January 24, 2022

Another month of this! :(

I was looking at climate data, and it appears that for where I live, February on average is 4 degrees warmer than January in its highs, and 2 degrees warmer in its lows. The days are getting a little longer, which is nice, but overall, it looks like it will be four more weeks of blurry grey blobby birds and lichen.

I am looking forward to spring now!

Posted on January 24, 2022 08:49 by mnharris mnharris | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 20, 2022

iNaturalist helps me think critically

One thing about iNaturalist is that it gives me a daily opportunity to think critically about my natural environment. And to think critically, in general. I can form ideas, and then see what other people were thinking of them.

For example. Here is an observation of a type of raptor I saw last week. My own initial guess was that it was a Bald Eagle. An observer disagreed with me and said it was a Red-tailed Hawk. So far, we at least most agree that it is some type of raptor.

The reasons I guessed "Bald Eagle" were that it seemed to be larger, that its profile seemed different, that it behaved in a different way than a Red-tailed Hawk, and that it was close to the Finley NWR, where Bald Eagles are relatively common (and, indeed, I had a confirmed sighting a few miles later).

But I can also admit that none of my evidence is exactly a slam-dunk. Sizes can be hard to judge, birds can act a lot of different ways, and I am not an expert on bird silhouettes. Also, I have to admit I might be personally not objective --- a Bald Eagle is more exciting than a Red-tailed Hawk. I still believe, based on the overall gestalt, that it was a Bald Eagle, but...I don't blame other people for thinking differently, and I admit my evidence is not strong.

And this is all important, because with the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone in the world has had to think about biology every day. And what I see a lot with the Covid-19 pandemic is a lack of incrementalizing evidence. Mostly from "sceptics", but there have more times when people who have been strict on Covid have been wrong and clung to incorrect positions (mostly early on, in such matters as shutting down outdoor areas, before we knew that Covid doesn't spread much outdoors). But "skeptics" have advocated things like anti-parasite medications being cures for a virus based on limited clinical trials. Which, from the beginning, they should have wondered about whether that made any sense. It makes sense to investigate possible cures, but it also makes sense to grade hypothesis by likelihood. And to admit our own emotional ties to a hypothesis.

Usually, on iNaturalist, I will try to make note of my own doubts or uncertainties of an observation, and make a note of other possible theories. And usually, if two or more people say I was wrong in my first guess and say why, I will withdraw it. There are a few cases where I feel that what I observed, and things that didn't appear in the photos, mean that my guess is still right. (There is still an observation or two that I believe are Spotted Towhee, even after other people said Robin), but I try to be honest about what the range of possibilities could be. Incrementalizing, and knowing why we believe what we believe, are important skills in critical thinking.

Posted on January 20, 2022 00:12 by mnharris mnharris | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 03, 2022

Is it a good thing or bad thing: 10% of my biodiversity on New Year's Day

Just like I did for the first day of 2021, for the first day of 2022, I decided to start the day off by making a lot of observations, in a few places. Luckily, the weather was with me, giving a clear, mostly sunny day in-between the snowfall of the previous week and the rain of this week. I went to two counties, starting early and getting home at dark.

This might be a good thing, or a bad thing: I got 121 taxa in one day. Or 71 species. Some of that might be revised-- (the "Fox sparrow" might just be a song sparrow, for example), but some of it is pretty solid. Last year, I got around 650 species (that also might be revised). So on one day--- a short day in winter---I got about 10% of my yearly species observed. With birds, I got 18 species (that might also go down a little, or maybe even up, but lets say 15). Last year, I believe I had 70 bird species observed. So on one day, a winter day, I got 20% of my yearly bird species. And of those 15 species, about a dozen of them (American Crow, California Scrub-Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Mallard, Anna's Hummingbird, Red-Tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Black Goose and Dark Eyed Junco) probably made up around 60% of my observations last year. (The only one missing of my top 8 birds was the Turkey Vulture, which isn't resident).

So one hand, I am happy I live in a place, where, even in the middle of winter, it is active and there is a lot of wildlife to see. But on the other hand---it makes me think I should be expanding beyond what is familiar. Many of my plans to see more last year were interrupted by the pandemic, I hope this year, one way or another, I get to see more.

Posted on January 03, 2022 22:28 by mnharris mnharris | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 29, 2021

Might as well just post a video link

https://youtu.be/UEZoMBdVDws

This is a video showing the first day of snowfall.

Posted on December 29, 2021 07:05 by mnharris mnharris | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 13, 2021

A lot of important stuff isn't very photogenic. And the things that are interesting to me aren't interesting for the database.

A week and two days ago, I visited the William L Finley NWR, which is about a dozen miles south of where I live. It is a mixed wetland, consisting of open spaces and forests, and also drier hills. Like most of the NWR's in the Willamette Valley, it is very rich in species, with many migratory birds and resident birds, as well as mammals, including apex predators, inhabiting it or visiting it. And there is a lot that is interesting to me there. But the thing is, it gets a lot of visitors---so nothing I could observe there would really contribute to iNaturalist. As far as I can tell, there are thousands of observations there, and for that matter, it is professionally monitored by biologists, so any observations I get there are going to be for my personal interest but are going to be redundant for the database as a whole.

Except for a centipede I found under a log. That was the first centipede observation there!

But there are a lot of less photogenic places where I have seen some interesting stuff. And I am also the first person to make observations in many of them. Two days ago, I stopped at a bridge over the aptly-named Mud Creek, just a few miles to the north. Someone driving over it might not even know they were on a bridge. And Mud Creek, as the name suggests, is not a beautiful crystal-clear cascade. It is a very slow, windy creek with many side channels.

And I saw some interesting things there. I saw Bird's Nest Fungi growing on what look liked mowed or chopped stalks. I saw a raven flying overhead. I saw a Bull Thistle that is the largest I have ever seen, about six feet across. I saw two Wood Ducks taking off from the muddy, flat water. And I saw what looked to be a major gathering place for raccoons. (Or one very, very active raccoon---that is part of the mystery).

There are a lot of waterways around here that are little more than ditches. Sometimes they are ditches. But they provide corridors between different more-natural areas, for both good purposes (providing habitat for mammals and shrubby birds) and bad purposes (corridors for invasive plants and animals), and they are under observed. Mostly because they are difficult to get to and not exactly photogenic. But from my raccoon observation, I can start asking interesting questions: are those raccoons resident under that bridge, or are they just using it as a corridor between the Finley NWR and the natural areas where Muddy Creek joins the Muddy River? Where do they go when the river rises? Is the residential area around there dense enough that they are habituated to humans? Is a riparian area along a creek like Muddy Creek better habitat for raccoons than along the Marys River? Is the size of that Bull Thistle a sign of a very nutrient rich environment? Would raccoons living there be more carnivorous, or more herbivorous, than an average raccoon?

So these are the questions that come to me when I jump off my bicycle and start seeing what is around ditches and small creeks.

Posted on December 13, 2021 07:12 by mnharris mnharris | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 12, 2021

I am planning on walking to Eugene.

Over the years (and this took decades), I have walked everywhere between Vancouver, Washington, and Corvallis, Oregon. The other day, I realized that there was no reason I couldn't extend that range to Eugene, Oregon, 40 miles to the south of me. Well, there are lots of reasons I shouldn't, but all of them can be overcome.

Over the last two weekends, I accomplished 12 miles of that walk, by bicycling southwards and then walking (with my bicycle) northwards. This is pretty good progress...for December. I haven't figured out the logistics of the rest of the route. Obviously, certain things are also dependent on the state of the pandemic.

There are certain things that I only know when I see them on foot. Even a bicycle passes by things too quickly. There is a feel for the land that I get from long, sometimes boring treks along roadsides.

Also, at times, from a naturalist point of view, it is kind of boring. Especially in winter. A lot of invasive weeds and plants that grow on disturbed ground. Birds can still be interesting. Some of the walk might occur in the spring when things are waking up again.

