Friday, May 23, 2014

sylvan hairstreak ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles


Compare the above to what most sylvan hairstreaks look like.  Notice something missing?  Like tails?  No, they're not broken off, like what frequently happens.  This fatty female(?) never had them, hence the ssp. dryope.  Crazy, huh?

coast horned lizard ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles

Apparently, this cool lizard is now supposed to be called Blainville's horned lizard?  Sigh.  I can't keep up with all the name changes, scientific or common.  Eh, that's not the point of this post, anyways, even though I have seen a few impressively large horned lizards during my many recent activities.

Paul has suggested I try iNaturalist as a way to document and share what I find during my weekly Pinnacles visits.  I haven't decided yet, because I have questions about macro photo quality and GPS capability in a smart phone where there's no cell service.  Click here to see Paul's photo of this same horned lizard using his iPhone 5 (don't know which letter c or s), and then click on my photo above to enlarge.  What do you think about the photo quality comparisons?  I think Paul's appears very tan colored and a little flat, even though my depth of field is shallow.  I'll mainly be taking photos of little butterflies about the size of the lizard's head anyways, but coloring is important.  And, I'm still unsure how to resolve the pseudo-GPS in phones issue.  I heard there are GPS units that bluetooth to the phone, but what a pain and more crap to carry.  Does anyone have any suggestions to obtain accurate GPS linked to a phone-generated photo?  Are there actual GPS phones, not the fake ones reliant on cell service?

Oh, have I mentioned I don't currently have a smart phone?  I've had my flip phone since 2006, which I think is the responsible thing to be aware of in this day and age of disposable everything, including electronics.  I had my last computer for 10 years before I upgraded to iMac.  I really don't need the latest and greatest toy, but it may be time to update.  Plus, we've been needing to switch carriers for some time since many of my calls get dropped at home on the Peninsula where ocean meets spotty cell coverage.  We never had a land line.  There was a bit of a city hall brouhaha over additional cell towers being installed.  On one side were the monarch butterfly lovers who didn't want the overwintering butterflies or themselves to be radiated (is that the term?), and on the other side was the city needing to offer basic public services, like cell phone coverage for emergencies.  The towers went in, cleverly disguised as chimneys.  Are we all being microwaved now?

ps 05/30/14 -  One of the take-aways I got from the Citizen Science Session of the Ocean Science Trust Conference last month was that citizen science could and should be able to provide data rigorous enough for scientific review (Thanks, Lisa Emanuelson!).  So, when a few days later CalAcademy announced their acquisition of iNat, I paid attention.

Ken-ichi Ueda, co-founder of iNaturalist, has been kind enough to reply to my numerous criticisms (hopefully, constructive!) and questions as I figure out the best recording method(s) for my project, which in an unexpected way could also help shape its initial purpose.  With Ken-ichi's permission, here's what he said, "Ok, let's talk tech. For iNat, my recommendation is to get the latest iPhone. Our iOS app is quite a bit better than our Android app, and the iPhone's GPS and camera are great. Here's are some particulars:

As you pointed out in your post, the iPhone isn't quite as good as a conventional camera, but it's still pretty good. It doesn't give you much DoF control, but it can be quite sharp, particularly for stable subjects that are close.

Any device with a real GPS chip should get coordinates *anywhere* it has a clear view of the sky, since it works by communicating with satellites, not ground-based towers. Reception may vary depending on weather, topography, or the particular configuration of satellites in line-of-sight from your position. Devices like the iPhone can improve both the speed of coordinate acquisition and the accuracy of those coordinates by using cell tower and wifi signals, but they aren't required. Almost every cell phone has a real GPS chip on board, including every iPhone and most Android phones. Note that the majority of tablets do NOT have onboard GPS. This includes the iPad.

In my experience the iPhone's GPS functionality is very accurate. If you get a chance to look over someone's shoulder, you'll see that the iNat works by continually acquiring coordinates until it gets the precision below 5m."

To keep this from becoming free advertising for phones and plans, I'm skipping some of what Ken-ichi recommends.  Then, he goes on to say, "Regarding iNat recording devices, keep in mind you don't need a phone to use iNat! You can upload images directly. My usual practice is to use my phone for most observations, but to also carry around my SLR and a handheld GPS in my pack. The GPS is always recording a track, which I use to add geotags to my SLR photos later (I use for this, but there are many other such applications, including Lightroom). The SLR is much faster and sharper, so for things like butterflies, that's usually what I'm going to use. Getting identifiable lep shots with a phone takes more time and patience than you can probably spend if you're doing a research project. Most high-end point-and-shoots would probably be as good or even better (in terms of flexibility) than my SLR setup."

