Work work work.

After my first trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, I stayed busy at work continuing my rangeland monitoring routines. The cattle have been steadily transitioning out of the summer range allotments for the past month, so, many of the pastures within them are completely empty now. It has become the new norm to hardly see any cattle out in the field, but this means that we can focus on studying the patterns of vegetation heights in individual pastures. Lately, we have been in an allotment called Silver Creek. It has four pastures within it: Strawberry, McLean Meadows, Sweetwater Canyon, and Rocky Draw. As of right now, we’ve finished monitoring all but the very last one! We monitor them by mapping the grazing/utilization patterns. This requires us to venture around an entire pasture as much as possible. Whether we are in the truck or on foot, we are constantly observing the vegetation to determine what percentage has been grazed, and therefore, what percentage has been utilized. Once we agree on a number, we then mark the patterns we see on a huge map with colored pencils. This has definitely been one of my favorite responsibilities of my internship, especially considering all of the wildlife we’ve seen in Silver Creek. This includes more greater short-horned lizards, birds of prey, a badger, a prairie dog, and finally, two moose! 

Our utilization map of Silver Creek when we had just completed Strawberry and McLean Meadows pastures. Sweetwater Canyon is the blank pasture at the bottom of the map, and Rocky Draw is the one in the top right corner.
Another greater short-horned lizard, or Phrynosoma hernandesi, we found in McLean Meadows. This one I was able to catch and hold for a few seconds.
Pausing for a moment to admire where we were and what we were seeing. Jon got this photo of the wind practically taking me away, haha.

Mid-September-ish, we were able to get one last autumn camping trip in before the cold really came to Lander. A few of my Wyoming coworkers and friends joined me and Johnny at Worthen Meadows Reservoir in Shoshone National Forest one weekend! We found the most perfect campsite right on the water, got a fun hike in, grilled burgers, and saw a really beautiful sunset. We had the best time!

Our campsite — literally right on the water. 🙂 We had our own picnic area, grill, and bear box. The best part was that this campsite wasn’t in season, so staying there was free!
The incredible sunset we caught on Worthen Meadows Reservoir.

In the following weeks, the autumn colors started to pop out everywhere in Lander and around our BLM field office. It had literally been a dream of mine to see aspen trees in the fall, but for some reason, I had only thought that they grew in Colorado. I was incredibly surprised when I saw them out here and realised that I would still be here to watch them change. Needless to say, I was out there almost everyday taking pictures. The landscapes turned magical, but soon after the leaves turned yellow, they were falling to the ground. I swear it changed from fall to winter in a matter of days — we have already gotten several snow storms!

One of my favorite parts of our picturesque route home from Antelope Hills Allotment.
Catching the sunset above an aspen grove just outside of Atlantic City.

While we were monitoring our third pasture of Silver Creek Allotment, Sweetwater Canyon, our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We got to see several shrubs and tree species in their fall colors, and some incredible wildlife. On our way home one day, we came across a small family of prairie dogs, as well as a badger, all in a span of a couple miles.

The incredible view at the top of Sweetwater Canyon.
The curious prairie dog we saw on our way home. I think this scientific name is Cynomys ludovicianus.
The first good photo of a badger, or Taxidea taxus, I have been able to get in Wyoming!

The other week, I got to go out in the field with another one of the BLM’s rangeland specialists. Along with his main job responsibilities, Steve is in charge of collecting a few rain gauge and mercury samples for the National Atmospheric Deposition Program. This program, run by the National Trends Network, collects samples from all over the United States (and further). They study the bases, acids, and nutrients in nationwide precipitation in order to show trends over time. This was so fun for me to assist with because, earlier this summer, I was exposed to this program in Shenandoah National Forest! My Chemistry class took a field trip to the Big Meadows NADP site near my university. We learned about the same rain gauges, as well as various other equipment that the NTN uses.

The huge mass of snow and fog clouds that rested in Sinks Canyon that Tuesday.
This is one type of rain gauge provided by the NADP. A small black box extending from the surface of the table has a metal plate attached to it. Once it senses any sort of precipitation, the gray shelf will slide up off the rain collector bucket so that the total rainfall can be contained and measured. The only downside to this piece of equipment is that it cannot always pick up light precipitation, and so it may show slightly lower precipitation values than expected.
This was one of the South Pass City NADP sites we went to that Tuesday. This site is completely solar powered, and can accumulate snow as high as the fences that surround it! Steve said that in the winter, he often has to snowshoe in from a main road. Apparently, this spot is notorious for moose, but we didn’t see any that day.

The first NADP site we went to that morning was in Sinks Canyon State Park, one of my favorite places. Usually it’s a bit colder there in the mountains than in Lander, but that day, it was so cold that it was snowing! After work, I went back to take some photographs of the snow and fog that had settled throughout the day. I included just a couple below.

The deer were scaling the mountain like it was nothing. This group had at least a dozen members in it.
Snowy evergreens — one of my favorite parts of winter.

Our Sweetwater Canyon monitoring still wasn’t complete until later that week when we hiked along the riparian land down in the canyon. This ended up being a 9+ mile hike, and so much fun. We saw a few snakes, two moose, and an abundance of heavily grazed land. Our team started on the East side of the canyon, while a second team started on the West side. The idea was to meet in the middle if possible, in order to map the entire riparian zone. Along the way, each team had several photo points to take for the rangeland specialists, and a few transects to run. We were also noting anything strange, unexpected, or over-utilized. The canyon seemed like it had been a paradise for the cows, with endless shade spots, water, and vegetation.

Our view for most of the 9 mile hike we took through Sweetwater Canyon.
This picture may look weird and gross because there are two snakes here! We found a larger snake swallowing a smaller one whole. Ick.

Our CLM Blog has been down for a couple of weeks, so this post is pretty late. The photograph that I found from the field below is one that I love, but have no idea where I took it. A bald eagle, or Haliaeetus leucocephalus, had been standing in a field we drove through, right next to a golden eagle, or Aquila chrysaetos. I was blown away by these magnificent birds. Usually, bald eagles live along rivers, or bodies of water, so I don’t know why this one was seemingly in the middle of nowhere. He took flight, and flew right alongside us for a half mile or so down the road. Just a couple of dreamy minutes. Another blog post or two will be following this one — so much is happening in my last month here. 🙂

My favorite bird of prey. We could spot him from a mile away. 🙂