יוני 04, 2018

Parsley and Milkweed: Assassins and Others

The flat-leaf parsley in the backyard has played host to a number of insects (and one tiny arachnid). No caterpillars, surprisingly. I know others have their parsely gnawed, but I've never had to compete with caterpillars for leaves. I think maybe once a long time ago I might've had one caterpillar on some parsley, but sweet fennel is a much more popular food for the caterpillars around here. But there's something attractive about the parsley to everyone else. I don't know if it's the scent, or the fact that this year it's gotten huge and bushy, but it's become something of a bug hotel. This morning I evicted one of the residents. I thought I was doing a good deed, but apparently I just freaked the bug out so much he/she didn't stick around for the sumptuous buffet I presented it with. I've been watching a milkweed assassin bug grow up in the parsley clump. Honestly, I've been a bit worried about it. As far as I can tell there's nothing to eat, and unlike other bugs that might just be passing through and using the parsley as a way station, the assassin bug stayed. I'm not sure what meals were available, but the bug got big. Then I found aphids all over my milkweed (Asclepias perennis) in the front yard (the parsley is in the back). So, I thought, well, okay I'll move the milkweed assassin bug to the milkweed and that will take care of the aphids and the bug will be happy to get this nice big juicy meal on its namesake plant. Catching the bug was a bit tricky because of the thickness of the parsley, but once I found it I plunged in with a old glass and managed after a couple of attempts to scoop it up. I carried it to the milkweed in the front yard, gently shook it out onto the area of the stem with aphids. It climbed up on the blooms waving its feet around, one aphid stuck to a foot. Then I realized my phone was in the house, so I went in to grab it and get a picture. When I came back out, just second later, there was no sign of the milkweed assassin bug, At least not that one which was full grown and had all the markings. But adjacent to the milkweed is the bindweed which I'm messing with (my bindweed experiment will have to be the subject of another post), and on the leaves of the bindweed was another milkweed assassin bug, who looked just like this one did when I first saw it, small and orange. Still not on the milkweed which is covered with aphids, but at least this bug managed to find a spot closer to a good meal. And it will grow big and strong like the ungrateful wretch which rejected my aphid offering this morning. LOL Attached pictures are of a few of the assorted residents of Hotel Parsley, including the ungrateful assassin bug when it was young, as well as the aphids on the milkweed and the new young assassin on the bindweed.

פורסם ב יוני 04, 2018 03:44 אחה"צ על־ידי gulfcoasttoad gulfcoasttoad | 6 תצפיות | 0 comments | הוספת תגובה

מאי 01, 2018

City Nature Challenge 2018-- Day 4

Yesterday was the last day of the City Nature Challenge, at least for observations; species identification will continue for a few more days before a winner is declared. I didn't have a good day observing yesterday. Both quality and quantity of my observations were lacking. My strategy of choosing less-frequented parks (as I did on day 1) backfired spectacularly on me. First of all, I knew that day 4 would be a tough one: trying to log species that I had not logged in the previous 3 days would be much harder given the number of observations I'd made already. And the park I went to turned out to have mostly the same species I saw elsewhere, and in general less diversity than the other parks (even the new one I went to the grand opening of Saturday). Disappointingly, it seemed to be dominated by non-natives and invasives. Also, it was overrun with poison ivy, which meant that in some places I literally could not put one foot off the path because the poison ivy ran right up to the path. Because it was also growing all over trees and vegetation it meant that I couldn't lean out to get a photo either. I heard a lot of birds, but saw none and don't yet know how one gets audio uploaded to iNat (having already failed on Saturday after repeated attempts to upload video of fish that I was having trouble getting a decent still photo of). I got only 27 observations, many low quality: poor photos, poor specimens, few species identification. It was a frustrating and disappointing experience. In contrast, getting only 27 photos on Saturday at the new park I considered a success because the quality of the observations was much higher and the park was so beautiful.

