Monthly Archives: August 2019

High Summer and Pan Traps

Summer Camp at dusk.

This past week I went to the Zumwalt with Dr. DeBano, Scott and James. We worked on the final sets of pan traps, plant sampling, and some minor soil sampling. On Friday, I joined Dr. DeBano and Scott at Starkey, where I helped Dr. DeBano with plant sampling while Scott hand netted bees and identified willows. 

Scott and James setting out pan traps.

We arrived at Summer Camp around 3pm on Monday.  Thankfully, the weather felt more like September than high summer, as temperatures hovered around 75 to 80 the entire week! While the breeze was occasionally stale, it felt like a gift compared to the previous summer. After getting settled at camp we began setting out pan traps. The pan traps are placed along the backbone of each transect, and are collected after 48 hours.  The traps are small containers painted with either yellow, white, or blue fluorescent paint and are filled with soapy water. We set out 10 sets of the 30 traps on the first day. 

On Tuesday, I partnered up with Dr. DeBano on plant sampling and quadrants.  I was the scribe, and as such got to record the various types and amounts of blooming plants found along each transect. It is the same data I have been entering for the last few weeks with Kaylee. I actually found it really enjoyable, since it helped reinforce my plant identification, and well…I like flowers. It was also interesting to see the difference between grazed and ungrazed sites, or burned and unburned sites. Most of what’s blooming is still Achillea millefolium, Pieride gardenii, and Erigeron corymbosus. 

Dr. DeBano working on quadrants.

As for the quadrant work I recorded the percentage of grass, bare ground, biological soil crust, feces, rock, or forbs within each sample.  The goal is to have the total equal to 100%. For instance, a sample could comprise of 25% forbs, 25% bare ground, and 50% grass. Dr. DeBano makes the estimates on all quadrants and transect sampling to avoid any bias. The quadrant is thrown about a meter from each whisker on the same transects we collect all the other data on. She avoids looking at where she throws the quadrant, so that she can eliminate any further bias.  

On Tuesday Scott and James witnessed quite the predator prey interaction. They described seeing a massive herd of elk near Harsin Butte acting strangely. The elk began panicking, bugling and separating. Scott and James then said they saw several canine figures below the herd. They’re fairly certain, due to the size and behavior of all parities involved, that they were watching a pack of wolves. Jealous is an understatement.

Duckett Barn

On Wednesday, Scott and I drove to The Nature Conservancy office in Enterprise to pick up a spare penetrometer.  We then went out to a few sites and measured soil compaction on obvious cow trails, then one and two meters off the trails.  We also measured soil compaction on Patti’s trail; which is a popular hiking trail near Harsin Butte. Scott was curious to see if there were any patterns from foot, and hoof, traffic at the sites. Around 3pm we then worked on collecting Monday’s pan traps.  We did however, get side tracked when we saw a large plume of smoke on the horizon. We drove up to Monument to get a better vantage point of the fire and to get cell service to call in the brush fire. Shortly after, we noticed a large amount of smoke coming from the Wallowa Mountains.  The larger fire near the mountains turned out to be the Granite Gulch Fire near Union. I went hiking Sunday in the Eagle Cap Wilderness and saw a large fire pop off within a drainage. Low and behold, it was the Granite Gulch Fire. I live about 10 miles from the 2,000+ acre fire, and it’s been exciting to see it transform over the last few days. 

Sunset on the hill above Summer Camp.

Since the fire frenzy set us back at least a hour, Scott and I had to work until we could no longer see.  It’s important to keep the data uniform, and so we needed to collect the last two sites of pan traps. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to give up on the last sets.  We decided to retrieve them early the next morning and just made note of the added two hours of daylight. We did, however, get to see another phenomenal sunset while looking for the little pink and yellow whiskers hidden between all the bunchgrass. The clouds once again transformed from a cool gray, to magenta, to a soft violet. 

This past week I also decided to camp in the field behind Summer Camp.  The last several field trips I’ve opted to sleep inside the Doctor’s Cabin as it was pretty hot out and the whole house was available. I’m honestly a little embarrassed to admit that the sound of coyotes yapping generally sends shivers down my spine.  But since reading more about them in my free time this summer (thanks Dan Flores), and just generally seeing them more since working on the prairie, I’ve become more tolerant of the sound. It was finally enjoyable, or at least comforting to hear their sounds from all directions while I was going to sleep. It served as a reminder that I’m sharing this space.  The cackling coyotes have transitioned from a warning sign to one of comfort: in that it tells me the prairie is a thriving, healthy habitat. 

The next two days we worked on picking up the remaining pan traps, and then picking up all the whiskers and flagging from the field season. This upcoming week I will be joining Scott on Tuesday and Wednesday on the Zumwalt, where we will be working with the emergence traps. The rest of the week will be spent working on data entry back in La Grande.  

Endless Data Entry

Zumwalt in June
Harsin Butte from the Salt Road. The hike to the top gives incredible views of the Seven Devils and Wallowa Mountains.

Not much new to share as I spent this past week in La Grande and worked on data entry. I spent part of the week inputting data at home, and the other part of the week working with Kaylee at EOU. We’re currently working on transferring all the hard copies to digital spreadsheets. Our focus right now is to transfer all the transect data and plant sampling. Each site at Starkey and on the Zumwalt gets recorded onto paper, is then counted, then recounted by somebody else for quality control, then entered into a spreadsheet, then recounted, and is finally ready for use.

