Find Your Roots at the Antioch Dunes (2015)


Throughout February and March this year, wildlife biologists at the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge will be hosting their annual planting parties to plant seedlings of the endangered  Antioch Dunes evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides howellii) and Contra Costa wallflower (Erysimum capitatum angustatum), and the Antioch Dunes buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum psychical), the host plant of the refuge’s endangered Lange’s metalmark butterfly (Apodemia mormo langei).

ADEPrimrose_IMG_9664_smThese three plants are exclusively found at the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in Antioch, California, where years of sand mining at the Antioch Dunes has pushed these plants and the Lange’s metalmark butterfly nearer to extinction.

That’s why refuge staff need your help planting seedlings to bolster the refuge’s plant populations. In addition to the three dates below, refuge staff are open to special arrangements for groups of 10+ between now and March 31:

  • Friday, February 13th – 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  • Friday, February 27th – 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 7th – 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Newcomers and veterans alike are welcome to participate, but children under 18 years must be accompanied by 1 responsible adult per 10 students. Volunteers are cautioned to wear layered clothing in anticipation of the unpredictable cold, wind, or listless heat; sturdy shoes/boots and long pants (jeans) for uneven terrain and spiky weed seeds; knee-pads; sun-protection (e.g. sunblock, sunglasses, hat) and plenty of water; and your lunch.

If you are interested in volunteering for the February/March planting parties, please contact Susan Euing (by email at or by phone at (510) 521-9716). If you leave a message, please leave your name, phone number and email address, and Susan will contact you as soon as possible to confirm.

For more details and directions, visit the refuge website:

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that writing about the Lange’s metalmark butterfly and the Antioch Dunes for Bay Nature magazine in 2005 was the genesis behind my children’s book, Sardis and Stamm. You can read more about the book – and order a copy for your shelves – here:

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The 2015 Jepson Herbarium Workshops

The Friends of the Jepson Herbarium recently announced the program for The Jepson Herbarium Workshop’s 2015 series on botanical and ecological subjects. These programs are open to the general public and consist of basic, introductory one- to four-day basic botany workshops and more technical one- to five-day weekend workshops.

The basic botany series includes “Introduction to Plant Morphology” and the not-to-miss “Fifty Families in the Field: Introduction to Keying,” an excellent workshop I had the pleasure of taking in 2007 with instructors Linda Beidleman (co-author of Plants of the San Francisco Bay Region: Mendocino to Monterey) and – in the past, but perhaps not this year – the ever-entertaining Richard Beidleman (author of California’s Frontier Naturalists, reviewed with great enthusiasm here). Among this year’s technical weekend workshop series are such select, wonkish offerings as “Lycophytes: Past and Present,” “Botanizing Baja California,” “Inventorying the Floristic Frontier: A Botanical Expedition into the Eastern Mojave Desert of California,” “Strange Soils and Unknown Plants: Botanical Documentation in the Trinity Alps,” and in a break from the botanical, “Fire Ecology in the Central Sierra Nevada,” “California Naturalist Training,” and “California’s Native Bees: Biology, Ecology, and Identification.”

The workshops run throughout the year, but class sizes are limited and waiting lists back up quickly. Sign up soon.

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Rare Pond Species Survey Techniques Workshop 2015

RarePond2014This spring, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and The Wildlife Project are back at it, sponsoring the Rare Pond Species Survey Techniques Workshop, March 28-29, 2015 at the Laguna Environmental Center, Santa Rosa, CA. Workshop instructors Dave Cook and Jeff Alvarez will cover aquatic survey techniques for California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), California red-legged frog (Rana draytoni), and western pond turtle (Clemmys marmorata). After-hours field trips will provide hands-on experience with all three species, including dip net sampling, spotlight surveys, and visual encounter and trapping.

Dave and Jeff, whom I’ve known for years, are experienced herpetologists who have logged inestimable hours in the field between them studying these species. Their knowledge is priceless, but the workshop worth every penny.

You can learn more about the workshop by downloading the informational flyer or visiting the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation website.

