January 02, 2021

iNat Big Year -- a retrospective

With the end of 2020, I can finally look at the overall results of this crazy project. When the year started, I had two goals -- 2000 species (or leaves, to be precise), and at least one record for every day of the year. Somehow, both of those things happened. Overall totals -- 5425 observations, 2154 species. And of course, can't forget the 697 people who helped out with identifications.

Taxonomic Breakdown:
Insects -- 902
Plants -- 711
Birds -- 220
Fungi -- 164
Arachnids -- 54
Mollusks -- 19
Mammals -- 18
Ray-finned Fishes -- 16
Reptiles -- 7
Amphibians -- 6
Protozoa -- 6
Chromists -- 3
Myriapods -- 6
Springtails -- 6
Crustaceans -- 10
Annelids -- 2
Flatworms -- 2
Rotifers -- 1

When I started this, one of the things I was curious about was what the limiting factor on these numbers be? I think it's clear that overall, it's largely a matter of the time available to actually spend in the field. I know of species in every group here that I've missed this year. (Well, except for the Rotifers... the ones I posted are the first ones I've photographed, thanks to the CLC microscopes, and I have no idea what's actually around here...) In a few cases, like the birds, it might be possible to nail down every species we know of in the county. (I'd say @skrentnyjeff's list of birds this year suggests that it is...) But for the most part, one person simply can't spend enough time to get everything that's out there.

This list, by the way, includes one more species than the Observation page will reveal - for a neat reason. One of the species ID'd a couple of times was Euodynerus sp. F (thanks, @matthias22) This species is well enough known for it to be referenced in published keys (https://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/35e_spf.html as an example) and yet it hasn't officially been described. (Hence the name sp. F -- most taxonomists have a bit more imagination than that, clearly.) At least, once it's been described there will already be lots of information available about distribution and habitat!

What now? I think that I'd like to keep the streak going, but I'm not making any specific plans or setting any particular goals for this year. Hopefully, conditions will let me do a bit of traveling this year...

Thanks again to everyone who helped with this project!

Posted on January 02, 2021 12:45 AM by psweet psweet | 3 comments | Leave a comment

July 03, 2020

6-month update -- iNat Big Year

Seeing Jeff's post reminded me that I should go ahead and do one myself, so here goes.

One thing that this process has proven to me is that Jeff's a lot more efficient at getting observations posted than I am. I just finished posting the 12th of June's shots, and tomorrow it'll be the 13th. So the numbers given here are through 6/12.

And what are those numbers? For the year, in Lake County, 2536 observations of 1241 species. (Well, leaves, actually, with some taxa not identified to species. With photographs rather than specimens, there are of course many groups where we can't do any better.)

A breakdown:

Insects_________ 677____ 359

Birds ________409_188

Fungi ________347 138

Arachnids _____63__34

Mollusks ______25__ 15

Mammals ________ 35_____15


Reptiles _______18___7

Amphibians ____12__ 6

Protozoa _______5 ___4

Chromists ________ 2______1

Myriapods _____9 __ 4

Springtails _____13 __7

Crustaceans ___12 __ 9

Annelids _______5 __ 2

Flatworms ______2 __2

I had figured on a goal of 2000 (I guess Jeff's more ambitious), and given that over half of the species on the list were only added since May, it seems more than likely I'll get there. (I'm guessing about 300 more are waiting for processing, in fact.) Maybe I'll have to see if Jeff's 2500 is feasible.

There have been some nice surprises along the way. The biggest one, perhaps, was one I'm a bit ambivalent about -- the River Otter lying dead along Hwy 45. Not the way I wanted to find my first Illinois otter, in any case. But there have been other, more pleasant ones. Perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing was the male Rainbow Bluet at Raven Glen FP, in the same little bit of shoreline I've seen them at before. There were two or three years where it seemed they could be counted on there, but it's been several years since I'd seen one.

Another interesting damsel was the Springwater Dancer hanging out above the ravine at McDonald Woods FP, in a spot that I would have thought was wildly inappropriate habitat for that species. 20 years ago, this species was unknown in this part of the state, but since the initial discovery at Bluff Springs Fen in Cook County, they've slowly spread, and Jeff found one at another odd spot in Cook County, the day after I posted mine. Oh, on this one I owe a big thank you to @greglasley for the ID -- I wouldn't even have thought to look in that direction.

