With more than 1,850 known species of moths in the state of Illinois—more than ten times the diversity of butterflies—it is a real adventure sampling the moth species inhabiting the McDonald Woods at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Using a combination of light and bait traps along with visual searches, I have been investigating the diversity of moth species found in the restored portions of our oak woodland. Moths are removed from the traps and then photographed before being released back to the woodland.
My interest in moths stems from the fact that many of the species are dependent on one or just a few native plant species for their survival, and as a result, may serve as valuable indicators of the health of our recovering, once-degraded oak woodland. The larval stages—the caterpillars—primarily feed on the roots, stems, and leaves of the plants. Adult moth species are very important pollinators. White-flowered and night-fragrant plant species are often what they seek. There are day-flying moths also, like some of the hawk moths (which are often mistaken for hummingbirds) that are seen visiting a variety of flowers in full daylight. Moths are also a tremendously important part of the food chain. Entomologist Doug Tallamy tabulated the number of caterpillars that were utilized to support one nest of black-capped chickadees and found that they consumed between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars, most of which were moth species. Adding even a few native plant species to your yard can benefit a multitude of these valuable invertebrates.
It is a never-ending surprise to see what new species will show up each time traps are placed.
Some species are so small (usually referred to by lepidopterists as micromoths) that most people would pass them off as gnats or pesky flies. Some micromoths are only 3-4 millimeters long. One in particular I like to refer to as the “Nemo” moth, as in Finding Nemo. I gave this species that name because its colorful pattern reminds me of a clown fish.
At the other end of the spectrum are the moth species that are quite large. The giant silkworm moths, like the luna and Cecropia moths, have a wingspan of more than 140 millimeters. Starting in mid-July and going through September, a group of medium to large moths known as underwing moths starts appearing in the woods. These delta-shaped species are usually very cryptically colored on their forewing and brightly and starkly colored on their hind wing. The cryptic forewing allows them to blend in with the tree trunks they are resting on; the hindwing only becomes visible when they spread their wings to fly. It is thought to be a distraction or scare tactic to foil predators.
Although there is a subtle nuance of shapes, colors, and textures that distinguish many species, there are also those that are in-your-face with shockingly bright colors, metallic ornamentation, stark patterns, and jagged ridges of scales—much like a mountain range on six legs—that never fail to impress me. The looper moths are one good example. Many have stigmas (distinctive white patches and scrolling) on the surface of the wing and spectacular assortments of peaks, crowns, and ridges of scales on the thorax and inner edges of the wings. The scale patterns most likely evolved to break up the silhouette of the moth to make it less visible. One of the hooded owlet moths has a tall patch of scales on its thorax that looks like a witches hat when erect, but it can also be laid down over the moths head to make it look like a broken-off stick.
In general, there is a new group of species that emerges about every two weeks during the year, with midsummer being the peak for species and abundance. Many moth species have relatively short flight periods and can only be seen at certain times of the year, but some have multiple broods that show up several times during the year. When I show some of these moths to colleagues, they almost always say, “I never knew these things existed.”
Under the cover of darkness, there is a world of beauty and fascination fluttering silently among the trees. It makes me wonder if the full moon doesn’t show up once a month just to shed a little light on the show, just so we don’t miss it completely.
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
A dictionary of English names of plants : applied in England and among English-speaking people to cultivated and wild plants, trees and shrubs. / By William Miller. In two parts, English-Latin and Latin-English.
Author: Miller, William.
Call Number: QK13.M55 1884
A treatise on the culture and management of fruit-trees : in which a new method of pruning and training is full described. To which is added, a new and improved edition of observations on the diseases, defects, and injuries, in all kinds of fruit and...
Author: Forsyth, William, 1737-1804.
Call Number: SB356.F67 1803
Rural architecture in the Chinese taste : being designs entirely new for the decoration of gardens, parks, forrests, insides of houses, &c., on sixty copper plates, with full instructions for workmen : also a near estimate of the charge, and hints...
Author: Halfpenny, William, -1755.
Call Number: NA8450.H35 1755
Every man his own gardener : being a new, and much more complete gardener's kalendar than any one hitherto published ... / By Thomas Mawe and John Abercrombie ... and other gardeners.
