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.

snowberry ~ 11/19/11 ~ Garland Ranch

common snowberry
Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus

I have yet to notice the pretty pink flowers of the snowberry. However, the bright white, small marshmallow-looking berries are so easy to spot, especially when most of the leaves have dropped. The other species of snowberry at Garland is the creeping snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis), which according to the USDA is only native to CA and NV. To me they look nearly identical in photos, except for the obvious difference, one is erect and the other creeps along the ground. I'll try to keep a look-out next year for the flowers, which, if my books are correct, should bloom in the spring.

CA bay ~ 11/19/11 ~ Garland Ranch

After a full year of thinking about it and posting about it back in July, I finally had my first taste of a California bay nut. Well, actually, being the piglet I am and wanting to compare, I tried 3 bay nuts. I was so excited I didn't get a picture of the first one, but it was reddish and squishy like the first photo above. The flesh had the texture and taste that reminded me of a cross between a firm avocado and an unripe mango, mild, slightly sweet, and with only a hint of bay. The second one I tried was a bit greener yet also soft. I barely nibbled it before I spat it out. It had a very, very strong bay flavor. It left a burning tingle in the back of my throat, similar to the effect I get when I eat fresh mangoes - I've already looked it up, CA bays are related to avocados but not mangoes. Hoping to try another ripe bay nut, I ate a third that was somewhere in between. Had I been prudent, I would have simply saved them and waited until I got home to taste them; for the rest of my hike, my throat tingled and every exhale tasted like bay. My stomach was not a happy camper by the time I finished my hike.

Interesting to note the seed of the first ripe one was very dark, whereas the seed of the second green one was a much lighter color. In the third photo I also want to show there are buds on the evergreen CA bay already. And the last picture shows a very large and mature CA bay tree.

ps 02/06/12 - I initially posted the last picture believing the large tree was an oak (Quercus sp.) next to a smaller CA bay. The significance of this is that the CA bay serves as a host to a pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death, which also affects tanbark oaks (Notholithocarpus densiflorus). For a very informative blog post about SOD, check out Randy at Way Points. I'm always amazed at the things I learn from fellow bloggers. During another hike at Garzas Creek on 01/16/12, I took a second look at the large tree and realized I had been mistaken about its ID. I've still got a lot to learn about trees.

bigleaf maple and CA sycamore ~ 11/19/11 ~ Garland Ranch

bigleaf maple (left) and California sycamore (right)

Both these deciduous trees are native to California and provide lovely autumn colors. They can be quite tall, so it's difficult to compare the shapes of the leaves when they're too high to examine. It's taken me until this hike, when the forest floor is littered, to truly distinguish the leaves. For the longest time, I thought Garland only had one native large-leaved tree, that being the bigleaf maple. I was wrong. Considering the place used to be a ranch, I figured any sycamores I found were non-native. I've corrected past posts to reflect my new understanding, like last November's Garzas Creek habitat post.

bigleaf maple
Acer macrophyllum
Sapindaceae (formerly Aceraceae)

Notice the 5 deep lobes of the leaf? The vertically grooved bark, often covered in moss or lichen, reminds me very much of walnut trees. Other eastern North American counterparts are red maple (Acer rubrum), silver maple (Acer saccharinum), and sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Despite what the USDA PLANTS database shows, the silver maple is not native to CA.

western sycamore / California sycamore
Platanus racemosa

What originally confused me about the leaves is the CA sycamore's can have 3 or 5 lobes. I can usually recognize sycamore bark by its sickly, puzzle-like look - yep, that's my own highly technical description. Its eastern North American counterpart is American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis).

bigleaf maple

In a previous post from this summer, I showed how big the CA sycamore leaves get, which can be considerably larger than the bigleaf maple. Happy fall!

ps 11/29/11 - I'm glad I don't have to deal with the differences between sycamore maples and field maples like they do over in the UK, The Squirrelbasket and Loose and Leafy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

habitat ~ 11/12/11 ~ Elkhorn Slough - NERR

First off, let me say that Andy and I had a lovely afternoon walk at Elkhorn on a very overcast day. This slough is one of my top 5 places to enjoy the outdoors in Monterey County. We had planned to go the day before for the holiday, but major rains kept us mostly indoors. I seem to have a rain curse anytime I plan on hiking or camping ahead of time, hence why I'm a bit superstitious and tend not to plan ahead for such things. They raised their entrance fee from $2.50/person to $4.00/person. It's still a small amount to pay for the pleasure.

