19. tammikuuta 2022

What's Out There?

Today was a busy day "at work" = ZOOM meetings, so I took a neighborhood walk in the late afternoon. I've been gradually and semi-methodically "mapping" my neighborhood on iNaturalist. Today I chose a busy local road - Crystal Springs Road - and took the side of the street that lacks a sidewalk. In a mere 45 minutes and a.3 of a mile, with 31 observations, I was able to document 9 of the 13 iNat categories - Mammal, Bird, Amphibian, Insect, Spiders, Mollusks, Other Animals, Plants, and Fungi. I feel certain there was a Slime Mold out there, but I couldn't find one to document. But I felt that this rather unremarkable voyage justified my neighborhood walk practice, all by itself! I've provided a sample of some of the more intriguing observations along my short walk.

Lähetetty 19. tammikuuta 2022 02:48 käyttäjältä gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 5 havaintoa | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

14. joulukuuta 2021

Defending BioBlitzes

Most of you who know me, know that I am slow to anger or to be triggered in any way. But there are a few "third rails" in my character which, if touched, will send me into a paroxysm of passionate prose.

The 'validity' of the BioBlitz is one of those triggers.

Twice this week, people whose work and contributions to our collective biological knowledge I respect (and, am frankly in awe of) unknowingly (or maybe intentionally) tripped that third-rail wire.

What one of these people asked is "Can you tell me what gets actually gets accomplished in a BioBlitz?
... I do not see how it really adds to a scientific understanding of the area being blitzed. A flora needs to sample all plants in all areas throughout the year, including boring or insignificant plants, if it is to add to the scientific knowledge. BioBlitzes tend to give you redundant photos of common showy flowers."

I think these are valid critiques in a sense, but I also feel they miss the larger point. Hence, I responded. Below is what I said. Your comments, critiques, and addenda appreciated.

A BioBlitz is NOT scientifically thorough, nor is it meant to be complete in any sense. It is a snapshot in time. No one - and I mean No One - in the BioBlitz movement thinks of BioBlitzes as replacements for scientific surveys conducted with agreed upon parameters and protocols. That is not their function in the scientific eco-system. I have participated in bird surveys that were tightly organized to produce a certain kind of data, or that were meant to discover additional sites where a threatened species lived, or to determine population fluctuations. None of these surveys would have been compatible with a BioBlitz.

BUT scientists cannot be everywhere. And we need more people invested in science as a method and as a joyous part of being alive in this world. So, the outreach-learning piece that you isolated already is a major rationale for BioBlitzes.

There are also expanding instances of the broad-range, parameter/protocol-free BioBlitzes pulling in surprise pieces of new information - the Isopod I found in Huddart at a BioBlitz that turned out to reveal a population that had been believed extirpated for half a century, or the change to a plant in the Jepson Manual based on a finding at a Blitz at Memorial Park. Much as Christmas Bird Counts often reveal vagrant birds in unsuspected places (because coverage is expanded and people are not all going to the same place(s) that particular day), BioBlitzes are compressed in time, and so can reveal/suggest some things that were previously hidden. There is a serendipitous element that, ironically, but with greater probability than a lottery ticket, comes to fruition often enough to be an inspiration. (I neglected to add how, in the first-ever BioBlitz in which I participated, at Fort Funston, we added species to the NPS lists!)

Third, this is a snapshot in time. As we do more of these, we will slowly construct a time-lapse glimpse into all taxa. This is already happening. The joint program for BioBlitzes with San Mateo County Parks is entering its ninth consecutive year. With climate change, even those duplicative “showy flower” entries you were rueing, could become valuable as they increase/decrease over time. Now, will the botanists have already noticed that? Most likely. But what of the California Slender Salamander? Or the Isopods? Or the lichens? Or the presence/absence of slime molds? Not every category gets equal consideration. The broad net of the BioBlitz gives us a chance, a small window to alert an expert to something happening at this or that park in the lesser-studied taxa.

