Saturday, May 30, 2009

Western gulls are making whoopie on our roof right now. What a racket! I remember hearing them last year, but I never thought much about why they were making so much noise. This past Tuesday, as we were walking back from the farmer's market, we witnessed 2 gulls at it on another roof. They had already made a nest near the chimney. Those people living in that house are in for a noisy summer!

ps 04/16/10 - I heard my first racket for the year of gull whoopie on our roof. Like I've said before, everything seems to be a bit early this year,

Friday, May 29, 2009

Oh, what did I get myself into?

I've been debating about the organization of this blog...

Typical blogs date-stamp to when you post the item. I'm more interested in recording when I observed the thing or behavior to document seasonal fluctuations, not so much of when I posted online. It's too bad that many incredibly informative sites don't also mention when you can see the thing in question.

I want to be able to search based on hiking dates, locations, monthly variations, and type of animal, plant or otherwise. My hope is that if I'm doing this next year or in following years, I can easily look back and compare notes and observations with previous years. Maybe at some point will allow 2 or 3-tier search options, but for now labels and archives will do.

Unfortunately, I simply don't capture many of the cool things I see. I have a particular fondness for butterflies, but animals move too quickly and my camera does not focus well for close-up shots. I'm generally not interested in most trees, mustards, grasses, or other drier things found in most of CA.

My Nature ID blog naturally selects for those showy, bright things that hold still long enough for me to take a halfway decent pic.

ps 03/10/10 - I try my best to maintain integrity in truthfulness and accuracy on Nature ID as I write about my observations of the natural world around me, even with my backdated and edited posts, which, admittedly, are not ideal. I make no claim that Nature ID is in any way a scientific blog. I post whatever happens to interest me out of hundreds of pictures and thousands of moment-to-moment observations that I may have taken during any given hike. Nature ID has been a useful tool to motivate me to seek more information about my natural surroundings from the Central Coast of California... the sharing of that information is simply a side bonus (and sometimes a headache).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

habitat ~ 05/28/09 ~ Los Padres Dam

Los Padres Dam - Carmel River Trail
May 28, 2009

The Basin Complex Fire burned 162,818 acres, including this trail area, from June 21, 2008 - July 27, 2008. It's great to see the new growth after less than a year. It's eerily beautiful!

ps 04/21/10 - The similarity of themes from other nature blogs, especially those from CA, is great to read and share. Check out bioblabber's post on the aftermath of the 2009 Station Fire. She provides more information and has a fun blogging voice.

chaparral yucca ~ 05/28/09 ~ Los Padres Dam

Hesperoyucca whipplei

The blooming yuccas were extraordinary on the hillsides, like big white torches, but were too far away to take a good pic. We think the last pic above is of a burnt yucca stem base leftover from the fire.

California quail
Callipepla californica

Their behavior is so cute. I love seeing them, but they go for cover rather quickly.

ps 04/21/10 - Didn't I say many of my pics are fuzzy? Not that I care that much about aesthetics while hiking and simply wanting to document what I see. For an absolutely gorgeous shot of a male California quail, see John Wall's Natural California blog.

vivid dancer
Argia vivida

I don't have a good ID book for odonates.

We also saw several large, very fast, red dragonflies. I would initially guess that they were big red skimmers (Libellula saturata), but the wings seemed to be entirely red. It's possible they could have been dusty skimmers (Sympetrum illotum), but they seemed bigger than 40 mm. I may never know since I wasn't able to capture a picture of them.

ps 02/06/11 - Well, I finally looked into this damselfly, which was originally posted as an unknown. First, it's a bluet (Enallagma spp.) for sure, because it's wings are held close to the body, whereas dancers (Argia spp.) hold their wings up and away from the body. Since the abdomen appears mostly black from the top view, I've narrowed it down to 2 species: E. praevarum (arroyo bluet) or E. carunculatum (tule bluet). My picture does not clearly show the male appendages, so the next best thing is to consider the habitat. According to Don Roberson (his site is linked in the species names above), arroyos prefer rivers and small streams, while tules prefer marshes and ponds (both appropriately named). Unfortunately, this was taken near where Los Padres Dam spills into the Carmel River. Simply based on photos and previous records from Carmel River, I'm leaning towards E. praevarum. Thanks everyone for your comments!

