Saturday, August 29, 2009

habitat ~ 08/29/09 ~ Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach - from the Pacific Grove Asilomar entrance
August 29, 2009

We walked through Pebble Beach for over 4 hours, covering approximately 8 miles, on this lazy Saturday afternoon. It was extremely hot inland (read: over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), so we preferred to stay along the coast where it was relatively cooler. The walk was nice, save for the part of trying to figure out how to get around the numerous golf courses.

We spent most of our time gawking at the tourists who pay $9.50 to drive through 17-Mile Drive and enjoying a couple $3.5-4.5 million dollar Eric Miller open houses. I suspect in 50 years, Eric Miller will be lauded for shaping the local architecture. For those who are not familiar, an "open house" is a very common weekend occurrence in the area where realtors show houses they're trying to sell; it's free and has become sort of a hobby of mine to stop while walking through town. Just like with nature, I prefer looking rather than... um, collecting (it helps that I don't have $3,500,000 to spend). My love for residential design could be the subject of another blog considering I have easily toured over 150 open houses in the past few years.

Yep, I'm getting off-subject with this post, but it's quickly progressing towards the blah seasons for me. I find I'm not wanting to carry the camera with me on my hikes now. I absolutely love spring here and hope in the coming weeks I'll have time to go through my photo archives and predate blog posts to fill-in the first-half of 2009. Unfortunately, predated posts may not show in the blogger reading list - I haven't figured out how to get around that since my post dates reference to when I observed nature in action, not when I happened to be online to write about it.

Alright, getting back to nature topics... Hickman's potentilla and Yadon's piperia are federally protected species within the Pebble Beach boundaries. Vern Yadon was the Museum Director in Pacific Grove for many years. It is thanks to him that we have the humble, yet impressive annual wildflower show every April. I did a little research and I believe our local wildflower show at PGMNH may very well be the 2nd largest in the world in terms of number of species represented. I'm proud!

Much of the coastline in Pebble Beach is very similar to Pacific Grove. I hold no conniptions that Sunset and Ocean View are considered the "poor-man's 17-Mile Drive." We love to drive the coast on the way home from the grocery store and I don't feel poor at all. I am very blessed to live here.
black-tailed deer
Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

LOL! This fellow looks like one of those plastic lawn ornaments. Granted, he's on one of the very spendy Spanish Bay golf holes with the hotel rooms in the background.

We learned from a friend in Pebble Beach that the reason most people there have insanely high fences and gates is to keep the ever-present deer out of their gardens. Since it's a gated community anyways, they're not as concerned about security or privacy. I had to laugh. Here in PG, we had a bush planted next to our garage and the deer found it within a few days; I suspect there'll be nothing left of the plant by next week. : (

Saturday, August 8, 2009

about IDs

acmon blue
Plebejus acmon

I see other people's beautiful butterfly pictures and a flood of envy fills me. Truth be told, I'm generally more interested in my hiking and getting to the next place than I am to take the time to capture a great photo (a social commentary can be made of this, but I'll skip it here). However, at a certain point if the photo is so out of focus, it may be of little use to stop at all to attempt an ID. This blog has helped me pause a little longer than I may have previously. Maybe next year, I'll have even better photos to post.

There are several different small, blue butterflies in the area, but I don't want to resort to netting just to satisfy my need to make an ID. I'll admit that in my eagerness, I'm not the most gentle of netters. Plus, I'm generally opposed to collecting various things, be it animals, plants, trinkets, or gadgets... well, ok, I do have an e-photo collection that's overloading my computer right now. My college insect collections are stuck in the garage with little fanfare and are probably destroyed by dermestids by now. I make for a poor entomologist.

There's a movement amongst lepidopterists to use e-photography in place of standard collecting and spreading techniques, similarly to the post-Peterson guide era for birds. Can you believe people used to shoot, kill, and stuff birds simply to identify them? Unfortunately, dissection of genitalia is often needed to make a positive ID of many insects. I hope someday this will change.

For most plants and animals, I assume I have found something very common locally. I will rarely, if ever, claim I somehow had the luck to capture an incredibly unusual species. There's so much still unknown or uncertain or debated, that I'm not going to attempt to tackle it here. Remember, I don't claim to be an expert!

ps 06/06/11 - Since I wrote this blog post, I have learned a little about the rarer species found locally, and I have sought out the opinions of people I consider experts. You can find those posts under * expert ID.

fence lizard ~ 08/08/09 ~ Fort Ord

coast range fence lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii

The juvenile lizards were out in abundance during this hike (sadly, I'm posting 8/29 and have many more pics to post since 8/8). The lizards were very easy to catch. LOL! During a Jay Leno show a couple of years ago, a young girl showed how you could rub their throats to bellies to make them lay still for you; that's what I did for the second photo.

