The wonders and limitations of a brave new world

I live in a tourist town and I see lots of visitors. We used to joke about the guys stepping out of their Winnebagos with their video camera already up to their eye. Now days, thanks to smart phones, pretty much everyone is viewing their vacation in real time through the small screen a video camera.


I wonder sometimes what folks are doing with all those photos they are snapping.

I fully understand the desire to photo-document one’s adventures and I share the attraction to shiny tools that allow me to do so. I have a camera.  I take plenty of pictures.  And I find myself leafing through catalogs looking at lens and accessories that might improve my photo-documentary results. I will routinely take 100 or 200 picture on a given walkabout. For me, those photos have replaced my sketchbook (though I still make sketches when I can’t get a photo).  Those photos have become part of my process for taking field notes. They are a way for me to quickly note something I don’t recognize; something interesting; something I might forget I saw.

Marbled Godwit - 4/17/2016I suspect that the need to document is an innate characteristic and one we’ve been practicing for a very long time. I’m pretty sure that the artist who produced this masterpiece was working from field notes and a sketchbook…

Altamira Painting

…and that’s kind of the point I want to make: field notes are a means to an end; they are rarely the end in themselves. Not every notation I make in the field will lead me somewhere. Not every field note I take will be shared with others.  And most of the stories I tell will come from the post-processing, collation and polishing of information I’ve gathered. My field notes are largely indigestible to others.  Most of the photos I take will be tossed.

Which brings me to field apps…

If you own a smart phone, you’re probably already running one or two apps and there are natural history related sites on the internet that supply apps that allow you to post what you find in the field directly to their site via an app.  eBird has an app.  iNaturalist has an app. I’m sure there are many others I don’t know about.

I’ve been spending a good deal of time at iNaturalist. It is great fun and (arguably) has been taking up too much of my time.  It is a site where one can post the results of a day in the field.  The material I post is evaluated by a community of amateur and professional biologist and much of that data can be immediately scooped up by folks doing data collection projects.

inat_page_pseregBut I don’t participate using an app.  I don’t own a smart phone.  I don’t plan on acquiring one any time soon.  I’m already far too distracted by gadgets.  And as I sift through the material posted to iNaturalist, I’ve come to the conclusion that real time posting of field notes on to the internet may not always be useful.  There is value in that post processing activity.  Not every data point is useful; not every photograph is identifiable.  The ability to post everything we see directly to a site on the internet removes an essential filter.  If you don’t know what I mean, spend a day going through the stuff being posted from the field.

My best app is a little yellow notebook.  My camera is my secondary means of notation.  And that gap between my field day and the field report helps me synthesize what I’ve experienced so that it can be communicated more clearly and concisely.

But all these apps ain’t goin’ away.  Maybe there’s a part 2 to this discussion…

Western Pine Elfin

If you get out your copy of Butterflies of Cascadia (Pyle 2002) and look up WESTERN PINE ELFIN, you’ll note that the range map does not include Clatsop or Tillamook Counties, but there is a mark for the Long Beach Peninsula in Pacific County.  Our understanding of the distribution of  pine elfins changed more or less by accident in 2009 when I found them at the DeLaura Beach end of Burma Rd while doing bird surveys for Camp Kiwanilong. Sometimes these gaps in distribution maps reflect a lack of effort in looking in the right place at the right time and that appears to be the case with this species.

The elfins are taking  advantage of the early spring sunshine and are flying this week.

Western Pine Elfin - 4/6/2016

I found plenty of them at Burma Rd on Wednesday.  I went down to Nehalem Bay State Park in Tillamook County on Thursday and found them there. David Lee Meyers has noted them at Nehalem Bay in previous years.

Western Pine Elfin - 4/7/2016

And yesterday I found them at a new location at Pinehurst in Gearhart on North Coast Land Conservancy managed property on purpose.

Western Pine Elfin - 4/7/2016

The Western Pine Elfin is a pine obligate species that is closely associated coastal shore pines (Pinus contorta contorta) and may favor younger trees.  The larvae eat young new-growth needle and catkins.  They do not occur at densities that present a threat to pines.

Butterflies of Cascadia is undergoing a major revision which will include changes in the distribution maps for pine elfins.

Another favorite

Over the years, I have regaled you all with claims about my favorite organisms: willows, fuzzy caterpillars, rodents, lichens…

Well today I had several close encounters with one of my favorite bee-like flies, Bombylius major.

Bombylius major - 3/29/2016

There are several local species within the genus Bombylius.  The Greater Bee-fly is the easiest to identify in the field because it has distinctive black markings on its wings.

Bombylius major - 3/29/2016

The bee-flies are one of many pollinating flies that mimic bees in their appearance.  Looking like a bee offers a certain amount of protection from predators and bee-flies suit up to look like bumblebees.

