Monday, February 20, 2012

habitat ~ 02/20/12 ~ Pinnacles National Monument - west

Pinnacles National Monument - west entrance
February 20, 2012

Every year we seem to head to Pinnacles a little earlier. I was impressed with the surprisingly bold winter colors. The soft green of the gray pines was offset by the deep red of the dried buckwheats and the bright orange of the willow stalks. All these colors were continued on the multicolored breccia rocks, which were also often covered with colorful lichen, mosses, and stonecrops. I joked with Andy that if I were a painter, I wouldn't need too many different tubes of paint to do plants and rocks.

Speaking of rocks, the geology of Pinnacles is incredible. Based on the unique rocks and the infamous San Andreas Fault, geologists believe Pinnacles originated 195 miles southeast of its current location. The new west entrance visitor center has an interpretive sign that stated Pinnacles continues to move northward at a rate of almost 2 inches a year, about the same rate as human fingernail growth. Wild.

This is my standard shot from the parking lot that I include in every habitat post for Pinnacles west entrance. I like being able to visually compare seasonal and yearly variations. I tried so hard to get a picture without children in it, but I would have waited a long time. We have never seen so many kids at the park. They all seemed to be about grades 2-6. There must have been some kind program for the holiday weekend, because many of them had Junior Ranger books.

Only a few flowers were starting to show themselves. There were lots of CA milkmaids, patches of padres' shootingstars, and tiny fiddlenecks. I spotted a single blue butterfly and a couple small brown butterflies, but I was unable to get close enough for positive IDs. There are seven species of lycaenids that have been recorded for February, so my seeing them was not too unusual.

Goodbye, Pinnacles. We'll probably see you again real soon for a camping excursion from the east entrance! It still amazes me that these incredible, massive rock structures are hidden behind rolling hills. I'm guessing most people who drive Highway 101 never even know of their existence.

ps - I'm including this last pic with the barn, because it was just around the bend from where I saw a barn owl. Is this its home?

curly dock ~ 02/20/12 ~ Pinnacles

I was a little disappointed to see this weed at Pinnacles, a place I consider relatively pristine. To my knowledge, Pinnacles has never been farmed or used for any other purpose than pure enjoyment. I wonder how much hikers inadvertently bring in weedy seeds or spores on their shoes, clothing, and camping gear.

At the research reserve in Elkhorn Slough, they require every visitor to step into bleach water with hopes to keep out Sudden Oak Death (SOD). I don't mind at all. Hehe, this reminds me of the time our camping gear was held for several days at the Auckland airport upon arrival in New Zealand. Andy didn't have a lick of spare clothing, and we were in Tairua by the time an airport shuttle finally delivered his backpack. It wasn't all bad; he got a now-favorite holiday shirt from a second-hand store along with some swim trunks, and we stayed in a lovely cabin since we couldn't camp.

ps 09/13/14 - It's been interesting reading through my older posts.  I have to say, now that I know the lovely great copper butterfly uses dock as a host plant,  I very much like seeing this very distinctive reddish plant around.  I'm amazed at how I was getting caught up in the biological xenophobia that's been going around.  I don't want to be in the mind frame that it's okay to kill things and be super distructo simply because, today, I deem it somehow to be bad.  Tomorrow, I may change my mind and deem it be good (as shown here), but then it's too late.  And, also during a recent visit to the Park, I talked with a couple historical researchers who told me that a part of the property was once a copper mine claim.  They'll have that information available in the next year on the website.  Cool.  Also, I'm trying to make it a habit to clean my hiking shoes and gear before I leave a place, so that I can minimize anything I might potentially spread at my next hiking destination.

barn owl ~ 02/20/12 ~ Pinnacles

I hope I never loose my enthusiasm about nature and the incredible diversity of life. I can't even begin to describe how excited Andy and I were when I spotted this owl on our drive into Pinnacles. As I've mentioned before, he hates backing up, whether running or driving, but when I shouted "Oh my god! There's an owl in the willows!" he immediately turned around, which is a bit difficult on a narrow one-lane road. He quickly dropped me off with the point-and-shoot as he went to look for a place to park. When another car came through, it flushed the owl out, and Andy had the better vantage point to see it fly. So cool!

