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, 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.