Tuesday, May 31, 2011

sunset ~ 05/31/11 ~ San Carlos Beach

sunset from San Carlos Beach
May 31, 2011

We were out for an evening walk, enjoying the clearer skies before the summer coastal fog sets in for the summer. The pastel skies and gentle ocean sound always help me feel tranquil. I prefer heading towards Cannery Row and the Coast Guard Pier in the early morning or in the evening when most of the tourists and scuba divers are elsewhere.

Brandt's cormorant ~ 05/31/11 ~ Cannery Row

I've always assumed these are Brandt's cormorants that congregate every year on this remnant of a sardine factory loading dock. However, as I look it up, these birds may be mixed in with double-crested cormorants (P. auritus), which I had previously thought only nested in trees. It's a crummy picture above, because the lighting was low and a fence kept me from getting closer. The third type of cormorant that is found in the Monterey Bay is the pelagic cormorant (P. pelagicus), and I've learned to recognize it by its white butt and solitary nesting behavior. I'll have to take binoculars the next time I walk through Cannery Row.

Oh, that green stuff in the foreground is non-native sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) in the Apiaceae family. I always want to call it anise, which is an incorrect term that several lepidopterist-type like to call it due to the anise swallowtail butterfly. Towards late summer it's quite pretty here with feathery greenery and prolific yellow flowers covering the dilapidation of local history.

ps 06/22/11 - So far this year, I don't have any pictures of cormorants or sea lions from the Coast Guard Pier, because they closed it off from public access since around mid-February for repairs. I was told by Coast Guard personnel that it would only be closed for a week. Ha! While driving home the other day, I noticed the Coast Guard Pier is finally open again with a black chain link fence along the breakwall. I want to get out there to see what's up. I do know we haven't had the influx of sea lions like we did last year.

harbor seal ~ 05/31/11 ~ Hopkins

Phoca vitulina

Here's my annual harbor seal pup post, a little later than usual. Most of the harbor seals around here are born mid-April. It's fun living just a block away from the bay, because sound carries very clearly up from the water. I remember hearing pups crying at night, which sound almost human-like, a week before the first reports of births at Hopkins' non-publicly viewable beaches. The pups have had almost 2 months to turn into fat beach sausages. Besides obvious size variations, I don't know how to tell the difference between the older pups, post-nursing moms, and males.

Interesting to note, Stanford Hopkins' seanet site names harbor seals down to subspecies, P. vitulina richardii, and calls them Eastern Pacific harbor seals. Other references spell the subspecies P. vitulina richardsi with an 's', which I chalk off to Gray having really bad handwriting back in 1864.

Oh! There's a funny white goose in the middle of the last picture that we've seen around for a couple of months. For much better pictures than mine, check out local photographer Peter Monteforte's marine mammal shots.

Monday, May 30, 2011

columbine ~ 05/30/11 ~ at home

I was given this columbine from a friend who in turn had received several as a gift in memory of her mother. I believe it was grown from seeds collected from wild growing columbine at Rocky Creek down the coast. Since recovering from my illness, I have been into surrounding myself with living things. Before I only had a jade, a geranium, and a plethora of poorly cared for spider plants on our north facing balcony. Now, I have purchased my first 6-packs of easy-to-grow plants like alyssum, lobelia, and dusty miller. I'm such a novice at growing outdoor flowering plants that I hope I can keep this columbine going for its lifespan of 3-4 years (according to Paghat's Garden). I plan to collect seeds and continue this plant on my balcony garden. Can anyone give me advice on where to cut for deadheading? Plus, I'd like to transplant this to a larger pot. Maybe I should wait until it is done flowering?

ps 09/22/11 - I want to note that in the last week, this plant has started a fresh batch of blooms.

Pacific chorus frog ~ 05/30/11 ~ at home

A friend gave me a bowl of frog eggs attached to some kind of oxygenating plant (Myriophyllum sp., aka milfoil?), duckweed, and a couple of small snails from her barrel pond on 05/21/11. Within a week 2 tadpoles hatched. They were very tiny and extremely good at hiding. I was worried the others wouldn't hatch, but when I shook the bowl, they wiggled inside their egg cluster.

