map of ucnrs

Highlights across the University of California Reserve System

Date: 
July 28, 2022

As a lab group, many of our field experiments take place within the University of California Natural Reserve System (UCNRS).  The UCNRS is the world’s largest university reserve system that serves as an outdoor laboratory for researchers and teachers. As a “library of ecosystems throughout California” our field work has taken place at high alpine lakes down to inland deserts and coastal cliffs. This blog highlights some of our very many memorable experiences in the UCNRS. 

 

PS none of this work would be possible without the incredible UCNRS staff!

 

 

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Imani

Question 1. What reserves have you visited or used for research?

  • Angelo Coast, Hastings, SNARL, VESR, Blue Oak Ranch, Quail Ridge, Merced Vernal Pools, Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center, McLaughlin, Stunt Ranch, Sedgwick, Jepson Prairie, Sagehen, Stebbins Cold Canyon Preserve

Question 2. Do you have a favorite memory/memories at the reserves?

  • To start off, one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve with the UCNRS was meeting the wonderful reserve managers! I visited so many different reserves my first summer and they were instrumental in helping me choose sampling sites, providing knowledge about the system, and just being a friendly face when I visit the reserves :)
  • I’ve worked at the UC Reserves for ~2.5 years so I’ve made a lot of memories, but I think some of my favorites are seeing the wildlife! 
  • My first summer, my undergrad researchers and I saw ~12 gray foxes while driving the gators through Quail Ridge Reserve late at night after our surveys. 
  • Seeing river otters while swimming in Lake Berryessa at Quail Ridge - where I have fond memories of swimming multiple summers in 100 degree weather. 
  • We’ve also seen babies + mama bear running around Angelo Reserve. Some of my favorite memories are walking through the creeks at Angelo during the summer, in crocs and shorts, looking for frogs. 
  • Seeing bighorn sheep at Boyd and my first (and only) wild gecko
  • Seeing many cute little rubber boas walking around Sagehen at night 
  • Waiting for the sun to set so we can start night surveys and watching all the bats come out 

Other great UCNRS memories;

  • Swimming in Big Lake at Blue Oak Ranch  
  • Meeting Peter’s (Reserve manager) cats at Angelo
  • The sunsets at Stebbins
  • watching fireworks in the coachella valley from our cabin at Boyd, or Chris (Reserve manager) showing us how to recognize constellations on our night walk at Boyd, or he and the security staff helping us catch frogs and driving around in golf carts and dodging the sprinklers
  • Meeting Jen (Reserve manager) for the first time and watching her pull out a salvaged bobcat from the freezer
  • Arriving at Valentine Reserve for the first time and prepping for the summer field season when I finally got to work with MYLFs after 3 years of permitting!

Question 3. What is your most embarrassing field story?

  • Jake the Fake Snake: My 2 undergraduate researchers and I were on a dusk hike through the canyon at Boyd. One of them was walking ahead and about to step over a rock with a space underneath. I glanced up and saw something mottled and curled up underneath so I shouted for her to stop and immediately back away from that rock. I thought it was a rattlesnake so I told her so, and then we all stood back for a moment seeing if it would move or rattle. Nothing happened, so I pulled out my camera to zoom in and take a picture to see better. The flash wasn’t bright enough so I took another one, zoomed in, and realized it was a stack of mottled rocks. Better safe than sorry, but still embarrassing. We dubbed that rock “Fake Snake Jake”. 
  • Sundew: While we were at Sagehen, some of the other researchers mentioned there was a carnivorous plant called “Sundew”, which was supposedly in the fens nearby. Jeff (the Reserve manager) had turned off the internet, so we couldn’t Google an image, but I imagined something like a pitcher plant, which I had seen in the fens in Michigan. The next day, we walked around a few of the fens, looking for frogs and sundew, but seeing neither. We came back and asked around, thinking maybe we went to the wrong place. Turns out the sundew are super tiny and we had walked through multiple fens full of it! We found it the next day!
  • Sound travels: Frog night surveys can end really, really late, and we’re usually pretty loopy by then. On my most recent trip to Angelo, my undergraduate researcher and I were walking back to the car after spending hours walking up Elder Creek, looking for frogs. We were walking back up the road, which leads past the Reserve manager (Peter’s) house on-site. The house is set pretty far back from the road, so we figure they can’t hear us talking from there. Because it’s late at night, we’re usually making jokes, weird noises, and talking about how cool Peter and his wife are, their adorable cats, and how cool it would be to have his job. A few days later, as we were packing up to leave, Peter comes by to check in, and at one point mentions off-handedly that voices carry really well through the canyons. He didn’t say anything specific, and I’m not 100% sure that he heard us that trip, but now I think there’s no way that he’s never heard us fangirl over his cool life as the Angelo Reserve manager, or other weird conversations we’ve had at 2am walking along the creek and road.

