Saturday, June 27, 2009

elephant seals ~ 06/27/09 ~ Piedras Blancas

elephant seal
Mirounga angustirostris

We stopped by Piedras Blancas on our way north and took pics of the males as they were beached to molt. They looked so blissful napping in the sun.

ps 09/04/11 - I just found a new blog dedicated to the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, ElSeals4me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

cormorant, heron, egret ~ 06/26/09 ~ Heron Rookery Natural Preserve

I would imagine this is a North American birder's paradise. How could you not pass up the opportunity to see so many fantastic birds nesting? Other signs also indicated the snowy egret nested here, too. This rookery is within a 5 minute walk to the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History. I am incredibly sad all these state parks are closing!!! Our friendly museum volunteer is in charge of some big birding shindig where people from around the world gather to observe the incredible bird diversity in Morro Bay. I signed up for her e-mail notice and will post here once I find out specifics for the event. She said they're having some difficulty figuring out alternatives to state park sites for their field trips.

double-crested cormorant
Phalacrocorax auritus

I find it fascinating these cormorants nest in trees versus the rocks of our Monterey area Brandt's cormorants. How do web feet cling onto tree branches?

great blue heron
Ardea herodias

Behind a church here in Monterey, there's a 3-year old nesting site for great blue herons. Whenever I visit my friend, I look out my sun roof to see if I can spot one of them in the nests. The nesting site is easy to spot because now most of the trees around the nests are dead.

great egret
Ardea alba

More often than not, signs do a much better job than I ever could at explaining things. Click on the photo above and you'll get a larger image for reading.

habitat ~ 06/26/09 ~ Montaña de Oro State Park & Pont Buchon Trail

Montaña de Oro State Park & Point Buchon Trail
June 26, 2009

This is technically not part of the state park system, but access is dependent upon entry through Montaña de Oro. We spoke with a docent at the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History who told us that they're already devising plans to place a big fence across the entrance to Montaña if the state park funding really does get cut. She was looking at other volunteer opportunities with the expectation that the museum would close and wasn't sure if she'd come back if the funding got reinstated. It's a sad situation all around.

This pic was taken from the environmental camp #4 in Montaña de Oro towards the PG&E Diablo Canyon Power Plant lands. You have to leave your car and hike a little bit up a hill to reach the campsite area. There's a picnic table and pit toilet up there. No fires are allowed at the environmental camps. We guessed it would be fairly windy most of the time. All the campsites were booked over the weekend, but we thought we'd check them out for future reference.

Coon Creek Beach is the first cove on the right center of the pic before this one. There are regular docent led walks to explore the caves. The Point Buchon Trail also goes past Disney/Fat Point where parts of Pete's Dragon were filmed in the late 70's.

For all the coastal scrub found in Montaña de Oro and Point Buchon, there are amazingly lush green areas along the rivers (shown above), hills (oaks), and entrance (eucalyptus, shown below).

Nuttall's milkvetch ~ 06/26/09 ~ Montaña De Oro

Nuttall's milkvetch
Astragakus nuttallii var. nuttallii
CNPS 8th Edition Inventory

These are also found along our local Mission Beach's "bunny trail." They're great fun to pop, but I don't know much about them.

ps 03/11/10 - I originally had this labeled as an unknown bladderpod due to the obvious inflated seedpods. Doh! Should have actually looked at the leaves. I'm basing the species ID on the 23-43 silvery-haired leaflets as stated in Peterson's Pacific States Wildflowers.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

long-billed curlew ~ 06/25/09 ~ Morro Strand Beach

long-billed curlew
Numenius americanus

I was impressed by how many different groups of birds we saw on Morro Strand during a short walk. The main group of curlews were behind the snowy plover roped section of beach.

western snowy plover ~ 06/25/09 ~ Morro Strand Beach

western snowy plover
Charadrius alexandrinus

I'll admit that I haven't paid much attention to the Western snowy plover and its threatened plight. If it weren't for the signs, roped off sections of the beach, and square fencing around several nests we may not have stopped to look. They're cute little birds and awfully quick (read: hard for me to take a good picture). They lower their heads and run around the beach at great speeds. We imagined they were catching flies as they zoomed around.

