Wednesday, July 29, 2009

CA sea lion ~ 07/29/09 ~ Coast Guard Pier

California sea lion
Zalophus californianus

ps 07/31/10 - I have mixed feelings about these pics from last year. Both are of the same individual on the same day. I haven't seen him this year.

black turnstone and surfbird ~ 07/29/09 ~ Coast Guard Pier

surfbird (upper-left) and black turnstone (lower-right)

The Local Birds states the black turnstone is in our area in the fall, winter, and spring. Um, what about the summer? This looks like the breeding plumage to me, yet Wikipedia states it only breeds in Alaska? Cornell's site seems to confirm this, too. I can't be the only one who's seen these around here in the summer.

ps 08/16/10 - I saw these again this morning, so I know last year's sighting was not a fluke. They're everywhere along the Coast Guard Pier breakwater rocks.  When does fall actually start around here?

pss 12/03/13 - Thanks to John Rakestraw's recent blog post, I took a second look at these photos.  What I thought was perhaps a black turnstone female and male, or a juvenile and adult, are two different kinds of birds.  I've added a third photo that better shows the surfbird.

sea otter
Enhydra lutris

How can I live near Monterey Bay and not post a pic of a sea otter? Come on! During our last walk about town, I made a point of taking a pic of a sea otter, or two. And, yes, they're mostly spotted feeding as shown, frolicking with each other, or sleeping in the kelp. I'm in disbelief that these are the first sea otter pics I have at all in my computer archives.


You'd think after the MBA's several year exhibit on jellies, I'd be able to identify these. My husband says these are part of the permanent exhibit upstairs. However, I still don't know which ones they are. We see a couple kinds of jellies, usually white moon jellies, from time to time in large numbers near the Coast Guard Pier for a day or two and then they seem to vanish.

Phalacrocorax penicillatus

The young are getting really big now. Seeing how demanding the young are reminds me of the stories I hear about how hungry human teenagers are (LOL!). I have some pics of eggs, but I'll need to dig those up from my archives from last month to post. I swear I've seen the guy whose mission it is to post pics to Wikipedia's Monterey wildlife. He rides a bicycle and has a humongous camera!

Friday, July 24, 2009

sentimental about seasons

my dad's John Deere (September 1988)

I grew up in the Central Valley of California on a small, family farm (cows, sheep, goats, geese, chickens, cotton, wheat, corn, almonds, apricots, and boysenberries) where it felt like it was either 104 degrees of dry, extreme heat in the summer or soupy-thick fog in the winter. Everything had to be irrigated and anything that popped out of the ground that wasn't purposely planted was considered a weed. I didn't experience true four-seasons-a-year changes for the first 23 years of my life. I would read about seasons in school readers or in National Geographic Society's 1970's World magazine and would wonder if there really were spring and summer wildflowers, or leaves that honestly turned bright orange and red in autumn. In a weird twist of fate, I ended up working for an educational publisher that was purchased by NGSP.

Sigh... it's yet another cool grey, high-fog, coastal summer morning here, which is very typical of Pacific Grove...

And I find myself fondly remembering the warm, fertile fields, forests, bogs, and fens that I was lucky enough to experience in Ohio for 9 years. I adored the steady color procession of summer wildflowers and butterflies; the crisp air of the fall, marked with heady scents of apple cider and the sounds and sights of crunchy, colorful leaves; and the excitement of spotting the first bright yellow forsythias and daffodils of the spring... However, I detested the very cold, long, bitter winters where early, lake-effect snow would refreeze several times to become massive, dirty, ice obstacles on the roads. The best thing about winter in Ohio was that I could jest that I walked on water, thanks to a frozen Lake Erie. On the other extreme, there was the regular, high humidity, sticky heat of Cleveland during the summers. Often 90 degrees in the Midwest somehow felt so much hotter than the dry 104 degrees of the Central Valley of California... and neither suited me.

