Thursday, December 29, 2011

sunrise ~ 12/29/11 ~ at home

sunrise from home
December 29, 2011

Heavy sigh. I have pictures from Christmas Day of mushrooms and questions about why branches of Monterey pine and coast live oak have been chewed away, but I haven't felt up to researching and finding IDs and such. In some ways 2011 has been the hardest and the best year for us. I like sunrises. Each day, they provide a promise of a clean slate and a chance to experience something new. Wishing a great 2012 for everyone!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

habitat ~ 12/25/11 ~ Jacks Peak County Park

Jacks Peak County Park
December 25, 2011

For the record, I'm not sure if this County Park was officially open on Christmas Day, but we took one of several little-known trails up the hill. It starts off as coast live oak woods then gradually turns into Monterey pine forest as the elevation increases. In a couple spots, freshly fallen trees blocked the old trail. I was impressed with how soft the new trail was around these disturbed areas. It felt very spongy on the feet, as if I were walking underneath redwoods. I've heard this area is called a closed-cone pine forest from a blogger who recently shut down his blog. I wasn't aware of this term before. Despite the lack of fire, it looks like the Monterey pine has no problem reseeding itself. Jacks Peak has one of the few remaining native stands of Monterey pine in the world. We also looked for where the proposed zipline will be placed, which has caused quite a controversy among the prominent older folks in our area. The views are absolutely stunning from the summit of Jacks Peak of both Monterey harbor and "the mouth of the Valley" as us locals refer to it, which is really the east side of Carmel and whose main claim to fame is Clint Eastwood was once mayor. The zipline would be thrilling and perhaps a nice tourist attraction. However, I can't say I'd fork out $100 for the experience, especially since I live here.

wavyleaf soap plant ~ 12/25/11 ~ Jacks Peak

wavyleaf soap plant
Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum
Asparagaceae (formerly Agavaceae, Hyacinthaceae, & Liliaceae)

Edited 01/03/12 - I originally posted this as a sprout of Fremont's star-lily, but thanks to my commenters, I've corrected the ID above. It's been a goal of mine to track the seasonal evidence of both death camas, aka Fremont's star-lily, and soap plant, especially in areas where they literally grow from the same spot of ground like at Jacks Peak. I've made a fuss about how several online sites have them mixed up, and I've admitted I get them confused, too, when they only have green leaves - the flowers are too distinctive to ever get them mixed up. I've now concluded that death camas is an early flowerer compared to 3-4 months later in the season soap plant.

Monterey pine and coast live oak ~ 12/25/11 ~ Jacks Peak

coast live oak
Quercus agrifolia var. agrifolia

This post is for Cindy of Dipper Ranch based on her recent comment. I wish I had better pictures of how the ends look chewed. I noticed before at Jacks Peak that tips of Monterey Pine litter the trail. This is the first time I noticed tips of coast live oak also on the trail. To me they look like they've been chewed off, but I don't really know. We haven't had any wind storms lately, so I don't think that's the reason. It just seems a bit unusual to find tips of trees on the forest floor. Maybe a pruning-happy tree squirrel did this? Anyone have any ideas as to why this happens?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

poinsettia ~ 12/24/11 ~ Monterey

poinsettia / flor de nochebuena
Euphorbia pulcherrima

Have you ever seen a 2-story tall poinsettia? While several neighborhood yards have blooming poinsettias that are the size of bushes, this is the tallest one I've found. Poinsettias originate from Mexico. Today we went for a sunny afternoon walk just so I could take a picture for Nature ID. Wishing everyone a very merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

habitat ~ 12/17/11 ~ Fort Ord - BLM Creekside

Fort Ord Public Lands - Creekside entrance
December 17, 2011

Truth be told, we didn't actually park at the Creekside entrance for this evening hike. We used the old dirt pull-off on Reservation Rd., which we once used regularly before the BLM built a fancy parking lot with pit toilets on Creekside Terrace, shown in the 3rd photo above.

