If you have seasonal allergies to oak pollen, I would suggest you avoid central California, my yard or stay inside. I know this happens every spring but the coating of pollen seems extra thick this year.
Just a mere week or so ago we had rain and freezing temperatures. Then the temperature shot up to the 80’s the last few days and in the photos below you can see what coats my backyard bricks, tables and chairs. What’s even scarier is I cleaned the yard yesterday and wiped the tables down.
My pet hens are very happy to gobble up the pollen which is highly nutritious and will help color their yolks an even deeper orange.
Looking at the world through a lens gives me a chance to pause and to truly appreciate what I’m seeing.
Photographing a plant, a bug, a rock, a child, a water droplet, a pet, a pattern or a landscape causes me to stop and to really begin to look and see.
I slow down. I breath deeper. I feel more. I notice more. I feel more alive. Colors start to appear more vibrant and rich. Sounds become clearer and more melodious. Scents become more perceptible. I start to notice associations and repeating patterns in nature. I notice how most of life can and does live in harmony. I find myself relaxing. My compassion and patience for other fellow humans increases.
And, now my photos and observations can have a greater purpose and impact. Through technology my images and limited knowledge can be shared. My photos can have so much more meaning when I share them with databases such as iNaturalist, Calflora and CalPhoto.
With the recent emergence of the field of big data, scientists can make better use of contributions from citizen scientists, citizen naturalists or wannabe botanists like myself. We will now be better able to monitor biodiversity and the changes which are occurring on this delicate blue sphere we call earth.
By sharing my images on iNaturalist I give a purpose to my pictures. They are shared with the scientific community and others of like mind. iNaturalist has encouraged me to look and see the small stuff on the trails.
iPhonography and iNaturalist have helped me become a better observer of nature. I have been richly rewarded with what I have seen. May it be the learning of a new species or the sighting of an old friend again.
Check out my local biodiversity project that I have created on iNat: Project: Sycamore Valley Regional Open Space Preserve I have started documenting the species on a few acres of open space preserve near my home. I couldn’t find good data on the area so I decided to create my own data. Maybe, someday, this information will prove useful to the surrounding community or maybe even to scientists as they monitor the movement of species caused by climate change. Or, maybe I will be able to document the natural recovery of this region from the historical aspects of cattle grazing or the impact of modern day humans on this now preserved space.
With advancing age, I continue to grow in amazement of the natural world around me.
So, instead of taking another selfie, think about using your camera next time to collect data about the world around you. You too can be a citizen scientist.
Here’s my photo dump of just SOME of the flowering plants seen on our weekend BioBlitz to Death Valley. Two days was not nearly enough time, but it was all the time we had.
There is, oh, so much that I didn’t see and will never see because there isn’t enough time in life to see it all.
A visit to Death Valley can only capture just one singular moment in time. The variety of species blooming can literally change from one day to the next.
I have “guestimated” many of the scientific names and added common names. Several of the flower’s I have just ID’ed to genus. Without pulling some of the plants apart or waiting for seeds to set I can not confirm ID’s. Knowing where the plant was observed, the soil type, elevation, associated species and time of year, a pretty good guess can be made in most cases.
For lack of a better way to organize the photos, I have attempted to display them in a color sequence. Please enjoy and let me know what you think. The photo’s have not been edited.
In mid-March I found myself registered to participate as a volunteer botanist and iNaturalist contributor for the 2016 Death Valley National Park BioBlitz, part of a centennial celebration of our National Parks.
A BioBlitz as defined in wikipedia is “an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area. Groups of scientists, naturalists and volunteers conduct an intensive field study over a continuous time period (e.g., usually 24 hours).”
For the DVNP BioBlitz, the primary area of study was the area of Salt Creek.
Not only would scientists and iNaturalist be out in the creek area collecting data, but several programs and presentations were set up for the general public. The access road to Salt Creek was closed to traffic and the public and volunteers could either park out on the highway or another designated parking area and take a shuttle to the sight.
The park was blessed this year with above normal rainfall resulting in a rare super bloom of wildflowers. And, just the night before the BioBlitz, the valley was blessed with another rare sprinkling of measurable rain. The creek would be flowing a tad higher and some of the plant habitat’s would present some unique water crossing challenges for the field botanist. Not something one would expect in such a barren and hospitable landscape.
Here’s a link to the iNaturalist posts showing the species count results for the DVNP BioBlitz of March 12th, 2016.
These images where taken at the BioBlitz of the groups working area’s of biological study. I was able to contribute to the iNat project site 17 observed taxa, 20 total observations, of which 16 qualified as research grade. To date I have been notified that 9 of my observations have been selected for use by the project.
I am so honored to have been a participated for the 2016 BioBlitz. In another post I will identify some of the more common wildflowers seen over the weekend. We had an absolutely stunning and amazing visit to Death Valley National Park(DVNP). More Death Valley posts to come.
On a recent Friday afternoon we found ourselves on the other side of the bay to run some errands. We scheduled in an hour or so to spend on a hike in the local hills of the Santa Clara county mid peninsula region.
We chose to explore the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve and Deer Hollow Farm in an area very near Los Altos on the northwest end of Santa Clara valley and part of Silicon Valley. The preserve is near “Googleville” and north of “Appletown”. The write up about the open space sounded intriguing in that we could walk a trail through riparian, meadow and coast live oak woodland and visit Deer Hollow Farm. Deer Hollow Farm is a recently restored (1993) working farm from the 1850’s.
