Monday, September 26, 2011

cabbage white ~ 09/26/11 ~ at home

Pieris rapae

It doesn't look very white, does it? Despite the yellow on the underside of the hindwings, it does appear very white in flight. I mainly wanted to show that this butterfly successfully emerged mid-morning. For a while there the chrysalis was so dark for several days that I was beginning to think it had died. The clear empty pupal casing can be seen still attached to the leaf. I had provided the stick so it could have something to climb onto while it pumped up its wings. I initially believed it to be a female, because I could barely make out two black spots from what I thought was showing through the hindwing from its forewing. Generally on cabbage butterflies, viewing the forewings from the top side and not counting the black wing tips, females have two spots and males have one spot on each forewing. However, I noticed Butterflies of America (linked in the common name above) has examples of spread specimens showing varying number of spots depending on whether it's the dorsal or ventral view of all the wings. I guess I've never really looked that closely before. I had hoped to get a picture of my cabbage white outside of the container and with its wings spread open, but by the afternoon it flew away before I could even turn on the camera. Jeffrey Glassberg notes, "Although many people disparage this species, because it is so common and not native, close observation reveals it to be one of the most graceful inhabitants of the air." I agree. Art Shapiro provides a nice summary of this common butterfly.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

am I doing the right thing with this blog?

best guess unknown goosefoot
best guess Chenopodium sp.
Amaranthaceae (formerly Chenopodiaceae)

posted 10/02/11 - I featured this plant 06/30/11 when it was just beginning to flower. While doing a search not too long ago for another plant, I found a similar looking plant to this one, and it was not an amaranth. Unfortunately, I failed to make a note of it and can't find it again. Can you ID?

I hope I'm reasonably clear when I am uncertain about an ID. I've added a new label * best guesses for those items which I'm really not sure of the ID. For some posts that I assume I already know, I don't do much research. For other posts, I spend way too much time searching and checking to make sure my ID is correct. It's a challenge to convey how much I do know and how much I'm making my best guess based on the information available to me. Now I always include embedded links to outside sources and better information in the IDs under the pictures.

Yes, my blog is titled Nature ID (and recently re-subtitled "from Monterey Bay and CA areas beyond" to better reflect the locations presented here). I've expressed concern the mere name may lead people to believe I know way more than I do. I seem to experience a constant IDentity crisis. I can't tell you how many e-mails I get from people wanting me to ID their pictures from places I have never been (please don't, btw). I do try to state clearly in my welcome! section in the sidebar that I am not an expert.

With that said, I believe I have a natural visual talent to distinguish shapes and details. I have refrained from talking too much about my education or work here, because I'm afraid readers will make assumptions and judgements about me and this hobby blog. However, for the record, I graduated summa cum laude from the Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science in Entomology, only after also variously majoring and minoring in fine arts, dance, liberal arts, chemistry, and biology. Through fortune and misfortune, I was a professional entomologist and headed the Invertebrate Zoology Department (which included malacology) at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. I've had a handful of peer-reviewed research papers published, but I do not consider myself a scientist. I have also worked in the publishing industry as a science content editor at CTB/McGraw-Hill and as an intellectual property manager (rights, permissions, copyrights, and trademarks) for what became National Geographic School Publishing. What's that saying, "Jack of all trades, master of none, though often times better than master of one"? Once again I am wanting to do something different and meaningful in my life. Thanks to doing Nature ID, I'm considering going to graduate school to study salamanders. Still, I am not sure I would make a suitable graduate student or a respectable "real" scientist.

I prefer approaching nature without any preconceived notions and with a "what can I learn?" attitude. Since I don't attempt to ID until I get home and look at my pictures, I try to observe all that I can while out hiking. There are benefits and drawbacks to this practice. It's been fascinating to watch my own learning process. What may stump me one year is perfectly obvious the next year after I have looked up hundreds of other IDs. I do like details, and I try to be as accurate as possible. However, in nature and what we know about it, accuracy is often a relative term.

