Journal archives for June 2017

June 02, 2017

Observation of the Week, 6/1/17

This crocodilian-eating  Bare-throated Tiger Heron, seen in Mexico by Rolando Chavez, is our Observation of the Week!

Explore nature enough and you’ll come across many indelible sights. Rolando Chavez remembers discovering a Green heron nest when he was a child: “I felt like a great explorer, like Magellan maybe,” he recalls. “The nest was on a branch directly over a lagoon. A patient crocodile waited on the water, intriguing me. What was it doing? Sure enough, a chick in the nest slipped and fell on the water. The crocodile devoured it. A very easy meal. Since then, I have been fascinated with the harmony and the sometimes-cruel balance of the natural world.”

Fast forward to January 12th, 2017 and Rolando observed nearly the opposite scene. He was cruising a calm river through a mangrove forest in Mexico, on the search for the Agami heron, “which is the jewel of the crown, as far as herons are concerned.” Bare-throated Tiger-Herons are much more common in the area, “to the point that their presence becomes somewhat granted and, in occasion, overwhelming. Still, Tigrisoma [Tiger-Herons] is an interesting species, always showing unique behaviors. And they have amazing appetites. As a rule, I always pay attention to a hunting Tiger-Heron,” says Rolando. 

He spotted one about 30 meters away and saw it stabbing the water with its beak, striking at prey. He recounts at first thinking the prey was a male iguana, but 

when the canoe got closer, all of a sudden I realized that the iguana was actually a juvenile crocodile. I watched amazed as the heron struggled to swallow the already limp croc, which went headfirst. I am not sure, but maybe in that moment I reminisced about the Green Heron chick of my childhood. Unfazed, the Tigrisoma went about its business. Eventually, I remembered I was carrying a camera and that the primary function of a camera is to record extraordinary moments, so I fired away. The Tiger-Heron finished swallowing the whole reptilian and we resumed our silent cruising. 

Bare-throated Tiger-Herons range from Mexico into Colombia and, as their common name suggests, a patch of their throat is unadorned by feathers. Like other herons, it wades patiently through rivers, ponds, and other suitable habitat, slowly stalking prey then quickly striking with its pointed bill. It will eat fish, amphibians, mammals, and, of course, crocodiles.

“My current interest is outreach, trying to involve more people on the benefits of watching and enjoying nature,” says Rolando. “The ultimate aim is, of course, conservation. Nature has given me so much that I feel the need to repay the favor...I am also part of an ongoing outreach program in Mexico, called “Tutor Naturalista” which is designed to promote the use of the iNaturalist platform in our communities, and to promote the appreciation of our natural surroundings. The platform has prompted my interest on non-avian species, mainly plants and trees, which for some reason I neglected in the past. It is a whole new world, and it is also fascinating to me.”

- by Tony Iwane

- You can follow Rolando on Twitter and Flickr.

- Crocodilians, by the way, are amazing mothers.

- And yes, Rolando did find an Agami heron that day. 

Posted on June 02, 2017 03:45 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 03, 2017

The Tres-Zeros Club: Meet the 500 species on iNat with at least 1,000 observations!

Over 112,000 species have checked in on iNaturalist from over 4.7 million observations. But they're not all equally represented. While many species are represented by just a few observations each, some like the Western Fence Lizard are each represented by over 10,000 observations!

Today we passed an interesting milestone. For the first time, the top 500 species on iNaturalist (ranked by number of observations) are each represented by at least 1,000 observations. They are lead by heavy-hitters like the Great Blue Heron, Monarch Butterfly, and Honey Bee. Upstarts like the White Nose Coati, Variable Checkerspot, and American Redstart are the newest members of the tres-zeros club.

As expected, most of these species are birds, plants, and insects. But even a few Fungi (Turkey Tail, Fly Agaric) and Mollusks (Garden Snail, Milk Snail) are in the club.

Posted on June 03, 2017 10:34 PM by loarie loarie | 5 comments | Leave a comment

June 10, 2017

Observation of the Week, 6/10/17

This leucisitic California Kingsnake, seen in California by @apatten, is our Observation of the Week! 

One of a naturalist’s maxims is that you always find the coolest thing when you’re not prepared for it - something Amy Patten knows well. “I was night driving with some friends on a warm night in the Mojave [and] I had forgotten my macro lens on this trip so I knew we'd see something good!” she recalls. “We were road cruising through creosote scrub way out in the middle of nowhere and had already stopped for a gopher snake. Then we saw a big snake moving across the road shortly after dusk, and I pulled over and hopped out of the car to get a closer look. When I first saw this snake, I couldn't believe my eyes!”

An experienced herpetologist, Amy has been working all over California on various reptile and amphibian conservation projects, so she knew she had found something special. “There are many aberrant morphs of California Kingsnake throughout the state,” she explains, “such as a striped morph in San Diego County and a black-bellied morph in the Central Valley, but I had no idea this leucistic ‘lavender phase’ could be found in the wild! As far as I know, wild lavender morphs have been found in LA and San Diego Counties, but not in the northern Mojave where we were.” Amy and her friends were “awestruck” at the snake and, while this morph can be found in the pet trade, she believes she was far enough from any habitation that it was unlikely this individual was a captive-bred animal. “After taking some photos,” Amy says, “we released the snake and it continued on its way across the desert plains.”

As Amy mentioned, California Kingsnakes are popular among the pet trade, but wild populations range throughout much of California and into Nevada, Arizona, Utah Colorado and Mexico. The most common form has dark bands (from black to light brown) and and light bands (from white to cream) with beautiful slate grey eyes. Like other kingsnakes, they have a varied diet that includes other snakes, even rattlesnakes, to whose venom they have immunity.