Truth be told, I had no idea which kind of owl this was until I looked at my pictures and looked through my books. Yeh, yeh, it's a common barn owl, a very distinctive owl at that. You'd think I would have known, but I didn't. Apparently barn owls are listed as endangered in some states, like Connecticut and Wisconsin. For some reason, I thought barn owls were much darker, but I think I was mistaking them for great horned or spotted owls. As an aside, I love the notes my friend made in the books she's letting me borrow. She describes the spotted owl sounds as "like strangling a chicken with laryngitis." Too funny.

Woohoo, my first owl post on Nature ID!

CA juniper ~ 02/20/12 ~ Pinnacles

I've walked this same trail half a dozen times and never noticed the prolific juniper shrubs (trees?). It's a bit embarrassing, really, especially considering the trail is called Juniper Canyon Trail. Doh! On previous visits I was more focused on the wildflowers and butterflies. I gravitate towards the showy, bright, and colorful. This time I noticed the pretty grey blue berries, my favorite color. They're not actually berries, per se, but female seed cones. I'm not quite sure why some pictures of cones actually look like cones and not berries. Can anyone tell me what's what? There are 5 Juniperus spp. native to CA. This surprised me, because when I think of junipers I think of landscape plants (J. chinensis), bonsai (J. x media and others), and gin (J. communis, common throughout the Northern Hemisphere and also native to CA). Learn something new every day.

stonecrop ~ 02/20/12 ~ Pinnacles

Pacific stonecrop / broadleaf stonecrop
Sedum spathulifolium

This is my best guess considering others I've seen online look very different. There are so many variations of this native stonecrop that I'm not even sure if they're all the same species. It's a popular garden plant, which I think accounts for much of the variation. I have Matti and Megan of Far Out Flora to thank for Id'ing my first sedum.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

habitat ~ 02/18/12 ~ Fort Ord - BLM InterGarrison

Fort Ord Public Lands - InterGarrison entrance
February 18, 2012

Lately, I've been trying to focus on the positive on Nature ID and was hoping if I waited a few days to post about this excursion, my grumpy attitude would mellow out. Unfortunately, I still have pet peeves to report from this hike, and those pet peeves are more hot to me than describing my other photos.

Right as we pulled into the very limited sandy parking at InterGarrison, we met a couple of dogs off leash. As soon as I got out of the car, one promptly stuck its slobbery nose up where it didn't belong, and the other pooped not more than a few feet away in the sand (I was very careful not to step in the steaming pile of poo). I don't blame the dogs. I blame the dogs' owner. The regulation of having a dog under voice command does not mean a verbal remonstration after the fact of "Bad Barkie, leave the nice lady alone!" Plus, the owner made no movements to pick up after his other pet. (Oh, did I mention he was a mountain biker? I'll get to that in a mo'.) At the very least, I'm glad none of the dogs jumped into my car, which Andy experienced a little more than a year ago. When Andy tried to get Lola out of his car, he ended up with his 3rd worst poison-oak rash ever. His arms oozed for weeks thanks to a careless dog owner who couldn't find her way on the trails, let alone find her own dog. Given my last several encounters with dogs on trails (muddy footprints all over me, scaring me during my first ever bobcat encounter, pooping not 3 feet away in the ocean waves from my friend's toddler, and other incidents), really, I do like dogs... just not run amok where common courtesy seems to be forgotten.