We walked through a woodland consisting predominately of Coast Live oak, buckeye, California bay and poison oak. A few of the bay tree buds were starting to bloom. The understory consisted of a lush bright green covering of native grasses mixed with numerous common annual and perennial wildflower seedlings. Plenty of buttercups, miner’s lettuce and California Manroot were already in bloom. New growth of bedstraw, coast iris and native bulbs could be seen mixed in under the tree’s.
Critter’s filled the air with their tweets, chirps, hoots and chatter. We were treated to the call of a Great Horned Owl in the distance, the loud squawk of a scrub jay in the trees, several Pacific Chorus frogs near the creek and the chatter of a few too many squirrels. We watched a cottontail bunny near a big log and numerous ground squirrels. We spotted a large wood rats nest of branches not far from the trail.
It is so nice that these park lands have been set aside for all to enjoy and to provide habitat for the native species that have lost so much land to development.
Once again we realize how fortunate we are to live in the San Francisco bay area and in California. A state that has taken land preservation seriously, and has created a fair amount of parkland and protected wildlife habitat.
The following are a few photos taken during our short time in this open space.
What’s it like to hang out with a field ecologist and volunteer staff for a day in the field?
I recently had the opportunity to assist at a native plant habitat site east of Livermore, being used for the recovery of the endangered California native plant species Amsinckia grandiflora, Large Flowered Fiddleneck.
It would appear that recovery efforts have been ongoing for a very, very long time in hopes of downgrading this species status to threatened.
It’s fascinating to learn all of what goes into saving a species and the number of different government organizations that are involved, but those details are not the point of this blog.
Through my volunteer involvement with the UC Botanical Garden’s at Berkeley, California, I have had the opportunity to mingle with some fascinating people in the field of plant ecology and associated fields. It was through one of these connections that I now found myself volunteering in the field.
lush green expanses of grassland, steep covered hills, with a few interesting rock outcroppings, contrast with the grey sky. (Formally known as California prairie – a perennial bunchgrass community) We met on a winter morning. Morning fog still clung to some of the nearby hills and valleys. The sun would not come out fully until mid day.
After passing through a few check points we followed the windy roads to the Amsinckia grandiflora site.
The site is up a steep north facing grassy slope in a small ravine. It is fenced in with a barbed wire fence. Cattle and drought had damage the site last year. I’m no judge of area, but I’m guessing the site covered an acre or so. Within the site were scattered many plots. Usually on the steepest sections. Each plot marked out with rebar posts or wood posts, wire strung across in an X to distinguish the plot area. If memory serves me right from my ancient college days, these plots are similar to what I called quadrants. However, I remember most often running line transects for course work back in the 80’s.
Each plot was then further divided into three beds where there was some loose resemblance to a path carved into the steep hillside to provide a slightly more stable footing.
My job was to find seedlings and starts of Amsinckia in amongst the other vegetation. Upon finding a seedling, my job involved gently clearing the area around the seedling and clipping down the nearby vegetation to decrease competition for light, nutrients and water.
I received my instructions and introduction to the plant. The seedlings have a distinctive cotyledon, though the first true leaves are similar to other species so correct observation would be critical.
I was assigned my first plot. At first the work was very slow going as I familiarized myself with the seedlings. Throughout the day I would find my eye’s become attuned to the seedlings and being able to spot them much quicker then when I started.
The most challenging part of the day was moving around on the slope. Did I mention it was steep?
The slope was steep. Very steep. It made mountain biking look wimpy. Maybe this was as steep as a fairly advanced downhill ski run. (But I’m not a downhill skier so I really can’t compare.) It would have been much easier to just slide down the hill in a controlled slide on slick muddy boots.
Mud! Did I mention that it was muddy too? Wet! And really wet too. At least the wet grasses and miners lettuce provided a way to clean ones hands of mud. I could quickly rub my hands over the wet grass outside of my plot area and wash away slippery mud that accumulated on my hands. I had started out using gloves but found it easier to protect seedlings with bare fingers as I’d work the area around them with my other hand and the clippers.
I knew I had found work that I must be enjoying. You know you’re in the zone when you don’t stand up long enough to take a break until it’s after 1 PM. Being in the zone, also know as flow, is a “positive psychological mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”
Well, I finished up three plots with about a half days worth of work. My back was feeling the strain of bending over. There were just a couple of plots left on the far upper right of the research area. It looked like the team would be able to finish the work. I could tell that with my back being strained, I might soon find myself being more of a hinderance with this project then an asset. After a short snack break I decided I should probably call it quits for the day.
As I meandered off the hillside I stopped to take a few more pictures to send to the curator at UC Botanical. She’s figured out I like iPhonography and asked me to take photos. I know she is personally committed to this project and wanted to see visuals of the site’s progress.
It had been a rewarding day in lovely green hills of California. I drove the back roads home, thinking this would be another fun area to explore more by bike. I’ve already ridden many of these roads. Exciting to learn there are still more roads I haven’t explored yet. I hope I’m invited back to this site as I’d love to see how the plants are doing in the beds that I worked.