Susan's notes...

@naturephotosuze wrote:

International biodiversity challenge

I was so pleased to be a part of this team I thought I would share my experience. First, I was incredibly busy right before the challenge as I had just returned from a 2 week trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons. In addition we stopped in both Nevada and in Bishop on the way back so I had literally thousands of photos to go thru, process and edit. I’m still working on those by the way. Not only was I uploading most of those observations to inaturalist but I was also working on editing the better photos for my site on Flickr.

So though I was excited to participate in the challenge, at the same time I don’t think I was mentally ready, as I had no down time in between the two events. I went into Monday with a tentative game plan to stay fairly local and because it was to be very warm, stay pretty close to the coast. I started out going to Red Rock Canyon in Topanga. It is a place I’ve only been to once before—reason—they charge for parking and the only off street parking is almost a mile away so I didn’t want to spend too much time walking in when I knew time was at a premium.

Was it a mistake to go to a place I hadn’t been for a few years? Yes and no. My reasons for going there were that I thought the habitat might be a bit different and I had seen observations from there on inaturalist that seemed to be species I hadn’t come across much, if at all.

What I didn’t count on was that it was way hotter than I anticipated. When I got there at 9:15—yes a late start also—it was 78. But that didn’t last. By the time I left at 12:45 it was 93. And the humidity was very high so it actually felt warmer than my trip to the desert I took two days later. As a result I got a splitting headache while I was there and that pretty much limited what I did after that.

Did I find anything new there? Yes I did find a Curl Leaf Mountain Mahogany, which I see is the first observation in the Santa Monica Mountains. Serendipity is always an important part of exploring nature. So when I stopped briefly at a picnic table after a couple of hours in to eat a snack, that’s where that canyon wren appeared…miraculously as I so rarely see them. I also got the beaded rosette lichen there—a new species for me. Unfortunately I did not have it in me to hike up the hill as I’m positive I would have gotten more interesting species there. The bird life in this area was great so I think it is a place I will return to in the future.

On the way out, I stopped at Hondo Canyon. I haven’t been on this trail before but I know of it and I’ve always wanted to check it out. It was only 84 degrees there but still felt really hot. I just hung out in the riparian area, as again, I didn’t want to hike up a hill in the heat. It was pretty productive for the short time I was there. I saw several species of butterflies including a giant swallowtail—my first sighting ever. So I was pleased. When I left there I stopped at lower Topanga Canyon, as I know that Andrea has had excellent success there. It was foggy and cool down there---maybe 72, if that. I was able to add some species to the list including the mating marine butterflies; however I didn’t really spend that much time there as I was not feeling well.

Tuesday I decided to play it safe and stay cool by the coast. Red Rock Canyon was definitely not by the coast and though I told myself that it’s a canyon and in Topanga so it can’t be that bad, that wasn’t my experience. So, I went to Zuma Canyon, which traditionally for me has been very productive. However I had been there the week prior and was a bit disappointed.

Some of the areas where I have found many cool things were so overgrown with vegetation that I would have needed a hacksaw to get in. However, I know the place well and was able to focus on the areas where I usually find interesting things. I first stopped at the top of Zuma Ridge based on a report of a wide-throated yellow monkey flower that someone reported “at the trailhead”. I looked all around the area for 100 yards and did not see it. Nor did I see much else of interest up there. As it was, I really didn’t come away with much new at Zuma Canyon except for a Cabbage Webworm Moth—new to me but not a new species—however it added to the team’s list. I do have several insects from there that are still unidentified.

From there I hit Trancas Canyon. I had also been there the week before. I had found a lot of interesting mollusks in the remaining stagnant pond but because it was so overcast Tuesday, I wasn’t able to see into the pond to get photos. I did however get the team’s only observation of a California toad there.

Wednesday was my day to hit the desert. I got up early for me at 6:30 but still probably too late for the challenge. I started by heading out to an area in the Antelope Valley where Swainson’s hawks had been observed. I didn’t see any in the vicinity…just a red tailed hawk. If I hadn’t been in a rush, I would have spent more time looking for them but that would have involved driving around which is a big time suck—especially in the Antelope Valley where blocks are miles long.

