Saturday, December 10, 2011

habitat ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

Los Padres Dam

This hike was all about contrasts. The reservoir seemed fairly full, but the spillway was bone dry and the Carmel River was very low. Once past the dam, the Carmel River Trail hugs the hills, from sunny to shady, repeatedly. There were dry areas still recovering from the 2008 Basin Complex Fire and other areas which seemed extra lush and green for this time of year. One side of the trail could have chaparral yuccas, chamise, and dried grasses, while the other side could have newly sprouted fiesta flowers, ferns, grasses, and mushrooms. We went through stands of trees to open meadows. Evergreen oaks, madrones, CA bays, and toyon were mixed in with deciduous oaks, CA buckeyes, bigleaf maples, and CA sycamores. Buckwheats, CA fuchsias, CA goldenrods, cudweeds, telegraph weeds, and a variety of other Asteraceae were setting seed and showing fresh blooms. I saw very few insects or hummingbirds that could pollinate the flowers, but I did spot a couple bumblebees, a honkin' huge tachinid fly, other smaller flies, damselflies, and dragonflies. We thoroughly enjoyed being outdoors in December.

I may want visit Los Padres Dam again in January or February. We don't often go there, because it can get blazing hot by May (although the numerous river crossings are refreshing), the trails are not well maintained further in (with loads of poison-oak), and it takes an hour to travel the 25 miles inland (which is almost beyond my patience to drive for a hike). I've found very few nature-related sites about the Los Padres Dam area. It's a very popular access point for the northern area of the Los Padres National Forest, so most of my search results have been from hard-core hiking sites. To see what backpacking is like in the area, check out this fellow Tony's pictures.

stinging lupine ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

stinging lupine
Lupinus hirsutissimus

My brain has totally taken a holiday. When I'm usually working on this blog early in the morning, it's now dark out, and I've been feeling like I would rather be back in bed. But, that's just a lame excuse... For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what this plant was and posted it on Flickr seeking ID help. Doh! I should have known it was a lupine of some sort based on the leaf shape, yet I was more focused on the prickly parts. True to its name, they do give a mild sting when touched, like a poke with a small needle that stays stuck. Andy and I both discovered this when we took a closer look and feel of the plant. While I suspect this plant would normally grow where I found it, Wikipedia states these grow in places that were recently burned. I wonder how much the 2008 Basin Complex Fire on this trail encouraged the presence of this particular patch of stinging lupine.

CA buckeye ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

California buckeye
Aesculus californica
more information
Sapindaceae (formerly Hippocastanaceae)

I wanted to show how big our CA buckeye seeds get, much larger than the native buckeyes (A. glabra and A. flava) and introduced horse chestnut (A. hippocastanum) seeds I found when I lived in Ohio. During our hike, we had a fun time rolling the prolific seeds down the ravines to see how far they would go; it was like rolling bocce jacks over a rough terrain.

I'm surprised I don't have additional seasonal posts of the CA buckeye, considering it's noticeably one of the first trees to sprout leaves in late winter and one of the first trees to drop leaves in late summer, which I read somewhere was due to lack of water. I'll have to rectify this posting deficiency. For much better information than I could ever provide, check out Clare's buckeye post at Curbstone Valley Farm.

CA goldenrod ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

During this hike, I felt like I was in some kind of seasonal time warp. It is December after all. Here's another cheery flower that really should have finished blooming by now. Calflora shows there are 16 spp./ssp. of Solidago in CA. However, I'm fairly confident of this ID based on the leaf shape and the way the flowers are clustered on one side of the stem.

green lynx spider ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

western variation female green lynx spider on cudweed
Peucetia viridans on Pseudognaphalium sp.

That's quite a large egg sac she's protecting! She's about 1" or more in size but not very green, eh? While searching for an ID, I looked at other Oxyopidae, and none seemed to match as well as P. viridans. It helped to read that this spider can change color depending on the season or surroundings. As I was getting in close to take pictures, I got a whiff of the lovely scent from the cudweed. Green lynx spiders are not the only things that utilize cudweed blooms; Cindy at Dipper Ranch found American lady caterpillars tucked into her cudweed.

CA fuchsia ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

California fuchsia / hummingbird trumpet
Epilobium canum (formerly Zauschneria californica)

I was pleased to find CA fuchsia blooming out in the wild in December. It's a cheery Christmassy color. I didn't know the seeds would be fluffy. Actually, I rarely find it growing wild because of my hiking location choices and time of year I most often hike (spring). I doubt I'd recognize this plant if it weren't in bloom. I should have taken better pictures of its leaves. The CA fuchsia is a very popular native plant with gardeners these days, and I often see it used in landscaping around town and on CA garden blogs, like Camissonia's Corner and Sierra Foothill Garden. I didn't see any hummingbirds feeding on it, but I know they're around. I should point out the CA fuchsia is not a real fuchsia; it's a willowherb.

bobcat ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

Do you see it!?!
(click any Nature ID pic for a larger screen view)

Let's zoom in a little closer.

Oho! Very exciting! Finally! Today I saw my first wild bobcat... and got some crappy photos of it. It's too bad that moments after we decided the log tucked in among the tall dried grasses had moved and really was a bobcat, a large dog came bounding down the trail towards us. During a 4-hour hike, we only met one other group of hikers. Per our typical trail luck, this 2nd group was loudly chatty to each other and oblivious with a loose dog that I was somewhat concerned would bite me before I could continue taking crappy photos.

This bobcat didn't seem too disturbed by their barking dog, nor did it seem to be in much of a hurry to depart the scene. After we pointed out to the other hikers the presence of the bobcat, we took a side trail to see if we could follow it. We didn't find it again, although we spotted an agitated CA gray squirrel high in a tree chirping out a high-pitched alarm call that seemed to spread through the trees.

For much better pictures of local subspecies of bobcats, check out other CA nature bloggers John Wall and Nature of a Man. I've been so keen on seeing a bobcat out in the wild that I've even collected a list o' links from various other bloggers on bobcats. I feel like I could easily retire this ol' blog with a sense of completion. It's as if Christmas came early for me this year.

common yarrow ~ 12/10/11 ~ Los Padres Dam

posted 12/29/11 - When I started this blog 2 1/2 years ago, I focused on colorful, sunny flowers and animals that were already familiar to me. It's been a real joy learning more about my local natural world. My learning curve was a sharp incline at first and then it flattened out, partially due to blogging fatigue and partially due to my hesitancy to show off how much I don't know.

Without flowers, I'm often at a loss as to what a plant is. It's time for me to start looking at leaves. Once again, thanks to Flickr and Nature of a Man blogger randomtruth, I received help for the ID of this very common plant.

The white blooms in the last picture might be a type of naked buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum), but really I have no idea. I had several pictures of this buckwheat, but none of them turned out very well since my point-and-shoot couldn't find a focal point. Once again, I should have looked for the leaves to be able to make a better determination.