Saturday, January 21, 2012

gray whale ~ 01/21/12 ~ Rec Trail

gray whale
Eschrichtius robustus
for more information click here, here, and here

Yep, these are not the best pictures. It's really challenging to get decent photos of whales, btw, at least with my slow, poor-zoom, point-and-shoot. You can see the mottled back of the whale just to the right of the man in the second picture. This whale was incredibly close to the shore and was moving north around the Peninsula. Considering Nature ID is essentially my personal nature journal, I wanted to record the date and species of this particular whale sighting. I borrowed a marine mammal book from a friend that had cute little graphics of how one is supposed to distinguish between different cetaceans based on the shape of their spray. Ha! A couple times a year I spot various whales in the distance from home, mainly thanks to numerous whale watching boats that circle around any whales in the Bay like sharks. This time, it was thanks to a crowd of folks on the Rec Trail all pointing their cameras that we thought to stop and look. It's been a few years since I've seen a gray whale so close to the shore. The last time (unfortunately, I never recorded when), I was able to run alongside a close-to-the-shore gray from the Monterey Bay Aquarium all the way through Cannery Row, past the Plaza Hotel, and to San Carlos Beach. I've included numerous links above, because there seems to be some conflicting online information about the status of gray whales.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

sunrise ~ 01/19/12 ~ at home

sunrise from home
January 19, 2012

We had a lovely amount of rain off and on since Thursday ~4:15pm, the same day this sunrise picture was taken. By Friday night with help from the wind, our salty, ocean-mist covered windows finally had some cleaning. I really should park my car outside the garage so I can take advantage of nature's free car wash.

News, personal, and online stuff have been a bit... erm, different in the past week. I'd like to think I'm not the only one experiencing this. I've been wanting to update my indices and correct past blog posts, but blogger has been temperamental. Then, I'm still trying to find the right balance of what personal notes to share on Nature ID. Am I sharing enough to make a post interesting, or am I sharing too much (better known as TMI)? And, I won't even get started with the news.

Like the sunrise of a new day and like the declarations for a new year, it's comforting to believe starting fresh and new can actually happen. Here's a great time-lapse video of Yosemite to remind me and perhaps you, too, how the daily conditions of humans are truly insignificant compared to the larger picture:

Monday, January 16, 2012

habitat ~ 01/16/12 ~ Garland Ranch - Garzas Creek

Garland Ranch Regional Park - Garzas Creek
January 16, 2012

posted 01/19/12 - I never thought I'd say this, but I need lots of rain to help pull me out of this year's winter doldrums. Sure, just about everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere would think this sunny warm weather we've had here on the CA coast is a blessing, but I'm feeling parched. Hopefully, we'll get some rain by this afternoon.

This was the biggest hill I've hiked in quite a while, and I'm still feeling some soreness in my thigh muscles. I'm fascinated that the slippery downhill was somehow more difficult than going uphill. I don't have many specific pictures to post, because the hike was its own reward for a change. I wanted to see Veeder Pond, which truthfully is actually a vernal pool. Compare how dry it is now to only 3 1/2 months ago on October 1, 2011. There's a fire tower on the highest hill in the first picture, and there's the Carmel Valley Village airstrip in the second picture, which was utilized as temporary housing for firefighters during the 2008 month-long Basin Complex Fire. In 2008 there were hundreds of fires across CA. I really hope we're not looking at another intense fire year for 2012. Most notable from our hike was an owl we saw fly right by us near the vernal pool. I also noticed dropped leaves on the ground from silver bush lupine, which I believe may be due to the lack of rain, and yellow blooms on CA bay.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

monarchs ~ 01/14/12 ~ Monarch Grove

monarch butterfly
Danaus plexippus

I don't like to repeat myself on Nature ID too often, but I felt these photos deserved the story they tell. On our way home from the movies (the new Sherlock Holmes film - I've been agog for all things Sherlock lately and have been thoroughly enjoying reading ACD's stories, too), we figured it was such a warm and sunny day that it might be a good time to check out the monarchs in our town's monarch park. We were quite surprised to see so many cars packed outside of the PG Adult School that we drove around to the lesser known access trail. Maybe it was the holiday weekend and the pleasant weather that brought out the visitors in droves?

Come to find out the monarchs are not clustering in the non-native eucalyptus trees in the sanctuary like they often do. Instead, they were primarily located in the neighboring motel yard. This is the first time I've seen monarchs clustered on native trees here in CA, like the Monterey cypress shown in the pictures above. This winter has been filled with a variety of local news and controversy about our overwintering monarchs. Last month, hundreds were found dead on the ground without abdomens and without any satisfactory explanation as to why. Then, there's been the continuing conflict of over-pruning the eucalyptus by the City to avoid another million dollar lawsuit, donors purchasing spendy eucalyptus trees to supplement the pruned trees, volunteers obtaining winter flowering plants, researchers pulling out plants placed by the volunteers, and tubs and tubs of plants purchased that now are left neglected and dying. Sheesh! The petty politics of this town sometimes gets me down. At the very least, it was great to see so many tourists simply enjoying the wonder of a wintering cluster of monarch butterflies.

blossom ~ 01/14/12 ~ Monarch Grove

Prunus sp.

