Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bioblitz - the wet part

California slender salamander. Tiny but if you look, they are ubiquitous in even the smallest of damp locations. Robert Stebbins found that the total number and perhaps the total biomass of either this slender salamander or another common small salamander, the ensatina, was greater than any other resident vertebrate in a Berkeley redwood forest,  (Stebbins and McGinnis, 2012).   
The bioblitz at Golden Gate National Parks continued through Saturday, March 29 with the official deadline for submitting all observations of plants and animals in the parks at noon. On Saturday, it was raining. Real rain like we actually live on the edge of a giant reservoir of water and arbitrator of weather - the Pacific Ocean. Rain like we haven't seen in two years. Rain that cut the number of attendees at the inventory hike Naiad and I led at Rancho Corral de Tierra from the 30 who signed up to five brave souls.

We led those five brave hikers into the park in the rain, past the fungi, insect, bird and botany teams, and into a forest. Many of the Monterey pines had foam streaming down their trunks in the rain which formed frothy piles at the base of each tree. I've seen this phenomenon before but never with so many trees.

"Sometimes trees foam in the rain," I blandly explained between raindrops. "People often assume that means there is pollution, but maybe not. Chemicals are made in nature as well as in a lab. Since we've been in a drought for so long, maybe this big rain is washing all kinds of particles off the bark and that is making the rainwater bubbly."

Flowers of the a nightshade will develop into berries, some of which are toxic to humans but still may be edible to wildlife which then spread the seed through their scat.   
"Is it glucose?" a kid asked. We had only one youth on our diminished hike. A young man who showed up with a pocket notebook and a raincoat. He asked a lot of questions, many of which involved glucose. I wasn't sure what he was getting at - energy pathways maybe? So we peppered our hike with examples of ecological relationships on the coast. How coastal scrub plants have small leaves to conserve water, and animals hide in the dense scrub in the day with easy access to food. While standing in the blowing wind we easily identified ten cheek-to-jowl native shrubs that serve up fruit or berries throughout the year: red elderberry, coffeeberry, oso berry, poison oak, snowberry, toyon, beach strawberry, flowering currant, nightshade, and after checking with his dad, we also added the galls on coyote brush.

"There's probably deer hunkered down in that patch right now," I pointed with a dripping finger.

The backside of the heart-shaped petals of the Hickman's cinquefoil on the sunny Friday.   
Next, we walked through the coastal prairie and I couldn't resist inventorying a purple needlegrass plant which was open for business with its pollen grains hanging out even in the rain. "This is California's state grass," I told the kid. He tried to enter that into his notebook but the wet pages just ripped.

Overlapping leaflets on the Hickman's cinquefoil help distinguish this rare plant from several other small common plants in the coastal prairie when flowers are not present.    
Naiad found the endangered Hickman's cinquefoil plants but most of its flowers were closed in the rain. I looked up from my knees and noticed that no-one else was bending down for a good look at the minute plants and some of the adults were shivering. It was time to head back.

Suncups, another cheerful yellow low flower of the coastal hills but the petals are not heart-shaped as with the Hickman's cinquefoil.   
Near the end of the trail while the group stopped to look at an amanita mushroom, I pawed through a pile of dead jubata grass leaves. The National Park Service has been controlling this escaped landscape plant whose aggressive growth wipes out the diversity of native plants in the coastal prairie. On a sunny Friday inventory at the park, Naiad and a chattery group of grade schoolers found a bright orange ensatina salamander in the curled brown leaves of another dead jubata grass. Sure enough with just ten minutes to go before the Saturday noon deadline for the 24-hour bioblitz, I found a dark California slender salamander in the dead leaves and entered it into the iNaturalist bioblitz inventory. Just in time for everyone to enjoy another piece of life and then head back to the dry school.

Amanita mushroom
One thing I learned from comments on iNaturalist is to get photos also of the underside of mushrooms to help in identification.   
We found a waterproof field notebook for the kid to take home. "Keep asking questions and writing things down," I told him. "And don't be afraid to go out in the rain because you never know what you might find." All hikes should have a curious kid on them. And encouraging dads. I'm still pondering the glucose connection.

Although not totally unexpected, we were all excited on Saturday morning when Susie Bennett, National Park Service Natural Resource Management Specialist, showed us this photo she got on a wildlife camera at Rancho Corral de Tierra for the bioblitz inventory. (Photo by Susie Bennett and used under Creative Commons permission for noncommercial use. More info on original sighting at iNaturalist here.)   
The preliminary countdown for the 24-hour Golden Gate bioblitz is:
  • 9950 observations
  • 1427 species
  • over 80 new species added to the parks' species list including a primitive freshwater sponge
  • 15 rare species including a new location for the Kings Mountain manzanita
  • Young mountain lion captured on a wildlife camera
  • approx. 9000 people participated including 2,700 school kids and 320 scientists
Numbers will change somewhat over the next few months as some of the more obscure observations are identified by experts. On Saturday afternoon, we heard from Steve and Marie Sillett of Humboldt University who climbed 250 feet into the canopies of the old-growth redwood trees in Muir Woods as part of the bioblitz inventory. The Muir Woods trees have never been climbed by a biological team before. They were impressed with the mosses and ferns once they reached the "lichen line" and believe the southerly range of several species will be extended in addition to finding a climbing salamander in the tree canopy hundreds of feet above the ground. A friend of ours helped with the nighttime inventory in Muir Woods and we are excited to hear her results. Go here to listen to night sounds recorded as part of the inventory and a bat survey here.

The ninth annual National Park Service bioblitz will be at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park on May 15 and 16, 2015. I plan on going even though I don't know very much about Hawaii's plants and animals, especially since I've never been to Hawaii. So I will be the kid with the notebook and the questions because curiosity and fascination with the natural world knows no age, and I will bring my rain gear and an extra waterproof notebook to give away.

I'm still drying out my rain gear and plant books but it was worth it.
Throughout the last few months of training for the bioblitz and participating in last week's events, I got to meet new scientists and renew friendships with others. During a scientist meet-up at California Academy on Thursday, a new friend walked me over to the Cal Academy library and introduced me to someone who can help me investigate the papers of a Stanford professor. So now I will disappear for a few weeks into Newtlandia, but I promise an amazing story in a month or so.

Monterey pine, Pinus radiata
Red elderberry, Sambucus racemosa
California coffeeberry, Rhamnus californica
Oso berry, Oemleria cerasiformis
Poison oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
Snowberry, Symphoricarpos sp.
Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
Beach strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis
Flowering currant, Ribes sp.
Nightshade, Solanum sp.
Coyote brush, Baccharis pilularis
Suncup, Taraxia ovata
Jubata grass, Cortaderia jubata
Purple needlegrass, Stipa pulchra
Hickman's cinquefoil, Potentilla hickmanii
Kings Mountain manzanita, Arctostaphylos regismontana

Ensatina, Ensatina eschscholtzii
California slender salamander, Batrachoseps attenuatus
Climbing salamander,  Aneides sp.

Robert C. Stebbins and Samuel M.McGinnis. 2012. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California. Revised Edition.

See also:
Vermont State Park explains foam on trees


  1. I enjoyed this post...good luck with your research.... Michelle

  2. I'd never heard of Rancho Corral before. Looks like some healthy habitat.


Comments let me know to keep on sharing what's happening at the Dipper Ranch. You can either use an existing account or choose "Anonymous" by clicking the arrow after the "Comment As" box. Your comment will appear after a delay to allow screening of spam.