What's that saying, "Ignorance is bliss"? It wasn't until I blogged about the prolific invasive plant species that I started getting grumpy about our visit. I looked into the history of Elkhorn Slough. In the past 140 years, the place has been built, ditched, diked, dairied, diverted, farmed, channeled, mounded, and is now being utilized as an outdoor laboratory. Then, I started reading about all the research that is going on there. Instead of being encouraged, I got depressed. Out of numerous not-so-fun to report items, DDE was circumstantially linked to a caspian tern colony crash in 1995. When was DDT banned here in the US? 1972! So, 23 years later the stuff is still killing non-target life? I wouldn't be surprised if Monsanto's Roundup ends up being this century's DDT. It's used everywhere, including as a management tool against invasive plants - to be fair, the agricultural runoff into watersheds overshadows any minimal use of herbicide at reserves. However, just because everyone uses it, doesn't mean it's good - think fossil fuels, plastics, cigarettes. Dang, we humans sure can eff things up! How will Elkhorn Slough be in another 140 years?

Oh, I should mention that pretty pink plant is the native red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). I believe it's introduced and tended like a garden plant.

ps 11/23/11 - This post really got me thinking about what exactly are my views on conservation, restoration, gardens, and research in the 21st century, so I've been keeping an eye out for more information. I found Biodiverse Gardens' book review of Rambunctious Gardens interesting.

belted kingfisher and western gull ~ 11/12/11 ~ Elkhorn Slough

belted kingfisher (below) and western gull (above)
Ceryle alcyon and Larus occidentalis

Phew! I'm done posting about non-native invasive plants for this hike. I realized I had neglected covering the most obvious weeds at Elkhorn Slough and needed to rectify the situation. In a similar vein, considering this estuary has so many birds, I always try to post at least one bird photo from an outing, even if it's crappy - I'm talking about the photos, not any particular bird... but now that I think about it... Unfortunately, many of the birds are far enough away that my little point-and-shoot can only cough up fuzzy, zoomed-to-the-max shots.

We came across two hikers with large binoculars, loudly ooing and awing over the various birds across the water. It was quite entertaining to hear their excitement. I overheard they were looking for a belted kingfisher that they thought had left the area. I casually looked down and pointed out, "Is that the kingfisher you're looking for?" As Andy and I walked away, we chuckled how sometimes people are so focused looking through their binoculars that they're unable to spot the bird nearest to them. And, in the relative quiet away from the hikers, we thoroughly enjoyed the amazing afternoon bird chorus that carried across the water. I wish I could have recorded it for this blog. For an incredible blog that does have various animal recordings, check out The Music of Nature.

ps - I'm considering organizing Nature ID birds a little better than I have. At this point, I'm undecided if I should do Order or Family, like is featured at BirdWeb, or more loose groupings based on shape, like is featured at Bird Friends of San Diego County and For you birder followers out there, I'd appreciate hearing your opinion. Thanks!

wild radish ~ 11/12/11 ~ Elkhorn Slough

Well, knock my socks off! Hello? I had no idea the wild radish I frequently see around here is the same species as the radish I buy at farmers' markets and the grocery store. Did you know that? I even grew one this summer in my mini-greenhouse after a stocky sprout came up from my too-soon-to-use compost. I'm laughing, because the whole time I was perplexed thinking, "Hey, this looks exactly like what I see growing out in the wild." I should note, there is another species of radish that grows wild at Elkhorn and is aka wild radish / jointed charlock (Raphanus raphanistrum).