I've been thinking as I went along about how things could be better for the City Nature Challenge in the future, not just for me, but for everyone. There were a couple of random "iNat training" sessions locally, though given how big the area is, they were only within easy reach of a small fraction of the potential participants---and one training session was scheduled near the end of the challenge, so afterwards people had just one day to put that knowledge to use. I downloaded the app 2 weeks before the challenge and used it quite a bit before then so I would be familiar with it prior to the challenge. I'm not sure why training sessions are needed; it's not difficult. I could explain how to use the iNat app and its features in about 5 minutes---and I didn't need anyone to explain it to me. I read the starter guide online, well, skimmed it really, because it's so easy to use. It seems to me that iNat training isn't what the City Nature Challenge really needs to be more successful; what it really needs is more naturalist training. I usually take multiple photographs for observations; a closeup (or as close as I can get), anything that might be distinguishing features such as leaves, and also growth habit. Nevertheless I sometimes found myself thinking that I needed a better understanding of what information a photo needed to capture to distinguish one species from another. For all the plants I took multiple photos of I don't actually know if I captured what was needed for a species ID. Probably, yes, in most cases of plants, especially given how many pics I took, but not always yes in the case of plants (and trees in particular) that to the untrained eye look very much alike. And let's face it; if iNat and City Nature are recruiting widely, looking for new users to participate, then they are mostly looking at recruiting "the untrained eye". This is brought home to me whenever I go into iNat and go through observations which need ID. (1) There are a lot of people who have absolutely no idea what the most common and ubiquitous plants are. (2) Huge numbers of users take only a single photo, a closeup of a bloom (very artistic!) but utterly impossible to ID down to species level without leaves or growth habit for a lot of plants. Or they take a single blurry low-res photo of a single bloom on a plant (one of a variety of shrubs, flowers, and herbaceous foliage) from a sidewalk 10 feet away. The point is: using iNaturalist without any training is a lot easier than taking photos from which species can be ID'd. If we want lots of taxa ID'd to species level, then we need to be training what to look for to ID taxa and what to photograph, and how to photograph. Mind you, I've got my share of horrible single photos for observations, but there's usually a physical reason that meant it was impossibleto get a better photo with my phone's camera. I upload the very best photos I can take at a given moment and a given place, with a phone camera. But there are some that I fear aren't enough to ID simply because I didn't know what precisely I needed to photograph to distinguish exactly what species something was. It's great to have people running around the city looking at nature, but for their observations to have any value to scientists and researchers, they need to be taught how to look at nature so that they can know, and others can know, what they are seeing.

Everyone has to start somewhere. I think the City Nature Challenge is a good start for the average person who doesn't have my naturalist inclinations and curiosity. But it is just a start; I hope that people who began with City Nature will continue to observe and get better at it, as I also hope to do.

This bioblitz was overall a good experience for me: I explored and identified a lot of species. (I hope to get more of my observations ID'd or confirmed in the coming days.) I finished out of the top 20 for observations (oddly even though the challenge is over my ranking has dropped 2 places since I started writing this post), with 149 total observations in four days; it remains to be seen where I'll end up in the final species count, but right now about half my observations don't have species confirmed, which, honestly, is something that concerns me more from a personal standpoint of simply wanting my observations ID'd or confirmed for my own personal expansion of knowledge than from the perspective of wanting some "good" number of the City Nature Challenge. I want my species ID'd because I want to know. (I have attached my Day 4 observations to this post, disappointing as they are....)

פורסם ב מאי 01, 2018 04:53 אחה"צ על־ידי gulfcoasttoad gulfcoasttoad | 27 תצפיות | 0 comments | הוספת תגובה

אפריל 30, 2018

City Nature Challenge 2018-- Day 3

Yesterday was a big day, by the numbers. I hit 54 observations in a single location, then added another observation elsewhere later for a day's total of 55. I hadn't been checking the leaderboard during the challenge, but I did yesterday and out of curiosity checked the ranking of local observers. To my shock I was #16 in both total observations and species in the Houston area! I'd dropped to #20 the last time I checked. I'm disappointed that more of my species haven't been confirmed or observations ID'd, since species is what determines which city wins, but I figure that everyone is out there observing, rather than identifying right now, so the species numbers won't really settle until some days after the challenge is over. The added grace period for making IDs is really a good idea, and makes this whole challenge thing less crazy.

I try not to duplicate observations from day to day and place to place during the challenge, but there are a few duplications in my observations, either because I wasn't sure if it was the same species I'd observered before, or I'm so punchy from making so many observations in so many days that I don't remember what I've seen from day to day, or because I thought I could get better ID photos the second time around than the first observation. But still, I think there shouldn't be more than 3-4 duplications all total...though in retrospect I'm wondering if there shouldn't be more duplications, a lot more duplications. Here's my reasoning: if the whole idea is to document species in an area and the area is as staggeringly large was what's currently mapped out as "greater Houston" ---and the whole idea is to provide researchers with more data points, then it stands to reason that logging a specific species in multiple locations across the huge area mapped out would make more sense scientifically, than only logging a species once in a single location, even if you see it in other locations much further away. The area mapped out for Houston covers hundreds of square miles from the Woodlands in the north to Galveston Island in the south; it goes as far west as Lake Jackson and further northwest. (Off the top of my head I can't recall the easterly limit.) There are a number of discreet ecosystems within that vast area and while some species are no doubt unique to a small area, others may make incursions into an assortment of areas.