Author: Abercrombie, John, 1726-1806.
Call Number: SB46.A24 1782
My first two weeks working at Fort Ord National Monument were exciting, extremely varied, and a tremendous amount of learning compressed in a short amount of time. In those two weeks I watered native plant restoration sites, exterminated stands of invasive mustard, hemlock, and thistle, mapped the location of oaks using GPS and GIS, tracked a collared ground squirrel using telemetry, attended meetings planning heavy equipment projects and a central California invasive weeds symposium, collected native lily, silk tassel, and venus thistle seeds, and drove 4wd trucks on dirt roads around Fort Ord, waving at passing hikers. Needless to say, it was a lot – something new every day, or sometimes every half day. Tiring, but also fun, challenging, and rewarding.
One of the highlights of those first two weeks was using telemetry to find the ground squirrel collared by a research team from CSUMB (California State University, Monterey Bay). It involved hiking a steep canyon while carrying an antennae over my head and using the volume of a steady beeping as an indicator of proximity to the squirrel. In the end we were able to pinpoint the squirrel’s location to a tunnel underneath a bush, and laid down a trap baited with a smelly peanut butter and tuna sandwich.
In my second week, while hiking through rolling hills covered in yellow grass, we came across a few white praying mantises frolicking in the grass. They really are some odd creatures:
The purpose of the hike was to reach an old goat grazing plot where Ranger Manny had remembered seeing lily plants in need of seed collecting. However, when he last saw them it was springtime and the lilies were in full bloom, but now in the middle of summer the dried up lilies camouflaged perfectly with all the other dried up plants, so finding them was a bit of an easter egg hunt. But the whole time we were surrounded by beautiful sweeping views:
The landscape really evokes feelings of a cowboy roaming the wild west, what with the swaying yellow grasslands littered with coyote brush, the turkey vultures circling overhead, and the occasional cry of a red tailed hawk. That was the setting of a lot of my field work during those first two weeks, along with some oak woodland and maritime chaparral. Not too bad of an office.
Sean Pagnon, BLM Fort Ord National Monument, CA
This post marks the first month of my employment with the CLM. I didn’t know what to expect as I packed my bags and drove from Kalamazoo, MI to Kremmling, CO to work with the BLM. Kremmling is a small ranching town located about two hours west of Denver and is radically different than the suburban Midwest. I am still wrapping my head around the sheer expanse of the country here. Kremmling features prime sagebrush habitat, diverse wildlife and you guessed it a lot of cows. There are limited housing options in Kremmling and it almost made me pass on the position. Fortunately, a co-worker at the office offered me a room at his place. The house is custom made and is heated in the winter using a radiant heating system, which is very cool.
My position involves working on the AIM project, which stands for Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring. AIM is an ambitious project intended to provide the BLM with up to date large sale ecological data. The new data is important as it will allow decision makers to better mange natural recourses and identify valuable habitats across field offices. Our main focus is identifying suitable habitat for the sage grouse, which has lost significant habitat to development in the west.
The great part about my position is that it allows me to explore Colorado. Each week we are assigned several plots that are scattered across the northwest quadrant of the state. My mentor, Amy, and I collect data on plant species richness, distribution and heights. We also collect data on abiotic conditions such the physical geography, soil texture, and soil stability. That data is used, mainly to determine the erosion susceptibility of a site.
Each plot we are assigned can be located in various ecosystems, ranging from sagebrush, pinyon-juniper, aspen, gambel oak and others. This presents unique challenges when it comes to identifying plants. I have been sharpening my plant terminology skills to make plant ID more efficient. Luckily, Amy is familiar with many of the plants we encounter, and can at least narrow them down to the family. When we cannot identify a plant in the field I get to practice pressing and cataloging plants to be identified later in the office. The field guide we rely on the most is Flora of Colorado by Jennifer Ackerfield. This 818 page book is very comprehensive, I am impressed that anyone could compile such a catalog of plants in a single lifetime.
I am happy to be doing something meaningful for work. I enjoy driving around Colorado, hanging out with plants, and camping in beautiful places. The job is not always easy, the sun can get pretty intense in the mountains and the mosquitoes are extra hungry at altitude. There is also the added weight of knowing that my data must be correct in order to serve its purpose effectively. That aside, the past four weeks have been great, and I am looking forward to the next time I get to share my experiences on the blog. Before I go here is a nice picture of some cows.
