As part of the Utah Master Naturalist program I have been asked to create a journal. As an example of journaling, I have been reading the compilation of Claude T. Barnes' daily notes into a book "The Natural History of a Mountain Year". Each day of the year is represented by a one page example taken from 40 years of meticulous note taking as he wandered the hills of the Wasatch Front above Salt Lake City, Utah. If it were a music album, I'm sure it would be called "The Best of Barnes", or "A Collection of Barnes' Greatist Hits".
Participants in the naturalist program have been encouraged to take pen to notepad in the field, to record impressions, observations and descriptions of the events, plants, trees and wildlife we have encountered during the program. My primary observation of this process is that as a result of my 30 years at a computer keyboard, both as a hobbiest and as a professional, my hand writing (while never great) has deteriated into a barely discernable scribble. The standard practice of sketching observed items also seems beyond my skills.
My only hope of creating any type of "Naturalist" journal begins and ends with access to a keyboard and, to some extent, dictation software. I hope to include photographs as part of this exercise as a crutch to my sketching skills.
My discovery of the iNaturalist web site and mobile application seems a natural (pun may not be entirely accidental) tool for my selected approach.
The Utah Master Naturalist program is divided into three areas of study. The modules cover (1) desert, (2) watershed, and (3) mountain environments. We are lucky that we have great examples of all three along the Wasatch Front. I am currently involved in the mountain segment so I will focus on that at this time as it is freshest on my mind.
July 1st, 2011 -- Our first exposure to the mountain environment was a short hike along the hillsides above Park City, Utah. Immediately, as we began the hike, I observed a yellow bellied marmot on the rocks across a small gully. He was quite a ways away for the camera gear I was carrying, but I tried to get something. He only stayed in the open a few minutes and rambled back into hiding as our group approached.
The objective of this day's hike is to see the transition from a gamble oak/maple shrubland to an aspen forest. I think it is important to note that we are on a south facing slope. The general climate here is drier that that of the slopes we observe to our south. The accross the valley are populated with what appears to be douglas fir. This is a stark contrast to the gambel oaks we are in which we are immersed. As we ascend the oaks become less predominate, wild flowers are more abundant and we notice the beginning of patches of aspen. Wildflowers that are in bloom include figwort (Scrophuluria lanceolata) , wasatch penstemon (Penstemon cyananthus), and rough edged groundsel (Senecio serra).
The afternoon was spent in the Park City Mining Museum. Available photographs made it clear (another pun maybe) that the air surrounding Park City was filled with smoke. Perhaps environmental awareness has been effective as the sky above Park City is now crystal clear.
On this day we tried our first formal exercise in journaling. Given a pencil and notepad, I sat down in front of a small flowering plant. I made a sketch and tried to write notes of it's characteristics. I will repeat here my best interpretation of my notes. I will not try to reproduce my sketches. They are truly as bad as can be imagined.
"f9 1/1600 is0800 10:00 left shoulder"
"clusters of small (2mm)
bright yellow flowers
on pale green stems
with 5mm green leaves
on the cluster there is an iridescent (red, green, gold) insect
appears to have wings"
I became acutely aware that I needed to find a different method, if journaling was to become an activity I could embrace.
July 8, 2011 -- This day was spent exploring the area in and around Little Cottonwood canyon. As we looked at the mouth of the canyon from an observation area on the valley floor, our attention is drawn to the geology of the canyon. From the "U" shapped structure and obvious morraines, we were able to surmise that much of the current structure was generated by glacial activity. It is incredible to me to contemplate the unbelievable power generated by those moving sheets of ice. We are also able to observe the fault line of the Wasatch fault. Pressure from the unbelievable power of the moving slab of earth was enough to generate the mountains of the Wasatch Front. The mountains were formed by movements of the earth's surface and shaped by glacial activity. This is indeed awsome to contemplate. Continuing up the canyon we were treated to a gorgeous waterfall (Lisa Falls). In Alta I was amazed to find that the entire forrest had been clearcut during the early mining days. Pictures were presented that showed the unbelievably bare slopes surrounding the town. In an incredible effort during the Roosevelt administration, Engleman spruce trees were replanted over the entire mountanside by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The primary driver of this effort was the requirement of Salt Lake City for fresh water. The clear cut hills led to mud slides and flooding resulting in less that satisfactory water for the City below. Today the area is managed primarily as a water source. Residential use, recreational use, and industrial use are all limited. We were treated to the activity of many ground squirrels and an active weasel. We were able to observe the transition from an Aspen forest to an Engleman Spruce forest.
