March 17, 2019

Wrap up on the Southern California Mycoflora Challenge 2018/'19!

It's over! Finally! Great work out there, and a big thanks to everyone who participated. I can't wait to dig in.
As it stands, iNat users made almost 6,000 (!!!) observations of macrofungi from SoCal and Baja California Norte during this period. Incredible!

Nearly 50 iNat users made at least 20 observations and will be receiving a snazzy North American Mycoflora circle sticker. They look great on a laptop, water bottle, bike frame or bumper, and will bring you lots of admiration and attention from the coolest folks around.

If you are one of the following users, send me a private message with your preferred mailing address and I'll get your NAMP sticker in the mail:

The awards for best photography and most interesting specimens are still pending (since I have to do a little more lookin' through all the aforementioned ~6,000 observations, and for folks to finish sending me any voucher specimens that you might have made).

**IF YOU HAVE VOUCHER SPECIMENS RELATED TO THIS PROJECT: PM me here or on iNat (@leptonia) to get mailing instructions**

I'll be making some follow-up posts here about what we found, what we learned, and any results of further investigation of the specimens received.

Posted on March 17, 2019 18:44 by leptonia leptonia | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 22, 2018

Field Notes – 9 July 2015 – Mount Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo

Staying at Kinabalu Mountain Lodge (bordering N.P.).
Weather cool and windy at night. Rain at 11 PM. Morning very foggy and breezy/gusty. Mist, then light drizzle, then real rain at around 7 AM. Eventually completely socked in with fog.
Moth situation unbelievable. Porch lights, hallway lights, and bathroom lights attract thousands if not tens of thousands of moths and other insects. Frog calls all around at night, but failed to see any while spotlighting.
Maybe too windy?

1. Buy Phillips' guide to Birds of Borneo. Spend a lot of time with it before you leave. Keep spending time with it every chance you get while you're there. I didn't buy the Myers guide, so I can't compare them. The Phillips guide is mildly outdated, and some of the illustrations are definitely wonky, but the richness of the natural history tidbits and the authors' obvious love of place in this book are delightful. There are notes on mammals, flowers, seasonality, culture... It's really a great book.

2. Get into the park early, and spend as long as possible birding. I had a number of two-hour stretches where I saw fewer than five individual birds, interrupted by five minute stretches during which I saw 30 individuals representing 10 species. Not sure if this was just due to the unsettled weather and the birds were hunkering down, or what. At no point was the birding easy or fast-paced by my temperate-zone California standards. My understanding is that this is typical of a lot of tropical birding, but the punctuated pattern seemed particularly intense on Kinabalu compared to my time in the neotropics. This is kind of an exhausting way to bird (especially given the elevation changes on some of these trails).

Note - entrance fee to the park is totally affordable, BUT the park kiosk doesn't open as early as you might like (as a birder). Everyone I've talked to seemed to think that it's accepted practice to buy the ticket on the way out, or try asking the attendant to buy your ticket ahead of time for the next day.

3. Mind the trail ahead. It really pays to scan the visible span of the trail ahead of you before you walk it. This is especially true in the morning if you are out before the first hikers. If you come around a bend or corner, do it super slowly and scan it for 30 seconds before you keep walking. I think Justyn Stahl mentioned this to me as a way to see guans and tinamous in the neotropics. Everett's Thrush was one of the rewards of this method.

4. Learn the barbet calls. I wrote mnemonics for each of the barbets in the back of my Rite-in-the-Rain notebook as a cheat-sheet. They are kind of omnipresent.

5. Photography was difficult. The forests of Kinabalu are wet, dark, and the vines and leaves are all tangly and wreak havoc with autofocus. I ended up dramatically under-exposing my photos, then lightening them in Photoshop. I used exposure compensation two or three stops down (or more??). This gets you the benefit of faster shutter speeds when in Aperture priority mode. I didn't take full advantage of this myself - it's something I learned accidentally, months later. You're not going to get art with this method, but it can work wonders in salvaging record shots.

