An unexpected adventure of my summer internship so far has been tagging along with Taylor Ellis, a park wildlife technician, for a Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) survey.

The Northern Spotted Owl is threatened under the Endangered Species Act as a result of timber harvesting and land conversions causing the loss of habitat. Recently, competition from encroaching barred owls has also caused a decline in spotted owls across most of their range. Barred owls are larger than spotted owls and more aggressive and have a broader diet which makes them more resilient to declines in habitat quality.

Diego Morales and Taylor Ellis in the field (Photo by Kevin García López)
Diego Morales and Taylor Ellis in the field (Photo by Kevin García López)

At the first site, the search for Northern Spotted Owls took us far off-trail with the most intense bushwhacking I have ever experienced. We scaled down a ravine, over a creek, and clambered back up the other side chasing the hoot of an owl in the distance. Luckily poison oak was absent here, but the thorns of blackberry bushes created some uncomfortable situations. After 90 minutes of crunching branches and weaving through shrubs, we reached them: two Northern Spotted Owl adults! The birds were magnificent, and we spent some time watching their behavior and taking down data.

Northern Spotted Owl (Photo by Kevin García López)
Northern Spotted Owl (Photo by Kevin García López)
Kevin García López and Taylor Ellis in the field (Photo by Diego Morales)
Kevin García López and Taylor Ellis in the field (Photo by Diego Morales)

After hiking out and driving a short way, we had lunch before quickly heading off to the second site. Here, we hiked under barbed cattle fencing and down a fern-covered slope. Along this path, I noticed poison oak and made extra care to choose my movements carefully. The trek to the nest was only 30 minutes, but after the tiring morning at the first location, I was very glad once we reached the second destination. Here, we encountered two adult Northern Spotted Owls and a fledgling in a nest. The spotted owl survey was quite the adventure, making for a very memorable and tiring day.  

Diego Morales climbing down a fern-grown slope (Photo by Kevin García López)
Diego Morales maneuvering a fern-covered slope (Photo by Kevin García López)
Northern Spotted Owl (Photo by Kevin García López)
Northern Spotted Owl (Photo by Kevin García López)

More recently, Kevin García López and I developed and provided programming for a YMCA summer camp group visiting the park. Kevin taught the Kindergarten through 2nd grade children how to use binoculars, and I took them on a hike to learn about earthquakes. The programming ended with a Junior Seashore Ranger ceremony for all the campers, and all of their smiles receiving their patches was an amazing experience.

Diego Morales explaining baleen whales to YMCA campers (Photo by Carlo Arreglo)
Diego Morales explaining baleen whales to YMCA campers (Photo by Carlo Arreglo)
Diego Morales and Kevin García López showing animal skulls and pelts to YMCA campers (Photo by Carlo Arreglo)
Diego Morales and Kevin García López showing animal skulls and pelts to YMCA campers (Photo by Carlo Arreglo)
Diego Morales explaining earthquakes to YMCA campers (Photo by Carlo Arreglo)
Diego Morales explaining earthquakes to YMCA campers (Photo by Carlo Arreglo)

Now more than halfway through the summer, thank you for checking in here, and be sure to tune in next week for more stories and pictures! Please feel free to leave any questions and comments below!


Diego Morales

Diego was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and is an undergraduate student in the Society & Environment major and Anthropology minor programs at the University of California at Berkeley. This summer he is interning as an interpretation and resource education assistant at Point Reyes National Seashore in the interpretive department. Before Point Reyes, Diego spent a semester as an Every Kid in a Park intern at Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historical Park. A more long-term educational and career goal of his would be to bridge and solve environmental and social issues being faced, ideally as an environmental lawyer.

1 Comment

Mar · July 7, 2019 at 3:23 am

Very cool, nice owl pictures.

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