Thus, I have purposely chosen to live on the coast for its mild winters and cool summers. As much as I sought out a moderate climate, I still miss the cycle of "traditional" seasons. Admittedly, it took me a couple of years after returning to California to really get interested in the local nature, because, in my mind, it couldn't compare to the bounty of an Ohio summer. Too often I've hiked locally and noticed fantastic flowers and such and dismissed them by shrugging, "Oh, that's a pretty flower." or "That's an interesting bug." to be quickly forgotten. I was starting to feel too pedestrian and somewhat ignorant.

So, this year I invested in a couple local guide books and created Nature ID the first week of May 2009 (older posts are predated). My first post to Nature ID is here. Google states I've had this identity since 2008, but that was because I set up a couple other basic blogs as favors for friends who don't have computers.

Thanks to Nature ID, I'm appreciating the local diversity and uniqueness like never before... after all, there is an ocean of life within a stone's throw of where I live and if I really wanted a little warmth, all I have to do is hop in the car for a 20 minute drive inland. I love spring which lasts ostensibly from mid-January to mid-May. My favorite series of blog posts are my wildflower pics from a hike at Fort Ord on March 14, 2009.

I've looked repeatedly for another nature blog in the local area and have yet to find one that resonates with me in that peculiar, romantic love of nature like the ones from the Midwest and the UK. Here's a partial list of those that feed my soul and fantasies of living somewhere else:
Nature Remains
Tricia's Tales
The Ohio Nature Blog
Orchids and Nature

A HUGE thank you to all the nature bloggers out there for sharing your local bounty, whatever the season!

ps 07/29/09 - I started this entry on Friday and it's remained cool and foggy through to this morning. An unfortunate use of pointy "carrots" deleted most of my original post and since then I've edited this post repeatedly, because I was still figuring out what I wanted to say. I usually try to refrain from posting too many random musings on Nature ID, since that's not my goal for this blog... but these past several mornings, I felt the need to work out my thoughts in writing.

pss 04/21/10 - Lately, I've been absolutely wowed by pictures on other blogs... which got me thinking about my own pictures and what kind of camera I want next. I took the photo above for a photography elective my senior year of high school. I don't remember much from the class except struggling with an awkward black cloth box to unload the film from the cassette. I even developed the film, too. I am so used to digital now that I almost forgot what it used to be like to take a picture. Anyone remember those square, disposable flash bulbs?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 no go

grunion greeting
new moon cycle (11:05pm-12:35am), overcast skies

We had signed up to watch Del Monte Beach, but Dr. Martin e-mailed us and suggested we not go. Maybe I've been complaining too much about being tired from these late grunion nights, because she thought we shouldn't lose any sleep under the circumstances. A colleague of hers tried to catch grunion Tuesday night by beach seining (have no idea what that looks like) and didn't get any. I have to admit I'm starting to feel slightly discouraged that we haven't witnessed a big grunion run here in Monterey.

We almost went to Carmel Beach instead based on a 2nd-hand report of a big run July 7. I was hoping to see grunion hatching and my husband simply wanted to see grunion spawning. Dr. Martin said the hatching grunion would be too small to see and likely happened a few days ago. Unfortunately, getting back from camping around midnight Monday after 14 hours of driving and Tuesday's late night of grunion watching finally caught up with me and I fell asleep on the couch. My husband wasn't exactly motivated to rouse me from my sleep... (Okay, in full honesty I did say I was too tired to go out right before falling asleep. He's giving me grief right now for stretching the truth a little in an e-mail, but I do think he was relieved to not go, too. Had he really wanted to go, I would have pulled on my boots!)

We're all keeping our fingers (fins?) crossed for a decent grunion run during the full moon in August.

ps 07/25/09 - My hubby joined his regular Saturday morning running group this morning and they were talking about the grunion article in last week's Weekly. Amazingly, they went to Del Monte and Asilomar on Wednesday night and did not see any grunion at all. I am so glad I fell asleep that night. Apparently, these people are hooked and will join us on the full moon in August! LOL!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #13

grunion greeting
new moon cycle (10:15pm-12:15am), overcast skies

Holy mackerel! I've always wanted to say that, but haven't had a good opportunity until now.