I give up, for the moment, in trying to accurately identify these lizards. Most likely, it would be safe to assume it's a fence lizard subspecies. See my other reptile posts (1 and 2) for my continuing confusion. In the link I provide in the scientific name above, I got even more confused over pictures of lizards that don't look anything like each other, but the site is the best one I've found on CA reptiles so far. (Maybe it says something about herp people in general? No offense, but while studying entomology, I found the Odonata and Hymenoptera fellows behaved startling like the insects they so loved! Give me a quiet lep anytime ; )

ps - I'm beginning to appreciate how all my photos of my hand show off my genetically short pinky finger. I'm still waiting for a geneticist to remind me which x-some this unusual characteristic resides.

ps 06/25/11 - has made some great improvements since I began looking up lizards 2 years ago. I've added the subspecies in the ID above and am fairly sure I can recognize coast range fence lizards now. It was unfortunate that my first lizard ID was a dark form and possibly a sagebrush lizard.

Pacific poison-oak
Toxicodendron diversilobum

I've also seen this species called Rhus diversiloba, but regardless of the scientific name they both refer to the poison-oak found on the Pacific coast. See links from any poison-oak indexed post for more information.

Our local poison-oak is remarkably red right now and stands out against the dried grasses.

Coincidentally, my husband's poison-oak rash had just started coming out the night before from, we assume, the previous weekend's camping adventure without showers. Usually after trail running, he washes immediately with tecnu, and if he does get a rash it is very minor. I credit my almost always wearing long pants when I go hiking to never having gotten poison-oak. Knock on wood!

The rash initially looks like individualized, raised red bumps less than a cm in diameter. Since this was a very bad rash, it looked like he had been stung about 50 times on the back of one leg. He says it feels just as itchy as a yellowjacket sting, but without the initial sting and lasting much longer.

ps - By the Monday after this post, the rash had turned very bright red and started oozing (very gross!). We purchased the over-the-counter Zanfel for over $40 for a 1 oz. tube (very expensive stuff). It's a tedious process of repeated applications and washing, but he claims it helps with the itching better than 1% hydrocortisone cream.

pss - It's now been 10 days since the rash first came out. It's dried up a bit and the red has spread outwardly from the initial bumps. He says it has finally stopped itching. Not fun!

Friday, August 7, 2009

western scrub-jay
Aphelocoma californica

I know it's not kosher to feed the birds, but I've made "friends" with this jay using peanuts. He's brought some of his younger family members (note the grey head in the second pic) who are more vocal. I feel like I should give them names.

ps 02/17/10 - In the past week, the scrub-jays have returned for their peanuts. They were missing for a couple months.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #15

grunion greeting
full moon cycle (11:15pm-12:45am), clear skies

Heavy sigh... this is my final grunion greeting post for the 2009 year. I'm very glad I included our grunion greeting nights in this blog, because, like rereading a journal, it has been fascinating to see how our expectations and understanding of grunion (and of nighttime fishing/beach activity) have changed during the experience of volunteering for this project. I considered including a summary of my other grunion greeting posts here, but now I simply want to tap out my report for this one night and include whatever sticks out in my mind since May 2009. Even though I submitted our official report promptly Friday morning to, I am finishing this blog entry on a gorgeous Monday morning (The fog has lifted and the sun has just cast a glorious pink glow over the bay - Wow! Have I mentioned that I love living here and feel very blessed to able to do these kinds of things?). To see other grunion notes, click on the label/index for "grunion greeting."

We arrived at 11:07pm. The time range in parenthesis above on every grunion greeting post shows the official requested times, and I believe the start time coincides with hide tide. Our enthusiasm for arriving early has waned since we haven't seen our night heron friend Charlie the past several outings. I think earlier in the season, there was one night where the only grunion we counted were the ones "he" caught. We were hoping to see him for our final hurrah, but no such luck. I know night heron are still around in the area, b/c we saw one near the Coast Guard Pier last week while we were observing the jellyfish. During the daylight, he certainly looked more scrunched up with little neck showing, versus the elongated, beach hunting stance that we observed on the berm. I'm still kicking myself for not taking the camera with us on our regular walk.