Kremmling CO, field office
Bureau of Land Management
CLM interns came from Buffalo, WY and Pinedale to celebrate the 4th of July with those in Lander. Jack came all the way from Taos, New Mexico! Lander is a unique small town in Wyoming. With the presence of the National Outdoor Leadership School, Lander attracts a younger crowd of folks from all across the nation. There is a great Thai food restaurant (among many others) and a lively night life.
Rock climbing and bouldering is a popular recreation activity, one that I had yet to try before my visit. I only made it up a couple of the easier routes we climbed, but the mental and physical exercise was fulfilling, and the feeling at the top was remarkably gratifying. I look forward to practicing this sport more often.
Saturday night led our crew of seasonal workers into the WInds.
One guitar and many good friends in the wilderness of the mountains created a night full of story-telling and laughter. Kumbaya was never on our playlist, but some of the group’s favorite songs echoed through our camp site as we sat around the fire. Yes, “Wagon Wheel” was the first one that came to mind for us, too. We roasted marshmallows and feasted on smores. We learned things about each other that were not allowed to leave the fire circle that night. We fell asleep to the sounds of the rushing river below us, and woke up to a peaceful sunrise over the lake.
The morning of the 4th started off with the parade / water fight. As the floats, trucks, people and animals walk by with proud advertisement, water balloons flew from every direction. Many people even had super-soaker water guns. By no surprise, the Lander Fire Department won by a landslide. Every once in a while, some of us would bravely run out in the street, scrambling to grab Tootsie-Rolls and Fruities (no children were harmed).
After the parade, a few of us walked to the grocery store, where we filled a shopping cart with all of the necessities for a summer weekend cook-out. We all gathered outside of the apartment in the courtyard where the festivities began and lasted all afternoon. So many good people and good vibes; I could not have asked for a better way to celebrate.
Many left in the afternoon to head back home; a bitter-sweet departure. With a few hours of daylight left, Rachael, Jack and I decided to go for a bouldering/hiking adventure back into Sinks Canyon. We hiked up to Sinks Falls, where there is a 15-foot natural slide into a pool of ice-cold water. I remember sitting at the top, thinking to myself, “why are we doing this!?” After one slight movement, gravity and loss-of-friction takes over, and there is no going back. Soon the cold water induces a scream as we came up for air, swimming a bit faster than usual to get back on shore. That submerge felt so incredibly refreshing and revitalizing, I remember thinking, “yes, this is why we do this.”
Though our fireworks could not compete with our neighbors, it was great fun to run around the streets with sparklers, snappers and fountains. One of the “flying” rockets we lit off was suppose to go into the air and spin rapidly. Instead, it fell to its side and shot off in the direction we were all standing. We all ran away frantically, a mix of fear and gut-wrenching laughter. I was overcome and filled with child-like joy.
After our shenanigans in the streets, we grabbed a bag of chips, our sweatshirts and blankets and headed up to the roof of the apartment to watch the rest of the show.
Fireworks light up the sky around the entire city of Lander on the 4th of July. It was by far the most entertaining and extraordinary firework show I have ever seen. From the neighborhood streets to the fairgrounds, friends and family set up their stations for hours of colorful fire and explosions. Words truly cannot do this 4th of July celebration justice — a must see if you are ever in this part of the country for the holiday.
To future interns — if you are worried or concerned about being “in the middle of nowhere,” know that so many are in the same place as you. With a little planning and out-reach, you can create an incredible weekend of adventure and make good friends along the way. I cannot wait to go back to Lander and visit. However, this weekend is Rendezvous Weekend in Pinedale! Activities all day and all night long outside from Thursday – Friday.
When I left Burns last October I didn’t think I’d be back in Oregon for a long time. Yet, here I am again 8 months later living in the pretty green city that I passed through on my way to other adventures last summer. Compared to Burns, Prineville is a big city…. well its 3x bigger in population and only 45 minutes from Bend, the biggest city in central Oregon.
