Luis Garcia Falcon

Luis Garcia Falcon

On September 11-13th, a team of National Park Service staff, volunteers, and myself as the LHIP Science Communications and Resource Monitoring intern surveyed the Green River for Monarch butterflies at all life stages. We floated from the Gates of Lodore (River Mille 243) to Split Mountain Boat Ramp ( River Mile 200). The survey was completed with 15 instars in various stages, 15 eggs, and no adult monarchs. Monarchs in any of these life stages were last found at river mile 240. The survey began at the end of a major storm that brought winds of 50+ mph, below freezing temperatures along with snow and rain. On the 11th the weather began to clear up and temperatures rose steadily with an average of 75° until the end of the trip. Milkweed was spotted consistently from Gates of Lodore Canyon to Split Mountain; it did become patchy in areas like Echo Park, Whirlpool Canyon, and Split Mountain. However, there were not many plants in bloom with sporadic and few nectar sources along the river. The predominant nectar sources were rabbitbrush, goldenrod, and purple species of Asters. Several of the Milkweed showed signs of predation and even stem cutting that’s associated with 5th instars. As well some empty chrysalis and empty eggs were found below river mile 240.

Gates of Lodore Canyon (river mile 242-227) This is where we had the most success on various beaches with strong showy milkweed patches. The upper part of the canyon above Winnie's Rapid is where all instars and eggs were sighted.

Whirlpool Canyon (river miles 223-214) Little to no milkweed in the upper part of the canyon but the lower areas near Jones Hole had various sites with milkweed.

Island Park/Rainbow Park area (river miles 213-208) Had very few milkweed patches or desirable habitat for breeding. However, a good area for adults due to abundant nectar sources and roosting sites.

Split Mountain Canyon (river miles 207-201) Had few milkweed patches, mostly all in direct sun and tough. Not a lot of pollinator plants.

Comparing to last year’s Green River survey they were able to catch adults and observe Monarchs in all their life stages. However, they also noted the patchiness of milkweed along the riverbanks and had more success in capturing and tagging Monarchs. Likewise, the 2019 trip faced a similar bout of bad weather that included rains and lower temperatures. Additionally, since the 2019 trip departed at a similar date one can hypothesize that our low numbers, this year, are attributed to the severe storms that came through the area. That significantly and rapidly changed the climate conditions shocking the milkweed, nectar sources, and Monarchs themselves. If there is a 2021 survey, I hope it can be done in a similar time frame and with consistent weather (No storms), to serve as a control. That will either support the hypothesis or present new questions about how Monarchs move through Dinosaur National Monument.

To look back on the trip, a lot of questions come to mind. Did we not see any adults due to the weather? Were we too early or too late? Yet, it is hard to say what influenced the lack of sightings and why they stopped at Upper Lodore Canyon. It could be caused by the severe storm that rolled through the area and left a lot of the Milkweed flattened by the strength of the winds. Coupled with a sharp drop in temperature that decimated many of the pollinator plants and their flowers. Additionally, we will see another generation born on the river from the instars found that could make their way South and be tagged.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020 23:19

Electrofishing: The Easiest Way To Catch Fish

At Dinosaur I've had the great fortune of participating in numerous opportunities. I can now say that I've drawn blood from a Prairie Dog and tagged a Monarch. Yet, electrofishing was by far one of the most interesting experiences I've had, especially since it tested my hand-eye coordination. In the morning, I had the opportunity to meet the staff from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) that would be guiding us on our mission. On the excursion, were one biologist, two boat operators, and two technicians who have worked their way through the Green River surveying for native and nonnative fish. To monitor and manage the river’s fisheries and ensure that endangered native fish populations are healthy.

 

Before we could set off, the group had a safety discussion with a focus on electricity and water. So, the safety discussion mostly focused on electrofishing and how it works. Essentially, electrofishing is a tool to capture large quantities of fish for scientific research. It works by transmitting a charge of electricity between two metal balls that act as a cathode and anode, hanging off the bow of the boat. The amperage of electricity discharged between the cathode and anode is determined by the boat operator. It’s set to a level that temporarily shocks the fish allowing a technician enough time to scoop it into the boat. The shock is not strong enough to affect fish that are more than a couple of feet away from one of the balls. On larger fish, the shock would leave them shaking for a couple of seconds after pulling them out of the water. However, all the fish are safe and alive and return to the water once they’re processed.

 

Once on the river, the generator turned on and electricity flowed through the water. While standing on the bow of the boat with net in hand I assured that my feet were fully placed on a black mat. This mat acted as a kill switch incase someone were to go off the mat, it would turn off the electricity preventing someone from getting shocked. So, as I consciously tried to stay atop the mat my eyes were focused on the water below. As we moved down the river the water was mostly cloudy with only a few shallow areas that provided clarity. So, that required fast reactions when you saw a fish emerge shocked from the murky waters below as you attempted to net it as the fish, and you are both moving. This usually led to missing a lot of fish, especially when passing over a large group that shocked 5+ fish at once. Yet, we were still able to catch a large amount of native and nonnative fish.