Fourth, noisy data is still data. In my day job, I am a historian of the nineteenth-century, and when I come across specific bird references from the 19th century, I try to get those to the attention of local compilers (for instance, I found some notices of a Snowy Owl in Kansas in the 1880s, and an article about the decline of Greater Prairie Chickens there at about the same time). Now, this is, in a sense, anecdotal evidence - we have no precise location, nor time of day, nor know of the trustworthiness of the observers, etc. etc. But it is evidence of something - and of the fact that people were noticing. And it got me thinking - what if I said “I can magically get you all the bird records of every resident of Kansas from 1850-1890 who gave a damn about birds and knew their common names, but the data will be a bit messy and dirty - you want it?” I doubt there would be an ornithologist who would turn me down if I offered that treasure-trove. We are doing the same thing now with iNaturalist and eBird, and with the BioBlitzes, which are time-compressed snapshots of biodiversity in a given place. The data is messy and dirty - but WAY better than my imaginary 19th century example. It is all date-and-time stamped, location specific, and has a preliminary ID. Furthermore, the experience level and trustworthiness of the observers CAN be determined (I won’t bore you with how, but there are ways, and as studies of Big Data improve and move out of advertising, there will be even more sophisticated mechanisms developed - for instance, I foresee quite easily how a scientist working with BioBlitz data 100 years from now could figure out that among participants, I had the best birding skills, and you had the best plant skills, and JJ the best lichen skills, and that my plant IDs shouldn’t be trusted for anything beyond Coyote Brush!),

Fifth, and back to climate change, submitting this somewhat messy data at a large outreach event like a BioBlitz is a concrete way that people are doing something for the environment, and getting engaged with it. I firmly believe that, as Jack Laws says, you won’t save what you don’t love, and knowing something intimately - spending time studying and photographing it and discussing it with others (both on scene and later, virtually), does create a bond. There are so few tangible, non-self-denial things we can do to contribute to monitoring and reversing (or halting) climate change, but a BioBlitz is one of them.

So, sixth and finally, the place of BioBlitzes in the ecosystem of science is as an invitation with oomph. The BioBlitz has no entry requirements. It is an invitation to science at whatever level a person feels they are ready for and can commit to for that day. Everyone starts somewhere. But even if participants don’t take up the invitation and become more involved in science, what they did at the BioBlitz is still there, still their small contribution that day, in the record.

In sum, BioBlitzes are valuable because

  1. They serve as outreach and learning opportunities
  2. They might produce small surprises and new knowledge
  3. They function as a catch-all (albeit messy) longitudinal record
  4. The fact that the data gathered is “noisy” or “dirty” is secondary to the fact of there being more data (and it can be dealt with by increasingly efficient means by researchers)
  5. They are a concrete way to do something about the environment
  6. They serve as an invitation to science that creates some data even while being an invitation

And, to repeat what I said at the beginning, no one is confused about the difference between formal scientific surveys by experts and grassroots bioblitzes. When everyone is a scientist from the moment they can walk and talk, there will be no need for bioblitzes (maybe!).

Lähetetty 14. joulukuuta 2021 20:18 käyttäjältä gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 7 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

2. joulukuuta 2021

Personal Milestone Today regarding Identifications

During COVID times, I have gotten more serious about my share of responsibility to iNaturalist in the form of helping with identifications. I have developed a daily practice of aiming for at least fifty IDs each day. I try to check material in the San Mateo County BioBlitz, then in the wider Bay Area, and in a few taxa in which I feel confident.

I have been an active member of iNaturalist since 2012, and have always been willing to do some identifications. But this regular habit, which I started tracking in May of 2021, now accounts for fully 1/3 of all the identifications I have made.

I have made a total of 37350 identification, of which 12504 have been done since mid-May of 2021. The math is clear (33.478%) yet astounds me still. And I've improved over this time; I've come to better know my limits, to learn more about the range of diversity within species, and to see the need to help new participants. When I am feeling strong, I even target utterly unmarked entries, the "?" "Unknown" entries.

This practice is one I would recommend to every user. The search tools under the "Identify" tab have improved over the years. You will benefit, iNaturalist will benefit, and Community-Science will benefit.

