Title Image

Title Image


This blog is predominately about camera trapping in California. We camera trap to save our souls and to teach primary school students about biology and conservation. We will also touch on other camera trapping news and musings, sets from afar, mediocre herpetology, sucky birding, and other natural history discussions.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Herp Holiday 2016 plants

Back in August I shared some pictures of the herps we saw on our Herp Holiday Extravaganza 2016. I'll share a few pictures of some of the plants and flowers we saw on our trip.

The downside to waiting so long to post photos, especially of plants is that I have forgotten most of the IDs and all that hard work of keying out IDs back in May have gone to waste. Oh who am I kidding, keying out plants on the desert trip almost always consists of asking Randomtruth "Hey man, what's this?" and "I know I asked you an hour ago, but what is this again?"

So I am going to do my best to re-ID these flowers, but I am not going to let a couple of unknown plants hold this post up for another 6 months.

Please feel to correct any IDs. [Thanks for the ID help Christopher Moore and Randomtruth]

Desert Willow
Chilopsis linearis

Desert Willow
Chilopsis linearis
The Desert Willow flower has strong scent and and when trees are in full bloom like this one, the desert smells like a glorious perfume. Some say like the gentle scent of a high class lady in nearby Vegas.

Apricot Mallow
Sphaeralcea ambigua
Apricot Mallow is probably my favorite of the regular desert flowers we see. I really need to get some seeds and see if I can grow it in the backyard.

Desert Senna
Senna armata

Yes, you can make a tea with Mormon Tea, and its natural ephedra will have you champing at the bit and hiking a little bit faster than your friends. This plant may or may not be a certain friend's favorite part of visiting the Mojave. Although as Christopher in the comments pointed out this isn't Mormon Tea which has cone shaped flowers.

Brown-eyes Suncup
Chylismia claviformis

Barrel Cactus
Ferocactus cylindcaceus

Barrel Cactus
Ferocactus cylindcaceus

Common Fishhook Cactus
Mammillaria tetrancistra 

Wild Canterbury-bell
Phacelia campanularia

Palmer's Penstemon
Penstemon palmeri

Palmer's Penstemon
Penstemon palmeri

Desert Thistle
Cirsium neomexicanum
I have found a few images online of these same insects in this thistle. Not sure what the are, but maybe they specialize on this particular flower?

Xylorhiza tortifolia

Desert Indian Paintbrush
Castilleja chromosa


Buckhorn Cholla
Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa

Buckhorn Cholla
Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa

Beavertail Cactus
Opuntia basilaris

Silver Cholla
Cylindropuntia echinocarpa

Hedgehog cactus
Echinocereus engelmannii

When RandomTruth saw the below flower we were walking along a dirt road listening to group of young coyotes go apeshit at the scene of mom or dad returning with an early dinner. These young 'yotes were howling, squealing, and making the kind of ruckus that made all the rabbits nervous.

RandomTruth was so excited to see this mound of dirt flower that at first I thought his screams of joy meant he's found a Heloderma. Imagine my disappointment when it was just a plant. Oh, but wait, this wasn't just a plant! Look at this glorious little turd flower!

Scaly-stemmed Sand Plant
Pholisma arenarium

Scaly-stemmed Sand Plant
Pholisma arenarium

Friday, August 12, 2016

Herp Holiday 2016

For the first time since starting my postdoc I was actually able to make it down to the Mojave Desert with the gang (blogmate Xian and Randomtruth included) for a few days of herping, botanizing, and general tomfoolery.

It was a bit of a weird trip. Despite being the latest trip in the year we have ever done it may have been the coldest. The wind blew and hoodies and jackets were necessary as soon as the sun went down. These factors lead to very poor night driving conditions and we put in only minimal effort during the witching hours on the road.

Most of the herps we saw were during the day including this nice Speckled Rattlesnake, Crotalus mitchellii. We saw this nice girl in sunning herself on some rocks in a wash near the Trilobite Wilderness in the Marble Mountains.




This was a new area of exploration for us and a place I'd really like to check out further. We saw plenty of sign of Desert Bighorn Sheep, but no actual animals. Still sweet though. While fossils looked pretty picked over there seemed to be a few one could see still in big rocks (to my untrained eye). I would love to go out there with someone who really new their geology. There was a lot of this really cool seafoam green rock. The camera didn't capture the color as it was IRL.


I like to think there was some dinosaur out there with heart shaped feet making these marks, but alas just Mother Nature being random and my human eyes picking out a familiar shape.


We found a very cooperative Desert Iguana not far from the car on the way back from the end of the hike in Trilobite.



Our single night of driving the roads gave us only two living species with a few individuals of each. First a very young Sidewinder, Crotalus cerastes.


Then a black and white morph shovel-nose


And a few Desert Banded Geckos, Coleonyx variegatus variegatus. This one and a few others appear to be hypomelanisitic. We have noticed apparent hypomels before in the Eastern Mojave, but it would be nice to know if they bred true and this was a simple genetic trait. Maybe someone out there has done this research.



Next a Desert Patchnose, Salvadora hexalepis mojavensis, that we found in the Granite Mountains.




And finally the best herp of the trip, a baby Desert Tortoise. It is always so great to see the majestic tortoise, but even better to see a young one, knowing that recent breeding efforts have been successful. This baby was found less than a mile in the same wash that we found an adult female a few years ago. Maybe it is her offspring?



A flower post to follow, maybe in something like 18 months from now with the rate of posting I have accomplished the past couple of years.

UPDATE: Meant to include the statement that we do NOT collect on these trips, just in case anyone was worried.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Semester with the Otters

A quick review of the first six months of this past year's Biology class adventures with Las Gallinas Valley River Otters:

River Otters chasing down waterfowl (image courtesy Frankie Frost/Marin IJ)

Students identified latrine sites

Cameras were placed based on field surveys. The otters emerged and began to appear on camera from April on with a regularity.

Some grooming and general otter spazziness has been observed.

Students were able get a nice glimpse of their swimming patterns.

In addition to the otters, students have been able to get to know other local fauna. One of their favorites, CA kingsnakes, were out frequently this late spring/early summer.

The school year ended July 1st, but I have continued to collect data and craft curriculum this summer for next year's class, which transitions into Environmental Science.

not sure if there is a young one among this bunch

This has been a pretty awesome experience to share with my students and I hope that their appreciation for the natural world and the possibilities for citizen science have grown as a result.  
Next "year" is coming up soon and hopefully the adventure continues deeper into the story of the otter!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Introducing the Otters

Greetings loyal readers!

As mentioned a couple of months ago, my high school Biology classes are taking part of a pilot program with the River Otter Ecology Project, completing data surveys through camera trapping and scat collection.

Several initial disappointing camera checks frequently resulted in many captures of newish local resident, the devil bird:

...Or tremendous growth in shore plants that did offer a meditative atmosphere:

Throughout these trap fails, students were still able to build skills in identifying signs of otters, collect scat that is currently being analyzed at SF State, develop a greater understanding of the local ecosystem and from time to time, see them swimming at a a distance.

In April, with some minor camera adjustments after Spring Break, the students finally captured the local otters:

With a month left in the school year, students will close out this first otter school season with two more weeks of data, then compile a best of video. Exciting times!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


11.2015 San Francisco Peninsula

this image sums up the feelings toward March 23rd, 2016

also RIP Phife Dawg