Two men were sitting on overturned buckets, hidden by the height of the pier - I'm sure by no mere coincidence - watching the waves. I overheard some of their conversation and I concluded they were waiting for grunion as well as engaging in other activities. They left at 11:20pm, shortly after high tide. I sometimes wonder if the local, nightly fishermen know a heck of a lot more about times to spot grunion in our area than most of the volunteers and researchers. If only I could recruit them for the research project! It was an evening of illicit exchanges as we also noticed a very flashy car parked on the pier with several men sitting inside and obviously handing things over to each other. Hey, we don't really want to know and tried our best to mind our own business. The pier attracts all kinds late at night.

This tide was the lowest high tide we've seen throughout the season. The biggest "waves" came up to the 9th parking meter and later during our watch the water line was closer to the 10th parking meter, past where the pier turns from cement to wood. I put "waves" in quotes, because it was very calm out on the water as evidenced by my first photo above. Earlier in the year, we would have thought this was a low, low tide; but now we know better for next year... if there is a grunion greeting program in our area and if we decide to volunteer again next year.

While we were standing on the beach about 20 yards from the pier, the favored previous grunion sightings spot, we heard a disturbingly loud and continuous, "Crunch, crunch, crunch!" around midnight. I hopped up to the pier to check out the noise. I discovered two sea otters having a feast around the 15-16th parking meters and only 10 feet out. This was our first time observing sea otters feeding so late at night. Granted, during some other nights, we were in heavy conversation with other grunion greeters and visitors that we may not have noticed the distinctive sound that carries over the water.

By this time a flock of seagulls had arrived about 100 yards from the pier on the beach, not like Wednesday night where only a handful of mixed gull species stood about, but more like what happened during the previous new moon cycle. It seemed peculiar to me that they would gather around the exact same spot more than 2 weeks later with no obvious reason to do so. They didn't seem to be feeding; they seemed to be waiting for something considering they weren't sleeping either.

I did notice that the waves brought up noticeable amounts of sand crab bodies (see second pic above). Again, this is the first time we've observed this. No, I did not count their little bodies as wrack for official reporting purposes. Interestingly enough, the last time I saw little sand crab bodies at the wave line was on Morro Strand back on June 25th. We seem to get seasonal fluctuations on the Del Monte Beach a little later in the year than further south.

We left at 12:30am after not spotting a single grunion for almost an hour and a half, coincidentally, right as several cars pulled onto the pier with 7 people who piled out and excitedly talked about how their friends had told them it would be a good night to catch grunion. We left them on the pier to watch the beach while we anticipated the warm comforts of bed...

ps 08/13/09 - As an addendum, on Sunday we were fortunate enough to accompany Dr. Martin, her husband, and a retired CDFG colleague of hers to tour 3 local beaches not on the grunion watch list. As expected, we didn't find any grunion eggs. However, we had a lovely time and learned quite a bit. I still have many questions for Dr. Martin, but it simply wasn't appropriate to grill her with my silly questions. We love our gifts of fleeces and a cool bag!

black-tailed deer
Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

I finally grabbed the camera fast enough to catch a fawn below our balcony. It's late in the year and has grown quite a bit now. I miss seeing the twins that regularly visited last year. In my previous post earlier this year on March 11, I called the pregnant female a mule deer. Take a note at how lush green the grass was back in March compared to the dried mess that we have here in August. Thanks to another quick Google search, I found an old CDFG report, which identified our local deer as black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus) - so, I managed to get the scientific name correct in the first post. However, Wikipedia has differing opinions on whether what we have in the area is more closely related to the mule deer or the Sitka deer (see link in the common name above). I know so little about deer that I can only present the information I've found. If anyone has better information, I'd be happy to hear about it. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

grunion greeting, 2009 #14

grunion greeting
full moon (10:35pm-12:35am), mostly cloudy

Heavy sigh... this moon cycle is supposed to be the last hurrah for the Monterey area... and one of the last chances to report the elusive W-3 on the 800 hotline! If I understand correctly, the grunion greeting program finished last month down in SoCal. We'll be out again Thursday night and, possibly, Friday night... if only I can convince my better-half to go with me at such a late hour for a 3rd night in a row - it's especially challenging since high tide on a third night doesn't start until well after midnight. Once we got home, we did manage to catch Craig Ferguson on the CBS tube, which airs on t.v. too late for our typical 10pm sleeping schedule. That man should be given a band, IMHO (haha). Okay, getting back to subject...

No grunion observed. However, it was a lovely, warm evening chatting it up with other "official" grunion greeters - Diane, Bonnie, and Susanna. They're wonderful ladies! I feel badly Susanna has yet to see a single grunion during this whole season. Bonnie went out the second night during the last new moon cycle, the only time we did not. She saw a couple of grunion. For actual grunion pics this season, see my "grunion greeting" tagged posts for June 7, May 25, and May 24th.

We arrived at 10:10pm, a little before the official requested time and high tide. It wasn't much of a high tide since the biggest waves only came up between the 8th & 9th parking meters. There were ~5 people on the beach wading in the waters and simply enjoying themselves when we arrived. Much to my surprise, there were no mackerel fishermen on the wharf. A handful of the usual nighttime fisherman were tossing their lighted bobs from the pier (I had to go ask, b/c we were coming up with wild ideas of how the chemical lights somehow attracted fish).

My husband and I walked down the beach to the cement structure between 11:10 and 11:25pm, to no avail. We found a partially eaten skate on the shore (pictured above). A certain amount of debate carried on whether it was a ray or not, but thanks to Bonnie's expertise, we finally concluded it was a skate based on the tail. I loved the human-like face on the underside.

There was extra lighting on the beach sands thanks to bright lights from the Bronco World Series just down the street. A small group of western and other gulls showed up on the berm about a half hour before we left. They seemed to be hunting but not for grunion.

We left at 12:20am. Phooey!

ps 05/13/10 - Thanks to seeing a leopard shark today and looking around online, I figured out the picture above is a thornback skate (Raja clavata). Are skates and rays the same?

psss 07/11/13 - After having seen another skate, I looked into this some more and am fairly sure this is not a thornback skate since it doesn't appear to be found in the Pacific Ocean.  Finding easily accessible online ID sites for marine animals is a challenge.  Here's a good link describing the difference between skates and rays.

naked lady ~ 08/05/09 ~ Rec Trail

naked lady
Amaryllis belladonna
Amaryllidaceae (formerly Liliaceae)

You know it's August in the Monterey area when naked ladies pop up everywhere. I just love pointing them out and saying the common name. I was surprised to find out that they are native to South Africa, b/c we have so many in people's yards, empty lots, and even right along the bay. This pic was taken along the Rec Trail near Hopkins Marine Station.

ps 09/09/09 - Naked ladies have all withered more than a week ago. They are truly an August bloom.

purple-striped jelly ~ 08/05/09 ~ Coast Guard Pier

posted 11/26/13 - As I was looking up information on Pacific sea nettle this morning, I also discovered the ID of this less common local jellyfish.

sea nettle ~ 08/05/09 ~ Coast Guard Pier

sea nettles
Chrysaora fuscescens

Much to our surprise these jellyfish were still hanging around the Coast Guard Pier more than a week after we first saw them. As is the case with moon jellies, I'll see them one day and then they'll be completely gone the next. I still don't know which kind these are and hope to look them up at some point. Ah, to give credit where credit is due, my husband took these very nice pics. It was a great sunny day!

ps - Thanks to an article in the Monterey Herald on August 12, 2009, I now know these are sea nettles (Chrysaora fuscescens).

pss 09/09/09 - As of September 6, 2009, these jellies are still very numerous around the Coast Guard pier. I've never seen them last so long.

pss 09/25/09 - This past Sunday (9/20/09), we finally noticed the jellies were not as numerous with only 5 spotted near the Coast Guard pier.

pss 08/22/10 - After not seeing many jellyfish since last year, there were tons of them out by the Coast Guard Pier this morning during my regular morning walk. They're smaller this year, maybe about 8" across at the most and very numerous.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

redwood ~ 08/02/09 ~ Rocky Creek

gnome in coast redwood
Sequoia sempervirens

This is simply a place-holder post to remind me to add some other pics (plus, it makes me laugh). Over the weekend we were camping down near Bixby Bridge towards Big Sur off of the old Hwy 1 on an 800+ acre private property heaven. A group of us were attempting to blaze a trail to the beach by following the creek. Even with a machete in the lead, we didn't have much success and gave up within an hour to enjoy some cool, canned refreshment. Great fun was had by all! The gnome was a surprise find, sitting peacefully in a burnt-out redwood. No one knew how long it had been sitting there or who had hiked in far enough to place this woodsy watcher.