Tuesday, April 15, 2014

habitat ~ 04/15/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

 Pinnacles National Park - west entrance

Are you tired of Pinnacles, yet?  I'm not.  The flowers are really starting to get their groove on, even compared to 1 week before on April 8.  I met up with Paul Johnson and his kids this visit.  He showed me moths, and I showed him my butterfly highway (pics 1 & 2), which I'm considering extending down another trail (pics 3 & 4).  This is nothing official; it's for my own amusement to help me learn the local butterflies.  The lesson I took away from our tips and tricks is that I haven't been looking for lepidopteran host plants, which are often quite small with the tiniest flowers.  There's plenty of detail up close, but it's only been in the last year or so that I've started to need reading glasses.  Ugh, I'm still adjusting to this new visual experience and getting older business.

The thing for me about Pinnacles is that it's different enough from home that I really notice the changes between visits.  I'll take any spring green I can get this drought year, and it's a very pleasant low-stress and low-traffic drive to get there.  Given Paul's office is on the east side (here and here) and I prefer the west side, we don't always see the same things or at the same time.  He told me that most visitors to the east would have no clue so many wildflowers are blooming right now on the west.  Interesting.  I'm curious to see how things progress. 

ring-necked snake ~ 04/15/14 ~ Pinnacles

Paul is amazingly gentle when he catches herps.  I've never seen anything like it.  He'll just stop on the trail when he hears something rustling, look over, and then quietly pounce in one fell swoop with flat hands.  It looked like a Tai Chi movement.  He also got a rather large alligator lizard this way and showed us the stripes running down the middle of the belly scales and the light colored eyes.

The coolest thing about this snake is its odor.  No joke.  Right after Paul caught it, his fearless kids, who were downwind, made the funniest eww-gross faces.  As I moved in to take a closer look, I thought to myself, "Dang, someone has some really bad body odor."  Haha, it was the snake!  It smelled exactly like toe jam, or belly button jam.  Take your pick.  Paul said ring-necked and a couple other snakes release scent from their vents when stressed.  Wild.  I almost couldn't stop smelling my fingers after releasing this snake, as if it were my own version of the Flehmen response.  So weird.

I've commented on Nature of a Man and Dipper Ranch about how their area's ssp., the Pacific ring-necked snake (D. punctatus amabilis), looks tiny compared to what I remember of the dead one I found down at Rocky Creek.  I swear the dead one was as thick as my finger, not tiny enough to fit in 2 drinking straws, as Ken cleverly described.  But, lookie here, this is indeed very tiny and supposedly the same ssp. as Rocky Creek.  It could be a young one?  Or maybe I have a tendency to remember things as being larger than they actually were?  My recent discovery of the full-on macro, macro, mwahahaha mode may be messing with my sense of size, too, as is evidenced by this snake's pretty iridescence I uploaded to Flickr.  The ring-necked snake did not like my small point-and-shoot.  Every time I pressed the noiseless button, it would shirk its head away like it could see the blink of the camera eye.  Fascinating.  I really like holding snakes, but I also worry I could inadvertently harm the wild ones.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

habitat ~ 04/10/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

Pinnacles National Park - west entrance

I suggested to Ken @ Nature of a Man that we should start the "10th Day Club", because so far this year we've gone out to Stevens Creek on February 10, Midpen Preserve on March 10, and now Pinnacles on April 10.  There was some talk about meeting closer to Yosemite this spring, too.  So, maybe we'll get something arranged for Saturday, May 10 for CA nature bloggers?  Is there any interest?

This time we had Ken's CNPS friends, another Ken, Stella, Steven, and Joe in tow.  I had a lovely time and enjoyed observing how seriously curious native plant folks do their thing with jeweler's loupes and plant keys.  Their back and forth exchange of opinions was awesome!  Plus, they're proficient hikers.  I'll admit I was a little nervous about being able to keep up, both in terms of plants and hiking, because they came with a reputation.  They're no namby-pamby garden strolling group.  Fortunately, my 7 miles a day walk with weights rehab after my bike accident is paying off with better hiking stamina.  It's unfortunate so many nature lovers I know physically can't manage a decent hike; too many waited until after retirement to start the fun stuff and discovered their bodies refused to cooperate.  Gotta keep your body moving all along.  I still have a lot to learn and hope to retain my curiosity for a long time to come.  Considering I'm pretty shy about joining organized groups, I've really enjoyed these casual get-togethers to go places and appreciate nature.  Thanks, again, Ken!

It felt ever so slightly cooler at 88.0 °F and became somewhat hazy as the day wore on compared to 2 days before when the air remained crystal clear.  I've already been to Pinnacles 5 times this year, something I've never done before.  I love seeing the season progress, even if this year's extreme drought can hardly be called typical.  Compare this late dusting of spring green to the still swathed in winter reds and relatively bare February 25, 2014 visit.  Even at one month ago, the green was barely poking through on March 9, 2014.  There seems to be a ton of yellow flowers out right now, even dominating my favorite lilac, spring wildflowers' color co-chair.  Given the variety of flowers that have started blooming, I'm beginning to have hope for the coming months after a seemingly slow start.