muir's 2020 iNat Year in Review


Yellow moosedung moss, Splachnum luteum with Splachnum sphaericum, observed on August 10, 2020, Denali Borough, Alaska. Insects disperse the spores of many species in this family, a characteristic found in no other seedless land plants.

2020..... I cringe with mentions of silver linings to the calamities of the past year, still ongoing, but a comment from a fellow iNaturalist user has stuck with me: I'm grateful for our access to the natural world as the human-built one goes haywire. As for my gratitude for the cycles of the natural world in 2020, the year on iNat started for me with a group of icy river otters in the neighborhood and concluded with a spruce grouse on the x-country ski trails in a city park. From otters to grouse, to urchins in between, here is my end-of-year "holiday card" to the iNat community, highlighting some of my most memorable observations of the year. (I wrote similar "Years in Review" in 2016, 2017/2018, and 2019).

Red Sea Urchin (Mesocentrotus franciscanus), observed on June 7, 2020, on Outside Beach, Seldovia, Alaska.

Mid-winter, it was cold and calm enough in Anchorage that the trees became thick with ice crystals, covering the city in monochrome, with birds dying overnight stuck to their perches. I don't do much posting to iNat in the winter months, but did manage to observe my first short-eared owls in Alaska at the airport, and the usual cast of Bohemian waxwings, eagles and magpies in the neighborhood. The first wild insect of spring was a plant bug on April 23, with lacewings, syrphids, and tortricid moths appearing around the same time. Similarly, sandhill cranes start showing up around our parts then, and I observed my first group of the year on April 25. During a trip to Independence Mine area in the mountains, still covered thick in snow in late April, I did not expect to find so many Milbert's toroiseshell butterflies emerged and fluttering across wide snowy expanses, and learned from @swiseeagle that, "Adults typically emerge in mid summer, then hibernate for the winter, emerging again in the spring....It's definitely going to be awhile until there's plants to lay eggs on, but they'll be ready when there is!"

Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti), observed on April 25, 2020, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska.

Spring also brought morels and morel hunters to the site of last summer's big burn on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. I had never seen fungi attract crowds like that, and people harvested for weeks and weeks in the blackened landscape, posting some of their finds to an iNat project created by local mycologist @kmohatt.

Morel (Genus Morchella), observed on May 23, 2020, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska.

Besides a pre-pandemic trip to San Diego in January, we didn't travel much this year. We stayed local and hiked in the Chugach, up into algal-laced watermelon snow, and few trips down on the Kenai Peninsula. The sub-tidal in Seldovia brought perhaps the most natural cheer to 2020.

Red-trumpet Calcareous Tubeworm (Serpula columbiana) and a tiny Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), observed on June 6, 2020, Seldovia, Alaska.

Summer brings two things: salmon and more interesting insects. I found my first spruce bark beetle buzzing across my deck, notorious contributors to the fuel load of aforementioned forest fires. At Eagle River Nature Center, I observed a yet-to-be-identified Synanthedon clearwing moth. On July 17, I marked a personal daily record of 6 different species: Dolichovespula arenaria, D. albida, D. arctica, D. alpicola, Vespula alascensis, and V. intermedia.

Parasitic Aerial Yellowjacket (Dolichovespula arctica) with a face full of pollen, observed on July 17, 2020, at Glen Alps, Anchorage, Alaska.

I met "Chuck" the porcupine at 2:30am on July 4th under a wilderness cabin on the Resurrection Trail. The US Forest Service visitor logbook had many references to the animal, describing many similar experiences of being woken up by the sound of chewing, dating back to at least 2015.

Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), observed on July 4, 2020, Caribou Creek cabin, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska.

Summer passes rapidly in Alaska, and fireweed marks its passage. By the second week of July, it's blooming in Anchorage, starting from the bottom of its flower stalk and working its way up to the top. Every patch of fireweed is a good treasure spot to check for bumblebees and other generalist pollinators, adding to the widespread (and earlier) blooms of cowparsnip and dandelions. By mid-August, however, one can find fireweed blooms finishing up, with seed pods cracking and white whispy seeds visible. Summer is ending, it says. And then by the first week of September, the leaves have turned color too, with the seeds pods fully burst and summer fully gone. Check out this beautiful story with pictures from the Fish & Wildlife Service, published in August in honor of fireweed and its place in our world.

Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) on July 11, 2020 (the first week I noticed it started blooming extensively around Anchorage) with more flower buds than flowers, July 17, 2020 (with a Bombus melanopygus), and on August 15, 2020, above Kachemak Bay, with more seed pods than flowers.