Many dogs are not allowed on local beaches here in Monterey Bay because of the desire to protect the snowy plover. While this raises the hackles of many dog owners, I think it's a good policy in general. I've had some very bad experiences with dogs at Carmel Beach where they are allowed. There are a few discourteous dog owners who ruin a good thing for everyone.

sand dollar ~ 06/25/09 ~ Morro Strand Beach

sand dollar

Morro Bay is about 150 miles southeast of Monterey Bay and the beaches are not the same. Morro Strand State Beach is a very nice, long and wide walking beach with different kinds of tide pools than found along Sunset and Ocean View in Pacific Grove. We noticed many sand dollars, as well as birds of all types and sand crab bodies. One little girl we saw had collected a whole bucket full of sand dollars, from grey to white to beautiful orange.

great and snowy egrets ~ 06/25/09 ~ Morro Strand Beach

great egret
Ardea alba

snowy egret
Egretta thula

It was unexpected to see the 2 types of "egrets" side-by-side hunting in the water in such numbers. If I didn't know better, I would have thought the larger ones were the adults and the smaller ones were its young. Love the yellow feet of the snowy egret.

western gull ~ 06/25/09 ~ Morro Strand Beach

western gull
Larus occidentalis

I generally don't take pictures of the animals or plants that are so common in the area that I usually fail to notice them anymore. However, this gull caught my attention with its behavior. It was stamping the sand and feeding on whatever was coming up in the water-soaked sand. Fascinating! I likened it to the use of tools by some birds to get insects from holes in trees.

turkey vulture ~ 06/25/09 ~ Morro Strand Beach

In Ohio, I used to call these turkey buzzards, until someone told me buzzard was a misnomer, similarly to how American buffalo are really bison. Common names are fraught with inaccuracies, but sure are easier to remember than scientific names.

We first noticed this group on the hill and watched several fly down to the beach.

This was the first time I witnessed a group of turkey vultures feeding. Their behavior was fascinating to observe: one would feed while several others seemed stationed to keep a lookout. I couldn't help but think of broad-shouldered henchmen. I believe they were feeding on a sea lion carcass.

Oh, how many times have we seen turkey vultures in the distance soaring on great wings and hoped they were California condors?

jellyfish ~ 06/25/09 ~ Morro Strand Beach


This was a particularly large jellyfish. I liked how we could see the color and tentacles. Here up north on the Monterey beaches, we usually see gelatinous blobs without any definition which I think are moon jellies.

cottonwood ~ 06/25/09 ~ San Luis Obispo

Populous sp.

Does anyone know what kind of tree this is? We were walking along a San Luis Obispo neighborhood street after the farmer's market and found this tree. If the lighting wasn't so low, I'd have better pics.

ps 05/02/10 - I discovered this blog entry by Matthew Wills this morning. I wonder if the cottony stuff was created by galls and wasps???

pss 05/09/10 - I had this titled as an unknown tree with cottony seeds. Well, it helps to have a new ID book. Doh! I know I've mentioned several times that I have this odd brain block around trees. I'm sure the more I say it the more it becomes true. Erg. Yep, I've seen the cottony stuff floating around in little, itsy pieces, like fluffy fairies on the wind, especially at Garland Ranch in April. I have never actually seen it still attached to the tree. LOL!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #9

black-crowned night heron
new moon (11:15pm-12:45am), cloudy skies

It still amazes me how bright it is out when the skies are cloudy. Zero, nada, zip grunion observed. Phooey, times 2! The water was very shallow over large areas such that if there were grunion around, we would not have seen them.

Our ol' friend Charlie was at his usual spot when we first arrived at 10:53pm to Del Monte Beach. I'm back to debating whether he's a black-crowned night heron or not. He looks too elongated to be a night heron. Unfortunately, I can't get closer than this without spooking him and his dark areas don't photograph well against a dark background. It's no wonder we first thought he might be a grebe back in May. Hahaha, thankfully we came to the realization there's probably a reason why our Local Birds Quick-Guide shows some birds floating in the water and some birds standing. The only other night herons we've seen have been hunting from pier perches looking down at the water and look exactly like the pics I've seen. Charlie flew away 10 minutes after we arrived and right as other people were parking. We took his departure as a sign we weren't likely to have much luck spotting grunion.

