September 05, 2021

Banded Piping Plovers 8N2 and 60R and iNat

A few times per year when visiting my original hometown of Port Aransas on the Texas coast, I spend a morning driving the 7.4 mile Tony Amos beach and counting birds. This beach is named after a man who surveyed this beach every other day for several decades, counting birds, trash, people, and taking several other kinds of measurements. This important data set is now in the care of David Newstead with the Coastal Bays and Estuaries Program.

Occasionally I was able to ride with Tony on these surveys, and one of the highlights was documenting banded Piping Plovers during the fall and winter. A few organizations band Piping Plovers on their spring and summer breeding grounds with colored bands or labeled flags meant to be identifiable from good photographs or binocular views, without recapturing the bird. Tony photographed dozens of these banded birds over the years and meticulously recorded their locations and dates observed. He would report this data to the banding organizations annually. Sometimes he would tell me about individual plovers he had been documenting for years, and how faithful they were to their small winter ranges on the beach. When I count birds on this beach by myself, I always try to photograph banded Piping Plovers to post on iNat and to report to their banders.

Yesterday I was excited to find an example of Piping Plover winter territory fidelity in my own iNaturalist observations. Last weekend (8/29/2021) I drove the Tony Amos beach and kept an eBird list. (I stopped the list after about 4 miles.) I found and photographed three banded Piping Plovers. I finally processed my photos yesterday and posted them as iNat observations. Then I decided to search my iNat observations for the two labelled flags, "60R" and "8N2". The search for 8N2 found these 5 observations:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 11.21.37 AM

Look at the dates and the map on the screen shot above. I have photographed this same individual plover 5 times between November 2015 and August 2021, all in the same single mile of beach!

Here's the map zoomed out a bit to show Port Aransas to the north, and Padre Island to the south:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 11.22.44 AM

The search for 60R found only one additional observation:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 1.57.38 PM

I photographed plover 60R only once before, back in 2017, within 250 meters of where I found it last weekend! Here's the map a little zoomed out, showing 60R's winter territory is a little north of 8N2's territory:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 2.11.00 PM

I'd like to think Tony would be proud, even though he sometimes sneered at projects like eBird and iNaturalist. (I don't think he trusted the notion of citizen science, and I think he was sometimes resentful that these projects made tools and data easily available that he'd had to invent and collect on his own years before.)

iNat Idiosyncracies

A few years ago I experimented with making an iNaturalist Project for banded shorebirds. I was hoping that if we could encode the flag numbers and unique color combinations on each observation, users would be able to see maps of individual birds from observations contributed by anyone. Wouldn't it be cool to be able to submit an iNat observation of a banded Piping Plover observed during the winter, and maybe see observations of that same individual made on its breeding grounds or during migration? iNaturalist came oh-so-close to making this possible, but I ran into a couple idiosyncrasies that prevented it from working.

  • Piping Plovers have a conservation status of Vulnerable in iNaturalist, so their locations are obscured to everyone but the user who made the observation. This prevents the mapping I was hoping for.
  • Projects can be configured to show these obscured locations to project curators, but this is only makes the locations available for download or viewing of the raw GPS coordinates. They still do not display unobscured on the maps.

So that's why I had to share my observations of 8N2 and 60R as screen shots. Here's how my iNat search appears to everyone else:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 1.19.51 PM

See how the map shows the observations much more spread out, purposely obscured by iNat's rules about vulnerable and endangered species.

I wanted to attach all observations of 8N2 and 60R to this journal post, but another iNat idiosyncrasy is that attaching older observations to a journal post is very difficult or impossible, since it involves manually scrolling to each observation you want to attach. So I've only attached the observations I made on 8/29.

Here's the search link that will show you my 5 observations of 8N2, with obscured locations.

And here's a link to my 2 observations of plover 60R.

Photos of both along with these screenshots .

I'll update this post with information I hear back from the banders about these two birds.

Posted on September 05, 2021 19:32 by mikaelb mikaelb | 2 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

July 01, 2021

Odolympics 2021-06

I was fortunate to be able to spend some time between June 19 and June 27, to participate in the Odolympics, a citizen science project to collect observations of Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies). Attached to this journal entry are all my iNat observations made during this period. The odonate observations are also officially part of checklists submitted to

And here are some video highlights from Sunday afternoon, June 27, the last day:

Posted on July 01, 2021 12:30 by mikaelb mikaelb | 28 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 08, 2021

Billig Ranch 2021-04

I was excited to be able to attend the Wild and Scenic film festival hosted by Pines and Prairies Land Trust on their Billig Ranch property last weekend. I'll add more information here as I have time.

