Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Sunday, April 29, 2007


When I arrived at my bioblitz site, just after 6am on April 25th, It was just getting light enough to see my breath. I hauled my gear the short distance to the water's edge, then carefully walked around the pond's perimeter, hoping (vainly) to see some mammals. There was ample evidence of Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in the form of tracks and the remains of a doe that appeared to have been poached last winter, and a single recent set of Moose (Alces alces) tracks. Mule deer have always been common here. Moose were rare in the Wasatch Mountains until the late '70s, and a successful stocking program. Today, dozens of Moose from the Wasatch are unsuccessfully transplanted to Colorado each year. A Coyote (Canis latrans) scat and numerous vole (Microtus spp.) burrows rounded out the morning mammal signs. Around 3pm, I saw my only mammal for the day, a Least Chipmunk (Tamias minimus). As it turns out, bringing a mist net would have been a waste—it's too early for bats.

Birds are always the easiest tetrapods to view, and they comprise 90% of my tetrapod tally. Where the cataloging of plants posed identification challenges, the main difficulty with birds was accurate censusing. When you spend 15 hours on a plot of land, how do you discount the individuals you've seen earlier? My numbers for common birds are little more than guesses. On my arrival, a single Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) floated on the west end of the pond, and 7 Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were calling the place home. This was the first year I've seen a goose on the pond, and ducks are fairly recent arrivals, too—in fact, a pair of Mallards I flushed around 1969 about 4 miles from here were the only anseriformes I ever saw resting in Emigration Canyon prior to the 1980s. I attribute this to two facts: Game management has succeeded in expanding the overall population of anseriformes in the region during this period, and the inadvertently man-made wetland here is a fairly recent habitat in this mountain canyon. In my initial dawn patrol, I flushed a Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), only the third time I've seen this bird here (bear in mind that I rarely show up here at 6am). Around 10am, five Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelatus phoenicus), wetland newcomers as well, dropped by for about half an hour. Marsh Wrens (Cistotherus palustris) have also grown in numbers, although I saw but one skulking through the cattails, a zone still dominated by Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia). The goose remained in place until around 11am, when he flushed, and circled widely. Suddenly a pair of Ravens (Corvus corax) emerged from a nearby draw and mobbed him. Ravens are common in the desert lowlands to the west, but these were the first ones I've seen in Emigration. In another four weeks, a nest-hunting expedition will be in order.
California Quail (Callipepla californica) were introduced to this area early in the 20th century, and are common in the foothills. Small numbers have occurred in the Canyon as long as I can remember, but over the past decade they've seemed to really burgeon. I heard several roosters crow, but only saw two individuals during the day. Goldfinches (Carduelis spp.) are native here. When I was young, American Goldfinches (C. tristis) were not uncommon and Lesser Goldfinches (C. psaltria) were rare. I've noticed a marked increase in the latter species recently, and suspect they may have followed the march of invasive Leafy Spurge (Euphorbia esula). I couldn't confirm seeing any Lessers on Wednesday, but I was surprised how many Americans I saw. I estimated the number on my plot at 12, and saw as many as six individuals at once. Some common birds of the area were noticeably absent. The number of Scrub Jays (Aphelocoma californica) and Spotted Towhees (Pipilo maculatus) I recorded stands at one apiece, though I heard several of the latter. I can't explain not seeing a feather from a Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheuticus melanocephalus), or a bird of prey (Sharp-shinned Hawks (Accipiter striatus) and Belted Kingfishers (Ceryle alcyon) have both nested about 150m from the site for many years. It was probably still too early for many common favorites, yet too late for winter visitors. Also counted was a group of domestic Rock Doves (Columba livia).

Too early, as well, for most herptiles, too. A warm day like this one could have seen a Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans) venture abroad, but such was not my luck. Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma mavortium) are the first herps to stir. The adults emerge from hibernation soon after the ice melts, and head for the water to breed. This time of year they're aquatic, and I had hoped to spot an adult or two in the water, but only found a single egg to represent the classes Amphibia and Reptilia.

Most arthropods were also still in winter mode. I took a total of 30 net swipes through the pond in 30 different spots, and pulled up very little in the way of aquatic insects. A few naiads of mayflies (Baetis spp.) and damselflies (Argia spp.), a few Backswimmers (Notonecta undulata), and an unidentified Rat-tailed maggot (probably an Eristylis sp.) were all I saw. Once the sun got warm, though, hundreds of wolf spiders of the genus Pirata began foraging on the surface in the pondweed zone. Evidently, their skills at seeing tiny arthropods trumped my own. I was surprised to see but one water strider (Aquarius sp.) share the pond's surface with the spiders. The warming air also brought out hundreds of hover flies of the family Syrphidae. I saw several small banded Metasyrphus sp. and hundreds of large brown Bombylius sp.

One of the censusing nightmares I foresaw came to be when I found a colony of mound ants (Formica rufa-complex). How many individuals? I decided to estimate the number visible to me. Most insect diversity lies in the order Coleoptera, but I only saw one beetle, a Great Basin Click Beetle (Ctenicera pruinina). Spring Whites (Pontia sisymbrii) and overwintered Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) are usually the first butterflies I see up here, and this year was no exception. I also saw several Stella Orangetips (Anthocharis stella), a new butterfly to the area, as far as I know, and an unidentified fritillary-looking thing I couldn't get close to. The biggest surprise of the day probably came from a confused and very early cicada (Platypedia putnami). Another two months and this species will be plentiful, but I've never seen one emerge this early. The only non-arthropod invertebrates I found were the plentiful Great Pond Snails (Lymnea stagnalis). The value of any data I gleaned during this process is pretty dubious, but it was of enormous benefit to me. As Americans go, I'm fairly observant of my natural surroundings, but executing this bioblitz forced me to notice and consider it in a new and deeper way. I look forward to doing it again next April, if not sooner. Special thanks to Jeremy, Sarah, Jenn, Bev, Madhu and Greg. A complete-as-I'm-able bioblitz species list follows (a number of the species assignments are questionable):

Class: Charophytes
Family: Zygnemataceae
Green Pond Scum (Spirogyra sp.)

