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First Annual Blogger BioBlitz!

Joy
This past week, my son and I participated in the First Annual Blogger BioBlitz. The idea is to choose a small but convenient natural area, and survey all the organisms you can find there during a one-week period: April 21 through 29, in honor of National Wildlife Week. I decided that Connor and I would survey our back patio plus the open space beyond our yard in Contra Costa County, California. We weren't able to do a survey every single day, as we were out of town part of the week, but we were diligent for four or five of the days.







Pictured above is the area we surveyed, a smallish patio, mostly paved or covered in wooden deck, with large planter boxes which are mostly planted with low-water plants, lavenders and sages, rosemary and roses. (At least in my yard, these are low-water plants; they have to be in order to survive my neglect during the hot, dry summer months). We also have a barrel pond, which I created about four years ago, and is now a self-sustaining eco-system in all respects except the fact that I have to add water during the summer. The frogs and snails who live there were not introduced by me - they all showed up on their own, at some point in the past. (There are also mosquito fish, but I did introduce those myself). Beyond our yard is open space, a couple of acres (I'm estimating) of grassy hills, with some shrubby trees and a (mostly) dry creek bed. On each of the days that we were home, I checked four or five times throughout the day, to see what I could see, usually spending between 5 and 20 minutes outdoors at each check.

This project was interesting, almost more so in my reaction to the process than in what we actually saw. In terms of the larger critters (birds, mammals and reptiles), I saw what seemed a fairly small selection, compared with all the species I've ever seen in or from the yard. Several of my "usual suspects" failed to make even a single appearance (notably the white-tailed kites and kestrels which I see just about every single day, except, of course, this week. Also, no deer, which are pretty regular, nor coyotes or owls or golden eagles, all of whom show up often enough that I had a hope of seeing one this week). On the whole, though, for a one-week period, I did see most of what I would have expected to see, with no real surprises. Of course, on a week when I'm actually "counting," I found myself really wanting to see more, more, MORE. I wasn't feeling competetive against anyone else in the project, just wanting to see as much as I personally could see. Which is pretty typical, considering I can get somewhat obsessed at times with my birding lists. :D

What did surprise me were the insects. I realized that I really don't pay much attention to the insects, usually. Spiders? Yes. Love them, so they get noticed. Bees and wasps, yes, so I can avoid bothering them and being stung. But all the other tiny things in the yard? They pretty much exist under my "radar." This week, when I was paying attention, I saw some really cool bugs. (My favorite for the week? The snakefly pictured above). Trouble is, since I'm so unfamiliar with them, I had a hard time with identification. In fact, most of them are not included on my survey list, because I just have no idea what they could be, and am not really sure where to start looking. Google is only useful when you have some sort of a clue where to start. I did find some websites which could have been helpful, but I'm pressed for time right now and just don't have spare time for surfing through pages and pages of photos hoping to find a match for my critters (I did a bit of that, and found it was very time-consuming). So, I saw various moths, flies, things I assume were gnats, along with some things I don't even know how to classify, and I'm feeling as though the arthropods are sorely under-represented on my count. (Although I did learn a few things about the insects. Who knew that ladybug larvae are so weird-looking? :D). I also have photos posted on the Flickr group for this project, so maybe I'll get a few more IDs that way. It was a big wake-up call for me about a whole realm of organisms that I pretty much ignore. To be honest, I'll probably still mostly ignore them. Let's face it - I like birds better. But I don't think I'll be quite so neglectful of the arthropods ever again. They can be interesting, and even surprisingly (to me, anyway) pretty.

Connor, too, enjoyed doing the surveys, although he kind of bailed on me when it came time to look up all the taxonomic names. (Which is fine, probably easier to do it myself; he does know how the system works, overall, so I'm not too concerned from that standpoint). I am expecting some artwork from him, though, of a few of the creatures he saw this week. I'll post those pics in a separate entry.

So, here's a list of all the species I was able to identify (or partially identify):

(BTW, I got most of my taxonomic data from the ITIS (Integrated Taxonomic Information System) website). Animals are listed by common name (genus, species).

Mammals:
California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi)
Red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

Birds:
Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
White-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
California towhee (Pipilo crissalis)
Lesser goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria)
House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
Brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater)
Black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)
American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Western scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica)
Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)
Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
California quail (Callipepla californica)
Ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)
Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)
Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna)
Mourning dove (Zenaida macroura)

Reptiles:
Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

Amphibians:
Pacific treefrog tadpoles (Hyla regilla)

Arachnids:
Daddly longlegs spider (Pholcus phalangoides?)

Insects:
Ladybugs, adults and larvae (Hippodamia sp.)
Aphids (? ?)
Plant bug (Lyrus? sp?)
Honey bee (Apis mellifera)
Bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis)
Paper wasp (Polistes sp.)
Mosquito (Aedes sp.)
Hoverfly (? ?)
Snakefly (? ?)

Pond snail (Physa? acuta?)



I took pictures of some of the things I saw; many of these are not good quality, as I was mostly just trying to document, rather than capture nice photos. The Flickr Photoset is here.

This was a cool project, and I'll participate again next year. From a different place, in fact - most likely, somewhere in Puerto Rico!

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
irisanderson
Apr. 30th, 2007 04:16 pm (UTC)
This is a really interesting read. Thanks for sharing.
elfundeb
May. 2nd, 2007 03:26 pm (UTC)
Great project! I think I'd enjoy participating next year. I love taking wildlife photos, and I thought yours were much better than you claim.

Have a great trip east.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
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