Saturday, May 29, 2010

Is it a generational difference?

I started to comment on a blog that I absolutely admire, and then I thought it'd be better to write a post of my own. Both my pop and I graduated with entomology degrees. Nevertheless, we found work in totally different directions. I believe we are each a product of our generations.

In his day, every man-made pesticide put on the market was a miracle to benefit all of humanity. Dad spent over 50 years of his life as an agricultural consultant and farmer. He could tell me the species, developmental stage, population numbers, and prescribed chemical treatment of an insect infestation by merely glancing at a crop while going 45 mph on a bumpy, country road.

Dad knew more from first-hand experience than a couple PhD professors of mine who merely repeated "literature" in the form of "fact sheets" from the marketing departments of billion dollar chemical companies. It quickly became obvious to me that these professors didn't actually know how to handle real-life IPM issues for which they were paid to teach. They are the same lettered men who are often asked to write recommendations for land management practices and policies. I hold much more respect for my dad than many of my entomology professors.

Now, I don't have 50 years of experience in anything since I haven't lived that long, but I did grow up hearing about Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and the ongoing controversy she ignited 48 years ago. I'm sure my dad and I would not see eye to eye if we sat down at a table together today, yet I still appreciate his knowledge. For example, he trusted the published lab tests of daminozide (Alar) and thought "hysterical" Meryl Streep should stick with acting (funny, he never said anything about Ronald Reagan). In contrast, I started wondering how there could be measurable chemical residue after food processing and what kind of effect those chemicals have on our bodies and our planet.

Us humans like to play god and control the environment. We hold a tremendous amount of false pride in being able to do so. Plus, there's a ton of money to be made in these endeavors, especially when it involves health or food. We're presumptuous to think we may know the implications of our actions in nature through time... even when we believe we're doing good.

I am opposed to the use of any pesticide, and I'm aware this opinion is totally not practical. This includes: DDT used for malaria control - we've managed to breed DDT resistant mosquitoes, so now what?; glyphosate (Roundup) which is widely used worldwide, also by restoration ecologists - there are numerous independent studies refuting Monsato's paid "research" of its environmental harmlessness; and even Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki used by the US Forest Service and organic gardeners - native, non-target Lepidoptera, predators, and plant diversity are significantly impacted*, which I suspect has greater consequences on ecology than has ever been studied. Heavy sigh. Very few people are willing to come out and say anything negative about organic, ecologists, or saving lives in this day and age. It's a tough sell.

However, I try my best to not bash people whose actions run contrary to my beliefs, nor do I hold up protest signs. And, I freely admit I've benefited from the existence of these man-made products. Better solutions to perceived problems can be complicated to figure out, take a lot of money, and are near impossible to implement given popular opinions of the day. I mostly ignore marketing ploys and stay true to informed choices I've made for myself, which meant getting out of the business of killing things for a living in the name of science (ironically, not pest control). I have a different belief system than my father, and, quite likely, I hold antiquated beliefs compared to the students studying entomology today.

* Due to my mentor's untimely death and her illegible handwritten notes, I was unable to submit field results for Btk and Gypchek for peer review as part of a larger 10-year moth survey in northeast Ohio.

ps 10/21/12 - I just found this site and am glad to know I'm not alone in my beliefs: Don't Spray California.

lilac fuchsia ~ 05/29/10 ~ Cooper Molera Garden

lilac fuchsia
Fuchsia arborescens

Lilac fuchsias are blooming everywhere around town right now. I can't recall ever seeing this flower out in the wild. Apparently, it's very popular in local gardens and originates from Central America.

These pictures were taken at the Cooper Molera Adobe, part of the Monterey State Historic Park Secret Gardens. It reminds me of one of my favorite childhood books The Secret Garden, since most of the historic gardens are hidden behind tall adobe and brick garden walls. In fact, on the other side of the wall in the last pic is a packed parking lot for Trader Joe's and Pete's Coffee; I doubt most of the patrons even know of the existence of this garden. Last year Cooper volunteers moved their chickens and a lonely sheep to other state parks out of the area in preparation for budget cuts. I'm not entirely sure what happened with all the threats to close significant portions of the CA State Parks, but it looks like even the Pacific House museum was open this weekend.

ps 06/04/10 - I lied! Right below home on the Rec Trail, there are several garden escapees next to the storm drain. Have I mentioned this is blooming everywhere?

Friday, May 28, 2010

grunion greeting, 2010 #3

Carmel Beach City Park
full moon cycle, 10:45-11:35pm, clear skies

To save you from having to read all this, we didn't see any grunion. No big surprise. This is a new grunion greeting beach for us; we figured researcher Liz and possibly Diane had Del Monte covered for the night. We looked for eggs here with Dr. Martin last year at the end of the northerly season (August, not July like in SoCal).

