October 21, 2019

58/250 and a morning on the bay.

In my efforts to photo-document 250 species in each of California's 58 counties, there are iconic places that can't be missed. These include large, internationally known locations like the Farallon Islands, Death Valley National Park, and Redwoods National Park. There are also smaller spots that are of more localized importance or hold a special place in the hearts of the region's naturalists. The Palo Alto Baylands is just such a place. Wedged between East Palo Alto and Mountain View, it is the largest tract of undeveloped marshland in San Francisco Bay. As such it attracts amazing numbers of shorebirds , waders, and waterfowl. It is also home to numerous endangered species such as the Black Rail, Ridgway's Rail, and Saltmarsh Harvest Mouse. I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours there last week and had an amazing time. This included several looks at Ridgway's Rails, one of which was still long enough that I was able to get a few good photos. I look forward to returning in the winter for more wildlife and hopefully, with a good high tide, some of the other, more secretive animals of the marsh. Returning from this trip puts me at 72 species for the county with future trips planned that cover Henry Coe State Park, Sierra Azul Preserve and Almaden Quicksilver County Park, urban walks for parrots and the Mediterranean Spiny False Wolf Spider (Zoropsis spinimana), and more time along the waterfront.

Observations from this day include:

Posted on October 21, 2019 23:15 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 39 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 11, 2019

58/250 update and a trip to San Mateo County

Since last posting about my progress on the 58/250 Project, I've made some significant headway with several of the coastal counties. I completed Santa Cruz County with a fantastic mix of the common (Pacific Poison Oak), rare (Common Cuckoo), native (Dolloff Cave Spider), and introduced (Western Mosquito Fish), and it currently stands at 271 species!

I also spent several days in San Diego at the end of May, with a few night drives in the Anza Borrego Desert. There, we recorded five different species of snake along numerous other reptiles, insects, mammals. Currently I'm at 215 species for San Diego, and with a newly purchased underwater point-and-shoot camera (thanks for the suggestions @anudibranchmom ! ) I should break 250 within six months with trips to La Jolla Cove, Mt. Palomar, and Mission Trails.

My next "target" county is San Mateo, currently at 68 species on my list. A beautiful county than makes up much of the San Francisco Peninsula, it includes long stretches of both then rural Pacific coast and the more developed San Francisco Bay shoreline. These are divided by the mid-peninsular range with stretches of Long Ridge running at over 2,500 ft in elevation. On Friday, August 2nd, I spent a few hours at Ano Nuevo State Park in search of the rare San Francisco Garter Snake. The weather was beautiful, the crowds sparse, and the Northern Elephant Seals were bellowing. Despite dipping out on the sought after garter snake, two other species of snake were found. Additionally, three inaturalist lifers were picked up, including a diminutive shore-loving beetle, Akephorus marinus, that is new to Inaturalist's San Mateo County list.

After visiting Ano Nuevo, I did a quick stop at Pigeon Point Lighthouse where calling Pigeon Pigeon Guillemots were seen visiting their nest sites along the cliffs.

Posted on August 11, 2019 17:44 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 29 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 15, 2018

Fort Bragg

After four days hiking along the Lost Coast Trail we headed south to a studio I reserved in Fort Bragg, Mendocino County. One of the odd results of my tumble and camera mishap was that the fully charged battery in my camera completely drained after using it for only about 20 minutes each day. Normally, I can spend four or five days doing near constant photography before I have to replace the battery, but I chalked it up to water in the machine and moved along. Luckily, I had a second, fully charged battery waiting in the car at the end of the hike.

We arrived in Fort Bragg and spent several hours exploring MacKerricher State Park. This small park has amazing tidepools, long stretches of sandy beach, and beautiful coastal bluffs. The tide was quickly coming in, but I was able to get a few shots of seaweeds in the upper intertidal (thanks for the ID help @hfb and @gbentall !) and spent about twenty minutes strolling along on the bluffs. While most of the coastal wildflowers had already flowered, there were still scattered Sea Thrifts (Armeria maritima) and Seaside Daisies (Erigeron glaucus) in bloom. I also saw that my battery was already half drained. By that evening it empty and any more photography would have to wait until I got home and could recharge them. Still, I was able to add several new species to my Mendocino County list as well four "lifers" (Largemouth Bass and three seaweeds) to my overall list.

