Wednesday, December 5, 2012

gone

sunrise from home
December 5, 2012

Gone.  This is the label I use in my Google Reader to mark blogs I follow which haven't had new posts in several months.  The list seems to be growing by the day.  I miss some of those bloggers as if they were real life friends who have moved away.  I wonder how they're doing and hope life is treating them well.  Every so often someone surprises me and comes back from being gone, like The Ohio Nature Blog and The Skeptical Moth.  Dang kids and new jobs seem to get in the way of regular blogging.  

I can't say I have those excuses.  I have been a bit lackluster in my blogging routine this year. The dry dreary weather and now windy rain have discouraged me from going out as much as I would like.  In large part to being otherwise preoccupied, I have also missed posting whole sections from my photo archives, like a camping trip to Morro Bay and a couple outings to Fort Ord.  I have already ID'd many things that are easy to photograph and narrow down to species; now all I have left are annoyingly perplexing unknowns and exceptionally crappy photos. However, I'm not giving up, yet.  My hiking should inform my blogging, rather than the other way around as it has been in the past year or so. I think this transformation of intent has really shown in a lack of curiosity in my blog posts.  I want to get back to truly enjoying hiking for all the things that drew me to this activity in the first place - being outside, clearing my head, getting a little bit of exercise, and simply enjoying nature. I'm not closing the door on Nature ID, even though my posts may become fewer and fewer for a while.  I'll see you when I have something fantastic to share. Blog on!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

peacock ~ 11/24/12 ~ Casa de Fruta


Well, we didn't have turkey this Thanksgiving holiday, but we did spot another phasianid on our way home.  There were 5 peacocks haphazardly crossing the road and creating a traffic jam at Casa de Fruta, a roadside attraction that has grown to monstrous proportions in the 35 years I've passed through here.  Andy and I conferred that it's been about that long since we last saw peacocks regularly.  They seem to have been in fashion back in the 1970's.  Friends of my parents had them in their yard, and I have a vague recollection of my mom not knowing how to get one off the car so we could leave.  While the name peacock is ostensibly gender specific, I had never given peafowl a second thought before and figured Nature ID is as good of an excuse as any to look them up.  There are two other kinds of peafowl, the green peafowl (Pavo muticus) and the Congo peafowl (Afropavo congensis).  The Indian blue originates obviously from India, where it is the national bird, as well as from Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.  They have been introduced around the world.  In some places, feral populations have caused a nuisance with their calls and other issues with such a large bird.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Big Sur Half ~ 11/18/12 ~ at home

Big Sur Half Marathon from home
November 18, 2012

Technically this wasn't at sunrise.  It was taken a couple of minutes after 8:00am as the lead runner (orange top in lower right through the trees) ran by as part of the Big Sur Half Marathon. The majority of runners are still heading out towards Asilomar (seen on the road).  We can always tell when the lead man and lead woman run by, because of all the cheering.  The usual cow bell isn't around this year.  We may not head down to cheer on our friends since Andy has just started making a big breakfast.  With our running/hiking in the rain yesterday, we're a bit hungry.

Update: Newlyweds Ben Bruce and Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce won first place for men's and women's.  I wasn't sure I had captured the lead runner above, because it's unusual to have a non-Kenyan or non-Ugandan win the Big Sur Half.  Speaking of races, after breakfast Andy and I followed the last of the runners into Monterey.  There I spotted a blue-colored darner in front of the Portola Hotel. I've added a week's lead to Graeme of Imperfect and tense in our dragon hunt.

Monday, November 12, 2012

habitat ~ 11/12/12 ~ Frog Pond Wetland Preserve

November 12, 2012

When we walked down the steps from the newly fortified roadside parking area and looked toward the pond, our jaws dropped.  We have never seen the Frog Pond practically dried up. This year's drought has seriously taken its toll on local ponds and streams.  The shallow puddles that were present, perhaps from the previous week's rains, looked fairly recent with healthy land plants poking out and cracked mud.  The last picture above is from the middle of the pond area looking back at the dock where I usually take pictures of the water for past habitat posts (click and scroll down to see other posts). We had enough rain by this date that fresh green grass was starting to show along the trails.