During my first CLM internship my job was emergency stabilization and rehabilitation monitoring. After a summer working in the high desert though, I realized that I missed being near water and decided to focus on getting jobs related to aquatic ecology. This summer I’m working as an aquatic AIM (Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring) technician. Basically, I take physical habitat and water quality measurements of streams on BLM lands. Learning the aquatic AIM protocol was fairly exciting for a number of reasons. The protocol, which is being developed by the National Aquatic Monitoring Center, Utah State University, and BLM is new (in-fact the official protocol is unpublished), so I felt privileged to be among the first technicians to be trained to use it and the very first to implement it for the Prineville BLM. I’ve never been to Utah, so of course traveling there and crossing off another state was a plus.
After a week of training in Utah it was time to implement AIM in the field. Our first site was on the North Fork of the John Day and unsurprisingly getting into the work flow was kind of slow. Reaches (the stream survey length) can range anywhere from 150m to 2km. On the North Fork of the John Day the reach was 800m long and consisted of pools so deep that were impossible for me to wade –least I top my waders. Remembering left bank and right bank and transect letters (where data is collected) was counter-intuitive at first. In AIM transects are labeled KA with K being the topmost part of the reach and A the bottommost point. Left and right bank orientation is considered while facing downstream, however data is collected starting at A and walking upstream.
Nine completed sites later and all of this is second nature. Hopefully next time I blog we will be 2/3 of the way through our monitoring.
New Jersey has a secret. It wears an industrial mask and is draped in a costume made from the fabric of loud boardwalks, clubbers, and miscellaneous state stereotypes.
But, beneath the façade, there is something very—very different. The secret’s out, New Jersey is bursting at the seams with plant life and environmental diversity.
My partner, Robbie, and I have gained a lot of memorable and joyous experiences exploring NJ and its plant life. We have driven through rough and gritty dirt roads deep into the soul of the Pine Barrens. We did not find the Jersey Devil, but we did find adventure.
We camped under hearts of oaks and pines, nestled in the rib cages of blueberries and huckleberries. N.J. unveiled its rare Lysimachia terrestristhe and Pogonia opioglossoides to us in the summer’s boiling bogs brimming with sun dew and pitcher plants.
We have taken shelter from the sobs of the earth and its storming pulse under the spiral bark of the Atlantic white cedar.
We’ve inhaled the aromatic scents of Rhododendron viscosum of the Appalachian Mountains tucked away in the northwest of the state.
We kayaked through the narrow veins of the creeks, and saw the Spartina species thriving on the scalps of muscle clams.
We escaped the vicious greenflies and their shocking vampiric bites.
We traced roads that evolved into thick, impassible tickets. We baked like potatoes in the summer’s oven. We searched through the labyrinth of dunes seeking beach plum (Prunus maritima), bear berry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) , and heather (Hudsonia sp.).
We saw proud bald eagles, and ravenous osprey gripping fish in their razor talons. We saw black face terns plummeting and breaking the skin of the sea. We eaves dropped into conversations of sand pipers and red winged black birds as they discussed territory defense strategy.
Our alarm clocks were not actual timepieces, but roaring torrential downpours, leaky tents, and whippoorwills gossiping into the night.
Our breath would escape our lungs from the snakes slithering across our boots.
We were freckled with ticks.
We waited patiently for nesting terrapins to cross the road.
We learned the language of the land and had the opportunity to listen closely. It spoke in gentle whispers. It said, “I have a secret. Can you guess what’s under this mask?”
The day-to-day of my job monitoring riparian areas to analyze the effects of grazing for the rangelands section of the BLM in Lander, WY has been great thus far. I get to spend every day outside, learning a new landscape and wildlife. As summer sets in, I’m enjoying watching the changes within our study sites – less rain, less wildflowers, seeding grasses, more grazing, slightly older sage grouse and antelope fawns. I’m excited to see how the landscape changes as summer and fall progress. Despite the great day-to-day, my favorite part of the job thus far has been all of the opportunities to learn from other BLM employees.
A few weeks ago I went on a tour of the allotments I’ve been monitoring with the Cooperative Rangeland Management group – a team of people involving BLM and State lands employees, conservationists, ranching permitees, emeritus professors, and me. I learned about the land I’ve been working on from the experts – one of the rancher’s grandad moved there in 1919. For some perspective, that’s before the BLM even existed! It was so great to hear the open communication between those with such differing perspectives. The day truly drove home the idea of multi-use multi-value land. It is extremely difficult to have all of the values represented in each parcel of land, and often the values are competing, but I think the aim is admirable and it is possible.