Class: Dothideomycetes
Family: Venturiaceae
Black Knot (Apiosporina morbosum)

Class: Equisetopsida
Family: Equisetaceae
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)

Class: Dicotyledoneae
Family Aceraceae
Bigtooth Maple (Acer grandidentum)
Boxelder (Acer negundo)

Family: Apiaceae
Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum)

Yarrow (Achillea lanulosa)
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata)
Nodding Bur-marigold (Bidens cernua)

Family Berberidaceae
Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens)

Family: Boraginaceae
Short-styled Bluebells (Mertensia brevistyla)
Burdock (Arctium minor)
Common Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus)
Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)
Hounds Tongue (Cynoglossum officinale)
Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officianale)
Meadow Salsify (Tragopogon pratensis)

Family: Euphorbiacae
Leafy Spurge (Euphorbia esula)

Family: Fagaceae
Gambel's Oak (Quercus gambelii)

Family: Fabaceae
Utah Milkvetch (Astralagus utahensis)
Yellow Sweetclover (Melilotus officianalis)

Family: Polygonaceae
Western Dock (Rumex aquaticus)

Family: Ranunculaceae
Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)

Family: Rosaceae
Utah Serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis)
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
Woods' Rose (Rosa woodsii)

Family: Salicaceae
Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii)
Peach-leaved Willow (Salix amygdaloides)

Class: Monocotyledoneae
Family Cyperaceae
Few-flowered Spike-rush (Eleocharis quinqueflora)

Family: Lemnaceae
Lesser Duckweed (Lemna minor)

Family: Liliaceae
Star Solomon's Plume (Smilacina stellata)

Family: Typhaceae
Broad-leaved Cattail (Typha latifolia)

Order: Basommatophora
Class: Gastropoda
Family: Lymnaedae
Great Pond Snail (Lymnaea stagnalis)

Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Family: Lycosidae
Running Wolf Spider (Pardosa moesta)
Water Wolf Spider (Pirata piraticus)

Family: Tetragnathidae
Silver Large-jawed Orb Weaver (Tetragnatha laboriosa)

Class: Insecta
Order: Ephemeroptera
Family: Baetidae
Small Mayfly (Baetis bicaudatus)

Order: Odonata
Family: Coenigrionidae
Dancer naiad (Argia sp. emma?)

Order: Hemiptera
Family: Notonectidae
Back Swimmer (Notonecta undulata)

Family: Gerridae
Water Strider (Aquarius remigis)

Order: Homoptera
Family: Cicadidae
Cicada (Platypedia putnami)

Order: Coleoptera
Family: Elateridae
Great Basin Click Beetle (Ctenicera pruinina)

Order: Diptera
Family: Syrphidae
Brown Bee Fly (Bombylius albicapillus)
Banded Flower Fly (Metasyrphus gentneri)

Family: Calliphoridae
Green Bottle Fly (Phaenicia sericata)

Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Pieridae
Stella Orangetip (Anthocharis stella)
Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

Family: Nymphalidae
Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Mound Ant (Formica rufa)
Brown Ant (Myrmica mutica)

Family: Vespidae
Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus)

Family: Megachilidae
Alfalfa Leafcutting Bee (Megachile rotunda)

Class: Amphibia
Family: Ambystomidae
Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortium)

Class: Aves
Family: Ardeidae
Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Family: Anatidae
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Family: Phasianidae
California Quail (Callipepla californica)

Family: Columbidae
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Domestic Rock Dove (Columba livia)

Family: Picidae
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Family: Corvidae
Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)
Common Raven (Corvus corax)

Family: Paridae
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla)

Family: Troglodytidae
Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)

Family: Turdidae
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Family: Emberizidae
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

Family: Icteridae
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Family: Fringillidae
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

Class: Mammalia
Family: Sciuridae
Least Chipmunk (Tamias minimus)

All Photographs taken by CPBvK at Perkins Flat, April 25, 2007


Blogger burning silo said...

That's a pretty respectable species list considering the time of year and weather conditions. Excellent narrative too -- it was almost like being along for the day. In fact, I've felt that way after reading several of the narratives written by those who participated in the bioblitz. I very much agree about the bioblitz causing us to look at natural surroundings in a different way.

3:52 PM  
Blogger HereBeDragons said...

When you spend 15 hours on a plot of land, how do you discount the individuals you've seen earlier?

I chose to handle this the same way it's done on annual birds counts. The numbers on my count are the maximum I saw at any one time. That way, there's no change of double-counting a species (although it's possible to under-count this way, obviously). Still, in my case, since I was doing a really small area, it made sense.

Great list, btw! This was such a great project.

12:47 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi! Enjoyed your story!!

1:42 PM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Wendy: Around 1980, I did some Cooper's Hawk censusing, and had great arguments with my collaborater regarding methodology. Getting an honest sense of a species' abundance in an area is at best a difficult task, and at worst an exercise in self-delusion.

10:43 AM  
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7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(法新社a倫敦二B十WE四日電) 「情色二零零七」情趣產品大產自二十三日起在成人網站情色A片下載的肯辛頓奧林匹亞展覽館舉行,倫色情敦人擺脫對性的保守態度踴躍參觀,許多穿皮衣與塑膠緊身衣色情影片的好色之成人電影徒擠進這項世界規模最大的成人生活展,估計三天情色電影展期可吸引八萬多好奇民眾參觀。






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