The second photo above is the exact area where last year I noticed a heavy dose of herbicide to knock down the poison hemlock. I'm sorry to say that at the time I was very critical of the reserve's generous use of herbicides. I had quickly edited the post, which now doesn't reflect what I was reading at the time. I'll admit to being ignorant of lots of things. Through following blogs, my opinions about land management practices have been changing. Bree at the now defunct Land Steward had two really good posts, what restoration means to me and weeds. I still think the marketing departments at major pesticide manufacturers do too good of a job at pulling the wool over people's eyes, ears, and mouths. However, given the choice between invasives versus reintroduced natives... well, I do like seeing native flowers... but at what costs?

poison hemlock ~ 11/12/11 ~ Elkhorn Slough

While poison hemlock gets very little mention on the recently revised official Elkhorn Slough site, in my humble opinion, it is the single most dominating weedy species on their coastal, publicly-accessed grasslands. There are massive stands of it, not only in the expansive area it encompasses but also in height. Andy was kind enough to provide a size comparison for me to show it readily grows to 8 feet tall at Elkhorn.

Per my m.o. for Nature ID, all these photos were taken on November 12, 2011. This means the typical blurb repeated everywhere from books to online that C. maculatum flowers from April to July is not entirely correct. It's obviously flowering here in November, so it's no wonder it's such a productive plant. The flowers and leaves remind me very much of Queen Anne's lace and garden carrots.

I was sorry to see Land Steward ceased blogging about Elkhorn Slough. In fact, I discovered several blogs that featured Elkhorn Slough have stopped abruptly in the past two years, which makes me wonder if all the staff and volunteers were asked to stop blogging about their experiences. I now receive weekly, glossy, sugar-coated e-mail updates on what is going on there. It's too bad; I preferred the nitty-gritty and personal perspective of the reality of land management.

Did you notice the other unwanted resident in the first photo, a cucumber beetle?

Oop, I guess I should also note that there are other hemlocks out there besides the ones in the Apiaceae, aka carrot family, such as those in the pine family like Tsuga spp.

harding grass ~ 11/12/11 ~ Elkhorn Slough

Sigh... off the beach and back to drier land. My brain has to switch some serious gears for Nature ID. I occasionally overlook the fact that Elkhorn Slough used to be a farm. I'm often so preoccupied simply being in awe of the estuary, or looking for birds close enough to photograph, or seeking out native plants, which, pardon the expression, is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The official Elkhorn Slough site has a nice write-up on this common grazing grass.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

habitat ~ 11/03/11 ~ Morro Strand State Beach

When I first started Nature ID back in May 2009, Andy I were visiting San Luis Obispo County a little more frequently than we do now, and my blog subtitle was "from the Central Coast of California." Thanks to school and changes in our lifestyle, we stay closer to home in Monterey County these days, so I've re-subtitled Nature ID to reflect the change of location focus.
However, it's only been 3 weeks since I last visited this beach on October 12, 2011 in Morro Bay, about 150 miles southeast of Monterey Bay. The weather couldn't have been more different with a high of 67.5°F compared to the 92.8°F previously.

My friend Jennifer, who is also a regular commenter on
Nature ID, loved my sand dollar shots. Since she had never really been to Morro Bay, I thought it'd be a good idea to play hookey from our responsibilities and do a girls' trip. And, yes, she found many, many sand dollars, not to mention added new bird sightings to her brother's Birdpost site.

Heavy sigh... Morro Strand State Beach is on the list for closure in the coming year along with 69 other CA State Parks. Unlike back in 2009 when Mr. Terminator proposed closing 80% of CA's 278 State Parks, this year's threat of closure feels realistic and more serious. While I can see them closing and fencing off the campground, I just can't imagine any agency being able to keep people off this awesome 3-mile beach. With no restrooms, no refuse containers, or other maintenance and management, I predict the quality of this beach will quickly go downhill. Public-private partnerships have been organized to attempt to fill the gaps throughout the state, but it takes a cadre of folks willing to volunteer their money, time, sweat, and expertise. Randy at Way Points has been vocal with his posts about Trail Closure at Garrapata and Henry Coe gets a Reprieve. I'm surprised other CA nature bloggers I follow haven't said much on this very important and relevant topic. Save Our State Parks seems to me to be the best organization out there spreading the word.

ps 05/31/12 - The Central Coast Natural History Association Executive Director contacted me and asked if they could use my last picture of the SOS sign alongside the standard brown State Parks sign on the cover of their "Nature Notes" newsletter. They're a non-profit that raises money for their local SLO County State Parks and have been fighting to keep these special parks open for over 4 years. Of course, they have my permission! I sent to her a few higher resolution image files from which to choose.

terns ~ 11/03/11 ~ Morro Strand Beach

edited 11/11/11 - These were the funniest looking birds I've seen in a long time, like gulls with clown outfits on. It's too bad we lost sight of the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival leader who pointed out the surfbirds for us.