CA bulrush ~ 11/12/12 ~ Frog Pond

Cyperaceae

edited 11/15/12 - This is not a sexy post.  I've been off my blogging routine the past few weeks thanks to major headlines occupying my morning internet time:  Giants winning the 2012 World Series, Sandy, elections, Petraeus resignation, all interspersed with gruesome murderous plots. I've wanted to write about Buster Posey's incredible comeback one season after his horrific leg injuries, big companies and local neighborhoods utilizing the reach of social media to provide immediate help in the aftermath of Sandy, like Duracell's Rapid Responder, Google's Crisis Map, and Occupy Sandy (ARC could learn a thing or two), Nate Silver's statistical forecasting of elections, post-Petraeus implications for the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and how cooking human flesh has become the fashionable way to murder (case in CA, case in NY)... but they're not appropriate for Nature ID.

One thing that has hit home for me is "news" these days is mainly compiled of opinions, speculation, and reporting other's reports.  It becomes a real-life game of telephone.  The facts are few and far between, and by the time they're reported, in many cases in a matter of a few hours in the race to be ahead of the competition, they're disturbingly distorted from the actual truth.  It's unfortunate, but I've seen this with nature information, too, albeit at a slower pace. What one author states clearly in a scientific paper is a wild guess gets referenced, second referenced, down the line until finally another group states definitively that what was once a guess is indeed fact.  Then it gets put into textbooks and field guides. Lovely, eh?  Because of this spectacle, I consciously try my best to focus Nature ID on my first-hand observations rather than rewording "facts" from books or sites.  This practice makes my blog appear to lack content, but at least it's original.

So, getting to CA bulrush.  I've largely ignored grass-like plants on Nature ID, since I have a mental block around them, like with trees, and find them very difficult to ID.  I had to look up the difference between grasses, rushes, and sedges just so I knew which families to search.  I narrowed down the above ID by using the published plant list for the Frog Pond.  It's impossible to tell how tall these bulrushes are from my pictures, but here's a comparison photo with a small human.  Now that I have the basics of this sedge ID, I can look into more information, like these amazing Peruvian tortora horses made out of this plant (tortora is the name for a South American subspecies of CA bulrush and the horses are actually reed boats).  Cool!

blue-eyed darner ~ 11/12/12 ~ Frog Pond

video

This post is for Graeme at Imperfect and tense for our friendly blogging Odonatathon wager across the pond (so to speak) to see who spots the latest in the season for 2012.  As of this date, I have him beat by 1 day.  My last sightings in 2011 were December 10 at Los Padres Dam (sorry, no pictures).  His last sighting in 2011 was November 27 at HESC, although he says someone else saw the same dragon there December 5.

This is also a tester post.  I've never edited or posted a video before.  It took me a while to figure out how to stabilize and trim the above crappy clip in iMovie.  Google's automatic file reduction makes the video play even worse on the blog.  Oh well.  For both the video and heavily cropped picture above, we tried out a spanking new borrowed point-and-shoot Canon (don't know which one) in a search to upgrade from our crappy photo point-and-shoot Minolta.  While I kind of like the larger file sizes to crop, the touch screen focus features of the Canon did not work at all for close-up shots, even in the macro setting.  Our trusty 8-year-old Minolta still seems to do a better job.  So, our search continues.  For now, I will remain green with envy at the patience and gorgeous dragonfly photo captures other people manage to get with seeming ease.

ps - Oooh, interesting.  The video doesn't show up in Reader.  Hmm?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Humboldt squid ~ 10/27/12 ~ San Carlos Beach


Very cool!  While I've seen plenty of hand-sized CA market squid (Loligo opalescens, aka Doryteuthis opalescens) offloaded from the squid boats and displayed in, well, the local fish markets, this is the first time I've seen a Humboldt squid alive (i.e., not jarred or dissected at Hopkins).  There were two of these washed up on the beach, slowly flapping those triangle shaped fins.  I would guess this one was a little over 2 feet in length, which apparently is less than half the size they can get in 2 years or less.  

A scuba diver gently lifted them up and returned them to the water.  Another diver told us these good-sized squid have been close to the shore for the past couple of days numbering in the hundreds. Then, yet, another diver proceeded to authoritatively tell some wild story about how these were "queens" and were the only ones that reproduced.  Ha!  I think there's quite a bit of myth surrounding squid, and for good reason.

Humboldt squid have only been seen with any regularity in Monterey Bay for the past 10-15 years since the big 1997-98 El Niño eventMBARI has been using their ROVs to video and record marine animals and have collected data on Humboldt squid.  There are various guesses as to why they have been moving northward from their breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico.  I'll have to read more about them in the coming days.  What impressed me most about these molluscs were those mammalian-like eyes that seemed to convey thought and intelligence.  Their colors were beautiful, too!

 ps 11/02/12 - The Humboldt squid have made our local news at Monterey County Herald and KSBW with about 100 washing ashore near Hopkins on Tuesday.  Both links contain videos.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

colonial orb weaver ~ 10/21/12 ~ Elkhorn Slough


Whenever I consider shutting down Nature ID due to the tremendous time commitment it requires, I'm reminded of the value of the personal narrative that's recorded as I learn about my local natural world.  Last summer while driving home from the grocery store I happened to meet a fellow who is the country's lead researcher on these unusual social spiders, which also happened to answer a question I had from the year before.  To read that post, click here.

Now, this past winter was definitely not an El Niño year, so it was interesting to find hundreds of these colonial orb weavers on Hummingbird Island and nowhere else we visited at Elkhorn Slough, exactly where the CA oak moths were most abundant - a great example of prey availability. Apparently, Metepeira spinipes are not always colonial.

In the first picture, above the spider are her egg sacs.  In the second picture, there are at least 3 different females, one in the center and the other 2 towards the top at 12:01 and 12:05 positions.  The plant they've spun their chaotic orb webs on is CA sagebrush (Artemisia californica).  And, here's a repeat link, because I like it so much in how these colonial orb weavers remind me of "Spiders on Drugs".

CA oak moth ~ 10/21/12 ~ Elkhorn Slough


For all the evidence I've seen of oak moths recently, like the total defoliation of oak trees at Garzas Creek and the crunchy munching at Toro Park, this is the first I've found the classic prolific pupae and moths on the wing this autumn.  Getting pics of the cloud of moths is difficult since they look like fuzzy tan blobs.  Even these photographs do a poor job at illustrating how the pupae were on any and every available surface.  We had oak moths like this at home this past spring, but for some reason a 3rd generation never materialized.  Country Mouse of Town Mouse and Country Mouse has a nice post of oak moths up near Santa Cruz.  This local abundance of oak moths leads into my next post...

arum ~ 10/21/12 ~ Elkhorn Slough


I've wondered what these are for quite a while, ever since I first saw them in a corner of the Memory Garden behind the Pacific House in Monterey.  Lately I've seen them more and more in yards here in town.  I attribute their recent proliferation to Trader Joe's offering cheap, decorative potted plants. Unfortunately, while you shop for pseudo-organic, cleverly packaged food products, many of their potted plants only include generic care instructions for water and sunlight without any identifying label.  This is the first time I've seen these growing in the "wild" outside of a tended garden.  Given Elkhorn Slough's history as a farm and the proximity of this bunch under an oak tree next to one of the barns, I suspect this is a waif from the past.

