Journal archives for May 2017

May 06, 2017

2017 March--Grateful for iNaturalist

When I discovered eBird.org a few years ago (through BirdLog, the original phone app for eBird), I was really stoked and excited. It was actually the phone app that most excited me, because I could enter my sightings in the field and did not have to go home and re-enter the same information a second time. It was a time-saver for this busy guy with a family. Not only that, but I had 35 years of mostly bird field notes in a storage bin doing no one any good. I was grateful to have the ability to have all my bird data, from that day forward, go directly into a searchable database that I could access, and that by virtue of the platform, I could share with anyone else who was interested. In addition, I contribute photos and bird sounds, and I am slowly adding my historic notes.

Living in Oregon and paying suitable attention to the statewide bird listserv, Oregon Birders On Line (OBOL), I occasionally noticed Mike Patterson (@mikepatterson ) saying something about iNaturalist.org. It sounded interesting, and I looked at it a couple times, but, frankly, my time was limited and I felt fortunate just to be able to contribute my bird notes to a database like eBird. Then I started teaching at Umpqua Community College (UCC)....

Winter 2017 I began teaching some biology labs and was in the process of developing a new course for UCC called Field Methods for Fish and Wildlife Sampling. Among other things, developing this course drew me back into my former naturalist days seeking out and learning about all manner of living things, not just birds. As I began planning for the spring field class, I needed to find some nearby field sampling opportunities and I began to explore the 97 acres or so of the UCC property (2/3 of which is the urban campus). Immediately I began to have observations of various critters and I again didn't want those to disappear into the obscurity of a paper field notebook in a bin in a closet. eBird didn't take observations of non-bird taxa, so I decided to check out iNaturalist again. In doing so I learned there was an iNat app, and I was off and running!

I am only two months into iNaturalist and I am ever so grateful for this tool. It not only serves to store and organize my own observations, it allows for easy sharing of information with others, and there are many ways to learn about all forms of life, from just looking through observations, reading species accounts, looking at maps, and communicating directly with other iNat users who have expertise or at least more experience in identifying particular organisms. The opportunities to interact are wonderful.

I took some time to contribute most of the critter observations for which I had photos. The earliest so far being some Juga snails in Polk County, Oregon, in 2002. I have earlier data and photos I hope to dredge up and contribute as well. I continue to contribute most of my bird observations to eBird, as most of these involve long lists of birds without photos or sound recordings; however, I will continue to contribute occasional individual bird sightings of interest to iNat.

So long as I'm still kickin', I see iNaturalist as a great tool for me to continue learning about living things wherever I am, and a tool for encouraging others to look, learn, and share as well. I can also see great value in conducting BioBlitzes in areas of interest that need more information, attention, and protection. I hope to be able to use this blog/journal feature of iNat to log my most recent and future experiences, observations, and thoughts.

Thank-you to the initial developers and to all who now contribute to the iNaturalist community.

Posted on May 06, 2017 00:34 by umpquamatt umpquamatt | 2 comments | Leave a comment

2017 March 1--Initial Exploration of UCC Property

1200-1415, I explored the patch of conifers immediately NE of the Umpqua Community College (UCC) Gym/Pool/Tennis area. This area is fairly steep, with a NE aspect, significant canopy cover of mature to early old Douglas-fir, with moderate to sparse ground cover. I was primarily looking for amphibians and wasn't disappointed. I ended up finding two Western Red-backed Salamanders and one very small Ensatina. I was pretty happy about finding these amphibians here, right next to campus and in the "middle" of the Umpqua Valleys at low elevation, just above the North Umpqua River. Much of the surrounding area consists of grassy pastures, dry oak hillsides, and residential areas, not the kind of habitat where I think of finding forest salamanders, Plethodon in particular. I began to ponder why these species were here, apparently in some number as they were not hard to find. The NE aspect, steepness, and canopy cover certainly made this a more shaded site than much of the surrounding area, but still, there are plenty of areas like this where you will not find Plethodon species. I eventually realized, the whole NE edge of campus sits near a rocky cliff. Below the cliff is 20-75 m or more of talus slope, most of which is covered with forest floor humus or organic matter and patches of mineral soil. This talus, I surmise is perhaps 4-20 feet deep in places. In some places I could scrape away the forest floor organic matter, pull up a couple angular rocks, and find a matrix of air spaces around the rocks going deeper than I could see. My supposition is that this substrate, combined with the relatively cool site of the NE aspect, and the canopy cover, have provided a refuge for these species for perhaps thousands of years where they could be safe and moist, even during several years of severe drought or raging summer wildfire. In contrast, salamanders hiding under logs or shallow subterranean passages in mineral soil during severe drought or wildfire would likely be desiccated or killed.

