Meet Katie Collins and Katie Thomas, Starr Ranch Seasonal Staff

Starr Ranch Audubon Sanctuary has a long history of welcoming early career conservationists as seasonal field staff. We caught up with two of this year’s cohort to find out what brought them to Audubon and what a typical day at “the office” is like.

Name: Katie Thomas & Katie Collins

Title: Seasonal Field Assistants

Time at Audubon California: Six Month Seasonal Position

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What did your path to Audubon California look like?

Katie Thomas: I graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo a year ago, majoring in Environmental Management and Protection with a minor in Biology. In college, I developed a deep love for plants. I was looking for habitat restoration jobs after graduating where I would primarily be working with native plants. I grew up in Orange County and was excited to return to the area with the ecological background I gained through my undergraduate degrees. I was also interested in how Dr. Sandy DeSimone has lead the habitat restoration projects on Starr Ranch by not using any chemicals to control the weeds on the property. It has been so fulfilling to be a part of a team that is making positive change in the local ecology while avoiding the introduction of harmful chemicals to the land.

Katie Thomas

Katie Collins: I was born and raised in Maryland and have a deep appreciation for nature and love for travel. In May 2022, I graduated from Appalachian State University in North Carolina with a degree in Biology and concentration in Ecology and Environmental Sciences. Having spent most of my life on the east coast, I was eager for an opportunity to work out west and to learn about a whole new ecosystem with different species from what I am used to. I was thrilled when I saw the opportunity with Audubon California because I would be spending the majority of my time outside working closely with these new plants and animals. During my time here I have been able to see an array of exciting animals including tarantulas, roadrunners, and even a mountain lion!

Katie Collins

Q: Describe a day in your role as a Starr Ranch intern.

Katie Collins: Every day on Starr Ranch is a little different - it’s one of my favorite aspects of the position! We always start out discussing the game plan and grabbing the tools we need for the day. This could mean getting hoes for removing artichoke thistle, brush cutters for cutting back invasive phalaris grass, or hand tools for tackling a variety of other invasives. Starr Ranch does not use any chemicals to remove the invasive species which was a big factor in why I wanted this position.

Katie Thomas: Most days we are focusing on invasive plant species control. With the historic rainfall in Southern California this year, we have been focusing on weeds such as black mustard, in addition to the artichoke thistle. Other days we are conducting surveys to monitor the ecological health of the wildlife sanctuary. We take data on oak woodland health, native plant growth in restoration sites, and various bird behavior throughout the sanctuary.

Q: Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Katie Thomas: Early bird! I love calm mornings before the rest of the world is bustling around me.

Katie Collins: I used to consider myself a night owl, but lately I’ve shifted into more of an early bird. I really enjoy the early hours of the morning!

Q: What is your favorite bird and why?

Katie Collins: One of my favorites here on Starr Ranch is the California Gnatcatcher. It is one of the birds we passively monitor on the ranch, and I love their call. They sound like a little kitten mewing!  

Katie Thomas: Tree Swallow. I love watching swallows fly, seeing their flight pattern and wing shape.

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