And for those interested in this sort of thing....As of June 23, 2018, I have:

Inaturalist documented at least one species in 43/58 California Counties
Have 100 or more photodocumented species in 7/58 counties
Past 250 photodocumented species in two counties (Monterey and San Benito)
Mendocino County now has 56 species

And since the beginning of the year I have added 112 new species to my photodocumented life list of 1744 species!

Sometimes it's just fun to share! :-)

Posted on July 15, 2018 23:28 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 10 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

July 13, 2018

Five counties, a tumble, a hike, and a pair of long-sought lizards….

Inspired by Inaturalist and the proliferation of enthusiastic county birders, several years ago I decided to try and photodocument 250 species in each of California’s 58 counties. This pursuit has led me to places I never expected and pushed my interests and identification skills far beyond what I was focusing on before. Because of this project I’ve been impressed by the surprising botanical similarities and differences between central California’s coast ranges and the foothills of the Sierra. I’ve come to appreciate the weird, disjunct populations of typically Mojave species in parts of San Benito County’s Panoche Valley and have struggled through the identification of marine alga.

For my wife’s birthday we decided in June to backpack Humboldt County’s Lost Coast Trail. This trail is just under thirty miles long and runs from the Matolle River to Shelter Cove and much of it requires walking on soft beach sand or long stretches of unstable cobbles. Additionally, there are several stretches, each between three and five miles long, that are completely impassable at high tide as the waves crash against the seaside cliffs. The first day out I was thrilled to take pictures of dune wildflowers and saw a decent-sized haul out of Northern Elephant Seals. On the offshore rocks were Steller’s Sea Lions and over the four days of backpacking, at least five North American River Otters were observed in the tidepools, sunning on the cobbles, or swimming through the surf.

As anyone who knows me can testify, I have gazelle-like grace and balance. Admittedly, it is the grace and balance of a bumbling, easily distracted, drunken gazelle carrying a lopsided 45 lb. backpack. While crossing one of the first of many slippery, cobble-filled streams I took a tumble and bashed my camera on the rocks in the shallow creek. Water got into the camera and disengaged all the rings on the lens. Fortunately, the lens itself wasn’t cracked and after about 15 minutes of fiddling and coaxing and foul language I was able to get the lens working again. The camera itself was another matter. It wouldn’t allow me to change any of the settings or it would start scrolling through settings on its own. Sometimes it would allow me to erase pictures, other times it wouldn’t. Sometimes the autofocus would work, sometimes it wouldn’t. Still, I had a camera that while persnickety and damp, still worked well enough that I was able to add several lifers and quite a few new species to my Humboldt list. I was also able to take pictures of some of the most beautiful, isolated stretches of coastline I had ever seen. At times, we were the only people visible along miles of empty beach. We hiked along grassy, coastal bluffs and stepped over scattered whale bones while carefully traversing high piled plateaus of surf-round cobbles. We completed this portion of the trip over four days and three nights with plenty of time for lounging and exploring.

Next up, Fort Bragg and more Joshua Trees….

Posted on July 13, 2018 16:43 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 60 observations | 5 comments | Leave a comment

January 07, 2018

58/250 - Finishing up the year and a new begining

Just over two years ago I began working on the 58 / 250 project, an attempt to photo-document 250 species, common, rare, endemic, and invasive, in each of California’s 58 counties. As of the end of 2017 I’ve made nearly 3,600 photo-supported California observations representing 1,358 species in 43 counties!

