April 11, 2021

Golden Sparrow: Why do I keep missing a Common Species

Today, I observed a Golden-crowned Sparrow. I believe this is my first observation of this bird this year, and only my third overall.

According to the Leaderboard for species in Oregon, the Golden-crowned Sparrow is the 8th most observed species of any type of life in Oregon for the year. It is only a little less common than the California Scrub-Jay, and is a little more common than the Song Sparrow. I can literally walk a 5 block distance and hear the California Scrub-Jay, and I have observed 32 of them this year, so far.

So am I doing something wrong? Why is it that this seemingly-common bird is so elusive to me? Does it not live in my city or area (And indeed, most of its observations seem to come from the Portland area). Is it a timid bird? Are there birders with much better equipment that are observing it? Do I see it all the time but not notice it, despite the distinctive yellow on the head?

This is an example, but not the only one, of a relatively common species that I seem to observe rarely.

Also, by chance (?), today I observed another bird in the same genus, the White-crowned Sparrow, close to the same location. The White-crowned Sparrow was a very common bird in Humboldt County, basically a "5-block bird", but I have only observed, I believe, 2 since I have been here.

Posted on April 11, 2021 01:50 by mnharris mnharris | 2 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

March 27, 2021

Where are all the snakes?

One thing that I have learned on my time on iNaturalist is that many animals are much more common than I thought they were---if I took the time to look. I have become accustomed to such things as seeing the tracks of muskrats in the wet mud of a stream, of realizing that a distant speck is a bald eagle, and of picking out a hummingbird surrounded by leaves.

But not reptiles. In the six months of living here, I have gotten photos of three garter snakes, a gopher snake, and some turtles sunning themselves. One of the garter snakes was yesterday. The gopher snake, and one of the garter snakes, was during last summer's wildfires, when the sky was hazy. Perhaps they came out because they needed to bask.

There have also been a few times when I saw a snake but it got away before I could photograph it. But in general, they seem pretty sparse.

And at this point, I have visited a lot of different ecosystems and landscapes, and have done it very extensively. Over the past 7 months, I have...somewhere over 2000 observations. I've been everywhere from city parks to national wildlife refuges, in forests, swamps and meadows, and reptiles, even the modest garter snakes, are very hard to come by.

Am I missing something, or are they really that rare in this area?

Posted on March 27, 2021 19:24 by mnharris mnharris | 1 observation | 4 comments | Leave a comment

March 10, 2021

The trip that was almost a disappointment, until I discovered flies.

Last weekend, after a long time confined to my city by the pandemic, I took a bus to the Oregon Coast. The pandemic had lightened up enough that I felt safe in doing this.

I was going to the city of Newport, and while I might be biased by fondness for my home state, from an objective standpoint, the Oregon Coast in this area is full of biodiversity. It is interesting for a scientist, or a casual naturalist. And of course, it is just aesthetically nice. I was expecting to get many observations. I had brought my battery back-up, and was hoping to get over 100 observations.

Pretty soon into my trip, I realized that my lens had fogged over---which happens sometimes. It usually would defog, but in this case, it didn't, and while I got some okay pictures, most of them were blurry. I also found, despite moving along ground like tidepools that would seem to have lots of interesting new species, that the beach wasn't really that fruitful. Lots of seagulls and kelp, and lots of blurry pictures of weedy plants. Lots of moon jellies. Then, I looked at the schedule for the bus, and realized that the bus was leaving two hours earlier than I thought it was. Then the battery of my camera ran out. My trip had turned up some adequate new things, but it was hardly the break-out experience I expected after being cooped up for so long. Was my big trip going to be a bust?

Once my camera battery had recharged, and I figured out I could defog my camera lens with my body heat, I was back up in town, away from the shore. I was in a park by the library, and I noticed lots of daisies with flies. And, in quick succession, I snapped about 10 good quality pictures that showed pollinating flies. And it seems odd that after coming to the wonderful nexus of biodiversity that is the Oregon Coast, I should find my best observations in a city park.

But of course, those flies are important. Presumably, the daisies that flower first, and the flies that come to them, are going to be a big base for birds, and eventually for the sea life, that is so much more obviously photogenic and interesting. So I am proud of my little flies, buzzing around on one of the first sunny days of the year!

Posted on March 10, 2021 08:25 by mnharris mnharris | 1 observation | 1 comment | Leave a comment

February 17, 2021

As the new year goes on, some waning of enthusiasm is to be expected

Like probably a lot of people, I started the new year with enthusiastic plans for my involvement in inaturalist. And I certainly have continued to be active.