It is amazing and interesting to have this habitat right next to the UCC campus, and only 300 m away from a very contrasting south-facing grassy slope with shallow soils and Buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus). The diversity of habitats on the UCC property is impressive! To document what occurs here and encourage others to get out and explore I've created the Umpqua Community College Biodiversity Project. I will encourage students and faculty to explore and contribute!

My bird list for the time is here.

Posted on May 06, 2017 03:11 by umpquamatt umpquamatt | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

2017 March 11--Cleaning Up the Garden and other Poking Around

1445-1610, I was out starting to clean up the garden, but ... I found some things. We had put down some cardboard several places last year to keep the weeds down. At this point, the cardboard was fairly decomposed, but parts of it provided suitable cover for a couple of reptiles. As I began to remove the old cardboard and undecomposed boxing tape, etc., I found a Western Skink and Northwestern Garter Snake taking refuge under this cover. Intending to do some tilling or weed-whacking in the area, I moved the animals over to a large wood pile and wished them well.

The good fortune of the garden cleaning effort spurred me to look around a bit elsewhere. I have placed plenty of small logs and bark pieces along our north property boundary that adjoins a neighbor who has a pond where Long-toed Salamanders breed. These salamanders are not hard to find under such debris in the wet times of the year. I checked a few cover objects and easily found three different individuals.

When we moved to this property in 2013 and I began to find Long-toed Salamanders here, I realized that regional herpetological guides did not show the species as occurring in the Umpqua Valleys. Upon inquiring with others, Ray Davis (former Umpqua National Forest Biologist) told me that he had found the species in seasonal wetlands in east Sutherlin area in the 1990s. Jerry Mires, retired BLM biologist told me last month that some years ago the species had been found in the Stewart Park Wildlife Pond and Nature Trail area (I don't recall what year) in Roseburg. I know of no other records at the moment, but there is a lot of private land and very few naturalists or herpetologists in the area, so their spatial distribution here in the Umpqua Valleys is unknown.

Posted on May 06, 2017 04:33 by umpquamatt umpquamatt | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

2017 March 20--Scouting for a UCC Coverboard Project

In order to begin some regular, "passive" inventory of herpetiles (primarily) on the Umpqua Community College (UCC) property, I decided to put out some cover boards in four different habitats that I could check now and then to see what had taken refuge. I had prepared some cover pieces, but wanted to look for some good locations and 3 or 4 different habitats in which to place the boards/sheets.

While out looking for cover board sites, I came across three pieces of 12-inch square ceramic tiles that had somehow ended up in one of the grassy areas with Buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus). Amazingly, two of these three pieces had a Western Skink under them, and a nearby piece of bark had another! At that point I guessed I would find a few skinks with my cover boards in that area. It was interesting that both of the ceramic tiles with skinks were fairly well embedded in the grassy topsoil and the skinks were underneath in small tunnels. I have since read that skinks will make their own burrows unders such object and do not need to rely on burrowing insects or mammals.

In the observation photos you can see the bright blue tail of the young skink, and the dull bluish gray tail of the larger individuals. Flowers on the Buckbrush had not yet burst out.

Posted on May 06, 2017 06:44 by umpquamatt umpquamatt | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

2017 March 21--The UCC Cover Board Project

After scouting the area yesterday, I brought all my materials and a couple helpers--my sons Daniel and Stephen--to put out the cover boards. I had also informed the groundskeeping staff that I was putting this material out so that they would not think it was trash and remove it! Each piece was also labeled with my name, UCC Science, and my phone number, on aluminum tape.

I utilized leftover/used materials from my own property as cover material. These included plywood and corrugated sheet metal of different sizes. Nine cover pieces of different materials and sizes were placed in each of 4 habitats in approximately equal proportions, for a total of 36 cover pieces. The 4 habitats were: open oak, chaparral, wet woods (closed-canopy oak with some wet areas), and north slope (mostly closed canopy dominated by Douglas-fir on a north-facing slope).

Data on the cover boards and habitats, and findings from the occasional checks so far can be found in the following "google sheet" called UCC Coverboards. If you would like to check the cover boards and contribute data to this project, contact me at matt.hunter@umpqua.edu, or 541-670-1984.

Posted on May 06, 2017 06:53 by umpquamatt umpquamatt | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 07, 2017

2017 April 14--A Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Meadow

This day I attempted to find my way up to Brushy Butte, SW of Dixonville, based on a tip from a retired BLM biologist. Unfortunately, all "BLM" access roads from the W and NW were blocked by private land gates, or eventually signed "No Trespassing," so I didn't make it there. It is difficult these days to discern whether No Trespassing signs are meant to only restrict entry to the land itself on either side of the road, or the road as well. I've seen many private landowners sign their property so that the signs are facing toward someone driving the road, giving one the feel that one should not even be on the road, even when the road has public access. The Seneca Jones sign out at the end of South Deer Creek Road is ambiguous in this matter.

