Thursday, March 31, 2011

tree year project 2011, #5

coast Douglas-fir with pride of Madeira
Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii with Echium candicans
Pinaceae and Boraginaceae

Those first green sprouts that appeared the last week of January and first of February dried up into sadly drooping tails of brown. My only guess is that our long month and a half without the usual winter rain and sunny warm temps affected the annual growth of this tree (nope, incorrect guess, see postscript below). No worries, it looks like this old Douglas-fir is sporting a second set of green shoots after the appearance of baby cones and additional rains. For those new to Nature ID, I've committed a small part of my blog to participating in The Tree Year project.

I was really pleased to get a decent picture of the gnarly tree trunk and the purple blooms of the prolific pride of Madeira in its shadow. Actually, I had the camera out with hopes to capture what I believe is a migrant Rufous hummingbird. No luck since it's such an extremely quick flying bright red bird. It does a country line dance move with a head lean and fly to side to side that I swear the sole purpose is to taunt me into trying to take its picture.

ps 08/08/11 - I just noticed the lighter brown structures hanging down are dried pollen cones. I'm also guessing the droopy brown tails are unfertilized female cones. And the bright green are indeed new needle shoots; they look very similar to budding female cones. It always helps to take another look at these older posts.

posted 04/07/11 - More often than not I see flannel bushes in yards and on the side of the highways where they're obviously planted and could be cultivars. I don't remember ever seeing them growing out in the wild. For the purposes of this Nature ID blog, they should probably be considered garden flowers. According to the records for Monterey County, it looks like they grow in the Santa Lucia Mountains where I rarely go hiking and may not for a while considering Highway 1 collapsed around the Rocky Creek area 3 weeks ago. For those out of the area and are considering visiting Big Sur this summer, you may want to check that the highway has been fixed beforehand.

caterpillars & pupae ~ 03/31/11 ~ at home

moth caterpillars and pupae in containers

Here's my assortment of jars for raising caterpillars and letting pupae rest. No, I don't keep them on the banister all the time. It's often too windy and my friendly scrub-jay is too curious for her own good to keep them here all the time. I just placed some of the containers up there, because I thought it'd make a better photo with the Monterey Bay in the background.

I'm keeping them outside so that they develop naturally. My plan is to record when they pupate, how long it takes to emergence, ID the adults, and eventually release them so they can find mates. I'm generally not a collector anymore, except for photographs. It's been at least 5 years since I've raised anything, but my curiosity about what a couple caterpillars are got the better of me.

Since I've made a policy on Nature ID to post CA nature photos to the date of the actual photos, you'll have to wait for future posts for the close-up shots. I've already posted a close-up of what I hope is a painted tiger moth.

crab spider ~ 03/31/11 ~ Carmel Highlands

best guess female goldenrod crab spider on greater periwinkle
best guess Misumena vatia on Vinca major

Let me be clear, this spider ID is my best guess. I wish my early morning photos showed the eyes and carapace better. The more I looked into Thomisidae (aka crab spiders), the more I got confused with the genera of interest - Mecaphesa (too hairy), Misumena (only vatia is well-pictured online), Misumenoides (eh?), Misumenops (most nearctic spp. now placed in Mecaphesa). I felt like Bill the Cat Ack!

Despite being considerably south from where I live, I have really liked UC Irvine's Natural History of Orange County for their pictorial representations, but I have some doubts their spider IDs are entirely correct. I've linked to BugGuide twice in the common name and the scientific name above, and even they're not all that accurate. I'm not criticizing them, it's just the nature of the beast, so to speak. There are so many insects and spiders out there, it's a challenge for everyone. I suspect the people who really know, don't spend their time posting pictures online. I found this list of Spiders of California helpful to check what actually occurs around here.

A fellow nature blogger and I were e-mailing about how we don't want to add to the prolific online misinformation. Yet, I want to learn more. For people who find my blog through searches (apparently, google and bing are now my best "customers"), they may not be aware that this blog is my learning tool and I'm totally okay making mistakes. I've said it once and I'll say it again, I am NOT an expert. All I can guarantee are that my pictures are taken on the date of the blog post and at the location indicated in the labels.

At the end of the day, my final thought on the above pictures is, "Oooh, look at the cool white spider on the pretty purple flower."
Agulla sp.

This is the fourth snakefly I've noticed around home in the past week. Last year I was surprised at how many snakeflies I found, when previously I'd maybe spot one or two a year. Now, I'm guessing they're fairly common from March to May. When I started Nature ID, I'd never have predicted that blogging would help me become more observant of what's around me. Plus, I'm a little more patient these days while taking photographs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

large yellow underwing ~ 03/22/11 ~ at home

large yellow underwing moth pupa
Noctua pronuba

While I was turning one of my compost bins last week (posted 03/27/11, pics taken 03/22/11), lo and behold I found a little surprise. And, no, it is not a turd. Good thing I didn't slice it with my trowel! Considering I released several dozen caterpillars in this compost bin last fall, I'm fairly sure this is a painted tiger moth pupa. I know, I know, I said I wasn't going to disturb this bin until October or November of 2011. However, the prolific weed of hairy bittercress set seed a month ago in this bin, and I pulled them all out. The pupa measures about 26mm in length and wiggled furiously when I laid a cold plastic ruler next to it. I've since placed the pupa in its own container with soil and pantyhose on top to await to see what emerges. I'm keeping the container outside so as not to falsely speed up the development of this pupa with the warmth of our home. The timing of my observations so far does not match the literature, e.g., W.E. Conner's Tiger Moths and Woolly Bears.

For those new to my blog, here's a timeline of past tiger moth posts with embedded links:
October 17, 2010 - found an adult female laying eggs next to our front door
October 26, 2010 - eggs hatched and I collected the caterpillars
November 6, 2010 - released 2nd instar caterpillars in compost bin

Here are couple things to note: 1) I frequently call caterpillars "cats." Even though I've loved up to 3 kitty cats at one time, usually I'm referencing the insect. 2) I'm actually raising several different Lepidoptera on my balcony right now.

ps 05/25/11 - I posted this originally as a painted tiger moth pupa and now that it emerged on 05/13/11, I have corrected the ID above. To read the new post on this large yellow underwing moth, click here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

habitat ~ 03/20/11 ~ Fort Ord - BLM InterGarrison

Fort Ord Public Lands - InterGarrison entrance
March 20, 2011

Considering it had been raining for a solid week before this hike, and indeed during our hike, all the vernal pools we passed were filled. They look like lakes, but most of them do dry up by the end of summer. Many rare plants can be found around the vernal pools, including Hickman's popcorn flower, which we found completely submerged by the recent rains.

This is quite possibly the largest vernal pool at Fort Ord. It extends to about twice as wide as shown in the picture. The InterGarrison parking area, consisting of a sand lot with no facilities, is located straight as the crow flies to the left of the water tower and a bit beyond.

I took this photo to show how this particular meadow looks before the sky lupine really gets going. There is only one lone lupine blooming now with some fiddlenecks. For a comparison photo taken from almost the exact same spot, see my May 8, 2010 lupine post.

This photo is looking southeast over towards the Creekside entrance where the trails are a bit more established and erm, less dangerous...

And the last photo is a reminder that the BLM lands were once an Army training site. I didn't get a great shot of the sign, because I was more interested in the brush clearing they were doing of a trail that had been previously open. The sign says, "Danger. Do not enter. This area is being investigated for ordinance and explosives." I got on my soapbox and mentioned this in my star tulip post from this hike.

While I don't particularly like hiking in the rain, Andy convinced me to get out there with hopes to see the bobcat he spotted the day before during a trail run. We only saw some bobcat poop in the usual places. I have to say, I think Fort Ord is becoming my favorite local place to hike, even more than Garland Ranch Regional Park.

ps 05/12/12 - At the end of April, I was contacted by a California Stare University, San Jose student who is working on a group project regarding California coastal wetlands. Apparently, Fort Ord vernal pools was his assignment for a presentation. Since his photos from a March 8 personal tour were of very dry vernal pool areas, he used and credited my first 2 pictures above to show vernal pools at Fort Ord with actual water in them. It pleases me that students and university professors are finding my blog for first-hand accounts, which are not simply repeated blurbs found on so many sites.

blue dick ~ 03/20/11 ~ Fort Ord

blue dick
Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum
Themidaceae (aka Asparagaceae and formerly Liliaceae)

It always amazes me how one or two colors of wildflowers seem to dominate at a time. During this particular hike at Fort Ord, lilacs (blue dicks, ceanothus, fiesta flowers, star tulips, yerba santas) and bright yellows (buttercups, footsteps of spring, oak catkins, sun cups) were everywhere. It's as if Mother Nature only had two tubes of flower paint and also consulted a color wheel.

