Journal archives for December 2016

December 08, 2016

Observation of the Week, 12/7/16

This melanistic Cooper’s Hawk, seen in Texas by @johnkarges, is our Observation of the Week!

For birdwatchers, a bird with color abnormalities is a rare treat. Some species have different “morphs,” such as “dark-morph” and “light-morph” Red-tailed hawks, that occur frequently. More rare are leucistic birds, who don’t produce melanin for their feathers, making them very light-colored or white. A leucistic Anna’s Hummingbird in Santa Cruz, California caused quite a stir this year.

Possibly more rare are melanistic birds, who produce too much pigment when forming their feathers, giving them an overall dark plumage, making it difficult to see patterns and field marks. When out birding with his partner recently, iNaturalist user John Karges spotted a melanistic Cooper’s Hawk, seen above!

“My partner and I were driving out of mall parking area,” recalls John, “when she looked off to the side at a lawn island noticing a black bird mantling over and picking at the carcass of another black bird. She’s just getting interested in birds and asked if grackles were carnivorous or cannibalistic. I glanced over at the two black birds just outside our windows and exclaimed ‘That’s a melanistic Cooper’s Hawk!!!’

“We weren’t but 30-40 feet or so from the bird and there were no pedestrians around to disturb it off its kill. We watched for around 30 minutes while I took about a hundred still photos and she even took some video. A storm cell was approaching and just as the sheet rain hit, the bird flew up with the meager remains of the grackle and flew low across a road into an ornamental shrubline.” They weren’t able to find the hawk again once the storm passed, but it was a thrilling experience for these birders.

Just how rare is a melanistic Cooper’s Hawk? According to Morrow, et al., a melanistic Cooper’s Hawk found in Virginia in 2013 is, to their knowledge, the only other one ever document in North America!

Cooper’s Hawks are medium-sized hawks who often live in forest but are found in suburban areas as well. They fly swiftly through the woods and specialize in preying on smaller birds, but this behavior can be dangerous - a study found that 23% of Cooper’s Hawk carcasses showed evidence of broken bones in the chest.  They are very similar in appearance to Sharp-shinned Hawks, often making them a tough bird to identify.

“When I was in third grade,” says John, “I announced to the world via my family that I was going to be a biologist and it has never wavered, now having spent my career so far between the natural history museum world, nature centers, and conservation.” He’s spent the last 27 years a land steward and conservation biologist with The Nature Conservancy, and says that he’s only been on iNat for a few years “but once introduced, I was addicted to contributing, verifying sightings, and adding to projects... I can’t say that iNaturalist has changed the way I appreciate the natural world and biodiversity but it sure has enriched it.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Some fairly intense footage of a Cooper’s Hawk mantling while killing a Eurasian Collared Dove.

- Check out the the Amazing Aberrants project on iNaturalist for some more organisms with aberrant mutations.

- Some tips on how to differentiate Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Posted on December 08, 2016 01:16 AM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

December 10, 2016

(Bonus) Observation of the Week, 12/9/16

This Southern Pygmy Leatherjacket, seen by @richardling in Australia, is our Observation of the Week!

“One of my mother's favourite possessions is an elderly green Tupperware container, brittle with age,” recalls Richard Ling.  “When I was four, and the container was new, I cut holes in its lid so I could keep caterpillars in it. From infancy I'd been taught to treat nature with respect and kindness, and caterpillars were living things that needed air to breathe, so what could be more sensible? This rather reduced the container's value for storing lettuces, but mum didn't mind. To her it stores memories of my early childhood spent as an ‘amateur naturalist.’ Whenever she puts new tape over the holes, she remembers me wandering about the garden minutely inspecting every beetle, every spider, every ant trail, every worm, however tiny.”

Richard continues to be enthralled by nature, and is especially taken by the biodiversity of the underwater world. “It's like having Africa just offshore,” he says. “Step off pretty much any coastline of Australia and you can get the same thrill. Today you might be engulfed in a swarm of huge kingfish, or meet a three metre shark round the next corner, or stumble across a sleepy turtle, or hear whales passing nearby...if big fish don't show today, you'll still find astounding smaller creatures, with a much higher density than on land, and never seen by most people.”

“In my dreams I'd...have infinite air, infinite camera battery, and infinite camera storage capacity. I expect scientists are working on those last three.”

The Southern Pygmy Leatherjacket that Richard photographed is endemic to Australia, and grows to about 3.5 in (9 cm) in length. Not a strong swimmer, by day it drifts among sea grass and other plant life, slowly undulating its fins. And by night, which is when Richard photographed this one, it (adorably) bites onto a piece of algae to keep itself from being swept away by the current.

“I am very grateful to the ‘Fish Down Under’ project members who introduced me to iNaturalist and got me involved,” says Richard. “I am really excited by the iNaturalist idea and it matches my own interests incredibly well. I have long uploaded my photos to Flickr and tagged them taxonomically, and helped others identify their own, and iNat has really taken that aspect of Flickr and distilled it down to its purest form, then somehow populated it with taxonomic experts. It's exactly what I've been looking for.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Please check out Richard’s awesome photos on his Flickr page.

- Videos! Here’s one showing a pair chilling on the sea floor, and another depicting their courtship and spawning behavior.

- We take underwater photos for granted nowadays, but it hasn’t always been that way. The Western Australian Museum has a short video and article showing the history of underwater photography. Really cool!

Posted on December 10, 2016 02:11 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

December 22, 2016

Observation of the Week, 12/22/16

This Ornate Wobbegong shark, seen off of Australia by @johnturnbull, is our Observation of the Week!

A lifelong lover of nature, John Turnbull started the website Marine Explorer “to show people what lives under the sea; in order to conserve we have to care, and to care we have to understand.” He discovered iNat after members of the Australasian fishes project asked him to share his (several thousand) photos from Marine Explorer and they are amazing!