pss 02/10/11 - Sigh, I've made another correction to the ID above, but I'm keeping my previous postscript to show how I reasoned my incorrect ID of a bluet. Kind thanks to Jim Johnson at Northwest Dragonflier and for helping me learn what to look for when identifying damselflies. With his permission, here's a snippet from his e-mails, "...because of the angle the wings are obscuring the abdomen and that's why there is so little pattern visible there. One thing that indicates that it's a dancer and not a bluet is the extent of blue at the end of the abdomen. On all the western bluets, the blue is limited to segments 8 and 9, and 10 (the last smallest one) is largely black, especially on the top portions. The western dancers (the blue ones, anyway) are blue across all three segments which is what this ones shows." Jim goes on to say, "The wing position is helpful, but you can't rely on it for distinguishing dancers and bluets." I wish Kathy Biggs, author of Common Dragonflies of California, had stated this versus making a point of dancers (with "wings held above abdomen") and bluets (with "wings at rest held alongside abdomen"). Don't get me wrong, her book is great for novice odonate fans like me and I still recommend it.

Gorgon copper ~ 05/28/09 ~ Los Padres

Gorgon copper butterfly
Lycaena gorgon
Lepidoptera > Lycaenidae > Lycaeninae

I'm basing this ID on the HW submarginal red-orange band of separated spots.

California tortoiseshell
Nymphalis californica
Lepidoptera > Nymphalidae > Nymphalinae
(larvae feed on Ceanothus)

I was surprised at how many of these I saw at Los Padres Dam. It was a very good spring for Ceanothus.

cutpetal bush monkeyflower ~ 05/28/09 ~ Los Padres Dam

cutpetal bush monkeyflower
Mimulus bifidus
Phrymaceae (formerly Scrophulariaceae)

Now, I'm not positive about the ID to species (M. aurantiacus?), but I'm sure it's a Mimulus. Los Padres has the prettiest monkeyflowers I have ever seen! The incredible color reminded us of the color of creamsicles. Wow! I only wish my camera could focus up close (hint, hint).

ps 07/10/11 - It looks like this flower is aka Diplacus grandiflorus. Also, it has been moved to the lopseed family, which I have corrected above.

seed ~ 05/28/09 ~ Los Padres Dam

unknown poofy seed pod

This caught my eye, but I have no idea to hazard a guess.

ps 05/25/10 - I'm thinking this might be a clover in seed.  Can you ID?

fairy lantern / white globe lily
Calochortus albus

I have never seen so many fairy lanterns in my life as I did at Los Padres!!! Wow!!! Everywhere we looked on the hillsides along the trail, fairy lanterns and more fairy lanterns. These had a beautiful pink tinge. They were sized smaller than what I've seen at Garland Ranch and Point Lobos, but bigger than at Fort Ord. Plus, there were multiple blooms on a stalk, unlike how I've seen them in the past with just 1-3 blooms.

Pacific madrone ~ 05/28/09 ~ Los Padres Dam

Pacific madrone
Arbutus menziesii

We always wondered what those small, colorful trees were that line several New Monterey streets off of Lighthouse Ave with bell-looking flowers and bright red, burry berries. It was hard to believe those landscape trees were the same as these very large beauties that grow out in the wild.

ps 06/22/10 - Well, I always try to learn something new. This wild species, A. menziesii, is native. The landscape trees in town are not and are a different species, A. unedo.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #5

For a couple who religiously gets to bed by 10pm, all this late-night grunion greeting has whacked out our sleeping schedules! Technically, Tuesday night was not a Monterey monitoring night, but we were awake and fantasizing about calling the grunion hotline to report a W-3. Two nights before, we were thrilled just to see a handful of live grunion... hahaha, isn't that human nature, always wanting bigger and better? So we headed down to Del Monte Beach from 11:40pm-12:40am. Why not?