Without seeing the leaves or flowers, I can't easily tell which of the 25 spp. of Arum this is.  Calflora and Jepson eFlora list only Italian lords and ladies (A. italicum) and black calla (A. palaestinum, A. palestinum seems to be a misspelling) as occurring in CA.  The ones in the Memory Garden have a striking deep purple spathe, like the black calla, aka Solomon's lily, but several Arum spp. are also black.  If I had ignored the bright orange color of the fruit, I may have been able to figure out this was related to the locally prolific calla lilies (which surprisingly I don't have as a featured ID yet).  Oddly enough Arum and calla lilies are in the same Araceae family as duckweed.  Weird.

ps 08/19/13 - For a fun post on the related cuckoo pint (A. maculatum), check out Cabinet of Curiosities.

broad-footed mole ~ 10/21/12 ~ Elkhorn Slough


Hey, it's a mole!  Cool!  A dead one.  Aw, too bad.  Considering I've probably only ever seen one other mole in my life (it was dead, too, in the middle of a trail), I started wondering how I knew this was a mole.  I suspect many people would be able to recognize a picture of a mole without ever having seen one in person.  Why is that?  Children's books?  Nature shows?  Sure, I'd be able to recognize a panda or an alligator if I ever saw one firsthand.  But, moles?  They're not exactly wildly popular animals.

Then, the question for Nature ID becomes, "What kind of mole is it?"  This was a little challenging to research.  Most online pictures of moles are dead, and interestingly they all look like they've been licked by a canine or something.  I don't know why they have a wet licked look about them.  And why do they seem to go above ground to die?  I was fortunate to have found the kind with unusually large front feet to distinguish it from the numerous shrews.  There are 7 spp. of moles in North America.  Of those 7, 4 are found in CA.  Townsend's mole (Scapanus townsendii) and coast mole (Scapanus orarius) are found along the northern CA coast.  S. latimanus has the widest range in CA, but part of Monterey County is the southern-most area for shrew-moles (Neurotrichus gibbsii), which has a longer tail.  As a side note, in these scientific names here I've linked to sibr.com, a database design site which for some reason contains the exact compilation of PDFs found on the California Wildlife Habitat Relationships website in association with the California Department of Fish and Game.  If you want to see larger range maps, select the common name on the CWHR site.  For an extensive sp. account published by the American Society of Mammalogists, check out Smith College>PDFs>No. 666 (it doesn't look like it links to anything, but it opens up a PDF to the publication).  While moles are reported to eat gastropods, beetles, and earthworms (see pub No. 666), it seems they have been targeted as an enemy of the gardener, like gophers.  Poor moles.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

habitat ~ 10/14/12 ~ Garland Ranch - Garzas Creek

October 14, 2012

After seeing the gorgeous color change of the bigleaf maples up at Memorial Park a couple days earlier, I wanted to check how the seasonal progression was doing closer to home.  We heard there was only a sprinkling of rain here from the thunderstorm that passed through. Garzas Creek is the one place I particularly associate with native autumn colors from bigleaf maples and CA sycamores. It's 12 miles inland and often has 10-20 °F temperature extremes than at home on the Bay.  It was a bit chilly when we started our hike, and then it got uncomfortably toasty by lunchtime.  What surprised us initially was seeing all the evergreen oaks had been completely, and I mean completely, defoliated by CA oak moths.  It was eerie walking through a coastal CA oak forest with only grey bare branches, twigs, and dried grasses.  If it weren't so warm, I would have thought I was somewhere in February after a winter of regular freezing and snow.  The redwoods and CA bay trees were very easy to spot in the distance.  While the maples had pretty much lost all of their leaves, the sycamores were still quite green.  I wonder if there are different mechanisms for color change and leaf fall between the two tree spp.  Even though the foot bridges won't be taken out for another 2-3 weeks, they weren't necessary. Garzas Creek was bone dry in most places and only had a couple standing pools of water in others. The whole landscape felt very dry and somewhat flat of color to me.  Compare these pictures with those we took November 19, 2011 and November 11, 2010.  If we have more rain in the next 4-5 weeks, I wonder if the ferns and moss will show themselves.  What's unusual about our area is that winter usually signals a time of new green growth.  October is definitely a time of transition.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

habitat ~ 10/11/12 ~ Memorial Park

October 11, 2012

For the last 3 years we've headed south to Morro Bay in October.  Forecasts of a major thunderstorm all along the central CA coast made us rethink our usual.  For a 2-night camping trip, we prefer not to drive more than about 2 1/2 hours from home and definitely south of San Francisco to avoid the Bay Area traffic.  Keeping close tabs on weather predictions, north of Santa Cruz seemed like the best place to go with overcast skies and only 10% chance of precipitation.  It's thanks to fellow bloggers Dipper Ranch, Curbstone Valley Farm, Nature of a Man, Way Points, and Town Mouse and Country Mouse that I've become more interested in the Santa Cruz Mountains and even became aware of the extensive county parks, state parks, and open space preserves up there.

Andy found this small San Mateo County Park online and liked how it connected to other parks through trails for his typical trail running outing.  Bay Area Hiker has a nice summary of what the trails are like within Memorial Park.  One thing she doesn't mention, is the showers are old school - corrugated tin stalls painted many times over with that light-colored forest service green and ancient high pressure shower heads for 25 cents per 2+ minutes of very hot water.  Andy likened it to prison showers (not that he'd know), and I declined taking a shower at all because frankly they were a little creepy. And, true to Yelp reviews, the ranger was indeed gruff, but he gave us extra firewood stating he wanted to get rid of the larger pieces that wouldn't fit in neat bundles.  Based on his girth and the fairly new no smoking regulations, I have a suspicion as to why he seemed so grouchy. Actually, there were "no" signs everywhere for everything: no smoking, no hard liquor, no ground fires, no gathering of wood, no chopping wood on fire pits, no using water in fire pits, no washing dishes at water faucets, no raking or sweeping of sites, no swimming, no firearms, no fishing, no pets, no horses, no bikes, no skateboards, no scooters, no amplified music, no feeding wild animals, no this, no that, no, no, no. Not that it was a problem for us, but the signs were excessive.

When we arrived, we were quite surprised at the proliferation of camping sites and wondered why there were only a handful of campers around.  Typical of my rain curse, it thunderstormed right above our heads and dumped rain on us the first evening and drip, drip, dripped on us the remainder of our stay.  Chatting with a fellow camper, we heard we had apparently missed the biggest part of the storm the night before.  Needless to say, it was a bit exciting and extraordinarily beautiful to be camping in a freshly washed redwood forest littered with the changing colors of bigleaf maples. While we didn't get vast views from the summit of Mt. Ellen (not a big hill by any means), the sight of clouds through the mountains was breathtaking. I searched several times along Pescadero Creek for newts with no luck. We did see numerous gray squirrels, which I'm fairly sure were eastern grays and not western due to their brownish heads and casual demeanor around our campsite.  And, bright yellow banana slugs were out in full force probably enjoying the rain.  I would definitely go back again if we can time our visit with as few other visitors as possible.

inky cap ~ 10/11/12 ~ Memorial Park

a type of inky cap
a coprinoid mushroom
(now separated out to Coprinellus, Coprinopsis, Coprinus, and Parasola)

Sometimes it's wonderful not knowing.  Too often these days, I see something and my brain immediately starts compartmentalizing, looking for identifying features, and trying to remember names.  I forget to simply enjoy the elegant beauty of nature without labels and allow my imagination to run wild.  As I knelt in the sand to take these photographs, it struck me how this mushroom's translucence gave it an almost luminescent quality under the stormy skies.  Upon closer inspection the cap reminded me of a hand dyed pleated chiffon couture skirt. Enchanting.

