Tuesday, February 22, 2011

acorn woodpecker ~ 02/22/11 ~ J's place

acorn woodpecker
Melanerpes formicivorus

Whenever I go visit a friend across town on the ocean side of the peninsula, I make sure to put my point-and-shoot camera in my pocket. I often see birds there that I never see at home, even though we only live a few miles apart. She has birdbaths, feeders galore, and a bird watching station facing a picture window next to her kitchen, instead of the traditional dining room table, complete with a comfy chair, binoculars, nature journal, a pile of bird books, and a huge camera that definitely would not fit in anyone's pocket. Gotta love her! I took these pictures behind her house. It looks like these acorn woodpeckers are making a granary tree out of this dead Monterey pine. They're the funniest looking birds. As I was searching for information this morning, I discovered the distinctive laugh of one of my childhood favorite cartoons, Woody the Woodpecker, was modeled after the the acorn woodpecker (click on the scientific name above to hear its call). Fellow blogger Julie Zickefoose wrote an NPR article about this. There you go, a tidbit of information.

ps 08/07/11 - For another blogger who writes about the famous cartoon inspiration, check out Shooting My Universe.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

habitat ~ 02/20/11 ~ Garland Ranch Regional Park

Garland Ranch Regional Park
February 20, 2011

So often Nature ID posts are of specific things, getting as close as my point-and-shoot will allow for a positive ID. However, I do like to take a step back and look at the larger picture. I hope I can convey in my habitat shots what any location is like throughout the year. While my blog is not a hiking blog (there are much better ones, like Way Points and Bay Area Hiker), I believe people may be able to get a sense of if and when they'd like to hike at the many locations shown here. All locations are labeled with an 'x' and grouped to the right of my blog towards the bottom.

In the 2nd picture above, there is indeed snow on the hill tops. To the left is the Sierra de Salinas range and to the right is the better known Santa Lucia Range. By Saturday after these pictures were taken, we had snow here at sea level along the Monterey Bay.

broadleaf stonecrop
Sedum spathulifolium

Without these in bloom, I have little chance of identifying this plant. I'm assuming they're a species of Dudleya, but I could be incorrect. I've checked a handful of plant lists for Garland Ranch and only one even mentions succulents. As you can tell from my pictures, this is a very moist area... but only in the winter and spring. Several years ago when I returned to CA, these were the very first wild (i.e., not garden) succulents I had ever seen in this area, and if my memory is correct, I believe the blooms were yellow. Can anyone ID?

ps 03/02/11 - Boy, did I have this wrong! At the very least, I knew this was a stonecrop thingahoo. I originally posted this as an unknown dudleya. Nope. No wonder I couldn't find a match after searching through hundreds of pictures of dudleya. Many thanks to Megan and Matti at Far Out Flora, I got an ID. I also double-checked the CNPS Garland Ranch plant list from 2006 and this is the only Sedum on their list. I've corrected the ID above.

dudleya ~ 02/20/11 ~ Garland Ranch

First ferns, now succulents? I am trying to branch out and look at plants outside of my comfort zone. This is typically a more southernly plant and Monterey County is about as far north that it grows naturally. Does anyone have a good dudleya ID site to recommend?

California maiden-hair
Adiantum jordanii

If I had a garden of my dreams, this is the one native fern I would definitely include. I suspect it would require quite a bit of moisture and could be challenging to grow in an artificial setting. That's Garland's waterfall in the background of the third photo, which had water running after a week of decent rain. Interestingly enough, this is not CA's only maiden-hair fern; there's another called southern maiden-hair (Adiantum capillus-veneris) that looks a lot like cilantro, the herb staple of many salsas.

If you didn't know what you were looking at, I think many people's brains would have a hard time making sense of this image. I took about 30 pictures of this true bug on a pond surface with a reflection of winter trees in the "background." Shown above is the best shot I got. I'm tempted to post another pic under the label crappy photos.

While Aquarius remigis (also formerly known under the genus Gerris) is generally agreed to be the most common water strider in CA and the U.S., I'm hesitant to place a positive ID considering my picture doesn't show enough details, nor did I take the time to physically capture this insect to bring home and examine the relative tarsal and antennal segments under my scope for proper keying. Powell and Hogue state there are about 10 species of gerrids in CA; indeed, UC Berkeley's Essig Museum of Entomology lists 12 species in their Heteroptera PDF.

I haven't spotted a saxifrage in a very long time, actually not since March 14, 2009 at Fort Ord. The blurry second pic with my hand is to show just how tiny these flowers are and why they can be easily overlooked. Indeed, this was one flower that was not included in the Garland Ranch Visitor Center's current blooms display, despite the fact they were feet away from the only spot of Padres' shootingstars we saw during this hike. The shootingstars were also mentioned to us from a friend we ran into who regularly volunteers at Garland - Hi, Andy! - not my Andy, but a female Andy. I love the delicate combination of salmon colored anthers of the California saxifrage with the bright green ovaries (they look like they're split in two) and enveloped in white petal folds. Can you tell I've been refreshing my memory on flower parts?

giant wake-robin / giant trillium
Trillium chloropetalum
Melanthiaceae (formerly Liliaceae)

We only saw trilliums in two sections of our hike, one by the waterfall and the other down a heavily-shaded, steep ravine. I wish my last photo turned out better, but I'm posting it because I want to show the yellow center of this new shoot. It looked like the yellow spadix of calla lilies, but I suspect it was just the covering of what would end up being the dark purple parts. Can anyone help direct me to a website that illustrates the different parts of the trillium plant? And, like with star-lilies, this plant has been moved from the lily family to the false hellebore family.

ps 04/26/11 - I always like seeing what other people have in their neck of the woods, especially when I can compare and learn more about what is closer to me. Found this trillium post from Ohio, my ol' stomping grounds: Midwest Native Plants, Gardens, and Wildlife.

fairy fingers ~ 02/20/11 ~ Garland Ranch

It is thanks to fellow bloggers, like John Wall and Jim Johnson, who have helped me with fungal IDs, that I'm now not too afraid to take pics with hopes to properly identify them. Most online pics of this club and coral mushroom are bright white, but then again like the cauliflower mushroom I found at Jacks Peak, I think this fruiting body is a bit older. Oh, as an explanation of how I even know which oak is shown above, this is the branch that Andy and I married under before it broke off. We affectionately call this tree our wedding tree. As this tree dies, we've been amazed at how much life is growing on it. More to come from this tree...

California milkmaids
Cardamine californica

Um... oh boy, I got an eyeful as I tried to search for more information on this plant. Makes me wonder about the etymological relationship of the family name Brassicaceae with brassiere. I might add more information once I get the boobs out of my memory.

This plant is also known as bitter-cress or toothwort. There's a small section above the waterfall trail at Garland Ranch where I can always count on seeing this small white flower in February.

toyon ~ 02/20/11 ~ Garland Ranch

toyon / Christmas berry
Heteromeles arbutifolia

Despite their bright red berries, I've usually ignored this plant during hikes. Quite honestly, I prefer to look for pretty spring flowers. It's thanks to fellow blogger GretchenJoanna at Gladsome Lights and her comment a couple weeks back mentioning toyon. The common name strikes me as a bit funny; I keep thinking back to those Toyota commercials with people jumping in the air, since I have a couple friends with old, beat-up, red Toyota trucks - funny how the brain works. So, when we checked out the Garland Ranch Visitor Center for a little pre-hike pit stop and to check out the current blooms (they cut flowers and place ID tags for people to see what's currently blooming), the name toyon jumped out at me. They had samples of the red berries but not the white blooms. I'll be on the look-out for the white flowers later this summer. Sure enough, the worn out red berries weren't difficult to find. To help me find toyon blooms later, I made a mental note of the finely serrated leaves and the height of the shrubs. For more information, check out Las Pilitas Nursery.

wedding tree ~ 02/20/11 ~ Garland Ranch

wedding tree

posted 03/02/11 - No, it wasn't our anniversary when we visited this tree back on February 20, 2011. That was the first sunny day after a week of nonstop rain and we wanted to take full advantage of the nicer weather and get outside. I'll admit I'm a bit sad to see this magnificent tree decline. Other valley oaks (Quercus lobata) were already sprouting new leaves, so I suspect this tree may not have much to show anymore in terms of its own growth. Andy was kind enough to point out to me that the dead branches are now supporting a variety of life, including numerous fence lizards, an unknown nest (shown in the first pic), and numerous fungi, mosses, and lichen. It's the cycle of life. I'm sure we'll visit our tree again come April 8th.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

tree year project 2011, #4

double rainbow from home
February 19, 2011

Although we see double rainbows fairly frequently if and when it rains, this was the best photo I've managed to get so far. I like the colorful umbrellas down on the Rec Trail of people turned to watch this natural beauty. If you look closely, my favorite friendly scrub jay is perched on the top of the unidentified pine toward the center of the photo. And, yes, the coast Douglas-fir that I'm featuring in The Tree Year project barely shows itself in the bottom left.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

sunset ~ 02/12/11 ~ Asilomar State Beach

sunset from Asilomar
February 12, 2011

This was one of the last warm and calm days before the storms hit. I should mention those dogs are not ours. Asilomar to Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach is a dog friendly beach. If you go past the State Beach boundary signs, you can also have a beach fire. I've always wanted to do this, however, the thought of lugging piles of wood over sand and having to haul everything back out after dark has kept me from going for it. It's one of those things you want to do with a group of friends. Getting people's schedules coordinated with last-minute nicer weather is another thing entirely.

tree year project 2011, #3

coast Douglas-fir
Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii

So, it looks like those little green bits from my last post for The Tree Year project are indeed new needles (nope, see postscript below). Today was the first time this year I noticed miniature cones starting to pop down from the branches. The second pic is to show what a great view this Douglas-fir enjoys of the Monterey Bay with decorative sailboats on sunny days. I guess I should mention those upward looking branches in the background on the right are a set of 6 different Monterey pines that have grown, I swear, at least 15 feet in the past 5 years. Our once expansive view of the bay is quickly being overgrown with views of trees.


ps 08/08/11 - Correction! Now, I think the light green fluffy bits are female cones and the downward yellowish buds are male pollen cones. Apologies if this is confusing, but I'd like to keep what I originally wrote to show my learning in progress.

Friday, February 11, 2011

habitat ~ 02/11/11 ~ Jacks Peak County Park

Jacks Peak County Park
February 11, 2011

posted 02/19/11 - I think this will be the last post for this hike at Jacks Peak. I have more photos but nothing extraordinary to share. It's Andy's favorite destination to trail run from home. Yep, he regularly runs 7-15 miles several times a week; I don't usually run... I prefer to do other things. It's great in that he finds hidden, non-mapped trails and then shows me. I prefer parking on one of the lower roads like Aguajito and then hiking up. Jacks is the highest peak on the Monterey Peninsula. Truth be told, most of the ID pictures shown below are from outside of the park boundaries. We're still not sure who owns the land that we use and appreciate so much. The trails to the park are often used by horse riders. The park itself is a classic county park with running water, bathroom facilities, big fields of lawn, bbqs, and picnic tables. The trails within the park are fairly flat and some have incredible views of both sides of the peninsula. Even after almost 8 years of living here, I still get turned around on the peninsula. Based on older pics of the Bay, this looks like it's above and to the west of Huckleberry Hill, consisting of the same Monterey pine forest.

Monterey pine ~ 02/11/11 ~ Jacks Peak

male cones with pollen

old female cones

pine trunks in native habitat

Monterey pine
Pinus radiata
CNPS 8th Edition Inventory
for more information click here and here

posted 02/19/11 - If you click on the first photo to enlarge it, you may be able to see the yellow pollen borne on the air to the right of the pic (no, that speckly stuff isn't due to my poor photography skills). During the last week of January, we noticed the thick annual pollen dusting on many parked cars - I wonder if there's some kind of electrostatic charge that particularly attracts pollen to the metal and glass of cars. There are many species of trees in the area, so I don't know if I can blame the Monterey pines for our non-stop runny noses. The recent rains do seem to help alleviate the allergies.

