Tuesday, April 22, 2014

habitat ~ 04/22/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

Pinnacles National Park - west entrance

There may have been a tiny amount of precipitation overnight resulting in a rather chilly morning and forecasts for sunny skies by noon with wind gusts.  The wind is not ideal for butterfly watching and challenging, at best, for flower photos.  I went ahead with my plans once it hit 60°F mid-morning, because I was curious to see any changes in flora, greenery, and water in one week's time, for the second week in a row.  I want the experience to feel and observe first-hand the seasonal passage of time, something that's difficult to discern daily and easier to notice on a weekly basis.  I've been intrigued by phenology ever since biobabbler mentioned the word 4 years ago on her blog.  I never knew it was a thing with an -ology name before.  I'm still brainstorming and following the proverbial path at my feet.  Plus, I love being outside this time of year.  It was a gorgeous, crystal clear day.

I gotta say, as someone who has been to Pinnacles 4 times this month alone, if you want to see CA spring wildflowers, visit the west side right now!  Do not pass go, do not wait a week, do it now.  The noticeable uptick in floral diversity and density compared to last week really impressed me.  The Juniper Canyon Trail is the showstopper.  In addition to the 2 weeks or more of blooming Johnny jump up, goldfields, lomatium, tufted poppy, CA poppy, buttercup, common monkeyflower, wallflower, cream cup, blue elderberry, blue dick, shooting star, delphiniums, Chinese houses, both blue and white fiesta flowers, woodland star, milkmaids, miner's lettuce, linanthus, saxifrage, and buck brush, the new appearances this week are Fremont's star lily, fiddlenecks, fringepods, phacelia, crinkled onion, tower mustard, stonecrops, and a pretty face relative.  Phew!  Plus, there are some unusual findings on the higher trails, like bitter root, but you've got to go find them yourself.  It's National Park Week, btw. 

I'm beginning to think this is the drought version of peak spring green, right here, right now.  At the 9 mile turn towards Pinnacles, the hills are already turning a reddish brown, which was not the case last week.  It remains relatively green closer to the park entrance.  Who knows if any additional rain will alter this seasonal shift.  The creek along my butterfly highway is no longer running, but there are a couple scummy puddles of water.  That was quick, only 8 weeks of moving water.

For all my Pinnacles temperature links on Nature ID (there are several, because it gets hot, hot, hot in the summer), I've used an online personal weather station, Pinnacles CA US on Weather Underground.  However, wunderground.com has recently updated its site, and my old links don't work quite right.  Grrr.  Paul has been encouraging me to use the National Weather Service.  As of 7:00 am, there was an 11°F current temperature difference between the two stations.  Wunderground matched what Paul said the reading was at his office a few hours later, but NWS still ran colder (maybe because it's at a higher elevation?).  I may resort to tossing a thermometer out in the shade when I arrive and take a second reading when I leave, and use the Beaufort scale to estimate wind.  That's what I did for Sonja on both her moth and butterfly surveys.  I'll have to ask Art Shapiro what he does with his weather records when I take him out next month to one of his butterfly sites; he's quite proficient in meteorology.  Butterflies can be rather particular about weather, and more than any other -ists I know, lepidopterists watch the temperature, wind, and barometric pressure very closely.

And, as a last note, I finally noticed the micro-trash confetti Easter egg signs in the bathroom.  I hadn't given it much thought since it's not a part of my tradition, but I went to Toro County Park the day before and saw what a massive mess it creates.  Aren't there animals that like to pick up shiny objects?  I bet there are some well-decorated nests and middens all across CA now.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter 2014 in the Highlands

decorated beer cans for hiding

brightest flowers (irises) that caught my eye

Bird Island of Point Lobos

hidden egg

my favorite spring garden view

Easter landed late on the calendar this year.  Tulips are long gone, and irises are making quite a showing in gardens all around.  The blues and purples reign right now: pride of Madeira, CA lilac, greater periwinkle, and a variety of other garden flowers.  Does anyone know what the purple flowers behind the hidden egg are?  Andy and I didn't dye any eggs this year.  And, there wasn't actually a beer hunt after the egg hunt, but I was happy to see some folks made the effort to decorate cans.  It's one of those things where it's more fun to talk about than to actually do. Plus, the ages of the participatory kids ran too young to do a proper beer hide, and there were enough young teens who felt the shaked-can joke was getting old.  No one drinks the beer anyways.  It's all about the yummy potluck of epic proportions.

Oh!  We had a heart-stopping 10 minutes down at the beach.  Three people had gotten stuck on a rock in the very active high tide.  It looked like they could have easily been swept out to sea with the next rogue wave.  It's well known around here that the first rescuers are often the ones who end up dying, not the person in trouble. It's such a helpless feeling to watch this.  There's a beach just on the other side of Point Lobos that the locals call "Mortuary Beach", because every year people die in the waters there.  Thank goodness these three eventually got off the rock safely after holding on for dear life and waiting for a break in the wave action.

As always, my best memories are in the sharing of this Easter tradition with good friends, old and new.  It's one of the few holidays for which I'm very sentimental.  Happy Spring!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

habitat ~ 04/17/14 ~ Chews Ridge in the Ventana Wilderness

Chris Tenney took me up to the Chews Ridge Lookout to find hilltopping duskywings and a couple blues.  He's been monitoring this site for butterflies for a number of years.  The weather wasn't ideal with a high cloud haze, which we had hoped would have burned off by noon this far inland from the ocean.  We still had some measure of success when the clouds uncovered the sun for brief bouts.  I'm now confident I can identify a Boisduval's blue (Plebejus icarioides), even though I didn't manage a picture of the numerous ones flying knee high above a grassy slope.  We also saw a handful of Columbian skippers (Hesperia columbia), but I'd have a hard time distinguishing them from other local Hesperiinae.

It's really beautiful up there and completely unfamiliar to me.  The variety of pines and oaks are new to me.  There's also the MIRA Oliver Observing Station down the ridge and plenty of charred evidence from the massive 2008 Basin Complex Fire.

I don't have a local's perspective of the area at all, despite having lived in neighboring Monterey for the past 11 years.  The Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest is a place I tend to avoid, except for the trailhead at Los Padres Dam.  The scary fire danger and hidden pot farms make me nervous.  It's rugged with long, curvy, dirt roads as the only way in.  I was thankful Chris was driving and knew where to go.  Although, we did get lost on the way back.  How the land in the Santa Lucis Mountains is divvied up is a complete mystery to me.  I have a feeling if I keep going out with Chris to look for butterflies, I will become better acquainted with this remote and unique area.  I think he's an explorer at heart.  I feel like I should brush up on CPR and reevaluate my standard take-alongs, because places like this require preparedness.