Journal archives for August 2017

August 05, 2017

Santa Clara county BioBlitzes!

Hey friends and fellow blitzers! There are two upcoming BioBlitzes in Santa Clara county, organized under the auspices of Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS). They could use experienced blitzers! I can't make the first one, because that is the day of the pelagic dedicated to San Mateo county.

August 19 - Coyote Valley BioBlitz
September 23 - Overfelt Gardens

Help out if you can. I am happy to have this journal post serve as a clearing house for getting folks involved!

@merav , @sea-kangaroo , @prakrit , @metsa , @catchang , @kestrel , @rebeccafay , @dpom , @leslie_flint , @vermfly , @robberfly , @damontighe , @tiwane , @finatic , @rademacherdan , @aaron17 , @kschnei , @kueda, @loarie


Posted on August 05, 2017 04:30 AM by gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 8 comments | Leave a comment

August 06, 2017


Hi and welcome! I am Jennifer Rycenga, a.k.a. gyrrlfalcon here on iNaturalist. Ever since 2006, I have cultivated a habit of adopting a trail and walking it regularly. This proved beneficial to my birding skills when I first did it in 2006. It also led to my adoption of iNaturalist in 2012, when I photographed a rattlesnake at Edgewood - . When I adopt a trail, I try to think about a few factors, including exercise potential, what I could learn about along that trail, and the volume of visitors to that trail (I am no misanthrope, though - I just like to cover areas that I think are underexplored). I’ve decided to adopt this western loop in El Corte de Madera because I am trying to learn my lichens, and because I want to follow the change of seasons in this elevated terrain in the county.

El Corte de Madera is also a place that provokes deep thought for me. This is partially because it is the site of the worst aviation disaster in San Mateo County History – the crash of the “Resolution,” an Australian airliner, in 1953 ( ). Nineteen people perished, including American concert pianist William Kapell, one of the finest interpreters of contemporary music and Chopin of his generation. Mortality, music, and the materials of life itself put me in a philosophic frame of mind.

Critters and beings to watch for here include Varied Thrush in fall and winter, Northern Pygmy-Owl in the crepuscular hours (and other owls at night), Hermit Thrush breeding, introduced vegetation (especially at Gate 7 and along Star Hill Road), lichen diversity, mushrooms in winter and spring, and each individual Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) to document for the RedwoodWatch project (

Have fun out there! - Jennifer

Posted on August 06, 2017 04:35 PM by gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 09, 2017

Vexations with Lichens

I understand that lichens, as a group, are more difficult to learn than birds or butterflies. I’m OK with that. But I am frustrated by the seeming lack of good starter material. I am putting out this journal entry to record the vicissitudes of a beginner. Presumably I will look back and laugh at my naiveté in a few years’ time. Keep in mind that, while I hope I am “smarter than the average bear,” I am no biologist in any sense of formal training and/or understanding.

The Taxonomy – Lichens can’t be definitely separated from other fungi? No way to check iNaturalist to see what species of lichen have been seen in an area without checking all the fungi, for instance? If lichens are distinct from fungi by nature of the symbiosis with algae, why isn’t that reflected taxonomically? The fact that the foliose/fruticose/crustose distinction doesn’t appear to follow/reflect taxonomic categories really confuses me, too.

Resources – As a birder, I am spoiled by the amazing range of field guides we have, and their depth of detail in both descriptions and illustrations. With the lichen materials I have used so far, I find that the descriptions are shot through with specialized vocabulary that creates a steep learning curve, if not becoming downright tautological/autological and circular. Photographs don’t describe relative size, or give relevant size comparisons. Range maps would help, too (I see a citizen-science opening here, for more lichen observers to be widespread and recording everything they can find, state-by-state, county-by-county, habitat-by-habitat).

Taxonomy + Resources – I have no doubt that Stephen Sharnoff’s California Lichens is an excellent guide. But it is frustrating for me as a beginner. Putting the species in alphabetical order within the f/f/c framework only made the taxonomy more opaque for me. No diagrams on lichen parts, no schematics. The photos are beautiful, but with little sense of scale or size. Range descriptions are vague. He’ll describe a lichen that I think is matching with what I am looking at, then list three simialr species that he hasn’t illustrated. Aarrgghh!

What might help? - I am reminded of how, before Roger Tory Peterson’s breakthrough, bird descriptions had to be ordered according to a template. This meant you might not learn about the American Robin having a red breast until 2/3 of the way through a description! I feel something similar is happening with lichens (again, hedging caution around my naiveté). It seems to me that the way to build ID knowledge in most taxa is going from the coarsest to the finest level on three fronts simultaneously: visuals, range/habitat and likely species of confusion. Perhaps crustose:lichens::empidonax:birds::skippers:butterflies. But there are still some categories (like Caloplaca) that can be taught and recognized (how many ways does lichen nomenclature play with “fire” and “candles”??) – just as Empidonax can be told from Phoebes (Sayornis). Could schematic drawings of a few different types of lichens, naming the parts, be made available?

