A Belated California Goodbye

Bye Ivan

Eric, probably

It’s been a very long time since I last posted, and the internship has ended :( , but I am resolved to chronicle my experience for posterity, future generations, and personal satisfaction. For any faithful readers out there, consider it an early Christmas present. I’m not feeling very loquacious today, so I won’t be writing out lots of words. Lots of pictures though, so if we use the picture-to-word conversion this could be a book.

The last thing I shared was butterfly season, which ended in late May. It’s December now, so I have a lot to cover. Follow along with me as I go month by month through some of the highlights in my camera roll.

End of May

 Spring is when most of our plants are blooming, so it was the best time to count some rare ones when they were at their most visible. We were monitoring two populations we had supplenmented earlier in the winter: Hosackia gracilis (harlequin lotus) and Potentilla hickmanii (hickman’s potentilla). It was neat to once again be able to interact so closely with plants that I otherwise would never have seen.

In other news, I had been studying all year and finally took the exam to become a Certified Pesticide Applicator in the state of California. Hooray for education and certification!


June started with a little biomonitoring project. The fire road up Montara mountain was hammered by the winter rains, so the state fire department took it upon themselves to widen and rehabilitate the road. Part of the path is on Park property, so my team surveyed to make sure there were no active bird nests or special status species in the project footprint. And I got to watch the magic happen, since I was a “subject matter expert” and necessary in case anything went downhill. Nothing went downhill, so I just got to watch the masticator in action. A real showcase of heavy machinery!

In more regular work, we visited our experimental planting plots to see how our grass grew. We had five different treatments to see which ones grew more desired grasses and less unwanted grass. I have no results to report, only a personal victory; I was pleasantly surprised by how much grass and other small plants I could identify and differentiate.

Aiko peering through her binoculars at the male Spotted Owl

In less regular work, I tagged along with the wildlife interns, Aiko and Isabella, for a Northern Spotted Owl survey. We hiked up some steep hill and looked around for a while, but the forest was quiet. Pretty disappointing, but as we were leaving a female owl called from nearby and came into view!  She made her way over to where we had been searching earlier and sat up on a branch. It seemed like every other bird in the forest didn’t want her to be there, because they were mobbing and calling and swooping in close (but never close enough to put themselves in danger). We soon found the male, who was less vocal and mostly left alone.   

The owl peering back at Aiko through the binoculars

To finish my June reporting I’ve got two standout stories. The first one happened on a weekend hike to Cataract Falls with other interns. We stopped at the top of the trail to eat lunch by the creek and immerse ourselves in the tiny lives of the insects on the watery rocks. There was a quick splash and we saw a snake and a fish embroiled in battle; snake jaws locked on a fish larger than its head. We watched for at least 30 minutes as they went from the main channel to the shallows to the bank where the fish seemed to give in to exhaustion, only to thrash suddenly and continue the fight. It was truly the stuff of nature documentaries. The next standout was Eric showing his botanical wizardry. According to him, he was taking his lunch break at a work site and caught his eye on a plant that seemed different. He recognized it as the supple daisy, a rare little flower, even though it was 50 miles south of its known range. A new range expansion is always impressive, but adding to that is the fact that the plant is very unremarkable, as small as a pinky finger, and looks very similar to the dozens of other little yellow flowers on the surrounding landscape. Our team went out later to survey the population, and we found four individuals total, all within six feet of where Eric discovered the first one. The spirit of flora was upon him, and he once again proved himself to be a beast of botany, a hero of horticulture.

Both warriors resting before the next furious exchange


This month had no regularity to it. All the EFTA interns went to Washington DC for a week for the professional development conference. It was a lot of fun and very affirming to see the work of all the MIS and LHIP interns around the nation. People do really cool things.