Speaking of the 3rd photo and 4th photo, that's not the pretty shimmer of water in the distance; it's the extensive plastic that farmers use to cultivate strawberries. Strawberries have been Monterey County's most valuable crop for the past 3 years. I had a friend who recently worked at a small organic farm. Even though they didn't use methyl bromide or methyl iodide, they used several hundred pounds of plastic every year. It was a huge expense for them to dump the plastic at the local waste management, but it was "better" than burning all those plastic chemicals to be released into the atmosphere, which according to my organic farmer friend so many other farmers choose to do to save on costs of dumping plastic. There seems to be something inherently wrong with plasticulture. Needless to say, I've long ago not purchased strawberries, be it cheap supermarket, on the side of the road, or expensive organic farmers' market. I believe the environmental costs are too great for such a small fruit. However, I will eat them if they're offered to me. Hmm, maybe I'll try growing strawberries in my mini-balcony greenhouse... which, guess what, is covered in reused greenhouse plastic?

Monterey manzanita ~ 12/17/11 ~ Fort Ord

best guess Monterey manzanita
best guess Arctostaphylos montereyensis
CNPS 8th Edition Inventory

I believe all of our local manzanitas start blooming in the winter. The above pictured plant is the first to bloom for the season that I've noticed at Fort Ord. According to Calflora, there are 120 spp./ssp. in CA, which makes ID rather challenging. This is my best guess based on the 7 recorded spp./ssp. at Fort Ord. I'd love to hear from anyone who knows how to distinguish between the different types of manzanitas.

wedge-leaved horkelia ~ 12/17/11 ~ Fort Ord

Again, another fresh bloom and leaves alongside dry seeded parts from this past year. Looking back, I haven't done much hiking in December to have noticed these kinds of flowers before. Ah, I love living on the coast of CA where wildflowers can be found in winter.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

habitat ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

Los Padres Dam

This hike was all about contrasts. The reservoir seemed fairly full, but the spillway was bone dry and the Carmel River was very low. Once past the dam, the Carmel River Trail hugs the hills, from sunny to shady, repeatedly. There were dry areas still recovering from the 2008 Basin Complex Fire and other areas which seemed extra lush and green for this time of year. One side of the trail could have chaparral yuccas, chamise, and dried grasses, while the other side could have newly sprouted fiesta flowers, ferns, grasses, and mushrooms. We went through stands of trees to open meadows. Evergreen oaks, madrones, CA bays, and toyon were mixed in with deciduous oaks, CA buckeyes, bigleaf maples, and CA sycamores. Buckwheats, CA fuchsias, CA goldenrods, cudweeds, telegraph weeds, and a variety of other Asteraceae were setting seed and showing fresh blooms. I saw very few insects or hummingbirds that could pollinate the flowers, but I did spot a couple bumblebees, a honkin' huge tachinid fly, other smaller flies, damselflies, and dragonflies. We thoroughly enjoyed being outdoors in December.

I may want visit Los Padres Dam again in January or February. We don't often go there, because it can get blazing hot by May (although the numerous river crossings are refreshing), the trails are not well maintained further in (with loads of poison-oak), and it takes an hour to travel the 25 miles inland (which is almost beyond my patience to drive for a hike). I've found very few nature-related sites about the Los Padres Dam area. It's a very popular access point for the northern area of the Los Padres National Forest, so most of my search results have been from hard-core hiking sites. To see what backpacking is like in the area, check out this fellow Tony's pictures.

stinging lupine ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

stinging lupine
Lupinus hirsutissimus

My brain has totally taken a holiday. When I'm usually working on this blog early in the morning, it's now dark out, and I've been feeling like I would rather be back in bed. But, that's just a lame excuse... For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what this plant was and posted it on Flickr seeking ID help. Doh! I should have known it was a lupine of some sort based on the leaf shape, yet I was more focused on the prickly parts. True to its name, they do give a mild sting when touched, like a poke with a small needle that stays stuck. Andy and I both discovered this when we took a closer look and feel of the plant. While I suspect this plant would normally grow where I found it, Wikipedia states these grow in places that were recently burned. I wonder how much the 2008 Basin Complex Fire on this trail encouraged the presence of this particular patch of stinging lupine.