There was a ton of poop on the trails. With minimal rain this season, poop seems to be holding its shape pretty well with fuzzy mold. Some were obviously from wild animals with bits of red berries in them, but I'm guessing most were from dogs. Does anyone know how to tell dog and coyote poop apart? Several bikers had dogs with them, and I can't imagine that they would stop their bike to pick up after their pet. As the biker in the parking area demonstrated, he wasn't the least bit concerned about cleaning up after his dog. All that dog poop has got to have a negative impact on the wildlife and the environment.

So, speaking of bicyclists, check out the bright red trail marker above. Can you also see the clear bike tire treads? These trail markers are new within the past couple of months. It's supposed to say "Area Closed," but it's already been defaced. These trails were closed 2 1/2 years ago, and even then the markers were promptly defaced or ripped out of the ground completely. Oh, did I mention? I witnessed the same dog/bike loving fellow promptly go down a brightly marked red trail to enjoy the beauty that is Fort Ord. If he and his cohorts continue, the place may not be so beautiful in the coming years. Considering there are still UXOs being found on previously opened trails, this could be really dangerous. Andy and I don't understand this behavior. We consider it a privilege, not a right, to have access to these lands.

edited 02/25/12 - Now that my rant is done, I've added descriptions for the rest of the photos:

vernal pool

There's a new definition of dry this year. I passed 3 vernal pools during my hike, and they were all this brown without a lick of water. Even on August 4, 2010 there was more green here. To see how filled with water the vernal pools can be, check out my March 20, 2011 post. Let's do a rain dance to get a flood of rain in March and April. Interestingly, I heard several frogs during this hike. I don't know where they'll lay eggs if there isn't some rain soon.

green grass under coast live oak

For how dry it was, I was impressed there were areas of new green under the tree canopies. The tree provides shade and extra moisture collection from fog and rain to the understory. I've asked this before, but what's the term for this natural occurrence? Is it a combination of throughfall and fog interception?

rototilled ground

While there are skunks and badgers at Fort Ord, I think the likely candidate that did this were wild California pigs (Sus scrofa), an odd cross between feral domestic pigs and Eurasian wild boar. They've only been seen at Fort Ord since 2004, and more than a hundred have been trapped since 2006. While I've never seen them, Andy has seen several during his many trail runs at Fort Ord.

dusky-footed woodrat house
Neotoma fuscipes

Normally, I'd have this as its own post, but now I'm starting to see dusky-footed woodrat houses as indicators of certain habitats. I most often see them in heavily forested coast live oak areas. I rarely see just one house, and more often than not there's a whole complex of multiple houses. The king of woodrat blogging is Nature of a Man. Check out his blog!

Fort Ord Army Lands

This picture was taken very near where I saw an incredible display of Indian warriors on March 20, 2011. There's a new Fort Ord map as of last September, but we believe it's already out of date. They've done quite a bit of new trail building that will make it easier to get from the BLM InterGarrison side through open Army Lands to the BLM Creekside entrance. I'm not quite sure what this corridor was since it's not a trail; I suspect it was a temporary road that was used for equipment to build the new trails. It's been exciting to see all the work being done to convert Fort Ord into a public access space. I just hope people can respect the land, the life, and the rules so that everyone can enjoy it for years to come.

ps 02/28/12 - Given my pet peeves above, particularly pets on public lands, Shaina of Middle of Everywhere has a decent post about where this might head.

pss 03/14/12 - Well, here's a different idea - just throw the poo into the bushes according to Rambling on...

kestrel ~ 02/18/12 ~ Fort Ord

male American kestrel
Falco sparverius

Yup, I've reached a new low (or is that high?) for crappy photos, especially of birds. Never mind the massive early-blooming silver bush lupine, the coyote brush, the coast live oak, or the dried bit of telegraph weed, there is a kestrel in this pic. Can you find it? Perched on the coyote brush?