It was grunion season, and they needed to be surveyed. Grunions are silvery fish that spawn (mate) only at high tide during a new or full moon. Spooky! They wash up in a big wave and bury their lower body in sand to lay their eggs. The next big wave pulls them back into the ocean. The next high tide+moon combo stimulates the eggs to hatch so the newborns can catch the water and make their way into the deep blue. Hydrology intern Maya was in charge of the grunion surveys this year, going out every spawning night to count the fish and record the timing of the peak grunion activity. Everyone else had the chance to join on one or more surveys to help out, and I jumped at the opportunity. High tide was 12:30 on the night I went out, so we got to the beach at midnight to prepare the welcome. We scurried about for the next hour and a half, watching the silver slivers flop around between waves.  

Part of July was spent collecting samples from creeks around the park sites in San Mateo County sites as part of a larger monitoring project for the whole park. The water was sent through a filter to catch any particles, and the particles were sent off to the Lab. This was for a newer monitoring technique that uses environmental DNA, or eDNA, to detect organisms in the watershed. A frog or fish upstream loses a tiny amount of mucus or skin or other things, and that can be caught in the filter and detected. It is much more efficient than needing to physically catch the animals, allowing for a faster, broader survey.

 I got to go back to Phleger Estate! For those of you following my journey, the March section of my “What Spring Bringed” post talked about the creek that was heavily impacted by the winter storms. This month I went out with the water interns, Matt (aquatics) and Maya (hydrology), to map the habitat in West Union Creek. We donned waders and walked up the creek, recording the category of each section into things like ‘pool,’ ‘riffle,’ and ‘flatwater.’ This information is useful for knowing where different animals are likely to be in what spots along the creek. The next day Matt and I put on wetsuits and snorkeled a set number of different habitats looking for fish. It was very fun and we looked very silly.

Outside of work, I went on a weekend backpacking trip to Big Sur with some of the other interns. Neat!


August was inundated with cameras. The San Mateo team and the Wildlife team combined to set up an array of wildlife/trail cameras at Rancho Corral de Tierra in order to inventory animals in the area. They had been planning for a while on the best and most accessible places to set up in a grid across at least 9km square, and it was finally time to deploy. We spent a week hiking around the Rancho trails, following protocol and searching for breaks in the scrub that would be good for a camera. It was a lot of small mountain hiking, but we got them all set up. The header picture for this post is the view from the top of the mountain after we walked up it.

I was tasked with another camera project, this time for smaller animals like snakes, frogs, and even rodents. Following instructions from the state department of fish and wildlife, I built little boxes to hold a camera 2 feet up facing the ground, as you can see from the pictures. I spent a week or so perfecting the design, building more, and adding a fancy exterior look. I also put some cover boards together to put near the cameras, since cold-blooded animals like to be underneath the boards. We deployed these “herp cams” near the wildlife cams at some of our wetter spots. Along with the camera box, we set up a drift fence to shepherd the animals to the box, onto the red carpet, and out of the exit at the back of the box.

September and October

This month was a continuation of the camera work of August. We finished setting up our final cameras Then, we did our initial camera checks and got some initial pictures! Very exciting.

Wildlife gallery:

Herp gallery:

There was a lot of prep work for the impending federal shutdown, but that was delayed. I worked on making maps and guides to our cameras to improve ease of access, especially for someone unfamiliar with the territory. I also spent time in the shop organizing, sharpening tools, and patching waders.

The reality of leaving was starting to set in, so we at the dorm tried to cram in as much fun as we could: lots of beach days, a trip to Point Reyes, tide pooling, and a visit to the jelly belly factory.

I spent my last field day at Rodeo Lagoon netting for Tidewater Gobies with Darren, Maya, and Aiko. It was a relaxing day, and very representative of my year at GOGA: a breathtaking landscape doing hard, good work, with good people. I think I’ll end this pretty quickly. This internship was unspeakably wonderful, and so was everyone I met. Leaving was sad, but the right kind. Here’s the rest of what I had in my camera.

1 Comment
  • Elora
    Posted at 19:10h, 14 December

    Great post as always Ivan. A joy to read