Working with data sheets has reinforced the importance of spelling, clean handwriting, organization, and patience. Spelling and legible handwriting is crucial because it means the difference between inputting the wrong species or number. Organization is also important because if you aren’t careful you could easily mix up data within months, sites, or even years. And patience is imperative because it gives you clarity and focus. It’s tedious work, and even once I get into the rhythm of it I still need to take lots of visual breaks. I’m not sure if everyone else struggles, but my eyes get sore easily and begin to play tricks on me. For instance, 575 ends up reading as 557. So, I’m trying to double check as best I can, and to be kind with myself.

I will say that the data entry has helped with pronunciation and spelling of all the various species. We’ve also already noticed many of the plants occur at every, or most sites. Achillea millefolium seems to be a stable for each transect. It’s also interesting to see many of the plants go into bloom. For example, Geranium viscosissimum (sticky geranium) seemed to rapidly increase by the end of June. We also noticed the wide variance in species richness from Starkey verses the Zumwalt. In the grand scheme of things the two areas are relatively close in proximity, but so vastly different in diversity!

I will be back on the Zumwalt this week with Dr. DeBano, Scott, and James. We should be back in town Thursday evening, and I will be joining Scott in Starkey Friday. Since, I didn’t take any glamorous photos of data sheets or Excel, I’ve decided to post a few more flowers that are common on the prairie.

Scientific name: Castilleja, Family: Scrophulariaceae, common name: paintbrush
Scientific name: Tragopogon spp., Family: Asteraceae, common name: salsify
Scientific name: Cirsium brevifolium, Family: Asteraceae, common name: Palouse thistle
Scientific name: Ventanata dubia, Family: Poaceae, common name: ventanata, African grass
Scientific name: Delphinium bicolor, Family: Ranunculaceae, common name: little larkspur

Soil, Soil, Soil

This past week I went back to the Zumwalt to finish up soil sampling with Scott and Kaylee. One of the work vehicles broke down near Meacham, so the other crew borrowed the Suburban that we normally take into the field (the same one that had a flat tire the previous week). Thankfully, Dr. Morris (La Grande campus) let us borrow one of her trucks for the week.  It is an older manual, three seater truck; which her crew has affectionately knick named Lurch. Scott then met Kaylee and me in La Grande in our crew’s Impala. Because I have limited experience with manual transmission I opted to drive the Impala out to the prairie. And since the Impala has minimal ground clearance we only drive it up to summer camp. So, the rest of the time was spent squeezed into Lurch.

Scott checking on the contents of one of the emergence traps.

After we set up camp and got settled into the new (to us) truck we began finishing up all the soil sampling at the remaining plant transects, and then went to the emergence traps. From the outside, the emergence traps look like miniature tents with a wire casing.  But they are actually used to collect data about ground nesting bees and other various invertebrates. The traps are set out each spring and then collected near the fall. They are all in the same vicinity, but spaced 90 meters apart. Inside each of the traps are two plastic containers used to trap the insects, with one of the containers full of alcohol. In total there are 40 traps, and 38 of them were set out on the prairie this spring, as two of them were unrepairable. 

Carcass beetles found within one of the emergence traps. We were unable to collect any data from this trap.

This is also the second year Dr. DeBano has used the emergence traps, so the project is still in the early stages.  Scott stated that they weren’t especially successful with the data collected last year. Unfortunately, this year seems to be even less fruitful.  Of the 38 traps installed on the prairie we’ve already had about 15 destroyed by cattle so far. The cattle are a different breed than last year, and have been especially curious. The cattle gnaw on the wire and inevitably get their horns stuck. I’ve seen the wire casing thrown meters from the trap. Some of the actual fabric has been torn as well.  The cattle have also tried to consume the plastic whiskers used at the plant transects. While frustrating, at least the lost or moved whiskers are cheaper and easier to replace than the emergence traps.  Scott has spent countless hours constructing and repairing the emergence traps, so I do feel bad that he is seeing little reward for his efforts. In addition to curious cattle, some of the traps were also infested with carcass beetles or various plants.  The carcass beetles feast on the other insects, and thus make the data useless. And because the traps act as tiny green houses, they become a heaven for various grasses and forbs. These plants then crowd out the trap and non of the insects are captured in the traps.

Contents from one of the emergence traps.
Bumble bee in the morning.

Despite the setbacks, there was still a lot to learn. For instance, the traps are surrounded by a wire shell, and are then held in place with T posts. The traps that were rectangular seemed significantly less sturdy than the prism shapes. I’m not sure if this is from the change in shape, or change in material, but whatever it was it kept the cows at bay. The traps are also set out where Heidi Schmalz did a research project for her thesis a few years ago.  She worked on classifying the various soil types on the prairie, so our data collected over the last few weeks was used in part to recreate her study. Unlike the plant transects locations, where we purposely collected VWC and soil compaction a few meters from the whiskers, we collected data from within the emergence traps. This is so that we could get data for the exact location.  

The Milky Way from Summer Camp. Photo taken by Scott Mitchell.

The prairie continues to change each week as well.  While this past trip was exceptionally hot and dry, it was still considerably cooler than a year ago.  And as for biomass, all that seemed left was mostly yarrow, crispy buckwheat, and ventenata. We did see many more deer, elk, and birds of prey. And the coyotes were vocal as ever. There’s also still many bees roaming the prairie, and it’s quite fun to see them still gorging on the remaining forbs. I realized that I moved to Oregon one year ago this week. It feels like a far cry from western Washington, let alone Florida. It is truly special that I get to live and work in such a unique place. I’m also currently reading American Serengeti by Dan Flores, and his portrayal of grasslands is only helping to increase my admiration for the landscape and animals that inhabit it. This next week I will be doing data entry with Kaylee, and will then be joining Scott at Starkey and possibly the Umatilla River for willow identification. 

Harsin Butte and Findley Butte. Harsin caps out around 5,000 feet and offers incredible views of the Seven Devils and Wallowa Mountains.