Monday, July 26, 2010

grunion greeting, 2010 #6

grunion greeting
full moon cycle, 10:35-12:30, overcast skies

Yeah, I know, I said we weren't going to do this again... but Dr. Martin let us know she was going to be in town and checking a couple beaches along Monterey Bay. I didn't commit to going out. It's been an extremely busy several weeks for us, and yet we wanted to see grunion this year.

We did. Count em'... 2. I'm okay with that.

Andy and I stood by our usual spot, while our cohorts walked down the beach. Karen called us over. Diane and her friend are reporting 30. I was playing with Karen's night scope (very cool toy) and didn't take any pictures of grunion for this blog. Here's a picture from last year that about sums up our experience of volunteering.

However, I did get a much better photo of that crab we saw last year on June 8. I've been looking for an ID and have been unsuccessful. I believe it is a type of shore crab. Can you ID?

ps 10/07/10 - While searching through Stanford's Hopkins Marine SeaNet site, I came upon the graceful rock crab (Metacarcinus gracilis, aka Cancer gracilis). Woohoo! Thanks to Steve at Blue Jay Barrens (link has been removed as he is no longer blogging), I now have a book that keys out this crab, but I had the preconceived notion that Cancer crabs were much, much larger and didn't believe the key. Of course, it's always easier to double-check keys once you know the answer.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

salt heliotrope ~ 07/25/10 ~ Shoreline Park

salt heliotrope
Heliotropium curassavicum

I didn't believe our new orchid friend, but he was correct and this belongs to the borage family along with fiddlenecks and forget-me-nots. This heliotrope has several common names, including seaside heliotrope, quail plant, and Chinese pusley. I think the Chinese parsley was misread somewhere and is now also considered a common name.

piperia ~ 07/25/10 ~ Huckleberry Hill

light colored orchid likely Yadon's
CNPS 8th Edition Inventory

Huckleberry Hill was the first place that I ever saw Yadon's piperia. It helps tremendously for ID to have numerous yellow flags with a labeled digital picture, complete with scientific name and common name. The plastic flags themselves serve as great hiding spots for spider egg sacs. I wish I had taken a picture. Interestingly enough, there was a chicken-wired orchid on the Presidio side of the fence. We wondered what it was, but couldn't get close enough to check it out. We may never know. Obviously, somebody is studying these orchids, but I wouldn't know who or where to go for this information.

ps - 07/27/12 - Vern Yadon confirmed to me that the later flowers tend to be much paler than the early flowers, even though I've seen both versions on this same day at multiple locations.

elegant piperia ~ 07/25/10 ~ Skyline Forest Drive

unknown orchid

We plan to keep an eye out for this asparagus looking shoot. I don't think it's Yadon's piperia, because it's a bit behind the bloom stage of the Yadon's only 25 feet away.

ps 07/23/11 - For an updated ID on this orchid, check out my August 27, 2010 elegant piperia post.

Yadon's piperia ~ 07/25/10 ~ Skyline Forest Drive

Yadon's rein-orchid
Piperia yadonii
CNPS 8th Edition Inventory

Again, another post to show the variation, location, and timing of this local federally endangered orchid. For us, it seems they are everywhere. We were simply driving to another location to show our new orchid friend where they are locally and saw blue flags on the side of the road. We stopped, of course, and found numerous blooming Yadon's. It's very typical to see rattlesnake grass (Briza maxima) wrapped around the orchid shoots.

wavyleaf soap plant ~ 07/25/10 ~ Washington Park

posted 07/30/11 - Last year I missed the blooms on this soap plant as it was likely too early in the day. Since the flowers only last one night, I wonder how long it takes before the seeds form. Without a plant list, I don't know which 2 of the 3 varieties this would be. Both var. divaricatum and var. pomeridianum are found in Monterey County.

