Sunday, June 27, 2010

monarch ~ 06/27/10 ~ Rec Trail

monarch butterfly
Danaus plexippus
My hometown of Pacific Grove is somewhat known for its overwintering sites of the monarch butterfly. In fact, there's a registered something somewhere that says PG is "Butterfly Town, U.S.A.", in addition to "America's Last Hometown" and "America's Most Romantic Town".  I think our local chamber of commerce went into overdrive with these "known as" slogans.  And get this, there's a city ordinance on the books that'll fine you $1000 if you're caught molesting a monarch.  I'm not joking.  As I've stated before there are at least 300 known monarch overwintering sites all along the Central Coast of CA, so PG is hardly unique.

As evidenced with my picture above, monarchs are here during the summer months, too. An older friend Pat Antonio (doing well in her 90's) says she remembers there being more monarchs here year-round when the Southern Pacific Railroad still operated and milkweed grew wild along the tracks.  She lives within view of the old railroad station.  The former track path has since been converted into the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail.  She claims that since the City started maintaining the trail and removing milkweed, she noticed a dramatic decrease in summer populations of monarchs.

ps 09/18/14 - Pat passed away last year March.  I was sad to hear of it, but she lived an amazingly adventurous life.  She gave me Powell and Hogue's California Insects when I first moved back to CA.  I had Jerry sign it, and I treasure it.  Thank you, Pat, for your stories and encouragement.

From the time I initially wrote this post in 2010, I asked another friend Bee about Pat's report of milkweed along the railroad tracks here in town.  While Bee was a student up at Stanford studying plants, she would often ride the train home.  However, she didn't live here in town and would be picked up for the short ride down to the Highlands.  She claims there never was any milkweed.  She's also 15 years younger than Pat, so it could be a timing thing if the City had already started weeding.  Then, Vern Yadon, our local botanist of piperia-naming fame, told me he doesn't believe milkweed can even grow on the Peninsula because of the climate.  It's often loudly proclaimed that Pacific Grove does not have monarchs here year-round (I'm not sure why, maybe to boost the specialness of the overwintering tourism?), but this post is evidence to refute popular knowledge.  With all my butterfly activities this year, I specifically noted seeing monarchs flying past my living room window in July, August and just yesterday.  So, I'm telling you, there's gotta be milkweed somewhere near.  It just hasn't been found, yet.

pss 10/25/14 - I originally, and quite ignorantly, included a bit about tagging by the Ventana Wildlife Society, mainly because of my tagging experience in Ohio.  They don't tag!  They do an annual Thanksgiving Count.  Ha!  That was a gross error on my part.  Also, I discovered a friend of ours has non-native milkweed growing in her yard.  She said she got the seeds at the local natural history museum, and she had plenty of monarch caterpillars this year.  According to the package, the seeds should not be planted within a mile of the Sanctuary.  There you go.

planted gull

Sometimes, I just want to post a picture without having to look up stuff. This gull gave me a good laugh today. I wondered if it had made a nest in this planter behind the historical Doc Ricketts lab on Cannery Row.

west coast lady ~ 06/27/10 ~ Rec Trail

west coast lady
Vanessa annabella

This "lady" was defending its territory (or was it flirting?) with the red admiral shown below in a frenetic butterfly swirl and chase. The red admiral was definitely the aggressor in this encounter. Shapiro states the two species can hybridize. To see what this hybrid V. atlanta var. edwardsi looks like check out

red admiral ~ 06/27/10 ~ Rec Trail

red admiral
Vanessa atalanta

The flash went off for the first photograph and I kinda like the result. If all I had was that pic, I'd have a hard time identifying this butterfly. Usually at rest, red admirals show much more of the underside of their forewing with distinctive red, blue, and white stripes (a little early for the 4th of July). Click on the common name above to see what I mean. From the topside, the red stripes makes it obvious which butterfly this is. Red admirals are quite common around here and are indeed common around the world. Like buckeyes, they like to sun themselves in the afternoon on dirty paths, which doesn't make for a pretty backdrop.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

grunion greeting, 2010 #5

grunion greeting
full moon cycle, 10:45-12:00am, overcast skies

Sorry to say, this may have been our last hurrah to look for the locally elusive Leuresthes tenuis. We haven't seen any this year at all and it's beyond discouraging. To be fair, unlike last year, we're not going out 1/2 hour before high tide for 2-3 nights in a row. I was counting on the June full moon to deliver a grunion run, but no such luck.