Which brings me to a final point -- according to my observation page, 415 people have provided identifications, in more than a few cases correcting my initial attempts at groups I'm not very well-versed on. Thank you all -- this sort of project would be basically impossible without the sort of community that we're building here.

Posted on July 03, 2020 12:57 AM by psweet psweet | 2 comments | Leave a comment

March 02, 2020

March update

Two months in, and the total stands at 283, well behind the 360 that a 6 species/day pace requires. But given that all of the Lake County records I could find for January and February totaled only 200, I'll take it, relying on summer bugs to start making up the difference. On that note, sunny skies and SW winds brought very nice temps today (March 1), and with them, a few flies and a midge (that one didn't get photographed) to go along with the mosses and lichens that have been the easiest things to look for recently. A few migrants have started back into the area, with Red-winged Blackbirds scattered across the landscape like scouts for the main force. The last day of February did bring a couple of surprising birds, including a Merlin headed north at their usual frantic migration pace, and a very vocal Tufted Titmouse, always a difficult bird to find in most of the county.

Posted on March 02, 2020 02:04 AM by psweet psweet | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 06, 2020

One month in (or thereabouts)

Moving into February, somehow I'm still ahead of the 6 species per day pace needed. But the inevitable slowdown hit around the middle of January. The easy species come quickly, but once you've added Canada Geese and Mallard, you have to look that much harder. Still, as of February 5, the count is at 231, with a few things I'm hoping for help on -- that's pretty much a given, I think. A few previous engagements have also slowed things down, most notably 3 days out of the county for the Starved Rock Bald Eagle days, and of course the start of the spring semester 3 weeks ago.

Some of the more interesting recent observations, to my thinking, are the small shrew I photographed yesterday at Rollins' Savanna (dead, unfortunately, just like most of my shrew photos), the Illinois Bundleflower and Narrow-leaved Cattail at College of Lake County, and the Eastern Screech-Owl that likes to greet visitors at Illinois Beach SP.

I really should give a big thanks to everyone who takes the time to help ID things -- both for the site as a whole, and for my project here. The site wouldn't be nearly as impactful without the time spent looking at everyone else's stuff.

Posted on February 06, 2020 01:13 AM by psweet psweet | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 14, 2020

Big Year 2-week point.

The first 100 species came in 5 days -- in the 10 days since, I've added 58. This is expected, of course. This time of year, there isn't much new stuff arriving or popping up, so as the easy ones go, all you're left with is critters you need to work for. Still, some of the holes have filled in -- some easy birds like starlings, bluebirds, and robins, and some of the more recognizable trees. I've decided, though, that a lot of the trees are going to wait until they have leaves. (and hopefully acorns for the oaks!)

A couple of nice finds on the bird front this week, though -- Sunday, after a 3-week absence, a female Harlequin Duck was back at Waukegan Harbor. This is a species that usually shows up somewhere on the lakefront in the winter, but not always in Lake County. And today, a Northern Shrike popped up at Raven Glen West Forest Preserve -- these guys are irregular winter visitors. There's always a few around, but they wander across large territories, and they don't like to pose for pictures. Some years they come down in greater numbers, but this year they didn't.

I checked Illinois Beach SP today -- anyone hoping to come up and visit should probably wait a while. (Hopefully just a few weeks....) Right now, the Dead River Trail is part of the Dead River, and our Grass-Pink hollow is part of the river backwater. The boardwalk heading out to the beach was 4 inches underwater, by the ice left on it, although at least that water level has fallen, and the trail out to the beach is blocked by water at the gravel trail. You can see far enough to realize that there's water covering much of the sand prairie behind the beach as well. Even in the North Unit, the parking lots by the beach are inaccessible due to flooding.

