Copeland Creek Work Day

After months of planning, on Saturday, March 25, a group of volunteers gathered on the Sonoma State University campus to start the “muddy boots” part of our project to restore the riparian habitat along Copeland Creek. Over the past couple of weeks, our SSU project team identified native plants that we want to keep, and today our work team pulled up invasive species around these natives, to give them the best possible chance to thrive, and to make certain they’re not accidentally pulled up during a future phase of restoration work.  (All photos © the author, except where noted).

Our collaborators, Nick and Callie from the California Conservation Corps’ Watershed Stewards Program arrived first thing in the morning, to set up for the workday. SSU project team members Jessi and Jana walked through our project area and flagged the native plants where the clearing was to take place.

Just after 10:00 a.m. we got started. To a group of both SSU students and community volunteers, I gave a brief overview of the history of the creek, as well as our goal for the project as a whole. It turns out that, historically, there wasn’t actually a creek running through this part of the landscape . . . the creek ran down off nearby Sonoma Mountain, and spread out across a floodplain. This area would have been mostly wetlands, not dry land with a creek. So, our goal isn’t to try and restore this area to some previous “natural” state. Instead, we’re working to restore native vegetation, and encourage a habitat that supports a wide variety of native species, some of which we saw while doing our work (see this post for some photos of lizards and salamanders and things).

Then, everyone got to work! And boy, oh boy, did they work! We did take a break for lunch (sandwiches provided by Callie), but other than that, our team worked from 10 a.m. until about 2 p.m.

Sometimes you’ve just got to crawl right in.

Some of my intrepid Conservation Biology students tackled a huge patch of Oregon grape that was being choked out by Himalayan blackberry. This invasive non-native species of blackberry is one of our main targets for this project. We want to replace as much of it as possible with native species, but we need to do this in a way that won’t disrupt the existing ecosystem too much while the new species become established. Removing the blackberry from this particular patch was a great place to start, and definitely above and beyond what we’d hoped to accomplish today. Hector, Paolo, Andrew, William, and Vince did an amazing job of “grubbing” out the blackberry.

The “Dream Team”

Oregon Grape, after blackberry removal:

We accomplished more today than I thought possible. Sending out a huge thank you to our team, and to all the wonderful volunteers who came out and helped us get out Copeland Creek restoration project started! We hope to see you again on Earth Day, when we’ll work on the the next phase of our project.

Photo by Callie Grant


One of the things I struggle with periodically (or perhaps I should say I “refine” periodically) is my organizational strategy for keeping track of things on my computer, particularly teaching materials. I’ve been using Evernote for several years (I adopted the system in November, 2010, and have been using it consistently ever since), and as soon as I started teaching, I set up a system for those materials. I thought I’d share a little bit about the ways it’s working for me, and not working.

Here’s an overview of the system:

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Basically, I’ve got a notebook stack for each course I teach, and within the stack are notebooks for organizing various materials – a notebook for lectures, one for exams, one for course materials like syllabi, and a notebook for each individual semester I’ve taught the course, where I can archive correspondence I’d like to keep, or materials that I’ve changed significantly since using them in that semester.

So far, this seems to be working pretty well in terms of being able to find things when I need them. The weakest link here is my own negligence about always tagging things and putting them promptly into the correct notebook. But once I do that, it’s pretty easy to navigate instantly to the file that I want.

Originally, when I set this up I also had notebooks for images, but that started to get unwieldy very quickly (in terms of the number of images I was collecting). If I save ALL the photos and diagrams I have pulled off of websites, it gets out of control (I may find hundreds and hundreds of images in a single semester). So instead I’m saving only those that I think might be difficult to find in the future. A photo of a red-tailed hawk? I will always be able to google a replacement. An excellent diagram showing the life cycle of a snail? That might be more difficult to find again, so that’s one I’ll choose to keep.