While the Monterey pine tree has been introduced around the world for lumber, apparently, the Monterey Peninsula is one of the few remaining places of native forests; it's actually considered a rare and endangered plant in California. I do find it interesting how the shape of the tree changes as it ages, from a traditional triangular Christmas tree shape when it's younger to a tall, rounded top shape once they mature.

dwarf mistletoe on Monterey pine ~ 02/11/11 ~ Jacks Peak

western dwarf mistletoe on Monterey pine
Arceuthobium campylopodum on Pinus radiata
CNPS 8th Edition Inventory
Santalaceae (formerly Viscaceae) and Pinaceae

When I saw this I thought it was some kind of insect gall based on the swollen twig area. I figured once I got home, I'd easily be able to search Monterey pine galls and get my answer. However before I even got around to doing that and while I was looking up other plants for Jacks Peak, I noticed a picture that looked very similar to what I saw here. It's a mistletoe! Who knew mistletoes also created gall structures? See and learn something new every day, if I just bother to look.

woodland strawberry ~ 02/11/11 ~ Jacks Peak

I never noticed the proliferation of strawberries at Jacks Peak before. It helps that these bright white flowers caught my eyes. I certainly have never seen the fruit there. I don't know if they get eaten by animals, collected by humans considering it's a popular public park, or rarely produce fruit since it's so shady.

As I was looking for more information, just to learn something new since I've never bothered to look up strawberries before, I was surprised to find there's a second Calflora site out there. The one I use most often, highly recommend, and link to in most of my plant scientific names is Calflora.org. The second one is Calflora.net, which is the personal site of Michael L. Charter and is based out of Southern California. Other than being a little irritated at the similarity of names, (don't know which came first as they both started in 2005), I'm highly impressed by Michael's elaborate website. Can you imagine the time it took him to create that sucker?!?

So, this got me wondering this morning (posted 02/17/11)... what the heck am I doing with this blog? And, why? It started out innocent enough as a casual "I want to learn about the things I see on my hikes." Now, first thing almost every morning (well, after a bathroom visit and a huge cup of tea), while my husband gets his beauty rest, I quietly work on Nature ID. Plus, with any free pockets of time, I'll update or add more posts, many of them backdated far enough that most followers won't even see them. I'll admit to being a bit obsessive. I'm already at 413 labels and 583 posts and I have yet to reach my 2 year blog anniversary (in May). The label lists along the right side of this blog are becoming unwieldy and extraordinarily lengthy (all that scrolling is probably why my wireless mouse eats through so many batteries). At a certain point, I imagine Google's Blogger will complain with site crashes or start charging for hosting. I don't know where this is going or how I want my blog to be in another year. I watch as several other bloggers stop adding new posts or close their accounts entirely and I suspect they simply got burned out - I still really miss Steve Wilson's Blue Jay Barrens blog. However, I do know what I do not want. I do not want to sell anything and am very proud that this is an ad-free blog. And, I do not want to "network" or show off my abysmal nature knowledge - in other words, there's something really freeing in not being the expert and being totally comfortable in saying, "I don't know." I'm relatively anti-social, hence why I like hiking to get away from people and into nature. I'm not on facebook anymore and generally refuse to join nature groups, clubs, and societies. Although, I have met some very nice people online with similar interests. My questions about the future of Nature ID remain unanswered for now.

With that said, I'd love to hear from fellow bloggers on why you blog.
western cauliflower mushroom
Sparassis radicata

Did a quick search this morning and can't find anything that quite looks like this. I'll keep searching. It looks like an airy toasted pastry. Can you ID?

ps - I posted this earlier today (02/16/11) as an unknown meringue-pie-looking fungus. Indeed, it was about the size of a pie, too. Thanks to Jim Johnson's comment below, I was able to track down the ID. Interesting to note, MushroomExpert (linked in the common names) states this is a different species from the eastern cauliflower mushrooms (S. crispa and S. spathulata), which are supposedly primarily found under hardwoods, whereas our true western version is found under pines, as evidenced in my picture. The toasty look in the pic above simply means it's an older fruiting body. Like pie and cauliflower this is an edible mushroom... I think I'm hungry.

broad-leaved lupine
Lupinus latifolius

Lately, I've been relying heavily on Calflora's What Grows Here search query to help me identify plants, which I would usually have a difficult time figuring out and sometimes spend a couple days agonizing over correct IDs. This is a fairly big lupine and I picked the only perennial lupine on the list. And, it looks correct!
dark-eyed junco / Oregon junco
Junco hyemalis

Well, at least I'm still trying to get photos of birds. These pics aren't too bad for me. I have a better pic of a dark-eyed junco here from last April. It's only because I previously looked up this bird that I even knew what these were on the spot. I had fun watching a group of them as they chased each other from ground to low hanging tree limbs; it was almost as if they were playing tag.