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Hi! I’m Hanna’23 and I am a senior Biology major from Orange County, California. This summer I have been working on the burrowing owl project, in which we are monitoring the status of burrowing owls at a site in Southern California.

Here I am checking on a motion sensing camera

Although we are monitoring for the presence of burrowing owls, we are also curious about what other animals are there. In the process of looking through THOUSANDS of camera trap photos (which are taken by motion sensing cameras), I have found lots of other animals. For every burrowing owl photo we have, we have a hundred photos of California ground squirrels, lizards sunbathing on top of the burrows, Northern mockingbirds stopping by to chill, and the occasional roadrunner coming by to show off its reflective feathers and its striking orange stripe on the side of its head. Here are some of our “greatest hits” from this summer:

A curious coyote and a butterfly


A road runner runs by!


A burrowing owl!

Filed under: Burrowing Owl, News

Philip mapping a woodrat nest at the Bernard Field Station.

My name is Philip  (PO ’24) and I’m majoring in Biology. This summer I’ve learned so much from getting to work in the field! Of particular interest to me is our woodrat project, in which we’re mapping the current distribution of woodrat nests (“huts”) in the Bernard Field Station. We’re using ArcGIS mapping software to assess change in hut distribution and condition, among other data, over time. It’s been quite some time since the woodrat huts have been surveyed, so I’m very interested to see how much the huts have changed over the years.

Finding our way to huts mapped in 2005 (Zora left, Philip right)


Filed under: Bernard Field Station, BFS, News, woodrat

Hello! My name is Zora’26.  I am so excited to be leading the project focused on conservation of the Western Pond Turtles.

So far we have captured two Western Pond Turtles. This was an exciting find, especially since one was a female and the other was a male.  We captured the turtle who was original rescued from the Victoria Gardens Mall, who we named Victoria, and another turtle trapped in 2010! Later in the week we caught three invasive species: a red-eared slider, a large mouthed bass and a bullfrog. This study will help us in determining the survival of the Western Pond turtles. I cannot wait to tell you more about our turtle adventures!

Heading out to check for turtles.

Filed under: News

Island Update from Jacob’23

Posted by: nina-karnovsky | June 26, 2022 | No Comment |

Things on Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge are going super well! We are typically in blinds conducting feeding studies on the common and arctic terns by 0830. For three hours, we monitor what food chicks are being fed by their parents. This includes the prey type (fish or invertebrate species), prey size (relative to the parent’s bill length), who ate the food item, which parent brought the item, and when the parent came to & left the nest. So, a line of our data might be read like this: “At 11:22, the banded adult brought a 2.25 bill-length hake and fed it to the first-born chick. The banded adult left the nest at 12:04.” This is a lot of information to gather in only a few seconds when the birds come in and the chicks are hungry. However, I am figuring it out and getting better at it each day! In the afternoons we take measurements of tern chick weight and wing growth (wing cord). This can take up to three hours. The work is exhausting but I utterly love it here!

banded tern chick

Jacob’s summer home


Filed under: News, Puffin Project, Senior Thesis

Congratulations to Thesis Students!

Posted by: nina-karnovsky | April 30, 2022 | No Comment |

Alejandro, Andreah, Lexy, Kat and Coco

This past Friday was the culmination of the amazing senior thesis work of several students in the lab.

Alejandro presenting his grant proposal thesis on the impact of plastic on platypus (Dec. 2021).


Kat presenting her research on use of culverts by mammals.


Lexy explains how two species utilize the same resource.


Andreah created a guide to marine mammals for citizen scientists.


Eric, an art major and member of the lab, presented his deeply moving multimedia senior thesis.


Coco (an honorary member of the lab) found that photo recognition software can be used to ID individual snakes.

Filed under: Burrowing Owl, Congrats to Students, News, Senior Thesis

Andreah’22: Art, Biology and Citizen science!

Posted by: nina-karnovsky | March 21, 2022 | No Comment |

Andreah restoring habitat on Anacapa Island.

Andreah is a talented biologist and artist! Read a recent article about her senior thesis. If you have 10 – 20 minutes, take the survey she is conducting. SURVEY LINK
One of Andreah’s extraordinary drawings.

Filed under: Channel Islands, News, Senior Thesis

Life in the Lab!

Posted by: nina-karnovsky | March 13, 2022 | No Comment |

A couple weeks ago the lab felt like it did pre-pandemic with multiple projects underway. Introducing some of the wonderful 2022 students:

Mars (left) Zora (middle) and Lexy (right) examining hundreds of photos from camera traps.


Inspecting an albatross bolus. (From left to right: Eric, Lexy and Zora)


Jacob (left), Lexy (middle) and Eric (right).