OK, now I am just ranting! Really, I am loving lichens, because it means intensive discovery of small things, really digging into the immanence of one’s environment. I will look back and laugh, but if some of my exasperation helps me to later help beginning lichen students, it will have been worth it to parade my ignorance.

Posted on August 09, 2017 06:22 PM by gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 11 comments | Leave a comment

August 10, 2017

Save the Date: September 30 BioBlitz at San Bruno Mountain!

That's right, we are having our next county parks bioblitz at San Bruno Mountain. This will actually be a two-part blitz, with a followup in March to do the summit and upper reaches of the park. There are many unusual plants and animals on the slopes of San Bruno Mountain; this time was also picked for its potential for fall bird migration.

Follow this space for more information.

Posted on August 10, 2017 04:56 AM by gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 11, 2017

Bleak Thoughts.

If it should happen that our planet is subject to nuclear war, I hope that whoever in the future discovers our planet's remains stumbles upon iNaturalist, as evidence that some of us cared deeply about life.

Posted on August 11, 2017 05:25 PM by gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 12, 2017

Fifth iNat Anniversary - Come join me at Skyline Ridge OSP

Sunday August 13th is the fifth anniversary of my discovering iNaturalist! I am thinking that the proper way to celebrate is to go to a place that has a) opportunities for many taxa, b) good birding, c) trails I've not explored before, and d) a place I've not visited in the iNat era. I have found such a place! The Horseshoe Lake area and trails to the west and south from it at Skyline Ridge OSP.

I will start out at 9:00am from the parking lot off of gate SR 4, the north side with the trail head for Ipiwa and Sunny Jim trails. My plan is to explore Horseshoe Lake, possibly take the one-way Lambert Creek Trail. If we can park a car at the first Long Ridge OSP parking lot, we could go on to explore the Tree Farm Trail and the Chestnut Trail (which crosses the border into Long Ridge).

Anyway, this is mucho informal. RSVP here if you can make it, just so that I wait for you awhile if you are running late (I doubt my phone will work up there).


Posted on August 12, 2017 03:02 AM by gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 21 comments | Leave a comment

August 15, 2017

iNaturalist Statistical Humor and Self-Amusement

Based on a question from @moonlittrails , I calculated my iNat observation rate over the first five years. It is 8.75 entries/day, based on 1827 days and 15959 observations.

Posted on August 15, 2017 05:01 PM by gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 5 comments | Leave a comment

August 26, 2017

Another Moth Night this season? Let's do it!

Dear Friends – A suggestion has been made that we have another MOTH NIGHT before all our little moth friends are gone. For my own selfish reasons, I’d love to keep it in San Mateo county. The only questions, then, are where, when, and how (what = moth, why = obvious, because moth nights are the most legal and clean fun you can have outdoors at night if you are truly nerdy).

On Saturday, September 9th, a few of us are participating, coastside, in a Brown Pelican survey. That would locate a bunch of us at dusk in position to meet up effectively somewhere along the coast. Another possibility is to get permission to hitch a Moth Light event onto the Saturday, September 30 BioBlitz at San Bruno Mountain.

The evenings of the other upcoming Saturdays: September 16 and September 23 (when there’s a BioBlitz in Santa Clara county at Overfelt Gardens) are also potentially available for me.

Comment here below about your availability for different dates, and your ideas as to location. For future reference, too, it would help me if some of the experts list optimal habitat conditions for moth night sites. Here are a few sites I know of in the county where we could probably do this with a minimum of fuss in terms of permissions

Sheep Camp Trail on the east side, where it connects to the Belmont running trails – foothill grasses, chaparral
Dumbarton Bridge anchorage area on the San Mateo side – salt marsh, bay
Foster City – areas along the Shell Bar (@leslie_flint ?) – salt marsh, bay, suburbia
Stulsaft Park – streamside, mixed oak wood habitat, suburbia/residence
Half Moon Bay Blufftop Park – coastal terrace prairie (I have a friend who lives adjacent to the bluff)
El Corte de Madera OSP – western trail parking lot by gate 8 or gate 9 – mixed redwood forest, potentially good owling,

Posted on August 26, 2017 11:10 PM by gyrrlfalcon gyrrlfalcon | 18 comments | Leave a comment

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