As you can tell by the first picture, there are almost no lights on the beach compared to Del Monte. The moon was all we had to help us look for grunion. Yep, we have a headlamp, but it's better to keep the eyes adjusted to the low lighting. It's funny how wrack suddenly becomes a potential animal in the dark. Since this is located around the peninsula on the ocean side, the waves are a little bigger and the air is saltier, not to mention we were discombobulated from the different location of the moon in relation to the beach. Interestingly enough, the high tide is listed as occurring 3 minutes earlier than at Del Monte.

Like I did with Seaside Beach last year, I'm including a picture of the warning signs. A tourist drowned here earlier this year in February from the sneaky rip currents. Fortunately, the waves were not out of control this night. I'm unwilling to check Carmel Beach during the pitch black of a new moon night.

Some people had a bonfire down the beach and were lighting off fireworks. Needless to say it was entertaining to watch while we were being skunked by the grunion. I don't think Monterey is on the official grunion greeting list this year. Indeed, last year was the first year for the program in our area. All my times listed above, now without parenthesis, show when we were out, versus previously posted times. As per Karen's request, I am still reporting my non-findings to the research program.

Oh! We did stop by Del Monte on our way home for about 15 minutes. No grunion and only a small group of high school girls taking pictures of each other. Guess it was too late to catch Liz, even though we made it home by midnight.

marsh crane fly
Tipula oleracea

The is a decent-sized crane fly, maybe the 2nd or 3rd largest I typically see in our stairwell each year. I'm making a huge guess as to species based on 1) its general look 2) the color markings on the wings and 3) the time of year. Initially, I thought it might be a common European crane fly (T. paludosa), but those only seem to fly in the fall. There's simply not much online information for CA crane flies. Powell and Hogue state there are 170 known Tipula species in CA.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

grunion greeting, 2010 #2

grunion greeting
full moon cycle, 10:10-11:15pm, clear skies

Yep, it's that time again... for extra-fuzzy late-night pics from me. To cut to the chase, no grunion. High tide was at 10:22pm with a relatively big 6.03 feet.

When we arrived, we recognized Dr. G and his cohorts right away. You can make out the coolers for collecting on the right in the first picture. BUT, it's closed season here until the end of May! However, down on the beach we met a lovely young woman named Liz. She's the researcher from SUNY and made it clear, without any questions from me, that she had a permit to collect for research purposes. I asked why someone all the way from New York would be studying a fish found only along California's coast. Her lab also studies Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia) and there's apparently a similar behavioral relationship of spawning at high tide, like with grunion (Leuresthes tenuis).

We also greeted Diane (our favorite fellow grunion greeter from last year), Bonnie (also from last year), and Sheryl (a newbie). It was nice to catch up with them. Diane and Bonnie had just come from a local Cetacean Society meeting where they learned about the endangered status of vaquita, the world's smallest known cetacean. Diane was kind enough to let us know she saw our ol' night heron friend "Charlie" before Dr. G's crowd arrived.

We saw two young sea lions on the beach. We didn't observe any on the beach last year. As per our usual get-away-from-the-crowd desire, we walked down the beach to the cement structure. Even if we don't see grunion, it's nice to get out to enjoy the soothing waves on a full moon.

For videos that show much better than I've been able, since we keep getting skunked in Monterey, check out YouTube's posts: La Jolla Grunion Run 2008 (I like this mainly for the disco music accompaniment) and Grunion run at Doheny Beach (actually quite informative for a news clip).

habitat ~ 05/27/10 ~ SFB Morse Botanical Reserve

SFB Morse Botanical Reserve in Pebble Beach
May 27, 2010

We affectionately call this place "poetry rock" for the unexpected bronze inscription find, nestled among a couple tree roots. I was caught in the rain here. After attempting to not get too wet, I gave in to the inevitable... and had a fabulous time being wet, listening to the birds, and watching the frisky squirrels. Native roses were blooming everywhere. I resisted the temptation to pull apart old tree trunks to look for lively goodies, because I was thinking I wouldn't want someone ripping open my roof in the rain while I was hunkered down for some cozy. I'm sure I would have found several amazing beetles. Only saw 2 trail runners while trekking through the muddy paths, one being my better half in training for his upcoming trail marathon. It's too bad they want to build, yet another, highfalutin, sterile golf course nearby... to add to the dozens of private backyard courses already built in Pebble Beach as shown above in the last picture.

sneezeweed ~ 05/27/10 ~ SFB Morse Botanical Reserve

Helenium puberulum


I walked right by these and then stopped in my tracks to take another look. It reminded me of a miniature, stunted sunflower. The yellow ray flowers were so tiny I initially thought something had chewed them off. I looked around some more and found several others looking just like this.

ps 05/28/10 - I originally posted this as unknown flower with a guess as to our native species. After looking some more, I'm fairly confident of this ID now, especially since it was growing next to standing water in an area of little disturbance.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

not your father's bug zapper

Morino Campground, Denali National Park, Alaska
June 14, 2004

I started this morning cleaning out one of my throw-away e-mail accounts. What a lot of rubbish! Well, at least the e-versions are way better than tossing out tons of paper mailers into the recycling bin. (Do you hear this Utne?)