However, it was an interesting evening of meeting people. Diane's h.s. teacher friend from the night before was there almost as long as we were. Then there was a group of a dozen teachers from around the country led by a guy from MBARI who went to grad school with Dr. Martin who also confirmed it was the full moon in July of 2007 when the last big run was observed. Apparently the Monterey Airbus driver was kind enough to drop a few of these teachers off directly at the pier. We also met a Monterey City worker who, after spotting the chap with a metal detector, claimed his third cousin sold a Spanish gold coin he found down the beach for $36K. Entertaining to say the least.

We left at 12:35pm.

Hooker's evening primrose
Oenothera elata ssp. hookeri

I'm not going to even try to look this one up since I have several more posts I'd like to get done this morning. We found it Tuesday along the rec trail growing in one of the many, nasty PG sewer drainage ditches that empties into the "pristine" marine sanctuary. I have good reason for refusing to swim in the bay.

ps 05/09/10 - I had this listed under unknown and non-native for quite a while and hadn't gotten around to looking it up. I feel silly for not knowing what it is, but it shows how much I've learned over the past year. I also saw it during our trip to Morro Bay (San Luis Obispo County) shortly after this original post and figured it was a native, not a drainage ditch escapee. The other subspecies is O. elata ssp. hirsutissima, but my Spring Wildflowers book states it occurs further inland up to 9,000 ft.

about my photos

California poppy
Eschscholzia californica

The state flower. Most poppies I see are a solid orange. I loved the red coloration of this one found along the rec trail. I confirmed it was indeed a California poppy because it had the identifying red ring just below the petals. According to Vern Yadon's Wildflowers of Monterey County other color variations beyond yellow to orange are liberated horticultural hybrids. It sounds as if Vern knows the person who released the poppy hybrids. Hmm...

On a related note - I often get asked if I Photoshop my pics, particularly my sunrise pics. As if! These questions are even more perplexing considering most of my photos are very poor quality. I barely have the patience to turn on the camera and shoot from the generic setting, let alone mess with anything more than the occasional zoom or crop to emphasize the item of interest. We have an old Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50 and 98% of these blog pics came from this camera; sometimes I may borrow a friend's camera. I'm still running Windows ME (I know, gasp! - please don't remind me how outdated I am) and until I finally decide between Windows 7 or a lovely, spendy Mac, our new camera purchase will have to wait.

ps 05/06/10 - Thanks to a fancy new iMac and iPhoto, I am starting to "enhance" some photos. I just hope I don't get carried away. And, truth be told, some photos I post were taken by my husband Andy.
male arboreal click beetle
Euthysanius sp.

I won't try to guess which genus this beetle is. I love the pectinate antennae. It was at our doorstep coming back from Monday night's grunion greeting past midnight, hence Tuesday's date. I played with its clicking ability for a while and was glad it didn't try to bite me with its visibly impressive mandibles. Poor little fellow had some difficulty flying away and kept hitting obstacles as if it were drunk.

ps 07/18/10 - For a great post on the mechanics of the click, check out The Dragonfly Woman's post.

pss 08/19/11 - I originally posted this simply as a click beetle in the family Elateridae. Thanks to a comment by Ted at Beetles in the Bush and a recent click beetle post by biobabbler, I revisited click beetle ID. I'm fairly sure of the ID to genera, but I have no reference to check if it is the well-documented E. lautus. According to Evans and Hogue's Field Guide to Beetles of California there are 5 species of Euthysanius and aproximately 300 species of Elateridae in California alone. Interesting to note the females do not have wings and have different shaped antennae. I think ID's can be extremely difficult for most beetle species, unless you're an expert.

Monday, June 22, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #8

Seaside Beach
new moon (10:20-12:20), clear skies

The past 2 nights' late schedules have finally caught up with me. I'm still a little loopy as I edit this posting. We did not spot a single grunion at either Seaside or Del Monte beaches.

