Friday, June 10, 2011

habitat ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles National Monument - east

After the previous day's hot hike in the full sun, our hike to Bear Gulch Reservoir in the shade of rocks and trees was a welcomed change of pace. For all the times we've been to Pinnacles, this was the first time we've done this short loop. Unfortunately our timing never seems to coincide with when Bear Gulch Cave is open. As shown by the sign, the cave is often closed when the Townsend's big-eared bats are raising their young. Plus, this past March I know the Balconies Cave was closed due to high water, but I don't remember if Bear Gulch Cave was also closed.

While we prefer going to the west entrance in May for a day trip, this was our first time camping at Pinnacles. The last picture shows our campsite's "backyard" with a creek. It looks lovely, doesn't it? Come nightfall, marauding racoons used that creek to sneak into every campsite along the water. We could hear the series of shrieks and yells from the campers with only a minute or so between hits. We were sitting only feet away at the campfire when a couple very large raccoons hopped on our table and grabbed our just-opened bag of marshmallows. We got off easy. Our neighbors chased after a raccoon which disappeared with an entire knapsack. Overall, this Pinnacles trip was great and I'm looking forward to going back.

ps 12/15/11 - For pictures of this trail in mid-December, check out My Back 40 (Feet).

northern bluet ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles

northern bluet
Enallagma annexum (formerly E. cyathigerum)

So much for looking at wing position to distinguish bluets (Enallagma spp.) from dancers (Agria spp.). Supposedly bluets have wings held close to the body, whereas dancers hold their wings up and away from their abdomens. Here's the second time where my pictures show the exact opposite of this. I've used the advice given by Jim Johnson at Northwest Dragonflier and from my previous vivid dancer post to look at the color of the last (i.e., 10th) abdominal segment, at least in western damselflies. If it's mostly black on top, it's a bluet, and if it's all blue, it's a dancer. Again, another one of those naming things that doesn't mesh with what I now know to look for.

There are 4 Enallagma spp. reportedly found at Pinnacles: E. annexum, E. civile (familiar bluet), E. carunculatum (tule bluet), and E. praevarum (arroyo bluet). I ruled out the tule and arroyo bluets, because their abdominal segments are mostly black. I then ruled out the familiar bluet, because it has smaller eyespots and a triangular "fin-shaped" appendage at the tip of the abdomen. Finally, there is the possibility this could be an almost identical boreal bluet (E. boreale), but the distinction is in the tiny cerci (compare b with e) and not anything I can tackle with my point-and-shoot. Now, as before, I could be totally wrong with this ID. Jim?

The second picture above is a cast exoskeleton (aka exuvia) from a damselfly naiad. I love how they hug the tule/bulrush, something I'm not going to try to ID. What would damselflies do if there wasn't any tule around to hug?

bluewitch ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles


Posted 07/16/11 - Popping out another post this evening and trying not to take myself too seriously. Sometimes my point-and-shoot simply refuses to cooperate or the subject moves, hence the crappy photos label. I always wondered what a bluewitch was. Now I know.

acmon blue ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles

acmon blue
Plebejus acmon
for more information click here and here

Oy! This was play the game of spot the difference between the individual shown above and the bernardino dotted blue I posted from the previous day. Here are my own (layman) explanations of why I'm leaning towards an acmon blue ID:
1) Almost every picture of bernardinos I've seen have a black spot that touches the costal margin (leading edge of the forewing) at around the 3rd row of spots down from the outer margin. It is missing here as it is with acmons.
2) The overall appearance of the spots on the forewing are rounder like with acmons, rather than squarish with bernardinos.
3) Most pictures of bernardinos I've seen have 4 spots on the hindwing between where the wing attaches to the body and the cell-end bar (dash in the middle of the wing). The 2nd spot up from the hindwing trailing margin (wing edge along the abdomen) is missing, again, like with acmons.
4) Bernardinos have flat black spots on the outer edge of the hindwing and acmons have iridescent blue spots. Either they were worn off on this older butterfly or the backlighting hides the effect such that the spots appear all black.
5) It is not obvious that this butterfly has checkered fringes on the forewing, which is common in in bernardinos. Yet, there is the possibility they were worn off of this older butterfly.
6) Speaking of worn, older butterflies, I also posted a top-side view of an acmon blue from the previous day. This tells me the flight period is almost exactly the same, whereas the bernardino blue was fresh.