Then, I came across this post from TED - Nathan Myhrvold: Could this laser zap malaria? Hmm? To skip the oft-repeated standard malaria talk and get to the goods of the video, click to the 11:00 minute mark. Interesting. Of course, they haven't marketed it yet, because it's too expensive. The way they presented it at the TED conference reminded me of the 1980's asteroid video game my father got sucked into, after I convinced my 6th grade teacher to allow me to bring the classroom's donated Apple 2e home for several weekends. My pop ended up hogging the computer!

I'm still skeptical. For a better blog post about the kind of wackery marketed towards mosquito-fearing folk, check out Chris Grinter's commentary. As shown above, I used to and still prefer the simple, low-tech barrier method over gadgets, chemical repellents, and pills. The malaria medicine I took while going to India had the nasty side-effect of pit-low depression for several months - not a good solution in my opinion.

I have a cursory interest in malaria research and keep an eye out for it in the news. From a world-as-one perspective, an unsettling question remains with me...

If we are able to finally eradicate malaria, how are we going to support booming human populations in areas where malaria hits hardest, with enough food and clean H2O, not to mention AIDS care?

For more information, check out

Monday, May 24, 2010

got squid?

Chennai, India - neighborhood market
November 8, 2006

I've been looking into market squid, squid boats, and local customs of fishing, because I have a series of additional squid boat pics to post on Nature ID. Then I remembered I had these pics from India. I saw boats on the beach, but I don't know if they use nets and lights like we do here. These guys were such hams for the camera. Notice the guard-looking fellows in the back? Hmm? Now, I'm curious to know how they got their squid...

ps 06/14/11 - I just discovered I never got around to posting the additional boat pics from Monterey Bay. Will try to get to that at some point.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

habitat ~ 05/23/10 ~ Frog Pond Wetland Preserve

May 23, 2010

We were hiking maniacs this weekend, hitting Fort Ord, Jacks Peak, and the Frog Pond in 2 days. Of course, it helps that all are within a few minutes from home (not to mention we don't have a garden or kids to toil over). The Frog Pond is not a place I normally go, because the parking on the side of a very fast road makes me nervous. My hubby used to run this pond regularly at lunch, and he was surprised by the carpet of what we think is duckweed over the water.

honey bee swarm
Apis mellifera

07/09/10 - This was a fun find during our casual walk around the pond. I'm actually surprised at the number of swarms I've seen over the years on tree branches around town. My husband has run through an actively flying swarm out at Fort Ord, which he said was a bizarre experience because they seemed to follow him for a ways. Fortunately, from what I've heard, honey bees are fairly tame when they're swarming. However, I have yet to find a feral hive in CA. While I was in OH, I used to take a group of summer science camp kids every year to see an old feral hive on one of the museum's properties. We could always hear them before finding the tree cavity - I've been thinking of that experience lately as I've been watching the World Cup and hearing the background vuvuzelas. Another fairly local blog, Town Mouse and Country Mouse, had their own experience of a honey bee swarm this spring. Interesting.

giant horsetail
Equisetum telmateia ssp. braunii

I'm not going to make a guess as to species since I know so little about horsetails. They are elegant in a horsetail kinda way.

ps 02/12/11 - After considering the giant horsetails I recently saw, I'm now making a guess as to species after looking at the two species found in this area. I've made corrections to the ID above.

pss 04/26/18 - Again, I looked at horsetails after our annual anniversary hike. I now understand there are sterile and fertile stems of horsetails (Jepson's here and here), so instead of my common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ID, I've changed it back to giant.  As a disclaimer, it is quite possible that both species occurs here and my photos of various plants show both, given the extreme variation of growth pattern on the same day.
vivid dancer on unidentified fern
Argia vivida on unidentified fern

This is my best guess for ID. When zoomed in, I think I can see the triangular black streaks in the middle abdominal segments.

ps 02/10/11 - Again, thanks to Jim Johnson at Northwest Dragonflier and I have confirmation of this ID, "You're right about the second one." See my previous vivid dancer post for more information.

habitat ~ 05/23/10 ~ Jacks Peak County Park

May 23, 2010

I haven't given Jacks Peak enough coverage on Nature ID. It's a quiet, local gem with incredible views from all sides. The third picture above is looking toward the southern curvy part of the Monterey Bay, Seaside, the airport, and the scary, honkin' huge, new development (on the right, that sandy area is merely the road that's going in!). One hill over, you can see downtown Monterey and the 3 local piers. Around that trail loop you can see Carmel and Point Lobos on the other side. Click on the link above for Jacks Peak to see additional pictures. This park is only a couple minutes from home and there are several not well-known trails that lead up to the Peak. I admit we rarely pay and park in the official parking lot at the top (shown in the distance in the last photo), since getting up the hill is half the fun.

