The Moth Mans Dastardly(?) Scheme

It was a dark and blustery night. Vigilante crime fighter; The JackPott and her sidekick Stone Throw sit perched atop a lone tree amongst the vast plain of prairie grasses. A breeze speeds across the landscape, birthing rippling shadows in waves of grain.

“Do you smell that?” JackPott inquires, inhaling a swath of the sweet scented air.

Stone Throws gaze unfocuses from the murky crystal which had captured her attention, miles away from the tree she currently occupies. *Sniff sniff*. “Crime….”

“Precisely!” With the speed of a pronghorn, the dynamic duo launches from their roost, landing in the front seats of their super-charged hover truck: The Grassmobile. The roof closes overhead as a dim green glow floods the cabin. “Stone Throw, time to turn it to 11!”

“On it boss!” Stone Throw swiftly inserts a cd into the stereo and cranks the volume knob as far as it goes, where a piece of tape labeled “11” has been placed over the 10 setting. YMCA by the Minions nearly fries the speakers.

“Lets ride!” And with the press of a button, The Grassmobile zips away with the unfathomable speed of a shooting star.

After a few minutes of zoomin, a shadow emerges and smashes into the winshield. The truck screeches to a stop, launching the figure forward. Our heroes leap out of the vehicle with the grace of two toads. The shadow raises from the brush, illuminated by the headlights. Large brown wings, red glowing eyes, and bushy antennae morph into clarity as the duo approaches. “Mothman!” They shout in unison.

“Yeeeees it is I, THE MOTHMAN,” he shouts in a cheesy 50s mobster accent, shaking a fist to the sky. “I have plotted and traveled for months to achieve my goal, and you two goons won’t stop me now, see!” With a powerful flap of his wings he zips into the air.

“He’s escaping! Get him!” Stone Throw summons a swarm of rocks from the surrounding landscape, preparing to launch the mineral mass at the fleeing criminal. Just as she’s about to launch her attack, however, The Mothman diverges from his trajectory, and makes a beeline, a mothline if you will, straight towards the still beaming headlights of The Grassmobile, bonking his head and knocking him cold.

When he awakens he’s tied up and unable to move. “There’s no escaping this time evil-doer! What have you been scheming?”

“Wahahahahah! Its too late fools! My plan is complete! The bugs have been released! Sweet Clover shall be no more!”

“Wait… you don’t mean to tell me your plan was to release bugs to eradicate sweetclover?”

“Yes… YES! Its the perfect plan! I’ve smuggled the grumbo bug which heavily preys on sweetclover into North America in order to eradicate one of the most prolific invasives to ever plague this landscape!”

“Oh, well I mean I guess that’s technically illegal but, uhh, well, does the gurmbo eat anything other than sweetclover?”

“Just Alfalfa.”

The two crime fighters look at each other and shrug. They untie Mothman and he flies off into the night.

Moral of the story: I really don’t like sweetclover.

Collecting, Conferencing, and Common Garter Capturing

Another month of seed collecting commenced with us taking the easy way out. Wonderfully, Midewin has their own seed beds which are populated by many desirable species that have the express purpose of being harvested for their seed. There is no searching and scavenging necessary, we can just go up to a plot and take them. Beautiful Bouteloua curtipendula was taken as well as Ceanothus americanus, commonly known as New Jersey Tea. We didn’t even have to follow the vaunted 20 percent rule because these are seed beds, we just eviscerated the whole population that was ready to be collected, but we’ll be back for them, don’t you worry. 

Bouteloua curtipendula
Ceanothus americanus

This month the team took a trip to the great state of Minnesota for the Grassland Restoration Network Annual Conference Extravaganza. All the heavy hitters of the prairie showed up as there was a star studded line up of scientists. We went to many sites that Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages. Summer sites looked quite nice with a good mix of valuable prairie forbes and characteristic prairie grasses. But other sites they took us too were more of a mess and the discussion people had around these sites was eye opening to the management process of grassland restorations as well as just the scientific method in action. As the name of the group suggests, we did some networking and met some really cool people, such as the gals at Cook County Forest Preserve. Instead of a hotel, which is quite expensive, we decided to camp at a local state park which was fun at night with the beautiful night sky above us but when sleeping the bugs came out to play which was bugging me. But it was an overall wonderful experience to be a part of and I hope to be at the next one! 