CA buckeye ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

California buckeye
Aesculus californica
more information
Sapindaceae (formerly Hippocastanaceae)

I wanted to show how big our CA buckeye seeds get, much larger than the native buckeyes (A. glabra and A. flava) and introduced horse chestnut (A. hippocastanum) seeds I found when I lived in Ohio. During our hike, we had a fun time rolling the prolific seeds down the ravines to see how far they would go; it was like rolling bocce jacks over a rough terrain.

I'm surprised I don't have additional seasonal posts of the CA buckeye, considering it's noticeably one of the first trees to sprout leaves in late winter and one of the first trees to drop leaves in late summer, which I read somewhere was due to lack of water. I'll have to rectify this posting deficiency. For much better information than I could ever provide, check out Clare's buckeye post at Curbstone Valley Farm.

CA goldenrod ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

During this hike, I felt like I was in some kind of seasonal time warp. It is December after all. Here's another cheery flower that really should have finished blooming by now. Calflora shows there are 16 spp./ssp. of Solidago in CA. However, I'm fairly confident of this ID based on the leaf shape and the way the flowers are clustered on one side of the stem.

green lynx spider ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

western variation female green lynx spider on cudweed
Peucetia viridans on Pseudognaphalium sp.

That's quite a large egg sac she's protecting! She's about 1" or more in size but not very green, eh? While searching for an ID, I looked at other Oxyopidae, and none seemed to match as well as P. viridans. It helped to read that this spider can change color depending on the season or surroundings. As I was getting in close to take pictures, I got a whiff of the lovely scent from the cudweed. Green lynx spiders are not the only things that utilize cudweed blooms; Cindy at Dipper Ranch found American lady caterpillars tucked into her cudweed.

CA fuchsia ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

California fuchsia / hummingbird trumpet
Epilobium canum (formerly Zauschneria californica)

I was pleased to find CA fuchsia blooming out in the wild in December. It's a cheery Christmassy color. I didn't know the seeds would be fluffy. Actually, I rarely find it growing wild because of my hiking location choices and time of year I most often hike (spring). I doubt I'd recognize this plant if it weren't in bloom. I should have taken better pictures of its leaves. The CA fuchsia is a very popular native plant with gardeners these days, and I often see it used in landscaping around town and on CA garden blogs, like Camissonia's Corner and Sierra Foothill Garden. I didn't see any hummingbirds feeding on it, but I know they're around. I should point out the CA fuchsia is not a real fuchsia; it's a willowherb.

bobcat ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

Do you see it!?!
(click any Nature ID pic for a larger screen view)

Let's zoom in a little closer.

Oho! Very exciting! Finally! Today I saw my first wild bobcat... and got some crappy photos of it. It's too bad that moments after we decided the log tucked in among the tall dried grasses had moved and really was a bobcat, a large dog came bounding down the trail towards us. During a 4-hour hike, we only met one other group of hikers. Per our typical trail luck, this 2nd group was loudly chatty to each other and oblivious with a loose dog that I was somewhat concerned would bite me before I could continue taking crappy photos.

This bobcat didn't seem too disturbed by their barking dog, nor did it seem to be in much of a hurry to depart the scene. After we pointed out to the other hikers the presence of the bobcat, we took a side trail to see if we could follow it. We didn't find it again, although we spotted an agitated CA gray squirrel high in a tree chirping out a high-pitched alarm call that seemed to spread through the trees.

For much better pictures of local subspecies of bobcats, check out other CA nature bloggers John Wall and Nature of a Man. I've been so keen on seeing a bobcat out in the wild that I've even collected a list o' links from various other bloggers on bobcats. I feel like I could easily retire this ol' blog with a sense of completion. It's as if Christmas came early for me this year.

common yarrow ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

posted 12/29/11 - When I started this blog 2 1/2 years ago, I focused on colorful, sunny flowers and animals that were already familiar to me. It's been a real joy learning more about my local natural world. My learning curve was a sharp incline at first and then it flattened out, partially due to blogging fatigue and partially due to my hesitancy to show off how much I don't know.