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Anyway, I digress. I ended up going up a poorly (non-?) maintained road that was all on BLM land and parking here below an interesting meadow. I didn't wander more than 30 m up the meadow and about as far up the road by foot (but later drove).

The meadow had many species of plants, more than I documented this day, and a couple critters. One Pacific Tree Frog was flushed from the wet grass, and one Ensatina was located under some bark at the edge of the road (see observations).

After enjoying this meadow I drove farther up the road. I was amazed and appalled by the amount of garbage and target-practice debris (shells and shot-up items from refrigerators to beer cans) up this road. The lack of respect for the land and others that might want to enjoy the area (free of shot-up refrigerators), is disappointing.

20170414_131512

Posted on May 07, 2017 03:59 by umpquamatt umpquamatt | 24 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

2017 April 14--More Exploration of Umpqua Community College (UCC) Property

1445-1700. After my exploration attempts were cut short this morning, I came back to UCC to check cover boards and explore a little bit. The coverboards yielded a couple Western Skinks in the grassy oak and chaparral areas. I also photographed quite a few flowers and plants.

The most exciting find of the day was a young Foothill Yellow-legged Frog. It was perched on a small dead branch along a very small (12 inch wide) seasonal stream and hopped down into the stream as I hopped over it. Without this movement of the small frog I never would have noticed it. This species has declined over much of its range and there is great concern over its status (see this Conservation Assessment, and this Status Review). Populations in the Umpqua Basin seem to be doing better than most, but are still declining. There is some evidence that tadpoles of this species may be vulnerable to predation by Smallmouth Bass, as they do not recognize this non-native predator (see Paoletti et al. 2011) I'm interested to know more about this species here near UCC.

Also interesting was an Ensatina found under some small chunks of oak branch in a purely Oak hillside. I've read that they occur in such places, but I hadn't seen them in oak woodlands before. I continue to find Western Red-backed Salamanders in the forested talus area NE of campus.

Posted on May 07, 2017 04:26 by umpquamatt umpquamatt | 30 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

2017 April 16--A Few Places up Little River Area (1 of 3): a BLM Forest Road

1120-1200. Today I did some exploring to find some locations to take my Wildlife Sampling Methods class for some hands-on experience. My first stop was at the end of BLM Road 27-3-11.1. The very end of the road had been bermed off, decommissioned, and restored to promote return of the native habitat. At the end of the driveable portion of this road were a few pieces of cut wood and some rocks. These proved productive for salamanders, 2 Dunn's Salamanders and 1 Clouded Salamander (note square-tipped toes and long outer toe, vs short outer toe on Dunn's and other Plethodon). There was also a nice set of wildflowers nearby, which I willingly photographed. My favorite is this one of three different colors of Pacific Trillium. There was also a "weird" black plastic/tar/rubber looking fungus.

Posted on May 07, 2017 19:05 by umpquamatt umpquamatt | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

2017 April 16--A Few Places up Little River Area (2 of 3): an Old Rock Quarry Pond

1230-1315. I noticed a small pond in an small old rock quarry right next to the road. I explored a bit, thinking it was probably county-owned. I later looked into it and found it was private property, and obtained permission from the owner to explore again later. The pond is roughly 20 m x 10 m, with a max depth of about 1 m when I visited on this day. I suspect it reduces in size dramatically over the summer, and may even dry up altogether. Perhaps I'll find out.

I grabbed my net and took a few swipes on the rocky/muddy bottom in 10-20 cm deep water. I obtained a couple eggs/embryos that I believe were Rough-skinned Newt, as well as some aquatic insects and some type of ... spherical algae??? While doing this sampling I noticed a few adult newts in the pond. Some blackberries made it difficult to circumnavigate the pond, but I made it. A couple swipes in a small inlet and in some emergent grasses produced a very small Pacific Tree Frog tadpole and a couple of aquatic snails.

Poking around the rocks produced a couple hiding Pacific Tree Frogs, a very cold and lethargic juvenile Western Fence Lizard, and some type of larval lepidopteran.

Posted on May 07, 2017 19:21 by umpquamatt umpquamatt | 10 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

2017 April 16--A Few Places up Little River Area (3 of 3): Wolf Creek Trail

1320-1550. I had not ever been up this trail and decided to check it out. The trail is wide and well-groomed, though muddy in places. The creek as well as the forest are absolutely beautiful. Most of this area is what people call "old-growth" forest, with scattered very large trees and very large dead trees (snags) and down logs. There were abundant wildflowers, shrubs, a few salamanders, snails, and other invertebrates. I was surprised to find a Canyon Live Oak here.

Posted on May 07, 2017 19:36 by umpquamatt umpquamatt | 26 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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