There were lots of stars but you had to be there, phones aren’t great at capturing their majesty

By common garter capturing I don’t mean actually abducting the snake, of course not! I mean capturing beautiful moments with the snake like this. This batch of snake surveys produced more snakes than any other. One snake board had three (!) snakes under it which was quite exciting. The snakes also got excited as multiple times they defecated on me, but that is all part of the snake game. They are absolutely beautiful creatures that I am honored to hold anytime I get the opportunity. 

Me kissing a snake

With Plants of Concern, a program under the auspices of the Chicago Botanic Garden, we did some Panax quinquefolius monitoring. A commercially important species, we secretly delved into the forest to find the American Ginseng and count how many existed. More than expected were seen which was quite nice and I also found another animal bone for my collection.

Map) Where Does Ginseng Grow? | HerbSpeak - Your Botany Resource
Panax quinquefolius


Catching butterflies is harder than it looks….

Cleome serrulata with a visitor!

The destination: Curlew National Grassland. The mission: Find a Monarch. The crew: your favorite CLM interns (plus a few guests).

Alex with the tallest sagebrush in the world (maybe?)

As soon as we parked our trucks in the Twin Springs campground on the Curlew, I knew we were in for a good day. Alex and I were joined by our mentor, Rose, one of the botany interns, Carson, and an archaeologist, Ashley. We were waiting to meet up with the rest of our group for the day (a collection of NRCS, rec, and range people) when we noticed an absolutely massive population of Ribes aureum. If you’re unfamiliar, Ribes aureum (or Golden Currant) is a delicious native shrub, and it was out in full force. We quickly decided that it was time for our first opportunistic collection, and within moments everyone had a paper bag in hand and was carefully picking berries off of every plant in sight. The abundance was awe inspiring after months of waiting for a seed collection to complete, and the morning snack was much appreciated. About a half hour into our collection, Derek from the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Aberdeen, ID, showed us how the pros do it- racket in hand with a custom built canvas collection bag. Within mere seconds, he had out collected all of us combined.

you would not believe how good these tasted (or how many I managed to pick in a day)

While the Ribes collection was a great start to the day, it was not our objective for the day. We were all assembled to participate in the Monarch Bioblitz, a community effort across North America to collect data on Monarch populations. We were heading to a few known sites of Asclepias speciosa in order to look for monarch eggs, caterpillars, and adults.

Within minutes at our first site, we had spotted an adult monarch. An extensive survey of the milkweed in the area revealed many more of the beautiful iridescent eggs. Monarchs have a few distinct look alike species, but luckily none of the species that have visually similar eggs had a range that extended as far north as Idaho. Below are a few of the most common look alike species for Monarchs. While the Queen’s and Soldier butterflies have very similar eggs and larvae, the range does not extend to where we were surveying- that made life easier! The Viceroy adults are very similar in appearance to Monarchs, which can cause confusion, but if you look carefully you can see a distinct horizontal line on the Viceroy wings that is missing on Monarchs. Monarchs will also have a much slower flight pattern (flap-flap-gliiiide) while Viceroy has a much faster and more erratic flight pattern. These key differences are very important to note during surveys!

Monarch Life Cycle

The bright colors of monarch caterpillars and butterflies indicates to predators that they are not a great choice of meal… Because Monarch caterpillars exclusively feed on milkweed, they are full of a toxin called cardiac glycoside, which stops the sodium pumps in the bodies of predators that aren’t adapted to the chemical. Because of this defense, many species have evolved to mimic the bright patterns of the Monarch, despite not being toxic themselves!

Queen Life Cycle
Soldier Life Cycle
Viceroy Life Cycle- Notice the similarities between the wing pattern on the Viceroy and the Monarch!

At our second site, we finally got to put our butterfly nets into action. For first time catchers, we quickly learned that capturing butterflies is a LOT harder than it sounds. After tromping through a creek and many pricker filled plants, Cheryl used her bug catching skills to capture our first adult male monarch and demonstrated her superior butterfly catching form. Although we didn’t plan on tagging the butterflies we surveyed that day, we did take the opportunity of this first male to learn how to properly place the tag.

