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.