 

When the boat collects enough fish it stops on a riverbank or sandbar and begins to process them. Usually 10-15 fish would be caught before stopping, to ensure that they would survive. Some of the native fish that were caught were Blue-Headed Suckers, Flannel mouth Suckers, and the endangered Razorback Sucker. The nonnative species that were caught included Smallmouth Bass and White Suckers. The process for the native fish began with checking fish for a PIT tag, if they have one it will read out a unique identifier. Once that data is collected the fish is then weighed, measured, and released. If the fish doesn't have a PIT tag one is put in and recorded, the PIT tags act as an electronic identifier of individual fish. If endangered species like the Razorback Sucker don't have a PIT tag one is injected, and a sample of the fine bone is taken for genetic testing. Nonnative fish have a different fate they are checked for a PIT tag, and then weighed and measured. After that they are killed to manage their populations and prevent dominance over native species. It is a sad fact of conservation that sometimes the best thing we can do for an ecosystem is to remove the flora and fauna that humans introduced.

 

Sunday, 16 August 2020 18:00

Prairie Dogs: Fighting the Sylvatic Plague

Prairie dogs (Cynomys leucurus) are a common sight throughout the West. You can find them in your yard or tearing up your field. They're almost as common as squirrels or raccoons. However, in their natural habitat, their lives are much more difficult. From fending off predators to habitat loss and disease. This particular species of prairie dogs is the white-tailed prairie dog. Like other prairie dogs species, their range and populations have drastically reduced, due to massive eradication efforts that began in the early 1900s. Yet, they are a resilient species and continue to thrive even though they once faced burrow poisoning and complete eradication from States like Wyoming.

Now, they face another existential threat. That comes in the form of a bacterial disease known as the Sylvatic plague. This is the same bacterium that causes the Black plague. If this plague is found in any individual prairie dog it can easily be transmitted across an entire population, with deadly results. Thus, Wildlife Scientist and Technicians in various agencies from NPS, BLM, and USDA are surveying numerous Prairie dog populations and vaccinating them against the Sylvatic plague.

But before they can set out the vaccines they must first capture as many Prairie dogs in the determined study area and collect various data points about each individual prairie dog. Once they are captured they're taken to the outdoor processing station to have their ears pierced with a numbered tag. The tag number is then marked on their heads. So, they can later be identified when they are recaptured in a month. After tagging their weight is taken and their sex is identified. Finally, blood is drawn to run various analyses and act as a control. They are then put back in their cage and soon dropped off at the burrow where they came from. This process is repeated on every individual prairie dog.

In a week from now, small gummy like vaccines will be left by their burrows. A month from then they will be recaptured and blood will be drawn again to see how many have taken the vaccine and given them a fighting chance against the Sylvatic plague.

 

Tuesday, 21 July 2020 22:25

Into Dinosaur: My First Two Days

Well, I finally made it to Dinosaur! Before I get ahead of myself, I am Luis Garcia Falcon. I am a passionate outdoors person, nature photographer, and advocate for preserving our natural treasures. This summer I will be continuing the Monarch project and doing science communication at Dinosaur National Monument located 25% in Utah and 75% in Colorado. As I am writing this, I have only been here for two days. It was a long trip to get here from Miami, Florida. However, the actual drive to the park was around 5 hours long and included a beautiful overlook of the Rocky Mountains and long stretches of lonely state highways.

The first two days at the monument have been amazing! On my first day, I met with my supervisor and we went over the various materials I will be using to survey the Monarch butterflies, measuring night sky quality, and all the general administrative tasks. Later in the day, my supervisor and I went up Harper's Corner Road to take in the sights and familiarize myself with the monument. One of the things you notice immediately is the livestock. Specifically, the cows that graze throughout areas within and outside of the park boundary. It was interesting to see the mixed use of resources in this area and looking forward to learning more about how it works. We stopped on Harper's Corner Road to take in the views of Echo Park in the canyon pictured below. 

On my second day in the park, I met with my supervisor at Josie Morris Cabin, which is on the Utah side of the park. This historic homesteading cabin was built-in an oasis, at least for Monarchs. This area is well-known as one of the most productive habitats for these butterflies. Since, it is near various water sources that create wet meadows and other riparian conditions that allow for various species of milkweed, Canada Thistle, Rocky Mountain bee-plant, and numerous other plants that Monarch’s need to use for feeding and various parts of their life cycle. Pictured below is an image of the first Monarch I tagged. 

Well, I hope I have more stories to share with y'all soon!

Thank you, 

Luis Garcia Falcon

Friday, 24 April 2020 00:03

Luis Garcia Falcon

I am a passionate advocate for the natural world and science communicator going to Dinosaur National Monument! I was born in Cuba and moved to the United States of America at the age of five. Now, I live in Miami, Florida where I spend the majority of my time in the Everglades, Florida Springs or Pine Rocklands photographing its unmatched beauty. I am a senior at Florida International University graduating with a bachelor's in Sustainability and the Environment. My interests include the full range of the environmental field from research and policy to communications. Specifically interested in how scientific data can be used to promote ethical and equitable conservation of natural resources and environmental justice of underprivileged communities. Once I graduate in Spring 2020, I will be going to Dinosaur NM to study the Monarch butterfly population of the Great Basin region, as well as to work with local communities and visitors to share the project and connect them with the natural resources around them. After the project, I want to continue my education towards a Ph.D. in the Environmental and Conservation field.