Fun with iNaturalist

I’ve started uploading some observations of plants and occasional other critters to iNaturalist.org. iNaturalist is a project of the California Academy of Sciences that serves as an on-line place “where you can record what you see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world”.

For me, iNaturalist is one more place (aside from the Consortium of California Herbaria, Intermountain Regional Herbarium Network, and CalFlora) where I can see what others are finding in the Bodie Hills, Hot Springs Valley, and other places I like to visit. It’s also a way to get acquainted with some invertebrates and other organisms that I don’t have the training to identify easily myself. You can also help other people identify what they’ve observed, ask for help identifying some of your observations, create “Places” (like the Bodie Hills) as geographic filters for lists of observations, and follow or communicate with other observers. There’s also an app that lets you record observations in the field.

There are a few drawbacks — photos don’t always capture the characters needed for accurate identification, and an observation may get labeled “research grade” even if two people agree on the same identification that happens to be incorrect. On the whole, though, the community of observers (a mix of amateurs and professionals) seems to get things right, providing a useful and user-friendly addition to the knowledge-base on biodiversity.

The project is still young and it will be interesting to watch it grow in the years ahead. iNaturalist began as a student’s final project in the UC Berkeley School of Information in 2008. It was acquired by Cal Academy in 2014 and has a small staff supporting the project. Do you have photos of identifiable biota in Mono County or anywhere else in the world? Share them on iNaturalist!

 


Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.
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Chemung Lake

Chemung Lake

Chemung Lake and Masonic Mountain, 2017.

There’s a small, seasonal lake or pond on the west side of Masonic Mountain in the Bodie Hills (Mono County, California). It’s just across the road from the Chemung Mine and has, as far as I can tell, no documented name. No historic map, topographic map, on-line map, or other source I can find puts a name on it.

Chemung Lake

Chemung Lake in 2017.

It’s a wide, shallow basin with a small watershed and no spring or creek feeding into it. Rainfall and snowmelt are the only sources of water. In dry years it may be a little muddy in the spring, but have no standing water. In wet years, like 2017, it may have about 6 to 8 acres of standing water up to maybe 3 feet deep.

Chemung Lake in 2015

Chemung Lake from the mine, during a drought, in 2015.
Sweetwater Mountains in the distance.

Chemung Lake in 1980

Chemung Lake in 1980. Sierra Nevada in the distance.

Chemung Lake in 1980

Chemung Lake in 1980. Chemung Mine ruins are
at the base of Masonic Mountain.

This lake needs a name. Since no one else seems to have done so, I hereby name it Chemung Lake, after the Chemung Mine, which overlooks the lake from a nearby hillside. The mine was discovered by one Stephen Kavanaugh in 1909 and named after his small hometown in Illinois. To many Californians, the name Chemung often “sounds Chinese”, but apparently it’s a Seneca word (pronounced shə-MUNG) meaning “big horn”.  The name Chemung has also been applied to a variety of places in New York state, other northeastern states, and adjacent Canada. There’s a Chemung River and a Chemung County in New York, a Lake Chemung in Michigan and a Chemong Lake in Ontario.

Chemung Lake

Chemung Lake with abundant spike-rush, Eleocharis macrostachya,
in early July, 2017.

Ecologically, this Chemung Lake is not unique. There are dozens of similar seasonal ponds and dry lake basins with small watersheds throughout the hills and mountain ranges just east of the central Sierra Nevada. Many are tucked away in remote, seldom seen valleys. The extreme seasonal and annual water availability makes for challenging conditions for the plants and animals that live here. They must endure years of drought, then grow and reproduce quickly and abundantly when conditions are favorable.

Here’s a partial list of plants seen around the wet perimeter of Chemung Lake (not the adjacent dry upland) during and before a CNPS outing to the area in early July, 2017:

Dicots:
Castilleja tenuis – Hairy owl’s clover (Orobanchaceae)
Elatine sp., probably E. rubella – Waterwort (Elatinaceae)
Limosella aquatica – Water mudwort (Scrophulariaceae)
Mimulus pilosus – Snouted monkey flower (Phrymaceae)
Myosurus minimus – Mousetail (Ranunculaceae)
Montia chamissoi – Toad lily (Montiaceae)
Navarretia breweri-  Brewer’s navarretia (Polemoniaceae)
Plagiobothrys sp., maybe P. hispidulus – Popcorn flower (Boraginaceae)
Polygonum sawatchense – Knotweed (Polygonaceae)
Rumex lacustris – Lake dock (Polygonaceae)
Taraxia tanacetifolia – Tansy leaf evening primrose (Onagraceae)
Trifolium spp., probably both T. cyathiferum and T. longipes – Clover (Fabaceae)

Monocots:
Alopecurus aequalis – Short-awn foxtail (Poaceae)
Cyperus squarrosus – Flat-sedge (Cyperaceae)
Deschampsia elongata – Slender hair grass (Poaceae)
Eleocharis macrostachya – Spikerush (Cyperaceae)
Hordeum brachyantherum – Meadow barley (Poaceae)
Juncus bufonius – Toad rush (Juncaceae)
Juncus sp., another tiny annual, either J. bryoides or J. tiehmii – Rush (Juncaceae)
Muhlenbergia richardsonis, Mat muhly (Poaceae)

Also:
Chara sp. (a green alga in shallow water near the lake margin)
Pseudacris regilla – Pacific tree frog (numerous, hopping all around the lake margins)

 


Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.
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Juniper Galls in the Bodie Hills

Juniper galls

Back in May, while skittering down a slope of trachyandesitic scree near Travertine Hot Springs, I encountered a Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) with anomalous growths at the ends of a few branchlets. Having recently read up on some galls on oaks at Grover Hot Springs, and galls on sagebrush beside the East Walker River, I thought another wasp or midge might be at work here.

Who did this? Sources I’ve found on the internet suggest it’s a still undescribed species of Juniper gall midge (Walshomyia sp.). See CalPhotos for another image (and another). Gall midges are tiny flies (Order Diptera) in the family Cecidomyiidae, subfamily Cecidomyiinae. Walshomyia includes the Juniper urn gall midge (W. juniperina), whose gall I’ve seen on a juniper at Grover Hot Springs, and the Cypress gall midge (W. cupressi).

At a glance, I can’t tell if these galls are developing on the apical buds of branchlets or on the young seed cones of these trees (normal growth shown below).

Utah juniper fruits

Below: Juniper gall midge habitat on a hill between Travertine Hot Springs and Bridgeport Valley. Buckeye Canyon and Flatiron Ridge in the background.

Junipers on scree


Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.
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