I'm going to stick to trying to log only species that I haven't logged for the challenge before, on this the last day of the challenge, but I'm strongly considering returning to some of the locations I visited for the challenge after the challenge is over and trying to make a more complete survey. Not complete. (I'm not that good!) But document everything I reasonably can. I'm already looking ahead to next year's City Nature Challenge in the sense that by then I'll have a year's worth of iNat observations under my belt, and have more species confirmed. Just since joining iNat a couple of weeks ago my knowledge of species has grown tremendously. With all I've learned in two weeks, imagine what I can learn in the next year! I have attached the day's observations to this post.

פורסם ב אפריל 30, 2018 02:12 אחה"צ על־ידי gulfcoasttoad gulfcoasttoad | 55 תצפיות | 0 comments | הוספת תגובה

אפריל 28, 2018

City Nature Challenge 2018-- Day 2

I was already planning on going to the Exploration Green Grand Opening today, even before I learned about the City Nature Challenge and discovered iNaturalist. The Challenge dovetailed nicely with the idea of a morning spent at Exploration Green. But honestly, because Exploration Green was so new I didn't expect to log more than a handful of observations, then I figured I'd go elsewhere for the bulk of my observations today. But if one really looks (and I did) there are quite a few species in this newly made natural area. (It's a golf course converted to a greenbelt and water retention pond.) I logged 27 observations! While this falls short of my (arbitrary) goal of 3 dozen, it's a respectable number, especially considering that --- for the sake of the challenge--- I did not (or tried not to) log things that I'd observed elsewhere yesterday. We got there before it officially opened at 10 am, met a friend, raided the native plant sale, then walked the winding pathway around the pond. All observations were things that could be seen from that path. We've had an unusually cool spring here (Harris County, Texas), but this wasn't one of those cool days. By the time we left for lunch it was broiling and I'd emptied all my reusable water bottles in a desperate bid to stay hydrated. There are a lot of young trees that have been planted (which I didn't log): they should provide a substantial amount of shade to the path at some point in the future. This is only the beginning of Exploration Green. I've added today's observations to this post.

פורסם ב אפריל 28, 2018 07:30 אחה"צ על־ידי gulfcoasttoad gulfcoasttoad | 27 תצפיות | 0 comments | הוספת תגובה

אפריל 27, 2018

City Nature Challenge 2018-- Day 1

My goal for Day 1 was simple: hit some park in the Greater Houston area that wasn't likely to be heavily trafficked, get as many observations as I could, ID as many as I could, with an emphasis on flowering plants because they're easy to photograph and ID, and they're plentiful. Oh, boy, were they plentiful! Of course, I'm not going to shun any species that puts itself in my path, but the Plant Kingdom rules when it comes to staying put for a photograph! I observed a lot of birds and bugs which did not stay still for a photo (and I'm loathe to log an observation without a photo, so they were not officially observed). Also, I saw a fair number of tiny colorful and shiny flies which my phone camera would not focus on. I had a specific number goal, which I thought might be hard to hit since it was a small park. Last weekend I did over 3 dozen observations at the Houston Arboretum in a sort of personal "practice bioblitz". I wanted to beat that number this morning. On a practical note: Given that I took multiple photos of most observations, and uploading them, etc. I realized that I should keep an eye on my phone's battery. So, 37 observations or when the battery gets to 20%, that's when I pack it in and go home, I decided. I got 40 observations!! (And the battery didn't hit 20%) Since it was around lunchtime when I did the tally, I decided that was a good stopping place for today. I was really astonished at the number of species in such a small place! And if I could've gotten pics of more insects as well as the birds I saw, the number would've been significantly higher. The park was just teeming with tiny life. I observed more than a dozen species just within about a square yard. I walked quite a bit, but a lot of the time it was just a matter of staying still and seeing everything around me. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning. I've attached today's observations, which have been added to the Houston City Nature Challenge Project.