Yadon's piperia ~ 07/25/10 ~ Washington Park

Have you seen enough Yadon's piperia, yet? I'm mainly logging these posts to document the different locations (noted in labels below with an 'x') that we've found them this year. However, the first picture above is stockier than others I've seen and asked our orchid friend. He says there can be quite the variation within species. I maintain several CalPhotos of orchids may be misidentified.

habitat ~ 07/25/10 ~ Manzanita Regional Park

Manzanita Regional Park
July 25, 2010

This is a new park for us. It reminds me of Fort Ord with all the sand and manzanitas, but it's closer to Elkhorn Slough. We'll have to go back another time when we're not orchid hunting to check out the trails.

naked lady ~ 07/25/10 ~ Manzanita Park

naked lady
Amaryllis belladonna
Amaryllidaceae (formerly Liliaceae) 
Is it August yet? I saw the striking pink of a couple belladonna lilies already blooming here in town. And, yes, I prefer to call them naked ladies, because it's so much more fun to make people look. Hopefully, this next month, I'll take a better picture of them in full bloom compared to last year. Interesting to note, those pretty red and white striped flowers grown for the winter holidays are not actually in the Amaryllis genus; they belong in Hippeastrum.

Yadon's piperia ~ 07/25/10 ~ Manzanita Park

After 4 unsuccessful GPS coordinate attempts to find this rare orchid and finding other things instead, we finally hit pay dirt on our 5th try. The first photo above is unusually light colored compared to other Yadon's piperia that we saw this day. For a much better picture of this pale individual, check out Native Orchids on Flickr. The low growing shrub where this orchid is found is, I'm totally guessing, Hooker's manzanita and it's classified by CNPS as a 1B.2 rare, threatened, and endangered CA native.

ps 06/06/11 - As I was looking at my new labels for endangered and threatened species, I discovered Hooker's manzanita is considered endangered in the state of CA.

pss 10/23/11 - I'm going through and adding labels for endangered and threatened species for CA . I can't find this particular manzanita on the official California Department of Fish and Game's PDF list updated this month October 2011. I haven't figured out which is correct, the PDF or Elkhorn's site (embedded in the postscript above) is correct. And, I also have not figured out how to embed links to PDFs.

our GPS find

I think this must be an introduced species called Trashia inweirdplacus var. bowlingpinii. Well, that's not what we expected to find with detailed GPS coordinates. We were looking for the endangered Piperia yadonii. On Sunday, we went on a multi-location orchid hunt with a fellow who drove hours from Sacramento just to see this rare orchid... I said orchid, not bowling pins. After much sand in our shoes, bushwhacking through scratchy manzanitas, sliding down steep slopes, and several bunk GPS records, we were finally successful in a big way. The failed GPS coordinates might be reliable, in another year since this orchid doesn't always bloom. I already knew where some of the local Yadon's was blooming and sure enough we found them just fine. I need to credit Andy for taking a back road and finding a 4th location. The blue flags were more noticeable than the endangered orchid. Pictures are posted on Flickr for now. Once I get the locations sorted out, I'll backpost to Sunday, July 25, 2010.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

red-shouldered hawk ~ 07/20/10 ~ at home

red-shouldered hawk perched on coast Douglas fir
Buteo lineatus on Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii

I'm glad to have this fir tree right next to our balcony. It's nature in action within 5 feet! The squirrels eat the unusual looking seed cones like corn on the cob. Plus, we get lots of birds searching for insects or perching on this tree.

We have other raptors around, I just haven't been able to capture them on camera. More often than not, I first hear ruckus from the crows (I like to call them the sheriffs of the bird world) before seeing them bombarding a perched hawk. Click on the scientific name above to hear the call of the red-shouldered hawk.

Monday, July 19, 2010

wet, drippy fog

Huckleberry Hill
July 19, 2010

Sometimes my camera simply does its own thing. Yes, this is a color photograph and has not been altered in any way. I was trying to get a habitat shot of the Monterey pines on Huckleberry Hill here in town. The fog was so thick and heavy up there that it sounded like it was raining.

Yadon's piperia ~ 07/19/10 ~ Huckleberry Hill

This is a federally endangered species. We visited Huckleberry Hill June 2, 2010 and the only evidence of this orchid at the time were numerous flags and signs. I don't know what the leaves look like, but I got down on my hands and knees and searched all around several flags for anything green. Really, the only things growing in this 30 yard stretch of path were rattlesnake grass (Briza maxima), an unidentified single-stem legume, bushes I believe are Eastwood's manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa), and Monterey pine (Pinus radiata). Thanks to Native Orchids flickr post of another Piperia, I suspected Yadon's might be blooming now and went on an orchid hunt instead of my usual early morning walk.