While I'm writing this, I want to give some credit where it's due -- the main reason I can even contemplate this crazy Big Year project is the hard work done by both the IDNR -- they manage Illinois Beach, Chain of Lakes, and Volo Bog -- and the Lake County Forest Preserve. They've managed to preserve a wonderful selection of natural landscapes throughout the county, and do a wonderful job of managing them, both for conservation and for public access. Without them, at the rate that we're seeing subdivisions and shopping malls crop up out here, there wouldn't be anywhere worth looking.

Posted on January 14, 2020 11:51 PM by psweet psweet | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 06, 2020

First 100 species!

Today involved some stuff in southern Lake County, specifically Ryerson Forest Preserve (Lake County's only extensive Sugar Maple and Basswood forest), Heller Nature Center, and Independence Grove Forest Preserve. The highlight of the day was also the first observation of the day -- a Pileated Woodpecker! (For those birders out there thinking "so what, they're in my back yard every other day", this species is surprisingly difficult to find in Lake County, IL. This was only my third, in 35 years of birding the area -- in the same Forest Preserve as the first one, back in the late 90's.)

Other finds at Ryerson included a melanistic Gray Squirrel (finally!), Eastern Black Walnut, and the first Protozoa of the year, Chocolate Tube Slime. Moving onto Heller, I was pleased to find offspring of the Red and Eastern White Pines planted there years ago. But the bird feeders weren't drawing much, I don't know if the feeders were empty on this Sunday, or if the warm weather isn't forcing the birds to visit.

At Independence Grove, finally some ducks, although the lake's big enough to make photography difficult. The surprising thing there was a near-adult Bald Eagle flying overhead. The bridge across the Des Plaines River has a surprisingly diverse and dense lichen flora on the rails -- definitely worth a look for anyone visiting.

Yesterday involved a couple of my favorite spots in the county -- Volo Bog SNA, and Gander Mt. Forest Preserve. Didn't find anything remarkable, but the typical finds at Volo Bog this time of year include Tamarack, Winterberry Holly, and Poison Sumac. Admittedly, having half the boardwalk closed pending repairs is a bit of a downer, but at least we can reach the middle of the bog. Gander Mountain was good for a number of shelf mushrooms, but my favorite part of the place is the insects -- not the best yield in January in NE Illinois.

Overall right now, 108 species, including 36 plants, 32 fungi, 29 birds, 4 insects, 3 mammals, one annelid, one mollusk, and one protistan.

Posted on January 06, 2020 12:18 AM by psweet psweet | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 03, 2020

Lakefront finds

2 days of photographing along the lakefront has the total up to 66, including 22 plants, 19 fungi (perhaps more -- many of them just go in as fungi sp.), 19 birds, 3 insects, 2 mammals, and one mollusk. None of these have been surprises, although I think one of the lichens is a new one for me. Still missing a few obvious things, though -- I haven't had a deer or either squirrel pose for photos, yet! And ducks have been surprisingly difficult to find so far -- I'll have to find the time to visit Independence Grove this weekend.

Three things seem odd, or at least out of season -- I've had a beetle, a fly, and a plant actually in flower. I've seen these blow flies by our garage on warm, sunny winter days before, so I guess it's not out of the question. And the flowers come from American Hazelnut, which apparently normally flowers this time of year. I have to wonder what pollinates it.

Posted on January 03, 2020 11:57 PM by psweet psweet | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 02, 2020

Crazy idea -- iNat big year, day 1

Somehow I ended up with the crazy idea of trying to find 2,000 species in one county this year. (That would be Lake County, IL, since I live here.) I'm curious to find out if it's possible, and in a more general sense, at what point is the outcome of such a project contingent upon the observer's available time rather than the actual biodiversity of the area. Doing the math shows an average of 5.47 species per day will do it. (That would be just a bit higher next year, since 2020 is a leap year.)

Day 1, of course, would be New Year's, and that's the date of the Waukegan CBC. So a long walk around St. Mary's Seminary, trying to focus just on the birds while ignoring lichens, liverworts, etc. Still, between there, MacArthur Woods, and a quick check of N. Pt. Marina, the year started off fine, with 24 species. The most notable find of the day for this project was the Greater White-fronted Goose, a bird that I often go several years in a row without seeing in the county.

Posted on January 02, 2020 03:43 AM by psweet psweet | 1 observation | 4 comments | Leave a comment