By the time we reached our third site, we had already surveyed around thirty monarchs. This site once again blessed us with a population of Ribes, which provided us a much needed snack. Although some of us (okay, maybe just me) got a little carried away with the berry foraging and forgot to look for butterflies, we did find two monarch caterpillars.

Caterpillars are classified into five different instars based on their development. The stages can be a matter of days apart and are determined by visual cues like banding or presence of spots. The instar stage was a hot debate every time a caterpillar was spotted, until we remembered the handy monarch guides that we had which described in detail several key differences between each stage. Go us for preparedness!

Map Photo
2023 Monarch Map- check out the live version, updated from citizen science reports, here:

So- Mission accomplished! We had a very successful survey of various milkweed populations, and are expecting to see the monarchs flourishing when we go survey again in a few weeks. Because monarchs are an endangered species, understanding the health of our populations is of extreme importance across North America! p.s. if you made it this far, enjoy the demonstration on how not to catch a monarch 🙂

Who knew catching butterflies was a team sport?

If interested, there are a lot of great resources for monarch biology, habitat, and monitoring efforts at these sources:

Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper

Monarch Butterfly Conservation | Xerces Society

Fall Is In The Air… and Lice Are In The Plants? 

Summer is transitioning into fall, and likewise, the prairie is in change as well. The flowering stalks of Compass Plants (Silphium Laciniatum) now limp low, fading into a haze of purple & yellow from Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardi) and budding Goldenrods (Solidago spp.). 

These autumnal blooms are an important food source for native pollinators as they prepare their nests or migrate for the incoming winter. Even the pollen from grasses may be foraged during times of dearth, offering valuable protein to numerous beneficial insect species. 

A Two-Spotted Longhorn Bee (Melissodes bimaculatus) stripping pollen from the anthers of a warm-season grass. 

The field season, however, is still in full swing at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie: Seed collection is ramping up as an entire summers-worth of seed nears harvest; and rare plant monitoring is still ongoing, including American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) in the local woodlands.

It’s also the perfect time for spotting the bright red seed capsules of Hispid False Mallow (Malvastrum hispidum) with Plants of Concern, and the showy purple blooms of the Leafy Prairie Clover (Dalea foliosa) at Des Plaines State Fish & Wildlife Area. 

As its seed ripens, Hispid False Mallow (Malvastrum hispidum) changes from green to red in color. 

Botany workshops have also been underway, offering opportunities to learn the graminoids and fully-aquatic plants of Midewin. During one lesson, two seemingly-different species of rush were placed at our table. Yet despite their wildly distinct inflorescences, both were actually an example of Torrey’s Rush (Juncus torreyi). 

One specimen, however, was inhabited by a gall-making psyllid, or “plant lice.” After laying its eggs, plant growth hormones are stimulated and a gall is formed, offering both food & protection to the developing nymphs hidden within.  

The specimen on the left is a galled form of Torrey’s Rush (Juncus torreyi); the one on the right displays its typical inflorescence.

Although Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) seed is not yet ready to collect — as indicated by its swelling green seed pods — we keep ourselves entertained by watching the equally-swelling Monarch caterpillars chow hungrily at the plants’ leaves. 

Soon these caterpillars will molt one last time to form a chrysalis, digesting and re-assembling itself until finally emerging as a butterfly — a transformation fit for the season of change. 

The caterpillar of a Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) in its fifth and final instar. 

Dade Bradley

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Rare Plants and Dolomite Prairies

Exposed Dolomite

Dolomite prairies house unique plant communities, the bedrock here is at or just below the soil surface. Like a slab of concrete or an abandoned foundation, the exposed bedrock looks out of place in this natural landscape. These prairies are seasonally wet; in the spring, rain and snowmelt fill the area with shallow water, and by summer, it becomes bone dry. These plant communities have adapted not only to the seasonally wet conditions but also to the high magnesium content of the soil due to the weathering of the exposed rock.

There are many rare plants that are restricted to the Dolomite prairies in Illinois, but one takes our time and attention like no other. Dalea foliosa, the leafy prairie clover, is a curious purple-flowered pea its flowers are arranged in dense spikes and it has the typical pinnately compound leaves. D. foliosa is federally endangered and is very much deserving of our time and attention.