Bingo! It's not a very big plant, maybe 8-14" tall and would be very easy to overlook. My photos look nothing like a particular photo used on both Wikipedia and CalPhotos.

It was interesting to note that more than half the flags seemed to have blooming orchids nearby and a smaller number of blooms had no flag at all. I also found a couple orchids eaten down to the stems or pulled up from the roots.

I rarely go out looking for something this specific, but I'm glad I did. Vern Yadon (yes, the same for whom this orchid is named) states there are 14 orchid species, with 7 being Piperia, in Monterey County.

ps 08/26/11 - Ha! Looks like the picture used for both Wikipedia and CalPhotos was incorrectly identified. Phew! No wonder I was so confused when first looking at this orchid. I've already contacted the owner of the picture to see if he can get it placed properly online.

pss 12/30/13 - The California Department of Transportation has requested permission to use my first photo above on a vista viewpoint interpretive sign.  Cool!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

things I don't see everyday

unidentified massive ship
Monterey Bay
June 26, 2010

I've been seeing some unusual things lately and figured I'd make a post of links for my records:

1) The reason why I remembered I had the photo above from last month is there's ANOTHER massive ship in Monterey Bay this weekend called the USS Mobile Bay. Funny thing is, I can't find any online information on the ship I saw above, which was definitely bigger than the comparatively small USS Mobile Bay.

2) In our Monterey Boatyard there's a cute, 2-person submarine sitting in the parking lot (if you saw it, you'd say it was "cute" too). Yeah, I know, who knew such things existed? I believe it's a yacht-class DeepFlight Super Falcon. I remember seeing a similar one here last year.

3) We drove out to Cachagua at the end of Carmel Valley yesterday and passed an unusual sign and very high fencing. I googled AT&T Jamesburg Earth Station and discovered its for sale or lease. Seriously, who knew you could buy such things? I didn't even know what an earth station was until I looked it up (it's a massive dish antenna with stuff to make it useful). Jamesburg's claim to fame is broadcasting man's first walk on the moon. Interestingly enough, it's only a couple million dollars... very cheap compared to some of our $16,000,000 local homes along the ocean... and look at what you get!?! Of course, it's out in the middle of nowhere in the hot, hot summer heat. As a coinkydink, we've been subjected to several days of jack hammering as AT&T installs new fiber optic cables along our street, which made the impressive dish less useful years ago.

Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention some recent awesome nature blog posts:
Jessica's Nature Blog - neonatal Risso's dolphin
Walk the Wilderness - Indian wild dogs
Tree in the Door's Fauna and Flora - backyard bobcat

Saturday, July 17, 2010

giant western crane fly ~ 07/17/10 ~ at home

giant western crane fly
Holorusia hespera

Enormous might be a better common name descriptor for this crane fly. Powell and Hogue state this is one of the world's largest flies and I believe it. Compared to my uncertainty over my other crane fly post, I'm positive about this ID. The outdated name is H. rubiginosa. The larvae apparently get up to 2 1/2 inches in length - phew!

In an effort to capture a sense of scale with a ruler, I used the ol' fridge trick to get her to "calm down" enough to take a picture. That's how I was able to get a picture of her belly in the third pic. No worries, I let her go outside when I was done as evidenced with my last pic above... but only after I chased her around my living room ceiling with my wide-mouthed jar and a chair. I learned from my disastrous moth release = bird food episode and let this beauty go at night. Interesting to note, as she was warming up, her halteres started vibrating so rapidly that I couldn't see them. Then her 2 wings started going and she took flight. It reminded me of one of those high-tech military helicopters.

As a side comment, relative size is often a difficult thing to grasp in pictures when it's a solo or close-up shot... I particularly like these two blog posts that did a great job at showing size:
Norfolk Wildlife - marbled beauty
Ohio Birds and Biodiversity - ruby-throated hummingbird's nest (check out the 4th picture!!!)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

tiger moth on the move

See this Nature ID post for more information. I'm starting to love my crappy photos.