2017 ended with trips to two counties representing two extremely different habitats. We spent Thanksgiving week exploring Death Valley in Inyo County along with trips to the Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. While the Nevada records don’t count for this project, it is home to several species of unusual fish that I wanted to see, including the Devils Hole Pupfish, one of the rarest fish in the world. Living in a single aquifer-filled crevasse in the desert rocks, this fish is not hard to find. One only has to drive to the outskirts of the refuge and then walk up to a completely barbed wire, fenced off area at the base of the mountains. Knowing that you are being recorded the entire time, you them walk down a long, completely enclosed metal-mesh corridor. From inside this cage, suspended around sixty feet above the pool, one could see the fish chasing each other and swimming over the small limestone ledge that provides their only breeding and feeding grounds.


Back in Death Valley, California, I tried from the diminutive Badwater Snail without success but spent a wonderful afternoon in the heights of Wildrose Peak in the Panamint Mountains. Hiking along the trails above the Beehive Kilns, I nibbled on freshly fallen pine nuts and added several mountain species to what is almost an entirely desert county. We also visited Darwin Falls outside of Panamint Springs where thick sheets of maidenhair fern, cattails, and willows grow in the wet, narrow canyon below sun blasted hills. Unfortunately, November is not the best time to visit the desert in terms of visible biodiversity. The annual plants have long-since died away, the weather is too cold for most reptiles, and migration has wound down for the birds. I did however see two species that while not native to North America, are to many people near emblematic of the southwestern United States; wild horses and herds of feral burros. Visiting the area, the intense emotions these animals provoke was very clear. Lacking natural predators, their numbers have, in many places, exceeded the carrying capacity and they use up resources depended on by bighorn sheep and other native grazers. They also inspire fervent devotion among many people who passionately want them protected and see them as symbols of the American West.



Back on the coast, I spent Christmas week staying in a hostel in the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco. Several days were spent exploring the coastal bluffs and poking around in the abandoned WWII bunkers and casements around the old Fort Cronkhite military base. One of the highlights was finding a colony of apparently healthy and reproducing Pacific Newts (Taricha sp.) in a pond created by the removal of a massive gun base.

I also found only my second Harris’s Sparrow in nearly 30 years of birding mixed in with a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos on Mount Tamalpais.


So, for 2018……

I look forward to continuing this project in 2018 with several goals in mind. I need to explore the Central Valley counties in more detail. From Tehama County in the north to Kern County in the south there is a huge expanse that I have scarcely explored. In truth this will require breaking some preconceptions developed from years of driving along Interstate 5. Mainly, that this is a massively degraded monoculture with little to offer in terms of interesting diversity. Intellectually, I know this isn’t entirely true and look forward to visiting many of the refuges, parks, and cities I’ve given scant attention to in previous years.

Snorkeling! I am going to buy a small underwater camera and get some snorkeling in. If I can’t add a Garibaldi in San Diego….strike that….this project will continue until I get a San Diego Garibaldi. It is a fish I remember seeing all the time when snorkeling as a youth and it is one of the species I most want to re-find. Also, living along the central California coast there is no reason that with a good wetsuit I shouldn’t be able to add some deeper water coastal species.

In addition to endemic, range-limited species, such as the Panamint Alligator Lizard, the Torrey Pine, serpentine specialized wildflowers of the Siskiyou Mountains, and quite a few species of slender salamanders, I will be looking to document some of the less-widespread but apparently established introduced species. These include Pin-tailed Whydahs and Orange Bishops in Los Angeles, Ring-necked Parakeets in Bakersfield, and Texas Spiny Softshell Turtles in the Imperial Valley.

I plan on providing more frequent updates to this project over the coming year and reaching out to more people for advice and possibly some companionable days out while exploring this massive and diverse state.

Posted on January 07, 2018 20:40 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 6 comments | Leave a comment

February 19, 2017

58/250 Project - More counties....and a bear!

