Journal archives for January 2016

January 05, 2016

Critter Calendar

Happy 2016 everybody! To mark the New Year, we're rolling out a new weekly schedule of featured organisms that we're calling the Critter Calendar.

Inspired by National Moth Week, each week for the duration of 2016 we will announce a featured critter along with a little blurb to help you recognize them and know where to look. We will tally all of the observations made of the critter during the week in a project, and at the end of the week, we will recap what was found and highlight any interesting findings.

We've picked widely distributed, frequently observed groups and have arranged them based on the timing of past iNaturalist observations. So hopefully as many participants from around the globe as possible will be able to find these critters near their backyards.

This first week running from Sunday January 3rd through Jaunary 9th we are featuring cormorants and their relatives!

Critter Calendar Weeks

Critter Calendar weeks so far:

Posted on January 05, 2016 00:00 by loarie loarie | 14 comments | Leave a comment

It's Cormorant Week on iNaturalist! Jan 3 - 9


This week we're featuring a group of waterbirds known as Suliformes. This order of birds is distantly related to other waterbirds such as herons, loons, and penguins. They are made up of four distinct families:

Cormorants

Cormorants are the most widely encountered of the group. They are large, black, somewhat awkward looking birds often found swimming in lakes, ponds, and along coasts around the world. Cormorants catch fish by swimming after them underwater. Their feathers lack oil which allows them to sink, but prevents them from flying while wet. As a result, they are often seen perched with wings spread to dry.



Anhingas


Anhingas, sometimes called swamp-turkeys, resemble cormorants but have thiner, snakelike necks. They are confined to freshwater in tropical and near tropical climates such as the swamps of South East North America. When not swimming, they are usually found perched in trees.



Gannets and Boobies

Gannets and boobies are ocean birds. Gannets prefer colder waters while their warm water counterparts the Boobies are confined to the tropics. Both are usually seen flying over seas in search of food unless you visit the small rocky islands where they nest. They resemble sleeker, shorter necked cormorants. From the air, they dive-bomb into water like living spears after fish and squid.




Frigatebirds


Frigatebirds are also found flying over tropical oceans. Their extremely long pointed wings allow them to spend nearly all of their time in the air. While they also eat fish and squid, frigatebirds steal food caught by other birds like boobies by harassing them in the air until they relinquish their catches. Like Boobies, you're much more likely to see Frigatebirds in the air unless you visit their nesting colonies.


If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We’ll be keeping track here. Happy Suliforme hunting!

Posted on January 05, 2016 08:47 by loarie loarie | 6 comments | Leave a comment

January 31, 2016

Woodpecker Week Wrap

We're entering week 5 of our Critter Calendar but have gotten a bit behind on these wraps. So here's a quick long overdue breakdown of what happend during Woodpecker Week on iNaturalist! We counted 172 Observations by 98 observers representing 22 distinct species.



Woodpeckers

During Woodpecker Week we didn't get any of the non-woodpecker Piciformes (toucans, barbets, etc.), but we got plenty of Woodpeckers! Downy woodpecker was the most frequently seen, followed by Northern Flicker, Red-bellied woodpecker and Yellow-bellied sapsucker. @robberfly and @kimssight each managed to tick 5 distinct species in the California San Francisco and Los Angeles regions respectively. @sanguinaria33 found woodpeckers 6 of the 7 days of Woodpecker Week near Chicago reporting a total of 10 observations. Some of the most exciting woodpeckers came from @bob-dodge who was in Cuba during the week and managed to tick Cuban Green and West Indian Woodpeckers. Some interesting observations from Mexico yielded species like Golden fronted and Golden cheeked Woodpeckers. And in Europe, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers checked including a Great Spotted observation posed by @at8eqeq3 from Russia!

A Pileated Woodpecker observed by Wendy Feltham (@wendy5)

We'll try to get wraps for Hawk and Duck Weeks up ASAP, but for now, Heron Week is just starting so get outside and find us some of these waders!

Thanks to Francesco Veronesi, Laura Gooch, Victoria Gracia, Jerry Oldenettel, Jason Means, Andy Blackledge, Gavan Watson, Dwight Beers, Minette Layne, Eddie Callaway, Vitaliy Khustochka, Doug Greenberg, Dawn Vornholt, Dmitry Mozzherin, Mike Baird, Cheryl Harleston, Dominic Sherony, Scott Young, Doug Greenberg, Shelley & Dave, Jim Frazier for licensing their photography for use in the graphic.

Posted on January 31, 2016 09:08 by loarie loarie | 2 comments | Leave a comment

It's Heron Week on iNaturalist! Jan 31 - Feb 6


The Critter Calendar stays in the wetlands and watery areas of the world as we focus on the order Pelicaniformes - a diverse group of birds that includes pelicans, herons, ibises, spoonbills and more!