CA yerba santa ~ 03/20/11 ~ Fort Ord

California yerba santa
Eriodictyon californicum
Boraginaceae (formerly Hydrophyllaceae)

I've hiked past these always wondering what they are, most notably for the black fungus covering most of the leaves. You can see some black leaves in both pictures above. Wikipedia says this fungus is called Heterosporium californicum, but I can't find any online information other than this sooty fungus is common on this plant. This is the first time I've seen these shrubs blooming. It's really hard for me to believe that these are in the same Eriodictyon genus as the woolly yerba santa I spotted at Pinnacles recently. Erg. Once again this plant has changed families from the waterleaf family Hydrophyllaceae to the borage family. These family changes are harder to track than women who change their surnames due to marriage and/or divorce.

large flowered star-tulip ~ 03/20/11 ~ Fort Ord

I've posted this large flowered star-tulip before from May 8, 2010, but I want to note the March timing of this bloom, which was found in almost the exact same spot as last year. These are not very common and are restricted in where they grow, near wet meadows and vernal pools. I wish I could have gotten some other photo angles, but the surrounding grass was taller than the bloom. The flower is surprisingly large (almost 2 1/2" across) compared to its diminutive height (maybe 6" tall at the most). They're difficult to spot unless they're fairly close to a trail, and I generally stick to trails out of respect for the sensitive public lands I hike.

After the vandalism the past two years of "closed trail" signs, there's a new sign at the InterGarrison entrance that now states all trails are closed unless specifically marked as open. Considering the Army is still in the process of removing old ordinances, this isn't only for the safety of plants but also for people (no joke, we sometimes hear explosions when they do their annual burns). I love Fort Ord and I hope all those folks who wish to continue using it for recreation such as hiking, biking, horse riding, and nature loving will appreciate the hard work of the land managers who want to save this unique habitat for everyone and everything. OK, I'll get off my soapbox.

ps - I'm in the process of back-posting the rest of my Fort Ord finds with hopes to refresh my memory for my favorite wildflower months of April and May. I always date my CA nature posts to the date of the photographs. Depending on how you access my blog, say through a reader, this might not make sense; it may look like this pic was taken the day I post (03/29/11) or look like I haven't posted in a couple weeks due to the date of the photograph (03/20/11). If you go straight to Nature ID, all pics and posts are dated and in the order that I intend for later archival reference. Apologies, I still haven't figured out a way to explain this properly since everyone has different ways of reading and following blogs, and the way I post is not typical of the blogosphere.

coast live oak ~ 03/20/11 ~ Fort Ord

older coast live oak with lace lichen
Quercus agrifolia var. agrifolia with Ramalina menziesii

posted 03/25/11 - This is the best ID you're going to get from me this morning. I wasn't feeling well during the night, which makes for an unpleasantly grumpy Katie. Add to the fact that I have difficulty identifying most trees.

I need help. Can anyone ID these and help me name the flower-ish parts? I think I have at least 2 different live oaks shown above... possibly. I can't imagine the first two pics are the same species as the last two pics. Either one is, at least I believe, coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia var. agrifolia). There are 7 species/subspecies of oaks recorded for Fort Ord and I'm too tired to figure out which ones are which. Three species in the list are called "live oaks": Quercus agrifolia, Q. chrysolepis, and Q. wislizeni. If you're curious and look at my embedded links, you'll see the subspecies look very different, with some having smooth leaf margins and others having jagged leaves.

I plant to edit this post with better information once I feel a bit better.

ps 03/28/11 - I originally posted this simply as live oaks, meaning oaks that keep their leaves throughout the year. After much help from commenters below and searching online, I've finally decided both sets of pictures are of the same species but different ages. Having looked into douglas-firs and Monterey pines, I know trees can change shape considerably as they mature. I found Cindy's comments below (of the Dipper Ranch blog fame) to be very informative. Also, Hastings Reserve and Las Pilitas Nursery have great keys and information about oaks specifically found in Monterey County and California. The next time I'm out at Fort Ord, I'll do my best to check the leaves, but I'm fairly confident of these IDs now.

blue fiesta flower ~ 03/20/11 ~ Fort Ord

blue fiesta flower among Pacific poison-oak
Pholistoma auritum var. auritum among Toxicodendron diversilobum
Boraginaceae (formerly Hydrophyllaceae) and Anacardiaceae
It rained off and on during our hike. These sweet purple faces all seemed to be a bit downturned; I don't know if that's typical or is due to the rain. I had to get really low to the ground, trying to avoid touching the poison-oak, in order to get the first 2 pictures. It's funny the things you notice as you're taking a photo. I've seen blue fiesta flowers blooming in several places, including our recent hike at Pinnacles on March 4, 2011, but believing I had already posted this flower on Nature ID, I haven't bothered photographing it before now.

