Thursday, November 21, 2013

Reconstructing the Biodiversity Records

What do these photos have in common?

The yellow-headed blackbirds that came through for a couple hours in April, 2009.....


The black and yellow garden spider that built a web across our patio door - and let me watch her eat her old web and spin a new web, early one morning....

A cowkiller velvet ant (a type of female wasp) discovering a ground nest, in September 2008, that she checked out for its suitability to lay an egg in....

An unusually colored cicada.....

Keeled treehoppers, being tended by ants, on giant ragweed....

Stilt bugs on a velvety gaura bloom at the end of June, 2008....

An adult spotted-winged antlion, resting on the side of the house in June, 2008....

Hatching wheelbugs in early May, 2008....

A goatweed leafwing (butterfly) sheltering deep in the grass in mid-March, 2008....

What do all of these have in common?  I'd forgotten about many of these discoveries, or forgotten that I got good photos of them, but now I've rediscovered them as I sort through my old files and work to compile biodiversity lists for our 10 acres.

I've been missing in action for the last month or so.  While it's a busy time of year, the main reason is that I've been immersed in a new garden-related project, my personal biodiversity project:  The Plants and Animals of Patchwork Prairie.

I'm a collector at heart, so listing all of the species that I've noticed on our property resonates deeply for me.  These aren't "my" species, but it fascinates me to learn how many different plants and animals share this simple 10 acres with us.  My goal, of course, is to increase the numbers of species that call this spot home, particularly those species who belong here but might not have homes on the surrounding land anymore.

So how am I filling in these records?  I've started by going through all of my old photos and labeling them, adding new species to the lists as I find and identify them.  This won't be totally inclusive, but I figure I need to do it anyway, and it gives me a good starting point.  Since I currently have over 26,000 photos, it's taking me a while just to tackle this introductory step.  And, as you can see from above, I'm rediscovering an interesting variety of plants and animals that I'd frankly forgotten about.

Not surprisingly, I have lots and lots of photos that I've never really edited, sorted and identified.  After all, especially during the middle and end of the summer, it's not uncommon for me to take 50 or 100 photos a day;  editing all of those photos and identifying the species in them is very time consuming.  Most of these mid- and late-summer photos have never been examined closely.  My tendency is to look through the photos when I upload them, identify the really exciting ones and edit/identify/label those, then tell myself that I'll get back to the rest "later".  Well, "later" is finally here....

Bugguide.net has been a wonderful help with the insect identifications.  My photos aren't great, especially compared with the professional entomologists' photos, but where they can identify species, the folks who volunteer on that site have very kindly done so.  I try hard to identify those that I can, before I submit a photo for identification, but it's VERY time consuming.  I can almost always get down to order and sometimes to family, but getting down to genus, let alone species, requires clicking through thousands of photos.  I am learning a lot, though!

Right now I'm about 2 1/2 years into our sojourn here, photographically speaking.  In the database, I'm up to a little over 150 plant species, 70 insect species, and 30 vertebrate species.  The vertebrate species list is particularly low, since I have a yard list of over 100 bird species alone.  I also haven't started lists for spider species or arthropods other than insects, since I have no general knowledge in those areas...yet.  However, I intend to remedy those holes as soon as I possibly can.  Generally speaking, "I've only just begun...."  I'm looking forward to my next (re)discoveries!

3 comments:

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Wow that will be quite a cool resource. You certainly get good photos of all the different insects and otherwise on your property.
Sounds like a good winter project!

Janet QueenofSeaford said...

What a great project! Good for you. I thought I had a lot of photos, but 500+ per day???!!? Yikes! Amazing.
I have never seen a yellow headed blackbird before, what a cool looking bird!

Alain said...

I also think it is a great project. I would also like to do something like this and I suppose winter is good time to do so. I would start with wild flowers then birds. Insects seem a bit daunting. I doubt I would have the competence when it comes to insects. I expect it has to be seen as a long term project that will never be entirely completed but with time your data base will get better and better. It is great learning experience I am sure, given all the species you will have to identify.Congratulations!