I originally posted these as all being elegant terns, but I was unsure and considered royal terns as an option. I asked if anyone could help me tell the difference between the two species, because I was pulling my hair out thinking they all had to be either elegant terns or all royal terns. I tried to convince myself the variations I spotted were due to some being younger birds. As I've blogged before, I'm aware I often make the incorrect assumption that similar looking things near each other must be the same. Thanks to commenters Neil and Jennifer, I agree there are actually two species of birds hanging out together. Neil provided an excellent link to the San Diego Natural History Museum Focus On Royal and Elegant Terns. Thanks to you both!

royal terns with 1 elegant tern 2nd from right
S. maxima with 1 Sterna elegans 2nd from right

The royal terns have white tops of the heads, like a man balding on top, and thicker, pumpkin-colored bills. They look stockier than elegant when standing side by side.

elegant terns with 1 royal tern 2nd from left
S. elegans with 1 S. maxima 2nd from left

The elegant terns have heads with black hoods that touch their eyes, thinner, sharper bill, and slightly smaller overall size. Note the yellow legs of the juvenile elegant tern.

mixture of elegant and royal terns

Now, can you spot the differences above? With all the variations in plumage within a species, depending on time of year, age of the bird, and sometimes sexual dimorphism (other birds), I hope my confusion can be easily understood. Now that I know what to look for, the differences seem obvious. It'd be more of a challenge distinguishing these terns in their breeding plumage. I'm just glad a caspian tern (Sterna caspia) was not in the mix, too.

Somehow it's comforting to know other people have a hard time IDing these terns, e.g., Ben's Blog - In Search of Nature, Birds, Butties & Bugs, and John Wall's Natural California (does he have a mix of both species, too?).

barnacles ~ 11/03/11 ~ Morro Strand Beach

I'm trying to get outside of my comfort zone and ID things I know very little about. Many people would recognize a barnacle, but I think few would know particular species. Indeed, as I was researching, there seems to be conflicting information about the identity of some very common barnacles. I may change the embedded links as I look into this some more.

sea anemones ~ 11/03/11 ~ Morro Strand Beach

sea anemones
Anthopleura spp.
more information

As a kid, whenever we'd go to the beach, my mother would repeatedly warn me to never step on sea anemones, because she believed they would sting. Now, I don't step on them for fear I could crush these seemingly delicate animals. I learned through the links included in this post that both ideas, stings to humans and being delicate, are incorrect.

I should note not all sea anemones are in the Anthopleura genus. The two species I have identified below just happen to be in the same genus.

aggregating anemone
Anthopleura elegantissimamore pictures

The aggregating anemone is known to clone itself, hence why they're often found in dense clusters. The Walla Walla site linked in the scientific name above shows some incredible pictures of the dividing process. Some anemones also have green algae (zoochlorellae) or dinoflagellates (zooxanthellae) living symbiotically in their gut lining (but maybe not these ones?). The Monterey Bay Aquarium site has fun information on the aggregating anemone, but it states "Anthropleura" with an extra 'r', which is incorrect. Anthropleura was an ancient giant centipede.

I was lucky enough to get a decent picture of this anemone slightly open to see the lines on the oral disk for a positive ID.

Two additional similar looking species found in our area are the moonglow anemone, aka burrowing anemone (Anthopleura artemisia), and the giant green anemone, aka solitary green anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica) - which I believe is shown in the first photograph above, but there is no way for me to know for sure.

For much better photographs of anemones and other tide pool life, check out John Wall's Natural California. It's extremely difficult to get decent pictures through moving water. Most of my attempted shots ended up being lovely reflections of the clouds above.