Thursday, September 2, 2010

habitat ~ 09/02/10 ~ Harkins Slough

Harkins Slough
September 2, 2010

Unless I suddenly decide I don't mind hauling around cumbersome equipment (heavy cameras, big phallic lenses, tripods, etc...), I doubt I'll ever get a decent picture of the American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhyncho). Yep, those white blobs in the first two pics are white pelicans mixed in with a bevy of gulls. My friend I was visiting had a massive scope, which I declined since I wasn't sure where or how we were getting around the farm during my visit.

Oh, the organic farm sits right alongside Harkins Slough, hence this habitat location label. It looks like the slough area has changed since the main road (as evidenced by the submerged power poles) is now covered and many shrubs have died from the flood of water. Apparently the birds like it.

As a side note and in line with my other comments about seasonal birds in the area, I'm a little curious why a couple reputable online bird sites (Cornell and and the ever present Wikipedia state white pelicans only overwinter along coastal CA. Considering the last time I saw white pelicans was in May and my friend says she's seen them around the farm all summer, this seems to be a glaring trivial error. Stan Tekiela's Birds of California seems to get it right in saying white pelicans are a non-migrator in most of CA and includes the only correct map of seasonal presence I've found. This, my blog readers, is the reason why I'm so persnickety about backdating all my post to the dates of my photos and why I try to keep my blog posts writing to what I experienced first-hand, versus paraphrasing and promulgating potentially incorrect information.

St. Catherine's lace covered with honey bees
Eriogonum giganteum var. giganteum covered with Apis mellifera

I couldn't believe how big this buckwheat is. The fence post in the second picture is about as tall as I am. Thanks to the organic farm's native plant restoration lady, I have a positive ID. Goodness knows I'm not good at identifying buckwheats since there are so many in CA... 269 species & varieties of Eriogonum to be exact, all native to CA with many of them limited, rare, or endangered, including St. Catherine's lace.

Calflora doesn't show this plant as being native to Santa Cruz County, but Harkins Slough is only a couple miles from the Monterey County border. However, like many other buckwheats, I suspect this one was purposely planted outside of its native range. Simply based on recent CA blog posts, the red buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens) seems to be very popular in gardens along the western, central to northern area of CA, yet its native range is mostly southerly Santa Barbara County and is a CNPS 1B.2 rare plant.

So, this got me asking a series of questions (as a caveat, I am not a gardener and plead ignorance)... 1) What exactly constitutes "native" in terms of gardens and nurseries? County borders? State borders? Stolen from the woods and fields nearby? 2) Where do the nurseries obtain their initial stock? 3) Like orchid collecting from the early 1900's, could the current "native garden" trendiness actually be depleting our regional, natural populations? 4) What are the long-term environmental impacts of introducing a non-regional, yet "native", plant to areas where it doesn't naturally occur? Are we inadvertently creating hybrids? Is that something we want? Is it "good" for nature? 5) How is a "native" plant planted in a garden hundreds of miles away from where it occurs naturally be somehow better and preferable than say planting something from South Africa with similar climate? Just asking.

Btw, Apis mellifera is not native to North America; I'm not sure how many people know this. Really, they're the insect version of cows, sheep, cats, and dogs. It makes me wonder how much we anthropomorphize the plight of the non-native honey bee.

Mylitta crescent ~ 09/02/10 ~ Harkins Slough

female Mylitta crescent
female Phyciodes mylitta mylitta

As I visited a friend where she works at an organic farm, I was extremely pleased to see numerous butterflies next to the fields. The farm owner does not use Btk. I once killed an entire stock of cabbage whites (don't ask why I was raising these butterflies) by feeding them washed, organic cabbage from the grocer after depleting my home-grown supply. Many people don't realize "organic" may still mean pesticides are used. Btk is a very popular biological pesticide. To read more of my rambling thoughts on this, check out this other post.

I find crescent butterflies very difficult to distinguish between species, because the wing patterns are highly variable within species. I was tempted to call this the montana subspecies of the field crescent (P. campestris aka P. pulchella - again, why is there a need to rename species already described?). However, besides the obvious elevation difference, Glassberg notes field crescents have dark brown or black antennal tips, which is not the case with my specimen above.