When we went to Palo Corona back on January 2, 2012, I spotted several kestrels and was unable to capture any pictures of them. I love how brightly colored the males are with their light-colored breast, slate grey wings, and brown backs. The mere fact that I can actually recognize them is because I've flipped through every single page of the handful of bird books I now have in my possession (some are on permanent loan from a dear friend). It's a sharp learning curve for me to ID birds, but it's been fun.

fuchsia-flowered gooseberry ~ 02/18/12 ~ Fort Ord

fuchsia-flowered gooseberry
Ribes speciosum

We seem to see fuchsia-flowered gooseberries at all of our favorite spots, from sandy Fort Ord to the inland hills of Garland Ranch. It's an extraordinarily spiny plant and best avoided while hiking. The bright red flowers remind me of Asian lanterns. There are 52 native spp./ssp. of Ribes in CA. The gooseberry and currant flowers can be quite showy and beautiful. I want to start recognizing some of the other spp., like R. californicum (CA gooseberry), but I suspect whenever I've seen them I may have figured they were garden escapees and simply ignored them.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

sparrows ~ 02/12/12 ~ Hopkins

I love hearing the songs of these sparrows every time I walk past this 30 yard stretch of blackberries on both sides of the fence between the Rec Trail and Hopkins Marine Station. It's such a surprising and stark contrast to the sounds of Monterey Bay waves, gull cries, traffic, and jabber of tourists. Sparrow songs immediately transport me to a woodland's edge back in Ohio, even though they are quite common here in CA.

ps - I'm posting this 02/18/12 in honor of the Great Backyard Bird Count being held this weekend, even though I'm not participating in it myself. I'm learning about one bird at a time, and I think it would be an exercise in frustration for me to do a count on my own. The February Checklist for Pacific Grove is daunting.

sea otter ~ 02/12/12 ~ Coast Guard Pier

southern sea otter
Enhydra lutris nereis

I was really excited to see this sea otter so close to the boat loading ramp near the Coast Guard Pier. I've been keeping an eye out for them, because babies should be appearing anytime now. As usual for around here, this one was tagged on its foot. What was especially fun to see was how it wrapped itself in kelp as it took a snooze. It kept one paw over its nose for the 20 or so minutes I watched it. So cute!

Heavy sigh... Most of my sea otter pictures are crappy little blobs of brown floating in the water. Thanks to Ingrid of The Free Quark, I realized my pride for staying on trails and respecting distance with animals may be deluded at times. I probably got too close to this sea otter (maybe within 15 ft.) to take its picture. There are plenty of incredible photographs of sea otters out there done by people who know what they're doing and with cameras equipped with lenses as long as my arm, so why did I feel the need to take a close picture with my pocket point-and-shoot for my blog? I don't have a good answer. Ingrid also has a very good page on Wildlife Photography Ethics & Philosophy. I find it very easy to point my finger at others and question how they got such a great photograph of an animal, but really I need to look at my own behavior. In some respects, I am still very proud of my crappy photos.

As I was searching for different links for the ID above, I discovered the subspecies Enhydra lutris nereis is listed as "threatened" by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but the species Enhydra lutris, including the two northern populations, is listed as "endangered" by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Can anyone explain this discrepancy to me?

ps 12/22/15 - I honestly can't recall why I thought the otter pups would show in February.  Maybe I was assuming they're similar in timing to the harbor seal births?  It's likely I may have made an incorrect assumption as to when sea otter pups are birthed.  I've been seeing pups this year since before Thanksgiving at this exact spot near the Coast Guard Pier.  The MBA had one birthed a couple days ago in their tide pool.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

habitat ~ 02/04/12 ~ Monterey Harbor & Marina

Monterey Harbor & Marina
February 4, 2012

Often on our days off when we don't want to be in a car and deal with the traffic to get out of town for a hike, we will walk along the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail from Pacific Grove to Monterey. From home it's about 1/2 mile to the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row and 2 miles to the Monterey Municipal Wharf No. 2 (shown in the second pic above). The Rec Trail is great for tourist watching (I love hearing all the foreign languages), but after a while we get fed up with all the rented bike surreys and dawdling tourist groups that hog up the trail, especially on weekends and area special events like the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf hoopla. On our way back home, we sometimes take a shortcut through the Monterey Presidio. Very few people seem to know that the lower part of the Presidio is still open to the public. From this little hill, there are incredible views of the Old Fisherman's Wharf (shown in the first pic above), the Municipal Wharf II (shown in the second pic above), the Monterey Harbor, and the Monterey Coast Guard Pier.