One thing I may try and play with in the future: right now, when I’m preparing a powerpoint lecture to be delivered, I download it from Evernote, and store it in a folder on my desktop. It would be a lot cleaner, though, if I kept the files in Evernote and worked with them there . . . I may see if I can adjust to this workflow, and see if it makes things easier for me to find. I’m a bit concerned that I might accidentally overwrite a file that I still need . . . then again, that happens sometimes now, with my folder system, and at least in Evernote I would have the benefit of going back through the note’s history and possibly retrieving things I accidentally copied over.

In addition to a stack for each individual course, I have a stack of general refernences – things not tied to a specific course (like general correpondence with the university, letters of recommendation I’ve written for students, things like that). Again, I don’t have too many issues with finding things when I want them.

One thing I would like to get a better handle on is materials that I’ve found (usually on the internet), and am interested in reviewing, but I haven’t made the time yet to do that. Right now, they’re stashed in a few different places (some in Evernote, some in other folders in various places on my hard drive). I think the next thing I tackle will be a reorganization of those.

Anyhow, that’s the system I’m using right now. If anyone else out there is using Evernote in a different way, and has some tips to pass along, I would love to hear them!

Wildlife on Copeland Creek

On Saturday, March 25th, SSU collaborated with the California Conservation Corps’ Watership Stewardship Program to start work on our riparian restoration project (more details about the work we did on Saturday coming soon). One of the side benefits of working alongside the creek is encountering some of the wildlife that shares the campus with us. Here are a few of the highlights of our day . . .

Southern alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata): 

This gorgeous lizard was spotted in the middle of the bike path – one of the largest alligator lizards I’ve ever seen! What a gorgeous specimen!

Pacific chorus frog (Pseudacris regilla): We found more than one of these little cuties during our work day.

Slender salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus): At least 9 of these little amphibians were discovered while working in an area of about an acre. The one at bottom right is the smallest I’ve ever seen.

We also saw lots of great native plants and fungi.

While I didn’t get many photos of them, I did see or hear a wide variety of birds, including western scrub jay, red-shouldered hawk, brown towhee, Anna’s hummingbird, turkey vulture, wild turkey, and Canada geese.

Best of all, the creek is gorgeous right now, with a good amount of water after our recent rains.


Scientific Literacy

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 10.15.36 PMYou can’t have people making decisions about the future of the world who are scientifically illiterate. That’s a recipe for disaster. And I don’t mean just whether a politician is scientifically literate, but people who vote politicians into office.

~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

This is more relevant than ever right now, and it’s a very good motivation for me to remember that this is why I do what I do.

Create-An-App Workshop

Today, I attended the beginner level Create-An-App Workshop, put on by SSU’s Women in Tech program, and it was pretty cool! We were walked through the steps of creating an app for a whack-a-mole game on an Android phone, using the MIT App Inventor. The program was pretty simple to use, and it looks like it has loads of functionality. It took me about half an hour to create my MoleMash game:

One downside: this program only creates apps for Android phones – no iPhone support at this time. So, I can’t preview anything on my own phone, but there is an Android emulator (that’s what I used to make the video up above). I figure it’s still worthwhile to learn the basics – it’s a block-based program (see below), which I’ve not used before, so I’m going to play around with this a bit more and see what I can do with it.

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What else am I thinking about doing with the program? Right off the top of my head, I can imagine something that would allow students to complete short surveys (maybe to use after completing a group project, as a way of evaluating fellow group members). I might also be able to create apps for in-class active learning quizzes. It’s possible to generate a QR code that will be available for just 2 hours, so this might be useful when there’s something I want students to respond to in class (mini-quizzes, or something like that). I haven’t really thought about all the various ways this might be useful, but it feels pretty good to have gotten a little bit of experience under my belt.

Next up, I’m going to look into ways of doing this on an iPhone. But for now, a big THANK YOU to the folks who put on this workshop. I really enjoyed playing around with this software.

Copeland Creek

This is the stretch of Copeland Creek running through the Sonoma State University campus, right behind the Environmental Technology Center. In nearly 10 years on campus, I’ve never seen Copeland Creek with this much water, or running so fast. It was worth giving my Conservation Biology students a quick break so we could walk down and see the creek, and take a quick video.