The skies had cleared up and it was extremely dark without a moon. We managed to see not one, but 2 black-crowned night herons in good ol' Charlie's favorite hunting spot. Between 12:22-12:25am, one of the night heron caught 2 grunions. That's it. We didn't see anything else.

Phooey! Our aspirations to report a W-3 will have to wait.

Monday, May 25, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #4

cormorant & grunion
new moon cycle (11:25pm - 1:05am), overcast skies

It's a little disturbing at how many dead or injured birds we've seen this year, including during our grunion watching. I'm guessing the dead black bird is a cormorant. There have been reports about dead birds on the beaches.

We went out earlier than requested at 11:05pm, because the night heron (we've started calling "him" Charlie) was already hunting on the berm the previous 2 grunion nights when we arrived. As expected, he was at his favorite hunting spot, about 20 yards from the pier and between the 6th and 7th parking meters from the bathroom. We saw our first grunions immediately from the pier before we could even get down to the beach. Unfortunately, Charlie flew off shortly after we got down to the beach; we wonder if he was already full or simply didn't want to deal with us chasing after him every time he caught a fish. There was also a pelican diving into the water throughout our time on the beach.

We counted 19 total grunion in 2s or 3s: 12 by us from 11:05-11:35pm; 4 by Diane a fellow grunion greeter and her MBA friend from 11:45pm-12:15am; and 3 by all of us at 12:20am.

Since this was the first time after the workshop night that fellow grunion greeters were at Del Monte Beach, we left Diane and her friend shortly after they arrived and headed down the beach together to the cement structure with hopes to find other grunion "hot spots." No such luck, but it was very peaceful and meditative. The city lights reflecting off the clouds made it easier to see compared to clear skies and a full moon. The no-flash pic above is brighter and more orange than it actually was.

Just like the previous time, it was challenging to take a picture of the skedaddling grunion. They're awfully quick!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #3

black-crowned night heron, gull, grunion
new moon cycle (10:35pm - 12:35am), overcast skies

Our friend the night heron was already out hunting when we arrived at Del Monte Beach. I still couldn't get close enough to take a good picture of him. He seemed to prefer hunting about 20 yards away from the pier.

We also saw an injured gull. Earlier that day at Del Monte Beach, there had been the 20th Anniversary Memorial Day Hoe Wa'a outrigger canoe races. I wonder if it somehow got injured during the festivities. There was also a couple who parked themselves with blankets and pillows not too far from the gull. They were grossly engaged in their own activities to not notice us running around taking pictures of birds and fish. Apparently, more than grunion like to "spawn" on the beach.

We were so excited! We saw our first live grunion, 12 total, in pairs with the females already in the sand by the time the waves receded. I was surprised at how quickly the grunion skedaddled back to the water. In order to take the picture above, I blocked the female's way with my boots... maybe not entirely kosher.

The night heron ate 4 of the grunion we counted. In fact, that's how we knew where to look. As soon as he started eating we would run over to check. He would immediately fly to a nearby tree and would return when we walked away from his favorite hunting spot. We left the beach about 15 minutes after the night heron flew away for good.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pacific poison-oak
Toxicodendron diversilobumv

Very green poison-oak with seed pods.
Dusky-footed woodrat or pika??? Z and I were happily hiking along Fort Ord's trail #41 when she pointed out a small, grey-tannish animal off to the side of the trail, hunched in fear of being noticed. I looked back and took note of its round ears, short nose, plumpness, and furry cuteness while I was fumbling to get my camera out to take a pic of it. Z claims it had a long tail while it scurried away towards the brush. I never did see the tail, so I don't know. Unfortunately, Fort Ord Public Lands is lacking in its online public education of the animals that live there... we may never know what it really was.

ps 02/11/11 - Well, I'm always up for learning something new and proven wrong. Pikas are not found in our area. Z was the one who looked it up in her mammal field guide at home and claimed it must have been a dusky-footed woodrat. As I've been hiking, I've noticed more and more of the dusky-footed woodrat houses, but have yet to see the actual animal again.

manzanita ~ 05/23/09 ~ Fort Ord

Arctostaphylos sp.