According to NatureServe, there are approximately 8 occurrences in the state of Illinois. Habitat loss, fire suppression, and woody encroachment are still the driving factors of this species’ decline. Midewin is fortunate to have acquired 40 acres of dolomite prairie from a mitigation requirement of the neighboring ExxonMobil refinery. When monitoring and management began back in 2002, only 92 total plants were counted; today, we counted over 500. This population is far better now, but its isolation still poses a threat in terms of its genetic diversity.

We followed a very tedious monitoring protocol that involved counting vegetative and reproductive stems, aborted flowers, and stems browsed of each plant. We also collaborated with Fish and Wildlife to monitor two other populations on IDNR land. Midewin has worked hard to preserve this population, and it has paid off; however, this is never enough in a changing landscape. Threats of changing hydrology and freak accidents from the boarding railroad and refinery unfortunately remain a concern.

Photo Dump

I though it would be fitting to conclude my August blog with a collection of photos taken while seed-collecting and from our visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden. I hope you enjoy

The satisfying pull

After the long drought the skies have sent rain down the night before and the morning is ready for the seed collecting day. The air hangs overhead like a mist, bringing a cool touch to your arm. You look overhead to the cloudless sky and sigh with anticipation as a gentle breeze hits the back of your neck. A shiver runs down your spine underneath your field clothes as you tuck your wool socks into your pants. Any attempt to stop the chiggers from finding your ankles is an attempt worth taking. You reach for your trusted wide brimmed hat, your ally in the war with the brutal sun, and slip on your long sleeved over-shirt. The gear is collected: a small pair of cutters, small white paper bags, a big leathery plastic bag, and water. Just enough to collect what is needed and no more. Working with mother nature instead of against her is our number one job today.

Looking over the prairie is different than the last time. The blooming purple of Monarda fistulosa has died down as she gets ready to go to seed and is instead muted by greens and reds. Still too early for the yellow sea to flood in yet we are in a holding period between seasons. The quiet month of August is upon us. But mother nature is still hard at work, you just have to know where to look to see her true beauty. She makes you work for it but these species are the most complex of all.

Secret Ridge Prairie with a tall compass plant (Silphium lacinatium).

Bouteloua curtipendula is finally ready to collect as its deep purple seeds have now tanned to a pale brown. Close up the seeds are no bigger than the broken graphite piece of an extremely sharp wooden pencil. Yet far away the are much bigger. Hanging loosely on the small stem of the grama they are the easiest to spot in an upland prairie habitat. Outcompeting any of the bigger grasses in its way. The most exciting experience besides saying its name, is collecting the seeds.

Bouteloua curtipendula at Secret Ridge Prairie.

My ”task” for this morning is to honor the ecosystem and take 20% of her Bouteloua seeds. This way it benefits us and still leaves enough to have another generation thrive. Luckily it is doing very well in this prairie. With one swift motion you place your hand on the stem below the seeds and pull upward until all of the seeds are in your hand. Pure satisfaction in one swoop.

You continue to walk through the prairie, now feeling the extend of the sun on your back as you pull another Bouteloua seedhead. Satisfaction. Making sure to step light around the wide Baptisa alba plant to more Bouteloua. Pull. Satisfaction. Spot some Amorpha canescens but its seeds arent wuite ready yet, so you make a mental note to come back in a week to collect that. Pull. Satisfaction. And you find a big clump of Bouteloua surrounded my smaller vegetation. Pull. Satisfaction. Pull. Pull. Pull. Satisfaction. You look down at the little plants around it, its light delicate whorled leaves around a tiny little stem. Bright white complex inflourescence among the top of some plants. You think you know what it is! But there is one more step you need to do to make sure. Plucking a single leaf from the stem you look closely at the leaf as a small bubble of white liquid starts to form on the end. Your guesses are correct, Whorled Milkweed has made its way to the prairie.

Asclepias verticillata is one of the smallest milkweeds at Midewin, but what it lacks in size it sure makes up for in numbers in a population! At some points its almost a field of milkweeds surrounded by other plants. The small stature can be overlooked by people looking for the more charismatic plants, but Asclepias can hold its own. It even goes up against monarch caterpillars and survived their munching to produce little seed pods. She is one tough cookie.

Asclepias verticillata at Exxon Prairie with inflorescence in bloom.