Amy is currently working with the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, and told me they recently started using iNaturalist help inventory the area.

The project allows us to track the spread of invasives, record phenology and document populations of special-status species. And there’s so much potential for hikers and backpackers in the wilderness to record valuable data on rare species, or find range extensions and new populations. We hope to use this data to work with the US Forest Service to guide management decisions for the Los Padres National Forest.  We also used iNaturalist to run our first-ever BioBlitz in April, which yielded some really amazing results. Our volunteers recorded a number of rare and endemic plants and documented several moth species which had never been recorded in Monterey County!

As for herself, Amy says that iNaturalist “has definitely” made her a better biologist, encouraging her to record more organisms when she’s out in the field on her own time, and has helped her branch into less-familiar taxa such as insects and mushrooms. “Entering my observations and identifying for other naturalists constantly sends me down rabbit holes digging out my field guides, scrutinizing range maps and looking up papers to provide the community with the best possible information for research-grade data,” she explains. “It’s both humbling and enlightening to realize how much there is to learn about taxa I thought I was an expert on!”

- by Tony Iwane

 - Check out other aberrant organisms in the Amazing Aberrants projects on iNat!

- Cool footage of a California Kingsnake grabbing and swallowing a rattlesnake - in slow motion! Try to disregard the overwrought music and narration.

- An introduced albino morph California Kingsnake population in the Canary Islands is decimating much of the native wildlife there

Posted on June 10, 2017 06:39 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 17, 2017

Observation of the Week, 6/16/17

This Jungle Cat, seen in Sri Lanka by @markuslilje, is our Observation of the Week! 

A longtime guide for Rockjumper Birding Tours, Markus Lilje has been interested in nature since he was young and “had numerous opportunities to explore farms and a number of game reserves.” His travels have taken him all over the world, to Africa, Asia, North America and even Antarctica!

In 2013 Markus was in Sri Lanka’s Uda Walawe National Park and “just had a fantastic sighting of Asian Elephant and were looking for a place to turn around when we saw this very relaxed Jungle Cat that allowed good but brief views before quickly disappearing in the dense vegetation.”

A generally diurnal hunter, the Jungle cat stalks mainly small mammals, as well as birds, reptiles and amphibians, and like most cats stalks them before attacking. This species ranges from the Middle East through to southern China, preferring areas with dense vegetation and thick grass, meaning it’s often found in swamps and wetlands. It’s a member of the genus Felis, just like our domestic cats.

Markus has only recently joined iNaturalist and he’s posted many of his amazing photos from his years as a guide, contributing some fantastic new observations to iNat. “Hopefully some of these sightings can be used to extend our knowledge or help in some study,” he says. “It is definitely more likely to be useful on this site than on my hard drive! I think I will be more likely to look for other species than I have be focused on and look forward to a greater overall understanding!” 

- by Tony Iwane

- Markus has a great archive of photos on Flickr.

- A Jungle Cat takes down a snake.

Posted on June 17, 2017 06:12 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 24, 2017

Observation of the Week, 6/23/17

This Bird’s Nest orchid, seen in Lithuania by @almantas, is our Observation of the Week! 

Almantas Kulbis is a professional nature educator at the Lithuanian Centre of Non-formal Youth Education, and he just plain loves doing it. “For me my work is leisure too,” he says. “The main object of my nature observations is usually plants. I like to explore flora when I'm traveling or just walking in surroundings. Although I'm not a professional natural photographer, I do share my discoveries to people in articles, TV shows or books. I have always stressed that the grandeur of nature is composed of a lot of small details.”

Details, for instance, like the many flowers on the Bird’s Nest orchid that he photographed. “Bird's nest orchid is quite a rare plant in Lithuania,” says Almantas. “In June I wandered near the forest where I was knew this plant grew. I had observed this orchid there about 15 years ago. It was amazing to see almost a hundred of flowering Bird's Nest orchids again! Despite the very active biting mosquitoes, I made a series of photos of these orchids that I happily shared with other people.”

The Bird’s Nest orchid is a pretty amazing plant. Lacking chlorophyll, it is unable to photosynthesize and make its own energy; it instead relies on the mycelium of the Rhizoctonia neottiae fungus, which breaks down the soil into nutrients that the plant can absorb through its tangle of its eponymous nest-like roots. After nine years (!), the orchid finally shoots up a leafless stalk of brownish flowers in the summer. It is not known for certain whether the fungus benefits from this relationship with the orchid. Bird’s Nest orchids range from Europe through North Africa and east to Turkey and Iran.

Almantas discovered iNaturalist after reading Scott Sampson’s How to Raise a Child in the Wild, which was released in Lithuanian last year. “The book teaches us that the current generation of young people get most of their knowledge about the world through displays of electronic gadgets,” he explains. “So I started to use iNaturalist application and promote it in seminars for teachers or radio shows. I’m happy that the iNaturalist community in Lithuania is growing very rapidly and for now is one of the largest in the surrounding countries.” 

- by Tony Iwane

(Note that while Almantas writes excellent English, I did fix a few errors here and there.)

- Almantas’s work has been featured on the TV show Hello Lithuania many times!

- Some soothing footage of Bird’s Nest orchids in Italy. Ahhh.

- Probably the best movie monologue about orchids ever (from Adaptation):

Posted on June 24, 2017 06:01 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 27, 2017

5,000,000 Observations!

iNaturalist hit 5,000,000 observations today! Its been just 2 years and 8 months since we hit our first million observations. The bulk of these observations are from North America, but observations hail from 246 (out of 253) countries. New Zealand, Australia, and Western Europe are also well represented. Much of Africa and the Middle East are relatively poorly represented.

Posted on June 27, 2017 05:11 AM by loarie loarie | 5 comments | Leave a comment