Journal archives for October 2015

October 12, 2015

The 58-250 project!

When I first became a contributor to inaturalist, I saw it simply as good repository for my wildlife pictures and a decent way to keep a list of all of the plants and animals I’ve photographed. What I wasn’t expecting was the wonderful and helpful community of naturalists I’ve had the pleasure to encounter on this site, if not in person. Since joining I’ve been able to help others with their identifications and have been helped many times in return. I’ve also become inspired to learn more about groups that I gave scant attention to before, such as plants, algae, moths, lichens, and many more. This was in no small part due to the enthusiasm of others on this site. So, inspired by the small but dedicated legion of hardcore county birders, I have begun a challenge I’m calling the 58-250 project. California is a huge state whose length and complex geomorphology have led to an incredible diversity of habitats, including three different desert regions, one of the tallest mountain ranges in North America, chaparral covered hills, hundreds of miles of coastline and offshore waters, Redwood forests on the north coast, oak woodlands surrounding the massive Central Valley, and some of the largest urban centers in the country. It also has a complex political history which has led to it being divided into 58 counties which vary tremendously in size, population, ecology, and, for lack of a better word, “personality”.

What I am attempting to do, with absolutely no time commitment other than my own desires and resources, is to photographically document, identify, and submit 250 species from each county in California for a minimum total of 14,500 observations! As I make new sightings, I will add them to existing county lists or, if need be, start a new one. These can be plants, animals, fungi, or whatever else I am capable of finding and identifying, but by doing so, I hope to give each list, a “feel” for the biology of that county. I will include both established, introduced species as well as native ones and try for a broad diversity of organisms. I have already begun going through my current sightings and dividing them up by county and by the time I’m done going through my existing photos, I will have records from at least twenty California countes.

Calaveras, Tuolumne, and Alpine Counties:

This last weekend I went for a family excursion to the Sierra Nevada and camped for three nights at Calaveras Big Tree State Park. This park spreads across two counties (Calaveras and Tuolumne) and holds two of the three northern-most native Sequoia groves in California. Mixed in among these giants are large stands of Sugar Pine, Incense Cedar, Ponderosa Pine, and White Fir with an understory of ferns and Mountain Dogwoods, serenaded by the constant daytime calling of Douglas Squirrels . On Saturday we joined another couple for a day trip into Alpine County to see the eastern Sierras and go for a soak at Grover Hot Springs. Although large tracks were fire damaged, the beauty of Alpine County was still very apparent, as huge monoliths of granite stuck hundreds of feet into the sky. Surprisingly, I found several Terrestrial Garter Snakes lounging in a mountain river at 6,000 ft in elevation! Over the next week I will be submitting the records for this trip as I process the photos and seek help with some of the identifications.

Posted on October 12, 2015 21:18 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 31 observations | 7 comments | Leave a comment

October 17, 2015

A toothy trip (I hope!)

For the most part, the borders of San Francisco County line up with the city limits, which means a great deal of it is paved over and densely populated. What wildlife does survive there often seems to live along margins, hidden away in vacant lots and parks. While there is some truth to that, there is a surprising delight for the naturalist who can look beyond the skyscrapers or take quiet pleasure in seeing wild plants and animals not just eking out a life, but in some cases, thriving among the buildings and boats, trains and traffic. For this reason, it can come as a surprise that one of the ruggedest, wildest places in California resides in San Francisco County; the Farallon Islands. Due to their jagged morphology, they used to be referred to as "The Devil's Teeth", and today, they are uninhabited except by a handful of seasonal researchers. Lying almost 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco, they now house the largest North Pacific seabird rookery south of Alaska.

The Farallon Islands are also home to five species of seal and sea lion. Numerous cetaceans feed in the rich waters that surround them, and in mid-October, Great White Sharks congregate there. With the developing El Nino conditions unusual sea life is showing up all along the California coast. That is why this weekend, bulk Dramamine and ginger in hand, I'm going on an all day trip out to the Farallons in search of some of this wildlife, and if we are really lucky, see a Great White Shark at the surface.

With regards to the 58-250 project, this might make a wonderful contrast. My San Francisco photos might show Rock Pigeons in The City, gulls flying under the Golden Gate, weeds in vacant lots, squirrels, ducks in park ponds, butterflies in block gardens, and, with the right role of the bony, bloody dice, a Great White Shark tearing into a seal carcass!

I will post the photos and write up when I return. Cheers everyone!

Posted on October 17, 2015 00:16 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 3 comments | Leave a comment

October 20, 2015

Baja in San Francisco

In the early morning of Sunday, October 18th, I boarded the "Outer Limits" in Sausalito Harbor for a nine hour trip to the Farallon Isands. While looking for Great White Sharks was the primary focus of the trip, the leaders included some of the best birders in America along with the manager of the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge who knows every rock, roost, and crevice on the islands. As I stated previously, landing on the islands is off limits to all but a few select researchers, but boats are allowed to circle them and idle just offshore allowing one to scan the cliff faces for seabirds and mammals. The weather was beautiful and the two hour ride to the islands was uneventful, which in itself was surprising. In October, the stretch between the mainland and the Farallons is traditionally thick with shearwaters, albatross, auklets, and other seabirds. The warm waters that have come up the California Coast this year have dramatically reduced the upwelling in some areas, leaving the water surprisingly clear but nutrient poor which was reflected in seabird numbers. The most numerous by far were the Black-vented Shearwaters, a near-shore seabird that is closely linked to warm water currents and is generally uncommon this far north. The real surprise didn't become obvious until we arrived at Sugarloaf Rock, a massive sea-facing monolith on the southeast island. When we first arrived, there were at least half a dozen Brown Boobies perched on the rock along with around 200 Brown Pelican and a smattering of gulls and cormorants. Brown Boobies are common along the coast of Mexico, across the tropical Pacific, and even breed in the Sea of Cortez, however, they are traditionally quite rare along the Pacific Coast of the United States.

After idling near Sugarloaf Rock, looking for the gull congregations that signal a fresh shark kill, we circled around the islands to their west side and then out another few miles to the continental shelf. Surprisingly, Black-vented Shearwaters, a bird most frequently found only a few miles from shore, remained the most common seabird, even over 30 miles out. We did see a pair of Black-footed Albatross and a few Pink-footed Shearwaters, but in nowhere near the numbers we would normally expect. Returning for a slow circle back around the islands we got excellent looks at California and Steller's Sea Lions, Northern Fur Seals, and tucked back in a tiny, gravelly inlet, a few Northern Elephant Seals. As we rounded back to Sugarloaf rock, the number of Brown Boobies had increased dramatically, with at least 21 individuals either perched on the rock or soaring nearby. Additionally, they were joined by a single Blue-footed Booby! Another tropical seabird and a lifer for me!

As we rode back to shore we saw a handful of Red Phalaropes along with small numbers of Common Murres and Black-vented Shearwaters, which were a near constant presence until we passed back under the Golden Gate Bridge.

So, no sharks but a very enjoyable day out none the less, with a collection of sightings that would normally be more likely along the coast of central Baja rather than off central California. I'm also amused that my San Francisco County list now has three species of booby, shearwaters, elephant and fur seals, but lacks European Starling, California Ground and Fox Squirrel, and a host of other expected "city" wildlife. I will have to undertake a concentrated trip for more "representative" sampling! And did I mention the excellent Thai food, and the breweries, and my favorite Pakistani restaurant and.... No reason wildlifing in the city can't be indulgent too! :-)

Cheers!

Posted on October 20, 2015 23:16 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 14 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 26, 2015

Sightings in escrow

When I first joined inaturalist, I submitted years of photographs with their accompanying data from my Flickr account. For the most part, these were photos whose subject or composition I was particularly proud of, such as a tack sharp American Coot, or a rarely seen insect, or a wildflower with a particularly nice bokeh. While this provided a rich trove of photos to begin with, it also left a great number of pictures hidden away on my hard drive, photos that weren't aesthetically appealing or were slightly overexposed, or just not particularly interesting to see. That has changed with 58-250 project. While I continue to collect new observations, and in the process, learn about groups of organisms that I had previously paid little attention to, there are quite a few perfectly identifiable photos from past outings that I'm sorting through and giving new life on inaturalist. Not a bad way to spend a few hours on a wet winter night!

This morning I spent a few hours out at the Panoche Valley, about 40 miles southeast of Hollister in San Benito County. This has always been one of my favorite areas to bird and explore, but starting next week, a massive solar farm will be going in and I wanted to get a few last pictures before the construction starts. Due to the drought, the bird life was way below normal for this time of year and fields that normally would be carpeted with thick, golden grass are almost bare dirt and there were hardly any grasshoppers compared to previous years. I will be posting the sighting from this area over the upcoming week.

Additionally, I have also added two new counties to my collection: Merced and Humboldt. That puts me at 22 out of 58 counties with at least one species-level, photographed identification. Slow but steady, isn't that what the tortoise said? :-)

Posted on October 26, 2015 01:11 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 0 comments | Leave a comment