Since we were asked to stay out to 1:00am, we took a nap. When my alarm went off, I woke up confused wondering who'd be calling us so late. Then I heard a mumble from the other side of the pillows, "I don't want to go... but if you insist, I can be convinced." Gotta love the man!

When we arrived there were a couple bonfires and 16-25 people all along the beach, many in the water with flashlights. We assumed it was Dr. G's entourage, but instead the group turned out to be a couple families of local fishermen. I talked with some of them and they were very friendly. Some of the wives were hula dancers for a beach party at Adventures by the Sea back in 2007 when they saw a big grunion run (it amazes me how all these local stories refer to that particular summer). This is the first year they decided to try collecting grunion. Usually, they're on the pier at night using lines for smelt and mackerel. Apparently, they came out the 2 nights after the last new moon (6/13 & 6/14). They claim they saw a ton of grunion by flashlight in the shallow waters that Sunday night and nothing on Monday night. When I asked if they noticed any laying eggs in the sand, they said no. Andy pointed out that he wasn't sure if what they saw were really grunion since there are several kinds of small silvery fish.

We walked down to the cement structure and by the time we got back to the pier most of the group had left. There were 2 young sea lions near the pier and 3 seagulls in the usual spot 100 yards out on the berm. By 11:30 the MBARI fellow and a couple interns from St. Louis arrived. They, too, walked down the beach. I wasn't feeling all that well, so we left early figuring if any grunion showed up George would report it.

We may not continue with this program given the extra effort it takes to drag ourselves out of bed to get to the beach... or to make it through the next day. I may never get a chance to report a W-3 and I even had the 1-800 number hotline programmed on my cell. Phooey!

Friday, June 25, 2010

the ugly duckling

mute swan
Cygnus olor
Windsor, England
November 5, 2006

I had never seen swans before this trip and was amazed by how big they were. Can they really fly? Those old-fashioned nursery rhyme illustrations of small children riding swans are not much of an exaggeration. Or maybe that was Mother Goose?

Thanks to Janet's comment below, I got a lead for the pic above in my original "can you ID ?" post and, naturally, I looked into it. Apparently, the Duckling hero in this famous Hans Christian Andersen tale is a Cygnus. There seems to be some consensus that Anderson was writing about himself in this story. The best English online translation of Den grimme ælling that I could find is an old public domain version from The Harvard Classics. It's an amazing nature-related story, much better in direct translation than those silly, nonsensical children's folk summaries.

ps 02/25/12 - For a great video of the mute swan courtship, check out dreamfalcon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gannet Beach Adventures

Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
February 23, 2007

Sometimes, I see other CA blogs (like John Wall's recent Pt. Reyes post) and can't help but think of our trip to New Zealand a couple years back. It surprised me how much New Zealand reminded me of California, from the geology on the North Island to the dry, yellow grass, wine regions on the South Island. We signed up for the Gannet Beach Adventures tour of the local gannet reserve thinking it'd be pretty lame. Seriously, who in their right mind would ride on a tractor trailer on the beach??? Much to our delight, not to mention getting stuck on those massive beach rocks, it was incredibly fun with the kiwi charismatic and knowledgeable local guides. I highly recommend this tour if you ever find yourself anywhere near Napier. There was a small chippies place on the only road out (sorry, I forget the name, but it was the only place, on the only road, so I imagine it wouldn't be too hard to find) that had the best fish and chips I have ever had!... and, of course, it was served on newspaper.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

California sea lion
Zalophus californianus

Are you tired of seeing sea lions here? I know I am. The pictures above don't give an accurate sense of just how many sea lions are still in the area. I've mentioned previously that they're really stinky, which makes watching them for any amount of time almost unbearable for me. Please see my previous posts dated June 6, 2010 and May 5, 2010 for postscript notes of my observations of unusual birthing and new local gathering spots during the past couple months. True to their word, the Marine Mammal Center and NOAA taped off some beaches and placed additional signs up designating the "temporary rookery" and federally protected status of CA sea lions. Quite honestly, with all the yellow plastic tape around the rec trail, it looks like there's a police investigation or something.

Recently (06/18/10), I chatted a bit with a local, nationally recognized marine sanctuary volunteer. He calls the birthing of CA sea lions in our area a catastrophe. While he's seen mothers trying to nurse their newborns, he hasn't seen any milk produced. He thinks there's a lot of misinformation being given out to the public by local organizations. He said the females didn't have enough food down in the Channel Islands and that's why they headed this far north. I'm not sure how he would know this.

I am curious to know how the mass numbers of sea lions this year are affecting the populations of squid, sardines, mackerel, smelt, anchovies, and grunion.

ps 06/28/10 - For more information check out The Marine Mammal Center's post on this unusual local birthing.

Coulter's matilija poppy
Romneya coulteri

I'm adding the label of the fried egg poppy to garden plants, even though it is a native wildflower to some parts of California. This particular plant is easily 10 feet tall with 7 inch wide flowers and is going gangbusters right now.

strawberry tree ~ 06/20/10 ~ Rec Trail

strawberry tree
Arbutus unedo

Well, color my bark red, this is a different species than our native madrones (A. menziesii) that I've seen at Los Padres Dam and Mt. Madonna County Park. This strawberry tree is very popular here in Monterey and can be found in many city-maintained areas. The fruits, which are so bright they appear to be fake, stain the sidewalks when they drop. I'm interested in how the pink flowers and orange and red fruits can all be on the same tree at the same time. It's native to Europe.

ps 12/07/11 - To see these trees in their native habitat, check out Cittaslow Botanik Park in Turkey. There they call it

Saturday, June 19, 2010

moths ~ 06/19/10 ~ at home

Oidaematophorus sp.?

ceanothus nola moth
Nola minna

These pics are for Chris Grinter of The Skeptical Moth blog. He works at Cal Academy and is a smart, young lepidopterist. His description of spreading microlepidoptera is impressive and would be a handy addition to any basic entomology textbook. It takes talent, patience, just the right amount of blow, and a steady hand to create beautifully pinned specimens.

Chris was kind enough to include a link to a post of mine on a blog carnival he hosted called The Moth and Me # 12. For The Moth and Me carnivals #s 1-11, check out North American Moths.

What? You don't know about blog carnivals? Me neither. I still don't really understand them. I thought I'd have to do something elaborate or fabulous, but, no, I just had to say "okay" and there you go.

My moth pics are nothing to brag about. Squirrel's View blogger has posted amazing pictures of a rosy maple moth and a giant leopard moth. Incredible!

ps 06/21/10 - I initially posted these as unidentified moths. Thanks to Chris, I've added the IDs with links above.

Friday, June 18, 2010

kicking the coffee habit

Yep, I used to be a Maxwell House drinker... that is until I met Andy and his Pacific Northwest, highfalutin, fancy coffee preference (read: industrial strength oil that'll change your views of life forever - and, no, I'm not talking about BP!), which somehow goes hand-in-hand while wearing flannel, multi-pocketed shorts, and dark socks with water sandals. After exceeding my baggage weight limit this past December by hauling home numerous pounds of Batdorf and Bronson, I discovered I didn't feel all that great after such a strong cuppa joe.

Now, I'm opting for green tea. I like the super-cheap generic kind in a pint glass with those convenient reusable paper sleeves that the Mr. brings home to me after going out for coffee (we've long been out of B&B).

Time for my morning excursion. Hope to see some celebrities in town for the local U.S. Open and hope to forget all about the continually depressing news headlines this morning.

