Friday, July 27, 2012

western gull ~ 07/27/12 ~ at home

western gull fledgling
Larus occidentalis

Ever since we got back from our road trip in early July, we knew we had a gull nest on our roof from all the calls that echoed down our kitchen vent and evening stomping on the ceiling that sounded like a production of Lord of the Dance. This is the second year in a row we've had a nest, and I worry it won't be the last. It's not well publicized online, but western gulls here have taken to nesting on rooftops in addition to their typical rocky island breeding spots.

We woke in the middle of Tuesday night from such a ruckus of screeching and trampling that we wondered if a raccoon had managed to get on the roof and attack the nest. The next morning, I had to shoo 3 fledglings out of the driveway while 2 adults cried and looked down at me from the roof. Western gull fledglings are not the swiftest at moving out of the way of moving cars. Lighthouse Avenue through New Monterey (a business district just up from the infamous Cannery Row and is one of only 2 publicly available roads out of Pacific Grove) is frequently littered this time of year with flattened fledglings. It fascinates me that drivers will patiently stop for a family of Canada geese crossing the road but will not even slow down for young gulls wandering aimlessly around.

Fluffy feathers rained down from the roof for a couple days like some sort of pillow fight had occurred while the 3 fledglings stayed at the end of our driveway. One of them could barely stand up, let alone fly.  Maybe it broke its leg from the fall?  The one shown above was testing its wings out and had awkwardly managed to perch in our oak tree and then to the Douglas-fir. One of the parents watched from the roof and called out as if in encouragement. Shortly after I took these pictures, this young gull crashed through the branches to the ground.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

fallow deer ~ 07/19/12 ~ Mt. Madonna

Hey, I thought these deer were separated to prevent breeding. The perimeter fencing is impossibly tall topped with electric wires to keep mountain lions out, but the gate separating the males from the females is not as tall and potentially jumpable. We only spotted one male's large horns in the distance, but in the past we've seen at least a couple young males. I wonder if the County Parks moves males around to keep the herd going for display. These two fawns were not twins and followed different mothers.

royal rein orchid ~ 07/19/12 ~ Mt. Madonna

If I hadn't wanted to take a break in the shade while hiking back up the mountain, I doubt we would have spotted this diminutive 8 inch tall orchid. This was the only individual we found during our entire camping trip, even though it's the time of year for other rein orchids to start blooming. While looking at other Piperia for this ID, I realized I may have made a couple errors in past posts and am waiting to hear back from an expert. The face and long spur look somewhat similar to elegant rein orchid (P. elegans) or dense flowered rein orchid (P. elongata) to me, but the spur is definitely transverse/flat/perpendicular to the axis of the stem versus pointing downward.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

tanbark oak ~ 07/18/12 ~ Mt. Madonna

posted 08/03/12 - When we last camped at Mt. Madonna in December 2010 I noticed great swaths of tanbark oaks had been recently chopped down. At the time I wasn't positive about the ID of this tree, nor did I hazard a guess as to why so many of these trees had been cut. Thanks to Randy at Way Points I learned more about Sudden Oak Death, which can affect tanbark oaks and Quercus spp. I suspected the clearing had to do with this disease, but I was wrong. As I looked into Santa Clara County Parks for this blog post, I discovered their best management practices included monitoring for pathogens such as Armillaria oak root rot fungi and others. What? It never occurred to me that mushrooms could kill trees. Clustered fruits, such as honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), may indicate the presence of deadly diseases. I now wonder about the ID of the possible sulfur tufts I found. Hmm, always learning something new.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pacific chorus frog ~ 07/15/12 ~ at home

Pacific chorus frog / Sierran chorus frog / Pacific treefrog
Pseudacris sierra (also Pseudacris regilla and Hyla regilla)

This is the first healthy adult form juvenile I've seen completely out of the water this year. It still has a tiny bit of tail that's not apparent in my early morning photo. In addition to the juvenile shown above, I have 5 tadpoles left swimming around from an original 16 that hatched last year at the end of May. Yes, you read that correctly, I've been keeping the same tadpoles outside for almost 14 months now. Several online sites (see embedded links in the IDs above) state Pacific chorus frogs metamorphose within 2 to 2½ months and according to Wikipedia up to 5 months in captivity. Perhaps it's the artificial conditions I provided (variously a standard goldfish bowl, an extra large glass kitchen bowl, and a 5 gallon aquarium with either partially or fully changed fresh water every several weeks) that have kept them from transforming. My last full water change was last weekend.

