Pinnacles, Plants, and Peregrines: A Camping Adventure

A ladybug on a plat with white flowers and a light green stem. Its head is covered in light yellow pollen, and some grains are also on its body..

Pinnacles, Plants, and Peregrines: A Camping Adventure

In mid-June, I had the opportunity to join a four-day camping trip to Pinnacles National Park, where I spent time with the botany, raptor, and riparian monitoring teams to learn about their research and collect media materials. Below are some highlights and observations from each of these field work experiences!

Plant Community Monitoring

Highlight: Taking time to closely observe Pinnacles’ many grassland species. 

Upon first glance at the botany team’s survey plot, the area—surrounded by sculpturesque rock formations and the craggy Gabilan Mountains — looked to me like a homogenous field composed of the same sweeping yellow grass. 

As with many things, I learned that one just needs to look a little bit closer to find that there is always more than first meets the eye. The botany team laid out a transect and did quadrat surveys to determine species richness and diversity. Within the survey area, there was an assortment of plants, including the common wild oat (Avena fatua) which predominated the area, pungent-smelling vinegar weed (trichostma lanceoltum) and thorny orange-yellow tocolote (Centaurea melitensis).  

A hand holding a large pinecone.
Holding a huge cone from a gray pine (Pinus sabiniana)—the only cone-bearing tree in Pinnacles National Park. (NPS / Environment for the Americas / Avani Fachon)
A plant with a burgundy colored stem and buds. A couple of pink flowers are on the lower half of the stem.
An elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) plant. (NPS / Environment for the Americas / Avani Fachon)

Prarie & Peregrine Falcon Monitoring

Highlight: Spotting prairie falcon fledglings stretching their wings and having a meal!  

Along with wildlife biologist, Gavin Emmons, and condor monitoring intern, Idangie, I hiked through dense chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) shrubs exploding with pollen, on a mission to observe a prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus) nest. For the past months, Gavin has been monitoring this nest and watching the chicks grow. We were visiting to see whether the birds had finally fledged—and they had! Three were perched around the rocky cliff nesting sites, and feasting on a ground squirrel, which had been delivered to them by a parent. Afterwards, we also checked peregrine falcon, red-tailed hawk, and red-shouldered hawk nests. 

Two people sit on a large rock and look out with binoculars towards a landscape filled with green-yellow shrubs and dried grasses.
Wildlife biologist, Gavin Emmons, and condor monitoring intern, Idangie, observe prairie falcon fledglings through their binoculars. (NPS / Environment for the Americas / Avani Fachon)

Riparian Habitat Monitoring

Highlight: Meeting Lilley and Kaity and seeing a group of tadpoles! 

Riparian interns, Lilley Brookshire and Kaity Bocik, demonstrated the process of conducting surveys of riparian ecosystems, including noting plant species growing in the area, and doing transects to measure the stream’s width, canopy cover, and gravel size. We even caught a glimpse at Pinnacles’ only native fish, the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), and a group of tadpoles gliding in a pool of water.

Young woman looks into a white curved tube and holds a metal pole. She is wearing a gray broad-rimmed hat and a gray field shirt with a National Park Service logo patch on the sleeve.
Riparian intern, Kaity Bocik, looking through a densitometer (aka a “moosehorn”) to measure canopy cover over the stream. (NPS / Environment for the Americas / Avani Fachon)
A ground-level view of a green plant with light shining through it.
As part of their surveys, the riparian team notes the types of species growing in riparian zones. (NPS / Environment for the Americas / Avani Fachon)

Spending time with each of these field teams and having a glimpse into Pinnacles’ fascinating biodiversity and geomorphology was an enriching experience, and I hope to visit again in the future! 

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