Indian paintbrush ~ 05/23/10 ~ Jacks Peak

(pale form, most likely)

(pale form, most likely)

(normal color)

(note the very red stem is somewhat unusual)

Indian paintbrush
Castilleja affinis

Orobanchaceae (formerly Scrophulariaceae)

Given my current confusion over the Castilleja genus, I'm going to leave these mostly unidentified. I suspect I have 3-4 species shown above. The first two pics were the first time I noticed the hemiparasitic nature of paintbrushes as they were well off the ground and growing on top of the unknown shrub. If you look closely at the second picture, there's an immature katydid (and, no, I didn't do it!). Maybe if I'm really nice, I can get Mark Egger to look at my collection of paintbrush pictures.

ps 07/09/10 - After opening a Flickr account, Mark Egger took a look at my request and helped me with the IDs several weeks ago. He believes they're all the same species. I'm still finding it hard to accept, but I trust his expert opinion. Really, what do I know about paintbrushes, other than they're pretty? I've separated out paintbrushes and what I'd consider owl's clovers, in my labels below and in the side bar, despite the common names. Oh, Calflora's lists Castilleja under Scrophulariaceae, but I'm moving them to the Orobanchaceae family. Also, it seems Jepson's online objects to the term "Indian paintbrush," but I don't see anyone knowing what I'm talking about if I say "Lay and Collie's paintbrush." As always, thank you, Mark Egger!

unknown thingamajigger ~ 05/23/10 ~ Jacks Peak

unknown thingamajigger

Doesn't it look like a wad of cinnamon chewing gum? But, no, it's a hole in a tree root in the middle of the path! I'm guessing it's the opening to a hymenopteran (bees & wasps) nest, but I really have no idea. Do you know?

fairy lantern / white globe lily
Calochortus albus

These were fairly small, similar to those I saw last year at Fort Ord. I normally think of fairy lanterns as being larger and in fewer numbers like at Point Lobos and Garland Ranch. I wouldn't be surprised if someone came along and started splitting these into subspecies. I was impressed to see so many at Jack's Peak.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

habitat ~ 05/22/10 ~ Fort Ord - BLM Creekside

Fort Ord - Creekside entrance
May 22, 2010

Often it's easy to overlook a place like this. The green underneath the oak trees is amazing... and somewhat unexpected!

California cudweed
Gnaphalium californicum (aka Pseudognaphalium californicum)

It's always fun finding a new plant that I have absolutely no idea what it is. Thanks to Rooted in California, I got a lead and looked into it. This plant is also called California everlasting or ladies' tobacco and can also be found under the genus Gnaphalium - maybe those who are in the know believe this isn't a real cudweed by adding pseudo. Simply based on online photos, the flower is superficially similar to pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea). I wonder if many online pictures are misidentified which creates some confusion for a novice like me. I do think this cudweed can be distinguished from pearly everlasting by the distinctive way how the leaf bases wrap around the stems and the slightly pointier buds.

ps 07/25/11 - As I've looked into a new post, Gnaphalium is the name used on I haven't quite figured out why Jepson online is different from the 2nd edition in its acceptance of Pseudognaphalium as an alternative. In any case, I edited the scientific name above to include both possibilities.

American lady
Vanessa virginiensis

On the wing, I always get American ladies mixed up with west coast ladies (V. annabella) and painted ladies (V. cardui). I have a suspicion that each flies distinctively (you know, fluttery or irratic or with a group or only along woods-meet-grassy areas kinda of thing), but I haven't seen this kind of description in the literature. Glassberg makes his typical off comment (and it is helpful), "American Ladies have big eyes and an open mind." The two large eyespots on the hindwing from below are what I look for to distinguish the American lady from the other two, which both have what look like 4 small eyespots... if I can actually catch one resting long enough to see. Plus, from above on the forewing, there is a tiny white dot in the orange cell under the black tips, but you'd have to use photographs or pinned specimens to notice this. Sigh...

chick lupine ~ 05/22/10 ~ Fort Ord

best guess chick lupine
best guess Lupinus microcarpus var. microcarpus

Again, another I thought would be easy to identify. I checked all the Lupinus records from the Fort Ord plant list with CalFlora and CalPhotos, and this is my best guess based on the hairiness and it being wider near the top in profile.