פורסם ב אפריל 27, 2018 06:54 אחה"צ על־ידי gulfcoasttoad gulfcoasttoad | 40 תצפיות | 0 comments | הוספת תגובה

אפריל 26, 2018

The Wasp, the Squirrels, & the Birds---Outcome

I've been keeping an eye on the wasp nest in the bird feeder, which I've written about before. It's all over now. The small nest has been destroyed, most of the nest is gone, remnants of a couple of empty cells were all that were left. Of the cells that had been capped, no trace remained. I would guess that something that eats wasp larvae got at it, which is one of the outcomes I expected since Carolina Wrens, which are frequenting the yard a lot this spring, like the larvae. Either they found the nest, or something else did.

I've now filled the birdfeeder for the first time in a couple of years. The squirrels are frenzied and I'm once again working on strategy to save the feeder for the birds. I may, again, have to give up having a bird feeder, but thought I'd give it another shot.

I don't know if the squirrels drove mama wasp away before all the cells were filled, or if she just left of her own volition after having filled several cells. I don't know for sure that the Carolina Wrens got at the larvae, but it seems clear that squirrels are (so far) definite winners, being undeterred by wasp, or whatever destroyed the nest. Wrens are also possible winners if they, indeed, got a good meal out of the nest. The wasp---which hasn't been seen in a while---was the definite loser. (I'm attaching my initial observation to this post.)

פורסם ב אפריל 26, 2018 03:29 אחה"צ על־ידי gulfcoasttoad gulfcoasttoad | תצפית 1 | 0 comments | הוספת תגובה

אפריל 23, 2018

Earth Day 2018

Yesterday was Earth Day and I spent part of it at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. Besides being a great place and a great day for a nice long walk in the woods, this was sort of a trial run for the City Nature Challenge next weekend. On Earth Day I logged 37 observations and uploaded 63 photos! The Arboretum has a number of nature hikes scheduled for the City Nature Houston Challenge; I don't know yet if I will participate in them or observe elsewhere, but I wanted to see what it would be like to blitz a bunch of field observations, and hone my iNaturalist app skills. One of the first things I learned was that it goes a lot faster if you use the camera within the app, and that it automatically added location (which the app hadn't been doing before), sometimes specifying exactly which trail I was on! Those two things made the app tremendously faster and easier to use.

I tried to get as much diversity as possible, but plants (and fungus) are my natural "go-to" for photos at the Arboretum, and it was an unusually chilly damp morning so there just wasn't a whole lot of creatures out and moving. I saw birds I couldn't get a picture of, and ants I couldn't get the phone's focus to lock onto, and a Gulf Fritillary that zipped across the trail by the meadow so fast it was out of range in the blink of an eye. Even the plants had a hard time staying still for photos as a cool wind gusted through some locations. I added all the observations to the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center Project here on iNaturalist, in the hope that someone monitoring the project would be able to provide IDs since all observations were on trails and I don't think I saw anything particularly rare or unusual---or for that matter, inconspicuous (except for the ladybeetle which was on the underside of the leaf). The hardest part of this trial run for the challenge was deciding what to take a picture of. At any given spot there were dozens, if not hundreds, of species within a 360 degree view. I went for easily ID'd highly conspicuous wildlowers, and a random assortment of things I simply did not know with any degree of precision, which I thought it likely that someone else familiar with the Houston Arboretum trails would know. The visitor center always has a sampling of plants, especially blooming plants, in small vases with the genus and species labeled. I used that to ID a number of flowers, but otherwise relied on suggestions from iNaturalist, or marked Unknown. One frustrating thing was that none of my observations were uploaded real time; they were all marked "waiting to upload" until after we left the Arboretum. So there could be no communication or coordination between me and any others also making observations on the trails at the same time. I think that will make IDing observations in the Arboretum for the City Nature Houston Challenge more challenging than it needs to be.

For all the common flowers I observed, what Earth Day at the Houston Arboretum really taught me was how very much I did not know about how very many species. It also showed how inclined I am to stay within my comfort zone, observing things I usually observe, or things I knew could be easily ID'ed. iNaturalist is all about identification, and so many observations go without any specific ID, that if one wants one's observations validated by having ID improved or confirmed, then one quickly (within a week of installing the app) learns to stick with things that can be easily ID'd like flowering plants. "Easily identified" is helpful for the City Nature Challenge which needs big numbers and fast IDs to be able to handle large numbers of species, but it's a poor criteria for observations in other circumstances.

