Saturday, October 30, 2010

habitat ~ 10/30/10 ~ Corral de Tierra

Corral de Tierra
October 30, 2010

As per my usual, I post landscape pictures to show the seasonal changes of habitats for most of the locations featured on Nature ID. Serious rain for the winter season began about a week before this visit and shoots of green grass are just starting to pop up after a typically dry summer. In the second picture above, the ocean is barely visible in the distance. This is my second Corral de Tierra habitat post; the first one was taken on a much greener February 13, 2010.

crow and sea lettuce ~ 10/30/10 ~ Monterey Municipal Beach

American crow picking through sea lettuce
Corvus brachyrhynchos picking through Ulva sp.

It's posts like this that remind me why I truly like creating this blog. I've spent a very enjoyable morning searching online for crows and sea lettuce (an unusual combination)... and learning new things that I would have otherwise shrugged aside. If you're visiting Nature ID for the first time, make sure to click on the embedded links above in the common and scientific names.

I was surprised to discover there are at least 3 species of crows in North America, the others being the northwestern crow (Corvus caurinus) and the fish crow (Corvus ossifragus), and not to overlook the closely related common raven (Corvus corax) and Chihuahuan raven (Corvus cryptoleucus). Also, for recipes of sea lettuce, aka green laver, check out MBARI's site.

Oh! I guess I should mention this is the beach we usually do our nighttime grunion greeting in the summer. I've never seen the sea lettuce washed ashore like this, but autumn seems to be the time when the ocean sheds it summer growth, too. Interestingly enough, this was only a few beach miles away from Fort Ord Dunes State Park that we visited the same day.

ps 07/19/16 - From a recent news report, the green is Ulva lactuca.

habitat ~ 10/30/10 ~ Fort Ord - Dunes State Park

Fort Ord Dunes State Park
October 30, 2010

This California State Park officially opened in March 2009. It's directly across Hwy 1 from California State University, Monterey Bay. Finding the parking lot is a bit challenging, because you have to maneuver through confusing old Fort Ord roads, past dilapidated buildings and massive piles of broken concrete. Unlike many other State Parks, there's no day use fee and not much in terms of services: a large porta potty, a couple picnic tables in the parking lot, and a short boardwalk with very good interpretive signs.

The dune bluffs erode away at about 5 to 8 ft a year. I got this information from one of the interpretive signs, which is quoted in the SF Chronicle. The evidence of this claim is Stilwell Hall almost fell into the ocean despite initial plans to make it a visitor center for the new State Park. The beach is definitely not a swimming beach and large signs warn of rip currents. However, the views of the entire Monterey Bay, from Pacific Grove to Santa Cruz, are incredible from atop the dunes or down on the beach.

To get down to the water there's a short walk through a dune valley of sorts. The dune bluffs go straight up on both sides with some unusual sand graffiti etched into the firmer parts of the bluff. It felt like a scene from one of those cheesy old Star Trek shows where they're checking out a new planet. Scotty, set your phaser on stun!

hottentot fig
Carpobrotus edulis

They're in the process of restoring the dunes by removing the invasive hottentot fig, which is just starting to turn red for the season. This is no small task since this iceplant from South Africa is everywhere. According to the interpretive signs, black legless lizards, Monterey spineflower, Menzies' wallflower, dune gilia, Smith's blue butterfly, and snowy plovers can be found here. We didn't see any of them but enjoyed our quick visit anyways.

brown pelicans ~ 10/30/10 ~ Fort Ord Dunes

brown pelicans
Pelecanus occidentalis

This is my first entry of brown pelicans in flight. Usually my pics are so distant and fuzzy that they're not worth posting. Plus, I've gotten a little camera shy trying to take pics of pelicans as they've flown over my head, because I've been pelted with massive glops of poo. It sounds like a machine gun as the numerous heavy drops splat. I think I'd rather be beaned by a seagull.

Again, as with white pelicans, the seasonal range maps seem to be off for our area. Everything I've seen states they're only here in the winter. I swear they're here all year-round. I'll have to search my picture archives to see if I have brown pelican pictures from the summer months.

At least with this photo, I finally discovered the most obvious difference between adult and juvenile brown pelicans. The juveniles have light-colored bellies and a distinct white line along the underwing. The adults have all grey as seen from below. I believe there are 2 juveniles, of different ages, flying in the picture above.

yellow sand verbena
Abronia latifolia

This is a cheery little sand dune plant. It's a welcome sight in an area overrun by the hottentot fig, an iceplant. As I was looking this up, I was surprised to find it's in the same family as the bougainvillea. I read somewhere this is the only yellow colored sand verbena; based on a search of Calflora, this looks like it might be true as the others range in color from white to pink to purple.

ps 11/04/10 - Could someone do me a favor and click on the embedded link above to Calflora? I'd like to know whether what I see as a registered user is what the public can access. Thanks!

turkey ~ 10/30/10 ~ Corral de Tierra

wild turkey
Meleagris gallopavo

Are you ready for the next holiday? It always seems to be autumn before I see turkeys out and about. I'm not sure exactly why, but our local turkeys appear skinnier than most online pics. Of course, I've seen the males puff up into their trademark Thanksgiving pose, but otherwise they look kind of prehistoric. It's a bit shocking to witness these huge birds take flight. I don't have much to say about wild turkeys, except that I know the domesticated ones found frozen and wrapped in plastic at the grocery are the same species.

Warning: if you're squeamish and prefer your food sanitized in plastic, then stop reading!
Years ago I was fortunate enough to meet a college classmate who was also a commercial turkey farmer returning to school with hopes to get out of the business. He invited us to his family’s annual Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving tradition of prepping the next day’s meal. He let us take a pick of his turkeys. We chose a "small" one at a live weight of around 36 lbs. and 28 lbs. fully plucked and gutted...
Thankfully, his teenage son did the kill and spill (lots of blood). He used a baseball bat to knock it out and then a sharp knife to cut its throat. After the blood let, we dunked the body into a huge cauldron of boiling water over a wood fire, by holding onto its legs. It was heavy. I enjoyed plucking the feathers, but I was surprised at how warm the body and guts still were when I reached in to pull out the innards.
In their backyard, they had a deep, dug-out pit with a metal barrel inserted, with the top lid flush with the ground, next to the cauldron fire. I think someone added coals to the pit throughout the night to slow-cook their turkeys… and it’s no wonder! We had to keep our prepped turkey wrapped in a garbage bag outside until the next morning, since we couldn’t fit it in our fridge. I ended up squeezing it into our oven at 6am to start the roasting in time for dinner.
It was the best turkey I ever ate! I liken the freshness to just-caught fish or just-cut vegetables. I find most elaborate recipes (including brining, save for religious purposes) are designed for the sole purpose to mask the “old” flavor of long-stored/frozen meats and vegetables.
What are you eating for Thanksgiving? I think I'm going to cook ham.

tarantula ~ 10/30/10 ~ Corral de Tierra

Just in time for Halloween! This tarantula was crossing the road and of course we stopped. I'm fairly sure it's a male, because some of my numerous pictures clearly show spurs on the underside of the front "knees." As big as he seemed, his cephalothorax was not much bigger than a dime. When I touched his back legs, he'd arch his abdomen up and spread out his spinnerets. He was very camera friendly and would walk toward me when I got down on the ground to take pictures. We tried to herd him to the side of the road, but he seemed to prefer roaming around on the road... which was terribly unfortunate. As we were leaving him to his thing, he got squished by a passing car. I almost cried.

While I believe this is an Aphonopelma eutylenum, I've e-mailed Brent Hendrixson at The American Tarantula Society to confirm and will update this post when I hear back. For more photos, see my Flickr set.

ps 11/01/10 - For other regionally local tarantula sightings, check out Idora Design, Nature Visions, and Dipper Ranch.

pss 11/12/10 - Again, another tarantula post, not necessarily local, Weird Bug Lady's blog post.

pss 11/15/10 - I heard back from Brent after sending a second e-mail without a photo attachment. With his permission, here's what he said, "This is a tough group of spiders. The species belongs to what we call the "Aphonopelma eutylenum" species complex, a group of several closely related species whose identities remain elusive because they are difficult to distinguish (in fact, I think they're more than likely all the same species). I know this isn't terribly helpful, but that's where we're at with this group right now." Thank you, Dr. Hendrixson!