Stella Yuan, UC San Diego

Stella Yuan, UC San Diego 1
Stella Yuan scans for western snowy plovers on North Beach; the upper beach is cordoned off to protect nesting plovers. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu

I’m the wildlife intern. Going into the internship I thought I’d only be focusing on the research of maybe just one species. But I’ve been dipping my toes in a lot of different projects. They’re doing spotted owl surveys, they have a bat research project going on, and we’ve also done monitoring of western pond turtles and tule elk.


Everyone here, whether the elk or the spotted owl or the plover biologists, they know a lot about their trade. I get to ask a lot about the biology and ecology of these various animals. I’m learning a lot about the breeding of the plovers, the behavior of the elk, the nesting of the western pond turtles. They know you’re here to learn as an intern, are going to have questions, and it’s ok to ask.


Stella Yuan, UC San Diego 2
Western snowy plovers and their chicks are small and hard to spot on the sand. Image credit: Matt Lau

We are currently at North Beach, one of the sites where we have a lot of western snowy plovers. These small shorebirds come to breed in nests at Point Reyes from around March to September. They were listed as threatened on the federal endangered species list in 1993. We’re trying to mitigate the threats, like predation and human disturbance.


The plover biologists and I walk all the beaches at Point Reyes with binoculars and spotting scopes to survey the western snowy plovers. You can look at the adult behavior and know if there’s a nest in the area. If we’re really near a nest, the female will do something called tail dragging, where she acts as if she’s injured because she’s trying to take your attention away from the nest. Head bobbing means they’re nervous.


Stella Yuan, UC San Diego 3
Stella participated in a bat monitoring projects to manage wildlife on Mount Tamalpais. Image courtesy Stella Yuan

There’s a lot of predation going on, especially from ravens. We’re trying to protect the nests by building exclosures to increase nesting and fledging success. They’re also being affected by nonnative plants that are encroaching on their habitat. There’s dune restoration going on to get rid of the nonnative plants.


I like being able to be outside and physically monitoring and surveying the animals. It was a little rough at first because I’m not a morning person, and to survey plovers you’re usually out starting from 6 a.m. But you get used to it after awhile, drink some caffeine, and it’s great.


I had done some field work before, working mostly with plants. I’ve been learning a lot about plover ecology and biology. The plover biologists are also birders, so they also point out other birds that are along the beaches. It’s been really interesting.


I just graduated in June. I am still trying to figure out what I want to do. Ideally, I want to do something that’s field-work related. I’m asking people how they came to be in the careers they are currently, did they go to graduate school, how did they choose. I get a lot of information that way.


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