פורסם ב אפריל 23, 2018 05:29 אחה"צ על־ידי gulfcoasttoad gulfcoasttoad | 38 תצפיות | 0 comments | הוספת תגובה

Brief update and some thoughts on IDing

A quick belated update on some home observations. Mama wasp hasn't been around lately, but nest has several capped cells. Now I'm waiting to see if the Carolina Wrens find them. 😮 (See previous post.) Also, I just missed getting a hummingbird a few days ago; iNaturalist was both the reason for the sighting and the reason I didn't get the observation. I'd been trying to get a pic of a spinybacked orbweaver who had built a web way above the entryway. The phone camera had trouble locking onto it, and the sky behind it played hell with the lighting, so I finally dragged a stepchair out and climbed up to see if I could get a better angle for a decent picture. After several tries, I did manage to get it. I climbed down and while I was entering data for spinyback orbweaver, I heard this very loud buzzing sound. I looked up & was eye to eye with hummingbird! Tried desperately to back out of app to get to camera but hummingbird was gone before I could get to camera app! (Yes, I can take pics within the app, but the problem was that I tried to back out of a partial unsaved observation of the spinyback, which the app wouldn't let me do without either saving or discarding.) I stood perfecly still for a while, but the hummingbird didn't come back, though I got another spider while waiting. 😁 A twitchy little thing that blended very well with the brickwork. I wouldn't have seen it at all if it hadn't moved, or hadn't moved so fast. (A jumping spider species, I think. Waiting on ID confirmation.)

Actually I'm waiting on a lot of ID confirmations. iNaturalist has been so far as unhelpful in IDing things as it's been helpful. Right now I've got more without confirmed ID than I do with ID, including a few observations in which I couldn't even hazard a guess about what I was looking at. I would probably do better if I specialized in particular taxa; then eventually I'd end up with some connections to people who also specialize in the same things, and so get more confirmed IDs, learn things, and become a better observer and IDer myself. But I'm interested in everything to some extent. OK, maybe not everything, but I am curious about things I see in the natural world. I want to know what I'm seeing so I can find out more. I do know enough plants, both native and garden, that I can contribute an ID to some of them. I make a point to periodically click Explore for my location (which is Harris County, TX for most observations) and look over the photos for any not marked RG (Research Grade) to see if I can contribute anything. Sometimes for unknown I can contribute a phylla or family or genus, leaving a more precise ID for someone more knowledgeable, but at the same time being of some help to my fellow users. I'm surprised at how many really common plants are posted with no ID, but no one knows everything; a birder may be great with birds and trees, but not with spider ID. A pollinator specialist might not know the names of birds that aren't pollinators. Every ID represents a bit of knowledge shared. Since the web of life on this planet is complex, filling in the pieces--all the little pieces--can be very important to the big picture.

פורסם ב אפריל 23, 2018 04:27 אחה"צ על־ידי gulfcoasttoad gulfcoasttoad | 2 תצפיות | 0 comments | הוספת תגובה

אפריל 19, 2018

First observations--trying out iNaturalist

I like the idea of a nature journal--I've done it before in a non-systematic fashion, which is to say, mingled with journal entries on other topics. I joined iNaturalist yesterday afternoon, made 3 observations and 4 IDs (not including my own observations). I included a note with each of my observations, so that each observation with text stands as a mini-journal entry, in a way. Because this Journal is only available on the website, not on the app, most of what I write about what I see will be attached to each picture entry, rather than "journaled" here in the Journal on the website. Fortunately I can attach observations to a journal entry and that, at least will ensure that some observations end up in this Journal, though I suspect I may fall behind in keeping up with this.

Some interesting notes that I ferreted out after I had posted my observations: the wasp is most likely female, a lone female founder of the colony. I found some stats online that indicated her success rate, being solo in early spring (unusually cool weather lately, so it feels more like "early spring") was less than colonies with multiple female founders or later getting established. I also found out that Carolina Wrens are among the birds that predate on this wasp and larvae. Ironically, we have these wrens in the yard and they're the reason I decided to see about getting seed into the old feeder again--not realizing that they primarily eat insects! (Until now I've rarely seen them here, so I hadn't looked further than IDing them.) They are much more conspicuous than previous years, so I think there many be more of them than the usual infrequent sighting. And of course, there are the vast colony of squirrels who live in the trees, mostly in the tree with the feeder, though it's been empty for a couple of years now. It will be interesting to see how things shake out with the wasp colony, the wrens, and the squirrels. Smart money is probably still on the squirrels. :D

פורסם ב אפריל 19, 2018 08:02 אחה"צ על־ידי gulfcoasttoad gulfcoasttoad | 3 תצפיות | 0 comments | הוספת תגובה