Float like a Butterfly, Stink like a Weed
I had my first day out in the field, but I headed away from shorebirds and the water and up into the mountains, San Miguel Mountain to be exact (part of the SDNWR). I went out with the US Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist from the SDNWR to check on the status of an invasive weed, Oncosiphon piluliferum. It’s commonly known as stinknet due to its pungent and unpleasant aroma. We discovered that the weed was well contained on the shoulder of the service road leading down from the mountains, and the seedlings were relatively small so a little maintenance to get rid of them should do the trick.
We then proceeded up to the habitat of the Quino Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha quino), which selectively lays eggs on the California Plantain plant (Plantago erecta). This butterfly is a part of the brushfoot family and is federally endangered due to severe habitat loss from urban development. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to combat declining population numbers through a rehabilitation program where larvae are released into the wild in the hope that they can successfully reproduce in the coastal sage scrub habitat of San Miguel Mountain.
I have zero experience with butterfly surveys or butterfly identification, but I was able to learn the Quino’s three key characteristics for identification relatively quickly, those being a rounded forewing, a red medial band, and orange abdomen stripes. Despite the less than stellar conditions (butterflies like it when it’s warm out and the sun was barely fighting off the cloud cover), I managed to get a good look at two Quino Checkerspots, while also being able to differentiate them from other butterflies. It was eye-opening to see what the specifics of being a wildlife biologist entail, as weed mapping and butterfly surveying are two completely different things. It really showed me why wildlife biologists are required to take so many semester hours of certain classes. I definitely did not take a botany or an entomology class so I felt a bit unprepared, but experiences like this are important to really find out what you don’t know. To read more about the Quino Checkerspot check out this link: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2017/mar/27/rare-butterflay-returns-san-diego-national-widllif/
I also got to tag along with Earth Discovery Institute (EDI) and their environmental education instructors as they brought out some 4th and 5th graders all the way from Campo, CA. I got to go out on a bird walk with a small group of the kids, where I helped them identify House Finches, Northern Mockingbirds, Great Egrets, a Long-billed Curlew, and a Great Blue Heron. Other activities included arts and crafts inspired by the bird walk and looking at different bird skulls. You can take a look at all of EDI’s great work and mission statement here: http://earthdiscovery.org/science-service-learning/
See you all next time!