Lähetetty 2. joulukuuta 2021 05:38 käyttäjältä gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 1 kommentti | Jätä kommentti

17. marraskuuta 2021

My Small Contribution to Maryland BioDiversity

This strikes me as a prime example of the value of iNaturalist, and the value of the specific sorts of "mapping" things I like to do. It happened over two years ago. Peggy (@tui ) and I were touring the Eastern Shore, going into all sorts of nooks and crannies, just for the heck of it. And at one site I took this picture of a Marl Pennant dragonfly

It turned out to be a first state record, and, when local ode-addicts started using iNaturalist, they soon found another state first species! In the words of @hholbrook , my sighting "may have changed a few minds of ode enthusiasts in MD about the value of iNaturalist. There has been a noticeable uptick in identifiers since. ;). "

Some sightings will languish for awhile, maybe even years, before the right eyes settle on it. This one got attention right away, and spurred something positive in terms of mobilizing more observers and identifiers, This is how it is supposed to work, I do believe.

I am proud, but in a humble sort of way. I did not know that I had found something unusual. I just appreciate pretty dragonflies, and the photographic challenge they pose (when they pose). But that spark of curiosity sometimes sets a series of sparks flickering.

Lähetetty 17. marraskuuta 2021 18:04 käyttäjältä gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 13 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

25. elokuuta 2021

Urban Great Horned Owls

Lately I have been finding a lot of feathers belonging to Great Horned Owls. A few have been right in our neighborhood. We have heard good ol' Bubo virginianus from our back windows, but there is suitable habitat in that direction. The feathers I am finding have been in very seemingly inhospitable places.

Lähetetty 25. elokuuta 2021 04:49 käyttäjältä gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 1 havainto | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

22. elokuuta 2021

Birding and Baseball

I really love birding while at baseball games. It is like a Big Sit with entertainment. I've attended more games at the Oakland Coliseum than any other venue, and it has a few good features - a wide-open sky, a large adjacent parking lot, and a moat around that lot. So water birds - like herons and egrets - can occur, as well as birds of prey and plenty of gulls.
Today's game in Oakland was poor in number of species, but it generated a new bird to my Coliseum list - a Belted Kingfisher! It makes some sense that it would be there, because of the moat, but not to fly over the stadium silently while a game was in progress. Peggy spotted it first, and through some miracle I got a poor-but-still-identifiable picture.

Lähetetty 22. elokuuta 2021 04:40 käyttäjältä gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 1 havainto | 3 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

20. elokuuta 2021

Cute Insects

Insects don't get much respect for their beauty, with the exception of butterflies. But they really have their cute side. Today on a neighborhood walk, I found an Outer Bark Louse with cute big eyes, and then, best of all, a sleeping beetle inside of a rose petal.

Lähetetty 20. elokuuta 2021 02:15 käyttäjältä gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 2 havaintoa | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

19. elokuuta 2021

San Bruno Mountain: Old Ranch Road Trail

Today I did some coverage along the Old Ranch Road trail, from its start to the spot about 3/4 of a mile where it officially leaves the park. At one point I went into a small copse of conifers, and evidently this move of mine set some California Quail into semi-alarm mode. I could hear their little bubbling noises, and when I emerged, I saw them ahead of me on the road, a group of four. Very well-marked. This is a species that reveals itself in quiet moments.

Also I recall that @metsa had mentioned that Hereodermia leucomelos, Elegant Fringe Lichen, was more common on San Bruno Mountain than in other places. Just that hint, and my senses were more alert. I was very happy to find one today!

Lähetetty 19. elokuuta 2021 05:41 käyttäjältä gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 2 havaintoa | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

18. elokuuta 2021

The Naïvete of Youth

On another neighborhood walk, I heard a rather frantic jumble of Anna's Hummingbird scolds. I gave a little "pish," and up hopped a very pale young Calypte anna. It perched on an open branch, and eyed me suspiciously from a few different angles. I think younger animals are learning their environment, seemingly with wide-eyed curiosity. Or perhaps I anthropomorphically project

Lähetetty 18. elokuuta 2021 04:45 käyttäjältä gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 1 havainto | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

16. elokuuta 2021

Animals and Society in My Neighborhood

A nice neighborhood walk at mid-day brought me to a house where I could hear people talking in a small family group. It made me reflect on COVID times, and their unfortunate ongoing continuity, disrupting these sorts of little family gatherings.

And then...a Bewick's Wren chimed in. It was a magical counterpoint to witness - and record.

Lähetetty 16. elokuuta 2021 01:28 käyttäjältä gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 1 havainto | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti