Sunday, October 3, 2010

For exactly 21 years starting in 1982 after my grandfather died, my grandmother and I would holiday together in Morro Bay and Cambria. We always stayed at the same hotel, ate at the same restaurants, and shopped the same shops. The nasturtium was the flower I identified most with the coast. I have fond memories associated with this flower.

Then, sometime in the early 90's, I remember first being served a couple bright orange flowers next to my salad at a cutsie, coastal, cottage cafe in Cambria (phew! alliteration anyone?). We weren't sure if it could be eaten, or if it was merely served as plate decoration. Now I see them all the time in farmers' market salad mixes. To me, it tastes very green with a subtle bite of radish.

Nasturtium is a very popular garden flower from Morro Bay and Cambria to Carmel and Pacific Grove and elsewhere. I don't know if it's because I live on the coast now and have a different perspective of flowers that catch my attention, or if it's because people are planting more natives these days, but depending on the season I now seem to see more California poppies than anything else.

While Calflora lists this plant as invasive, I can't say I've seen it out in the wild during hikes at parks and preserves. I do see it creeping out of garden fences and down private property hillsides. I suspect many gardeners have to cut it back on a regular basis. It originated from South America.

ps 10/06/10 - Oh! I just read nasturtiums are often planted as a companion plant to repel insects like cucumber beetles. Haha! I'm not sure how well that works considering my spotted cucumber pics were taken in the same field. And, for an entertaining and informative post with a too cool nasturtium pesto recipe, check out Phyte Club's post.
Calypte anna

Yes! I finally have half-way decent pictures of Anna's. Haha! You can't see the brilliant red head of the male, but how often does the light shine just right? These two were at the farm stand on Carmel Valley Road and I suspect they are fairly accustomed to people; considering my impatience of taking photos, this is saying something that I could easily get within 10 feet. At home I'm still enjoying watching the high-speed chases and dives of the Anna's, although the weather is starting to turn towards cooler and potentially stormy. They apparently live here in Monterey year-round. I wonder what these tiny birds do during the fierce coastal winter storms.

So, I started looking up which other hummingbirds I might see in our local area at this time of year and gave it up for a headache. No one seems to agree as to species or timing. Stating something is a "migrant" doesn't provide much information other than, hey, you won't see it all year. Doh! Plus, I've found many seasonal generalities to be unreliable for the local area compared to my actual observations; what does "spring" mean when we have blooms in January and birds from June to August that shouldn't be here in the "summer"? I think the best site for Monterey County is still Don Roberson's Creagrus (hummingbirds are shown around the middle of the page). Interesting to note, for the many, many birding organizations and sites out there, very few offer identifying pictures of birds online in any kind of findable manner. Most sites list checklists, tables, links to other equally uninformative sites, and/or (groan) how to pay them money in the form of membership, support, or guided field trips. I'm a little turned off to birding and bird people right now. I suspect the hobby of birding is an extremly lucrative business. Maybe I should rename this blog "The Grumpy Katie, listen to me rant"?

ps 10/05/10 - I should clarify that I was looking for online sites that had specific, local information (at least within this county), updated (not merely repeating outdated, published information that's been around for 30 years or more), and with actual photographs. There are a handful of "good" bird sites for all of North America or for areas not local to coastal, central California - see my online ID resources page at the top of Nature ID for the best birding links I've found.

Perhaps it's my arrogance and/or ignorance, but we have an incredible amount of diversity here in Monterey County that seems to be often overlooked. Even if I go to the ocean side of the peninsula (literally the other side of town) or 5 miles inland (where it can be 20 degrees warmer), I'll see a whole slew of life that I don't see at home half a block from the bay shore. I've had expectations to find a plethora of information specific to our unique area and have been very disappointed. I wonder if other people find this to be true where they live, too?

ps 01/22/11 - I found The Biology Refugia's recent blog post to be particularly interesting and relevant as I figure out how I feel about birding and birders.

western spotted cucumber beetle
Diabrotica undecimpunctata

I don't have a garden, so I don't despise these beetles. I appreciate their stylish green beauty. Funny thing about these spotted cucumber beetles, they're camera shy. Every time I tried to take a picture of an individual, it would quickly walk to the other side of the stalk and yet rarely fly away. It became a game of chasing the beetle around the ol' corn stalk, as it were. I understand this species overwinters as an adult. Evans and Hogue state there are two species of Diabrotica in CA, but they neglect to state the other species. I only have one embedded link in the ID above, because most internet searches provide pest management protocols, which I try to avoid on Nature ID if I can help it.

Speaking of links, I also try to stay away from commercial business promotions. However, we were at Earthbound Farms on Carmel Valley Road this afternoon when I took these pictures. We had a lovely time exploring their annual corn maze, flower garden, children's garden, herb garden, and small store. Their humble farm stand has developed over the years into a pleasant destination. There were so many cucumber beetles on the corn that I'm fairly sure they're honest when they say they're organic. So, why do I mention honesty in all of this? Well, there was a local fracas a couple years back. As the story goes, they trespassed onto a Carmel Valley resident's yard and stripped her rare pink-fleshed apple tree to obtain propagation cuttings without her permission and then lied about it to the sheriff's office. I know several people who now refuse to patronize this fabulous farm stand. It's really too bad. What's that saying, a rotten apple spoils the barrel?