Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

Science News: Sheltering Together, Life Cycle Science, Smarter Meadows, and more

Point Blue staff with special musical guest Jennie Duberstein Zooming to stay connected and informed. Credit: Lishka Arata/Point Blue.

Living in a Sheltered World Together

COVID-19 is affecting everyone everywhere right now and Point Blue is no exception. We continue to send gratitude out to all of the essential workers who are risking their own well-being to help us get through this unprecedented event. While many of our data collection efforts are affected by shelter in place directives, some of our field work continues, such as our Spotted Owl monitoring in Marin County as it is closely linked with the essential fire and water activities undertaken by our land management partners. Maintenance of our long-term datasets, such as those at our Palomarin and Farallon island Field Stations, is also still underway with some modifications for safety. You can read more about COVID-19’s effects on the conservation work of Point Blue and other groups in two recent articles from Audubon– For Scientists Who Study Birds, This Spring Is Without Precedent and From Meadow to Marsh, Habitats May Take a Hit During Pandemic–and one from the Point Reyes Light–Pandemic impacts seashore and sister agencies’ work. You can also read more about what’s happening at the Palomarin Field Station in a recent blog article from Diana Humple, Point Blue’s Palomarin Program Lead. This is a challenging time, which means we are focused more than ever on collaboration to support each other. We are all in this together!

Adult Cassin’s Auklet on the Farallon Islands.Credit: Bret Hartl/Point Blue.

Auklets in the Winter

As we work to conserve species and their ecosystems, it’s essential to know what their lives look like year round. When we know the full picture of what resources they need for survival at all stages of their life cycle, we can guide more targeted and effective conservation. We are moved in that direction by recent science out of the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge led by Point Blue’s Farallon Program Biologist Mike Johns and published in the scientific journal Ecological Applications. Using small devices and new techniques to track their movement, we found that Cassin’s Auklets–krill-eating, cavity-nesting seabirds–tend to avoid areas with higher than normal sea surface temperatures. With a changing climate that comes with higher sea surface temperatures, it could mean more challenges and more need for conservation action for this species. Read more in our publication brief.

Two of Point Blue’s Sierra-focused scientists Marian Vernon (back) and Alissa Fogg in Childs Meadow, Lassen County. Credit: Lishka Arata/Point Blue.

Climate-Smarter Meadows

For decades we have been using our science to help direct management and restoration of our forests in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. Recently, under leadership from our Sierra Meadow Adaptation Leader Marian Vernon, we have upped our game on how we support partners to restore our mountain meadows. We know that healthy meadows in California are critical for water storage, carbon sequestration, and habitat for sensitive species like the Willow Flycatcher. That’s why we’ve been devoting concerted effort to meadow conservation and restoration in recent years. We just released a new tool with an accompanying user guide to help restoration practitioners develop a planting design with complementary species that together may confer more resilience in a climate-changed future. Read more in our recent blog post.

Photo: Swainson’s Thrush with a tracking tag (geolocator) and aluminum bird band. Credit: Point Blue.

Thrush Vulnerabilities

Similar to the Cassin’s Auklet update above, we’ve also published new science on tracking the full-year life cycle of a small landbird, the Swainson’s Thrush. In particular we investigated the vulnerability of this migratory bird across different geographic breeding areas in California. We knew there were differences in how common this songbird was in different areas in the Point Reyes region on the coast, and the Lassen and Tahoe regions in the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains, where Point Blue and our collaborator (the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science) have studied them. By attaching tiny tracking devices, we discovered that birds from each of these three breeding populations of Swainson’s Thrushes migrated to different respective regions in Mexico and Central and South America for the winter. We then dug a bit deeper to uncover important conservation management information: the rarer mountain populations are also more vulnerable, in that they migrated longer distances and occurred in areas experiencing greater recent forest loss. The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports and you can learn more in our publication brief and a recent post in Nature Research.

News Bites

New Quarterly. Our beautiful new issue of the Point Blue Quarterly is out! And due to COVID-19, this issue is only available online. Click here to read stories that show how we’re finding solutions to the strongly linked climate, water, and biodiversity challenges.

A Visit to the Farallon Islands. Take an auditory trip to the Farallon Islands with California Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld on his Podship Earth podcast as he chats with Point Blue Lead Farallon Biologist Pete Warzybok.

Six Actions for the Earth. To celebrate Earth Day month, we’re sharing 6 actions you can take to help the earth from home. Visit our blog post to learn more and take part.

Early Eggs for Auklets. It’s a record-setting year so far for Cassin’s auklets on the Farallon Islands and that may be a sign of a good year. Read more in our recent blog post.

Partnership to Recharge Groundwater. In collaboration with Audubon California, Environmental Defense Fund, and Sustainable Conservation, we’re excited to share a new resource for managers to help farmers and birds. More here.

New Penguin Science. Not one, but two of our peer-reviewed papers came out earlier this year on penguin ecology in Antarctica. One on effects of ice quality on Emperor Penguin chick survival and the other on drivers of feeding behaviour in Adelie Penguins.

New Field Report Videos. In case you missed them, check out our first two field report videos from scientists at our field stations in Antarctica and Bolinas. We’ll be sharing more so keep your eye out!


Webinar: STRAW’s Community College Conservation Internship, Summer 2020. Wednesday April 29, 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm or Thursday May 7, 11 am – 12 pm. Join a webinar to learn more about this new STRAW Program internship. More information here.

Photo: Alba Estrada Lopez (3rd from right) with 2019 STRAW Community College Conservation intern cohort. Credit: Point Blue photo.


Webinar: A Framework for Climate-Smart Restoration. Wed, May 6, 2020 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM PDT. Join Marian Vernon, Point Blue’s Sierra Meadow Adaptation Leader, and Society for Ecological Restoration. Sign up through this link.

Photo: Northern Sierra meadow. Credit: Lishka Arata/Point Blue.

Scientist Spotlight: Hilary Allen, Avian Ecologist

As an avian ecologist for Point Blue Conservation Science, Hilary’s work is diverse. During the spring and summer she is focused on training interns to band birds and search for bird nests out at our Palomarin Field Station. She also works on various landbird projects throughout Marin County. In the fall and winter she splits her time working with the Rangeland Monitoring Network assisting in data management, and surveying for Ridgway’s Rails with the San Francisco Bay Program. A scientist of many talents!

We asked Hilary how, as a field biologist, she’s staying focused, grounded, and inspired in this time of Shelter in Place. Here’s what she said:

My field work load this spring has been altered and reduced due to COVID-19, but I am so grateful to be able to continue conducting some field work deemed essential during this time. While I may not be able to interact with my co-workers in the same way as I normally would, I do still have the opportunity to connect with and explore some of the ecological communities that serve as the foundation for the work that we do at Point Blue. Even in “normal” years I appreciate the mental escape that field work can provide, but these days especially, every morning that I get to spend out in the field leaves me feeling hopeful and rejuvenated. I have found field work to be reassuring, from the small moments of joy and awe I get while observing songbirds, to the overall sense that, despite the overwhelming feeling of uncertainty these days, the natural world continues on – the birds are migrating and breeding the same as they always do, the flowers are blooming, and the dawn chorus is getting earlier and earlier as we creep toward the solstice.