Also, I'm regretting the day I started including plant family names in my posts. As I've said before, this blog is my learning tool, and I hoped by including family names I could start recognizing related plants. It's been 20 years since I've had any formal botany class and barely remember anything more than the names of flower parts and checking to see if leaf margins have notches. So, here's the rub for the regret: once again as with many other flowers I post, fiesta flowers have been moved to a different family - from Hydrophyllaceae (waterleaf family) to Boraginaceae (borage family). Calflora and all my flower books are now outdated. Erg. I'll try to go back and fix the labels for all my previous waterleaf posts.

sun cup / golden egg
Camissonia ovata

Sun cups were without a doubt the most numerous blooming plant I noticed during this hike at Fort Ord. While I've posted sun cups from the InterGarrison entrance before, I want to log the March date of blooming and show a diversity of photo angles. Lately, whenever I can I try to show a close-up shot or detail of some sort, a medium range shot, and a step-back shot.

Indian warrior ~ 03/20/11 ~ Fort Ord

Indian warrior
Pedicularis densiflora
Orobanchaceae (formerly Scrophulariaceae)

This is the best showing of Indian warriors I've ever seen. Wikipedia says this is a root parasite of plants like manzanitas. Until I read this, I didn't actually notice the low growing manzanitas, during our hike nor in my pictures, along the trail where we found these. My eyes gravitate toward the bright and colorful. To be politically correct, Jepson's recommends the following common names: dense-flowered pedicularis, dense-flowered lousewort, red warrior, or warrior's plume. However, I doubt anyone who's familiar with these plants would know what I'm referencing if I called it a lousewort, so called because there was apparently a belief that a lice infestation would occur if livestock fed on these plants. I was amazed at the variation of Indian warriors we saw within one stretch of trail, from light salmon colored flowers to deep purple leaves; for additional pictures, check out my Flickr set.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

silver-spotted tiger moth ~ 03/15/11 ~ Carmel Highlands

It's always a thrill for me when I find a striking caterpillar or two. I'd even say these are pretty. These pictures were taken in a friend's expansive yard just south of Point Lobos, so I can't be sure if the Ceanothus is native or a garden variety. The visual addition of periwinkle and pride of Madeira made for an awesome sight of intense purples and greens. It's too bad I didn't get a step-back habitat photo.

As for the ID of the moth, I am sure it's a Lophocampa sp., but I'm not absolutely positive it's a silver-spotted tiger moth. Based on their size, I suspect these have another instar or two before they're ready to pupate into adult moths. Almost a year ago, bb of biobabbler, Chris Grinter of The Skeptical Moth, and I had a discussion of L. argentata on her blog post of a mystery caterpillar. Most of the L. argentata caterpillar pictures found online are tannish-orange in overall color. In my defense, there are whiter versions like mine (and, no, it's not due to a flash) that have been found at Point Lobos: BugGuide and CalPhotos. Additionally, the literature states the silver-spotted tiger moth feeds on conifers, particularly Douglas-firs. As shown above, they're definitely feeding on Ceanothus blooms. I wonder if location or food preference has anything to do with the color variation of the caterpillars... or if these locals are possibly a different species.

ps 03/23/11 - I originally posted this as silver-spotted tiger moth (Lophocampa argentata). Thanks to Chris Grinter of The Skeptical Moth, I queried Jerry Powell, professor at UC Berkeley and co-author of Moths of Western North America. The three of us had a brief e-mail exchange. Jerry seems to be unsure whether L. argentata and L. sobrina are indeed distinct species, contrary to what his co-author Paul Opler thought. The photo they used in their book of L. sobrina was feeding on blackberry and alder. With Chris's permission to quote him on my blog, here's what he e-mailed, "Yea I think there are deeper problems than just the identification. Only L. sobrina is known from the Monterey area - and identifications of L. argentata from that are are incorrect IF sobrina is a true species. Putting them side by side I do see differences, but they are incredibly superficially similar. I haven't taken a close enough look at the morphology or DNA to actually make a real call. This is a project for another day - but caterpillars of Lophocampa from that area would also be sobrina. The problem with caterpillars is that they are even more variable than adults..." Chris goes on, "I'd say sobrina is the name applied to that population right now. Who knows how long that will stick around for though, there are a few other Arctiinae species in coastal california that share this same problem." Thank you, Chris and Jerry! Who knows, I may have the very first pictures of L. sobrina correctly identified on the internet. Maybe Chris will get BugGuide and Calphotos to correct their pictures?