The sun is beating down now as the time nears to noon on the prairie. Your stomach starts to call out in hunger and you have drank almost all of your water source in your bottles. You check your bags for your haul, a lot of Bouteloua was taken, but while looking around there is so much more that is left. Success in your collection. We survey our hauls at the truck, each had been successful in their species seed collection. You look back at the prairie, the whispers of bugs in the background as the clear blue sky screams hello. Its peaceful being around so much life and knowing that you are not destroying. Its enchanting knowing you are helping restore more places to look just like this. It is inspiring seeing so many people around you care so much about this planet. It is the satisfying pull of the job.

Musings of a Seed Collector


Phacelia hastata sits there taunting me. One side still has its purple, curly inflorescence while the other side is dull brown – dried and perfect for collecting. A few more sit just 5 ft away from the first, but all are at least 10 feet above me. Phacelia loves to grow in hard to reach places where there is little competition and plenty of access to the sun. Perfect for the plant, but difficult for the seed collector. 

I grab everything I need from the truck – radio, paper bag, a glove – and glance back at the obstacle before me. This specific site was a steep, rocky slope next to the road made up of sheet rock. Slowly and carefully I start climbing the slope. Every two steps I took counted as one as the rocks shifted beneath my weight, but at least I was making progress. I sat low to the ground with my knees on the slope whenever I could in order to keep my center of gravity close to the slope itself and used my hands as additional support as I climbed. I made it to each plant and lightly ran my gloved hand along the dried fruits – allowing some to easily fall into my palm before throwing them into the paper bag. I had to wear a glove for this endeavor because the common name “Scorpionweed” for Phacelia hastata is very fitting as the fruits have hairs that are irritating and prickly to touch. I adjust my footholds and continue to make my way across the slope to the many Phacelia plants growing in this difficult terrain. I volunteered to go up to this height – my partners for today, Madeline and Stella, choosing to collect from the plants lower to the road.

I found this collection to be a fun challenge and enjoyed the accomplished feeling as I successfully transversed the steep slope. Some areas were easier than others. At some points I could stand up and carefully walk diagonally up the slope, while at other points I would slide down a few feet before having to find another path to go on. 

By the end of the collection time, I had collected half a paper bag of phacelia fruits/seeds and gotten covered in dust from the slope but felt very accomplished by overcoming the challenge. I was happy to have been able to get the genetics from the higher individuals to include into our collection and happy that I could climb this slope at all – one of the other sites which we wanted to collect Phacelia was even more difficult to climb and we had stayed to just the lower individuals because of this.

The Grasshopper

*Plop*. A grasshopper hops onto the windshield of our truck. We stop, but it seems as though it has no intention to leave. Slowly, we continue on our path. The grasshopper faces the same way that we are headed, his yellow body braced against the movement of the truck. We make our way past a small meadow and to another forested area when the grasshopper finally hops off of its own volition. I could not help but wonder if it knew what it was doing. If it was just using us as a way to create its own adventure and explore a new area just as we are using this opportunity to explore as well. I can only wish the grasshopper well on its future travels. 

A grasshopper in the Castle Mountains of the Helena-Lewis and Clark NF

Battle of Geum

For a few weeks now, my mentor, Victor, and I have been debating the identification of a specific Geum plant growing outside the office door. In the beginning of the summer, Victor told me that this one was ‘Geum macrophyllum’ which is one of the species on our collection list. At the time I did not question it, but this past month we ran into a couple other Geums that look very similar – especially now that they are fruiting instead of flowering. The three are Geum macrophyllum, Geum aleppicum, and Geum rivale. Rivale flowers are pink and nodding while the flowers of the other two are yellow – allowing easy distinction between the three when there are flowers present but all of their fruits are ‘spiny with achene beaks’ as stated in our plant key and look very similar at a glance. All three of these plants also grow in very similar habitats: moist sites next to rivers. Luckily, even with just fruits the rivale flowers still keep their purple sepals which is the key difference between rivale and the other two and also has the longest achene beaks. 