We arrived at Del Monte at 10:10pm and to our surprise couldn't find a good parking spot. The pier was crowded with tons of fishermen (actually both men and women)!!! We got out of the car and asked the nearest fisherman what was going on. He said the mackerel were out. We asked how he knew and he dryly replied, "Because the buckets are full." We had to laugh at his comment and then asked how all the people knew to come out to fish. He then said, "We have cell phones." LOL! We meet some interesting people during grunion nights. I walked down the pier and talked to some folks and asked if I could take pics of their mackerel in buckets. I'm thinking there's a grunion in the pic shown above. Apparently it's mackerel season from July to August. I wonder if we'll see more fishermen Wednesday night, too.

We didn't see any grunion on the beach but had a nice night of socializing just the same. We ran into some old friends from SoCal. Their mom, our 70+ year-old friend who poo-pooed the idea of grunion in Monterey Bay, told them what we were doing and they brought along their son. His twin sister wisely chose to stay home. Our fellow grunion greeter Diane and some of her friends were also there. The reporter from the Herald never showed. The tide came up to the 5th and 6th parking meters. It was a fun change of pace seeing a beach party at Adventures by the Sea and watching the fisherman toss their lines with little lights into the water (same kind of glow sticks one sees at Halloween or at amusement parks). We left at 12:05am in good spirits despite not seeing any grunion.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I neglected to take pics of the incredible redwoods during our last trip north to Humbolt on June 13, 2009, so I made sure to take some this trip. According to the wonderful interpretive signs, coast redwoods are the tallest trees in the world reaching heights over 350 ft. and can live 2000 years. We have patches of redwoods near water all along the coast, but the old stands of redwoods up north are truly impressive. The second pic is a nice example of a "chandelier tree."
longhorn beetle

This beetle landed on my husband after his trail run at Richardson Grove State Park. Its antennae were extraordinary.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thursday, July 9, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #12

grunion greeting
full moon cycle (midnight on), mostly clear skies

I can't believe I woke up exactly at 5am again this morning after the very late night last night out on the beach (I'm posting 7/10/09). No, I don't have an alarm clock plugged in these days, but my internal clock is annoyingly punctual!!! I don't have any pics b/c I'm simply too tired. I've spent this morning editing the previous 2 nights of grunion greeting posts, including adding a comment from Dr. Martin. Three hours of sleep a night is becoming my new drug and I'm totally wiggy. Woohoo!

Diane called me earlier in the evening to let me know she wouldn't be able to make it, but to call her if we saw grunion. I really like her and if nothing else am glad to have met her through this "grunion greeting" program. It wasn't an "official" night to watch, but Melissa and Karen asked if anyone could. After initially saying maybe, we, er... I, said we would. My husband is a bit grouchy since he's had a massive headache and is walking around like a zombie, like me, from all these late nights. Despite our many complaints and generally seeing more people than fish, we have thoroughly enjoyed going out to the beach every 2 weeks, 2-3 nights in a row to look for Leuresthes tenuis!

We arrived at Del Monte Beach at 11:45pm. There were 5 people we recognized from previous nights. They had flashlights and buckets but didn't have any luck. There was another group that had a beach fire. We immediately walked down to the cement structure and a bit farther to the condos. No grunion and no Charlie! We miss seeing our night heron and figure he knows of another beach where the grunion are running.

By the time we got back to the pier, both groups of people had left. The flock of unidentified gulls were out again about 70 yards from the pier in the wet berm. However, the night was not a total waste! We saw 6 grunion from 12:25-12:30am and then 2 more at 12:40am. Since it was a particularly low high tide, I estimated they came up between the 8-9th parking meters from the bathroom. We were happy to see them. Hey, it's better than nothing! They were a mixture of scouts and pairs.

