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

In February?

I took a trip down to Nehalem and Alder Creek Farms yesterday.  The sun was out.  The wind was blowing from the east.  And the temperature was 65F.  Not your typical winter’s day on the North Oregon Coast…

I spent about an hour in the community garden on the farm.  There was some sort of cruciferous vegetable that had been let go for the winter and was flowering in big, showy, yellow blooms. And the pollinators were busily taking advantage of both weather and flowers.

Apis mellifera - 2/8/2016

We think of Honey Bees when we think of pollinators and there were plenty of them out doing their bee-business, but they were not alone.  By the end of the morning, I counted no fewer than 5 bee species, 2 kinds of wasps, 7 kinds of flies and a beetle, all actively doing the important work of pollination.

Diabrotica undecimpunctata - 2/8/2016

The first sign of a healthy ecosystem is diversity… even in a garden… in February.


More photos of my visit to Alder Creek HERE.

Mystery Magoo

Today in Cannon Beach I came upon a mystery…

20160201sm014I’ve seen it before in other places, usually after lots of rain.  It looks like it comes oozing out of the ground.  Today I decided to do a bit of research.  I GOOgled it…

The stuff is most commonly referred to as Star Jelly.  In folklore, it was believed to fall from the sky during meteor showers.  It seems to defy any modern, more earthly explanations though there are plenty of opinions ranging from the remains predated amphibians to the residue of slug sex to some kind of slime-mold or bacteria.  None of these hypotheses is completely satisfactory and efforts at analysis have proven mostly inconclusive.


A new distraction

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one ………………………… …………………….………………………– Voltaire

I have been spending a lot of (and perhaps too much) time at the communal data collection site iNaturalist over the last several weeks. It is a place to record things we see in nature. There are plenty of sites like this out there on the internet, but none tries to capture so much with the kind of user level of participation that iNaturalist does. Anybody can enter data and anybody can comment and agree or disagree with the identification specifics of entries made by others.

Harpaphe haydeniana - 5/18/2012

At first, I was a bit surprised by the number of folks from far away giving me advice on local identifications, getting them wrong and doing it with such authority. Experts from out-of-town assuming I’m clueless and telling me how to do stuff. A lot of that going around these days…

Then there are the folks from out-of-town on iNaturalist that actually caught my mistakes and pointed me in the right direction.

For most of us, what we think we know is a mix of personal experience and stuff we have picked up from reading or taking a class or watching Nature on PBS. The farther away a thing is from my local patch of experience, the more reliant I am on external sources. Those external sources are subject interpretation and a certain amount of faith. The book I’m using may be the same one that the other guy is using, but depending on our experiences, we may interpret the words differently. Or that other guy may be using a completely different reference written by an author with a different set of definitions for what’s what. They may believe that theirs is the definitive text.

Definitive. Over-confidence in the inerrancy of an opinion. A lot of that going around these days…

It may surprise some of you to learn that I don’t know everything and, more importantly, I don’t believe I know everything. I have my doubts about what other people have dubbed “my expertise”. iNaturalist brings this reality into sharp relief.  Using iNaturalist is as much a study in human psychology as it is in participatory citizen science, not to mention an exercise in learning to check my own ego.

I have learned quite bit  interacting with folks on iNaturalist. The first lesson is: get used to anarchy. Everyone can offer an opinion and once given, there does not appear to be a mechanism for weighting or removing opinions that are clearly in error. There are folks called curators working on the site, but they do not have the power to add or subtract dubious votes from the general user population (assuming I’m reading the FAQ correctly). This can place some records into an undeserved limbo until enough additional votes come in to over-ride that one outlier.

And that would be the second lesson: the number of folks available to accurately assess data, particularly at a regionally specific level, is not large. The only taxonomic group that is well represented is the birder group and, even in that group, the gull ID’s (among other problematic ID challenges) are pretty sketchy. If you’re interested in confirming a bug or a fish, you will probably have to wait a good long time and the botany answers show a frustrating regional bias which most probably reflects an incomplete understanding of range and taxonomy by out-of-town commenters.

But the third lesson is, for me, the most revelatory: there are some really serious and knowledgeable folks who’ve made themselves available to the rest of us rabble on iNaturalist. There are a couple of snail and slug folks who’ve helped me out, a primatologist, and the guy who reminded me that there are two kinds of raccoons in Costa Rica (Common and Crab-eating).

Raccoon - 3/27/2014

There is a great deal that I don’t know.  I try not to let that get in the way of participating in these larger citizen science projects.  We all have things to contribute and things to learn.  We may doubt our ability to contribute meaningfully to a citizen science projects, but having doubt is a sign of critical thinking.  It’s a good thing.  Stating with authority “I don’t know enough to contribute” is a doubtful proposition.

You can explore iNaturalist for yourself at: