also scouted an unnamed tributary of the Sprague River as possible bull trout habitat, an endangered trout that also inhabits nearby Deming Creek.

Had a blast over the last few weeks, can’t wait to see whats in store!


Klamath Falls FWS Field Office

Summer in the Arctic Circle

Cold days and nights with snow, ice, and few plants or animals: my initial thoughts on spending time in the Arctic Circle were well off the mark. Instead, the month I spent above 66° 33’ northern latitude didn’t drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, rarely included snow and even then only at high altitude, and gave me the chance to find some of the most remarkable alpine plants I’ve seen. I’ve taken loads of photos so I’ll talk through my last month with those!

The 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline, completed in 1977, transports 500,000 barrels of oil a day. The Dalton Highway was built to support it and is still primarily used for this reason. Land on either side of the pipeline is managed by the BLM, and this project is intended to gather the data necessary for developing Ecological Site Descriptions of alpine tundra and boreal forest habitat.
The trip began with a long drive up the Dalton Highway to just north of the Yukon River where we camped and surveyed from for the first week.
The two part inventory includes a thorough description of vegetation community structure using a modified Line-Point-Intercept methodology (in action above), along with detailed soil pit descriptions that often were dug to the depth of permafrost (in action below with some of that permafrost).
After week one we drove from the Yukon River site to our northern most sampling area, camping alongside the Dietrich River at Milepost 222 of the Dalton Highway. On one of our days off, Chris and I hiked to the top of that peak across the river! On the other side sits The Gates of the Arctic National Park – there are no roads in so it’s either a hike or flight away for those wanting to visit. We just crossed into the park while we were up there, and made some beautiful discoveries too.
One of the best photos I took on the trip, and my favorite plant find by far is pictured above. Silene uralensis, commonly known as Japanese Lanterns or Nodding Campion, are fantastic little alpine plants that thrive on rocky slopes. Well adapted to life this far north, their seed and root system has to withstand up to -50 degrees Fahrenheit, though the perennial pink benefits from spending most of the winter buried in multiple feet of snow.

Some other flowers found on this hike unknowingly living with incredible vistas:
Surprisingly the pink flowered species pictured above shares the same genus as the previous plant, though they look completely different. Silene acaulis, moss campion, grows in what look like small cushions or domes to retain moisture and nutrients, as well as to withstand strong winds. Interestingly, moss campion is thought to act as a ‘nurse plant’ at high elevations for the surrounding plant community; moderation of the harsh environmental factors on mountainsides is beneficial to its neighbors! The photo looks into The Gates of The Arctic National Park.
A mixture of Chamerion angustifolium, Fireweed (a beautiful pink flowered plant seen all over Alaska) along with the yellow flowered Arnica angustifolia, narrowleaf arnica.
Parrya naudicaulis, Parry’s Wallflower, with the Dietrich River and Dalton Highway in the background.
Packera cymbalaria, Dwarf Arctic Packera.
Dryas octopetala, White-Mountain Avens.
Another of my favorite plants on this trip, and one of the few orchids that can survive in the arctic: Cypripedium passerinum, Sparrow’s-egg Lady’s-slipper.
Back to work after exploring and searching for cool alpine plants. Our sample areas varied in distance to the road from a half a mile to almost 2 miles. While this isn’t too far of a hike, the terrain is often unforgiving. Much of the ground in this part of Alaska is composed of tussocks. The aptly named white cotton-like grass pictured above with the crew, Eriophorum vaginatum or Tussock Cotton-Grass, builds mounds over years of growth. Between them, gaps that are made deeper by the freeze-thaw cycle do not make for easy walking
The next stop after our second week on the Dietrich River brought us to the Marion Creek Campground, about 5 miles north of the town of Coldfoot, population 10.
We celebrated July 4th grilling brats on the Koyukuk River, skipping rocks, and having a quick dip in the cold water after a hot day of inventory!
On another day off we stopped into the town of Wiseman, just north of Coldfoot, for the Wiseman Music Festival! It was more of a potluck with a group of people playing folk music but it was a great time. There was even a paragliding entrance by a local that climbed up and jumped off the mountain in background with his parachute, you can see him in front of the clouds above.
Our final camping and sampling area before heading back to Fairbanks was at the Arctic Circle campground. We took a picture with the friendly volunteer campground manager Sheila and her pup Max. Smoke was in the air at this point from the Hess Creek wildfire 90 miles to the south, at the time the biggest in the country.
Ron, myself, Summer, Marc at the Arctic Circle sign (left to right).