For over two years I've searched extensively online for local IDs of everything from plants to herps, and I feel I'm slightly more knowledgeable and thorough than some other blogs/sites which sometimes post completely inaccurate information. Considering it irks me how much misinformation is online, I sometimes try to gently correct them (e.g., John Game claims he will change his incorrect Wikipedia photo for Pipera yadonii, which has been reviewed on CalPhotos as likely P. elegans; and the most dangerous site is Plants of California, where they talk about how you can eat soap plant and then picture death camas as their example! Yet, I would not stake my life on the fidelity of the 850+ IDs I have made on Nature ID.

Sigh... the reason why I'm even bringing this topic up is due to the numerous correspondence I received this past week about my blog. Some were lovely e-mails that made me smile and grateful that I am an active blogger (you know who you are, and thank you!). I enjoy blogging and am proud of what I have created here on Nature ID.

I also received a permissions request from a journalist at Pour la Science to use photos of my CA horn snails (I've added a postscript to that post with more information). I was very excited. I've received permissions requests before but never from such a big publication. She found my pictures through an online image search and liked mine. However, when I made clear to her that I am not a professional malacologist, she seemed under deadline stress and declined use of my pictures since she didn't have the time to have my ID checked. Big bummer. I took it to heart.

This virtual experience makes me wonder once again if my blog is adding to the same online misinformation that I so detest, because I do make mistakes! Since I include both common names and scientific names in all my ID posts, my blog is often found through internet searches. For those not familiar with my blog format or translating from another language, it can be difficult to know what information can be trusted. I guess that's true with any site found online. I have considered stopping this blog and not having it available for public consumption. Nature ID really is my personal learning tool, and, at times, I don't think I'm adding much quality to the blogosphere. After all, I don't particularly like taking photos, and I struggle with writing. And, there are much better nature blogs out there, although very few local ones. For the time being, I will continue as I have... learning something new every day.

Here are relevant links:
The Skeptical Moth has a series of media mistakes titled "Genius of the Press".
Deep-Sea News has a field guide to distinguish between scientists and journalists.
Deep-Sea News has a recent blog post about the gap between scientists and journalists.
The Biology Refugia has an excellent discussion about mass media and science.
Culturing Science talks about young or inexperienced science bloggers (with great links).
Nature of a Man does a much better job explaining his IDs and providing references.

ps - As with any post that naval-gazes this much, I will likely continue to edit it for a few days.

pss 10/04/11 - I edited this post a couple times now and made an ID correction. I originally posted this as best guess Amaranthus sp. Thanks to Cindy's comment of the flower buds looking like an Atriplex sp. but with different leaves, I went on a wild goose chase... er, goosefoot hunt. The leaves look like spinach, and after this picture was taken the seeds are starting to look exactly like quinoa. I've corrected my best guess above to a possible Chenopodium sp. Also, I'd like to tell everyone that the journalist I mentioned above sent me a very nice e-mail about how she truly enjoys my blog and nature, and she was simply making a journalistic choice to not publish one of my pictures due to lack of time to check them. I appreciated hearing back from her again.

cabbage white ~ 09/22/11 ~ at home

chrysalis of cabbage white
Pieris rapae

I've viewed so many blog posts of monarch butterfly chrysalises in the past month that I thought I'd show something different and perhaps just as common, the European cabbage butterfly, simply aka cabbage white. Thanks to growing new plants on my balcony this year, like nasturtiums and tomatoes, I've been visited by a whole host of typical garden "pests." This cabbage white was feeding on my nasturtiums, and I collected it as the caterpillar started wandering, a behavior I've noticed several Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) do before they pupate. Does anyone know why they wander?

I think chrysalis structures are quite impressive regardless of the species of butterfly. The white fuzzy clump seen in the first pic above, towards the tail-end of the pupa, is the cast caterpillar exoskeleton. I can't explain why it's fuzzy and white considering the larva was a smooth bright green. The part that is away from the leaf is the ventral surface (your belly side if we were to compare to human anatomy) of what will become the adult butterfly. By the time I got around to taking pictures, this chrysalis was developed enough that I could clearly recognize the proboscis, eyes, and wings. If you click to enlarge the second picture, you can see the silken lasso around the midsection of the chrysalis attaching it to the leaf, kinda like how I've seen many swallowtail butterflies attach themselves while pupating. This chrysalis almost reminds me of a miniature hummingbird in profile.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

habitat ~ 09/17/11 ~ Wilder Ranch State Park

Wilder Ranch State Park
September 17, 2011

I haven't been taking care of myself this past month like I should, and my hormones kicked in with a vengeance. I fully admit I was the grouchiest, foulest person around. To Andy's relief he quickly left on a trail run for a few hours, while I meandered through the ranch and then up a new trail on my own.