There are at least 13 manzanitas listed on Calflora for the area. I don't think I could even begin to identify this to species.

yellow mariposa lily
Calochortus luteus

CA buckeye ~ 05/23/09 ~ Fort Ord

California buckeye
Aesculus californica
Sapindaceae (formerly Hippocastanaceae)

 I never really looked at the blooms up-close before. They're beautiful! My friend told me the California buckeye is poisonous to European honeybees (Apis mellifera), but not to our native bees. I was surprised to hear this. Has anyone else heard this?
pitcher sage / woodbalm
Lepechinia calycina

Had no idea what this was when we were hiking. Simply going through Calflora pics for the Monterey area, I came across this. Should have known it was in the mint family!

fairy lantern ~ 05/23/09 ~ Fort Ord

fairy lantern / white globe lily
Calochortus albus

I have a hard time believing this is the same species as what I saw at Point Lobos on April 30, 2009. This is so tiny!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Brandt's cormorant
Phalacrocorax penicillatus

I wish I kept records of my observations from the past few years. Hopefully, this blog will motivate me to write down what I see, complete with dates!

I've witnessed the cormorants starting to build nests as early the first week of February. (honestly, I only know this b/c a friend of mine keeps a nature journal with dates and asked me when we're going out to check the cormorants). It's a very noticeable event, because they force the older, massive sea lions off the rocks... which is funny to think about - this dinky bird "bossing around" several-hundred pound, typically obstinate animals... plus, the rocks turn a bright white from all the poop. The courting cormorants are fun to watch as they stretch back their necks to reveal the brilliant blue throat patches. I think it was 2005 or 2006 when they successfully bred and laid eggs without interruption such that they had humongous, demanding chicks by this time of year. The poor parents often look smaller than their young by the time the chicks are ready to leave the nest. However, the past few years, they stopped building nests, disappeared, started again, stopped, disappeared, etc... Last year (or was it this year?), I thought a few late-season storms may have washed away their nests. It's odd to me that egg-laying doesn't happen at the same time each year, let alone within 3 months' time. I read in a Monterey Herald article that the cormorants have a "flexible" breeding schedule. This year there are very few cormorants and it seems very late for them to start building nests for the 3rd time this year. Notice the young sea lions in the background? In years past, older sea lions didn't appear to go on top of rocks until late in the chick-raising season. I know very little about birds, so I don't have my ornithology terminology down. I wonder what's going on.

Pelecanus occidentalis

I love watching the pelicans fly! We see them flying in a swooping line outside our office window all the time. However, it's very unusual to see pelicans on the rocks so close to the end of the Coast Guard Pier. This one, with the brown hood, is not typical of the ones we see here year-round... or is it the other way around? The markings on the head are so distinctive in these pics.

sea lions

The boys are back in town! And, they stink to high heaven!!! I think it was 2005 when I last saw almost as many young ones here. That was the year when researchers placed a floating cage at the end of the Coast Guard Pier to tag sea lions. Unfortunately, the cormorants seem to be laying eggs very late this year and we noticed many of them dead, floating near the rocks... possibly crushed by the young sea lions?

ps - For an excellent video of sea lions in Monterey, check out this YouTube video.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

habitat ~ 05/13/09 ~ Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
May 13 - 15, 2009

I am so glad we went before Memorial Day for the waterfalls and dogwoods. It didn't feel too crowded to me considering it's Yosemite and compared to the packed summers I remember from 20 years ago. Although, my husband would have preferred more solitude.

ps 10/08/11 - For the record, Mirror Lake is considered more a pond than a lake.

Great Basin fence lizard ~ 05/13/09 ~ Yosemite

best guess Great Basin fence lizard
best guess Sceloporus occidentalis longipes

As with the other lizards, I'm making my best guess as to ID. This lizard held quite still while I took numerous pictures of it. That's probably not the best thing for it to do since it looks like it lost some of its tail. I really liked the blue patches along its back and yellow patches on its throat and toes.

ps 05/04/10 - I had originally ID'd this as a Sierra fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis taylori), but I looked into it some more and we weren't at high enough elevations as this pic was taken near Mirror Lake.
mountain dogwood
Cornus nuttallii