July 13, 2011 -- I made a quick loop of Farmington Bay Wildlife Management Area. There were a number of Whiteface Ibis, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets, Red-winged Blackbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Gulls, and White Pelicans hanging about. There were also a couple of cormorants stretching and drying their wings on one of the dikes. Great Blue Herons were still on their nests near the Nature Center. I was really hoping for some photo opportunities, but the sky was overcast with very marginal light. I did take the opportunity to stroll around the board walk as it has been flooded during much of the spring and was finally clear. While on this stroll a brief instance of good light was accompanied by a fly-over of a mallard pair.
July 15, 2011 -- Big cottonwood canyon was today's point of interest. We began our observation with the geology of the canyon. Contrasted with Little Cotton Wood canyon this one is characterized with steep walls coming together in a "V" shape at the bottom. This indicates a non-glacier hydraulic activity creating the canyon. We visited Silver Lake while at Brighton having Jesse Walthers from Cottonwood Canyons Foundation as our guide. This is a small lake surrounded by a boardwalk. We were able to observe marsh and montane environvents as we circled the lake. Here we did our first formal exercise on journaling. This time I tried making my notes using the "thumbpad" on my iphone, and takng pictures with both my SLR and my iphone. The note taking was brutal. While I am computer savvy, I have not yet embraced the text messaging pnenomenon of the younger generation. I had just discovered the iNaturalist applecation and was trying to put my notes into that application. I did manage to not save my pontification so I am unable to share that. I did feel I was closer to a solution for me. But, I still needed something better. At least I was able to read what I had entered, even if the data entry was horribly slow. I also was able to salvage the moment with an image of the "mountain bluebells".
July 18, 2011 -- I made a loop of Antelope Island State Park. Most of the migratory song birds are long gone. I looked for the great horned owls out at Garr Ranch, but was unable to locate them. They have fledged a single chick this year and according to the park staff, the adult owls have been following the fledgeling around as it explores. I was treated to a juvinile ferruginous hawk landing on the road right in front of my truck. I shot a few images, until another car came by and spooked the bird. I did get a few images as he flew away. I am guessing that the hawk was in the area looking for a burrowing owl to invite for dinner. There are several burrowing owl "dens" in the immediate area (just below the visitor's center). I did not see any B. owls today, but I have on previous visits to the island. Today I did observe a coyote paralleling the road on the east side of the island, several meadowlarks, and a few small birds I was unable to identify or photograph. Along the causeway there are many gulls (mostly California and ringbills), avocets and stilts. Wildflowers observed today included Utah thistle and mulleins.
July 22, 2011 -- An excursion up to near Wolf Creek Pass was the day's adventure. The wildflowers were absolutely gorgeous. Our guide for the day Brennon McAvoy, is a forestry expert from Utah State University. His emphasis was on the modern harvesting methods of timber vs. the old clear cutting methods. As the day progressed, he showed us an area that BYU had clearcut and burned the undergrowth in about 1960. This was an experiment on their part to find out what would happen in a Engleman Spruce environment if this practice was allowed to prevail. The test are was flanked on both sides by areas where trees have been harvested using good management practices several times in the intervening years. The test area remains mostly barren of trees. There were a few scatterd trees but it looked mostly empty. The areas that were "properly" harvested (about 30% of the trees taken in a harvest for Spruce) showed little evidence, to this untrained eye, that they had ever been harvested. We looked at a campground that had been harvested three years in a row. It had been described as the Campground Massacre by local campers. Five years later little evidence exist of the harvest. The premis is that if harvesting is done properly, the forest will be healthier (less beatle damage, less fire damage, increased wildlife capacity) than a forest that is not managed. Wildflowers observed today include mulleins, dearf larkspur, blue columbine, woodland strawberry, leafy jacob's ladder, sticky geranium, many flowered stickweed, pasque flower. The meadows provided a beautiful display today.
Regarding my journaling, I was using the iNaturalist application on my iphone exclusively for entering images. I left my SLR home. I think there is a time for the SLR, but not during the rapid pace of a structured lecture environment. I attempted to add appropriate names to the images as I found time during the day. However, "journaling" was limited. First, the mobile iNaturalist application does not support journaling. So I needed another method. Dragon Dictation may be the answer. If I can record and retain verbal notes while in the field, transfer those notes to my PC, paste them into the "journaling" portion of the iNaturalist web application and edit the entry, I may have a solution I can incoporate into my normal photographic workflow.
Once I am in a "normal" photographic" workflow, I believe I will have time to take an iphone image (primarily for recording the GPS coordinates and interfacing with the iNaturalist web site) and an SLR image. While the iphone image process has advanced a long way, it has not approached what is possible with a quality SLR. I will then be able to replace the iphone image in the iNaturalist application with the image from the SLR, and add appropriate notes with a copy and paste from Dragon Dictation.
July 29, 2011 -- To be continued.