I then moved on to Phacelia Wildlife Sanctuary. I just became aware of these so-called “wildlife sanctuaries” in the Antelope Valley last year when I was looking on a map for something. “Sanctuaries” are a very loose description because basically what they are is a plot of land that has a sign and maybe a dirt pullout or lot and no trails. Thus, you meander around looking for stuff…something that I enjoy, particularly in the desert, as you never know what you will see.

Unfortunately, this time of year is horrible for the desert during the day. I feel fortunate I saw as much as I did. One of the reasons I went out as far as Phacelia (almost to Edwards Airforce Base) was that they have long nosed leopard lizards and desert horned lizards there and it’s the closest area I know for these really cool lizards. But alas, I only saw a fleeting glimpse of a leopard lizard and no horned lizards and I didn’t really have the time to spend wandering around for hours to hope to see any to photograph. And it was 95! I was fortunate though to see and photograph a jackrabbit that nicely posed for me. And I did find two new species of grasshoppers for the area as well as for me—the “single banded derotmema” and the “caerulean winged grasshopper”—both of which were ID’d by Alice Abela who is super helpful all the time. And it added to the team’s total!

From there I stopped at the Blalock Wildlife Sanctuary. It was even deader there than at Phacelia—partially because I didn’t get there til noon. I saw only two ravens and an antelope squirrel. I heard a cactus wren in the distance but never saw it. However I did get a couple of lichen species as well as the plant “acton brittlebrush” which is not anywhere near us here in the greater LA basin. Traditionally, this area is quite good for species as it is close to the Juniper Hills and you get a mix of desert species as well as some higher elevation insects and plants, but the time of year is not good for insects.

Finally I stopped at Pearblossom Park and took photos of the vermilion flycatcher as I knew there was a family there. Had I not been so hot (once again), I could have sought out the verdin and a couple of other desert species. However I also would have had to probably wait until later in the day, as it was pretty quiet there between 1:30 and 2:30 PM…not the ideal birding time in the desert.

Once I cooled off when I was home, I thought I’d walk around the neighborhood and I did add to our species count there by adding a couple of things I found in the alley. The biggest takeaway I had though, is that not one person on my block seems to have any native plants in their yard. Admittedly, it’s all condos and apartments so there isn’t a lot of space for gardens but I really, really wish more people would start doing this as we are in a crisis and I feel it’s one of the only ways to have a hope of repairing things. My neighborhood is just not a place to find much wildlife although we do have some resident nanday parakeets that liven things up.

Finally, on Thursday I knew it would be a short day and I had to save time for uploading the photos, etc. which I think we all learned was the most tedious part of the process. So the night before, I was more methodical. I was going to go to Santa Ynez Canyon, which is really the closest “wild” place to me that is interesting in terms of species. I know the place well so I actually thought of what plants I might see—I knew it was going to be cool and overcast so I wasn’t expecting to find many insects and I knew we had most of the expected species of birds. I actually did a search for different plants I knew were at Santa Ynez and then checked our observations to see whether or not we had them. I actually found that I knew of at least 12 plants there that no one had found yet so that was my goal—get those plants and then anything else I happened to see. I ended up finding most of the plants, though some are yet to be ID’d. In the process I finally photographed a plant I’ve seen there before, but had totally ignored—a Western Coastal Wattle-- that was new to my list. I also added bonfire moss that I knew was there and that no one had seen. An added bonus was a new species both for me and the Santa Monica Mountains as well as the team—Giant Reed Aphids. So I felt I was pretty successful with the limited time we had.

What did I learn? Know your limits. Plan more carefully. Get up earlier. And coordinate with your teammates to avoid duplicating too many species. A few duplicates are fine but diversity is the name of the game.

By Susan Schalbe, @naturephotosuze.

Posted on August 10, 2020 12:26 AM by andreacala andreacala


Great notes Susan! It makes me want to revisit all your observations during the Championship as this adds so much wonderful context.

Posted by andreacala over 3 years ago

Thank you for posting this. Someday (not in the heat) I hope to visit some of those places. Definitely "Know your limits" and plan accordingly! Great finds and additions to the team.

Posted by kimssight over 3 years ago

What a pleasure to read and follow along on your journey last week :)
Sharing your insights and encounters adds so much to the story and our collective efforts, thank you!!

Posted by scubabruin over 3 years ago

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