Without flowers, I'm often at a loss as to what a plant is. It's time for me to start looking at leaves. Once again, thanks to Flickr and Nature of a Man blogger randomtruth, I received help for the ID of this very common plant.

The white blooms in the last picture might be a type of naked buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum), but really I have no idea. I had several pictures of this buckwheat, but none of them turned out very well since my point-and-shoot couldn't find a focal point. Once again, I should have looked for the leaves to be able to make a better determination.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pacific chorus frog ~ 11/28/11 ~ at home

I have been remiss in posting updates on the various animals I tried to raise this past year. This is what I believe is the first frog to fully metamorphose from the eggs I received from a friend back in May. I seem to be missing 2 individuals out of 16 that hatched. Whether they died (I found no evidence of this) or escaped from the aquarium (I have seen trails of duckweed on the rim of the aquarium), I can merely guess. One only had 3 legs at some point, and I'm not sure if this is it with a fully grown 4th front right leg. I'm surprised at how small the frogs are compared to the relatively beefy tadpoles. This tiny one had actually lost its tail completely a week or so ago. I've been so preoccupied with other things that I haven't kept as good of track on the development as I would like. I'll have to look through e-mails to get some of the developmental dates correct.

ps 12/11/11 - It's nice to see other nature bloggers post about their own tadpole rearing experiences. So far, Julie Zickefoose is the only one I've seen.

pss 12/15/11 - I'm not sure if I should be repulsed or fascinated... I noticed this morning that a tadpole died, and the others are huddled around it and feeding like a pack of carnivores or scavengers.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

habitat ~ 11/24/11 ~ San Luis Reservoir State Rec Area

San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area
November 24, 2011

This is not exactly "Over the River and through the Woods"; it's more over the reservoir and through the valley to family's houses we go. Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day! Since most of my extended family still lives in the Central Valley, this is the usual route to go see them or to pass through to Yosemite. No, we didn't stop, nor have I ever stopped since it's usually very windy through Pacheco Pass. I figured my picture from the car and this blog is a good enough excuse to actually look up information on this reservoir and the surrounding area that I've passed many, many times since I was a kid and never even knew the name. If Wikipedia is correct, the San Luis Reservoir is "the largest off-stream reservoir in the United States." Who knew? In the distance are numerous wind turbines, which are situated on another CA State Park property, Pacheco State Park. Thanks to revenue from the wind turbines, Pacheco is one of the few State Parks supposedly with enough funds for maintenance. What a great idea! Both State Park embedded links above have decent historical information.

ps 01/04/12 - Based on comments below, found this article from Forbes on endangered CA condors and wind turbines. Something to think about.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

habitat ~ 11/19/11 ~ Garland Ranch - Garzas Creek

Happy Thanksgiving! Garzas Creek is going to become my must-do pre-Thanksgiving hike. It's one of the only places around Monterey that has large, native, crunchy, deciduous leaves to tromp through and feels almost like the autumn most people expect in North America. The area along the creek is absolutely gorgeous!

Andy is training for a 50K trail run, so he sped off while I casually took a short loop. We planned to meet up at our favorite restaurant Jeffrey's at Carmel Mid-Valley for lunch. Thanks to a couple of hikers with a dog that liked to jump on me (I had muddy footprints all over me!), I veered off to the redwood trail to avoid them. I worried I wouldn't get back in time to meet Andy, but I am so glad I took this new-to-me trail. The trail loops back to the creek for some of the most scenic spots.

As the sign says, the seasonal foot bridges were taken out the Monday before my hike. I asked a fellow if the creek was passable. He was confident that it could be crossed at the 4 intersections along the trail. Note to self: do not take the advice of a 6 foot tall man with walking sticks if a creek is passable. While I love rock hopping, it helps if you don't have muddy shoes and aren't needing to pass over wet rocks. I managed just fine once I found a couple large sticks to help me balance. After my very grouchy previous week, this hike really helped cheer me up. It was food for the soul, and I am thankful for places like this.