pss 03/27/11 - I've also contacted Paul Opler who advised me to try to rear these so that I can know for sure which species it is. Hmph! I think I'll do that.

pss 04/20/11 - I realized I haven't posted an update with pictures of this caterpillar. I ended up collecting one on 03/31/11 along with another all black caterpillar from the Highlands. As it so happens, today I spotted something fuzzy on the balcony and thought the one I had collected had somehow escaped. Nope. Now I have two of these caterpillars that seem to like feeding on fresh oak leaves.

Friday, March 4, 2011

habitat ~ 03/04/11 ~ Pinnacles National Monument - west

Pinnacles National Monument - west entrance
March 4, 2011

This is the earliest in the year we've ever visited Pinnacles, a truly unique geological oddity. Driving to the park was enjoyable with rolling hills of green... the green only existing a couple months out of the entire year around here. I've heard the "golden" of "golden California" has less to do with the discovery of gold in the late 1840's (or the blond locks of Hollywood babes), than with the prevalent golden color of dried grasses across much of the state. Within the park, it seemed like spring was just beginning. My usual favorites of CA poppies, clarkia, and Chinese houses were not out yet. There was definitely a different mix of Lepidoptera compared to what I usually see in April and May (2010 and 2009). And, as usual, we spotted numerous turkey vultures but no condors. Afterward, we did our traditional stop in tiny Soledad at La Fuente for yummy CA-Mex food, which was originally recommended by one of the rangers at Pinnacles a couple years ago. For other blog posts about Pinnacles, here's my virtual collection: kt's Nature ID companion.

Douglas' wallflower ~ 03/04/11 ~ Pinnacles

posted 03/15/11 - Apologies for the third post this morning. Simply trying to knock out a few IDs from our March 4, 2011 hike at Pinnacles. I have to say this is one of the prettier mustards around.

I don't have much to say about this, other than I'm glad to finally have a positive ID on this bush lupine. With 142 species and subspecies of Lupinus in CA and 8 recorded within Pinnacles, it's been challenging to make IDs. I like the challenge, but I suppose it's a bit boring to read about.

Sara orangetip ~ 03/04/11 ~ Pinnacles

Sara orangetip
Anthocharis sara

I happily and readily admit these are not the best photos. I have to laugh at how difficult it is to get a decent picture of a butterfly that rarely seems to rest or nectar on blooming plants. Shown in the first picture are milkmaids. I have a couple pics of just the tip of my shoe and initially wondered why before I remembered I was trying to capture the Sara orangetip on "film." I'm posting this as an ID, because during last year's visit to Pinnacles on May 6, 2010 I very much wanted to get a picture of an orangetip and failed spectacularly. One thing to note, I find a March through May flight period to be rather lengthy and wonder if there are two distinct broods in this area.

woolly yerba santa ~ 03/04/11 ~ Pinnacles

woolly yerba santa
Eriodictyon tomentosum
Boraginaceae (formerly Hydrophyllaceae)

When I first saw these along the road into Pinnacles, I thought they had succumb to disease with its chalky white and slightly wilted look. They are very soft to the touch and indeed are alive and healthy.

ps 03/30/11 - I've corrected the family name above from the waterleaf family to the borage family.

lichen and moss ~ 03/04/11 ~ Pinnacles

Oooh, look at the pretty rocks! That's the best ID you're going to get out of me. I thought I'd try my hand at lichen ID this morning (posted 03/12/11). Ha! No way, José! If anyone can tell me the visual difference between Caloplaca ignea and Xanthoria elegans, please, please comment. There are an estimated 300+ species of lichens at Pinnacles. In the second photo above, I count at least 6 different kinds of lichen in about one square meter of rock. Seriously, who took the time to inventory all the lichen? If you're interested in lichen, I recommend these two great lichen sites: Lichens of North America (thanks to Ted at Beetles in the Bush from a comment made on Squirrel's View) and The California Lichen Society.

ps 09/08/11 - Thanks to help on my Flickr photo, the moss shown above may not actually be moss, but spike-moss, a totally different kind of plant. Who knew?