Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Golden blondes, with mud: Bioblitzing the vacant lot

It rained all morning, as expected. Which was just as well, because I had work to do. But around supper-time, the sun came out, brilliantly. I grabbed a sweater and my camera and headed across the street.

There was a young guy, 20ish, poking at something in the leaf litter at our gate. I stopped to see what he was doing, and he came over, holding something on a twig. A small vertebra, he said, probably from a raccoon. How it got to our gate, he didn't know; there were no other bones in evidence.

He wanted me to take a photo, which I did. I explained what I was doing with the camera. "You'll find raccoons over there," he said. "And skunks."

It definitely is raccoon and skunk heaven. A boggy, weedy field, a stand of small weed trees, and a huge mound of blackberry bushes; no human can enter there, no hawk or eagle attack. And all around, houses with garbage cans to raid.

The north end, though, is flat and open, with a trail of sorts. Which I skipped, cutting across along the edge of the blackberry thicket, keeping to the hummocks of grass, where it was drier. (Much good that did me; one of the dry-looking areas turned out to be deep, soft mud.)

The field boasts a grand mix of weeds. Tall bog grass, escaped turf grasses and buttercups form the base, interspersed with trailers of blackberry, on its way to claiming the whole area. Mixed in, thistles, clover, dandelions, vetch, dock, two varieties of horsetail, bindweed, sorrel, broom and young alder trees. There are others that I can't identify, this being the pre-flowering season. In the pools, rushes and green slime.

(I'm going to be busy the next couple of days, just looking up the species names!)

And, as it happens with far too many vacant lots, the area was littered with castaways from the houses around. A bookcase, well rotted. Drawers, likewise. Two tires, car and truck. Assorted remnants of carpet, old fans, a propane tank, moldy lumber, one nice shoe and wind-blown fast-food containers. As expected.

But these additions are often used as havens by the smaller residents. I turned over boards and the small tire, and things scuttled for fresh cover.

Except for the slugs. They oozed. Easily photographed, were it not for the precarious footing. I got a few decent shots, anyhow.

First discovery: a tiny grasshopper on a board. About 1 cm. long.
Slug # 1. More or less a normal slug for this area, but still rather small; it's early in the year. Compare with the sowbug below him.
A black beetle on dry reeds. He didn't stay around for a second shot. 2 cm.
Water striders, on the lower left of the photo. (Click to see the indentations their feet make on the water.) These were at least 2 cm. long; a tiny, blackish one was too fast to catch.
Another slug. This is more like the ones I find in my garden plot, across the street. Brown, but probably the common gray slug, which varies in colour.
A snail shell, the common local variety. The resident seems to have left home.
Here's where things start to get strange.
An earthworm, burrowing through one of those compressed-wood planks.
A sowbug and a -pede (centi- or milli-? I counted 20 legs. Something more to look up.) Hiding in the angle of an up-turned desk drawer.
On that tire, I discovered a blond slug. I had never seen one around here this colour; Googling, I found its mate in the UK.
(And look closely: is that another black beetle in the tread?)
On the same tire, a tiny golden spider, in a big hurry.
A golden beetle. This one was about half the size of the black ones, and in a position where I could barely reach across with the camera. Sorry for the poor quality of the photo.
And the find of the day: an albino sowbug, on the bottom of another board. I didn't know such a thing was possible.
And no, I didn't see any raccoons. Nor skunks. Maybe if I went back at midnight, with a flashlight.

Flickr Blogger Bioblitz Photo Pool.

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