Sigh, this is probably way more detail than anyone wants to read. Lepidopterists must be excruciatingly nitpicky, closely followed by botanists. Can you imagine if we applied these same miniscule differences to other living things? To humans? Well, this person has green eyes and that person has hazel eyes, so they "must" be different species. I have to laugh at myself, because what the heck am I doing with this blog? Two years ago I couldn't even tell you the difference between chinese houses and sky lupine, and now I'm counting the dots on a tiny butterfly's wing.

pitcher sage ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles

Edited 07/16/11 - I originally posted with pictures from 06/09/11, but I like these photos better. The previous day the pitcher sages were so fragrant that it stopped us in our tracks. I've seen these at Fort Ord before, but I never noticed its incredibly wonderful scent. Maybe the very warm day helped spread the smell. I wonder if the flowers and leaves can be eaten. I would definitely include this in my dream garden.

valley garter snake ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles

valley garter snake
Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi
(ssp. of common garter snake) 

This swimming snake was a fun find. It amazes me they can use a similar serpentine movement to swim as moving across ground. It was good to revisit garter snake ID, because I found an error in a previous post that I had originally identified as a coast garter snake.

ps 04/01/14 - I had briefly changed the ID to Diablo Range garter snake (Thamnophis atratus zaxanthus), an aquatic garter snake.  However, Diablo do not have red on their sides like this one shows.

imbricate phacelia ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles

Phacelia imbricata ssp. imbricata

If I didn't have Pinnacles plant list and Calflora's distribution map, I'd have a hard time distinguishing this plant with its relative variable-leaved phacelia (Phacelia heterophylla ssp. virgata), which is found further north. Species of Phacelia are aka scorpionweed. I figure the name comes from the curly inflorescence like the curl of a scorpion tail. However, this isn't the entire story. Apparently, contact with some scorpionweeds (like P. crenulata) can produce dermatitis venenata in susceptible people, similar to poison-oak and sumac reactions. Interestingly, other species of scorpionweeds (like P. neomexicana) were used by Native Americans to actually treat rashes. It's difficult to track down accurate and original online information of which species of scorpionweed does what, so as Santa Fe Botanical Gardens recommends, it's probably safer to stay away from the stuff.

ps - The purple flower in the background is elegant clarkia.

honey bee ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles

While Pinnacles has the highest known bee diversity in the world, I'm guessing these are typical European honey bees (Apis mellifera) that were introduced to North America close to 400 years ago. I took the pictures of the bees collecting water from the same standing spot as the nest, and I'm assuming the bees are from the nest. This is the second time I've seen comb on the outside of a tree trunk, as opposed to a swarm. I also found several online pictures of North American hives hanging from branches. However, I usually think of feral hives as being in cavities, like tree holes and chimneys. I wonder why honey bees pick different locations for their hives. Perhaps the nest is not an Apis mellifera feral hive? I had a difficult time finding any information about wild honey bee nests and their locations since most search results ended with beekeeping info. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations site and trusty Wikipedia discuss honey bee nest locations.

holly-leaved cherry ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles

Here's my first native, non-garden blossom post. Apparently holly-leaved cherries are edible. I'll have to keep my eye out for them come September and October. I find the autumn timing of this wild fruit to be interesting considering commercial cherries are the first summer fruits available. In fact, we passed numerous roadside cherry stands on our way to and from Pinnacles.

fence lizard ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles

male coast range fence lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii

I've been debating about this ID ever since I posted another fence lizard at Pinnacles from this same trip. These two lizards look totally different from each other. I'm wondering if the one shown above might be a sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus). However, this species is supposedly not found according to the Pinnacles reptiles and amphibians list. The two Sceloporus species are difficult to tell apart without looking at the underside of the males.

lanceleaf liveforever ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles

So often this Dudleya is growing on rocks in hard to reach places. I was so intent on getting a better picture that I clambered up to the rock without thinking. When I was done and looked around, I realized what a precarious position I had gotten myself into with a steep drop off and surrounded by poison oak. Looking down from great heights makes me feel dizzy and unsure of my footing. It's an odd sensation, especially because I never had a problem with the balance beam in gymnastics, nor do I think twice about looking down from a building or an airplane. I probably won't take up rock climbing anytime soon.

Indian tobacco ~ 06/10/11 ~ Pinnacles

I thought this would be a quick post to research, but then I got caught up reading about the history of tobacco use, cultivation, and trade. While N. quadrivalvis is native to western North America, Lewis and Clark reportedly found the Arikara people cultivating this plant in the area that became North and South Dakota. The best sites I found mentioning this are Discovering Lewis and Clark, University of Iowa, and University of Iowa Health Care.