Having no idea which 4 inch tall mushroom I found and after some trial and error, an online image search led me to the Coprinus name.  I can't tell if the substrate is sand or the nearby tree root (shown in both photos above).  I would have liked to include more links in the ID, but I don't have a clue as to sp.  Plus, many sites are either woefully incomplete or appear to exaggerate claims made about these fascinating fungi, which I'm not going to repeat. Michael Kuo's MushroomExpert.Com (linked above) provided the most succinct, detailed, and accurate summary.  Here's a live link to the late Kees Uljé's Coprinus site.  Back in 2004 Tom Volk offered a conversational discussion as to the changing systematics of inky caps.  If anyone knows which sp. I show above, I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

habitat ~ 09/29/12 ~ Rocky Creek

 Rocky Creek

posted 10/10/12 - It's been 3 years and 2 months since a core group of 7 of us camped down here together on private property that has been owned by the same families for almost a century.  We did not stay at the cabin.  We also had 3 dogs, a son and girlfriend, and 3 other visitors from last time. There were 3 additional campers, 6 new visitors, and 4 additional dogs who also joined us.  Phew! What I'll remember most from this excursion are the collective stories of our lives, all that has changed and all that has remained the same.  This passage of time has been bittersweet.

One of our cocktail hour visitors mentioned a celebrity wedding.  I assumed he was talking about another famous wedding that happened in Big Sur this past summer.  It wasn't until I got home that I found out another starlet had gotten married this day, and long lens photos were plastered all over the internet.  It's such a close-knit community down in Big Sur that I just can't imagine a native would sell out.  They guard and respect privacy.  I suspect the wedding planners for both weddings leaked the information and photos.  However, I'm glad to see Big Sur is getting booked after last year's economically devastating period with several road closures.

Blogger bigsurkate has been posting updates on the Rocky Creek hard closures that I believe will be starting this coming Sunday night and going through next year.  The traffic backup for the existing one lane can be seen in the last photo above.  It's something to keep in mind if you plan on visiting Big Sur anytime soon.

As for the habitat aspects, I couldn't get out of my mind a critical comment made by a fellow CNPS member during a trip to nearby Garrapata State Park back on June 3, 2012.  He felt the families were not doing enough to eradicate the cape ivy and jubata grass (shown in the 2nd and 3rd photos above) that is spreading down the coast.  Although, I'm not sure I entirely agree with him about extensive artificial planting of natives, either.  This practice gives a false expectation of what wild truly looks like and takes an extraordinary amount of resources to attempt to sustain.  I found Death of a Million Trees' Conciliation Biology: Revising Conservation Biology and Authenticity: A modern definition of wilderness posts to be fascinating.  I've long held the belief that us humans are arrogant if we think we can fully understand and control nature.  It's like holding a 2x4 against the tidal wave of natural processes that will continue long after we're gone, bonked on the head by that same 2x4.

fence lizard ~ 09/29/12 ~ Rocky Creek


I know I have fence lizards well represented on Nature ID, but this one was just so exquisite I had to post her (I think it's a female?) picture.  Click on the image to see it enlarged.  I keep taking photos of lizards with hopes one of them will eventually be a different sp.  Unfortunately, the highly variable and numerous fence lizards seem to be the most amenable to my paparazzi-like stalking. I've seen a handful of alligator lizards around, but they're a bit more camera shy.  The only other lizard spp. I've seen around these parts somewhat infrequently is the coast horned lizard and CA whiptail.

CA poppy ~ 09/29/12 ~ Rocky Creek

Papaveraceae

In all of my previous posts of CA poppies, I either talk about or show the characteristic red ring that distinguishes this poppy from other Eschscholzia spp. found in California.  The red ring is particularly noticeable once the flower has gone to seed.  I got the "red ring" terminology from Vern Yadon's collaborative Wildflowers of Monterey County.  Until researching for this post, I didn't know any other name for this distinctive flower structure.


 
As a backstory, I've been growing poppies at home this summer, along with baby blue eyes and a small lupine, from a wildflower seed packet handed to me by the Monterey City forestry folks at a local farmers' market. The packet mixture listed non-native wildflowers, like corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas), which did not come up.  The lupine went to seed over a month ago, which mirrors what I've seen out in the wild.  I suspected the poppies and baby blue eyes, two flowers I generally associate as spring bloomers, were only in bloom this late in the year because I was watering them.  So, I was chuffed to find these poppies blooming out in the wild down the coast.

