It is field trip time, and I’m back to Brownsville, TX. The goal of this trip was to relocate all 16 tortoises and find 2 more tortoises to add to the project.
So let’s test you again. Can you find the tortoise in this picture? Be careful not to get fooled by the yucca trunk.
If I give you a closeup picture does that helps?
Here he is.
Don’t be sad if you did not find, those little tortoises are experts in camouflaging themselves with the vegetation. We are able to find them because we have the radio tag, otherwise, it would be very difficult. Even with the help of the radio transmitters, if the animal is tucked under a prickly pear cactus, a woodrat midden, or in this case under a Spanish Dagger (Yucca treculeana) it can take us 10 to 20 minutes to find it.
Basically, we are playing the hot and cold game with the tortoises. Our prize is the animal, the “hunter” is me with an antenna, and the receiver gives the clues. A louder bip means hot, a lower sound is cold. By going in the direction of the loudest sound, you get closer and closer to the tracked animal. It gets to a point where you know where the tortoise is, even if you are not able to see it yet. On the picture below you can see me listening to the receiver.
The area of this picture is very open, which makes it easier to locate the animals. However it is not always like that, the denser and taller the vegetation the harder it is to maneuver around with the equipment.
In the picture above you can see one of our grueling areas. Unfortunately, it is not just a tight walk around, but the vegetations are literally “grabbing” you as you pass by. Your mind needs to be in an “unagi” state. (This is a Friends reference from Ross. However he uses the word unagi incorrectly, the word he means to use is zanshin, which is a term used in Japanese martial arts. Zanshin means “residual mind.” It refers to a state of relaxed awareness in which a practitioner of martial arts is wary of their surroundings before, during, and after attacks.) After three days in the field, we were able to find all animals and the 2 new ones. Other interesting findings during this trip was two juvenile tortoises, two eggs of Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albiollis), a hog skull, and a Texas indigo snake (Drymarchon melanurus erebennus). There is no picture of the snake because my first instinct was to run for my life. I’m always worried that I will encounter a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, so if I see anything that resembles a snake, I’m running in the opposite direction.
I hope you enjoyed my second trip, see you next time.
Over the past decade, the Rocky Intertidal Zone at Cabrillo National Monument has been overrun by an invasive brown seaweed known as Sargassum muticum. This marine plant, native to Japan, is believed to have made it’s way to San Diego over 30 years ago through the ballast waters of ships. Invasive species, such as Sargassum, are hypothesized to lower the biodiversity of an area by outcompeting the native biota and overtaking all other available space. Therefore, Cabrillo Biologist and our lovely volunteers have been working on slowly removing this species from certain plots to better answer our question about the effects of invasive species on biodiversity. Our hope is that in the next 5 years we can revisit these sites to see if the brown wire weed does or does not influence biodiversity.
During the summer in San Diego, the tides shift and it is difficult to experience a low tide during appropriate work hours. Cabrillo Biologists and I went out on the morning of July 12, 2017 at 6am to begin another phase of Sargassum removal. The process of removal is tedious and difficult to witness change overtime with the continuous growth of this perennial brown alga.
However, the benefit to this process is by far the creatures you inevitably get to see when you look a little closer into the intertidal zone. A fan favorite this week was this vibrant nudibranch (sea slug), Chromodoris macfarlandi. Remember to always keep exploring, even when working!
I want to start off this post by celebrating my dear friends that I have made at the intern housing. These art folks that are participating in different projects at Point Reyes, including archeology, fisheries, range management, exotic plant and wildlife monitoring, and habitat restoration. We learn from each other and discuss the many facets of research and natural resource management that go into maintaining a successful national park. This past fourth of July weekend, we roadtripped to Mono Lake and made a stop in Yosemite for some outdoor rock climbing. This was my first visit to these parks. I remain speechless by their beauty and am so thankful for the wonderful company I had with me.
After a long weekend, I went back to work (still can’t believe that what I do is considered work). I had the incredible opportunity to help a masters student, Tracy, from San Diego State University on her crab diversity research. She is comparing the crab species in two estuaries, Elkhorn Slough and Drake’s Estero. Drake’s Estero is a beautiful estuary in Point Reyes that has just undergone an extensive eelgrass restoration project, which is great habitat for crabs! The photo to the right is my supervisor, Ben, who was driving the National Park’s boat for us.
On Wednesday, we set out six sets of two different sized traps. The larger trap targeted crabs while the smaller trap targeted fish, specifically the Pacific staghorn sculpin. The next day, we went back out on the boat to see what we had caught. Over the course of the week, we came across three different species of crab, Below is a photo of a female Metacarcinus gracilis, or slender crab. I loved these crabs because of their beautiful, purple color.