We reluctantly signed up online for Seaside Beach since a group was already scheduled to monitor our fave Del Monte Beach. Granted, we feel a bit of claim over Del Monte since we've been there every night plus since the monitoring project started in Monterey this year; but we also feel a responsibility to try to cover the beaches requested in the project.

The warning signs should have, um, well... warned us! Seaside Beach was hella scary!!!

The nondescript tan-black pic with spots above was a wave that ambushed us 20 yards from the wave break! The very steep berm reminded me too much of how the waves break at Mission Beach where several people have died in recent years. I love nature n' all, but it was too dangerous to be out looking for little grunion amongst humongous waves crashing all around us in the dark!

Here are the details:

10:05-10:25 north side of BW hotel. Per Charlie's lead, we headed out before the high tide. There was a massive hump of sand where if waves reached that point they went 30 yards over the downside. We spotted a dead sea lion with its head bitten clean off. I didn't take a pic of the grossness.

Took shelter at BW hotel. Mighty fine hotel and much nicer than it looks from the freeway. Since we live here we don't stay in local hotels, but people always seem to ask me for recommendations.

10:30-11:05 from BW hotel balcony, we observed south and north sides of beach. The south side above was slightly calmer than the north side. Nothing to note save for some wrack and a 3-4 ft. dead silvery fish being tossed around in the waves. Am guessing it was a dead tuna. We found it hard to believe grunion would be spawning in such harsh waters, so we left.

11:15-11:50 not wanting to miss out, we arrived at Del Monte Beach near the volleyball courts. The water was very calm compared to Seaside. We walked to the cement structure and back towards the pier. Met up with Diane and her group, exchanged a few words, looked around, and walked back to the car. NOTHING. One point to note, by an hour after high tide, the water level was still past any previous high tides we've witnessed before (i.e. 6th and 7th parking meters from the bathrooms). The last picture above shows the water level came all the way up level with the bathrooms.

Phooey! I wanted to see a W-3!
northern elephant seal
Mirounga angustirostris

Initially, we believed this was an unusually, big-headed harbor seal, who was despondent over its lost pup - the same cute little one we witnessed at almost the same spot 2 days before during our regular walk. We fabricated a fantastic story of how the 1-800-marine-animal rescue team had whisked away the pup to human care, not realizing the poor momma was soon to return to her child... now missing!

This ID was provided by a very pleasant Marine Mammal Center volunteer. She told us it was a juvenile elephant seal that she believed was looking for a place to molt. The volunteer was waiting for a cohort to provide a "board" to transport the elephant seal to a less conspicuous and heavy-traffic location. I don't know if they took it to Santa Cruz or further south near San Simeon to be with its kind.

Brandt's cormorant
Phalacrocorax penicillatus

Yay, we finally got a picture of a couple eggs. Their blue throats are amazing!

backyard scientists

Thanks to another blog, I discovered this article on the so-called citizen science movement.

Isn't this what I'm doing blogging and faithfully going out in the late hours of the night every 2 weeks to look for grunions? My grunion greeting postings are more detailed than the others, b/c Dr. Martin knows she can find additional information on my blog if she has any questions about my online data submissions.

It's been a while since I published a handful of papers on Northeast Ohio moths. However, life stepped in and I got sidetracked along the way to pursuing a graduate degree. I enjoyed the field work, going out with my net and ID books, sharing with other nature lovers the secrets we witnessed, and relishing the sense of excitement at what new discovery I could make that day. Through creating Nature ID and following other blogs, I'm fully rediscovering my love of nature.

So, here's to all the backyard scientists and bloggers out there, cheers! Your knowledge and photographs are impressive and inspiring, regardless of whether you're "professional" or not. Thanks for sharing!

On a closely related topic, I particularly liked Bug Girl's Blog posting on pseudonyms and anonymity.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Oh my! The wide world of nature bloggers!

