Meet Your Neighbours Co-Founder Clay Bolt was honored to accept the North American Nature Photography Association‘s 2015 Environmental Impact award on behalf of Meet Your Neighbours during the annual summit in San Diego last week. Clay writes, “The last recipient was the incredible James Balog so its significance isn’t lost on me. More importantly, I was so touched to be on stage with many of my dearest friends and colleagues who have really been the ones to make the project a reality.” From the left: Chris Linder, Kevin FitzPatrick, Paul Marcellini, Roy Toft, Sheri Mandel, Nathan Dappen, Krista Schlyer, Clay Bolt, Neil Losin, Gabby Salazar, Karine Aigner and Paul Hassell. Other contributors who were present but unable to join us on stage were Andrew Snyder, JP Lawrence, Matthew Cicanese, Kika Tarsi Tuff, Todd Amacker, Steven David Johnson, Dave Huth. Photo © Gaston Lacombe / iLCP.
After scouting out a couple of locations on Day 1 of our time in San Francisco for the 2014 National Geographic BioBlitz, Neil Losin and I were on a mission to photograph as many species as possible before the event actually began. We knew that we could find lots of great subjects back at Tennessee Valley, but on our way there, we decided to stop at Fort Point, just beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, to search for the San Francisco Fork-tail Damselfly (Ischnura gemina). This beautiful little insect is a rare, locally endemic species that can reliably be found in grassy ditches near the Fort Point parking area. Though it was a bit early in the spring, we had high hopes of finding an adult damselfly. Sadly, we had no such luck. However, while we were there I became rather obsessed with making a photograph of one of the many bumble bees in flight in front of the bridge and of course, MYN portraits of some of the species. After a few hours of this, and a bit of success, we moved on to Tennessee Valley.
As expected, this area was a goldmine of subject matter for us both. We began by finding what would be the first of many California Slender Salamanders (Batrachoseps attenuatus). These fascinating, rather quirky Plethdodontid (or lungless) salamanders are equipped with extremely long tails and very tiny legs and feet. Adorable, yes, but these adaptions allow the small amphibians to move easily through the moist leaf-litter that they inhabit. A study published in 2013 suggests that rather being a single widespread species, B. attenuatus is actually a group comprising 39 species or more! We don’t know which of these provisional species our finds in Tennessee Valley represent, so we’re going to have to call it B. attenuatus for now!
From the outset, we had one species that we wanted to discover above all others: Aneides lugubris, the Aboreal Salamander. Its eastern relative, Green Salamander (Aneides aeneus), has fascinated me for years, so the chance to see a western cousin was a real thrill. Couple this with the fact that the Arboreal Salamander has teeth (you read that correctly) and I was hooked! Well, as luck would have it, about an hour into our shoot, Neil rolled over a log and found what we were looking for! I was tempted to do a cartwheel but previous experience told me that this wasn’t a good plan. However, we were definitely both in a celebratory mood, to say the least!
This fascinating animal showed no signs of aggression towards either of us. However, its powerful jaw muscles definitely hinted that if it decided to bite, it would do the job well. To residents of California who are familiar with this species, our excitement might seem silly, but there is something very satisfying about setting your sights on a target and finding it, particularly early in a trip.
This special species wasn’t the only cool thing we found at Tennessee Valley that morning. We also discovered a Coast Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans terrestris), some cool centipedes (including one guarding a clutch of eggs), a nice Eumininae wasp, and several other nice invertebrates. What a way to start off Day 2!
After lunch, we traveled back towards the city to the meet up with National Park Service botanist Tanya Baxter at the Marin Headlands. Tanya had graciously agreed to help us locate some very special plants that were unique to the area. Marin County has an interesting blend of different habitat types, which makes it possible for a diverse spectrum of plant and animal life to co-exist there.
Up in the Marin Headlands, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge we had the privilege of finding some of the special plants of the area. We photographed several species of breathtaking wildflowers, including the Franciscan Paintbrush (Castilleja subinclusa ssp. franciscana), Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) and the Silver Lupine (Lupinus albifrons), which is a larval food source of the federally protected Mission Blue Butterfly (Aricia icarioides missionensis). We photographed in the headlands until after sunset, when the Golden Gate Bridge was aglow with lights of passing cars. What an incredible end to the day!
by Clay Bolt, MYN Co-Founder and Contributing Photographer
For the past three years Meet Your Neighbours photographers have participated in National Geographic’s annual BioBlitz events. For this year’s event in San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, longtime MYN contributor Neil Losin and I were brought on-board by National Geographic to once again document some of the incredible plant an animal species that are native to the focus region. Washington contributor Les Meade also made the trip and kindly shared his knowledge of local reptiles and amphibians. Neil and I headed out to San Francisco with a wish list of species that we wanted to discover in mind and while we didn’t find everything that we had hoped for, we certainly found several that were at the top of our list.
Our shoot began on Wednesday afternoon shortly after we arrived in San Francisco. Neil and I had an early afternoon appointment to meet with National Park Service Aquatic Biologist Darren Fong who had previously agreed to point out several key species to us. One highlight was the Tomales isopod (Caecidotea tomalensis), a globally rare species that is only known to exist in a small number of ponds in California. We arrived at an area in the park called Tennessee Valley, which is good starting point for locating amphibians as well as a number of other species such as the Tomales Isopod. Since we were a little bit early, we started out by photographing some of the beautiful California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) that covered the hillsides near the parking area. Although many photographers have photographed this species, countless times before, we both couldn’t resist making a few quick shots before heading into a nearby wooded area in search of amphibians.