Question 4. If you didn’t have to do research, which reserves would you like to visit?

  • I love the reserves I’ve visited for research! But I’d also love to visit Jenny Pygmy Reserve, Point Reyes, Ano Nuevo, Big Creek, Yosemite Field Station, White Mountains, and of course, Santa Cruz Island Reserve!

 

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Tatum

Question 1. What reserves have you visited or used for research?

  • Hastings, Big Creek, Angelo Coast Range, SNARL, VESR, Blue Oak Ranch, Rancho Marino

Question 2. Do you have a favorite memory/memories at the reserves?

  • Seeing twin, weeks-old deer at Angelo Coast Range play not 10 feet from me

Question 3. What is your most embarrassing field story?

  • Trying to use the outdoor shower at Angelo Coast range. It was full of wasps, so I would turn on two showerheads and run between them depending on where the wasps were.

Question 4. If you didn’t have to do research, which reserves would you like to visit?

  • I would really like to go back to Big Creek or VESR, for the views.

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Sam

Question 1. What reserves have you visited or used for research?

  • With the help of the California Ecology and Conservation (CEC) course as well as my own dissertation research I have been able to cross a lot of reserves off the list (n = 17). Starting from north to south: Angelo Coast Range, McLaughlin, Quail Ridge, Point Reyes, Blue Oak, Younger Lagoon, Año Nuevo, Fort Ord, Hastings, Big Creek, Rancho Marino, Yosemite/Wawona, White Mountain, Coal Oil Point, Sedgwick, Santa Cruz Island and Stunt Ranch.

Question 2. Do you have a favorite memory/memories at the reserves?

  • Talking about the reserves becomes almost a personal narrative of my story as a scientist. I came across a flier for the CEC course during my last undergraduate quarter at UCLA. At the time I was pre-med but I knew I needed to get out of LA; so on a whim (with also no ecology or field experience) I applied to the course and was lucky the course admin gave me a chance. I still remember showing up my first week at Blue Oak where all the other students were practically speaking only in Latin describing their study systems & I felt so out of place. Fast forward through many embarrassing attempts at mini research projects I began to realize that ecology was a good fit for me and have pursued it ever since. My first time returning to Sedgwick as a PhD student and driving past the field I ran my first ecology project during the CEC course 4 years prior was really special because I was able to see the tangible growth I’ve had since that course. 

    There are many memories that are similarly bittersweet but I’ll leave it at that the UCNRS has a special place in my heart and dissertation.

Question 3. What is your most embarrassing field story?

  • My teacher during the CEC course, Blake Suttle, can probably answer this better than I can. I performed so many embarrassing & poorly thought out experiments it’s difficult to list them all here. I’ll leave it at trying to sample bristlecone pine trees during 78 mph gusts or constructing 18 ft poles with sticky pads to try to quantify bat foraging. I have been really bad at designing experiments but too stubborn to admit defeat during sampling attempts.

Question 4. If you didn’t have to do research, which reserves would you like to visit?

  • My personal goal is to hit all of the reserves! Although I think my next one needs to be Lassen since the Sierras are an especially special place for me & are ridiculously beautiful!

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Caitlin

Question 1. What reserves have you visited or used for research?

  • Blue Oak Ranch

Question 2. Do you have a favorite memory/memories at the reserves?

  • Last summer, I worked at Blue Oak for a few months, based in a tent next to a California Quail family and I loved watching them grow up over the summer. Tied for my favorite memory is also hearing the coyotes playing in the distance during the night.

Question 3. What is your most embarrassing field story?

  • While dip netting for frogs, I pulled up a huge “toe-biter” (aquatic invertebrate – Belostomatid) and involuntarily SCREAMED in front of the field crew- including Cherie!

Question 4. If you didn’t have to do research, which reserves would you like to visit?

  • I would love to visit the Santa Cruz Island reserve and see the Island foxes.

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If this blog has encouraged others to become more involved with the UCNRS, we highly recommend checking out funding opportunities or available UCNRS data for your own reserach project!