Here are some video clips I finally put together. They include Stillwater Clubtail dragonfly, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Citrine Forktail Damselfly, and White-tailed Kite.

eBird checklists:


Posted on April 08, 2021 00:26 by mikaelb mikaelb | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 02, 2021

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour with Bill Carr 2021-03-20

On March 20, we were privileged to have botanist Bill Carr visit Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run with us. He helped us create a new virtual tour with a focus on plants.

The most exciting observation of the morning was a northeastern plant called Green Dragon on the edge of its range, in a hidden canyon on the western edge of the preserve:

Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) - 1 - 5

Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) - 1 - 3

See the attached iNaturalist observation below.

I'll update this entry when the video is posted by Hill Country Conservancy.

Here's our eBird checklist.

And here's Bill Carr's plant list for the preserve, from just two visits.

Posted on April 02, 2021 18:27 by mikaelb mikaelb | 20 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 11, 2021

Greg Lasley

I was very sad to hear from @ericisley via Facebook that @greglasley passed away at 6:30pm January 30 2021, much sooner than he should have. iNaturalist posted a blog entry about Greg here, where you can get an idea of what a great member of the Texas naturalist community he was.

Before iNaturalist, I knew of Greg but never had any contact with him, except for an email he sent me in 2008 about a Red-naped Sapsucker I had posted on the venerable old email listserv, Texbirds. It was so encouraging to get a compliment on my bad-but-identifiable photo from such a renowned nature photographer and birder. In 2012 I started using iNaturalist and our online paths started crossing now and then. I remember spending break time at work for a few days identifying bird observations, including several of Greg's hawk photos. I got this nice email:

Thanks Mikael for going through some of my raptor shots and confirming the ID. I don't think there are a lot of knowledgeable raptor folks on iNat as yet, so many shots do not get "confirmed" when I think they are fairly straightforward. Anyway, thanks.


Soon after this I guess Greg added me to his short email distribution list for local bird sightings, and it was fun to hear about things like the Cape May Warbler he found at Hornsby Bend in early 2014. Occasionally I'd email him a question and I always got a kind and thoughtful response.

In 2015 I had to migrate my photo library from Apple's iPhoto (which was being deprecated) to Adobe's Lightroom, and I experienced some of the generosity in time and attitude that Greg was famous for. I posted on iNaturalist about moving to Lightroom and Greg commented:

Mikael, I have used Lightroom since it came out. I've never used iPhoto or Aperture. I am pretty experienced with Lightroom, but have never tried to migrate other things into it, but it should not be a huge issue to start from scratch and move your images into Lightroom. You are welcome to come out to Dripping anytime and I can show you how I use it if you like, my workflow, etc. I also use Mac.

Wow! Was this for real? It sure was. One Saturday afternoon in September 2015 I drove down to his home in Dripping Springs and sat with him for 3 hours while he showed me his Lightroom workflow. (Greg's workflow was very much a direct translation of his film workflow, with some entertainingly luddite aspects. For example, he didn't geotag his photos. Whenever he stopped driving, he took a photo of his dashboard GPS display, and used that photo to manually set the location of all his iNat observations at that stop.)

Later that year Greg hosted a central Texas iNat user gathering, and it was so great to be invited and meet the people behind so many iNat usernames I was familiar with. (I even got to meet @kueda!) We took a group photo, which will always be my favorite Homo sapien observation on iNat.

After that whenever I saw Greg at a Travis Audubon event or something similar, he always called out to me and said hi, and he usually commented on some recent iNat activity of mine. He made me feel included rather than out-of-my-league. I never got to spend any time in the field with him.

Posted on February 11, 2021 01:04 by mikaelb mikaelb | 4 comments | Leave a comment

January 18, 2021

Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper's Hawk

Over the past couple weeks I happened to get a couple decent in-flight photos of two species of hawk very difficult to distinguish: Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper's Hawk. The first photo is a Sharp-shinned Hawk I photographed flying over Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve on 1/9/2021. The second is a Cooper's Hawk flying over Lake Creek Trail in northwest Austin on 1/16/2021. The main differences these photos show are the angle of the wings and size of the heads. The Sharp-shinned often holds its wings pitched just a little bit forward and has a smaller head, protruding out in front of the wings less. The Cooper's usually has wings held more straightly out to the sides and has a larger head protruding out in front of the wings more.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

So why are these two species so similar?

I can only speculate. They have similar ecological niches, both specializing in hunting other birds in the woods. So they both have broad, rounded wings and long tails. Why such similar plumage? They may have also had a common ancestor, and speciated as two different populations found slightly different specialization.