6. Take a day elsewhere. If you're interested in seeing the maximum diversity of birds (and not, say target-twitching at max-tweak-levels), you would be be very much in error not to make at least a day trip to Poring Hot Springs. I split a taxi with some other folks from the hostel and did it as a day trip. The bird assemblage here was pretty much completely different. Scaly-breasted Bulbul was the outstanding star, but in general I saw a whole slew of foothill birds here and not at the higher elevations of the park.

Taxi fares around Kinabalu can be pretty steep, especially because common destinations (Crocker Range, Poring, etc.) are fairly far apart. I hired a guy who was sitting at the Restoran Panataran - he turned out to be a wise investment, since the next morning, he spotted my only Orange-headed Thrush of the trip in his headlights shortly after he picked us up.

A few last notes: Firstly, If you can afford a guide, a lot of this becomes easier. A few companions at the hostel I stayed at hired a guide who knew where Whitehead's Broadbill and Whitehead's Spiderhunter had been reliable in the past week. I had to go blindly, and dipped on both (pain). It's also just a good thing to spend money on.

Secondly, I apparently arrived in the midst of a drought. My understanding is that droughts in Borneo often have the effect of pushing higher-elevation birds downslope. This allowed me to catch up with birds like Mountain Blackeye and the usually-difficult Everett's Thrush (!) within a kilometer of the botanical garden. Although I couldn't access the trails above the Timpohon Gate due to the earthquake damage, my understanding is that under more normal conditions, it is only Friendly Bush-Warbler and Mountain Blackeye that really stick to the areas above the gate. Pretty much all the other birds of interest can be found on the lower trails (though perhaps not as regularly or easily)

Posted on January 22, 2018 21:42 by leptonia leptonia | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 05, 2018

2018 Resolutions for iNaturalist - 100 Fish Species, Journaling, and more

My first fish of 2018. Predictably, a Barred Surfperch (Amphistichus argenteus)

I spent the afternoon on New Year's Day coming up with some qualitative and quantitative goals for iNaturalist this year.

Thanks to the 2017 year-end visualization thingy, I had some approximate numbers to go on with regard to what might be realistic for next year. Taking into account that I spent the first six months of 2017 severely under the thumb of finally finishing college, I figure (perhaps over-optimistically) that I can aim to hit these targets next year:

General goals:

1. Make 5,000 observations for the year.
(average 13.6 per day... Wooooooah that's gonna be tough.)

2. Make 5,000 identifications for others' observations.
Thanks to the Identify tool released last year, I think I can do this with general maintenance and maybe some Marathon days.

3. Use this journal tool more.
Observations by themselves are valuable, but it seems to me that putting them in context (with temporal, interspecies-relational notes, etc.) makes them way more valuable. For example, what will be the fate of the oaks in Santa Cruz that appear to have been subject to an outbreak of an as-yet unidentified partial leaf-dieback pathogen?

I should communicate in a separate journal post that I first started noticing symptoms this summer, and then go on to track the fate of these trees as the years go by.

Specific goals

1. Observe and document 100 species of fish (ray-finned, cartilaginous, or otherwise)

I'm really excited about this goal! (for a number of reasons)

Firstly, I've loved fish since I was maybe 11 or 12, when my dad asked my brother and I to choose projects to work on for the summer. I think my brother chose to learn trigonometry, and I chose to learn fishing. Since I didn't actually have any fishing gear or family members who were anglers, I mostly spent my time reading about fishing. I checked out and read every volume of the Ken Albert series of fishing books from the North Park library, but never accumulated any money for gear. The summer ended with me taping a bunch of split rings to a long bamboo pole, taping a water bottle to the end of it as a kind of spool to wrap the line around, (I used red yarn), and then tying the yarn to a bent paperclip as a hook. I think I baited it with cut carrots. If I recall correctly, I went fishing with this rig off the Imperial Beach pier. Even if I don't recall correctly, I caught nothing. But I stuck with it for a while, and after getting some actual fishing equipment, and a lot of failing to catch anything (really an astonishing amount of not catching anything at all), I started to catch some fish.

Secondly, and even more importantly, I was fascinated with Scott's analysis which showed that fish in general (and especially Ray-finned Fishes) are iNat's most under-observed group of vertebrates!

Clearly a situation begging to be remedied. Sometimes a man achieves fish, and sometimes a man has fish thrust upon him.