The next step, to separate out macrophyllum, is dependent on whether the lower portion of the style is minutely glandular or not at all. My partner, Tori, and I have had quite a lot of trouble deciding whether something is glandular or not throughout this summer – even with the use of a hand lens – and so while we do check for this step, we also looked to see if there were some other differences between the two. One of the Botany techs on the Helena side of the forest, Nate, responded to this question by saying that the macrophyllum receptacle is hairless while the other two possibilities in the key are not. Those other two being Geum aleppicum and canadense. Canadense is automatically crossed out as an option due to it having white flowers and no known cases of it living in the south west side of Montana – where we are collecting at. 

I took Nate’s shortcut and ran with it – informing Victor that our plant outside the door was indeed aleppicum rather than macrophyllum. Victor did not believe me at first – especially since Nate’s difference was not in the key that we used. He looked up pictures and tried to compare the species that way. In the past few weeks, he changed his mind on what species that plant was about 5 times before finally deciding today that I was right. The mystery Geum growing by the office door was indeed Geum allepicum – now added to our collection list along with Geum rivale. 

Hard to see, but a population of Geum rivale in the Little Belt Mountains.

Bloom After the Burn

Day in and day out as we travel along the back roads of the San Bernardino National Forest the remnants of human festivities could often be found underneath the lush green pines, unauthorized campfire rings. The large dark stones and black ash contrasting starkly against the lushness of the forest announcing their presence and staining the earth black with soot. Oftentimes increasing in frequency during holidays such as 4th of July, Memorial Day, or Labor Day the sighting of these rings has brought continual frustration on our part as the summer heat continues to beat down and dry the flora surrounding it. While our main goal is seed collecting and target species monitoring another responsibility of ours is to destroy the rings to prevent further use, in hopes of preventing a fire from sweeping through the area. The process of destruction relatively simple, in that we disperse the rocks throughout the area and break apart the ash in an attempt to wipe its presence away for good. While the potential for fire spread itself is our main concern these rings oftentimes have large shards of melted or fractured glass in them that can be hazardous to others as well. Even after a site had been cleared of its rings the remnants of their presence still could be seen throughout like messy smudges drawn into the earth.

Above is a large fire ring we found and destroyed at Lytle Creek, one of many found in the area that day.

One site in particular known as Lytle Creek was filled with these unauthorized rings and in one day, we destroyed a total of 20 after a busy holiday weekend. Concerning as is, we discovered also that one of the rings was still hot to the touch even days after its previous owners had abandoned it. The last fire that ran through Lytle Creek was only a few years ago and was started by an unauthorized campfire ring such as this. While the continual finding of these rings proves frustrating it is rather beautiful to see how the forest regrows after a fire. Places that were once burn scarred or barren now begin to blossom again with native flora. During our drives through the various habitats in the forest we’ve stumbled upon a handful of burn scarred areas that are slowly recovering with time and restoration efforts. While it can be disheartening to see these beautiful habitats be abused or destroyed it is incredibly rewarding in playing a part in aiding in their recovery. During my time working in Big Bear with the restoration team I’ve taken part in two Green Thumb events on the forest that utilize both staff and volunteers to aid in restoring damaged habitats such as these. With the help of volunteers, we’ve been able to replant 100s of native species into areas that were once bare plots of earth. This work could not be done without the help of the volunteers that work in these events and we are incredibly grateful for the time they spend in helping us restore and preserve the forest for future generations to enjoy. Overall, it’s been a blast being a part of these restorations’ projects on the forest and I look forward to the month of September where we will be having a large volunteer event taking place that will involve the planting of around 400 plants!! Until then, I hope everyone is having a lovely time working out of their different locations and I look forward to reading your blogs!

A burn scarred area in Lytle Creek that is slowly recovering from a past fire caused by unauthorized campfire rings with Yerba Santa sprouting back up again.
Joshua Trees sprouting back up again from a past fire that occurred in Cactus Flats.

August Adventure with Fish & Wildlife

This month Ana Karina and I had the opportunity to join the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and members of U.S. Fish & Wildlife in surveying for the Unarmored Three Spine Stickleback fish (UTS). These little fish, about the length of your pinky finger when mature, are a federally listed endangered species and a State of California Fully Protected Species.

The average size of an adult Unarmored Three Spine Stickleback fish

For some background, these UTS have a very limited distribution in California so the presence/absence survey we worked on was part of a bigger project for the future relocation of these fish. CDFW’s plan for the future translocation project was to first re-survey the locations in Big Bear where UTS presence had been recorded in the past. Then, once they had a better idea of the quantities of fish in each of these locations, they would plan how many fish they would relocate from each place.

On the day of our survey, we got to the pond and noticed we were in for quite the challenge! The surface of the pond shimmered a beautiful Shrek green… While the blanket of duckweed covering the pond had a sort of swampy beauty to it, we quickly realized it would be working against us in surveying for the UTS. So, we got in our waders and began working with our dip nets to try and clear some of the duckweed from the pond.

Dip netting served to both clear the surface of the pond to make our surveying easier, and as our first method of searching for the fish. As our second method, we tried seine netting the pond several times in different locations.

Whenever we scooped any debris out with our nets, we carefully combed through the contents in search of the elusive fish. We also made notes of other pond dwelling critters that we found, like various insects and toads!

One of the biggest and most precious fellas we were able to find that day :’-)

After several hours of scooping duckweed out of the pond, we moved on to our next survey method. For this method, we baited some traps with blue cheese and set them out on the west side of the pond. We let the traps sit for about 90 minutes while we began our final survey method, electrofishing, on the east side of the pond.

Getting ready to do some electrofishing, for science!

This project is on-going and, as it turns out, the results of the survey are actually pretty sensitive information. But, as someone who has never been in waders before and never conducted a wildlife survey, I wanted to share my experience with this incredible opportunity! With this being a federally listed endangered species, the reality is, not many people have had the pleasure of ever seeing these fish. I had a blast learning about the work that the CDFW and U.S. Fish & Wildlife do and am excited to see where the translocation project goes in the coming weeks!

A is for August & Alpine

About a week into August, we were asked to help the alpine botany crew with a species composition plot. Since I had started this job, I had been dreaming about working with the alpine botany crew. I knew very little about their job, but I knew they hiked into the alpine every day and that sounded amazing to me!

That first day with them we hiked above 11,000 ft which was the highest elevation I had ever been to by at least 2,000 ft. To put that height into perspective, the highest peak in Oregon in 11,200 and we weren’t even at a peak! The site was at a saddle between two peaks and had me in awe the entire next two days. I couldn’t stop thinking that the two alpine botanists had to be the luckiest people alive to have places like this be their office every day!

Snow in August?! The hike to the species composition plot.

The species composition plot consisted of three vegetation transects that were about 36 meters long and we would log vegetation every 0.5 meters. At the end of each transect we would set up three 1 square meter plots and find what percentage each plant present took up of this square.

Data collection along one of the transects.

On our way down on the last day we saw a group of mountain goats. I learned that one of the main reasons the alpine vegetation needed to be monitored so closely in the La Sal’s was that the goats were introduced here as a game species, and they were monitoring what effects they had on rare alpine plants.

The infamous mountain goats.

After working with the alpine crew for a couple of days we went back to business as usual: building fences, collecting Heterotheca villosa and scouting for Heliomeris multiflora. We don’t expect to begin collecting Heliomeris multiflora until mid September and are nearing the end of our Heterotheca villosa collection which meant we had a little extra time for other projects.

Pressing Heterotheca villosa.
Breaks with Quinn.
Always building fence!

The last week of August, one of the alpine botanists had the week off and they requested me to fill in. I was over the moon excited! I was going to be helping with the rare plant surveys that they complete every day, which are smaller and quicker than the species composition plot I had helped with before. The rare plant surveys are either a single 10 meter or 15 meter transect, where we place four 1 square meter plots at equal intervals along the transect and mark where within these plots a rare plant is seen. We also do a pellet count to gauge goat, deer and elk presence within the study area.

Pellet count views.

The La Sals are on of only three areas on the Colorado Plateau where you can find true alpine tundra communities, making the plant life super fascinating. One interesting plant they study is called Silene acaulis and is a mossy plant that gets covered in tiny vibrant pink flowers. Studies have found this plant to live to over 300 years old! Another interesting species we saw was Erigeron mancus which is a little yellow button flower that we spent most of the week studying and is endemic to the area.

Silene acaulis
Erigeron mancus

This was easily one of the best work weeks I have ever had! We hiked over 30 miles and gained over 8,000 ft in elevation total. The highest peak we summited was 12,600 ft with some of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen.

August is when I truly fell in love with these mountains. I can’t wait to summit more in September!