Posted on December 12, 2021 08:54 by mnharris mnharris | 1 observation | 3 comments | Leave a comment

October 23, 2021

The River is kind of boring here

So there are two facts about Corvallis: it is considered to be a very environmentally conscious city with many people engaging in outdoor activities, and it is next to the Willamette River.

So it might follow from this that in Corvallis, there are many places to access the Willamette River, and that after doing so, it will be a biologically diverse and interesting place.

So...in the largest part of Corvallis, there is only one real place to access the river, and it is a dingy parking lot. The main thing along the river is a large flock of mallard ducks, who are probably overfed, and lots of invasive weeds. Even the invasive weeds aren't that interesting. It isn't even that interesting as far as the normal animals we might see in a disrupted environment, like not a lot of bees/flies/dragonflies. Every other week or so, wanting to go somewhere to see new stuff, I will go down there, hoping that this day the river will have something new---but usually it is just the flock of mallard.

(In the south of Corvallis, across the smaller Mary's River, there is an extensive river side park, but it is not within easy walking distance of most people here. And even that park doesn't have a lot of natural river environments).

When I visited Eugene, there was an entire loop, going for dozens of miles, of waterfront trails that were mostly natural and had fascinating diversity. Salem and Albany also have multiple places to access the Willamette River in a natural setting. So does Portland, although you have to get away from the city center. But Corvallis? Barely anything.

Posted on October 23, 2021 20:32 by mnharris mnharris | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 15, 2021

Geo-obsessed

Often when I am taking observations, the "where" is more important to me than the what.

Often when I am observing, I also don't know where I am. I don't have cellphone service, and so I don't have a GPS, so I just go by landmarks. A lot of times, that is really easy and obvious, especially with familiar places. Other times, it is more difficult. When I am out riding my bicycle, I seem to have a clear idea of where I am, but when I come back home---it can kind of be a blur. I try to take "landmarking" photos on the way. On my latest trip, I didn't even take them of the "County Line" markers, which would have been very helpful.

I often end up looking for incidental features of photos that I take, and then comparing them against Google Maps streetview photos. Scrolling up and down until I get the exact location...and then, after I have spent my time doing that, labeling it as a "Flowering Plant" and moving on. And often, finding the right location is not that important. Whether a dandelion was growing on Maple Lane or Oak Way doesn't really matter too much for this site's broad goals. And yet, in my own observations, I want to be very correct about where things go.

Posted on September 15, 2021 08:09 by mnharris mnharris | 1 observation | 1 comment | Leave a comment

August 30, 2021

My one year anniversary here

On September 1st, 2020, I moved to Corvallis. So I am close approaching my 1 year anniversary here.

A lot of the observations I have made of the same places have been because I could still observe them at different points throughout the year. But now that I have seen the entire yearly cycle, I will probably not observe the same places quite as much.

But even with that, there are a lot of parks with a few miles of me that I have only visited once or twice in the past 12 months. There is always more to see. There is probably about two dozen good observing locations within walking/biking/busing distance, so if I visit one of them once a week, that means I will on average visit most of them twice a year. It is August, and I am surprised that there are many places I haven't visited since last December, or at best since this March!

A lot of my plans to increase my circle of places I can visit have slowed down because of the Delta Variant. After some trips involving taking Greyhound/Amtrak in May-August, I have reconsidered whether I want to do that for a while. So as temperatures cool off, I am going to be focusing on bicycle trips.

Posted on August 30, 2021 08:32 by mnharris mnharris | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 26, 2021

Kind of phoning it to be honest

Most of the trips I've made lately have been phoning it in, other than Eugene and Albany. Not a lot of new and different things apparent to me, the hot dry late summer has seemed to discourage a lot of activity.

It rained today, maybe I will see things, new and different.

Posted on August 26, 2021 08:38 by mnharris mnharris | 1 comment | Leave a comment