San Diego City Nature Challenge 2019

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Over two days, six special visitors to San Diego National Wildlife Refuge experienced the refuge in a unique way: logging rare and endangered species!  

As part of the Natural History Museum’s participation in the nation-wide City Nature Challenge (CNC), Earth Discovery Institute (EDI) teamed up with refuge biologist John Martin to record species using the iNaturalist app. They scheduled training days, then two days surveying on the refuge to compile species the detected and compete with other cities participating in the challenge.

On April 26, John led four participants up the steep McGinty Mountain trail to seek rare gabbro clay soils species. They found endemic plants like Dehesa beargrass (Nolina interrata), Parry's tetracoccus (Tetracoccus dioicus), Felt-leaved monardella (Monardella hypoleuca ssp. lanatum), San Miguel savory (Clinopodium chandleri), Gander's butterweed (Packera ganderi), and the delicate little San Diego thornmint (Acanthomintha ilicifolia). They even found a yucca weevil (Scyphophorus yuccae) that breeds on chaparral yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei). 

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Yucca Weevil (John Martin/USFWS)


Switching gears on habitat types, they set out the following Monday to the Shinohara vernal pool restoration site to see rare plants like Otay Mesa mint (Pogogyne nudiuscula), Otay tarplant (Deinandra conjugens), San Diego button celery (Eryngium aristulatum var. parishii), and California Orcutt grass (Orcuttia californica).  Mary Duffy from the EDI learned a new plant on that trip: a Broadtooth monkeyflower (Erythranthe latidens). And although there was not much water left in the pools, they did spot a western spade-foot toad. 

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Documenting rare vernal pool obligates (Mary Duffy/EDI) 

“We also encountered well-behaved rattlesnakes on both days,” said Martin. “A southern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) at the vernal pool site, and a red diamond rattlesnake (C. ruber) on McGinty Mountain. 

EDI also set up an informational booth on April 26 at the old steel bridge to get people oriented with the CNC and how to use the iNaturalist app. At least 50 people dropped by and several families set out to log observations on the refuge. One family even saw a Western black-headed snake!