Comprising medium-sized and large water birds, the taxonomy of the Pelicaniformes has gone through many changes, and for this week we are going with the International Ornithological Committee’s definition, which includes the following families:

Herons and Bitterns

The Ardeidae are the Herons, Egrets and Bitterns, who use their long legs and necks to to stalk their prey, often along the water’s edge. Herons like the Grey Heron have grey, blue and other dark feathers, while egrets are herons who have white or buff feathers. Egrets in the United States were nearly hunted to extinction in the early 1900s, due to their plumed feathers being sought after for women’s hats. Bitterns are smaller than herons and have shorter necks and brown/tan plumage. The Ardeidae fly with their long necks retracted and their legs held straight back.




Pelicans


The large gular pouches under their long bills make the pelicans (Pelecanidae) instantly recognizable. They prowl coastal and inland waters around the world and often skim just over the water’s surface as they fly, using ground effect to keep them in the air. The four “white” pelican species, like the Great White Pelican, nest on the ground, whereas four darker colored species, like the Brown Pelican, nest in trees or rocks. They will catch multiple fish in their pouches then drain out the water before swallowing.



Ibises and Spoonbills

Found mostly in standing or slow-moving brackish water, the ibises and spoonbills (Threskiornikidae) have long necks and legs like the Ardeidae, but hold their necks out straight while in flight. Spoonbills like the Royal Spoonbill have flat and wide spoon-shaped tips to their bills, which they use to find aquatic creatures as they sweep through the water. The bills of the ibises point downward and they use a probing motion to feed for invertebrates in the mud. Ibises are gregarious birds and are usually found in groups.




Shoebill


The Shoebill (Balaenicipitidae), which ranges throughout swamps of central Africa, lives up to its name - it sports a large, wide bill with sharp edges, which it can use to decapitate the lungfish which make up most of its diet. It is the only member of its family and is highly sought after by birders.



Hamerkop


Like the Shoebill, the Hamerkop (Scopidae) is also a single species family from Africa. Their name means hammer-head in Afrikaans. Hamerkops have brown plumage and and shorter legs and necks than other wading birds in this order. Bizarrely they also have partially-webbed feet and will join together in “ceremonies,” where they call loudly, raise their crests, flap their wings and and run in circles around each other. Hamerkops build giant nests that resemble huge piles of sticks high up in trees very similar in appearance to the pack-rat nests seen in North America.


If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We’ll be keeping track here. Happy Pelicaniforme hunting!

Posted on January 31, 2016 07:36 by loarie loarie | 2 comments | Leave a comment

January 06, 2016

Observation of the Week, 1/5/16

This Vole-toting Stoat seen by redfaux in Routt County, Colorado is our Observation of the Week.

The Stoat (Mustela erminea), or Short-tailed Weasel, is a secretive predator and not often seen in the wild, but Austin, Texas residents Heather Valey (redfaux on iNaturalist) and her husband Daniel were able to capture the above image when visiting Heather’s father in Clark, Colorado this past December.

While enjoying a morning cup of coffee, her father said "Hey look there's the weasel!" and pointed out the window. “The weasel,” she explains, is her father’s nickname for the Stoat had been making a daily appearance around his home. This day, however, it had a fresh kill in its mouth (which iNaturalist users have identified as a Vole), so Daniel grabbed the camera and began firing away from the front deck. “It looked at first like the Stoat was just going to stay obscured in some brush with his kill,” says Heather, “but much to our surprise he ran out in the open and posed for us with the vole for a few seconds. To ask a Stoat to stand still for that long is asking a lot...so we were lucky.” They ended up with a wonderful photo of winter wildlife, and one of our most popular Observations of the Day posts ever!

Heather says she had always been raised to appreciate nature, but it was on a photo tour of the Galapagos Islands last spring (see photo above) where she truly “caught the wildlife photography and observing nature bug. Ever since that trip I have to get out a couple times a week with the camera and do a nature walk...even if sometimes all I have with me is the iPhone.”

On a trip to the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve last June, Heather saw a posting about iNaturalist and the park’s Wild Basin Biodiversity project. She calls it “a nature journal in your pocket at all times,” and now when she goes out on nature walks, Heather says iNaturalist “makes me think about what I’m observing...it has also encouraged me to be curious of my surroundings in nature and put some effort in trying to identify what it is I’m seeing.

“Lastly...it’s a fun app!”

by Tony Iwane


Read Heather’s blog post about discovering iNaturalist.

Check out Heather’s photos on Flickr.


Top photo: Daniel Valey

Bottom photo: Heather Valey

Posted on January 06, 2016 07:14 by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 17, 2016

Its Hawk Week on iNaturalist! Jan 17 - 23


It’s another bird week on our Critter Calendar, and this week we’re focusing on the Hawks, Eagles, and their relatives, collectively known as the Accipitriformes.

This order contains most of the diurnal birds of prey, nearly all of whom have large broad wings, sharp hooked beaks, and strong raptorial (aka grasping) claws. While falcons are similar to eagles and hawks, genetic testing has shown them to be more closely related to parrots and passerine birds and are not included in the accipitriformes order.


Hawks

The Accipitridae are a diverse group which includes large hunting birds such as eagles and hawks (also known as buzzards), and carrion eaters like the Old World vultures. They possess formidable eyesight, some seeing 8 times better than humans, and birds like the buteos can often be seen soaring high on thermals, looking for prey for far below them. Others like the smaller accipiters are smaller and quicker and will catch birds on the wing while flying through wooded areas. And Kites of the genus Elaninae hover over open fields, looking for rodents. Birds of this family can be found on all continents except for Antarctica.

New World Vultures

Unlike the Accipitridae, New World vultures such as the ubiquitous Turkey vultures and Black vultures have strong senses of smell, which they use for finding rotting carcasses. Their heads are featherless, their claws do not grasp strongly, and they are the birds best-adapted to soaring, sometimes traveling miles and miles each day on thermals.


Osprey


Ospreys are birds of prey who specialize in hunting fish. They are the only extant species in the family Pandionidae, and can be found worldwide wherever there is a body of water large enough to offer them a steady supply of food. Ospreys have brown upper parts and white underparts which may have some dark streaks.



Secretary Bird


And finally the family Sagittariidae, which also counts only one species as a member - the Secretary Bird. Found in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa, this mostly terrestrial raptor looks like a mash-up between an eagle and a crane, having a strong hooked bill and long legs, which it uses for running down prey on open grasslands. In addition to its body structure, the Secretary Bird has a distinctive crest of black feathers on the back of its head.


If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We'll be keeping track here. Happy Accipitriforme hunting!

Posted on January 17, 2016 08:33 by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

January 21, 2016

Cormorant Week Wrap

We kicked off the Critter Calendar in style with a record breaking Cormorant Week on iNaturalist! We counted 89 Observations from 11 countries by 54 observers representing 15 distinct species.



Cormorants

As expected, we had a lot of Double-crested Cormorants checking in from North America, but we counted seven different Cormorants in total. Gena Bentall (@gbentall) managed to tick all 3 cormorants from California at Moss Landing, near Monterey

The relatively widespread Neotropical Cormorant and Great Cormorant were each well represented across the Neotropics, North America, and Europe. We also counted two cormorants from Australia and New Zealand. The Little Black Cormorant from New Zealand is well represented on iNat, but was missed this week. We also dipped on a few African species that have previously checked into iNat, but not this week.

A swimming Double-crested Cormorant observed by @tnewman

Anhingas

The American Anhinga was well represented from the New World, and thanks to efforts by Ry Beaver (@ryber), we had a second Anhinga species with his Australian Darter from near Perth.

Gannets and Boobies

James Shelton (@james5) found a couple of Northern Gannets on the Virginia coast. It looked like we weren't going to get any Boobies, and then Colin Morita (@colinmorita) came through with visit a Hawaiian Red Footed Booby colony. And towards the end of the week, @icosahedron reported 3 Booby Species from the Galapagos!

Frigatebirds

We had 2 species of Frigatebird check in. The Greater Frigatebird also from the Galapagos, and the Magnificant Frigatebird from Florida, Mexico, and this great spotting of one perched by Scott Trageser (@naturestills) from Barbuda. Both Roger Shaw (@aredoubles) and @tnewman managed to tick Magnificant Frigatebird along with two other species (Anghinga and Double-crested) in Florida this week.

This was the biggest week ever on iNaturalist by number of Cormorant (Suliformes) observations! We appreciate everyone who participated help kicking of the Critter Calendar, and remember, Hawk Week is currently underway - so get outside and find us some raptors!

Details on how we're counting

Thanks to everyone for bearing with us as we fiddle with this Critter Calendar idea. We'll likely change some of the details for how we're counting as we (a) learn from this experience and (b) make some changes to the software. But for now, we're counting (adding to the project) everything observed during the Calendar Week (ie Midnight Sunday through Midnight the following Sunday in London) that is a candidate to become Research Grade (e.g. has a photo, location etc.) and we have permissions to add to the project. The way iNaturalist counts species varies a bit on the site, but we're counting distinct taxa (ie all taxa minus their ancestors).

Thanks to Blake Matheson, Dario Sanches, barloventomagico, birdman_of_jalova David and Dorothy Jenkins (Sharing for 2015), Mikko Koponen, Len Blumin, Drew Avery, Kevin Rolle, Blake Matheson, Jerry Kirkhart, Franco Folini, Marj Kibby, Jan Smith, Xavier Ceccaldi for licensing their photography for use in the graphic.

Posted on January 21, 2016 08:37 by loarie loarie | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 24, 2016

It's Duck Week on iNaturalist! Jan 24 - 30


This week on the Critter Calendar we moved from soaring raptors to the aquatic birds of the order Anseriformes - ducks, geese, swans and screamers.

Counting some of the most familiar and iconic birds in the world as members, the Anseriformes are well adapted to living life at the water’s surface. They all have webbed feet for powerful swimming, most have special oils which protect their feathers from water, and their bills have special filters, called lamellae, which help them feed on the plants that make up most of their adult diets



Ducks, Geese, and Swans


Nearly all Anseriformes belong to the family Anatidae, which includes the ducks, geese and swans. Dabbling ducks, like the ubiquitous Mallard, tend to feed in shallower waters where they can upend themselves to feed on shallow aquatic vegetation, their hindquarters sticking above the water’s surface. Diving ducks such as Ring-necked duck tend to submerge their entire bodies when searching for food, and have larger feet than dabblers. Many ducks are sexually dimorphous - males often have bold colors and patterns, while females are usually drab in plumage. The Paradise Shelduck is a notable exception to this pattern.


Geese and swans of the subfamily Anserinae are bigger than ducks and have longer necks. Large Mute Swans are known to have wingspans reaching 3 m (9.8 ft) and may weigh 15 kg (33 lbs). Geese and ducks can often be found feeding on terrestrial vegetation.


Screamers


The family Anhimidae, or “screamers,” consists of three species who live in South America. More terrestrial than the Anatidae, their feet are only partially webbed and their bills are more pointed than flattened. Bizarrely, they have air bubbles in their skin which supposedly make crackling noises when pressed!



Magpie Goose


Papua New Guinea and Northern Australia are home to the lone species of this family, the Magpie Goose. Their bill shows they belong in the Anseriformes but are considered an early offshoot within the order. Magpie geese have black and white plumage, yellow legs, and can congregate in large groups during breeding season.


If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We’ll be keeping track here. Happy Anseriforme hunting!

Posted on January 24, 2016 04:55 by loarie loarie | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 27, 2016

Welcome to the New iNaturalist Blog!

Stay tuned for updates about the site, new and notable findings from iNat users, and other stuff from the iNat universe!

Posted on January 27, 2016 21:48 by kueda kueda | 7 comments | Leave a comment

January 10, 2016

It's Woodpecker Week on iNaturalist! Jan 10 - 16


This week as part of the Critter Calendar we are featuring a group of birds known as Piciformes.

Woodpeckers with their near global distribution are the best known, but the group also includes eight other lesser known families confined to the tropics. All Piciformes share X-shaped 'zygodactyl' feet with two toes pointing forward and two pointing backwards - most birds have just one toe pointing back.


Woodpeckers

Woodpeckers are easily identified by their habit of drumming into and prying at bark in search of food with their strong bills. The group includes large species like the Pileated Woodpecker pictured at top as well as smaller species like the Downy Woodpecker. Many large woodpeckers are dependant on old-growth forests for food. As this habitat has declined, several species of large woodpecker including the Ivory-billed and Imperial Woodpeckers have recently gone extinct. While most woodpeckers drill holes to search for insects or sap, Acorn Woodpeckers drill holes to store acorns and keep them safe from squirrels. Lewis's Woodpecker was discovered on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and represents one of the few surviving specimens brought back from that expedition.


Toucans


Toucans are well known for their colorful plumage and large beautiful bills. These birds primarily eat fruit and are confined to the neotropics. In the paleotropics, an unrelated group of birds called Hornbills occur that have similar habits and physical characteristics.



Jacamars and Puffbirds


Two other families confined to the neotropics are the closely related jacamars and puffbirds. Both are sit-and-wait hunters that perch motionless on branches and ambush insects that fly by. Jacamars look like oversized hummingbirds with long bills and metalic plumage. Puffbirds have a puffy, large-headed appearance.



Honeyguides


Honeyguides have a paleotropical distribution. Their unusual diet of beeswax has resulted in a habit of leading honey badgers, humans, and other honey-eating mammals to beehives. After the mammal has done the hard work of breaking up the hive, the honeyguide has access to all the beeswax it can eat.



Barbets


Barbets were once thought to be a single widely distributed family of birds, but were recently found to represent four distinct families. Two families live in the neotropics, one lives in Africa, and one lives in Asia. However, all have the similar appearance of stocky little short-billed toucans like the Red-headed Barbet pictured here. Like toucans, barbets are colorful and primarily eat fruit.


If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We'll be keeping track here. Happy Piciforme hunting!

Posted on January 10, 2016 09:26 by loarie loarie | 3 comments | Leave a comment