But as with other things, there is always some ebb and flow. And February has been mostly ebb. I spent weeks dealing with an internet problem that made it very hard to upload pictures, so I didn't want to go out and get a bunch of observations that would be painfully difficult to upload. That problem is fixed, now. And while Corvallis hasn't had most of the country's inclement weather, there certainly were some rainy, icy days.

And also, there hasn't been a lot new appearing since January 1st. All of nature is interesting, of course, but I miss the brightness of flowers and the hum of bees. Cataloging lichen seems to have reached the point of diminishing returns.

Posted on February 17, 2021 07:36 by mnharris mnharris | 3 comments | Leave a comment

January 30, 2021

My two most significant observations probably don't look that significant

I had made a lot of observations this January. Some of them were pretty, some of them were blurry brown blobs, some of them were interesting to me, others were just things I took because I had an opportunity to take them.

The two observations that are probably most significant were some Onion Earthballs, taken west of Philomath, Oregon, on the 25th, and a Planthopper (of some sort) taken in the Mary's River natural area on January 13th.

According to iNaturalist, there are only 174 observations of Planthoppers in the US in January, and only two in Oregon. And there are only 14 observations of Onion Earthballs in the US in January, and only two in Oregon. So these two organisms, which would be so easy to overlook, which would be so unremarkable for someone who wasn't looking, are the two rarities I managed to capture. Maybe they have scientific interest---maybe they are a sign of climate change -- or maybe of some other scientific curiosity. But to me, they are a sign of just how much is out there when we go looking, and how much things that used to just be a fuzz on the edge of my vision are now of interest to me.

Posted on January 30, 2021 01:34 by mnharris mnharris | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Doing technical support...

About ten days ago, my internet ceased working the way it was supposed to. But only under specific conditions. I spent a week tearing my hair out, eliminating one possibility after another of what was wrong.

The problem manifested itself in a very specific way: I had full speed internet, and could even do intensive tasks like video conferencing. But, when I attempted to upload a file, over a few megs, my internet would not be able to do anything else. This can be a problem on here, because while a file is uploading, it will load the map selection screen. Or, in my case, it would not. This would cause problems where the observation went through but didn't have a location. Or sometimes it would go through but tell me it hadn't.

Trying to isolate the problem, I got out my Windows laptop, seeing if it had the same problem (wanted to isolate OS versus connection problems), and, since this Windows laptop had a busted keyboard, I had to use it with a plugged in USB keyboard. Anyway, while doing so, and just to check, I uploaded the first file available: a photo of a cultivated Plane tree back in Santiago. The upload had the same problems, thus confirming it was a line problem. And after some time, my ISP told me they would send me a new router.

Anyway. If you have read this far, my point is that when viewing someone's observations, remember that some of them might have been uploaded during technical stress. These observations are not always transparent, not always what we are looking for. Sometimes observations are filtered through whatever camera and computer programs the person is dealing with. Bad location and time data are things that happen, and they are not always the user's error.

Posted on January 30, 2021 01:06 by mnharris mnharris | 4 comments | Leave a comment

January 21, 2021

Arbitrary goals sometimes produce great things. Or at least interesting things.

The main point of this site is that we learn more about nature, learn more about ourselves, get outside, connect with others, contribute to science...all of those are great goals.

I also like racking up numbers. There is a competitive part of my personality that likes to see numbers go up, and a completionist part that doesn't like leaving stones left unturned. And sometimes I set rather arbitrary goals for myself. The next county to the north of me is Polk County, and compared to the county I live in, it is undersurveyed. The flora and fauna are mostly the same, and there isn't a lot there that is that different from what is just around me. And yet, I wanted to see my name move up the Polk County, Oregon Leaderboard. So I got on my bicycle and bicycled north to the settlement of Buena Vista. Buena Vista is also one of three towns in Oregon that has a ferry (although I did not ride the ferry). It was an interesting day, although due to the lack of daylight, I couldn't stay long. Also, I didn't get any extraordinary observations--- lots of kestrels and daisies.

On the way back, though, I did find a state park that somehow I was totally unaware of---Luckiamute River State Park, which has around 2 miles of riverfront on the Willamette. I only saw part of the park, but I am hoping to go back soon.

But it is interesting to me, that setting a goal---even a very arbitrary, almost petty one...allows me to expand my horizons.

Posted on January 21, 2021 06:54 by mnharris mnharris | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 12, 2021

Why do I notice things when I do?