There was another fellow who seemed to know quite a bit about grunion. He came out of his car when we spotted the fish, chatted a bit, and watched from the pier with us. By the time we were leaving, he got out his fishing gear and headed down the pier. It's funny, the people we meet so late at night. We left at 1:15am as promised.
sunrise from home
July 9, 2009

Why I continue to promptly get up at 5:00am, even after a late night of grunion greeting, is beyond me. The lighting on the water was incredible this morning. This pic was taken at 6:15am. Unlike my other sunrise pics, I don't think this really captures the beauty that I saw. However, it does show that we have high fog during the summer here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #11

grunion greeting
full moon cycle (11:25pm -12:55am), partially cloudy skies

Night #2 of the July full moon cycle and we didn't see any grunion. We initially said we might not do the last-minute request by Dr. Martin to also watch Thursday night, particularly if we didn't see any grunion the first 2 nights... but I caved in and confirmed we'd do it out of a desire to report a W-3, especially considering the reports of seeing a big run on the full moon of July 2007. I think I'm starting to get obsessive about grunion. My guess is that we're the only grunion greeters in our area who have been out every single night of the study - it's giving us a project to entertain ourselves this summer and something to complain about when we're tired. Hahaha. While we've been rewarded by seeing some grunion, we still have yet to witness a major run. Phooey!

We arrived at Del Monte Beach at 11:10pm. There were 10 people already on the beach with their pants pulled up and looking for grunion with flashlights in the water. They said they arrived at 10:45pm and immediately spotted 6 grunion and a couple more afterwards. Their dog was tied up and was howling to join the fun. This group left around 11:45pm which thankfully left us to watch the waves by ourselves (see first pic above) . If there's not going to be any grunion, I do appreciate the soothing, meditative sounds of the waves. There was also a squid boat that anchored not too far from the end of the commercial wharf.

The flock of gulls was there again (see second pic). They appeared to be waiting for something. Please note, we haven't seen gulls on the beach at all this entire season except for yesterday's greeting night.

One lady from the group of 10 said she had been present the night before during the second hour. She seems like an enthusiastic grunion watcher and I wondered why she wasn't involved in the research project. Unfortunately, I was too sleepy to think quickly enough to give her the grunion volunteer info - I'm thinking I need to be grunion greeter recruiter, b/c my hubby and I can't continue this late-night program forever. A friend of hers told her he saw a bunch of grunion on Carmel Beach the previous night (July 7), but she wasn't sure if he was pulling her leg or not. She planned on heading to Carmel on Thursday night.

Our friendly Monterey City guy also stopped by to open up the bathrooms for us. He claimed he saw a ton of grunion the previous night (July 7) at 4:30am and that the gulls were going crazy. We figured that would be about at low tide, which didn't make much sense to us. This is the same fellow who claimed his third cousin sold a Spanish gold coin found on the beach for $36K. I don't know whether to believe him or not.

The high tide seemed particularly low again. Occasionally, some waves made it up to the 5th parking meter, but for the most part they hovered around the 7-9th meters. We left at 12:45 very disappointed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #10

grunion greeting
full moon (10:50pm-12:50am), clearing skies

Eh? We didn't see any grunion. I'm extra tired and grumpy today from the late night last night (I'm posting on 7/8/9). I was contemplating why I haven't felt terribly social and can't manage to speak in coherent sentences during grunion nights, and then it dawned on me that I'm out way past my normal bedtime and am virtually sleep walking. I'm starting to feel my age, and it's not because it's my birthday tomorrow. I posted these pics, 'cause I don't have anything better to post.

I've neglected to mention previously that the time shown in parenthesis above on all grunion greeting posts is the "official" time that we're supposed to be out "greeting." Usually, we're out before then and if nothing exciting happens we generally leave ~15-30 minutes early. Here are the ugly details:

We arrived at 10:35pm. There was a flock of gulls on the berm. I couldn't identify which kind in the dark, but they had brownish-mottled wings. They were particularly skittish compared to our western gulls. This was the first time we've seen any number of gulls on the beach during our several grunion nights. We were initially excited thinking they were hunting for grunion. No such luck. I believe the high tide brought up food material in the form of fish carcasses, sea lettuce, mussels, crabs, etc. (see pic above). This material was in greater quantities than in past grunion night observations. I'm not sure if I should consider this "wrack" for reporting purposes since it wasn't the typical heavier kelp or seaweed. It was a particularly low high tide (oxymoron?), only creating waves up to the 7th parking meter from the bathrooms.

There was quite a crowd at Del Monte Beach consisting of 4 official grunion greeters, 3 folks from a local paper, and numerous locals (at least 20 additional people w/ dogs). A couple of fishermen were trying to reel in something very large - it turned out to be a young sea lion. Rumors and admonitions flew about them using a line to catch a particularly stubborn grunion. Hahaha! Some people had buckets in anticipation of collecting grunion. We were all a bit disappointed.

From 11:20-11:40 my hubby and I walked to the cement structure and back, partly to get some relief from the crowd that had gathered near the pier.

I missed seeing our night heron Charlie. We left at 12:30am.

ps - As a side note, I know Dr. Martin is wondering where the grunion are and why they haven't provided an incredible display of spawning this season in our area beaches. Melissa Studer half-joked with us that while us greeters have a schedule with specific nights and times, no one told the grunions about it. Apparently, no one sent them an invitation ;p

I'm starting to wonder if something more isn't going on - highly variable fluctuating populations (gypsy moths), flexible breeding schedules (cormorants), or synchronized with overlapping generations (cicadas). Anytime when there's a mass reproductive phenomena with prevalent predators, I think cicadas. Dog days overlap in their cycles so people see them every summer, even though it takes them a number of years to mature. Periodicals generally stick to their timing. Of course, with periodicals there are a good number that don't follow the timing and show up 1-2 years early or late. Could it be like the cicadas for grunion, even if the fish supposedly reach reproductive maturity after 1 year? Maybe down south there's such an abundance of grunion that there's an overlap in populations such that some come up to the beaches every year, but maybe here up north there's only pockets of grunion so that they come only every couple of years in mass numbers. Maybe. Just postulating...

ps 07/10/09 - Here's what Dr. Martin said to my query:

In the past the grunion were in Monterey only occasionally; the first published report was in 1943 and they said that it wasn’t the first time, but they were infrequent enough to inspire comment. That’s why it is interesting that they have been so predictably there over the past 10 years or so.

The usual boundary for warm water fishes is Pt Conception. It may be that either the grunion population in Monterey is not stable but an offshoot that is replenished periodically by more southern populations, OR it may be that there has been a population holding on in Monterey Bay for a decade or so, but on the wane now. Maybe an oceanographic shift has affected them. Or, maybe they are hiding somewhere else, and have found another beach! That’s what I’m hoping the Grunion Greeters can tell me.

pss 07/21/09 - We're famous... for our allotted 2 seconds:

Btw - it's black-crowned night heron!

Monday, July 6, 2009

habitat ~ 07/06/09 ~ Elkhorn Slough - Kirby Park

Elkhorn Slough - Kirby Park entrance
July 6, 2009

We would have hiked at the official (and very well-maintained) Research Reserve, but it's closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Kirby Park mainly provides water access for kayakers, but there's a short Upper Slough Trail. It's been neglected for a bit and the prevalent graffiti and vandalism makes me think this may be how our state parks are going to look by next year. As I google this extraordinary place that is Elkhorn Slough, I'm getting confused as to who owns what lands and which organizations are responsible. What do they say, it takes a village...
western pygmy-blue on pickleweed
Brephidium exile on Salicornia virginica
Amaranthaceae (formerly Chenopodiaceae)

Oh, how I wish my camera could do close-ups in focus. This was a beautiful, bright orange copper that posed for the longest time. There was a little bit of gray shading above near the body. Below it was a solid gray with no distinguishable markings.

ps 03/07/10 - I originally posted this under "unknown copper butterfly" with the label * can you ID?, but thanks to Art Shapiro's help on another post, he helped me ID this, too. Here's what he said, "Decided to explore your blog and found I can help you with another ID. Your "unknown copper butterfly" of July 6 09 is actually a female Pygmy Blue, Brephidium exile. Note that it is sitting on a Pickleweed (Salicornia), presumably in a salt marsh. Pickleweed is one of its host plants, and saline and alkaline marshes are its native habitat. Check it out on my site. Your other butterfly IDs are all correct--congratulations!" Again, thanks Art!

