California Wild Women's Journal

Journal archives for August 2020

August 07, 2020

Some notes digesting the overall results of the Championship

Of 33,497 observations, there were only 264 mammals observations, of 93 species.
Our team (3.5% of all 140 participants) made 41 of them, that is a whopping 15.5%.
We found 13 species, that is 14% of all mammal species in the Championship. Amazing.
Kim: 16 — 4 species
Laura: 10 — 3 species
Andrea: 10 — 6 species
Susan: 4 — 3 species
Rebecca: 1 — 1 species.
I came across Coyote scat and probably also Bobcat scat. But I was relatively certain about the Mule Deer and Raccoon scat, and added those. Mammal scat so often is just dog poop. (Does anyone clean up anymore? It’s everywhere.) Note to self: scat and tracks count. Learn more about that.

Mammals take time and luck. And if one is focused on plants and insects, eyes to the ground of the immediate area, so much slips by. Only 73 of the 140 participants even made mammals observations.

But look at the birds stats:
There were 2,779 birds observations, of 732 species. Our Kim made 278 of these observations, 10%, and found 95 species, 13%. Really impressive, Kim!! I thought I was short on birds, but still found 48 species. And I missed so many of the ubiquitous birds around, like Lesser Goldfinch, Turkey Vulture, Phainopepla, House Wren, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, American Crow, American Robin, etc.

Posted on August 07, 2020 04:57 PM by andreacala andreacala | 6 comments | Leave a comment

First observation of a species during California Wild Women

I saw 13 species I hadn't observed before, and one new behavior, an ovipositing Blue-eyed Darner:

Posted on August 07, 2020 05:19 PM by andreacala andreacala | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 08, 2020

Kim's Journal

@kimssight wrote about the Championship experience on her personal blog, She included photos of the various habitats she explored, along with slide shows that feature some of the individuals she found there.

Here's just a short excerpt of her diary from August 3rd, the first full day:

"I woke up just before the alarm went off, fed the cats, drank a cup of coffee, and left for Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, a tidal wetland. It was the perfect place to go. The tide was low at 4:30 am, but the inner bay is gated and drains much later. So when I got there at 7 am, the tide was low and just beginning to rise. As predicted, I missed quite a few shots due to problems with my little camera. Perhaps I should read the manual! But also as predicted, there were lots of birds. I decided to focus on biodiversity rather than pure quantity or quality of observations. You may see a few multiple observations of the same species, but I think I shot only one or two of the multiple hundreds of Elegant Terns and Western Sandpipers. I tried to stay on mission, but couldn't help but linger with a Reddish Egret dancing to catch fish. A Peregrine Falcon swooped down to catch a crow in mid air. Flew off and landed with its victim directly in front of a lucky photographer. I, on the other hand, saw this occur from what seemed miles away and only caught bird smudges with my lens. I think you can just make them out. A highlight, was watching ants get caught on a high point when the tide came in. They bunched up, formed a raft, got carried off with the current, and drifted back to shore. They had a high survival rate."

Read more at It's beautiful!!

Posted on August 08, 2020 02:04 AM by andreacala andreacala | 0 comments | Leave a comment

This was my first competitive bioblitz and I want to share what I learned.

My everyday way of documenting organisms includes rather generous coverage from all angles and the habitat I found it in. If it’s an insect, I look on until it flies, crawls, or hops away, then try to follow it. If it’s a plant, I cover every detail I can find, and try to frame them in a variety of ways. If the plant is new to me, I actually often come back to the same plant once I researched what it could be, to focus on the distinctive features. All that results in many pictures I have to sift through at home, to select the handful that matter. But that’s not the way to go when bio-blitzing. Time management is key. So in my case, the two most important take-aways are:

  1. Shoot economically.
    Look for the distinctive features and frame them in a way that doesn’t require much if any photo editing.

  2. Move on if you got it.
    Resist the urge to get an even better picture; resist the urge to look for details on behavior, interaction, feeding, unless of course it is just too fascinating and/or distinctive to not document it.

Like with most things in life, preparation can’t ever hurt. If possible, choose areas you know well. Even if flowering plants have mostly wilted, if you know where you saw them in a pristine state, you may find the rare last few flowers. Know the spots where animals find food at the time of the year. Know what to expect. Cover the obvious wildlife typical for the habitat in an economical way and have time left to look around and be open for surprises and new species.

