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.