We got a lot of work done in the month on the Dalton Highway and managed to make the most of the few days off we had. If you ever get the chance to make the trip up here, it is well worth your time. Here are a few more photos with wildlife, trees, and a few more pretty flowers…

Myself, Ron, and Summer with what we thought was the last spruce tree – the most northern tree (above)! The actual last spruce tree (below)!
Here’s me working on a plant ID and showing off the bear spray that never left my side. Thankfully, and I’m sure to the joy of our bear guide, it wasn’t needed while we were up there, though we did spot a bear along with plenty of other wildlife…
A moose sow and calf eating aquatic plants under the midnight sun with Sukapak Mountain in the background.
An arctic fox, arctic hare, arctic grayling (caught for dinner!), owl (not sure which in the bottom left), grizzly bear (taken from inside a vehicle!), and the great horned owl (bottom right).
Finally, from top left across to bottom right: Morel Mushroom, Papaver lapponicum (arctic poppy), Linnea borealis (twinflower), Siphula ceratites (waterfingers), Zigadenus elegans (center, mountain death camas – don’t touch or eat!), Polemonium caeruleum (Jacob’s ladder), Rubus chamaemorus (cloudberry), Pyrola asarifolia (liverleaf wintergreen), and Castilleja sp. (Indian paintbrush, working on this species!).

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


USFWS Fish Biologist Nolan Banish explains the data collection process

Another week, another federally listed threatened or endangered species! This past week we were introduced to the threatened fluvial bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) of Deming Creek. The bull trout of this particular region fall within the Upper Sprague River core area of the Klamath Recovery Unit. Deming Creek is believed to support the largest local population of the species in the Upper Sprague River core area, with high relative abundance, quality habitat, and a stable population number. Deming Creek is also unique in that it is free of nonnative brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), a congeneric species that competes and often hybridizes with bull trout.

Jenny measures the length of a bull trout capture
Red band trout capture

Our goal for the next two weeks is to determine just how effective backpack electrofishing is in achieving a high recapture percentage in bull trout, and therefore a higher confidence interval in population size. We are sampling two hundred meter reaches of Deming Creek in two day increments; the first day being the capture and mark portion of the study, with the second day acting as a 24 hour buffer for the fish to re-acclimate to their habitat. The second day we will conduct the same survey of the reach, walking upstream and e-fishing and capturing any fish we see. By comparing the recapture counts to the previous day’s capture numbers, we get a percentage of our productivity, with that goal to better understand the confidence interval of our population estimate.

Blocknet set up

After about an hour and a half drive east of Klamath Falls toward Gearhart Mountain, we entered Winema National Forest, and the location of our survey site. We began by setting up an initial block-net that spanned the creek from bank to bank. We configured another identical net two hundred meters upstream from the first with the purpose of maintaining the same density of fish within the two nets for the duration of our sampling. Starting at the lower block-net, the four of us (Nolan, our mentor; Jenny; Brianne; and I) began the arduous journey across the slippery rocks and deceptively tumultuous riffles in search of any flash of the white underbelly of a trout that has lost equilibrium due to the electric current.

Jenny acts as primary netter while Nolan wears the electrofisher backpack

Within the first twenty seconds we’d caught our first fish: a 124mm red band trout! The next three hours entailed rotating of tasks between the four of us — electrofisher, first netter, second “ghost netter” and bucket holder — the latter being the most awkward of the four as you are the one to transfer each catch to the bucket while protecting the bucket from the imminent and inevitable dangers of capsizing through your own demise due to the slippery creek bottom.

Capture of different age classes of red band and bull trout

I think my favorite role is that of the primary netter, but as Jenny and I were reflecting on how reminiscent this week has been to our pasts of playing high school and college sports, I was reminded of how gratifying and crucial each role is to the greater purpose of the team. The thrill of netting a >200g red band or bull trout is palpable as Brianne locates the convulsing fish, Jenny lunges forward towards the anode for it and I shriek with excitement when I realize it’s a recapture from the day before as I gingerly transfer it to my bucket.

Fremont-Winema National Forest
Our tent set up for the week’s work