I love seeing fish. I like thinking about fish. I love eating (many) fish. I like the planning of and act of fishing. And I don't do anywhere near enough of it. They get me closer to the ocean, and to streams and lakes and rivers. This can never be bad and can only be good.

100 species of fish in a year is going to be really hard to achieve, I suspect. Although I've come a long way since the days of carrots on a paperclip, I'm still not a very good angler. I suspect I might fail to reach my goal by multiple tens of species, but I look forward to the motivation I'll get from tracking my progress.

Snorkeling, seining, trapping, etc. are likely going to be crucial to my success or failure. I predict that sculpins and other tidepool-dwelling fish are going to take an outsized share of the pie.

I posit that one cannot gaze upon this triggerfish without experiencing an strong swell of admiration and desperate love for this group of creatures.

Happy New Year!

Posted on January 05, 2018 02:59 by leptonia leptonia | 1 observations | 5 comments | Leave a comment

September 30, 2017

"Fallout" Conditions - Landbird Migration, Santa Cruz, 29 Sep 2017

Drove down to the Pajaro River mouth this morning, on a hunch that the sudden cool weather might drop a bunch of migrating landbirds.

The offshore fog/dense marine layer appears to have been enough to sufficiently disorient some southbound migrant warblers especially, and the shorebirds pond at the end of Shell Road (limited public access) was amazingly dense with warblers.

I'd never felt so fully surrounded and overwhelmed by birds in Santa Cruz as I did this morning. I encountered Yellow, Orange-crowned, Townsend's, Common Yellowthroats, Yellow-rumped, and one Tennessee Warbler, with a total of 77 individual warblers in the small area of the pond, entrance road, and back pond.

The back pond area is especially interesting by virtue of the presence of some native plants I rarely encounter elsewhere in the county. Hoita macrostachya, Bidens laevis among them.

Posted on September 30, 2017 00:42 by leptonia leptonia | 3 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

February 17, 2017

Ecosystem of the Self

I want to explore the (barely) visible critters that dwell on me.
I shall begin my journey here:

Posted on February 17, 2017 04:11 by leptonia leptonia | 1 comments | Leave a comment

November 25, 2016

Phenology notes on the 2016 autumn season

This post pertains to phenological observations (primarily fungal) from October to mid-November. As I write this, the season seems to be moving quickly from fall to winter. The Lactarius and Russula are moving in and the boletes are on their way out.

Also, more or less right now: The live oaks, (especially noticeable along the Graham Hill Road corridor above Santa Cruz) seem to be having some sort of mass flowering event – this seems weird?

Same with Saucer Magnolias around town in Santa Cruz – I typically see them in spring, but they are almost all in flower around my neighborhood (King Street corridor).

Okay: The Character of the Fall, from a Fungal Perspective:

Boletes had an exceptionally prolific year, with most pickers saying it was their best year ever for the Butter Boletes (Butyriboletus species) as well as the Porcini (Boletus s.s.). It certainly was true for me, especially pronounced for Butryiboletus persolidus and Boletus regineus.

Less-sought after species with pronounced abundant fruiting this year include Amanita calyptroderma (more than I've ever seen), and Rubroboletus eastwoodiae (can't remember this many fruitbodies since the fall of 2011, when there may have been slightly more).

As I write this, it seems that White King Boletes (Boletus barrowsii) are nearing their peak fruiting – perhaps a couple weeks after the peak for Butyriboletus persolidus (locally) and maybe a week after the peak of the other porcini. I had never thought of them as last-in-line of the porcini (w/r/t phenology). It will be interesting to see if future seasons bear out this order of fruiting.

Also perhaps curious - Caloboletus marshii didn't put in much of an appearance. I only saw maybe 5 fruitbodies. Do they do better in fall seasons that are very dry? Did the early rains swamp their normal fruiting period with too-wet soil?

Even veteran pickers with decades of experience have said this is the greatest number of boletes they've seen in the past 30-40 years. I have little doubt this is directly due to Typhoon Songda's early heavy rain and the subsequent warmth (thought to be favored by boletes). This may have been enhanced by the fact that these species either were not triggered to fruit or only weakly triggered for the past 3-4 years of drought, perhaps allowing them/causing them to have a "masting" response (last-ditch? accumulated resources?).