Number of counties with at least one record: 41
Number of counties with 250 or more species level (SL) observations: 2

It has been just over six months since I last updated my journal regarding the California 58/250 project and while I haven’t passed the 250 species mark in any additional counties, I have added seven new counties to the list of those where I’ve made species-level, photo-documented observations. One of the benefits of this project is that it has encouraged me to explore parts of California that I hadn’t previously visited. After a quick trip to Humboldt County in late June, we crossed over the mountains of the Coast Range, turned north up Interstate 5, and spent several days soaking and tromping around Lake Shasta. Along the northeast shore of the lake, we camped at the site of a long-abandoned homestead, where plums and fig trees grew wild among the oaks and Gray Pines. This spot also held the largest, richest patch of ripe blackberries I’ve ever encountered and the resident Black Bear was kind enough to ignore my daily pilfering of breakfast berries. (Shasta County)


Continuing north, we worked our way to Lava Beds National Monument. Isolated near the Oregon border, this park hold a rugged beauty unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere in California. Expansive fields of volcanic debris lay like blankets across the park and lava tube caves worm their way underground with sporadic collapsed ceilings allowing access to cool, dark hide-aways. At one location, pictographs of several styles covered the walls and boulders at a cave entrance, while hundreds of feet deep in a another, mushrooms were found growing out of cracks in the walls. In other caves, uncountable numbers of metallic-yellow microbial communities dotted the walls like millions of gold foil beads shining in the dark. Other highlights of the park included finding an American Pika on the barren slopes of an old cinder cone. This increasing rare species is one I normally associate with the Sierras, not high desert volcanic fields. It was also home to butterflies of both the Cascades and Great Basin.


Lava Beds was also the location of the Modoc Indian Wars, and on a much more solemn note, one can walk through the fortifications and caves, where for several months in 1872-73, a small band of Modoc Indians successfully fought off a much larger US Army contingent. Eventually, dissension, treachery, and a lack of resources led to the capture and the execution of the Modoc leaders. Just outside the main body of the park in Modoc County is Petroglyph Point. Walking around the base of this massive sandstone monolith, thousands of Native American carvings can be seen, frequently beneath other people’s declarations of eternal love or salutes to various heavy metal bands, but looking through these, the sheer number and complexity of the carvings was astounding. Adding to the beauty of the Point are the numerous birds that nest in the cracks and crevices of the rock. Baby American Kestrels were begging for food and swarms of Cliff Swallows and White-throated Swifts buzzed around the cliff face like bees at a hive (Siskiyou and Modoc Counties).

As the summer progressed, additional trips to the Sierra Nevada added several long-sought species….To be continued….

Posted on February 19, 2017 02:41 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 3 comments | Leave a comment

June 21, 2016

The 58-250 Project: A summer update

Number of counties with at least one record: 34
Number of counties with 250 or more species level (SL) observations: 2

Since I last updated this blog, several important milestones have passed in my attempt to document 250 species-level observations in each of California’s 58 counties. Often, my first observations in a given county are rather happenstance; I’m either driving past or camping in the region, but they are untargeted and every sighting is made with equal pleasure. However, once I begin to focus on a particular spot, I strive to get a representative sample of those species that are either widespread or symbolic of the area, such as the Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in Humboldt County or the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevicola) in Riverside County, home to Joshua Tree National Park. At the same time, I’m also becoming increasing interested in those species that are widespread across the state, such as the California Ground Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) (six counties to date), the Pallid-winged Grasshopper (Trimerotropis pallidipennis) (seven counties), and Coyote Brush (seven counties) and documenting introduced species, both the widespread and the highly localized.
Since my last post, I’ve had several outings that have contributed significantly towards this project.

San Benito County (330 SL observations)

On May 21st, @gbentall and I participated in the Pinnacles National Park Bioblitz. From 8:45 am to nearly 9:00 pm we tromped about these ancient volcanic remnants, photographing plants, insects, birds, lichens, and more. It is one of the best preserved patches of chaparral in the area with healthy stands of Grey Pine (Pinus sabiniana) and Blue Oak (Quercus douglassi) along with a small, but productive reservoir. We had a friendly wager regarding who would find more species that day, but despite my best efforts (90 observations for the day!), her tenacity and amazing knowledge of small plants, both native and introduced, meant that my braggadocio naturalizing was handed back to me on a silver platter (with a healthy side of crow). :-)

El Dorado County (54 SL observations), Amador County (15 SL observations)