Blossoms in January!?! Since I started Nature ID in 2009, I have been attempting to be mindful that what I observe has its limitations, most likely based on my poor understanding of what is what, or based on when I am actually outside to observe whatever it is that strikes me as unusual, or based on my poor memory. When I first saw these blossoms, I kinda figured this year's mild winter weather must have something to do with it. Is it global warming? Maybe not. I remembered seeing a recent post by Marie at 66 Square Feet about cherry blossoms that are typical in New York City in December, a place that often gets decent snow in the winter (I've been there for work and have had flights cancelled due to too much snow, so I remember the weather well from first-hand experience). I have also commented on John at Sinbad and I on the Loose blog stating that I believe I'm noticing local flowers more this January simply because the weather is warm and I'm actually outside to see the beauty. So then, when I started writing this post and looked through my labels, I found I already have a couple posts of other ornamental blossoms in January. Hmph! Truth be told, blossoms could be about 10 days early this year, but I can't really say or proffer the cause. I now am aware that different species bloom months later like our neighbor's unidentified April blossoms, whereas our native cherry species blooms in June. It's been helpful to have the actual dated records on Nature ID to remind me of the seasonal changes, rather than relying on my fickle memory.

ps 02/11/12 - I originally posted this as cherry blossoms, but I looked at a post from last year by Katie of PhyteClub of Prunus cerasifera, commonly called a cherry plum. Ya! Now I'm confused. How can one tell the difference between cherries and plums when they're blossoming? A quick search online showed me that many other people are confused, too, even in Japan where spring blossoms are regularly celebrated. Some say look for a notch in the petals (notch = cherry, no notch = plum), the shape of the petals (oval = cherry, round = plum, or vice versa), the length of the blossom stem (long = cherry, short or none = plum), the timing of the blooms (late = cherry, early = plum), and all of these have exceptions because there are so many cultivated varieties and crosses. Erg. Two sites I found informative are Quirky Japan Blog and

Sunday, January 8, 2012

black-crowned night heron ~ 01/08/12 ~ Coast Guard Pier

black-crowned night heron
Nycticorax nycticorax

For quite a while I've wanted to capture a picture of an adult black-crowned night heron during daylight hours. I've seen them regularly near the Coast Guard Pier, adults and juveniles, but I've never had a camera on me when I spot them. It's been almost 3 years ago since we often found a black-crowned night heron while grunion greeting in the middle of the night. We named him "Charlie" and knew if we saw him on the beach, we would have good luck finding grunion. The above picture is an unusual angle, because I was leaning over the railing of recently built restrooms at the boat docks. The actual Coast Guard Pier is once again closed this winter due to additional pier maintenance. They claim it'll be open to the public come February, but I suspect it won't open again until at least June.

elephant seal ~ 01/08/12 ~ Hopkins

It looks like a sandy sausage, eh? I almost didn't post this, because I have much better pictures of elephant seals down at Piedras Blancas near San Simeon. However, I wanted to note the unusually large size of these beached elephant seals near home. In the past week or so, I've heard their distinctive grunts at night, even over the roar of the winter waves. While we've had some elephant seals at Hopkin's West Beach (I like to affectionately call it seal beach) in the years past 9 years, these are the largest males I've ever seen here. I'm fairly sure we have harbor seals all year round on this beach (those rock-looking slugs in the lower-left of the last photo above), but the appearance of a couple elephant seals seems to be seasonal and new.

Here are a couple decent local elephant seal links with original information:

Saturday, January 7, 2012

habitat ~ 01/07/12 ~ Frog Pond Wetland Preserve

Frog Pond Wetland Preserve
January 7, 2012

Last week Graeme of Imperfect and Tense blog fame in the UK asked me if dragons and damsels were on the wing this time of year in my region. Hmm? The last time I remember seeing odonates was back on December 10, 2011 at Los Padres Dam, although I was unable to capture any pictures of them. Then, I realized I tend to notice when things are present, but I often neglect to consider what may be absent. This will be something I'll try to keep in mind this year.

As promised like a virtual hiker clear across the globe, off we went on a dragon and damsel hunt at the one local spot I felt sure would have them if they were indeed out in January. Normally, January can be quite stormy here, but so far we've have an extremely mild winter with barely a drop of rain mid-December. Sorry, Graeme, we had no luck in finding dragonflies or damselflies. However, I haven't given up, yet, and will keep my eyes peeled for them.

