Saturday, October 16, 2010

dusky-footed woodrat house ~ 10/16/10 ~ Elkhorn Slough

dusky-footed woodrat house
Neotoma fuscipes

I have absolutely no idea what made this. I would estimate it's about 4 feet wide and about 5 feet up off the ground and within 20 feet from the slough water. There looks to be a clear hole leading from the main tree branch. We actually spotted 2 of these nest/den thingies within 50 ft of each other; they're kinda hard to miss since they're so big. I would have tried to get a closer look, except the poison oak was particularly dense around the trees. I'm guessing some kind of mammal made this. Does anyone know what it is?

ps 02/11/11 - I originally posted this as an unknown nest or den. Thanks to commenters both here on Nature ID and Flickr, I've learned it's the house of the dusky-footed woodrat.

Pacific aster ~ 10/16/10 ~ Elkhorn Slough

Symphyotrichum chilense (formerly Aster chilensis)

posted 02/05/11 - I double-checked the Elkhorn Slough Plant List and this is the only aster on record. As a note, I'm going with Calflora's new genus name Symphyotrichum, rather than the more commonly known Aster chilensis (there's a spelling difference in the species name that complicates search queries). In my humble opinion, I'm wondering if this might not be Symphyotrichum lentum (Suisun Marsh aster), but considering there's no record of this in Monterey County, I'm going with the more common species on this ID.


If nothing else, California's ubiquitous poison-oak serves as a beautiful autumn (and spring) color addition. Our local black-tailed deer supposedly eat poison-oak. For more information, check out the embedded links I've provided above, or check out my previous poison-oak posts.

If you asked my husband, who is an avid trail runner (always wearing shorts with exposed legs, I might add), I'm guessing he'd say poison-oak and yellowjackets are the two worst things about California. He was born in SLO here in CA but was raised in Canada and Washington state. While trail running, he'd prefer the immediate pain of blackberries, as is found plenty in WA, versus the 1 day to 2 weeks delay of the onset of the poison oak rash. He questions the evolutionary advantages of a defensive mechanism that comes out weeks after exposure. We know friends who have gotten the rash on private parts (er, I didn't really want to ask for more details) and boys who seem to like rolling around in it as a last ditch effort to avoid going to school for a week. Many local parks and reserves have prominent signs warning about touching the poison-oak, even the bare winter twigs. If you're not familiar with it, it can be challenging to identify based on a very common 3 leaf configuration. Not everyone experiences the same kind of rash, if at all. I'll admit, I've never experienced the "fun" that is poison-oak, poison ivy, or poison sumac... and I'm a little fearful my boasts may do me in, so I'm careful around the stuff.
snowy egret
Egretta thula

This is my gratuitous bird post from this hike. The reason I say this is because Elkhorn Slough is known for its bird diversity, and this is the best bird photo I could capture. Most of the wonderful shorebirds, were too far away to distinguish, let alone to take a decent picture. I'm not very good at capturing birds in photos and really appreciate those who can, like Red and the Peanut. Andy brought along binoculars, but both the bird blind and hummingbird island were closed for repairs. We were there for 4 hours from before and after low tide. Note the black bill. Click on the scientific name above to hear the squawk of the snowy egret.

pickleweed ~ 10/16/10 ~ Elkhorn Slough

pickleweed / glasswort
Salicornia virginica
Amaranthaceae (formerly Chenopodiaceae)

I took the first picture above, because the red color was so striking. From a distance it looks muddy. I wasn't aware that pickleweed turns red in the autumn until I started looking into it. The segments turn red before dropping off, similarly to some deciduous trees, I guess.

Calflora lists 6 species of Salicornia, all native to CA. I'm listing this as S. virginica, because the Elkhorn Slough Plant List shows only this species. For an interesting article on eating pickleweed and to get thoroughly confused as to the taxonomy, check out this San Francisco Chronicle article.

ps 08/03/11 - I've made changes to the family name above.

yellowjacket nest ~ 10/16/10 ~ Elkhorn Slough

western yellowjacket
Vespula pensylvanica

I make no apologies for not getting a closer picture of this yellowjacket nest. It looks like a converted rodent burrow. Please note, someone came along before me and clipped away the dried grass from around the nest.

I used to scoff at picnic people who made a ruckus trying to get away from a perusing yellowjacket (distinctly different than pursuing). Inwardly, I huffed even more when they called them "bees" and were afraid they'd "bite". Really, it's fascinating to watch these scavengers chew away a hunk off your BBQ plate. Generally if you don't bother them, they won't bother you, er, too much.

Last year I got stung for the first time, on the head, while hiking at Nisene Marks near Santa Cruz, one of the only times I wasn't wearing a hat while hiking. It got caught in my hair and my friend could not get it out for me. Panic. For lack of better words, I now have a healthy respect for these multi-stingers.

Andy has experienced multiple stings during organized trail runs, something I admit I had little sympathy for... until last year. Part of the reason is, during an organized run with hundreds of people, there is simply too much commotion that disturbs the ground nests near the trails, often under the redwoods; the folks who are not in the lead get whammed with a defensive ground hive. For the other part, September to November is a major yellowjacket stinging season around here. Oh my, we've made emergency stops at the store to pick up baking soda, expensive sting-ease solutions, etc. None of them worked any better than another. It seems you just have to wait out the pain.

ps 10/18/10 - I should mention how I came to ID this particular yellowjacket to be V. pensylvanica, which interestingly enough is not found in Pennsylvania or anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains (as an aside, I find it curious that many species in the U.S. get divided based on this particular mountain range). I found several sites that mentioned this is the only Vespula species that has a complete yellow eye-loop/eye ring. Huh? For a clear visual of the eyes, compare V. pensylvanica with V. germanica. Although, I did find one site that mentioned V. sulphurea (California yellowjacket) also has the complete yellow eye ring, but it also has bold stripes on its thorax.
California wild rose
Rosa californica

In a time of year of dried grasses and the death of non-natives (both seasonally and by the reserve's visibly apparent use of herbicides as a management tool), it was refreshing to see this native rose blooming. As I've been looking around for more information online, I found Las Pilitas Nursery description to be particularly entertaining and perhaps a bit uncouth. And for a touchy-feely link recommendation, Friends of Edgewood has an interesting post. I'm still looking for information on how to prepare fresh rose hips for tea. As a start, I thought this was a good post at Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. I'd love to get suggestions.