Then, I asked questions about iNat itself.

I haven't found where it explains the different color map markers (red, blue, green?).
"Colors relate to the "iconic taxon" of the thing observed: blue for most animals, orange for insects / spiders / molluscs, green for plants, purple for slime molds, brown for chromists, pink for fungi. It isn't really explained anywhere. There are a lot of things on the site we just assume people will figure out for themselves."

I also don't understand how the "Redo search in map area" works, because it comes up with new and different points depending on the zoom level on the map.
"It redoes the search using the bounding box of the current map. It loads different observations because some of the observations in your previous search will be outside the bounding box."

Then, how do you select the marker that sits just below another one when on max zoom?
"I guess you don't, but you can see them all in the list on the right. You can also zoom in much farther with the satellite tiles."

Is it possible to select by week number to see everything found at a particular location in that week of any year?
"You can't look up observation by week, but you can do it by month. If you go to and click the "Search" button you'll see a bunch of filters, one of which is a month filter. If you set that and leave year and day blank, you'll see all the observations added in that month, regardless of year."

... He did say he privatizes his locations, does not carry a GPS unit, guesses based on a google app, so maybe that was the result of being "obscured" as well.  It doesn't seem like that should qualify for "research grade".
"... his observations for that day is due to the fact that he obscures the coordinates, which means each observation is displayed at a randomly chosen location somewhere within 10km of the true coordinates. iNat's "research" quality grade doesn't consider how precise the coordinates are, just that you've added them. The name "research" was probably a poor choice since it seems to get people's ire up, but it just means observations of that grade are probably more accurate / complete than others. Then again, the definition of "research" is pretty flexible. For some studies, precision of 50k might be adequate."

Finally, in the spirit of encouragement to become better, I had the audacity to question Ken-ichi's algorithms.  It's a bit meta, and I've noticed not everyone appreciates the different perspective.  In fact, he seemed very receptive to it.  I agreed with him that the freedom to make errors is educational, which is why this hobby blog has been so liberating for me over the past 5 years.  By being okay to make mistakes, being honest in the not knowing, asking those questions, and accepting of others' help, I have learned so much.  Here's Ken-ichi's reply to my algorithms charge:
"I would argue that our crowdsourcing approach generates data that is close to the accuracy of professionally collected data, with the added benefit that it usually comes with media evidence for independent verification. It is generally not as comprehensive as professionally collected data (most casual naturalists aren't going to identify every carabid under a log in the way that a working coleopterist would), but if you look at the inaccuracies present in supposedly professional collections at museums or in GBIF, you will find most of the same geographic biases (no collections far from roads or trails), identification mistakes, and taxonomic confusion... except it's really hard to see this errors because either there's no associated media evidence or you have look at a specimen. An actually quantitative comparison between professional and crowdsourced data collections like this would be a pretty cool outcome of being at CAS. We shall see."

This is all very helpful information for me.  Thanks, Ken-ichi!

The future of natural history documentation is at our feet, a path extending into the digital age through the eyes and hands of millions of curious participants.  I know that sounds corny, but it's true.  This is exciting stuff!  It's too bad it currently selects for the well-to-do with expensive phone requirements, GPS devices, and fancy cameras.  The reality of the situation is nature is available to pretty much everyone... and it's free, if we just put down our electronic devices.

lippia ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles


I really liked this flower and how it carpets the ground.  I would totally have this in my garden, if I had a garden.  It's native to CA and beyond, all along the lower half of the U.S.  It also has an incredibly fun (yet hard to say really fast) common name of turkey tangle fogfruit.  Seriously, I didn't make that up.