Edwards' glassy-wing moth ~ 07/14/10 ~ at home

I found this moth in the stairwell early Monday morning. What struck me about this particular moth was that it was much bigger than most I usually see around here. Plus, it appeared as if the scales on its wings had been rubbed off. I figured it was on its last legs of life, so I uncharacteristically collected it, put it into a small rubbermaid, and then placed it in the fridge next to the mayo and salsa with hopes to test run taking a couple pictures through my dissecting scope later in the day... yeah, I know, for several months I've been threatening to pull out the ol' Wild M5 and Dolan-Jenner 181-1 Fiber-Lite that I inherited from Sonja. My excuse is the equipment is packed tightly in the closet and I'm generally lazy about pulling things out of storage.

In any case, I've been busy, so I didn't take this poor moth out of the fridge until Wednesday. evening. I tried to provide some water thinking it'd be thirsty after a couple days in the chiller. It looked like it had labial palps, but I couldn't find a proboscis. Oh well. It excreted small amounts of cloudy yellow liquid. I took over 70 crappy photos, because this moth warmed up quicker than I anticipated and was very active.

I hesitated to post considering I thought this moth would be difficult to identify with what I believed to be missing scales. WRONG. Due to its beautiful pink coloring and bulk, I correctly figured it was an arctiid (a recently reclassified group of moths that have always reminded me of L'Oréal eye shadow for their intense colors). I started my internet search for an ID thinking it must be related to the infamous Isabella tiger moth, better known as the woolly bear caterpillar. Amazingly, it wasn't too difficult to find a match. Edwards' glassy-wing moth wings are supposed to be mostly without scales. Powell states it is indeed unusual and one of CA's largest tiger moths. Another local PG resident also found a similar moth last week - note the abdomen is distinctly different than this one. The USGS link in the scientific name above (Pseudo- seems to be a new naming addition) states it flies in September. Maybe we're far enough south that we see them in July?

Uh, I should add... after taking its picture on black construction paper, I moved it outside to my "dormant" ficus for a natural pose - mainly because I worried if it warmed up enough to fly, I'd be chasing a moth around the house. This was another mistake. As I stepped inside to set my camera down, I turned around to see one of my friendly scrub-jays had quickly scooped up this moth. I shouted, "No!!!" Too late. The happy jay flew to a nearby oak tree and proceeded to enjoy its plump morsel.

ps 08/03/10 - I'm happy to report this blog post has been included in The Moth and Me #13 blog carnival, hosted at Today in NJ Birding History by Jennifer W. Hanson.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

CA towhee ~ 07/10/10 ~ at home

California towhee
Pipilo crissalis

Can you get any more plain, brown-grey? Both males and females look like this. It's taken me a while to capture a few fuzzy photos of this bird. Again, thanks to a friend, I finally figured out who was making an early morning (anywhere from 4:45-5:30 a.m.) very loud, very high-pitched, chip, chip, chip - it sounds like a smoke detector that needs new batteries, but quicker in succession.

There are a couple towhees around and I think this is the individual that wakes me up. It's one of the few birds I can actually hear while I'm sleeping, so it's been my alarm clock since before June. I have an odd, one-ear hearing impairment, and if I'm sleeping on my "good" ear I cannot hear most plug-in alarm clocks (huge problem in college after late nights of studying), my husband's occasional snoring (conveniently useful), and many other noises. It reminds me of the story E.O. Wilson wrote about how his hearing impairment kept him away from ornithology and his nearsightedness led him to entomology. I understand.

On a similar train of thought, during a visit to a history of Impressionism exhibit in Rome this spring, Andy and I postulated that Claude Monet was nearsighted for most of his life and then developed the typical age-dependent loss of close-up clarity. His paintings seemed to reflect his change in vision as he aged. I think Monet was painting what he was literally seeing.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

sea otter shooting in the news

This sounds like the work of some kids. It's really too bad. Morro Bay is less than 150 miles south from where I live on the shores of Monterey Bay. We like to camp down there. For another news article, click to

Hunter Hunted
$2,500 reward for info on sea otter shooting.
By Kera Abraham
Monterey County Weekly
Posted July 06, 2010 10:55 AM

Two weeks ago in Morro Bay, someone shot a threatened sea otter with a pellet gun, killing the young female. The crime may have happened at sea or along the shoreline. The animal's body was found just north of the Morro Strand Campground.