Other notes - Amanita phalloides are also having a prolific fruiting this year (although I think there are comparable years in my recent memory).

Amanita vernicoccora on 15 Nov at Fall Creek was one of few fall records I've seen. I saw it fruiting with Doug-fir and possibly scattered oaks/madrones near the Trailer Park on the UCSC Campus in November a number of years ago... I'll have to dig out the photo.

Russula "Green Madrone" sensu Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast put in a couple appearances (Big Basin, Quail Hollow). I had only seen it twice before, so perhaps it is also in the cohort of species that like these early-heavy-warm rains.

Posted on November 25, 2016 00:24 by leptonia leptonia | 12 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 01, 2016

Monterey Bay Pelagic -- 29 July 2016

It was a pretty tough day on the water. Dense fog for most of the first 4 hours made spotting wildlife tough.
Mood lifted dramatically when we ran into a pod of Northern Right Whale Dolphins, White-sided Dolphins, and a mix of Humpbacks/Blue Whales/Fin Whale.

Scripps' Murrelets were the best bird of the day. Shearwater numbers were low, I guess typical for July trips.

Looked at a Terrafin map, and it seems like all the cold water is rather close to shore. But at least there is cold water this year! Dense swarms of low-totem pole pelagic food (forage fish? krill?) showed up on our fish finder, and it even seemed like we could see pockets or 'holes' where there were whales feeding inside the cloud of food:

Pelagic food

Feeling a bit frustrated at how difficult it is to get a diagnostic look at rorquals. Without extensive field experience, it seems like the variability of the dorsal fin shape and size makes it so that a good head/jaw view required for separating Fin and Sei whales.

Posted on August 01, 2016 19:37 by leptonia leptonia | 18 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 13, 2016

July 12 -- Quail Hollow flower survey, general wandering

Did a flower survey for work at Quail Hollow. The diversity of blooming plants and the overall numbers of flowers has declined noticeably since last month and is dramatically lessened compared to two months ago.

Butterflies seemed more common than earlier in the season, especially on the Corethrogyne, which is one of the few species in peak bloom.

I saw two whiptails in a couple hours, both in hot, sandy trailsides near manzanita chaparral. Their weird jerky movements before they actually take off at full speed are really interesting. Does this style of movement scare bugs out of the duff?

My desire to see a Phrynosoma grows stronger. I wonder if there are any still left in northern Santa Cruz County? My guess is that they are still in the Pajaro hills somewhere, maybe in the Star Creek Ranch/Soda Lake area.

Dragonfly diversity is picking up. Wandering Gliders, Black Saddlebags, Cardinal Meadowhawks, Flame Skimmers... I just got Manolis' book and got and updated version of Alex Rinkert's list of QH odonates. Now to learn me some.

Posted on July 13, 2016 14:46 by leptonia leptonia | 2 observations | 6 comments | Leave a comment

June 27, 2016

Moth Light at Quail Hollow -- 20 June 2016

My first moth-lighting experience ever! @kueda and @constance showed me how to set up a moth light/sheet at Quail Hollow Ranch as a sort of scouting trip for a few public events I'm trying to coordinate for National Moth Week at the end of July.

The moon was quite bright and nearly full (supposedly moths are less attracted to light on full moon nights?), but the weather was warm and windless and overall things went well.

Highlights for me included seeing moths at all, since I have absolutely no prior experience with this group in California (or really anywhere). But I was also pleased with the non-Lepidoptera: We got to see both the narrow endemic Mount Hermon June Beetle (Polyphylla barbata), as well as the much more common Ten-lined June Beetle (Polyphylla decemlineata), a number of other beetles, and an awesome ghostly mayfly with "turbinate" or "bongo-shaped" eyes.

Our upcoming events are scheduled for the 24th and 29th of July, 8 PM-11 PM, meeting in the Quail Hollow Parking lot.

You can register for these events at the Friends of Quail Hollow Facebook page:

National Moth Week:

Posted on June 27, 2016 23:10 by leptonia leptonia | 8 observations | 5 comments | Leave a comment