Monday, July 6, 2015

Sonoran Spotted Whiptails

I took some really nice pictures of lizards in a suburban backyard the other day:

The first is a Western Fence Lizard, quite common in Southern California. The second is something more interesting.

The first ID I made for the iNaturalist submission was an Orange-throated Whiptail which is the only similar looking lizard known to live in Orange County. This still looked a bit odd to me, but it isn't unheard of for females to lack the orange under the neck so it still made sense.

Then I got an email:
I'm the Curator of the _____ project here on iNaturalist. I saw your recent post of a Belding's Whiptail Lizard from Lake Forest. I was really surprised to see that your locality is at a very urbanized part of Lake Forest. Is that actually the correct locality?
I responded that the location was correct, but I wasn't all that sure of the species. Then the next day I got the following email:
Hi Jesse,
This is really interesting. I have been in communication with a colleague at the USGS who just found whiptail lizards about 2km NW of your location, but also near Jeronimo Lane. We also were unsure of the ID of his lizards, but the current hypothesis is that they are released Sonoran Spotted Whiptails, Aspidoscelis sonorae. My colleague is running some DNA sequencing to determine the ID. We had assumed that this was a very localized population, but your photos suggest that this is a much more widespread population.
Here are the other records:
As with your find, the initial assumption was Orange-throated Whiptails, but we later realized that was incorrect. For your whiptails, I am convinced they are not Orange-throats, but I am not sure of the correct ID. I have changed my ID of your lizards on the iNat record to only name the genus.
This is a very interesting, but also troubling, development. If this is an introduced species, it appears to already have a pretty good sized distribution.
In any case, your observations are especially interesting. I will keep you informed as this develops on our end.
If you see any more of these lizards in that area, please post them, but also please change the geoprivacy settings to "obscured" or "private." Part of my concern here is that if these are an introduced species, we don't want others to find them and move them around.
Thanks again for posting to RASCals. It is observations like this one that demonstrate the success of citizen science in urban areas.
 So it is fairly likely that I am only the second person to ever find this lizard in California!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Gopro and Sidekick in Laguna Beach

I took the sidekick out for the first time last weekend. Unfortunately, the conditions were not good enough to really make a good evaluation of it. With 10-15 foot visibility it is hard to get good pictures and backscatter gets worse in low visibility taking away some of the advantage of a light.

Still, I did get a few pictures which were clearly improved by the light:

In those cases, it was clear that the subject was just too dark. Particularly with the two Garibaldi photos, I would have never got the shot to come out sharp without the light. Under ledges or kelp beds the light really helps.

There is a down side though, a few pictures show quite a bit of backscatter near the top of the image. This is because the light is too close to the camera when using the dive arm:

Fortunately, the effect is only seen near the top of the image. In a large number of photos, it is hidden by blue water:

This is likely to be as far as I go with modifying my setup. It is true that a dive tray with two sidekicks would have some real advantages, particularly for video, but this is starting to get to be a lot of money for little improvement.

Going any farther, it seems like the Gopro needs to be replaced for something else. A mirrorless camera like a Olympus E-PL5 or a Olympus OM-D E-M1 probably makes the most sense for underwater use. A setup for the E-PL5 ends up at $750 for the housing and $400 for the camera while the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is $1300 for the housing and $1000 for the camera. There is probably another $700 before you have a full dive rig, so it is more like $2000 to $3000 for a full mirrorless setup.

Unfortunately, since I use a Sony HX400V superzoom for most my iNaturalist submissions a mirrorless camera would end up dedicated entirely to underwater use or at best a few photos of kids. Since no mirrorless cameras have built in GPS and all require changing lenses to go back and forth between macro photos and photos of distant birds; they just don't make sense for the majority of my photography.

Maybe a DSLR with built in GPS like a Nikon D5300 would work for both the above water, and underwater photography I do. This gets expensive fast though. The camera will be $950, the housing with a flash will be $2000. Then it would be another $1000 or more in lenses to make it work for both the macro and telephoto photography I do on land. Also, all the reviews suggest that the camera has worse GPS than my Sony HX400V. So more than likely, it would only see use underwater.

If I better understood what I wanted, I would have bought an Olympus TG-4 instead of the Gopro. It is optimized for photos rather than video and is in a similar price range. It is too small an upgrade for me to justify while I own the Gopro though. Perhaps in two years I will change my mind once the Gopro is starting to be dated and we have an upgrade or two to the TG-4.