So, over the course of the past year, I casually observed their feeding, development, and behavior that I haven't found specifically mentioned elsewhere online. In addition to sucking on algae, they voraciously eat duckweed roots, which leaves a considerable amount of leaf debris at the bottom of the containers. I've transferred this debris along with any remaining duckweed and a large algae covered rock with every full water change. The tadpoles seem to like burrowing themselves in the debris, and the almost-tranformed juveniles with all 4 legs will hide there for days while their tails get absorbed. After I switched out the 5 gallon aquarium for cold water white cloud minnows this past April, I started supplementing the tadpoles' diet with anacharis and small amounts of fish flakes. Other than one dead adult form juvenile, I haven't had anymore deaths. This has been nice for me, because it was rather gruesome to watch how the tadpoles aggressively scavenge dead bodies, including squashed bladder snails (bred like rabbits and were very difficult to eradicate). The tadpoles get quite bulky, approximately 3 times the size of the ½ inch juvenile shown here. The hind feet gradually appear first with very little change in body mass. Once the front leg stubs start showing, their body mass reduces quickly, and they get very twitchy, almost as if growing front legs is painful. Hmm, growing pains?

I'm hoping the remaining 5 tadpoles will successfully metamorphose. I'm still not sure what to do with the adults since my balcony is not likely suitable habitat, even though there are plenty of places to hide in and around planters and small flies from my compost bins. I do not want to randomly release them into the wild since Pacific chorus frogs could carry a fungus that can kill other amphibians. I may give them back to my friend who originally gave me the last of last year's seasonal batches of eggs. This year she found frog eggs as early as the end of January, 2 months earlier than the previous 2 years.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

about exceptions to Nature ID posting rules

Myocastor coypus
picture taken at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in Portland, OR
June 23, 2012

It surprised me to receive 223 blog visits since summer road trip published 2 days ago. Nature ID is usually not that popular. So it occurred to me that I should explain three of my posting rules that may not be obvious to the average blog visitor.

First, I always backdate posts of featured CA nature to the photo date in order to accurately document when (e.g., I published colonial orb weaver on 08/14/11 even though the entry shows the actual date of the picture from a year before of 08/04/10). Since this practice is rare for blogs, I do not get many visits on newly published backdated posts, and it confuses some folks who use RSS readers, which often only pick up entries backdated to about 3 months before. To add to the confusion, I do have exceptions to my backdate rule, such as photos taken from outside of CA, a handful of miscellaneous posts, and wordless Wednesday. The reasoning for these exceptions is as follows: when I'm traveling, I focus on the moment and blogging rarely enters my mind -> I occasionally like to share my travel or non-nature pictures -> and by posting currently dated entries, I want to let readers know I haven't abandoned Nature ID.

Second, I'm quite thorough and consistent about including labels for identification (e.g., plants) and location with all of my nature photos taken within the boundaries of CA. For all photos taken outside of CA, I do not include identification labels. Even though introduced nutrias are also found in CA, the above photo wasn't taken here; therefore, I am not including any labels with this post for mammals, and I do not have a specific location label like I do for CA locations. The purpose for this practice is so people can click on identification label links, see what I have personally found in CA, and not be mislead by things I have pictured from elsewhere in the world.

Third, I have my settings open to all comments, because I maintain it should not be necessary for anyone to have gmail or an OpenID-type blog simply to make a comment on Nature ID. Of course this opens me up to all sorts of spam, anonymous or otherwise, especially those trying to sell pharmaceuticals from other countries or promoting websites that have nothing to do with nature or relevant topics. In my zealousness to report spam, I sometimes delete legitimate comments. My apologies to those few anonymous commenters.

These rules and exceptions may seem trivial and arbitrary, but they are important to me for the integrity of Nature ID.

Monday, July 9, 2012

summer road trip

Have you ever needed a vacation after your vacation?

Even though we've been home for a week, I still haven't quite gotten back into the swing of normal routine yet. Blogging seems like such a foreign concept now. This is my 1000th entry on Nature ID with 59,640 site visits. It also happens to be my birthday today, and I am in a reflective mood.

We covered close to 2400 miles up through Oregon and Washington states and back. As a comparison, to get to Paulina Lake shown above (roughly halfway north) took us longer than our sister-in-law's sister took to go from her home in Switzerland down through Italy to pick up our sister-in-law from a conference and up to Slovenia to their parents' farm. I sometimes forget how big the United States is, let alone the 3 contiguous western states. The last time we did a road trip like this was almost 3 years ago. During this trip, we traveled through temperatures as high as 93.0°F (33.89°C) and as low as 33.8°F (0.99°C) in one day!

Our goal for this vacation was to see family and friends, so I have very few nature photos to share. The one thing that really struck me most was how children and the elderly appear to age much more quickly than the average adult. I was delighted to observe, play, and talk with the kids from age 4 to the first years in college. However, I was pensive about visiting with the older folks, one who still hikes like a mountain goat at the age of 80 and another a few years older in a hospital in the last days of his life. I am smack in the middle of these ages.

I will remember this trip particularly for the similarities and contrasts through time and distance.