So often we don't feel like getting in the car on weekends, unless the promise of a good hike is in the offing. It was really nice to get out for a short hike a couple towns away (only 15 minutes by car) on a lazy Saturday when we probably would have taken a walk on the Rec Trail from home. The Frog Pond was the clearest I've ever seen it. There were coots, mallards, and various song birds, which made for a very soothing hike and a nice change of pace from the constant sound of crashing waves at home.

Monday, January 2, 2012

habitat ~ 01/02/12 ~ Palo Corona Regional Park

Palo Corona Regional Park
January 2, 2012

For the new year, we wanted to do a new hike. Heading south past Carmel, this is the first big hill one sees from Highway 1 before reaching Point Lobos. In the spring, the green is quite spectacular. I've wanted to frolic around these hills for the past 8 years, ever since I used to work on this side of the Peninsula and take walks during lunch. Through a complicated partnership, Palo Corona was acquired back in 2004, but it was only opened to the public this past year and with advanced permit reservation. Hmph! As I've mentioned before I'm adverse to planning hikes or camping trips in advance due to my typical rain curse. However, this winter season has been particularly dry, and we had overcast conditions with no rain for our reserved hike. While not very far as the crow flies from home, it was markedly windier and colder than at home in the shelter of the Monterey Peninsula on the Monterey Bay side.

The official MPRPD site (linked below the pictures above) is impressive, but it doesn't offer a decent statement of how limited the publicly accessible areas currently are. I found better information on the Big Sur Land Trust site, a new blog I found, and a series of Flickr photos. It's obvious there has been a ton of money dumped into this property, especially compared to our increasingly neglected State Parks. The mere couple miles of trail to Animas Pond (shown in the 4th pic above) are lavish and disturbingly odd with thick, freshly laid DG (decomposed granite, a popular trail covering in our area), more fancy schmancy benches and picnic tables than you can shake a stick at (with only 21 permits allowed per day, why would they need so many every 100 yards or so?), and not to mention the numerous signs and gates stating "not open to the public" or with complicated handicap loopy locks. The views of Carmel Bay (extends from Pebble Beach to Point Lobos) and the chichi Quail Lodge Golf Club are prominent once you get up the hill away from the many cows, which we had the pleasure of watching get fed hay from the back of a truck. I look forward to when more trails are opened.

Oh, I also saw my second bobcat! It hurried away before I could get my camera out of my pocket. Didn't I say now that I've seen one, I will see them all the time?

ps 02/07/12 - For a great video of what the hike to Inspiration Point (0.6 mile before Animas Pond) looks like, check out Walkifornia.

monkeyflower ~ 01/02/12 ~ Palo Corona

Mimulus sp. (aka Diplacus sp.)
Phrymaceae (formerly Scrophulariaceae)

Andy and I joke with each other regularly about how we're getting old. Despite his increasing amount of grey in his beard (and ear tufts... snicker) and my having gained a few extra pounds, we're mostly referring to our older mindset. I'm feeling more and more fixed in my opinions. This monkeyflower reminds me of this. I've never seen one so reddish-orange, and it was obviously purposely planted near the interpretive signs. The wild growing monkeyflowers on this same hike were the typical buttery orange color of Mimulus aurantiacus that I've come to expect to be blooming somewhere near here all year round.

I have some issue with planting "natives" when, in fact, they may not actually be native to a specific area. Town Mouse and Country Mouse had an interesting post recently making the distinction between native plants and native garden hybrids. With native planting so popular here in CA, I've often wondered how "native" is defined, especially when I spot plants in gardens that are obviously from SoCal (Santa Barbara south to San Diego), several hundred miles south of where I live. It might as well be in a different country, but we all know political and natural boundaries do not coincide.

I've tried my best to ID this particular plant and I'm at a loss, partially due to botanical names being changed left and right. I had to laugh when Las Pilitas Nursery stated, "The botanists over the years have called it all sorts of names, with no cross references, very confusing. Botanists need to get a life!" My best guess is that this is a cultivated hybrid. The closest visual matches I've found have been: CalPhotos 1 (most significant for the local cultivated description), CalPhotos 2 (showing how the experts can't seem to agree), San Diego Sunrise from Las Pilitas, and Sunset Monkeyflower from Camissonia's Corner (a garden blogger from SoCal).

miniature lupine ~ 01/02/12 ~ Palo Corona

miniature lupine
Lupinus bicolor


Phooey. Just a few minutes ago I posted this as sky lupine and commented on how it's the earliest in the season I've ever seen it in bloom since I usually see it from March to May. So, that got me wondering if my ID was correct. I now believe this is miniature lupine, aka annual lupine. I've found differing information to distinguish the 2 species - hairs or no hairs, that is the question. Does anyone have pointers about these 2 lupine spp.? Sigh, does it seem like an odd winter for you, too?