Sheez, I'm starting to feel like a tourist guide. Considering I haven't decided if I want to use google maps due to my own blog policy that I not use others' graphics (although, the background of this blog is part of the templates google blogger offers), I realized I haven't done a habitat post of the area that I most frequently visit. So here it is. To see my past posts of this area, check out the following links:
Monterey Municipal Wharf No. 2.
Monterey Fisherman's Wharf
Monterey Coast Guard Pier
Monterey Bay Recreation Trail (for the areas shown above)
Monterey Bay Recreation Trail (all)
Monterey State Historic Park Secret Gardens

almond blossom ~ 02/04/12 ~ Cooper Molera Garden


Given my total confusion about early blooming blossoms (is it a cherry, or plum, or cherry plum?), I had no difficulty identifying this particular blossom tree. Why? Because there was a handy-dandy ID sign at the Cooper Molera Garden, which is filled with various fruit trees restored or representative of the 1860s. Really, I should be able to recognize this tree anyways, since I spent many CA winters playing underneath 2 almond trees that my dad planted next to my swing set. I used to pretend the white fallen petals were snow. Aw, fond memories!

I liked harvesting almonds with their split fuzzy hull and especially liked eating them. So, it came as a bit of surprise that I haven't liked almonds purchased at the store for a while, and I couldn't figure out why. Then, a friend recently gave me almonds from his dad's farm. They taste fresh like how I remember from when I was a kid. He said they're unpasteurized. As I was researching this post, I learned that there's now a mandatory pasteurization program for CA almonds shipped in North America. Who knew? Like with fresh apple cider, I do think some foods do taste better unpasteurized.

Friday, February 3, 2012

habitat ~ 02/03/12 ~ Mt. Madonna County Park

Mount Madonna County Park
February 3, 2012

This was an unusual hike in that I rarely go out looking for a specific flower. The last time I did this was July 19, 2010 and July 25, 2010 when we went on hunts for the federally endangered Yadon's piperia. See my fetid adder's tongue post for the cool lily that brought us out to this remote spot at Mt. Madonna.

I wanted redwoods. Andy is much better at maps and GPS coordinates than I am since he's an avid trail runner. We initially hiked up the Ridge Rd. trail because of the Calflora report. There were plenty of oaks and CA bays. After a bit, I didn't think we'd find any FATs, so we backtracked and went on the Sprig trail where there were plenty of redwoods. Bingo! The last picture above is supposedly of Sprig Lake. It looks like a small creek to me, but with the lack of rain we've had this year, it's no wonder. The creek-side willows were just starting to show their fuzzy buds.

Sigh... I have to state that I don't feel comfortable hiking this side of Mt. Madonna by myself. This mountain is known for its drug activity. When we came across a couple eating an orange on the redwood trail, I excitedly asked them if they were into plants. They said, "Sure!" I promptly pulled out my camera to show them my pics of FATs. Their expressions changed. I don't think my plants were the ones they wanted. Recently in the news there was a big pot growing bust with DEA helicopters landing near the Dama dama pens. And thanks to our friendly ranger the first time we camped up here, we know there are also meth labs around. Because I'm nosey and generally inquisitive, I haven't yet decided if I am unobtrusive enough to hike safely through these kinds of areas. This is one of the reasons why I don't hike down in the Big Sur area by myself.

