Taking the Long View: An inside look at the goings-on at the longest running avian ecology field station west of the Mississippi.

Palomarin Evacuated during the Woodward Fire as a Precaution

This blog was compiled by Point Blue’s Palomarin Program Lead, Diana Humple.

The Palomarin interns (Mary, Bernarda, Brandon, Oliver, and Caroline) at their evacuation location – Point Blue’s Stallcup House in Petaluma. COVID-19 NOTE: interns act as a family unit, hence the lack of physical distancing; masks worn here are because of the presence of the person taking this photograph. Photo by Diana Humple / Point Blue

As our hearts are with the friends, colleagues, alumni, and many others impacted by the fires that erupted in mid-August throughout California after unprecedented lightning storms, I wanted to provide a quick update on the impacts to the Palomarin Field Station.

The Woodward Fire was first identified on August 18th, and has been burning since in the center of Point Reyes National Seashore, the national park where our field station is located. Along with the nearby town of Bolinas, late that night Palomarin was included in an “evacuation warning” – which does not mean to evacuate, but to be prepared to do so, as there may be an upcoming need and order to evacuate.

Due to the remoteness of the field station, its distance from the fire (under 6 miles), the potential for communication challenges in reaching the residents if we lost power/phone, and the amount of time it can take to evacuate our valued and beloved data, we voluntarily elected to evacuate the field station of personnel and high-priority data. This also kept it simpler for first responders to not have to be concerned about our remote field station in the event that an order took place.

For details of the data evacuation, and why it was both important and necessary, please read this terrific Bay Nature piece by Claire Peaslee – alumnus both of Palomarin and other long-standing efforts at Point Blue. And see here for a brief story that ran on ABC7 news!

Palo supervisor Hilary Allen with her car full of nest searching data amidst the data evacuation – and with smoke from the Woodward Fire in background. Photo by Diana Humple / Point Blue

A small bit of good news: while the Woodward Fire still burns (as of September 1, it is 4,500 acres and 25% contained), and some areas near it remain under evacuation order or warning, progress is most assuredly being made (see here for incident updates). On Saturday August 29th, Palomarin and environs were removed from the evacuation warning zone – and the next day we moved our interns, resident graduate student, and data back in! We will be keeping a close eye on the conditions in case they warrant additional precautionary action.

We also paused much of our data collection during this period (except at one site, Redwood Creek, in Golden Gate National Recreation Area and far removed from the fire; and much of our weather monitoring, which we could collect remotely through our weather station). We are now reinitiating banding at Palomarin as long as air quality allows (but our Muddy Hollow site is in a closed area quite close to the fire).

Wilson’s Warbler. Photo by Point Blue.

However, due to the dual challenges of COVID-19 (which has caused our section of Point Reyes National Seashore to be closed to vehicular traffic) and the fire (which has caused all of the seashore to be closed to visitors), our banding lab and nature center at the Palomarin Field Station remain closed to the public. Please visit our website in the future to learn when it is possible to return to visit us in person to see birds in the hand and science in action, and in the meantime, please join us for upcoming virtual visits through Facebook Live. We are listing events on our events page as well as our Facebook page.

Much gratitude to everyone for their support and offers of such during this period, and to the Point Reyes National Seashore, the firefighters from near and far, and the many other first responders involved for all they are doing for our park and communities during this fire.

Stay safe, all.