Filed under: News


Posted by: nina-karnovsky | February 24, 2022 | No Comment |

Senior thesis student, Eric Blair, has started his thesis assessing the quantity and type of plastic that albatross breeding in Hawaii have ingested. This project is part of a collaboration with Pacific Rim Conservation.

Eric sorting plastic and natural diet items from albatross boluses.


A small sample of the plastic Eric has found.


Squid beaks from squid that the albatross ate.

Filed under: Hawaii, News, Senior Thesis

Congrats to this amazing flock who managed to maintain their passion for biology during more than a year of Zoom meetings.




Ethan and Cody







Filed under: BFS, Burrowing Owl, Congrats to Students

This post was written by Ethan’21, a student in Avian Ecology at Pomona College.

My classmates and I arrived at Chaffey College at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning in early spring for their annual Burrowing Owl Festival cohosted by the Pomona Valley Audubon Society. I was excited by the prospect of hearing these experienced researchers and active conservationists talk about issues facing these extraordinary birds. I was also excited to interact with the community; during one of my three blocks, I was to be a docent at a PVAS table, talking about how owls have adapted to fly silently. I also hoped to see some live burrowing owls for myself.

In front of me is a barn owl wing I used to show people how owls can fly silently.

My first block was open, so I grabbed some snacks and decided to sit in on a few research presentations with my classmates in the Chaffey College auditorium. At the talks, I learned about the importance of ongoing efforts to recruit burrowing owls to artificial burrows as well as the role of habitat destruction in degrading the environment for this threatened species. It was an effective juxtaposition: detailing how humans have damaged burrowing owl populations over the past few decades while also publicizing the diligent strategies that conservationists are currently undertaking to help the species. I put a reminder in my phone after the meeting to send a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Commission to advocate for the inclusion of the burrowing owl as a protected species. According to one of the speakers, the commission has ignored the precarious status of the species, and I left the talk motivated to advocate on behalf of these owls.

I left the auditorium and joined the docent table for the PVAS along the main walk, where large groups of festivalgoers visited the tables of demonstrations and rehabilitated raptors. I sat down with my classmate River and another volunteer, and we instructed people on the adaptations of silent owl flight, handed out PVAS pamphlets, and fielded questions from the crowd of festivalgoers. During my stint at the table, we were approached by mostly families, many with children of different ages. I found myself having to adapt my spiel– how the serrated wing edge, pillowy smooth top, and soft trailing fibers of a barn owl wing allowed it to fly silently– to different audiences. For some small children, I focused on mainly observational things (the softness of the feathers and how when I flapped the wing, no noise was created), whereas for older children (especially those interested in science), I would get into the weeds of the physics behind silent flight. For everyone who visited the table, I tried to encourage tactile interaction with the owl wing. Whenever people touched the wing themselves, their faces would light up with understanding, and I think that they probably learned more from experiencing the soft, serrated feathers for themselves than hearing me talk about them!

Explaining the adaptations of owls to festival participants.

For my final shift, I grabbed my binoculars and walked down to the parking lot, where a few of my classmates and other docents had set up spotting scopes to see live burrowing owls in the large fields adjacent to the college campus. When I arrived, I peered through one of the scopes and spotted a pair of adult owl heads, peeking over tufts of green grass on the side of a trench carved into the field. While down at the viewing station, I made a sketch of one of the owls in my field notebook, and I was pleasantly surprised by my drawing skills (it helped that the owls were stationary at the entrance of their burrow).

I grabbed one of the scopes and trained it on the pair of owls. Then I fiddled with the magnification and resolution dials, until the birds were large in the eyepiece. I invited over some festivalgoers who were excited to see the owls for themselves. It felt so rewarding when people would come and look through the spotting scope, and gasp at their great view of these unusual birds.

Introducing the owls to festivalgoers.

I spent much of my time at the viewing station adjusting spotting scopes for visitors, especially whenever children wanted a look. There was one small kid, probably around 3-4 years old, wearing an owl t-shirt who was evidently infatuated with the owls. He was shy at first, but once he looked through the scope and saw the birds, I could tell that he was really excited. I commented to his parents that he may be a future biologist in the making!

At the viewing station, I was approached by a woman and her daughter, and they asked about what team I run for; I was wearing a cross-country shirt. Our conversation wound from talk of cross country (their son ran for UCSD), to college life, to their experience at the festival. They were really thrilled with their experience at the festival and the daughter, a high schooler, was curious of ways to get involved in helping the species.

The other docents and me (middle) from Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona College, and Chaffey College.

Thinking back, this was the perfect encapsulation of the festival’s goals: to raise awareness and establish community around protecting the burrowing owls. It was cool to see how these birds brought so many different groups of people together: the experienced owl researchers and casual birdwatchers, the scientists and creationists, and the college kids and families. Certainly, my experience at the festival was an immense success, and judging by the smiles and wows from the festivalgoers, I think they would say the same too.

Filed under: Burrowing Owl, News

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