We pulled the crabs out of the cage and measured their carapace (the upper shell) at its widest point, determined the sex, identified the species, and then released them. For the fish, we only measured their length before releasing them. Tracy said the crabs caught in Drake’s Estero were massive compared to those in Elkhorn Slough.
This was such a cool week. While out in the estuary, we saw leopard sharks, bat rays, harbor seals, and river otters. It’s difficult to describe how incredibly lucky I feel.
9,000 Ft., that was my elevation for one of the days that I spent in the field this past week. We were on the search for Whitebark Pine trees. This type of tree is currently under the attack of a disease called blister rust and by the Mountain Pine Beetles that are attacking them and using the trees as food and a place to live also. We also started taking tree cores for my independent research. These tree cores sampled can show the age, and the conditions of the tree. Its really awesome to see a tree`s history. During the following weeks will be continuing the same type of work. I am excited to continue my research on Whitebark Pine!!!
An invasive species is any plant, insect, fungi, bacteria or animal that is not native to a specific ecosystem. It can even include an organism’s seeds or eggs that doesn’t naturally occur in a specific area. Invasive species are usually spread by humans, often unintentionally. Since humans have the ability to travel to and from different places, we often bring along hitchhikers. Invasive species can stowaway in or on boat, wood, plants, and even our clothing and vehicles. Some invasive species are accidentally or intentionally released which is most commonly seen in the pet trade. Pets sometimes get lost, or some people realize that they can no longer care for that particular pet, and release it into the wild, disregarding the potential conflicts. Invasive species can wreak havoc on an ecosystem as they can out-compete native species for food and other resources.
Some species can be invasive in one area, but native in another. In parts of Montana, the brown trout is the invasive species and are out competing native cutthroat trout. I worked with a fish crew from the USGS to study the effects of this problem. We installed under water antennae that will scan and read trout that have been pit-tagged. Each pit-tag has a unique I.D. number which will be associated with a particular fish. Some of the data collected will include the time of day that fish swam over the antennae, and what direction they were traveling, whether it was upstream or downstream. This data is useful because it can show us how native species are being affected by the invasive species. The overall goal is to be able to come up with sound ecological solutions to help alleviate the problem.
Last Saturday Lewis and Clark hosted its annual July Trail Run which consisted of a 6K and a half marathon. Forty seven runners registered that morning and ran through the beautiful park to get the best time, enjoy their favorite trails, and get active. I helped out with the event by guiding runners at the turn around point for the half marathon. The half way point just so happened to be at Sunset Beach, therefore, I volunteered to dress as Sammy the Salmon jumping out of the ocean to cheer on the runners. Not only did I enjoy the excitement of working on the beach for the day but the runners appreciated my enthusiasm and enjoyed the funny sight of a dancing salmon. Some runners stopped to take pictures with me; others “gave me some fin” as they ran past. Park employees and volunteers gathered around at the finish line after their duties to cheer on the accomplished runners. The event was successful because of the teamwork among the various divisions that worked together seamlessly. I enjoy working at this park because of the people who work here. Everyone is friendly, helpful and the divisions work together to serve the visitors and care for the park lands. I have made great friendships with the people that I work with and joined them on adventures.
As a team bonding experience, two SCA interns, Hannah and Claire, and I went backpacking in the Mount Hood Wilderness. It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. The 10 mile hike on the Pacific Coast Trail with 80lb packs on our backs through blowdown, glacial
rivers, and switchbacks was exhausting yet so rewarding. I learned a lot about myself and my ability to adapt to my surroundings from this trip. Needless to say, I love it here and the summer is going by too fast!
Green turtles in the Caribbean feed selectively on the seagrass Thalassia testudinum; however, they do not graze at random. Rather, they maintain “grazing plots” of young blades of T. testudinum by consistently recropping them. By routinely cropping these plots, they’re increasing their protein intake while keeping lignin consumption low, essentially making their food more digestible. This grazing pattern also increases nitrogen content over time, yielding a higher nutrient diet. Lignin is a complex organic polymer deposited in the cell walls of many plants, making them rigid and woody. Also, lignin has been repeatedly identified as the major chemical component controlling the digestibility of cell walls; therefore making it more difficult to break down. In ungrazed blades of T. testudinum, lignin levels are 100% greater than in blades from grazed strands. When establishing a new grazing plot, green turtles will bite at the base of the tall T. testudinum blades and allow the upper, older portions that are high in lignin and covered in epiphytes to float away. Thus, the digestive efficiencies of green turtles and forage quality are enhanced by their specialized feeding behavior.