I just spent a good part of this morning trying to add a couple of widgets to Nature ID. Comcast internet service was very slow for a couple of hours, which was a drag. I run Windows ME and haven't upgraded anything since my computer purchase almost a decade ago. Perhaps, when we get new computers (and possibly a new camera) in the fall, blogging will be less time consuming for me. Then, maybe I could also run Picasa!

I also did a little reorganization, by moving relevant blog listings to blogs I follow. By following other followers of the handful of blogs I was following, I discovered a whole world of nature bloggers. Holy wow! There are a lot of nature blogs out there and most are fantastic! I don't know if it was simply the draw of whom I chose to follow, but most blogs are based out of the UK or the Midwest. Nature photography, birds, and gardens seem to be the most popular. I'm still looking for another non-business, non-garden, nature blogger based out of CA.

What I want to know is, how do people find the TIME to:
1) learn how to create an eye-popping blog?
2) actually post regularly?
3) do other things in their lives besides blogging???

I was starting to feel so proud of organizing my humble photos, posting them to document dates and observations, and searching online to ID the things I spotted during hikes. But now? My blog is so basic (yet, scarily lengthy) compared to the clean, well-organized beautiful sites I saw today. So, I've relabeled my index to make it easier to read. I'm not the best writer, nor am I great shakes at photography, and I'm starting to feel a little intimidated about blogging. I really had simple intentions when I started Nature ID, but I can imagine this has the potential to soon grow to take over my life!

ps 03/10/10 - Speaking of widgets, I deleted a couple from my site, because they slogged my blog loading time and I was starting to receive too many automated comments that initially looked okay, but were actually from dubious hackers. I'm also going to delete several blogs that I follow, because some people load their sites with so much commercial crap and fancy schmancy that it takes forever to load and often locks up my old computer.

pss 04/20/10 - I've also blocked several followers. That big eye avatar was starting to creep me out, so I checked it out. Looks like it's someone with decent internet programming skills to auto-follow blogs, same-o, same-o as the dozen other followers I've now blocked. And, yes I know it's supposed to be P.P.S., but I don't like having to use caps and periods if I don't have to and I really don't like the way it sounds when said out loud.

Friday, June 19, 2009

habitat ~ 06/19/09 ~ Fort Ord - BLM Creekside

Fort Ord Public Lands - Creekside entrance
June 19, 2009

Compare these pics with those from our March 14, 2009 hike. I'm usually not a huge fan of hiking at Fort Ord once things start drying up for the summer, but it wasn't too hot and the profusion of sticky monkeyflowers and beautiful manzanitas kept me cheerful. There were several spots under the oak trees which were green with ferns and red poison oak leaves.
Arctostaphylos sp.

This is not the exact same tree as from the May 23, 2009 hike at Fort Ord. I did find it interesting that the bark of many manzanitas had started peeling within a 4 week span.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

ten-lined June beetle ~ 06/16/09 ~ at home

male ten-lined June beetle
Polyphylla decemlineata

edited 03/25/12 - We found this fellow in the stairway as we were unloading our car from our trip. I haven't seen a June beetle since my Ohio days, although this western species is a bit more dapper, like wearing a pinstripe suit. He hissed when I picked him up. I wished I could have gotten a pic of his antennal clubs separated - they're spectacular!

I'm now eating crow and extensively edited this post with new embedded links in the ID. At the time of this post, I unfairly slammed for misspelling the scientific name and what I perceived to be other minor errors, when in actuality CalPhotos was the one with some incorrectly spelled "decimlineata". Since 04/18/10 I eased up on my blanket ban of and now reference it regularly. Additionally, I remembered hissing June beetles from Ohio, but over the course of time I forgot they didn't have lines on the elytra. I'm a bit more humble these days and fully understand how difficult it is to maintain accuracy for any online site.

Monday, June 15, 2009

habitat ~ 06/15/09 ~ McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

June 15, 2009

I would definitely go back to this park again! We managed to snag the very last campsite. Amazingly I discovered it simply by looking online for state parks with showers. The falls are prettier than any picture I can capture. We loved seeing the halo in the sky through the trees. We'd like to think it was a circumzenithal arc for its cool name, but ours had red on the inside. That's Lake Britton, btw.