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.