What caught my attention about my garden "wildflower" poppies is that they have a small ring, but they're not red.  With this in mind, once I found the poppies shown here down at Rocky Creek, I proceeded to check for rings.  It was interesting because there were gradient areas where the red rings were prominent, then intergrade with partially red rings, then rings with no red.  I was actually hoping what I was growing at home and what I found with non-red rings were tufted poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa).  Nope.

I did an internet search for Eschscholzia californica with "red ring" and only came up with my own blog posts.  Jepson eFlora mentions "receptacle rim" and "spreading rim".  The USDA Plant Guide PDF talks about "torus rim" and "collar-like pedestal".  Neither mentions the color of the rim.  After some more searching, including checking all of Jepson eFlora's 12 Eschscholzia spp. and ssp. descriptions and Calflora's 17 records with its linked CalPhotos, I've come to the conclusion that only CA poppies have rings, aka rims, regardless of the color.  If anyone knows differently, I'd love to hear from you.  I did find references to a non-Jepson recognized Eschscholzia mexicana (aka Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana) having small rims, but its natural wild areas are in southeast CA to other states (as a side note, it's funny that Lee Dittmann is the photographer in my small rims AZ link, because his name was brought up in e-mail conversation with a retired Coe Park ranger regarding 30 years of erroneously reported elegant piperia that I caught).  I'm left wondering if the promulgation of wildflower seed packets has introduced a genetic mix, such that native versus non-native can no longer be separated.


Genetics is fascinating.  Red rings, non-red rings, white petals, red petals, two-toned petals, etc.  How about three petals?

 
At the end of the day, I revert back to my ol' classic line, "Oooh, pretty flower!"

shamrock orb weaver ~ 09/29/12 ~ Rocky Creek

shamrock orb weaver

Spiders and snakes, oh my!  It's that time of year - the month of Halloween.  Spiders have been around all summer (and in most cases, all year round), but it seems the orb weavers are often noticed in the autumn when the females are huge and about ready to lay eggs.  Close to this one, we also found a very large dark grey orb weaver that I think might have been Araneus andrewsi, but I didn't get a clear picture of it.

It's unfortunate that spiders are so misunderstood and misidentified.  To accurately identify most spiders, one would need to microscopically look at the genitalia. Depending on the age, the sex, and possible other factors, different individuals of a single spider sp. can look vastly different from each other.  A look-alike spider to the one I have above is the cross orb weaver (Araneus diadematus). The difference to me is the shamrock has a more spotty look, whereas the cross orb weaver has a definite elongated flower-petal cross on the abdomen, with a prominent "petal" closest to the cephalothorax. Clare at Curbstone Valley Farm has a great new post on cross orb weavers, which are quite common garden spiders.

I'm still looking for a decent spider ID site.  Steve Lew, associated with U.C. Berkeley, had a fabulous spider site, but his research page has been abandoned.  Maybe he finished his PhD and moved on?  Speaking of U.C. Berkeley, they do have two quick reference guides for common CA big spiders and small spiders.  BugGuide (linked in the scientific names above) is okay, but you have to already have a good idea of what you have or wade through thousands of pictures to find a match.  I still use my old handy-dandy A Golden Guide Spiders and Their Kin, originally published by Western Publishing Company, Inc., to get in the ballpark of which spider I have.  I guess St. Martin's Press is now printing the books, but I haven't checked out the new books, yet.  I'm keeping my eye on Spiders.us as a developing and potentially great spider site. I just hope they don't go the way of InsectIdentification.org and place adverts in prime content areas.  U.C. Irvine has a nice page of arachnids of Orange County, but they don't include any of the spiders I've mentioned here.  Perhaps, they're too far south?  I'm going to continue looking for additional spider links, but the first couple dozen sites I found had so many errors that I didn't want to include them.