Wishing you all a better day than how mine is starting.

ps - Maybe my bad attitude (or lack of high-octane caffeine?) is affecting how I experience things... I was rudely ejected from the Monterey Crepe Co. in downtown Monterey this morning, because I waited before ordering by watching the last 2 minutes between U.S. and Slovenia. It's too bad, I really like crepes.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

acorn barnacle ~ 06/17/10 ~ Coast Guard Pier

red-striped acorn barnacle
Balanus pacificus

Amazingly, this is an arthropod. Can you believe? This is a big specimen at 32mm along its base. I admit to bringing it home from the commercial boat loading dock parking lot and am not sure what to do with it now. Is it still alive? I'm tempted to get a bucket of ocean water to see if it'll open up. I'm making a huge guess as to its ID since there's not a lot of online information for barnacle species. Mainly, because of its size, I'm thinking it must be a Megabalanus. I did find a wonderful marine blog from across the pond while searching for the ID: Jessica's Nature Blog.

ps 11/30/13 - I originally posted this as Megabalanus californicus, but the variation of reported sizes, 30 mm to 60 mm, has continued to bother me.  So, I'm going with the smaller locally found Balanus pacificus as listed in The Beachcomber's Guide to Seashore Life of California.  Part of my problem for tracking an ID is that a couple of my favorite sites (like Walla Walla University and Washington State University) are too far north to include this pretty barnacle, which reportedly ranges from Chile and Peru to Monterey Bay.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

grunion greeting, 2010 #4

grunion greeting
new moon cycle, 10:40-11:35pm, clear skies

No grunion, but it was an interesting time, nonetheless. There were a lot of cars on the lower part of the pier with very few obvious fishermen... maybe because it was Saturday night, or the hot weather kept people out on the beach with bonfires, or a delayed airing of the World Cup was playing at the pub on the other side of the pier. With all the lights and no Charlie sighting this year, we didn't expect to see much grunion activity. We did see a couple fancy schmancy, lighted, remote-controlled flying toys and hundreds of small sand crabs in the surf.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

habitat ~ 06/09/10 ~ Mt. Madonna County Park

Mount Madonna County Park
June 9, 2010

This was a lovely local place to camp less than an hour away from home. Our very friendly ranger told us it can get out of hand with drunken weekend revelers from the S.F. Bay area. We had the entire camp area to ourselves in the middle of the week, which was perfect for some private outdoor activities. The trails are in great condition and meander through cool redwood groves to hot manzanita and madrone areas.

Interestingly enough, there's an extensive archery course throughout - by this, I mean a true hiking and shooting course - not a static range - with targets of paper boar and bear nestled among the trees and complete with bow rests and benches. It reminded me a little of disc golf courses in our area. The poor, lone ranger said he hasn't brought his young son over since it'd be a hard time to find stray arrows. Apparently, the bowman's association designed the course so that any stray arrows don't land near the trails. Um, okay, I'll try to trust this information.

ps 01/06/10 - Having reviewed my pictures from our recent excursion to Mt. Madonna, I should mention the last picture above is looking east towards Gilroy.

in honor of the crappy photo blog


I have been trying for over a year to get a decent picture of columbine to post to Nature ID. No can do. Maybe the funny angles of this flower keep the camera from auto-focusing properly. Or maybe its tall stalks wave too much in the slightest breeze?

One of the earliest nature blogs I found was the Crappy Photo Blog. I loved it for its honesty. Don't we all have crappy photos? It's too bad they haven't posted anything in months.
redwood sorrel
Oxalis oregana

As the name suggests, I often see massive carpets of shamrock-shaped redwood sorrel under redwoods. The pic above shows leaf litter from coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflorus) which is a beech, not a true oak. Most of the redwood sorrel flowers I've seen in the area are white like shown here, not deep pink like is commonly pictured online.

Pacific gopher snake ~ 06/09/10 ~ Mt. Madonna

Pacific gopher snake
Pituophis catenifer catenifer

Thanks to Cindy at Dipper Ranch, I feel very confident in identifying gopher snakes now. I look for the dark line that drops straight down below the eye. Gopher snakes sure can get big! This one was easily over 4 ft. long.

purple foxglove
Digitalis pupurea
Plantaginaceae (formerly Scrophulariaceae)

While this is an introduced species, I still love seeing it out in the woods... often where nothing else is blooming. It's native to Europe.

spotted tussock moth ~ 06/09/10 ~ Mt. Madonna

spotted tussock moth
Lophocampa maculata

This caterpillar somehow landed on my arm while hiking. It was only about 1/2 inch long and, boy, did it have a lot of personality. I'm guessing it recently hatched and was still in the first or second instar.

ps 06/18/12 - I forgot to include this in my blog carnivals list exactly 2 years ago. I'm happy to report this blog post has been included in The Moth and Me #12 blog carnival, hosted at The Skeptical Moth new site.

white fallow deer
Dama dama

Seeing these white deer while camping was a bit of a surprise. I really like the woody pattern on the fuzzy antlers. The females look like large goats to me.

In the 1930's William Randolph Hearst, of the Hearst Castle fame, gave a pair of fallow deer to the Henry Miller Estate, probably for hunting or novelty; these are those descendants. Henry Miller, an extraordinarily successful (and perhaps not very charitable) cattle rancher and an influential figure in California's land use history, built an elaborate summer home complex on Mt. Madonna. This land is now a part of the Santa Clara County Parks.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I love a good campfire.

Yeah, well, it's probably not the most environmentally sound, but I do like campfires. This may have been our last hurrah for a while as our schedules won't allow much camping this year. Too bad we forgot to bring along marshmallows; I don't like s'mores anymore but making tiki torches of flaming white fluff is very satisfying. This trip was extra nice considering we had the entire campground and most of the trails to ourselves during our stay... save for the talkative ranger who was totally charming, and yet, a bit weird to boot. It is after Memorial Day and the local schools are out for the year, so I wondered where everyone was. I would choose to camp here over Yosemite any day.

habitat ~ 06/08/10 ~ Harvey West Park

Harvey West Park
June 8, 2010

While waiting for Andy to finish a spendy "citizenship test" in Santa Cruz as part of his teaching certification program, I walked over to Harvey West Park and started a very hot, uphill trail that leads to Pogonip. It's a lovely area.

It's also an obviously popular gathering spot for numerous homeless. Just passing through the park to get to the trails, I could overhear conversations. There's a definite sense of community and shared understanding among these people who looked like they could use more than a decent shower with soap, a hot meal, and a comfy bed.

The only other time I've been to this park was to greet a friend's husband while he was passing through during an annual AIDS LifeCycle ride. Today's visit certainly felt different to me without the 3000 matching camping tents, several dozen rented moving vans, semi trucks with bathrooms and showers, gourmet catering pavilions to meet the specific desires of vegetarians and vegans, and numerous cycling support stations offering luxurious massages and top-notch medical care for the participants.

I'm utterly fascinated (and a bit sad and perplexed) by the unexpected similarities of needs and stark contrasts between these two "mobile" populations who use Harvey West Park, the local homeless and the local well-to-do who still ask for donations in the name of charity.

forget-me-not ~ 06/08/10 ~ Harvey West

best guess broadleaf forget-me-not
best guess Myosotis latifolia

There are 9 Myosotis records in Calflora with only one species being native. My second best guess would be the woodland forget-me-not (M. sylvatica). Both CalPhotos (linked in the common names) and Jepson were confusing to me (M. latifolia and M. sylvatica). I took my cue from Wikipedia which states the broadleaf forget-me-not can reach half a meter in height and has oval shaped leaves with larger ones at the base. This is native to northwestern Africa.

Himalayan blackberry
Rubus armeniacus


This blackberry seems to have an identity issue; it is also known as R. discolor and R. procerus. I don't understand the need to change scientific names like this. The flowers are very pretty.