There were more people than we expected, even for a Saturday. It happened to be a special "farm day" at this State Park. Everyone was trying to talk to me about homemade ice cream and hand-churned butter. Leave me alone! I posted a couple of pictures on flickr, if you're into that kind of organized stuff.

So, up a new trail I went hoping to escape the people and spot some herps or even a bobcat. Dang dry grasses! Can't see much. I don't particularly like hiking this time of year because of all the dried plant matter. It's much more pleasant under the redwoods like at Nisene Marks, but there's also the increased possibility of yellowjacket stings there this time of year. Erg!

Then I encountered more people than I wanted to be around. First there was a large group of bikers with little kids. It became a game of walk past them as they rested, have them pass me with some of the little boys nearly knocking me over, even though I stepped off to the side of the trail to let them pass, then me walking pass them again, over and over. When a fork in the trail came, I made sure to take the one they did not. Big mistake! Second came several large groups of horse riders. The lead lady assured me their horses saw me and that all would be okay. The fifth horse decided my hat looked tasty and came right at me. Once they passed I had to watch my step for the prolific trail of horse poop they left behind. Crap! After becoming tired of more dry grasses and not a single tree available for shade, I looked at my map and realized the big group of bikers had taken the trail I had wanted for a decent loop to meet up with Andy in time. Like Andy, I rarely backtrack on the same trail, but this time I turned straight around. Sure enough, just my crabby luck, most of my return path was filled with a strolling lolling social hiking club consisting of at least 70 people, all chattering so loudly I couldn't believe they were even aware they were outside in nature. Blasted people!

Sigh... I did one small final loop to visit my favorite Wilder Ranch stream and encountered a buckeye butterfly. For whatever reason, that was enough to calm me down and feel okay about everything. Our timing was perfect and I met up with Andy on a return path to the farm.

For lunch we went to our favorite new Santa Cruz spot: burger. Their milkshakes with Marianne’s ice cream are super yummy. Given that I'm a cheap bastard, I had the idea to hit several State Parks on the way home, since we had already paid our $10 entry fee to Wilder Ranch. Here in CA, day use paid entry entitles you to visit as many State Parks in the same day as you want. We hit Seacliff State Beach (way too crowded with those picnic-type people who prefer to pack their entire house along for a day at the beach, and the "camping" is limited to a lengthy bare parking lot for RVs only), New Brighton State Beach (I have fond memories camping here as a kid with my uncle and aunt, and Andy and I might try this some time), Manresa State Beach (an unpopular day use only parking lot), and Manresa Upland State Beach (hike-in tent camping only that may be lovely in the spring, and despite what the link says, we are not in SoCal). Finally, we hit the relatively new Farm Fresh Produce in Moss Landing along Highway 1. What a pleasant surprise! They have seriously fresh produce for super cheap, and we ended up with more than we had intended. All in all, a day that started off not so pleasant ended up being a really fun outing.

variegated meadowhawk ~ 09/17/11 ~ Wilder Ranch

mating variegated meadowhawk
Sympetrum corruptum

I love the intricate pattern on this red male's abdomen. Odonates have unique mating position and behaviors. The above is known as the "wheel position", something that could be taken straight out of any ancient sex manual, if only human males also had two sets of genitalia.

Pacific aster ~ 09/17/11 ~ Wilder Ranch

best guess Pacific aster / common California aster
best guess Symphyotrichum chilense (formerly Aster chilensis)

Maybe someday I'll know how to properly ID flowers. I've looked at hundreds of CalPhotos and even resorted to trying to decipher Jepson this morning - I simply cannot get my mind wrapped around terminology like "± oblanceolate", "cyme" and "phyllaries." It doesn't help that names and distribution records vary widely depending on the source. For the time being, I think I'll stick with S. chilense as one of the most common asters in this part of CA, which doesn't mean the above ID is correct. Regardless of the ID, I welcome seeing this autumn flower. Last year I made a virtual collection of fall aster love.

common ringlet ~ 09/17/11 ~ Wilder Ranch

It's not unusual for me to see ringlets, nor is it unusual to see coyote brush. However, it is unusual to see coyote brush literally covered in ringlets. These butterflies were skittish and flew away from me as soon as my camera dinged when I turned it on (it makes me wonder about butterfly sensory of sound). The best I could do is capture 5 butterflies in the last picture, but I would guess there were upwards of 50 butterflies on this single bush. Interesting to note, I kept my eye out for every coyote brush after this encounter, and not a single one had a ringlet on it. Art Shapiro states on his website, "The second brood emerges in May-June, enters reproductive diapause and estivates until September-October, when it reemerges to breed." Yep, you read that right. Perhaps in other places animals reduce their activity during harsh winter months, but here in CA the summer can be equally harsh. I guess it's now the season of love for these nondescript smallish butterflies.

bull thistle ~ 09/17/11 ~ Wilder Ranch

Cal-IPC lists bull thistle as a moderate invasive. By what I saw, I'd say it's taking over many areas of Wilder Ranch. No wonder, look at the sheer volume of seeds it disperses. In some areas, the fluffy seeds reached about 16" in depth and looked much like a fresh dumping of snow.

Heavy sigh... is it autumn already? Ever since I was sick this past spring, I feel like I lost a month and a half and am still trying to catch up with the rest of the world and nature's cycles. In any case, an older friend and I were recently debating when autumn officially starts. Is it on the autumnal equinox (this year it's 09/23/11), or does it start earlier with the equinox being somewhere in the middle of the season? I've come to the conclusion that seasons are nebulous relative terms, regardless of where the sun is located to the earth's equator.

common buckeye ~ 09/17/11 ~ Wilder Ranch

common buckeye / northern buckeye
Junonia coenia grisea

Buckeye the tree or buckeye the butterfly? As with the tree, CA has a different kind than is found east of here. The CA buckeye tree is Aesculus californica and the American buckeye tree is Aesculus glabra. The buckeye butterfly found in CA is Junonia coenia grisea and elsewhere it is known as Junonia coenia coenia or other Junonia spp. entirely (according to Butterflies of America, a particularly anal-in-a-good-way butterfly site if you really, really want to know your butterfly species). As far as I know the buckeye butterfly caterpillars do not feed on buckeye trees.
Buckeye butterflies are bold-eyed, medium-sized butterflies that I often encounter sunning themselves in the middle of paths. This is my first entry on Nature ID of this familiar and easily approachable butterfly, because I regularly forget to post common finds. It was pretty easy getting a clear picture as this individual was mud-puddling near a creek. I was hoping to get a ground level shot to show its proboscis stuck in the wet goop, but it suddenly got shy and lowered its wings. Then, it had enough of its candid photo session and flew away.

ps - Cool! Google's blogspot/blogger has a new photo feature if you click on any picture. Check it out... Oh man, my photos are really going to show how poor quality they are now. In that case, never mind.

pss 09/20/11 - For more colorful posts of those other buckeye butterflies from across the continent, check out ohio birds and biodiversity or the garden-roof coop.

pss 09/23/11 - Well, that didn't last very long. Google switched back its new cool feature of gallery-like photo displays. Quite frankly, I don't care enough to check out the discussion boards as to why this was reversed.

Monday, September 5, 2011

tree year project 2011, #10

It seems about once a year (07/20/10 and 10/04/09) I'm able to get a picture of a red-shouldered hawk on this Douglas-fir. This time it's for The Tree Year project. In the past 2 weeks, city workers have been tidying up the park below our balcony. The pride of Madeira has been trimmed within an inch of its life. I'll be curious to see how it blooms next year. At the very least it'll help the red-shouldered to spot a snack on the ground.