California Wild Women

In 2020, five of us iNatters banded together to form California Wild Women, a team that competed in the International Biodiversity Championship 2020. We enjoyed our teamwork, deepened our friendships and stayed together. When The Ecological Society of America announced the 2021 edition of the championship, our team of five, @kimssight, @naturephotosuze, @scubabruin, @redrovertracy and I, decided to participate again, covering a similar footprint of Southern California and the High Sierras.

The most striking difference between 2020 and 2021 was the state of our wildlife areas. Right now, 19.99% of Los Angeles County is in Exceptional Drought, the highest level, the rest in Extreme Drought condition, per Drought.gov. The same area was drought free in 2020.

Example Newton Canyon: Climbing down this steep canyon along the Backbone Trail, I was expecting to hear a small waterfall and the gurgling of the creek, accompanied by bird song, grasshoppers taking off, the sound of bees feeding on flowers. But in 2021, the area was eerily quiet. The creek had dried up long ago, birds and insects had either moved on or had died.

I was hoping to find Seep Paintbrushes, but they hadn’t made it. In 2020, they were flowering well into September, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/59218717. I was hoping to find a Red Rock Skimmer, Wilson’s Warbler, Lorquin’s Admiral, Tree Frog, all easy to spot in any other summer, but there were none in 2021.

The most memorable sighting at Newton Canyon was an interesting rose gall, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89695772, possibly https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/466790-Diplolepis-bassetti, which “needs more digging to figure out what it actually is,” per @mileszhang. The galls had many long, hairy spikes, and were clustered on a wilted leaf. Since I examine many leaves during each of my outings, anything that points to the fascinating parasitic symbioses of insects and plants is a highlight. I’m inspired by @nancyasquith and her https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/california-plants-with-mystery-galls/journal/39523-california-galls-a-host-plant-list-with-links, a list I highly recommend and have bookmarked.

Two days later, I found Spined Turban Gall Wasp galls on the leaf of a Valley Oak, at Paramount Ranch, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89972251, by far the most colorful and juicy looking find in the parched landscape.

My best day was day two which I spent in Ventura County, first exploring the Ventura Harbor Preserve, then Ormond Beach and Wetlands. Reason number one: no triple digits (38C and above), just pleasant 70s. Most organisms suffer in excessive, relentless heat, and that includes me.

Among my life list firsts in Ventura:
About a dozen Single-banded Plushback flies, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89857052
A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89843125
Male (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89900586) and female (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89899037) Toltec Scoliid Wasps
The light and nearly transparent shell of a Flat Spoonclam, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89932459

My last observation of the day, of a Northern Harrier, was the day’s best photo, especially as I was already in the car when I saw the harrier, and scrambled to get the camera out. The harrier was flying low over the dry salt marsh, with our power equipment in the background that’s nearly iconic for the area, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89938819.

During the time of the championship, I made my 10,000th observation (and counting) in the Santa Monica Mountains, https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/wildlife-of-santa-monica-mountains. Most of these observations are from the S/W quadrant of the mountains, a small area I’ve come to know quite well over the last three years This is helpful during such a competitive bioblitz, as I know who lives where and can cover species efficiently and strategically, including wilted plants well past their prime.

My jaws were really hurting during the bioblitz. At first I thought I was grinding teeth in my sleep, but then realized I was gritting my teeth during the day, while I was iNatting. It was literally painful to document the state of our nature. Most of the sages were brown skeletons because they hadn’t flowered this year and seemed dead. Even Laurel Sumac and Sagebrush were browning. I found just one new berry on a Coffeeberry that’s well established and usually very productive.

One of the many plants that have become old friends of mine is a Woolly Bluecurls in a rarely visited part of the King Gillette Ranch area. I documented it for the 2020 edition of the championship, and again end of September 2020, after an all-time record breaking heat wave (121F/49C in Woodland Hills):

Woolly Bluecurls 2020: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/55446179 and on 2020/09/27: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/61038739

August 2021: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/90049559

This was what made me grit my teeth.

But this was also where a team like California Wild Women comes in: shared worries and concerns about our natural areas, shared pain, but also shared highlights and above all, shared love for all things wild, and that includes each of us.

During the three and a half days of the championship, we covered the usual suspects for our area, but also took the time for detailed snapshots of the life we found in certain spots.
Take a look at the 10 Odonata species found by @kimssight: https://tinyurl.com/4tw8zt4w, and check out her second observation of an Alligator Gar in Long Beach, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89712681.
Take a look at the wide variety of bees @naturephotosuze found wherever there were flowers: https://tinyurl.com/m34v7uv4. Susan made a total of 195 insect observations, more than anyone else in our team.
@scubabruin rocked it with insects as well, and found 87 species. Laura had installed a blacklight in her yard and found 14 moth species alone, including the introduced Choreutis emplecta, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/58907386, a moth Laura was among the first to discover in Los Angeles County, and had sent in specimens for identification and research.
Both Laura and @redrovertracy took overnight trips to cover areas other than Los Angeles or Ventura Counties. Laura trekked to Mammoth and added plenty of unique species to our total. Tracy braved the desert heat and roamed Imperial and Riverside Counties. Among her highlights are two observations of Burrowing Owls, https://tinyurl.com/3vpbzp7a, and many other birds she was the only one of us to get: https://tinyurl.com/89xs5767.

By the third day of the championship, Team Russia (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/team-russia) and our team (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/california-wild-women-2021) were in a fierce head to head race on species count, but we pulled ahead and won the grand prize. Yay to the team, and congrats to the Russians to make more observations than us. All in all, 17 teams on three continents made AND posted 11,200 observations in 85 hours.

See https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/2021-international-biodiversity-championship for the leaderboard of all competing teams.

Posted by andreacala andreacala, August 09, 2021 16:00

Comments

What a wonderful recap! Thanks for posting this -- I enjoyed the read! :)

Posted by sambiology 5 months ago (Flag)

Thanks @sambiology!

Posted by andreacala 5 months ago (Flag)

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