The photo above is of an Ornate Wobbegong, which is a member of the Orectolobiformes order of sharks. Often called “carpet sharks,” due to the colorful patterns of many species, this order counts whale sharks, nurse sharks, and zebra sharks among its 43 species. Wobbegongs, of the family Orectolobidae, got their common name from the Australian Aboriginal word, which means “shaggy beard,” and describes the lobes which grow around the sharks’ mouths and act as sensory organs. Camouflage ambush predators, these sharks lie in wait on the seafloor until an unsuspecting fish strays close enough for them to grab.

“There are three species of wobbegong in central New South Wales, and they are hard to tell apart,” explains John. “As part of Marine Explorer, I try to show people the differences between species and so the wobby picture is part of that. The ornate wobby is the smallest and cutest of the three – sometimes you find them 30 cm or less. It shows that not all sharks are big and scary as popular culture would have us believe.”

Although a recent iNat member, John has been impressed with the community. “I have found iNaturalist to be great to confirm my IDs, and find ones  where I have mistaken one species for another,” he says. “The interaction with others with similar interests is most valuable. I am passionate about citizen science as a way of engaging people in nature and iNaturalist is a great example of this.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out Marine Explorer’s awesome Flickr and Vimeo pages!

- Here’s some nice footage of an Ornate Wobbegong resting on a rock.

- Great look at a Tasselled Wobbegong inhaling a fish! Marred by some overwrought narration and music, alas.

Posted on December 22, 2016 05:55 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

December 28, 2016

How to Easily Geotag DSLR Photos

Maybe you got a fancy new DSLR or mirrorless camera for the holidays that you'd like to use for your wildlife photos, or maybe you've been using one for awhile. Either way, if your camera doesn't have built-in GPS, it can be difficult to get accurate location information for iNat.

Here's a video showing a workflow for using a smartphone or handheld GPS unit to easily geotag your photos and not worry about getting accurate location info either later or in the field. The GPS app in the video is Motion-X GPS for iOS. If anyone has suggestions for a great Android GPS tracking app, please share in the comments!

- Tony

How to Geotag your Photos for iNaturalist from iNaturalist on Vimeo.

Posted on December 28, 2016 09:13 PM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

December 30, 2016

Observation of the Week, 12/29/16

This Wallace’s Stripe-faced Fruit Bat, seen in Indonesia by @martinmandak, is our Observation of the Week!

“Bats were one of reasons why I undertook the quite arduous journey to the remote "corner" of Sulawesi (and definitely I do not regret that),” says Martin Mandak. “Sulawesi is one of the bats' hotspot (more than 60 species). On the other hand, Sulawesian bats have hard life due to habitat destruction and extensive bushmeat hunting resulting in steep decline of many populations. Tompotika Peninsula (Central Sulawesi) is becoming a save haven for fruit bats thanks to amazing work of Alliance for Tompotika.”

“During my last night in Tanah Merah village (one of conservation centres in the peninsula),” he recalls, “I explored a tiny remnant of rainforest near the village. The lonely [Wallace’s Stripe-faced Fruit Bat] with beautifully colored face was calmly hanging above a path and let me approach to itself very closely.”

Martin’s observation is the first one for this species on iNaturalist, and it is listed as Near-threatened by the IUCN. Named after Charles Darwin’s correspondent Alfred Russel Wallace, who had collected the first specimen, this bat is found only on the island of Sulawesi and some nearby smaller islands. Unlike insectivorous bats, fruit bats have much better vision, which they use in conjunction with their noses to find suitable fruits and nectar to eat. In fact, only a select few species are able to use echolocation! Oh, and the ones who dine on nectar have amazing tongues that actually retract around their ribcages. Actually make that really amazing tongues.

Professionally, Martin Mandak evaluates buildings “before thermal insulation to avoid conflicts with nesting of synanthropic birds (and bats to lesser degree)” and is member of the committee of the Silesian Ornithological Society, a branch of Czech Society for Ornithology (BirdLife partner in the Czech Republic). As a naturalist, he is especially interested in birds, reptiles, amphibians, bats, and insects.

“I use iNaturalist particularly for 1) sharing pictures of more overlooked groups of animals and 2) as a site where my observations can be IDed,” says Martin “In my opinion, the most useful iNaturalist features are projects with active leaders, who motivate observers to raise interest of ‘their’ groups of animals. To name at least one, I would mention AfriBats and very helpful @jakob.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Some cool facts about Flying Foxes, the world’s largest fruit bats.

- Here are some pretty adorable rescued baby fruit bats at the Australian Bat Center.

- Sir David Attenborough on Alfred Russel Wallace.

Posted on December 30, 2016 12:00 AM by tiwane tiwane | 6 comments | Leave a comment

December 31, 2016

iNat and Big Data - An Interview with 2016's Top Observer

As of today, Jonathan "JC" Carpenter (@reallifeecology) has posted 15,743 observations to iNaturalist in 2016, making him our top individual observer for the year! (@sambiology and @finatic are strong second and third place finishers, with 9,454 and 8,676 observations, respectively)

JC has spent much of the year traveling around the country and participating in bioblitzes with his family. He stopped by our office in San Francisco (on a typically overcast day) earlier this month, where we had a chance to chat. In this post I've included a video of him sharing his thoughts on iNaturalist at the importance of citizen science and big data, and tomorrow I'll post a video of his experiences with bioblitzes.

2016 has been a big year for iNat. Over 1.5 million verifiable observations have been uploaded by over 55,000 users, we were featured on NPR, and we served as the platform for the National Park Services Centennial Bioblitzes, among many other highlights. Thanks for making this such a a vibrant community, and happy 2017!

Posted on December 31, 2016 08:56 PM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment