Mel Preston, ornithologist and rangeland field ecologist with Point Blue Conservation Science at TomKat Ranch, is moving on to new adventures.​

Parting is Such Sweet… Oh, Grasshopper Sparrow! A Farewell to Mel!

Mel Preston, rangeland field ecologist with Point Blue Conservation Science at TomKat Ranch, is moving on to new adventures. Wishing her well by Hayley Strohm.

Hayley StrohmFor years, you’d never know where you might cross Mel’s path while out at the Ranch. It might have been at the bird banding picnic bench—tucked into the Honsinger riparian area—with a bird’s wing splayed gently across her hand for a group of wide-eyed kids (and adults) to glimpse as she counted its feathers and estimated its age based on visible wear and tear—all while spinning a beautiful story of its life. Maybe you would spot her out along a ridge, her “Cal-dingo” dog, Laz, scouting her path while she estimated brush cover and geeked out on a new Danthonia californica patch she couldn’t wait to tell us about. When not in the field, we often found her in the Point Blue office, designing a monitoring program to answer one of the many questions the Land and Livestock team had, patiently listening and interjecting when our ideas got way off base.

Whenever I did spot Mel on TomKat Ranch, she’d have a grass sample to key out (matching plants to identification keys in a guide) in one hand, a set of binoculars around her neck, and a keen observation to share. Mel’s vast knowledge of this coastal ecosystem is mind-blowing. But what I find really inspiring is her commitment to keep learning, to keep observing, and to keep evolving with this incredible dynamic ecosystem.

Mel was, and is, always willing to teach, whether it is presenting on grasshopper sparrows to a group of fellow biologists, or while out on a long field day with ranch interns showing how to set up a transect, do water infiltration tests, or identify native plants.

Thank you, Mel, for your many years of sampling, birding, teaching, and discussing. Without you, those of us who worked with you may never have learned the chirp of a grasshopper sparrow, to look for ground-nesting species in a field where we were about to move the cattle, or had the chance to enjoy your artwork and company! We are so profoundly grateful to have had the opportunity to work with you and learn from you over the past 7 years.

Farewell, and we hope you have an outstanding adventure that brings happiness and fulfillment to your life!