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Journal archives for January 2018

January 22, 2018

Field Notes – 9 July 2015 – Mount Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo

Staying at Kinabalu Mountain Lodge (bordering N.P.).
Weather cool and windy at night. Rain at 11 PM. Morning very foggy and breezy/gusty. Mist, then light drizzle, then real rain at around 7 AM. Eventually completely socked in with fog.
Moth situation unbelievable. Porch lights, hallway lights, and bathroom lights attract thousands if not tens of thousands of moths and other insects. Frog calls all around at night, but failed to see any while spotlighting.
Maybe too windy?

Takeaways/Tips:

  1. Buy Phillips' guide to Birds of Borneo. Spend a lot of time with it before you leave. Keep spending time with it every chance you get while you're there. I didn't buy the Myers guide, so I can't compare them. The Phillips guide is mildly outdated, and some of the illustrations are definitely wonky, but the richness of the natural history tidbits and the authors' obvious love of place in this book are delightful. There are notes on mammals, flowers, seasonality, culture... It's really a great book.
  2. Get into the park early, and spend as long as possible birding. I had a number of two-hour stretches where I saw fewer than five individual birds, interrupted by five minute stretches during which I saw 30 individuals representing 10 species. Not sure if this was just due to the unsettled weather and the birds were hunkering down, or what. At no point was the birding easy or fast-paced by my temperate-zone California standards. My understanding is that this is typical of a lot of tropical birding, but the punctuated pattern seemed particularly intense on Kinabalu compared to my time in the neotropics. This is kind of an exhausting way to bird (especially given the elevation changes on some of these trails).

Note - entrance fee to the park is totally affordable, BUT the park kiosk doesn't open as early as you might like (as a birder). Everyone I've talked to seemed to think that it's accepted practice to buy the ticket on the way out, or try asking the attendant to buy your ticket ahead of time for the next day.

  1. Mind the trail ahead. It really pays to scan the visible span of the trail ahead of you before you walk it. This is especially true in the morning if you are out before the first hikers. If you come around a bend or corner, do it super slowly and scan it for 30 seconds before you keep walking. I think Justyn Stahl mentioned this to me as a way to see guans and tinamous in the neotropics. Everett's Thrush was one of the rewards of this method.
  2. Learn the barbet calls. I wrote mnemonics for each of the barbets in the back of my Rite-in-the-Rain notebook as a cheat-sheet. They are kind of omnipresent.
  3. Photography was difficult. The forests of Kinabalu are wet, dark, and the vines and leaves are all tangly and wreak havoc with autofocus. I ended up dramatically under-exposing my photos, then lightening them in Photoshop. I used exposure compensation two or three stops down (or more??). This gets you the benefit of faster shutter speeds when in Aperture priority mode. I didn't take full advantage of this myself - it's something I learned accidentally, months later. You're not going to get art with this method, but it can work wonders in salvaging record shots.
  4. Take a day elsewhere. If you're interested in seeing the maximum diversity of birds (and not, say target-twitching at max-tweak-levels), you would be be very much in error not to make at least a day trip to Poring Hot Springs. I split a taxi with some other folks from the hostel and did it as a day trip. The bird assemblage here was pretty much completely different. Scaly-breasted Bulbul was the outstanding star, but in general I saw a whole slew of foothill birds here and not at the higher elevations of the park.

Taxi fares around Kinabalu can be pretty steep, especially because common destinations (Crocker Range, Poring, etc.) are fairly far apart. I hired a guy who was sitting at the Restoran Panataran - he turned out to be a wise investment, since the next morning, he spotted my only Orange-headed Thrush of the trip in his headlights shortly after he picked us up.

A few last notes: Firstly, If you can afford a guide, a lot of this becomes easier. A few companions at the hostel I stayed at hired a guide who knew where Whitehead's Broadbill and Whitehead's Spiderhunter had been reliable in the past week. I had to go blindly, and dipped on both (pain). It's also just a good thing to spend money on.

Secondly, I apparently arrived in the midst of a drought. My understanding is that droughts in Borneo often have the effect of pushing higher-elevation birds downslope. This allowed me to catch up with birds like Mountain Blackeye and the usually-difficult Everett's Thrush (!) within a kilometer of the botanical garden. Although I couldn't access the trails above the Timpohon Gate due to the earthquake damage, my understanding is that under more normal conditions, it is only Friendly Bush-Warbler and Mountain Blackeye that really stick to the areas above the gate. Pretty much all the other birds of interest can be found on the lower trails (though perhaps not as regularly or easily)

Posted on January 22, 2018 21:42 by leptonia leptonia | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 05, 2018

2018 Resolutions for iNaturalist - 100 Fish Species, Journaling, and more

My first fish of 2018. Predictably, a Barred Surfperch (Amphistichus argenteus)

I spent the afternoon on New Year's Day coming up with some qualitative and quantitative goals for iNaturalist this year.

Thanks to the 2017 year-end visualization thingy, I had some approximate numbers to go on with regard to what might be realistic for next year. Taking into account that I spent the first six months of 2017 severely under the thumb of finally finishing college, I figure (perhaps over-optimistically) that I can aim to hit these targets next year:

General goals:

1. Make 5,000 observations for the year.
(average 13.6 per day... Wooooooah that's gonna be tough.)

2. Make 5,000 identifications for others' observations.
Thanks to the Identify tool released last year, I think I can do this with general maintenance and maybe some Marathon days.

3. Use this journal tool more.
Observations by themselves are valuable, but it seems to me that putting them in context (with temporal, interspecies-relational notes, etc.) makes them way more valuable. For example, what will be the fate of the oaks in Santa Cruz that appear to have been subject to an outbreak of an as-yet unidentified partial leaf-dieback pathogen?

I should communicate in a separate journal post that I first started noticing symptoms this summer, and then go on to track the fate of these trees as the years go by.

Specific goals

1. Observe and document 100 species of fish (ray-finned, cartilaginous, or otherwise)

I'm really excited about this goal! (for a number of reasons)

Firstly, I've loved fish since I was maybe 11 or 12, when my dad asked my brother and I to choose projects to work on for the summer. I think my brother chose to learn trigonometry, and I chose to learn fishing. Since I didn't actually have any fishing gear or family members who were anglers, I mostly spent my time reading about fishing. I checked out and read every volume of the Ken Albert series of fishing books from the North Park library, but never accumulated any money for gear. The summer ended with me taping a bunch of split rings to a long bamboo pole, taping a water bottle to the end of it as a kind of spool to wrap the line around, (I used red yarn), and then tying the yarn to a bent paperclip as a hook. I think I baited it with cut carrots. If I recall correctly, I went fishing with this rig off the Imperial Beach pier. Even if I don't recall correctly, I caught nothing. But I stuck with it for a while, and after getting some actual fishing equipment, and a lot of failing to catch anything (really an astonishing amount of not catching anything at all), I started to catch some fish.

Secondly, and even more importantly, I was fascinated with Scott's analysis which showed that fish in general (and especially Ray-finned Fishes) are iNat's most under-observed group of vertebrates!

Clearly a situation begging to be remedied. Sometimes a man achieves fish, and sometimes a man has fish thrust upon him.

I love seeing fish. I like thinking about fish. I love eating (many) fish. I like the planning of and act of fishing. And I don't do anywhere near enough of it. They get me closer to the ocean, and to streams and lakes and rivers. This can never be bad and can only be good.

100 species of fish in a year is going to be really hard to achieve, I suspect. Although I've come a long way since the days of carrots on a paperclip, I'm still not a very good angler. I suspect I might fail to reach my goal by multiple tens of species, but I look forward to the motivation I'll get from tracking my progress.

Snorkeling, seining, trapping, etc. are likely going to be crucial to my success or failure. I predict that sculpins and other tidepool-dwelling fish are going to take an outsized share of the pie.

I posit that one cannot gaze upon this triggerfish without experiencing an strong swell of admiration and desperate love for this group of creatures.

Happy New Year!

Posted on January 05, 2018 02:59 by leptonia leptonia | 1 observation | 5 comments | Leave a comment

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