The day after I took the photos above, I transferred the pond water to a 5 gallon aquarium where I had water sitting out a few days to allow the chlorine to dissipate. The agitation from the transfer released the remaining tadpoles from their sacs. There were other miniscule organisms swimming around in the water that I could only see in the sunlight. The aquarium turned green with algae fairly quickly. I siphoned off some of the water and refilled with fresh water. Turns out this may not have been necessary, because as the tadpoles get larger and the duckweed spread to cover almost the entire surface, the water has become clearer on its own.

It's been fun watching the tadpoles grow. By 06/10/11, they already started looking "pregnant" with big round bellies and could no longer cling to the side of the aquarium. Quite honestly, I'm not sure what I'm going to do with these frogs once they metamorphose. My friend collected tadpoles from a pond in Seaside last year and added them to her existing barrel pond here in Pacific Grove. By the first of April, she witnessed 3 sets of frogs mating. She made a video for the sound recording; click here to listen to how loud they are.

ps 07/11/11 - The oxygenating plant the eggs were attached to is rigid hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum). While this greenery is good for aquaria and is found worldwide, it is not necessarily beneficial out in the wild.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

tree year project 2011, #8

juvenile western scrub-jay perched on coast Douglas-fir
Aphelocoma californica perched on Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii

posted 06/19/11 - Sometime around the second week of May, I first noticed my friendly scrub-jay's 3 youngsters. They were pretty awkward flying and mainly watched mom from the branches of this Douglas-fir I'm featuring in the the Tree Year Project. After getting a peanut, she would always fly back to their low nest in a nearby oak tree, I think to encourage the little ones to follow her for food. Then a late night ruckus happened, which sounded too much like a raccoon/scrub-jay fight, and I only saw the one pictured above for almost 2 weeks. Since then, two of the juveniles have been loudly following mom's every move. She chases them away from our balcony and will quickly sound an alarm call if a hawk is in the area. In the past few days they seem to get up before she does, and one quickly snatched a couple peanuts from me yesterday morning. Each one is a little different in voice and boldness of behavior, like stealing mom's stashed peanut from a pine cone. It's been a real joy to observe the mother scrub-jay teaching her young.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

silver-spotted tiger moth ~ 05/28/11 ~ at home

silver-spotted tiger moth caterpillar (or nameless arctiid moth) feeding on coast Douglas-fir
Lophocampa argentata (or L. sobrina) feeding on Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii

posted 06/18/11 - I mainly want to show the color variation of these caterpillars that I'm attempting to raise - from bright white to tan side hairs. These three were munching away at young shoots of Douglas-fir. I collected a third caterpillar from the Highlands the day I took this picture on 05/28/11. Add in the two I found around home, I've had 5 total. They seem to prefer hanging out together; in fact, they'll follow each other along a plate's edge like a caterpillar conga line whenever I switch out food. Except for the Highlands Easter caterpillar, I don't know which individuals came from where.

One successfully pupated and has been tucked in its cocoon since 05/01/11, one died 05/21/11 from what appeared to be parasites, and another one died 06/10/11 from what looked to me like typical Btk poisoning - the body was deflated and limp, like a plant that hasn't been watered, with only the middle sets of prolegs keeping the body attached to the nylon top.

I moved the two remaining caterpillars to a clean container. They now occasionally feed on Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) even though I'm still providing a mix of clippings. They rest most of the time upside down from a new nylon top. Their poop has gotten inexplicably smaller. I'm starting to get concerned because they don't seem to be progressing in their development. I suspect they may need a snack of another plant in order to successfully pupate - this is totally wild speculation after reading about Queen butterflies needing to snack on non-host plants in order for their adult pheromones to be chemically complete. I'm starting to remember all too clearly why I once gave up rearing caterpillars. Click to read a past post about how and why I'm raising these caterpillars.

ps 06/25/11 - As I was changing out the tree clippings, one of the caterpillars had started making a cocoon with hairs from its body and silk. I hope I didn't disturb it too much.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

honey bee ~ 05/21/11 ~ J's place

Pictured above is a top-bar hive a friend recently set-up in her garden. It's different than the typical box hives with frames as it allows the bees to make their own hanging wax comb. What I really liked was the observation window to see inside the hive - so totally cool! She ordered light-colored Cordovan queen and package bees specially bred for their gentleness and hygienic behavior from C F Koehnen & Sons here in CA. She's hoping mites won't be a problem with this hive as she's chosen not to treat her bees with chemicals. Her previous queens were Minnesota hygienic Italians and she's had great success with them.