Now, Defenders of Wildlife is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the gunman's arrest and conviction.

Southern sea otters are a federally protected species; only about 3,000 remain. Shooting one is punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and jail time.

Anyone with info is encouraged to contact:

  • Mona Iannelli with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: 310-328-1516 ext. 229 or
  • DFG Warden Hank Hodel at (805) 610-3920
  • or, to leave an anonymous tip, DFG's CalTIP line: 1-888-DFG-CALTIP.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

another crappy photo!

It's Elkhorn Slough from Hwy 1. Can't you tell? I took this picture while we were driving up to Santa Cruz to spend the 4th of July with friends for frivolity, a ping-pong tournament, and a hotly competitive cookie competition...

Andy didn't win again (bummer). Last year he came in second to Grandma Blaustein. I don't think anyone can compete against her cookies, especially when her granddaughters stuff the ballot box... oops, did I just say that?

I was hoping to capture the kayaks, but they were obscured by the guard rail. Incredibly, I have no other pictures from the entire day (or even any from the past 5 days). Oh well, sometimes fond memory is enough!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

honey bee ~ 07/01/10 ~ J's place

Cordovan Italian honey bee and/or Minnesota hygienic Italian honey bee
Apis mellifera ligustica

Finally, after a bit of delay (I'm posting 07/09/10), here are my friend's honey bee hives. Aren't they cool!?! She started with single boxes of frames with a sugar water tray on top of each at the beginning of May, after a couple beekeeping classes in San Jose. They seem to be doing really well as she's been checking them regularly and adding more boxes. She hopes to avoid a swarm since that would be quite a loss. Her only complaint is the bee poop is difficult to wash off her truck, which is parked on the other side of the fence on the north side.

With the pretty paint jobs, they look like something out of Martha Stewart or Home and Garden magazines. Apparently, she's not the only young, hip beekeeper out there - Myrmecos posted a fun collection of decorated hives. Check it out!

Additionally, you may have noticed my close-up shot doesn't look like your typical European honey bee. Most Italian honey bees have black bands towards the tapered end of the abdomen. There are different traits that can be bred into honey bees, such as light color (Cordovan) or hygienic behavior (Minnesota). She got 2 queens which had been open mated, so, interestingly, not all the workers are light in color. Apparently the lighter color is a recessive genetic trait, so I'm guessing you must have a queen with the Cordovan gene (expressed or not) to ever see the lighter color in the workers. I'm not sure what the other mixes would be. We started joking about who had the job to artificially inseminate queens for pure stocks. I think in beekeeping terminology this is called "instrumentally inseminated." Seriously, how would one do that?... and this is coming from someone who has performed surgery on male sabethine mosquitoes over cold tables.

For a completely related link, but not, check out this odd story of how bee hive declines are being blamed on cell phones. My personal belief is that there are not enough new beekeepers who know what they're doing and fewer sources of genetically variable stock bees available. No offense to my friend! Our neighbors had a bee hive last year and it died over the winter. Bless their hearts, they're trying again this year. I love peeking over their fence to see how their hive is faring.

ps 07/14/10 - I found this beekeeper's blog post incredibly fascinating from Fox Haven Journal.

ps 06/17/11 - My friend says she didn't purposely order Cordovan queens but rather Minnesota hygienic queens, so I've made slight corrections in the ID above and in the text. I found this Wikibooks article to be informative about the different races and traits. Since she had open mated Italian queens, her worker bees were of mixed traits and possibly mixed races.

bumble bee ~ 07/01/10 ~ J's place

yellow-faced bumble bee
Bombus vosnesenskii

Ménage à quatre? I was visiting a friend to check out her newly expanded honey bee hives and while we were talking we noticed this pile of bumble bees on the fence. This hefty female had 3 males on her, with one actively doing the deed. I don't know, but it seems a little early in the year for bumble bees to be mating.

Click to see the orange-rumped bumble bee, my only other bumble bee post so far. These two species both have yellow faces. The orange-rumped (not always orange in color) has additional yellow bands of fuzz where the thorax meets the abdomen. In contrast, notice above the yellow-faced has black around its midsection. It's funny how the common names refer to the color of faces or rumps.