We have been placing stationary cameras in established grazing plots and have witnessed this maintenance behavior. I am excited to see what other behaviors we’ll be able to observe.
“Nothing is obvious to the uniformed”
A dedicated park volunteer told us this quote I really liked!
As I was walking slowly along the meadow and looking for butterflies I reflected on this. I am a person who at times finds it hard to speak up for myself but this quote really helped and made me realize there is no reason to not speak up for yourself after all, we are interning at national parks to learn!
I have really been enjoying the walks along the transects for my butterfly monitoring project. Before this summer, I had never walked along the path and paid attention to insects. Typically I would look up at the trees, look for birds at times, look for large wildlife, and look at the shrubs and grasses on the sides. Now, as I walk along trails even when I am not looking for these fairly small insects, I find myself paying attention to the smaller details that many people don’t usually find the time to stop and look at. This project has allowed me to slow down in this often fast paced world to observe and appreciate the little details.
About a month ago I visited the Santa Cruz River and observed all the different species of animals. Since then, I visited the river two more times and each time there was water. On July 6th I visited the river again. To my surprise the river had no water flowing in its banks. I have visited the Santa Cruz River many times in the year, especially during bird walks in the months of January through April, but I have never seen it dry. The celebration of the summer rains of El Dia de San Juan have passed and so far very little rain has fallen since. We may be looking at late monsoon this year.
Yet life is resilient. I walked to where the stream usually is and to my astonishment I saw jumping frogs. Then, I got startled by rustling leaves on the ground; it was a whip-tailed lizard (Cnemidophorus sonorae). Above me, I heard all kinds of singing birds. To my right was the sound of a well concealed Yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens). On top of
the Freemont cottonwoods (Populus fremontii) was a gray hawk (Buteo plagiatus) in search of its next prey. All over the river I could hear lesser goldfinches (Spinus psaltria). Life at the river continues its usual course, but for how long? Eventually we are going to need life’s most precious resource: water.
Precipitation levels across the West Coast during winter 2016/17 were among the record levels of my lifetime. Washington was not an exception, and snow in the high subalpine meadows that are the Cascades Butterfly Project’s focus remains solid, and still covers the ground. Where there is snow, plants will not grow. Butterflies that rely on nectar from those wildflowers under the snow are not quite ready to emerge for the season.
Though temperatures are high and the snow has been melting for months, the transects we are supposed to frequent are still devoid of the butterflies and wildflowers that we are interested in monitoring, and so we are not yet able to begin our official surveys.
That doesn’t mean we had nothing to do. While I waited for snow to melt, I was offered the opportunity to head back to North Cascades National Park to participate in a Canada Lynx monitoring project. The goal of the project is to capture photos of the lynx using cameras set on trails above 3000 feet in elevation, which is where researchers believe the lynx are using those trails to travel. Our job was to set the camera traps.
We set out on the long, narrow, and deep Lake Chelan in a ferry and arrived at a very small town called Stehekin, which would be our starting point. From there we split, each team of two equipped with cameras and destined for a different high elevation trail. The task had seemed simple when we discussed it prior to leaving: we take cameras up the mountain, camp, place them, and return. As we approached our hiking location, we learned that it wouldn’t be quite so simple. Our first day’s hike was only about 7 miles, but it climbed to an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet. This is nothing we hadn’t prepared for; the average elevation gain for trails heading up the mountains near Stehekin seemed to be around 1000 feet per mile. What we hadn’t prepared for was the temperature. It was about 97 degrees in the middle of the day and the climb; with heavy gear, a limited water supply, and under a tight schedule, was difficult. Heat seemed to radiate from everything, and shade was rare because the section of the forest we climbed through burned in the 2015 fires. We arrived at our destination, Juanita Lake, after dark and quickly prepared for the next day. Hiking on relatively flat trails to place cameras was a relief after a hard day. We later descended the mountain and swam in Lake Chelan before camping near Stehekin at Purple Point.
With the lynx cameras placed, I had the opportunity to participate in other exciting work near Stehekin. Roger Christopherson, Wildlife biologist at North Cascades, invited me to help him perform surveys on known Osprey and Bald Eagle nests in the area. In what was the highlight of my week, we hopped on an old boat with a big motor and a small hole in the floor to visit each of the nest locations. When we arrived at the first location we quickly learned that it would be nearly impossible to count the hiding nestlings from below the nests at lake level. I offered to hop out and check on the nests from above, so while Roger fished in the boat, I scaled the cliffs above the nests to get a better view.