My friend is quickly becoming the queen of bees herself. She started beekeeping for the first time last year at the beginning of May. I've been most impressed with the amount of research she's done on selecting traits in queens and types of equipment. I posted pictures of her 2 original hives on 07/01/10 and now she has several hives in 3 locations. Check out her pictures and a very loud video of the 2 swarms she had last year. Just a few days after the photos above were taken, another one of her hives swarmed on 05/25/11.

ps 06/21/11 - One of my favorite blogs I follow is Curbstone Valley Farm. Clare has recently redesigned her blog and I love it. To see her series of honey bee posts, click here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

odorous house ant ~ 05/20/11 ~ at home

best guess odorous house ant
best guess Tapinoma sessile
for more information click here and here

Andy was having problems getting internet connection, so we checked behind our desks to inspect the cable modem and router. Surprise! A small ants' nest had formed on a warm power brick.

We turned off our computers, unplugged the power strip, and moved everything possible away from the wall without disturbing the nest. I took an old hand towel and a large bowl full of hot H2O with Dawn dish soap. I squeezed out the liquid from the towel, and then, as quickly as I could, I smothered, smooshed, and wiped up the ants and eggs. This took numerous attempts to get all the ants, which immediately went into a frenzied alarm mode of carrying eggs and scurrying everywhere with their butts in the air. Our office reeked of formic acid, a name derived from ants (family: Formicidae) which give off a slightly sweet and distinctive odor. With fresh soap solution and towel, I scrubbed the rug, wall, and all the electrical cords and let them air dry.

I also found a second nest on another warm power brick to my printer. The nests must have formed within the previous week, because I had just cleaned the area near my printer. Interestingly enough, it had rained 05/14-05/18/11. The last information link below the ID above is from Stanford, and it claims rain brings in the Argentine ants (Linepithema humile). While T. sessile is a different species, they, too, like to come in from the rain. I believe the point of entry was where the cable entered the office from outside, so I caulked all around the cable and wall plate. We haven't seen an ant in the office since, but it's only rained one day in June since then. Plus, our internet connection booted right up, which may have been due to a brief power outage from the storm and not the ants' nests.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

habitat ~ 05/18/11 ~ California State University, Monterey Bay

This was the day my husband Andy celebrated the completion of his multiple subject teaching program. Two years ago when he was laid off from his job of over 10 years, his dream of becoming a teacher turned into a real possibility. As I post this on 06/16/11, he already has his own 2nd grade summer school class at the elementary school where he volunteered for years and did his last semester of student teaching. I'm incredibly proud of him!

This was also the day I finally got in to see a specialist and missed the appreciation tea part of the celebration. In a big way, this day was a milestone in both our lives. The photo above was taken outside the campus library. I love the contrast of the setting sun on the coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia var. agrifolia) with the dark rain clouds behind.

woolly grevillea ~ 05/18/11 ~ CSUMB

woolly grevillea
Grevillea lanigera

Given that CSUMB tends to landscape with natives, this could be a CA native. However, I suspect it comes from South Africa or Australia. I have absolutely no idea where to start for an ID. Can anyone ID this wacky-looking plant?

ps 06/16/11 - I originally posted this as unknown red curly flower. I queried Megan and Matti from Far Out Flora who know quite a bit about succulents and Proteaceae. Thanks to Matti's comment below, I've corrected the ID above. This plant is native to southeastern Australia. There are numerous cultivars of this species and based on online pictures, I believe the one I found is either Mt. Tamboritha or Coastal Gem.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

squid boats ~ 05/15/11 ~ at home

squid boats

I'm not sure why, but I've felt compelled to post pictures of the squid boats we see from home. Ha! They're much easier to photograph than whale spouts and tails. I believe the squid season starts around April 1. It's unusual to see this many boats out during the day. Typically, the boats go out late in the afternoon and have bright lights on all night long. It used to bother us for sleeping. Sometimes one or two will camp out on the water during the early part of the day where you see the boats above. I find it interesting that the fellas take Friday and Saturday nights off.

ps 10/25/13 - As an example of how bright those lights are, check out a satellite image of squid boats in the Atlantic Ocean off South America.