This Friday, I rode my bicycle to Monroe, Oregon, which is 18 miles from Corvallis. It is January, I have limited options during the pandemic, so despite the cold weather and lack of daylight, I want to ride my bicycle places.

One of the interesting things to me is that in Monroe, I made a new observation: Townsend's Chipmunk. This isn't a rare animal, but it isn't a common animal, either. Mine was the 22nd observation in Benton County. I had never seen one in or around Corvallis, where I live, and yet within my first half hour in Monroe, one ran right across my path!

It is interesting to guess why I saw one there. There is a good chance that Monroe might be a friendlier environment for them-- Corvallis has around 60,000 people, Monroe less than 700. It might also have less of the invasive mammals and plants, such as crows and eastern grey squirrels, that gather around human habitation. So maybe Monroe is a friendlier environment for them.

It could also be that because I was in a new place, I just had a wider awareness. Just a marginal change in scenery might have made me see things I wouldn't normally see. It is very possible that I see Townsend's Chipmunks regularly, but because I am in my "normal environment", they just slide by,under my awareness.

So that is (one of the reasons) why I like to get out and go to new places---Monroe is obviously a lot like where I am, it is within 20 miles of where I live, but just the opportunity to see somewhat new terrain opens up my eyes and lets me notice new stuff.

Posted on January 12, 2021 03:06 by mnharris mnharris | 1 observation | 3 comments | Leave a comment

December 31, 2020

A bit of backstory:

So I am just writing a bit of backstory on here, to explain the mindset I have on iNaturalist.

I have been into travelling and going new places for a long time---although it was really only something that I started to be able to do for real as a young adult. I am 41, and I have visited 44 states of the US. I have also lived in Taiwan (for 3 months) and Chile (for over 3 years). In the US, I have spent most of my time in the Pacific Northwest/Mountain states. I've lived in Washington, Oregon, Montana, California and Vermont. I've crossed the country by bus and train several times. I've always liked to go new places. And record what I saw.

I've also been interested in nature, but before iNaturalist, it wasn't always on the top of the list of things I observed. Or at least, I didn't differentiate it out. Social and technological aspects of a new location were just as important to me. I have pictures of myself visiting almost every metro station in Santiago.

Looking back at it, I feel like it was a missed opportunity, I wish I had known about inaturalist then! Especially in Chile! I took some pictures there, but it was basically when I saw something very novel. I imagine all the lost opportunities. As well as when I was in Montana: I would bicycle up into the Sapphire Mountains sometimes several times a week, and I got lots of beautiful landscape pictures, and I took pictures of things like Bald Eagles and Bighorn Sheep, but now I am looking back at it and thinking...I could have gotten to 100 observations on an average June day on the Skalkaho.

But anyway, now I think the pendulum has swung back too far the other way. iNaturalist has been a pandemic activity for me, and this year has obviously been one without a lot of travel options. I have gotten over 2000 observations this year, almost all within 10 miles of my two homes. I have a laser like focus, noticing small changes in fungi and insect. Which is good.

But having an intensive record of all the crows and dandelions around Eureka, California and Corvallis, Oregon is not really indicative of my interests! I am really looking forward to seeing something new, to visit a new place---even if the taxa I observe there aren't that different, if I could just go to a slightly new place, I would be happy.

Alas, we will have to wait to see when that happens.

Posted on December 31, 2020 05:52 by mnharris mnharris | 2 comments | Leave a comment

December 21, 2020

Microscope camera!

The exciting news for me this week is that I bought a field microscope, a Skybasic Wifi model, and that I started taking pictures with it. This is a pretty difficult process: centipedes don't really like staying still long enough to have their picture taken with a microscope. It is physically very exhausting to try to get these pictures: I am usually contorting my body into a shape where I can find a specimen, and then trying to keep my hand still enough to get the specimen in the center of the picture. The picture is actually taken in an app on my phone, which means using both hands. Most pictures don't turn out good, but the ones that do have shown me things I have never seen before. A spider that was barely noticeable to my unaided eye resolves into something where I can see its eyes...and its front legs, lifted up into what looks to be a defensive posture. Animals that I would have dismissed as "bugs" now show themselves to be discernible in detail. It has opened a new world for me!

Because it is a delicate instrument, I will probably use it close to where I am. But, of course, when a single shrub can show once-invisible species, it is not needed to take it out to larger parks.

And, in other news, the days are going to start getting longer tomorrow, and I am looking forward to getting out more.

Posted on December 21, 2020 06:28 by mnharris mnharris | 1 observation | 2 comments | Leave a comment