Bombus mixtus - 3/29/2016

The larvae of bee-flies are parasitoids that feed on the larvae of solitary bees which include mason bees, leafcutters and sweat bees.

Halictid bee - 4/9/2014

The adult casts eggs near bee nests where the larval bee-flies lie in wait for the host bee larvae to pupate.  It’s not pretty, but there are several bee and wasp species that do the same thing, often aiming at fly larvae.

Spring is here.  The sun will be shining for the rest of the week and the pollinators will be working the newly blooming kinnikinnick, huckleberries and red elder.  Enjoy…

Bombylius major - 3/29/2016


Most interesting…

When it gets stormy, all the gulls move to places where they can find some bit of refuge. For example, the pastures at Wireless Road will filled with MEW GULLS today, some 1500 Mew Gulls…


But the best gull watching is almost always at the Necanicum Estuary where I found all sorts of interesting and approachable gulls. The most interesting was the very pale bird in this flock which I originally called a Glaucous Gull.


On closer inspection, I realized I was mistaken…




So, if it’s not a Glaucous Gull, why not?  and what other choices do I have?

Cladonian landscapes

I doubt I am the first to make this connection, but there is certainly something other-worldly about closely observed lichens of the genus Cladonia

cladonia20160302sm073Lichens, as group are usually referred to as a composite organisms.  Most of the structural elements of a lichen are formed by members of the biological group called fungi which have formed a symbiotic, mutually controlled partnership with green algaes and/or cyanobacteria (old-school was blue-green algaes).


The fungal partner is referred to as a mycobiont. The suffix “myco-” turns up routinely in fungi references (mycology is the scientific study of fungi and mushroom hunters often call themselves mycologists). Most lichens are classified based on the mycobiont partner. The genus Cladonia is characterized by towers, spires and chalice-shaped structures produced by the fungal member of the team.



The green of a lichen is produced by chlorophyll in the photobiont algal partner.  This is the half of the team that converts CO2 and water into sugars through photosynthesis.


Lichens reproduce both asexually and sexually and the processes are complicated and full of scary technical terms like “isidia” and “apothecia“, but it is the reproductive components of different species of Cladonia that are responsible for most of the interesting shapes, textures and colors we find when getting up close and personal with these Cladonian Landscapes.

Cladonia bellidiflora -5/28/2012

Another sunny day

It’s still February, but the sun was out today and the temperature was in the upper fifties.  So I strapped the ladder to my car and went out to the Netul Landing at Ft Clatsop inspect the willows.  I wasn’t disappointed.

For starters, there are now two BLACK PHOEBES hanging out at the bus kiosk and one of them is singing songs of love…

Black Phoebe - 2/25/2016

But the real action was in the tops of the willows and that’s why I brought my ladder…

Syrphidae - 2/25/2016

Echo Azure - 2/25/2016

Empididae - 2/25/2016

Bombus melanopygus - 2/25/2016


If the weather holds, I may take my ladder south to Seaside, tomorrow…

The barn with the owl in it

A couple weeks ago Melissa Reich, land steward for the North Coast Land Conservancy, reported finding owl pellets on the floor of the tall barn at Circle Creek.  This is not the first time an owl has been reported from there.  In fact, we were so sure of the first reports back in 2013, that we installed an owl nest box and a mount for a trail camera so we could keep an eye on things.

Northern Flicker - 10/3/2014Over the years, it’s attracted the attention of flickers and Pacific Wrens.  A BUSHY-TAILED WOODRAT, a native North American rat species also sometimes called a pack-rat, even dropped by to inspect the place …

Bushy-tailed Woodrat - 11/3/2013… but no owls.

I reinstalled the trail camera soon after Melissa’s report, hoping to finally catch an owl using the box, but no photos were on the memory card from any of the checks over the last 3 weeks.

Today, I found the owl in the barn, but not in the box.

Barn Owl - 2/18/2016

It had found a spot between the rafters and the peak of the roof to tuck itself into.  With luck, it will take up permanent residence and move into the box where it will be less likely to be disturbed by the other activities that the barn was built for.

GBBC 2016

It’s been tough going so far this year counting birds of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

A very wet storm series began yesterday morning and has persisted throughout the day today.  This has been a real challenge for my motorless-only bird-watching resolve.

On the other hand, the Great Backyard Slug-Fest has been going along swimmingly.

Oxychilus draparnaudi - 2/12/2016

Deroceras reticulatum - 2/12/2016

Prophysaon andersonii - 2/13/2016

Current bird count for the weekend – 55 species on walkabout

Salamanders – 2

Land snails and slugs – 6