CA bay ~ 02/03/12 ~ Mt. Madonna

California bay / Oregon myrtle
Umbellularia californica

I simply want to document the seasonal changes of the CA bay and show the yellow umbels of this native evergreen tree. To read about my experience of eating ripe bay nuts off the tree, click here. To see all 3 posts about CA bay through the year, click the ca bay label. It's hard for me to believe now, but I never noticed this common tree until I started blogging. Nature ID has served me well for learning about and paying better attention to the local natural world.

fetid adder's tongue ~ 02/03/12 ~ Mt. Madonna

fetid adder's tongue / slink pod
Scoliopus bigelovii
for more information click here and here

Yay! Yay! Yay! It's been a while since I've been this excited about finding a plant in bloom. One of the very cool aspects about following other nature bloggers, especially fairly local ones, is I get turned onto new discoveries. Many thanks to John Wall for his recent post alerting me that fetid adder's tongues are blooming now. In fact, it was one of John's posts this time last year that the name fetid adder's tongue caught my attention for the first time. Then I started seeing other bloggers post about this stunning little lily, and I made a list o' links for my online archive. So, I've been waiting a whole year to see FAT blooms in person. To actually read anything informative about FAT, such as flower parts and its relatively limited distribution, check out the two links in the ID section above "for more information."

I'll continue this post later, but right now I want to get outside to enjoy the beautiful, sunny 64°F!

ps 02/05/11 - For the record, the temperature in Monterey reached 72.3°F on Saturday. I spent most of yesterday morning researching FATs and ran out of time to finish this post. I usually give myself a time limit for creating a post, which hopefully explains why I often feel the need to edit and postscript my crappy writing. However, this time, I got a bit obsessive with finding my own information. I looked at over 240 online pictures (from flickr and CalPhotos, both linked in the common names above). I even created a spreadsheet of the photographic collection data, excluding those without flowers, without location information or specific dates, repeats from the same trip from the same person or from the same hiking group, cultivated plants, and misidentified and potentially incorrectly dated photos. Yep, that's definitely obsessive, and no, I rarely do this for any post on Nature ID.

Perhaps, I should have looked into FATs a little more before heading to Mt. Madonna with the belief that if I didn't get out last week, I would miss my opportunity to see this lily bloom for another year. I truly felt a sense of urgency to get my butt and camera to the nearest redwood grove ASAP. I'm not sure how I got that impression. Come to find out the earliest published record of FAT blooming is December 15 from A California Flora and supplement 1959 & 1973 by Philip A. Munz and David D. Keck. Since I don't have that book as a reference, I found something even better (for me anyways), a flickr photo by G. Dan Mitchell dated December 18, 2009. The latest believable seasonal online reference I found is a flickr photo by Michael Graupe dated March 29, 2008, even though I also found a few photos claiming they were taken at the end of April, May, and even August. While published bloom times vary from January to February or February to March, I found this information to be too vague. From my own photographic survey, I figure the peak bloom period occurs from the last 10 days of January through February and into the first 10 days of March. Well, gee, I guess I didn't need to be in such a rush after all.

For some miscellany...

Several online blogs, photos, and sites commonly state one has to get down on hands and knees to spot this 2" tall lily. Bah! The ones shown in my photos above were easily 6" tall from ground to sepals, with some in the area even taller. I was actually quite surprised by how big they were.

We were undecided between going to Mt. Madonna (Santa Clara Co.) or Nisene Marks (Santa Cruz Co.) for the nearest redwood groves, so I looked at Calflora before we left and discovered they've added a cool new location closeup feature to their site. While redwood forests are the most common habitat, they can also be found in chaparral and other areas, as Katie from PhyteClub shows.

Oh, I included the pic of the banana slug munching on a seed pod above, because I had a good laugh when I found a gardening site state the seed pods are "virtual gastropodic picnic baskets." Unfortunately, I was unable to capture a picture of a tiny fly that checked out several flowers. It didn't look like any of the fungus gnats I've found referenced as pollinators, but it did look like it fit perfectly in the center grooves of the sepals with its head positioned under the anthers. And, no I didn't catch any fetid whiff while I was so close observing the fly.