As a side note, I've added the label blue butterflies, not because the butterflies are necessarily blue in color, but to group the subfamily Polyommatinae together.

ps 08/03/11 - What was once the goosefoot family is now included under the amaranth family by APG and followed by Jepson.

willet and killdeer ~ 07/06/09 ~ Elkhorn Slough

We saw this old interpretive sign (I still don't understand the need to graffiti) and tried to keep our eyes out for the California clapper rail, a state endangered and federally endangered subspecies.

possible California clapper rail
possible Rallus longirostris obsoletus

We spotted a bird that looked just like the sign, complete with grass and everything! So we got excited. Unfortunately, we saw a bird take flight from behind the grass and it had the distinctive flashy black and white wing pattern of the willet. We're not sure if it was the same bird or two different birds in the same area.

willet & killdeer
Catoptrophorus semipalmatus & Charadrius vociferus

On our return trip, we were positive about these IDs.
salt marsh dodder on pickleweed
Cuscuta salina on Salicornia virginica
Convolvulaceae (formerly Cuscutaceae) and Amaranthaceae (formerly Chenopodiaceae)

I first posted dodder from my Pinnacles hike on April 16, 2009. I found it interesting that this dodder was on pickleweed, considering I would assume there's high salt content. I don't know enough about how the salt is stored in pickleweed or how the dodder obtains it nutrients from plants to explain this.

ps 05/09/10 - By happenstance, I came across this Elkhorn Slough Research site and was able to confirm IDs of both plants to species. A better summary of the research is here. Interesting to note Wikipedia says recent research has placed dodder in the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae), but I'll stick with Calflora until they make a correction. Plus, pickleweed is now being placed in the amaranth family (Amaranthaceae). And, no, the Katie in the article is not me.
ps 08/03/11 - Both dodder and pickleweed have been moved to new families by APG and followed by Jepson.
unknown caterpillar

I'm starting to collect more unknowns than positive IDs. This fellow had fallen off its host plant, one of many possibilities, onto the trail. Can anyone recommend a good caterpillar book for native CA species?

ps 04/29/10 - Thanks to a series of blog comments, I now have this information from a reputable source, "skepticalmoth said... Well, sad to say there really is nothing. The new book, "Moths of Western North America" is spectacular - but only has a few small plates of caterpillars in the back. If you think it's a butterfly there is "Butterflies of Southern California" - long out of print, and has b/w caterpillar illustrations (not bad though). There is also "Caterpillars of the Pacific Northwest" - beautiful photos and it is FREE. This last one is probably the best bet for CA, but far from perfect." The link to the bioblabber's blog post is here.

ps 03/20/11 - Maybe Apantesis?

coast gum plant
Grindelia stricta

What struck me with this plant was how unopened buds exuded a shiny milky substance.

ps 05/09/10 - Originally I had this labeled as an unknown. I then looked for "gum plant" online because that's what some folks from Elkhorn called it. My first ID of this unknown was Grindelia robusta and was incorrect. Thanks to a plant list for Elkhorn Slough, I trust the new ID above.

Friday, July 3, 2009

habitat ~ 07/03/09 ~ Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park - McWay Falls
July 3, 2009

Obviously, we weren't hiking when I took this picture. Thanks to a lovely friend who wanted to get out of the office Friday afternoon, we were treated to a private plane trip down the coast. I would guess McWay Falls is one of the most photographed features in the Big Sur area, second only to Bixby Bridge. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is also on the list of state parks to be closed. It's such a shame!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

mourning dove ~ 07/02/09 ~ at home

mourning dove on coast Douglas fir
Zenaida macroura on Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii

Funny, but I always thought of these as "morning" doves since I hear them calling in the mornings. While we see them regularly on telephone wires around town, this was the first time I saw one from our balcony perched in the tree.