September is a time to hunt and hopefully fill whatever space is left in the freezer. The caribou on the Denali Highway ended up being quite safe from me this year, despite two attempts, but I was astounded at how many bruce spanworm moths (Operophtera bruceata) I found myself in. Every couple steps kicked up a moth from the sub-alpine vegetation, and an isolated gas station's lights attracted thousands. In 2020, the species was documented on iNat from Kachemak Bay to the Brooks Range (see this observation from @annelised describing similar outbreak abundances), potentially tens of millions of individuals across Alaska.

An outbreak of Bruce Spanworm Moths (Operophtera bruceata), including a flightless female, attracted in mass to the lights of an isolated gas station, and on a bush in the sub-alpine, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska.

A flock of willow ptarmigan in the season's first snowstorm was another highlight of the hunt. I was able to edge myself right into the middle of them, and they were so camouflaged, if I blinked, my eyes would need to refocus to find them, even though they were only feet away. On the same alpine ridge, but more cautious, I found rock ptarmigan, a life record for me and a species I had been looking for in vain for a couple years.

Willow ptarmigan flock in a light mountain snow (Lagopus lagopus), September 20, 2020, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska.

By the end of the rut in the second week of October, the moose have chilled out again and rest up as they prepare for winter. They're not a particularly rare sight in our neighborhood or our backyard (or from the car's rearview camera) at any time of the year, but it was cool to see 3-4 together with the fall colors.

Overall, I made 971 observations in 2020, of 432 unique taxa identified so far. Thank you to @gwark @johnascher @edanko @phelsumas4life @awenninger @matthias22 @clauden @jasonrgrant for being my top identifiers this year. For obvious reasons, I also met far fewer iNat'rs outside my family IRL this year: @carrieseltzer & @treegrow during a pre-pandemic work trip, @mckittre socially distanced on a beach, and a Denali trip with new converts @cbloomfi @leda_and_oona.

One thing I did put my iNat energy into this year was a two-part analysis of Alaska's iNat observations, as the state passed 100,000 observations in September 2019 and 5,000 unique taxa in March 2020. I'll hope you'll read it here and here.

Anyway, no iNat goals for me for the next year (as I've done in previous years), other than to say that I have a trip to Sitka scheduled for the summer and I hope it happens. Finally, to end, here's a holiday moose -- hoping the cycles of the human-built world becomes less haywire as 2021 progresses.

Anotado por muir muir, enero 17, domingo 23:53

Comentarios

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Wow, such amazing things you saw this year! I love reading your annual reflections. I'm glad I saw you in January. I hope to see you all somehow in 2021!

Anotado por carrieseltzer hace 3 meses (Advertencia)
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Great stuff! A memorable year (in a lot of ways)!

Anotado por allenratzlaff hace 3 meses (Advertencia)
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Thank you so much for sharing @muir ! It's incredible to experience a few of the sights of your habitat thru your photography. Looking forward to more amazing discoveries in 2021!

Anotado por edanko hace 3 meses (Advertencia)
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Beautiful photos. I was glad to be able to meet up with you on the beach, and hope you make it down this way again this year. May and June tides look amazing!

Anotado por mckittre hace 3 meses (Advertencia)
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Are you planning to visit Sitka for work, explorations, or both?

Let me know if/when you'll be here - chance are pretty good that I'll be around!

Anotado por gwark hace 3 meses (Advertencia)
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Great synopsis! I hope we'll be able to travel & see each other again. Can't wait to finally make it to Alaska!

Anotado por treegrow hace 3 meses (Advertencia)
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Thanks very much for posting this - I'm reading it from home in mid-summer Australia, reliving wonderful memories of visits to Alaska in calmer years gone by. Hoping our human world becomes a bit more calm in 2021 and you can resume your roamings.

Anotado por annettes-au hace 3 meses (Advertencia)
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Thanks all.

@edanko @treegrow I can't believe I didn't highlight a great 2020 fly. For shame. Upon further review, I was most happy to find (and learn to identify) several Orange-hipped Forest Flies (Chalcosyrphus vecors). Thanks for all the ID help this year.

@gwark I'll be in touch! Definitely explorations/fun. Would be my first visit to Sitka, and we haven't done any planning yet.

@annettes-au During some pandemic travel-day-dreaming, I asked my oldest (now 7) when we should go to Australia. He said when he turns 19. :( Hope all is well your side.

Anotado por muir hace 3 meses (Advertencia)
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Very nice! I enjoy living vicariously through your observations when I'm stuck at the office and not able to get into the field :D

Anotado por awenninger hace 3 meses (Advertencia)
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I thoroughly enjoyed your year in review. The life you observe is utterly amazing. I’m outside a lot and surprised I have not run into you yet. You are always good in IDing critters I’ve no idea what that are. Particularly insects which I hope to get more of in time. Thank you for sharing.

Anotado por onekoolkid0 hace 2 meses (Advertencia)

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