Douglas' spineflower ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles


Because of the spineflowers' family relationship to buckwheats (a fave butterfly host plant), I'm keeping an eye on them.  I first started seeing Douglas' this year April 29 on the westside.  These are small plants, which may have tiny caterpillars, too.  Don't know yet.  In addition to the Douglas' shown above, here are the known spineflowers found at Pinnacles National Park (with my common name updates taken from Jepson eFlora):

(CalPhotos) - (Calflora) - (Jepson) - none of the below with CNPS status
red triangles/Thurber's - Centrostegia thurberi (formerly Chorizanthe) - common, sand or gravel

variable checkerspot ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles

variable checkerspot / chalcedon checkerspot
(Shapiro and Tenney)

I love the face she's giving me, as if she's sticking out her tongue.  Technically, what I call "tongue" is her proboscis, a long, coiled and extendable mouthpart that functions like a drinking straw to suck up various liquids, such as nectar from flowers, water from mud, and moisture from poop (or so I've heard - I used to have a volunteer who would travel with domestic cat poo in a baggie for just this purpose...  I wonder how he explained at customs?).  With enough patience and a quick trick, I find butterflies are regularly agreeable to climbing on my finger so that I can take a closer look.  Paul took a picture of me with her on my finger.  I think he found my doing this rather peculiar. 

If it's not obvious from my photos, I prefer not to carry a net.  More traditional lepidopterists use a net to either collect and/or catch and release for a closer look.  This can be a legal issue in public parks or in areas where endangered butterfly species are found.  I'm still solely a collector of photographs (and trailside litter, especially glass bottles).  I'll admit that I've been dragging my feet writing up a request to obtain a collecting permit, which will also cover any primary catch and release activities for my project.  Eh, I'm in no hurry to start hauling around a bunch of collecting crap up and down hot hills.  Carrying enough water for myself is heavy enough, thank you (136 fl oz = 8.5 lbs 4 L >1 gallon 8 hours for me).  Photographs are working just fine for my needs right now.

Note her dark topside, which is very typical of the variable checkerspots found at Pinnacles.  This individual also shows solidly colored pumpkin-orange antennae, compared to the look-alike Edith's checkerspot, which has black-striped stems dipped in various curry colors at the tips. I find it impossible to distinguish the underside patterns between the two look-alikes in photos.  However, when both of these butterflies are on the wing together at Pinnacles and can be seen chasing each other, the variable flashes black and yellow, while the Edith's has a definite reddish background color.

Oh, I should mention that I'm not 100% positive she's a she.  I'm only guessing based on the hefty girth of the abdomen (fatty, fatty).  Honestly, I don't know how to sex most butterflies. Some can be obviously sexually dimorphic, but I have to be careful when there are look-alike spp. found in the same area and flying at the same time (there's a practical distinction between physical and temporal proximity), when one sex looks like the opposite sex of another sp.  It's a strange phenomena that I'm starting to notice.

As a last note, I generally don't use the name chalcedon to ID this butterfly.  It's the Bay Area folks from whom I first heard the name, probably to distinguish it from the federally threatened Bay checkerspot, which they do not call Edith's, btw, even though it is.  Plus, I mangle the pronunciation of chalcedon.

Edith's checkerspots ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles

I call this butterfly p0rn.  It's a bit perverted, I know, but the term tickles my funny bone, so it stays.  Sigh.  It was initially challenging for me to distinguish between the look-alike Edith's and variable checkerspots, mainly because the variable are indeed quite variable from place to place.  Paul was helpful in pointing out how much redder the Edith's look on the wing, compared to the very dark version of variable found at Pinnacles.  Also, in nice close-up photos (click pic to enlarge), notice the black-striped antennal stems with clubs dipped in curry colors, compared to the completely solid pumpkin-orange of the variable checkerspot (this may also be variable, unfortunately).  I'm making the guess that the female is on the left and the male is on the right, based on whose belly is hanging down, looking a little pregnant (i.e., filled with fat and eggs).  They're getting their groove on perched on blooming woolly yerba santa (the butterfly version of the neighborhood pick up joint).

ps 05/31/14 - Considering it is so hard to differentiate variable from Edith's, I asked Dr. Shaprio's opinion on these.  He said, "But the mating pair may be editha. Can't see the abdomens, but the antennae match editha, and the male has a vaguely 'cold' yellow color that is editha-ish, as well as a rather rounded FW apex."  Based on the photo samples he sent me, the female is on the left like I guessed, and the rounder FW apex male (it's hard for me to "see" this) is on the right.  To me the female FW is wider and less pointy than the male's.  Paul mentioned that at Pinnacles, Editha's tend to have orange rings on the top side of the abdomen.  There are rings shown here, but both sp. can have them on the underside of the abdomen, so that's not conclusive.  Does this make sense?  Overall vote, Edith's checkerspot.