Between June 7th and June 11th, my wife and I joined friends for a relaxing camping trip in the Sierras at Silver Lake. At 7,500 ft, the snow had only recently melted away and I was captivated by the plethora of tiny flowers growing out of the shallow pans of exposed granite soil. Tiny monkeyflowers (Mimulus spp.) and buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.) were in abundance. Because I’ve only recently begun paying detailed attention to plants, I was also surprised to find and document four different species of conifer around the campsite. What I hadn’t realized at the time was that the Silver Lake West Campground was in El Dorado County, while just across the road, Silver Lake itself was in Amador County. After coming home, I was able to divide up the photographs and added an unexpected county to my list. Highlights of this portion of the trip include waking up to a singing Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus) each morning, watching a Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) feed its babies, and discovering an whole new realm of “belly flowers” (because I just need to be even more easily distracted! ).
A quick stop on Mormon Emigration Trail Road to look at butterflies on some blooming Deer Brush (Ceanothus integerrimus) also led to the discovery of a Sierra Clarkia (Clarkia virgata) and a first inaturalist record!

Sierra County (14 SL observations)

After five days of camping, going for a soak at Sierra Hot Springs sounded like the perfect way to end this portion of our trip. However, there is a caveat. There are certain protocols one should follow when visiting a hot spring, especially a clothing optional one, and these include not strolling around with a camera with a 300 mm lens! Fortunately, the camping area is about a third of a mile and behind several hills from the pools and there are enough small streams and boggy spots in the area to attract a decent selection of wildlife, including six species of dragonfly and damselfly, five of which were new to me (thank you for the help with these @jimjohnson and @aguilita ! )In addition to the odonates, I also delighted in watching over a dozen Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) come in a dusk and feed over a small, brushy field. Their fast flying and the low light prevented me from capturing any sharp photos, but I did get some clearly recognizable ones and these represent my first photographed record of the species for California. While lying on the deck next to the hot pool, I also watched a large Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer) move through the grass only a few feet away, begging Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) babies calling from their nest hole, and a beautifully illuminated male Cassin’s Finch (Haemorhous cassinii) singing from the top of a nearby pine. But once again, without a camera, these observations will just have to wait until a future day.

Posted on June 21, 2016 19:22 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 13 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

February 12, 2016

58-250 progress and a wee bit more

Several months ago I decided to indulge in a fun little project, a personal game in which I would attempt to photo-document 250 species in each of California's 58 counties. I believed 250 was a reasonable number that would encourage the inclusion of a wide variety of organism, from birds, fish, and mushrooms to trees, grasses, and snails, and that when put together, they would provide a broad overview of the species and habitats in each county. It would also force me to learn more about organisms I knew little about and encourage exploration in parts of California I rarely if ever visit.

Over the past several months, two milestones in this quest have been passed. While exploring a small patch of rocky shore in Moss Landing; a spot where sandy shore and mud flat come close together, I found the recently emptied shells of several species of bivalve along the beach (some still had meat or other soft tissue inside). These included both Pacific and Japanese Littleneck Clams, Pacific Gaper, Washington Clam, Nuttall's Cockle, and for my 250th species recorded in Monterey County, the Bent-nosed Clam! Encouraged by the latest rains, I've since added quite a few fungi to the list as well as wintering birds, putting me at 299 species found, photographed, and ID'd in Monterey County. Not surprisingly, there is a disproportionately northwestern bias to the list with an emphasis of offshore, coastal, and coastal woodland species while it short-changes the vast expanses of open range and interior oak woodlands in the southern part of the county. Hopefully, this spring I will compensate for some of these oversights with records of Monterey County Greater Roadrunner, Grey Pine, Lesser Nighthawk, tarantula (Aphonopelma iodius for those following the spider news!) and more.

Additionally, while coming down from a quick trip to the Sierra Foothills at the end of December, I stopped briefly at Knights Ferry along the Stanislaus River where I photographed several birds, including these rather ominously-comic Turkey Vultures:


I hadn't realized it at the time, but this was my 29th county with inaturalist records, meaning I now have at least one record for half the counties in the state! The real challenge now will be getting good coverage of those largely urban counties around the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles County.

Lastly, I'm up to 988 photographed and identified species! This weekend will include a trip to northern California and while I won't be adding any new counties to the list, with any luck, I will get out and get a few new species, pushing me to a thousand!

I want to thank everyone who has encouraged me in this, and for all the help people have so generously given as I've muddled my way through the identification of trees and snails and mushrooms and seaweeds and about a hundred other organisms more!


Posted on February 12, 2016 23:58 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 5 comments | Leave a comment

November 15, 2015

25 counties to start, 33 to go!

A few months ago I began my goal of making 250 species-level observations in each of California's 58 counties, beginning by going through all of my earlier observations, dividing them up by county, and making a list for each one. (Really, laundry and dishes can wait!). After going through all of my previous records, I found that I had at least one observation from twenty five counties. Since beginning this project I've had the good fortune to go exploring with numerous exceptional inaturalists, including Kschnei in San Mateo, Gbentall in Monterey, and Karinakilldeer in San Benito. I also did a day trip to the Merced National Wildlife Refuge and have made numerous recent observations while tromping about in Monterey County.

And now, after a great deal of pleasurable time in the field (it certainly wasn't work! ;-) ), I am just a few observations away from my first 250 mark! Not surprisingly, it is in Monterey County, one of the most ecologically diverse counties in California and my home for the last 15 years. Doing this, I've become much more aware of the distribution of plants and animals that I previously barely noticed and am gaining a new appreciation for both the biogeography of the state and the status of numerous introduced and native species. This has inadvertently led me to seek out specific plants and animals wherever I go. One of these, the native Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis) is a distinctive, widespread shrub that until I began doing this, I never noticed unless it held an unusual bird. Now it is one of the key species I try and record in each county I visit. I am also amazed at the distribution of California Ground Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi), having now seen them burrowing into coastal cliffs, hiding from hawks in the Central Valley, and scampering around the bases of Sugar Pines high in the Sierras. I know this information is readily available in any quality field guide, but it is a different experience seeing it (and acknowledging it) firsthand. I have also found myself especially interested in documenting the presence of Gulf Fritilaries (Agraulis vanillae) and both native and introduced squirrels and terrestrial mollusks. I'm sure these lists will grow, but the goal of providing an "overview" of each county's wildlife remains the same.

Over the next six months, I hope to:

Document free-flying, breeding parrots in at least two California counties
Find and identify at least six new freshwater or terrestrial mollusks
Learn to confidently identify at least six new species of seaweed and six new mushrooms

Good naturalizing!

Posted on November 15, 2015 23:06 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 7 comments | Leave a comment

October 26, 2015

Sightings in escrow

When I first joined inaturalist, I submitted years of photographs with their accompanying data from my Flickr account. For the most part, these were photos whose subject or composition I was particularly proud of, such as a tack sharp American Coot, or a rarely seen insect, or a wildflower with a particularly nice bokeh. While this provided a rich trove of photos to begin with, it also left a great number of pictures hidden away on my hard drive, photos that weren't aesthetically appealing or were slightly overexposed, or just not particularly interesting to see. That has changed with 58-250 project. While I continue to collect new observations, and in the process, learn about groups of organisms that I had previously paid little attention to, there are quite a few perfectly identifiable photos from past outings that I'm sorting through and giving new life on inaturalist. Not a bad way to spend a few hours on a wet winter night!

This morning I spent a few hours out at the Panoche Valley, about 40 miles southeast of Hollister in San Benito County. This has always been one of my favorite areas to bird and explore, but starting next week, a massive solar farm will be going in and I wanted to get a few last pictures before the construction starts. Due to the drought, the bird life was way below normal for this time of year and fields that normally would be carpeted with thick, golden grass are almost bare dirt and there were hardly any grasshoppers compared to previous years. I will be posting the sighting from this area over the upcoming week.

Additionally, I have also added two new counties to my collection: Merced and Humboldt. That puts me at 22 out of 58 counties with at least one species-level, photographed identification. Slow but steady, isn't that what the tortoise said? :-)

Posted on October 26, 2015 01:11 by rjadams55 rjadams55 | 0 comments | Leave a comment