Two weeks ago I got to go on a plant ID refresher field trip with our new field botanist (also a CLM graduate!) and a collection of others from the office. There were a few rangeland people, two fire guys, and some oil and gas folk. It was fascinating to hear the conversations between the different experts, and to see where their own experience lies. The rangeland people helped ID a lot of grasses and they all had different tips for recognizing them. The fire guys were talking about the transitioning ecological systems post burn and what plants to look for there. The plant ID refresher was very helpful, but, even better, was getting to spend time with and being in the field with the pros.
The learning curve my first month here has been immense. It’s been full of learning many acronyms – HMA, CRM, NCS; driving on muddy two-tracks, remembering names and positions of those in the office, knowing which rock to turn left at, learning grass names. I’ve enjoyed learning the field office and getting better and faster at monitoring and my day-to-day work. It’s been such a privilege to work in an office where I can stray from my normal work and learn from the experts around me.
Bureau of Land Management
Lander Field Office
It sure has been a busy summer so far, with a lot happening since CLM training in Chicago. Right after training ended my wife came to Chicago to visit for the weekend and we had a blast visiting the wonderful museums and enjoying the city. We were extremely lucky and managed to get a reservation at the world famous restaurant Alinea, one of the most innovative and exciting dining experiences in the world.
Unfortunately life cant be filled with fine dining and exploring museums. After returning to the Colorado State Office, we have been extremely busy with threatened and endangered plant monitoring all along the western slope of Colorado. We spent a week in Canon City Colorado to monitor populations of Eriogonum brandegeei, a species of buckwheat that is only found in the Canon City area of Colorado. Most of our time was spent in the washes near the foothills that had significant populations of E. brandegeei.
I was able to pull away from our research group at the state office for a week to do some scouting and seed collection in the Pawnee National Grasslands. I was amazed at the amount of diversity that the grasslands contain. The flowers were in peak bloom and the colors popping up among the grasses were a beautiful sight. I unfortunately left my bird identification book at home, which was a big mistake because the grasslands are known for their amazing species richness. Hopefully I will be able to make it back later in the year and try to ID some of the species.
This past week we joined a Field Botany course from the University of Northern Colorado to monitor populations of Astragalus osterhoutii. This was very exciting for me because taking the same course at UNC 2 years ago got me interested in a career doing field work. It was a great experience to interact with students new to field work, it is amazing to see how much I have grown personally and professionally in the last 2 years.
That is all for me, about to head back to the mountains and get some more work done.
Alaska is known as a land of mystique and beauty and now having lived here, I can say that Alaska is indeed a land of mystique and beauty. Completing field work in Alaska has its own unique set of challenges because of the vastness, lack of accessibility, wildlife and terrain. One strategy to navigating these lands is to take to the air; on a recent trip to Unalakleet (Western Alaska, off of Norton Sound), we flew by helicopter to our field sites every day. The diversity of ecotypes included wind swept lichen alpine tundra to volcanic rocky rolling hills to willowy grasslands to sphagnum moss bogs to tussocky low shrubland to mixed spruce woodlands. This project in partnership with the National Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) focused on soil and vegetation mapping of Nulato Hills managed by BLM and is anticipated to take another five years. I was on the botany team and identifying woody plants, forbs, graminoids, lichens, and mosses as well as estimated cover. Where forest existed we also measured trees for canopy cover, size, age, and density. The beauty and diversity of plants and animals was unbelievable- lichens, tussocks, grizzly bears, o my! These surveys help to better understand the land and can be useful for making a range of management decisions including reindeer and caribou grazing strategies. In addition to gaining a scientific perspective, I enjoy a reflective approach through photography, poetry, and watercolor painting. Below is a poem from my time there and photos to give you a sense of that stunning place.
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
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 dentatum, Sambucus canadensis, and 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
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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!
Seeds of Success Intern
New England Wild Flower Society, Framingham, MA
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.
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!
Brennan Davis, BLM – Lakeview, OR
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BLM, Meeker, CO
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
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.
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 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.