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?

Here's one shrub that if it weren't blooming, I'd have no idea what it is based on the leaves. I think I've mentioned before that I generally ignore bushes. Maybe I've gotten used to seeing shrubs pruned to an inch of their life and not looking very natural in gardens and public spaces. They generally don't excite me. However, it is fun to see the bright yellow of this bush poppy on hillsides.

ps - For those who follow my blog through readers, you may have noticed an odd testing post yesterday. I'm trying to figure out a better way to manage my numerous labels. It used to be fairly easy when I only had 4 label groups: flowers, insects, birds, and location labels. I want to easily find past posts of specific groups, like poppies, without having to scroll down from here to eternity in the widgets on the right side of this blog, or having to continually, manually maintain the lists. I've found google's search widget to not be very effective for my own blog or other blogs. Right now I have 4 groups of lists for plants: ferns, flowers (garden flowers, native wildflowers, and non-native wildflowers), plant families, and trees & shrubs. I don't particularly like the idea of adding additional pages to the top of my blog, because personally I rarely click on those unless it's an "about." Does anyone have any ideas?

pss 07/21/11 - I've changed labels around for plants. To see lists of all plant labels see plant families and plants.

bordered plant bug
Largus californicus

We saw quite a few of these true bugs in the middle of the Juniper Canyon, Tunnel, and High Peaks trails. Usually, we spotted them on or near seedy scat. The second picture above was of two that seemed to be fighting over the remains of a spider. It was fascinating to watch as one would chase the other away and quickly return to its capture.

This didn't make sense to me since they supposedly feed on lupine, hence the name plant bug. I found an online abstract written by Carey L. Booth that mentions they will supplement their diet with feces and carrion. So, a question remains for me, if you have a piercing-sucking mouth part, as all true bugs do, how do you eat dried feces and carrion? In any case, for whatever reason, it's always reassuring when my own observations mesh with what's published.

Click on the common name above and scroll down the page to see some cool pictures of the unusual looking nymphs and last instar molt. While University of California, Irvine is quite a bit south from us in Orange County, I've really enjoyed Dr. Peter Bryant's Arthropod web pages as a reliable resource for this blog.

buck brush ~ 03/04/11 ~ Pinnacles

buck brush
Ceanothus cuneatus var. cuneatus

These white to lavender blooms were everywhere and smelled amazing. What a treat to be hiking through wafts of pleasant floral perfumes. However, I was surprised to see so few bees visiting the flowers. Even though it was fairly warm the day we visited, it snowed just the previous Saturday and perhaps the freezing temps affected the native bees. There are close to 400 species of bees at Pinnacles, which according to their website is "the highest known bee diversity per unit area of any place on earth." Impressive.

ps - Given the comments already posted below, I should also mention Ceanothus spp. are frequently, generically called wild lilac. Here in California, there are around 90 species and subspecies of native Ceanothus. It's no wonder I usually have such a difficult time identifying these lovely bushes. Many Ceanothus closer to home, both out in the wild and in gardens, have been blooming since mid-January this year.
Considering this one greeted us with particular interest just a short ways down the path from the parking lot, I suspect it is accustomed to well-intentioned hikers offering tasty bits. I had never noticed before the cool blue stripes on Steller's jay foreheads. Usually, when I think of these jays, I recall how well they can mimic the sounds of other birds, like red-shouldered hawks. Once while we were camping down at Morro Bay, we were puzzled over the hawk sounds we heard repeatedly with no visual confirmation. Sure enough, the sound was coming from a Steller's jay hopping around a neighboring empty campground site. I wonder why they mimic?

common fiddleneck ~ 03/04/11 ~ Pinnacles

This is the first time I've taken an up close and personal look at fiddlenecks. Maybe it's the yellow or the spiny parts that makes me relatively adverse to this reasonably cute flower. Calflora lists 18 species and varieties of Amsinckia. Btw, what an awful genus name; sounds like "I'm sick of ya." For the record, I'm abandoning my usage of common names according to Jepson's that I started doing this year. Who the heck really calls this finger weed?

ps 04/05/14 - I updated the name from Amsinckia menziesii var. intermedia.  There was a little bit of shuffling in the genus.  I'm noting how skinny the whole plant is compared to what I consider A. menziesii.  I really don't know how to tell them apart.

Annaphila depicta ~ 03/04/11 ~ Pinnacles

a day-flying moth nectaring on California milkmaids
Annaphila depicta ssp. morula nectaring on Cardamine californica

When the first few Lepidoptera flew by me with their flashes of orange, I got excited believing I was seeing my first copper butterflies since returning to CA. Nope. It's a day flying moth! The official Pinnacles National Monument website is now including moths, instead of just butterflies. Great... except, as the PDF states, it's a work in progress. The only Annaphila they list is A. decia.

Here's a dirty little secret from my past life, I suck at identifying moths without a reference collection. So, I sent a picture to Chris Grinter of The Skeptical Moth this morning around 6:30am - gotta appreciate fellow bloggers who are up before the sun comes up. He promptly replied the following, "Love to see the moth photos. This is absolutely in the genus Annaphila (Noctuidae), and I'm comfortable calling it A. depicta. I could even take a stab at this being the subspecies 'morula' based on that pronounced brown bar on the forewing!" After comparing the very few photographs available online of Annaphila, I agree with his expert ID. Thank you, Chris!

I should mention these small moths were relatively abundant in what I affectionately term the "butterfly highway" at Pinnacles.

Plus, milkmaids were definitely the predominant blooming herbaceous perennials everywhere we hiked. Some looked more mustardy than milky. It looks like there are two varieties of C. californica (var. californica and var. cuneata) recorded from Pinnacles, but I wouldn't be able to tell you which is which or the difference.

ps - If you look closely at the second picture, there's a cute little beetle. Based on my other pictures of milkmaids, these beetles are quite abundant on this flower. However, I'm done with IDs for today.

pss 04/06/11 - Before I forget, Chris encouraged me to contact Paul Johnson of NPS. Paul and I had a couple of e-mail exchanges between March 6-9, 2011. He says he has 3 or 4 Annaphila on his Pinnacles moth list, but it's not updated and available to the public. Whether due to my e-mails or not, he did manage to catch a moth similar to the one shown above on March 7, 2011.

shootingstar ~ 03/04/11 ~ Pinnacles

I've spent an enjoyable evening looking up padre's shootingstars, which has four subspecies. I should mention that I'm starting to rely on location-based published plant lists for any particular flower ID, because I figure the folks who did the studies know a heck of a lot more than I do. Botanical descriptions and subspecies aside, these simply looked bolder and more intense than other shootingstars I've seen previously closer to home in Monterey County. Recently I read about a local seasoned botanist who distinguished species of wildflowers based on every smile. There's something to be said for familiarity and recognition, even with flowers, that is beyond words and fancy descriptors.