August 29, 2022

Gentle Parrots with Flowers in their Hair?

I had been reading online about the parrots of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Parrots are very difficult to observe well, even in their native habitats -- usually, the hapless naturalist amid tropical splendor must be content with high-flying silhouette with a parrot-like shape and the sound of chattering. Still, there's something about parrots, and so when I found out that there were wild parrots in such a nearby city, I was determined to see them. I looked at online reviews and articles, made up a list of places to go in the city, and set out early.

The online articles all agree that the San Francisco parrots are cherry-headed conures (Psittacara erythrogenys). Of course, on iNaturalist, they are called red-masked parakeets, because the iNat default name must always be a more boring name than the name actually in common use. But, knowing the ways of iNaturalist, I fully expected to see the majority of observations bumped back to Psittacara Parakeets, with comments that it is not possible to tell the difference between a red-masked parakeet and a mitered parakeet unless you have a specimen in hand, run PCR, and compare audiograms of the calls, or something like that.

Be that as it may, after two bus rides and a BART ride, I came up out of Embarcadero Station and headed for Sue Bierman Park, where I was greeted with this encouraging sign:

I heard parrot chatter! Would I really luck out so soon? Nope. As I scanned the trees looking for the source of the chatter, I just caught a glimpse of three parrot-shaped silhouettes flying away over Washington Street.

Well, time to start checking the other places. I headed for the Filbert Steps. Filbert Steps are one of those places that could only be in San Fracnsico: a wooden staircase up a steep hillside; but technically, this wooden staircase is Filbert Street -- there were addresses and mailboxes along the stairs, and the flowery forest was actually people's private front yards. I heard a screech -- could it be a conure? Further listening: nope. Scrub jay.

I got to the top of the stairs, and it was time for lunch, so I sat down on the lawn of Coit Tower, still keeping my ears open for those distinctive squawks. Nothing. Then to Greenwich Steps, which are much like Filbert Steps in their surrealism. Another scrub jay -- this one seen as well as heard -- but no conures.

Well, the next option was to go back to Sue Bierman Park and just hang out there hoping some conures would come along. I remember one of the books from my youth advising that learning to be patient and still will show you more wildlife than the fanciest binoculars. On my way, I passed through Soft Park in Levi's Plaza. Crouching over the algae-filled water feature was a man with a conspicuous camera, staring into the green water. "What are you looking at?" I asked him.

"Bugs," he replied. I don't know if he was an iNaturalist, but he surely was a naturalist -- what other sort would bring such a big camera to look so intently at water bugs?

Being patient and still paid off. After 15 minutes of reclining on the lawn at Sue Bierman Park, I heard chattering. Snapping alert, I looked up in time to see eight parrots coming in from the west. They did a loop over the park, two disappeared in the poplars on the Washington Street side, and the other six looped back into the copse of trees toward Davis Street. Following the sound of their chatter, I took a curcuitous route. I finally saw three of them, not in the poplars as I had first thought, but in the eucalyptus that towered higher even than the poplars. Can you see them?

As colorful as parrots are, they can be very hard to see, and even harder to photograph.
Here is a zoomed-in view, with two of the conures circled:

Notice how similar they look to the eucalyptus leaves on the branch directly above. I watched these moving around in the branches, even witnessing the bill-to-bill socializing that parrots do. Then, suddenly, with a cacophony of chatter, all six burst out of the tree and flew off in the direction they had come.

I must have looked a sight with my rapturous grin. "WOW!" was all I could say.

Before I could come down off that rush, I heard chatters again. Were they coming back? Not really; but they did a loop around One Maritime Plaza, standing out vividly against its black glass, before disappearing again, this time down Clay Street.

Even if the Cherry-headed Conures hadn't put in an appearance, Sue Bierman Park has other wild inhabitants: the spreading cherry tree on the lawn was the sallying perch for a Black Phoebe, a hummingbird hovered level with the tops of the poplars, honey bees worked the white clover blossoms, and there were western tiger swallowtails and a mid-sized species of dragonfly, not very bright in color, though perhaps somewhat bluish. Still, I came for the parrots, and would have been disappointed to leave without seeing them.

As much as I would have liked to hang around longer and see if they came back, I knew that between the BART and the buses, it would take me at least two hours to get home. And when I got home, I checked iNaturalist for observations of parrots in San Francisco. To date, there are 384 such observations -- of 9 species. Of course, in such a large city, there will inevitably be escaped pets of various species, most of which will have one observation only. I was pleased to see that the majority were uncontested, research-grade Red-Masked Parakeet; only a few were "Psittacara Parakeets," and fewer still Mitred Parakeet.

If you come to San Francisco, be sure to... look for the parrots.

Posted on August 29, 2022 03:08 PM <span class="translation_missing" title="translation missing: en-us.by">by</span> jasonhernandez74 jasonhernandez74 | 1 comment | Leave a comment

March 14, 2022

Looking for East Asian botanists for *Achlys japonica*

The genus Achlys occurs on both sides of the North Pacific, but so far, iNaturalist only has observations for the North American species:

The red circle is the core range of the Asian species: Hokkaido and the northern part of Honshu; see how empty it is. A search of Google Scholar using keyword: Achlys also brings up almost exclusively studies of the North American species.

I am currently working on a short book about this genus; I have had to bring in some of my own field work to fill in the gaps in the literature. However, I have only been able to do this for the North American species. I am looking for assistance or collaboration from naturalists located in countries where the Asian species, known in Japanese as ナンブソウ (kanji: 南部草), scientifically Achlys japonica occurs -- mainly Japan; but recently also recorded in northern China and South Korea. (I also wonder if it might occur in the Russian Far East.) Here is the picture from iNaturalist's taxon page; you can see that it is a picture only of an herbarium specimen:

More than just locations of observations (we have iNaturalist for that), I would like to know about its natural history -- its phenology, its ecological interactions, and any local uses. Depending on how much you can provide, I would either cite you as a source, or potentially consider co-authorship. ありがとうございました.

Posted on March 14, 2022 05:17 AM <span class="translation_missing" title="translation missing: en-us.by">by</span> jasonhernandez74 jasonhernandez74 | 2 comments | Leave a comment

Archives