Posted on January 18, 2021 15:56 by mikaelb mikaelb | 2 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

November 01, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run with Bill Carr 2020-10-31

Last weekend on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve I noticed that a certain plant on the sandy prairie area was blooming, covered in tiny white flowers. Over the years of leading group walks here, this plant would catch people's eyes since it's growing in a tight bunch with nothing else similar around. They'd ask me what it was, and I didn't know. Since plants are often much easier to identify when they're blooming, I took some photos. Here's one:

Yankeeweed (Eupatorium compositifolium) - 1 - 2

Back at home I posted it to iNaturalist and to the Texas Flora Facebook group. Pretty quickly Floyd Waller identified it as Yankeeweed (Eupatorium compositifolium). And pretty soon after that, Bill Dodd (@billdodd) realized it might be a new plant record for Travis County. He contacted Bill Carr, longtime Texas botanist who as been tracking plant species in Travis County since the 1980s. Bill Carr confirmed that yep, it was new for his county list! Here's part of the context he emailed us:

To cut to the chase, sandy-loving species are uncommon in our area simply because they don't grow on the limestones and clays that cover 95 percent of our landscape. Eupatorium compositifolium is one such species. It's common as dirt on the Eocene Sands in Bastrop County (and elsewhere in the southeastern US), but hasn't been reported here because of the paucity of sand. It will be really interesting to document its occurrence at Bunny Run and to find out what other sand-loving species might grow with it. Well, interesting to me, at least!

Well it was interesting to me, Bill Dodd, and Hill Country Conservancy too! So we made plans to visit the Bunny Run the following Saturday. We enjoyed a beautiful cool morning, starting at about 40 degrees at 9:00 AM and ending up in the mid-60s when we were done at noon. Bill Carr was impressed with the botanical diversity of the Bunny Run, and I can't wait to see his list and comments for the morning. I tried recording a few of the plants he pointed out, and they are attached to this journal entry below.

And of course we enjoyed seeing the Yankeeweed, which was still in bloom. Here are a few video highlights from the morning:

I kept an eBird list as well:

And below are more attached observations, mostly plants that Bill Carr pointed out.

Posted on November 01, 2020 18:48 by mikaelb mikaelb | 25 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 25, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run 2020-10-24

Today I enjoyed a cool morning in the 50s with a north wind blowing on Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve. Bird activity was a little slow to start but I enjoyed two mixed-species foraging flocks in the denser areas of the parkland habitat area. On windy days little songbirds find areas sheltered from the wind, so that's where I went. Returning winter residents included Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Orange-crowned Warblers, a heard-only Northern Flicker, and a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I got this photo of the sapsucker while I was playing an Eastern Screech-Owl recording to attract one of the flocks:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The two flocks included several Nashville Warbler too, which are just passing through on their way further south, but I was unable to get a photo of one.

Down on the sandy prairie I was excited to discover that the croton (dove weed) was full of sparrows! Lincoln's Sparrows were most numerous but there were also Savannah Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, and a few White-throated Sparrows. The sandy prairie area is great habitat for these sparrows. They forage on the ground and in the low mix of native plants like croton and Camphorweed. But there are plenty of scattered trees and shrubs around that they can fly into when alarmed. A few winter-resident House Wrens were also using this habitat.

Here's one o the Savannah Sparrows, a species I don't have many records of for the Bunny Run:

Savannah Sparrow - 1

Another much larger returning winter resident flew over me as I looked for sparrows, this Osprey:


Near the northeast corner of the preserve, still on the sandy prairie, I noticed an interesting plant. People have asked me about it before but I've never been able to tell them what it is. Today it was flowering, so I took some photos and later got it identified as Yakeeweed (Eupatorium compositifolium). It might be the first record of it in Travis County!

Unknown Plant - 1 - 2

On my way back up the hill I spent some time in the sometimes waterfall that the spring drains into. In the last large pool at the bottom I was surprised to find a dead floating Red-tailed Hawk! I made a video of the experience. Be warned it contains footage of the dead carcass that some might not like to see:

Here's my complete eBird list.

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

And see my attached observations.

Posted on October 25, 2020 16:59 by mikaelb mikaelb | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 16, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-10-10

Here's the latest virtual tour of Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run wildlife preserve:

Here's our complete eBird checklist:

Here are photos on Flickr:

And attached are the same photos as iNaturalist observations.

Posted on October 16, 2020 21:33 by mikaelb mikaelb | 13 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 26, 2020

Nalle Bunny Run Virtual Tour 2020-09-19

Here's the latest virtual tour of Hill Country Conservancy's Nalle Bunny Run Wildlife Preserve. We recorded it last weekend and we're learning more and more each month. Love the way this one turned out!

Here's my complete eBird list:

Here are the same photos and videos on Flickr:

And attached are some observations.

Posted on September 26, 2020 13:22 by mikaelb mikaelb | 8 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment