Bats, Rare Plants, and Monitoring Sites Galore!

Things get so busy around here, that I start a blog post with intentions of finishing it before a new week begins, but never quite make it there. Luckily, I’m in between seed collections right now, so I’m seizing the opportunity to recount one of the busiest and most fun weeks I’ve had. It started out pretty much like every week, but with a few surprises. Check it out.

Monday was hotter than normal for July in Spokane, and under recommendation from my mentor, I stayed in the office, planning my next steps. As I was doing some herbarium work, my mentor told me that I will be taking lead on a rehabilitation project for one of Washington’s threatened plant species, Polemonium pectinatum (POPE14)!

Polemonium pectinatum (Washington’s Jacob’s-ladder)

For this project, I will be visiting and monitoring various sites of POPE14 to update the associated plants list, determining which associated plants would be best to collect and grow out so that they can be used to rehab the Wilson Creek location. I will also be collecting seed of the associated plants and POPE14 to be used at the rehab site. When I found out this information, I was really excited. Sure being around and getting paid was a good deal, but mostly I was (and am) ecstatic to be helping re-establish POPE14! The plant is gorgeous and endemic to Eastern Washington. Unfortunately for this site, the county was out spraying for white top and the district botanist and our field botanist believe that drift from the nearby spray site affected and eventually took out the population. While the odds are that I am back in Spokane next spring to see the project out aren’t exactly high, I am so happy to be helping lay down the ground work! Learning about the rehab project was just the tip of the iceberg of the exciting and busy week I’ve had!

At the end of the day, my mentor found me again to ask if I would be interested in helping our wildlife biologist and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) complete some bat surveys! I could tell my eyes lit up with excitement (because mentally I was jumping for joy) as I tried to keep a calm demeanor and saying yes! I absolutely have so much respect for these amazing mammals, especially because they consume mosquitoes, which are the bane of my existence.

Tuesday night, we got to the bat house just as the sun was beginning to set, and covered up the exits we weren’t going to be counting with tarps. As we finished doing that, we got to our counting spot and found a little pup that must have fallen off its mom the night before. Luckily, one of the wildlife biologists from WDFW brought along some gloves, and carefully picked the little one up from the foundation and eventually took it into the bat house – after several failed attempts of placing the little one in the window – to hopefully find his/her momma (if you want to see a video of the cute little guy, here’s a link). Soon afterwards, the first bat flew out and it was go time. I ended up counting roughly 2,700 bats, and acquiring about 35 mosquito bites, but they were definitely worth it! I was ready to go again the next night!

Bat surveys ended around midnight and we got back to the office around 2 am. I had a quick turn around time of 7 am, so I wasn’t wasting much time getting to my apartment! I was going to be joining our range management specialists and wildlife biologist, as well as my mentor, to do some land health assessments the next 2 mornings. While much of my internship has been working on Seeds of Success, I’ve been finding ways to do much more than just that. Tagging along with our range management specialist and learning about what he does was really interesting. I learned a lot more of the grasses and got decently ok at identifying them (which I am so grateful for because I was pretty terrible at) and learned more about land health. On our first day, we went out to 2 different sites, and did line-point-intercepts to get a qualitative survey of the area, attempting to determine percent cover of invasive species, sage, annuals:perennials, and ground cover. This data would then be used as a representative of the allotment to determine if it was still suitable for grazing, as well as for sagegrouse habitat. While to most of the office, it was just another day in the field, I thought it was pretty cool! Not to mention, I got to see the first Calochortus of my season! Another plant I’ve been eagerly awaiting!

Calochortus macrocarpus var. macrocarpus {Green Stripe Mariposa Lily)

We got done at around 3 and I followed Mike from WDFW out to the next bat house. Unfortunately for us, a storm rolled in and foiled our plans. But that’s alright, because there’s always a tomorrow! I turned around and went back out with our rangeland management specialist and wildlife biologist for another day of range health assessments. This time, since the group was much smaller, we were able to go through and do the work with a higher efficiency, and I took a more active role in the line-point intercepts, which really tested my dry grass skill identifying. Along the way, we encountered some Silene spalidingii, one of the rare plants in our area, a few coyotes, and plenty of mosquitoes! I also got to learn about assessing bodies of water, which was great minus the hoards of mosquitoes.

Silene spaldingii (Spalding’s Silene)

After a few long days and short nights, the week was over, and I was ready to take a long weekend to celebrate July 4th with my family.

In between that crazy week and now, I’ve checked off a few more of my target species and collected some opportunistic ones as well, working on my herbarium collection, and helping out with setting up new monitoring plots for Silene and checking on old sites. These new plots actually document the location of the plant within a 9 meter circle, the idea being that in the next 6 years, the data collected will show if the plants are fit and reproducing adequately, or if the plants are declining. It’s things like this that really get me excited, even if I don’t get to be around to see the final results. Here’s to saving the native plants, one public land at a time!

Here are some plants I’ve been seeing out lately, including a few on my target list!

Castilleja minor (Lesser Indian Paintbrush)

Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed)

Mimulus guttatus (Seep monkeyflower)

Mentzelia laevicaulis (Smoothstem Blazingstar)

Until next time,

V Cancino

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