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California Tiger Salamander Terrestrial Ecology Workshop 2015

CTS_TerrestrialThis spring, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and The Wildlife Project are sponsoring the California Tiger Salamander Terrestrial Ecology Workshop, March 27, 2015 at the Laguna Environmental Center, Santa Rosa, CA. Workshop instructors Dave Cook and Jeff Alvarez will cover the terrestrial ecology, land use management, and regulations of the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), as well as a review of the species’  biology, upland habitat use, and migration patterns; the theory and design of roadway under-crossings; pitfall trap arrays design; Agency-approved survey protocols; and implementing and monitoring land use management practices. The afternoon will consist of field trips that will provide training and hands-on experience. A pitfall trap and fence array will be constructed by attendees. Three CTS tunnel systems along roadways will be visited and discussed. Instructors for this workshop include Dave Cook and Jeff Alvarez. An afternoon field trip will provide training and hands-on experience with the species, as well as pitfall trap array construction and a visit to three roadway under-crossings.

You can learn more about the workshop by downloading the informational flyer or visiting the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

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Book Review: Painting the Cows and Adventures in Conservation

Painting the CowsPainting the Cows: Twenty Years of Wildlife Conservation in California and the West, by T.A. Roberts, John Daniel & Company (, 1998, 176 pages, $14.95

Adventures in Conservation: Painting the Cows and Other Tales, by T.A. Roberts, Stone Wall Press, Inc., 1989, 174 pages, $12.95

I first discovered the work of Thomas A. Roberts several years after I settled in as a wildlife biologist. I can’t remember how I came by Painting the Cows, but I still recall my delight as I devoured and relished his writing. Later, when I loaned my copy out, I did so reluctantly – eager to share with friends a new author, concerned the book would get lost in circulation (… it did). Even though it gathered dust on a friend’s shelf for several years, upon its return Painting the Cows reassumed its rightful place with the other formative books in my personal natural history library – titles like Song of the WhaleMind of the Raven, and Never Cry Wolf that first breathed life into the job title ‘wildlife biologist’ long before I ever set foot in the field.

Roberts, wearing the hat of both wildlife biologist and forest ranger in Adventures in Conservation and its successor, Painting the Cows, revisits his years in the field with wonder, humility, and self-effacing honesty. Whether he’s setting controlled burns or smothering tempers (sometimes his own), driving a desk or driving a pickup, Roberts’ ruminations on the field of wildlife conservation are tempered by his insight into Nature and the human condition. In each story about the wild outdoors, Roberts lets slip how too often his battles are fought in the untamed wildland-urban interface of town hall meetings and written reports.

Roberts’ crisp writing is both evocative and grounded, describing a treed mountain lion “yawning improbable ten-penny fangs,” or decrying Idaho’s Snake River as a “century-long experiment to turn southern Idaho into a soil/fertilizer/pesticide slurry” such that “the state had gained world-class potatoes and a motto for its license plates, and lost the kind of locale National Geographic does specials about.” Subjecting himself to the same raw scrutiny, Roberts describes his participation in a mountain lion capture as “the kind of thing I wanted [my son] to think I did for a living,” or admits his personnel management style “was to delegate as much as possible, since I learned so much better from other people’s mistakes than I did from my own.”

AdventuresinConservationAmong the gems in Adventures in Conservation and Painting the Cows are “The Great Mule Deer Smorgasbord,” detailing Roberts’ Rube Goldberg attempts to catch a deer;  “Playing God in Montana,” in which wildlife becomes a straw man for a community’s concerns about the development of a proposed church headquarters along the Yellowstone River; and “Moment of Truth,” where Roberts’ mettle as a biologist is put to the test when the businessman side of the business asks too much of him. But don’t be mistaken. Although those stories stand out, each story in these anthologies is outstanding, making either book an upstanding gift for anyone with a hankering for wildlife biology.

And if you find yourself enchanted with Roberts’ writing, don’t overlook his fiction, an oeuvre of mysteries published over the years (Shy Moon, the Edgar Award-nominated The Heart of the Dog, and Beyond Saru) that peaks with his latest installment, Drake’s Bay, set in the San Francisco Bay Area (reviewed here).


(Disclaimer: Reviewer Matthew Bettelheim and Thomas A. Roberts have recently joined forces as co-editors of The Wildlife Confessional, an upcoming anthology of short stories by wildlife professionals to be published through The Wildlife Society. This collaborative effort was inspired by Mr. Roberts’ original anthologies, but has in no way biased the content of this review.)

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