I always heard Yosemite had great dogwoods but had never been there in the spring. Wow! The bracts look like fluttering, white butterflies perched en mass on large trees, straight out of a fairytale. While trying to find a good photo specimen, I noticed how irregular every "bloom" was.
California ground squirrel
Otospermophilus beecheyi

I'm not a huge oh-look-how-cute-a-squirrel kind of person, but this one posed so nicely on the Vernal Falls Trail I had to take a pic. We only hiked to the footbridge since it was our last morning in Yosemite and we didn't want to get soaking wet from the spray. Most of the trail information is misleading; "moderate" my ass! It's a fairly steep trail from the get-go and I was amazed to see people pushing strollers up the paved path - likely due to the mislead. I compare the difficulty level to the Upper Yosemitie Falls Trail, but Vernal is much shorter. If anything, I think the smooth continuous grade paving makes it harder to hike than traditional dirt and rock. Thankfully, we were heading down by the time most of the long-weekend tourists were heading up this very popular trail.

ps 01/09/11 - I think this is a California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) mainly based on its stubby tail.
deltoid balsamroot
Balsamorhiza deltoidea

This reminded me a little of prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) from Ohio because of the wide leaves but without the tall flower stems.

ps 05/09/10 - I posted this last year under unknown yellow flower. Can you tell I am totally unfamiliar with flowers? At least I knew it's an aster. Thanks to a lovely photo book, I was able to pin it down to balsamroot. My second guess would be arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). Based only on the CalPhoto pics, it would be challenging to distinguish between the two. I do think the leaves and flower petals above are too wide to be arrowleaf. Most importantly, the elevation of Yosemite Valley is only 3966 ft. and arrowleaf grows between 4300-8300 ft. In the process of searching this, I rediscovered a cool site I had forgotten about: Calflora What Grows Here search.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #2

grunion (smelt?), western grebe, black-crowned night heron
full moon cycle (11:25pm - 1:05am), clear skies

Love my high quality pics?!? We went out grunion greeting on Del Monte Beach again. Although there are other grunion beaches on the Monterey area list, Del Monte is convenient for us. The experience was quite a change from the night before with the group from the workshop. Besides someone sleeping in the sand, we were the only people on the beach!

The only grunion (or smelt?) we saw for sure was a dead one washed up ashore 2 feet away from a dead grebe. Fortunately, a sprightly night heron was hunting nearby to entertain us while we enjoyed the romantic fuller moon and soothing sounds of the waves. It was facing away from the water and we took an immediate kindred liking to it as humans and bird alike were running back and forth along the berm to avoid the larger waves. There was also a floating bird, possibly a grebe, not too far out in the water that was diving. A lighted squid boat anchored and stayed straight out from the cement structure almost the entire watch period. From about May 5-12, squid boats were out on the bay well into the daylight hours - normally we only see them at night.

Since it was so dark, the dead bird could have been a Clark's grebe. I had no idea what kind of bird it was until I got home to look it up. I didn't know to check if it had white under its eyes (Clark's) or black under its eyes (western) to distinguish between the 2 species. Plus, we're not sure how to tell the difference between a dead grunion and a dead smelt.

This night heron managed to gulp down one silvery, skinny fish, which we later believed to be a grunion. After about an hour and a half, the night heron flew away inland with a companion. We decided if it knew to go, so should we.

May 24 is the next scheduled grunion watch; we'll be there.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #1

We attended a Grunion Greeting Workshop at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. Among many informative and serious bits of information, they also showed a film clip from the 1981 horror movie Piranha II: The Spawning by James Cameron, which featured genetically modified attack fish created from grunions, piranha, and flying fish. We still laugh about this film and think we should add it to our Netflix queue.

Later that day (10:55pm-12:55am) we went out to Del Monte Beach in Monterey with a group from the workshop, including Dr. Karen Martin from Pepperdine University. She had the coolest toy - a night vision scope! A visitor from out of town compared watching grunion to watching the bulls run in Spain. I thought that was an odd comment. I hope we're not that odd.

We missed seeing the 4 scouts other people saw, because we had walked down the beach to the cement structure where we saw a night heron land briefly on the berm.