tree year project 2011, #7

While I was down in the park obtaining clippings for the caterpillars I'm raising, I took a closer look at the Douglas-fir I'm featuring in the Tree Year Project. Lo and behold there's a metal tag nailed to the base of the trunk with the number "1444" engraved on it. I looked at our local Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History site and their herbarium is included in the Consortium of California Herbaria. I searched under "1444", "Yadon", and "Monterey County, Pseudotsuga." No luck in finding any records. I suspect, since this is a city park, past forestry personnel did some kind of cataloging. With budget cuts, small town politics, and a citizen committee instead of an official arborist, I'm atypically hesitant to inquire about this tree and its tag. I'm including the silhouette pic to show off the shape of this tree.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

CA poppy ~ 05/14/11 ~ Marina City

This is the first time I've ever seen creamy-white variants of the California poppy... and it was in a shopping center parking lot in only one spot out of numerous flower beds filled with solid orange poppies. Wikipedia and several Flickr photos call this an albino. Can plants be considered albino? I thought the term only applied to animals, but I could be wrong.

I like how these photos also feature the red ring that distinguishes this poppy from others. Usually I have to turn the flower over to look for the red ring at the base. And, yes, I do check, because there are around 6 species of Eschscholzia in the area. Shown above, the red rings are still attached to the developing seed pods.

habitat ~ 05/14/11 ~ Fort Ord - Army Lands

Fort Ord - Army Lands
May 14, 2011

Thanks to the U.S. Army's Fort Ord Community Relations Office we joined a guided nature walk inside this non-public impact area (no pun intended). Eventually in 2020 this land will be turned over to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to expand the existing Public Lands to 15,000 acres. I've mentioned a couple times that the Fort Ord BLM Lands are my favorite local hiking spots (Creekside and Inter-Garrison), so it was exciting to get a glimpse of what will be.

I can't say I comprehend the process it takes to comply with all the laws and regulations, let alone the basic removal of potential explosives and lead contamination. There are so many entities involved and numerous websites; the best ones I've found are Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) sites, old and new, and Former Fort Ord Environmental Cleanup. The Army's Munitions Clearance Program and Prescribed Burn Program are closely tied together, so I'll focus on the burn areas we toured.

the bunker

We were given a couple route options, and we chose the hike that led up to the bunker where the surrounding areas were burned in 2003 and 2008. While it was a quick pace to keep ahead of the more leisurely group behind us that did not hike up to the bunker, I'm glad we did.

2003 burn area

I suspect this area on top of the sandy hill was a different habitat type than those shown below. Therefore, looking at vegetative growth post-fire doesn't compare for the 2003 burn. Most of the endangered and threatened plant species we saw were found here.

2008 burn area

Shrubs, like silver bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons var. albifrons) and yellow bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus) have had enough time to grow back since 2008.

October 2009 burn area

This was the first year I was at home to see the smoke plume from home. I took a picture and made note of it here on Nature ID for October 6, 2009.

October 2010 burn area

Again, I took a picture of this particular 2010 burn from home and posted about it here on Nature ID for October 8, 2010. They also burned in September of 2010. I had expressed an interest to "tag along with the biology folks as they evaluate the September vs. October burn areas next spring." While I doubt a study like this is happening, I was so pleased to see fire poppies for the first time ever.

planned 2011 burn area in the distance

Yep, there'll be more fires through this decade until at least 2020. The first prescribed burn was conducted in 1997. Imagine over 20 years of regular fire, weather, and wildflower data?

vernal pool with soil excavation in 2008 burn area

The light green area in the center of both photos above is the same vernal pool from different vantage points. In the second photo, there's a wall to the right where soldiers trained to fire into the hill on the left. Due to accumulated munitions, the soil on the hill was excavated to sample and remove lead contamination.

"iron triangle"

As the cleanup process continues, various Army equipment used for target practice and heavier materials (and illegal dumping like the clothes dryer shown in the middle) get collected here in what is affectionately called the "iron triangle." A contractor will come in to recycle what can be recycled and haul off the rest... except for the Cold-War era tank 21 (last picture above), which will be kept as a historic display for the BLM. To read more about the history of Fort Ord, check out The California Military Museum's website.

CA striped racer ~ 05/14/11 ~ Fort Ord

California striped racer
Coluber lateralis lateralis

Contrary to its common name, this striped racer was laying quite still in a ditch to the side of the road. While I did get fairly close, maybe too close than I should have, I did zoom and crop for the lovely close-up shot. The yellow stripe consists of 2 half-scales. The federally and state threatened C. lateralis euryxanthus has an additional fully yellow-colored scale in between the 2 half-scales.

fire poppy ~ 05/14/11 ~ Fort Ord

Papaver californicum

I've wanted to see a fire poppy ever since I read about them in Wildflowers of Monterey County. They only bloom the year after a fire. This area was burned in the fall of 2010. Gail, one of our field guides, said she has never seen them bloom so profusely. You'll have to click on the photo to enlarge the image enough to even see the orange dots. I was surprised to see how tall the stalks were for such small poppies. Unfortunately, this is the closest I could get due to the reasons for the burning - unexploded ordinance location and removal. Erg.

coastal sagewort ~ 05/14/11 ~ Fort Ord

coastal sagewort / beach sagebrush
Artemisia pycnocephala

The first time I remembered the word Artemisia was during a conversation with a friend two months ago. The smell of crushed leaves from CA's native Artemisia reminds him of his childhood in England where he knew A. absinthium as wormwood. His nanny made him drink a tea of it once a month to prevent intestinal worms. I don't think it was a pleasant memory. It amazes me how scents stick in our memories and instantly transport us years to the past.

The above ID is my best guess based on looking at CNPS updated 2010 plant list for Fort Ord with 5 species of Artemisia listed out of 41 sp./ssp. found in California according to Calflora. Also shown above is western bracken fern and what I believe is white-flowering wedge-leaved horkelia (Horkelia cuneata). This area was burned in 2010.

ps 10/20/11 - After again looking at different Artemisia, I'm more positive of this ID now.

CA dandelion ~ 05/14/11 ~ Fort Ord

The inflorescence on this dandelion seemed much larger than the invasive common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) that I usually see in lawns. I asked our long-legged guide Chris, who had already quickly passed a profusion of these flowers, what this was. She doubled-back to answer my question. I was surprised to find out there are native dandelions. In fact, a quick check of Calflora shows there are 39 species/subspecies of native dandelions in multiple genera with a few endangered, rare, or presumed extinct. Hey, learn something new everyday. I'm guessing M. californica and M. glabrata (smooth desert dandelion) are difficult to distinguish in areas where both species/varieties occur. This flower was found in an area that was burned in 2009.

cream cups ~ 05/14/11 ~ Fort Ord

I'm amazed at the color variation of cream cups where some have the yellow on the outer edges of the petals (click on the common name above to see CalPhotos' collection). While I usually don't fiddle with enhancing photos, except for cropping, I darkened these to show the detail of the flower. Otherwise, it would have looked like a bright yellow fuzzy blob. Again, I could not get closer to take a better picture due to the continuing munitions removal. These were found in an area that was burned in 2009.

seaside bird's-beak ~ 05/14/11 ~ Fort Ord

One of our guides Chris tried to point this small plant out to me a couple times during our walk. She said to look for the "little red, 6 inch tall, Charlie Brown Christmas tree." I totally missed seeing it, until she tossed a little rock to the base of the plant. She felt this younger stage of its growth was its cutest. There are very few pictures online of this particular subspecies. It is listed in the state of California as endangered. I believe this was found in an area that was burned in 2003.

sand gilia and Monterey spineflower ~ 05/14/11 ~ Fort Ord

sand gilia and Monterey spineflower
Gilia tenuiflora ssp. arenaria and Chorizanthe pungens var. pungens
CNPS 8th Edition Inventory and CNPS 8th Edition Inventory
Polemoniaceae and Polygonaceae

This pretty little purple sand gilia, aka Monterey gilia, is listed as federally endangered and threatened in the state of CA. The dusty-pink clumps to the right in each picture is the Monterey spineflower.  I believe these pictures were taken in a 2003 burn area. The white flowers shown in the second picture are popcorn flowers (Plagiobothrys sp.) in Boraginaceae. Considering there are at least 7 species of popcorn flowers found at Fort Ord, I'm not going to attempt to identify it tonight from the fuzzy photo.