Preparation also includes shopping for groceries etc. before the bioblitz starts, getting household chores out of the way, and limiting time sucking work and social obligations to a bare minimum. I tried but wasn’t too successful with that, though. How could I not help my octogenarian dad whom I had given a NYT gift subscription to establish an account there? It took a 33 minutes Facetime call during which I possibly could have found three additional species, but it saved my dad from suffering a major bout of tech frustration.

I sorely overestimated the energy I would have left at the end of each day, when I was facing the many nighttime hours on the computer. In the past half year or so I’ve been rather insomniac, and up and about during the dead of the night. During the first night of the Championship, I recorded the calls of a Great Horned Owl family, and was ready for the Coyotes that are often howling in my neighborhood. During the second night of the competition, I slept like stone. If there were any animals around my house, I didn’t hear them. Neither did I hear a thing during the following nights, other than possibly my own zzzz’s. Bio-blitzing is exhausting!

@bbunny, @kimssight, @naturephotosuze and @scubabruin were the best team mates one can possibly hope for. Supportive, equally nature nerdy, ambitious and into it. That so very much helps. We are actually planning to keep California Wild Women going as a joint project for a variety of challenges.

A bunch of people helped us with IDs, among them @tmessick, a botanist from the Sierra Nevada, @grnleaf, a botanist who is very familiar with most of California including Los Angeles County, and @sfelton, an all-rounder with a keen interest in pollinators. Special thanks to you and all who helped us!

Posted on August 08, 2020 09:04 PM by andreacala andreacala | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 10, 2020

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 | 3 comments | Leave a comment

August 12, 2020

Laura's notes...

@scubabruin wrote:

California Wild Women in the International Biodiversity Bioblitz 2020

Given the current crisis and close proximity to home for so long, this challenge was a welcome diversion. It also coincided with one of our regular trips to Mammoth. Even though I needed to balance family vacation time along with being part of a competitive bioblitz team, I felt good about my ability to contribute to our species count since I’d be in a different part of the state during part of the event.

It’s terrific having such a dedicated and enthusiastic team, because without them I might have let Sunday evening slide on into Monday morning and start then. Having said that, we did walk around for about 30 minutes on Sunday evening searching for moths in the lights and hoping our resident black bear would make an appearance. Sadly, no luck.

Monday morning dawned and after some coffee and light nourishment, we headed out to
Benton Crossing near the Owens River and Crowley Lake, to what is a popular fishing area. We also stumbled upon a hot-springs nearby. This outing proved worthwhile in finding a number of species new to me, including two birds, the Sage Thrasher and Yellow-headed Blackbird.

Most of the plants were new to me as well. I didn’t include the cows all around as they belong to a local rancher, but I do wish I could have caught a photo of the weasel dashing across the road and had taken better photos of the flame skimmer/pond hawk which I didn’t include due to poor quality.

Later in the morning, while family did some work, I took a short trip to the Sherwin Lakes trailhead. Alas, most of the wildflowers there had long since dried up, but I was able to make observations of several firs and pines as well as local scrub.

Our Monday afternoon outing involved a drive into Devil’s Postpile National Monument. After a late lunch at the café, we took a lovely walk around Sotcher Lake where I found a few more new species and quite a lot of flowers, birds, and insects, such as: a crackling forest grasshopper, woodland pinedrops, and a Western Forktail. The trail around the back side of the lake was quite overgrown and we weren’t sure where it went a few times, but we were rewarded with great views and I managed a good variety of observations.

Our next stop included a short hike to Devil’s Postpile itself and the loop trail over the top, where I’ve never been before. Lots of chipmunks and ground squirrels, including a close up with one cutie who posed and communed with us for a few minutes.

Our last stop of the afternoon was the wildflower walk near Agnew Meadows, where we found plenty of wildflowers. None were new species to me, but many were new for this event. I only wish I had stopped to record the massive mound of bear scat we noticed…sigh.

That was it for the day, exhausted after 6.2 miles of walking and it was time to go back home to make dinner. Uploading at the slow Mammoth internet speeds took hours, and that was just the observations made on my cell phone. Camera photos have yet to be downloaded, sorted and added.

