The Wildlands Will Recover

Near the start of Winter Break, I was able to tag along on a walk-through of Crane Creek Regional Park, hosted by Hattie Brown of the Sonoma County Regional Parks, and John Parodi, with Point Blue Conservation Science. The primary reason for the trip was to discuss opportunities for students to get involved in fire recovery research, as parts of the park burned in the Nuns Fire last October. We did come up with some great ideas for student research, which I’ll talk more about during the Spring semester, when the research will be happening. For now, I thought I’d share some of my photos from that day.

The thing that struck me most is how undamaged most of the park appears. Already, the landscape is green, and there are very few obvious signs of the fire. As Hattie said while we were walking, “the wildlands will recover.”

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.


Salmonid Field Trip

Restoration Ecology’s final field trip of the Fall, 2016 semester was a wonderful adventure in the redwoods, looking at restoration projects aimed at restoring habitat for salmonid fishes, including chinook and coho salmon. Our hosts for the day were Sarah Phillips of the Marin Resource Conservation Department (RCD), Erik Young, a lawyer affiliated with Trout Unlimited, and Eric Ettlinger of the Marin Water District. Each of them shared with us a different perspective on the creek, and how restoration projects happen.

We started out in the Leo T. Cronin parking area for a brief introduction, and then we headed a bit downstream of the lot for our first close-up look at Lagunitas Creek.


There was an exciting moment at Lagunitas Creek, when a chinook salmon was spotted splashing around in the rapids – possibly digging out a redd in which to lay her eggs.

Next, we headed to Devil’s Gulch, where we ate our lunch, and learned more about the restoration work that’s being done on the creek. Primarily, we learned about the importance of installing woody debris, to restore “complexity” to the creek, which in turn provides a variety of habitat types that salmon (and other organisms) need in order to thrives. There’s a great article on the work that was done here in 2015 on the Trout Unlimited website.

One of the highlights of my day was seeing some old growth redwood trees. One of them had a hollow inside that was large enough to hold several people at one time.

If you’d like to read more about our day, some of my students wrote about this excursion on our Restoration Ecology Blog: Coming Together for the Coho Salmon, and Salmon Crossing.

Fostering Rodents

Here are some photos of a couple of my foster babies from a few years ago. Meet Gizmo, the vole, and Mortimer, the Deer Mouse. (There’s only one photo of Mortimer, when he was just SO tiny). Both of these babies were brought into the local wildlife rescue center (where I worked at the time as a feeder for all the rehab and ambassador animals), and I agreed to foster them. I don’t have a big enough place to foster larger mammals, like raccoons and squirrels, but tiny rodents? That I could do. I syringe-fed both of them several times a day (and during the night, at first), and they were both so incredibly precious. Gizmo was released by me into a local county park (Crane Creek; pictured below). Mortimer ended up self-releasing (in other words, he escaped. :D). I trust that both of them led happy, healthy lives. At least I hope that they did.


We get a lot of mammals at this center, but not very many rodents (other than squirrels, which we get in large numbers). I was side-eyed by several people for fostering MICE, since most people consider them vermin, and heaven knows we go through hundreds of feeder mice (received frozen from some laboratory) to feed the other foster animals (raccoons, foxes, opossums, the occasional coyote or hawk). What made these special enough to foster?

That question was easy for me to answer: the only reason these babies were in my care is that somebody came across them while out hiking or jogging or whatever, and cared enough to pick them up and bring them to the center. And that, to me, was really, really amazing. There was no way I would give these babies anything but the utmost I was capable of giving, knowing that someone else out there thought the life of “just a mouse” was worth saving. <3

Slug Appreciation Post!

Because slugs are adorable, and I love them. 😀

So, the first picture is one I took out on my back patio, of a pair of slugs who had just finished some frisky business. (At least I think that’s what they’d been doing. It sure looked like it).


The second photo is me, at my field site, joining the Banana Slug Club. (And I wasn’t the only one who kissed a slug that day. Far from it. This is a time-honored tradition here in California).


Finally, a different species of banana slug (from the one being kissed). I took that picture near Half-Moon Bay. And HOLY MOLY that’s one gorgeous slug!


Songbird Hospital

Guess what I did today! *hint: the pictures are a clue*

Yes, I spent the afternoon feeding baby birds! For the past four years, I’ve volunteered at a local wildlife rehabilitation center where we work almost exclusively with songbirds. This is the first shift I’ve worked this summer, because I’ve been busy with turtle stuff. But today, I finally made it out there, and I got to spend the day feeding the most adorable babies! (These aren’t the actual babies I fed; this is a compliation of some of the pictures I’ve taken in past years. But they’re representative of the different species I worked with today).

Today, I fed western bluebirds, white swifts, vaux’ swifts, mockingbirds, a black-headed grosbeak, American robins and four species of swallows (cliff, barn, violet-green, and rough-winged), and Pacific-slope flycatchers.

SO CUTE! Their little faces, their huge gaping mouths! I probably won’t do a whole lot of shifts this year, but I’m going back again next weekend. Because, BABIES!!!! (And also because the woman who runs the hospital is a good friend, and I like helping her out). Plus, BABIES!


CNPS Field Trip

Went on a field trip today with the local native grasslands society (California Native Plant Society), although the site we visited was already very familiar to me – it’s our Western Pond Turtle field site in Lake County, California. It was different being up there and *not* looking for turtles. I learned some things about plants (which is good; I’m ridiculously ignorant about plants), saw and heard a bunch of great birds (including pileated woodpeckers and MOUNTAIN QUAIL! Only the second time in my whole life I’ve ever seen mountain quail).

The star of the day, however, was this little ring-necked snake. Such beautiful colors. Now I’m really looking forward to the start of my field season less than a month from now.


Emerging Baby Turtles!

Last week, my lab partner and I went out to our field site to see if last year’s hatchlings had emerged yet from their nests. The female pond turtles lay their eggs in the early summer (June is the most active month at our site), and the eggs hatch approximately three months later. There is evidence that young don’t leave the nest, though, until after the winter, something we were able to confirm on our excursion today!

We were fortunate in being at the site at exactly the right time this year. We visited a few of the nests we’d located last summer, and found babies emerging from some of them. The sort of blurry photo shows the hole they had dug for themselves to emerge – I know it’s a crappy photo, but that really is a baby turtle inside. We also found a couple that were just in the process of coming out of the ground. It was a pretty amazing thing to witness.

Fairfield Osborn Preserve

Took my students on a field trip this week to one of my university’s nature preserves. We were mostly looking for signs of Sudden Oak Death on trees, but also managed to find some other really cool things. I’ll combine some photos from both days (I have multiple classes, so came out on two days).

The star of the show was this newt, which I’m calling a Taricha granulosa, or rough-skinned newt (I don’t think torosa are found this far south very often?), but I also loved the southern alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata), the trillium, the Pacific chorus frog (Pseudacris regilla), and the western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis), and whatever sort of gorgeous fungus that might happen to be.