After photographing some cool species including an interesting, well-armed Hacklemesh Weaving Spider (Callobius sp) that we found sheltering beneath the bark of a moist log, we spotted a California Newt (Taricha torosa) navigating its way up a small stream. Since this was our first herp of the trip, we were obviously very excited to photograph it. We had no idea that we would soon be seeing dozens of the prehistoric looking creatures later on that day so great care was made to do our best to photograph it well. Next we moved onto a small pond on the property. Within minutes after arriving at the site Darren had already netted several of the rare ispopods, which are essentially aquatic relatives of the pill bugs that most people are familiar with. The challenge, of course, was photographing such a small, rather translucent organism in the MYN style.
Neil placed the isopod in a small container with a small amount of pond water, and after a bit of experimentation, was able to make several beautiful portraits of an animal that most people will never have a chance to see. I photographed a beautiful pair of damselfly nymphs (Zygoptera sp) and various stages of horsetails that I would later use to build the composite that you see below. As the night began to settle in we heard the first chirps of Pacific Tree Frogs (Pseudacris regilla) and suspected that if we were to come back later in the evening we would be rewarded with several opportunities to photograph the beautiful frogs in the MYN field studio.
At around 10 pm, Neil and I arrived back at the park. The night was fairly cool and we had the immediate pleasure of being serenaded with the “beep-beep-beeping” of a small Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) I, for one, had desperately hoped to see the bird since it was my first encounter, but I would have to be content with its song that was intermingled with the howls and yips of several coyotes who hunted close by. As we walked up the path towards the pond, the sound of the tree frogs began to grow louder and louder and we had to watch our steps as to not step on the multiple California Newts that were crossing our path. It had rained earlier in the day, which made this evening perfect for amphibians, and for eager photographers!
The sound at the pond was nearly deafening, and while we could hear many, many frogs, finding them was still quite difficult. Neil bravely waded into the surprisingly deep pond to photograph a male Pacific who was too busy looking for a mate to be camera shy and in doing so surprised an unidentified garter snake that was also interested in the frog for very different reasons. From time-to-time we heard a couple of different frog calls but we were unable to see or verify if they belonged to another species. We knew that California Red-legged Frogs (Rana draytonii) were found in the area, but unfortunately, we were unable to locate one.
After our time at the pond, we discovered some really unusual crickets including a stunning Jerusalem Cricket (Stenopalmatus sp) and this beautiful gray Cave Cricket (possibly Tropidischia sp) near where we had parked. Unlike true crickets, Jerusalem Crickets are wingless insects that primarily feed on roots and tubers, thought they will occasionally consume other insects as well. All in all, it turned out to be a very successful day and we were already on our way to finding some great species ahead of the BioBlitz!
-By Neil Losin, Colorado, USA: Costa Rica covers just over 50,000 square kilometers. For comparison, that means the entire country is less than half the size of my home state of Virginia. But within this tiny country lies a wealth of geological, meteorological, and topographic diversity… and of course, the biodiversity that comes with it.
I’m not the first Meet Your Neighbours contributor to work in Costa Rica – Twan Leenders and Sean Graesser have been doing some really lovely work there, and my latest contributions are best described as “dabblings” by comparison. I was in Costa Rica earlier this month to teach a filmmaking workshop for early-career scientists through the Organization for Tropical Studies. My wife Liz came down with me before the workshop began to get away from the “polar vortex” and celebrate the New Year in the tropics. I didn’t spend much time taking photos during my vacation, but I couldn’t resist grabbing a few of the large insects that were attracted to the lights at our lodge on the central Pacific coast.
When I say “large” insects, I mean it. The grasshopper in the above photograph, Tropidacris cristata, was the biggest insect I had ever seen – almost as long as my hand. The green katydid, Steirodon stalii, was over 3 inches long. My only macro lens, a Sigma 180mm f/3.5, proved to be too long for these magnificent critters, so I resorted to my trusty Canon 24-105mm f/4 zoom. A couple of chairs from our room at the lodge provided sturdy support for my white plexi backdrop, and I used two flashes – a Canon 580EX behind the backdrop, and a Canon 430EX with a small softbox in front, both triggered wirelessly with the ST-E2 – for illumination. Liz helped me manage the insects and flashes!
The masterful leaf-mimic Choeradodis rhombicollis was my favorite find. Even the venation in its wings recalled the intricate vasculature of a leaf. Like every mantis I’ve ever photographed, it watched my every move, keenly aware of my presence. It stood out against the white Meet Your Neighbours background, of course, but when I released it back into the forest, it virtually disappeared as soon as it landed in the foliage. What a lovely creature!
Special thanks to Piotr Naskrecki for his help with some of the IDs.
Many thanks to Neil Losin and Nate Dappen of Day’s Edge Productions for including MYN in their work on the Ibiza Wall Lizard in the Spanish Mediterranean! Neil has written an excellent post on National Geographic‘s Explorers Journal detailing how the technique was used to showcase the amazing diversity within this species on the islands of Ibiza and Formentera. You can read the article by going here.
As you can see, there is a tremendous amount of variety in color and shapes within this one species. It is a beautiful mystery! As Neil writes in his article:
“During the expedition, as I approached the project one day at a time, I don’t think I fully appreciated the diversity of the lizards. But now that the adventure is over and I look back on our photos from dozens of different islands, the variation from one population to another, particularly the diversity in color, is stunning! Some of the most amazing inter-island differences occurred between islands that were barely separated at all. Even between islands just a few meters apart – islands that shared similar terrain, climate, and biological communities – there were often stark differences in the color, size, or behavior of their lizard inhabitants.”
Thanks again Neil and Nate! The images that they have produced will be used in an upcoming coffee table book on the endemic lizard. To learn more visit their website at www.daysedgeproductions.com.