Tuesday, August 4th, I was on my own for the morning, so I headed out to Mammoth Creek and the Hayden Cabin area then up old Mammoth Road where I walked out toward Mammoth Rock as well as a quick stop near the old mining site. After exhausting those areas, where I found quite a lot to record, I took a short drive out the scenic loop looking for more wildflowers and pollinators. Many of the spring flowers have died off, but the Sulphur buckwheat is a stalwart plant giving its all to last longer than most. Some of my favorite photos from the morning were these that I shot of pollinators on Ranger’s Buttons:

In the early afternoon, we began the long 2-hour drive to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Somewhere I’ve never been and have long wanted to see. Despite being a little apprehensive about the drive being steep and narrow, after all, the road rises 6,000 feet in elevation in just 24 miles, I was super excited to see these majestic pines in person and add new species for myself as well as the team. To my pleasant surprise, the area was not as barren as I expected. We encountered not only the gnarly, beautiful pines themselves, but plenty of other hardy plants, including wildflowers and pollinators, chipmunks, squirrels, and a Yellow-bellied Marmot. Although four hours of driving time cut into other opportunities for more observations, I believe showcasing the wealth of diversity in California was more important and along the lines of our team’s focus. Not to mention, my family and I are on vacation and truly enjoyed exploring the White Mountains/Bristlecone Pine Forest trails and interpretive signs which were very well-done. I recommend the side trip to all. Fun fact: there are actually two species of pine surviving the harsh conditions over 10,000 feet in the White Mountains – the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine and the Limber Pine.

That was it in terms of observations for the day as we arrived back home at sunset and went straight into making dinner. Of course, observations from my phone were added right away, but camera photos will have to wait.

Third day of the challenge, and another day to be spent driving, meant I was up early and out at Minaret Vista to see what I can find. Thankfully, we were rewarded with stunning views as well as few new species. At this point, I realized it was also a good idea to start snapping a lot of photos even if they are duplicative of species I had already documented.

Later in the morning, I returned to Mammoth Creek as I had some extra time before heading back to Los Angeles. Despite all of my trips to Mammoth, I had never realized there were public trails through a federal reserve along the creek and what a joy it was to discover that area. Hardly anyone was nearby and I was able to comingle with many varieties of wild flowers, plants, and insects. Of course, the elusive sulphurs are always frustrating to photograph, so I came up empty-handed on that one. However, I was pleased to collect plenty of observations and a few more species.

Afternoon arrived and time to drive south, meaning 5 hours in the car with no real opportunities to document along the way. Partly because the more stops, the longer the drive, and my family wasn’t keen on that. Additionally, as my teammates have noted, a lot of the plants are past their prime this late in the summer. Besides, it was just darn hot on the drive south…about 100 degrees the entire way. At one stop, I managed to snap some photos which included a weedy-type species which was new to me: Annual Bur-Sage.

Once home, it was time to turn to family/household business of unloading and reconnecting with my other sons and dogs, who stayed home. Hence, I did not record much by way of observations later on Wednesday. I spent the entire evening downloading and sorting through the camera to add those observation to iNat and the competition. By 11pm, it was time to go to sleep and continue uploading in the morning.

Thursday, August 6th, the last day of the competition dawned cloudy, cool, and dreary. This meant the insects would not be especially active, nor would the birds, so I worked on finishing uploading of camera observations until the weather improved. Once it warmed up, I headed over to the neighborhood community garden where I can always find lots of lizards, birds, and insects. I did not photograph any plants, however, as they are all cultivated. Since I wasn’t likely to add any new species to the list, I just felt as though I could help ramp up the number of observations for the team before the competition ended at 1pm. Amazingly, I did find a new species, both for me and the team: a Mexican Cactus Fly.

I was sure to get home with enough time to transfer photos from camera to iNat. With just a few minutes left, I scoured my yard yet again. To my surprise, I found an alligator skin shed, a species not yet added to our team.

My takeaways after the competition are much the same of those already discussed. It was tiring, but I definitely did not put in as much time as others. If we do it again, I won’t commit to so much driving time where I lost valuable observation opportunities. On a personal note, I have recorded over 50 species new to me during this challenge and learned more about the Eastern Sierra flora. I cherish our new team relationship and hope we can continue doing community science and iNat-related activities in the future. Thanks so much for going on this journey with me.

By Laura Schare, @scubabruin

Posted on August 12, 2020 08:13 PM by andreacala andreacala | 4 comments | Leave a comment