Saturday, September 1, 2012

habitat ~ 09/01/12 ~ Asilomar State Beach

I'm a little surprised I haven't featured better habitat (step back) blog posts for Asilomar. The beach section is only a small part of the Asilomar State Beach property, which also includes conference grounds and a mile-long coastal trail. In fact, half of the squeaky soft sand area (it really does squeak when you walk on it!) is technically part of neighboring Pebble Beach's The Links at Spanish Bay and Spanish Bay looking towards Point Joe, both shown above. This beach is very popular with surfers (they strip out of their wetsuits with no shame on the side of the road), dogs (usually off leash fetching tennis balls from the water), conference attendees on break (always recognizable with those massive necklace name tags), and beach wedding enthusiasts (every weekend there seems to be dozens of folding white chairs and flower-covered white arches on the beach). While we regularly drive by here on our scenic way home from the grocery store, we rarely stop unless it's a clear evening and the perfect time to catch the sunset. It's funny how something could be practically at our back door, and yet we don't take the time to enjoy it. Other bloggers have done a much better job than I have at highlighting this local gem:
bigsurkate Sunsets at Asilomar
Far Out Flora Foredune Beach Plants
Town Mouse and Country Mouse Asilomar Dune Restoration 1
Town Mouse and Country Mouse Asilomar Dune Restoration 2

surf-grass ~ 09/01/12 ~ Asilomar Beach

Phyllospadix scouleri (possibly P. torreyi)

I thought I'd try my hand at IDing between the two Phyllospadix spp. found along the shores of Pacific Grove. This proved to be an exercise in extensive internet searching and comparing information. SEINet states P. scouleri blades can be slightly wider than P. torreyi by up to 2.5mm, significant when they can be as small as 0.5mm. I ignored this site's information on flowering and fruiting periods, because I've found seasonal descriptions are entirely subjective across different lifeforms (e.g. Don Roberson in his Monterey Birds book states semipalmated plovers start their fall migration by late June... June, fall, seriously? And don't get me started on all the incorrect flowering periods published for coastal land plants). Jepson e-Flora states P. scouleri does not have a narrow bract base, whereas P. torreyi does. I could not find a side by side comparison to see what is considered narrow or not. The closest I could find was this University of Washington's page of P. scouleri life history. It's too bad the creators of California Biota Website don't know the difference between female spathes and male spadices, which is all new terminology for me anyways. Although, they do have beautiful pictures. What I have shown in the first picture above is a female spathe with developing fruit. MBARI has a nice summary and clearly states P. scouleri usually has 1, sometimes 2 spathes, and P. torreyi can have 1-5 spathes. Since I only found 1 spathe, I can't use that as a distinguishing factor. In the end, I'm leaning towards P. scouleri simply based on the blade width. Now after all this searching this morning, I'm daydreaming and imagining the above surf-grass could make a lovely mermaid ponytail.

seaweeds ~ 09/01/12 ~ Asilomar Beach

delicate sea lace
Microcladia coulteri

posted 09/10/12 - As I was looking for barnacles the other day in a beachcomber's guide (Thanks, Jennifer!), I found a picture of a red algae that looked very much like this one. Finally, here's an easy ID... or so I thought. I took the name winged fronds, aka winged rib (Delesseria decipiens), from the book to obtain links for my blog post, but what I found online didn't look anything like what was pictured in the book. Bad photo or incorrect ID in the book, I can't say for sure. However, I discovered there are an almost identical form of Microcladia californica and a similar looking species Plocamium pacificum to what I have pictured here. It's difficult to know with certainty, because IDing a small piece of algae washed up on the beach is like trying to ID a plant solely on one dried leaf blown in from who knows where. Both Delesseria decipiens and Plocamium pacificum are saxicolous, meaning they grow on rocks, whereas Microcladia coulteri and M. californica are epiphytic on other algae.

Macrocystis pyrifera or M. integrifolia and Chondracanthus corymbiferus or C. exasperatus

Geez, I only wanted to show the amazing different textures of these brown and red algal blades. I didn't realize there were different spp. found locally. Without seeing the entire seaweed, it's difficult to know for sure. Note the epiphytic Microcladia on the Turkish towel. As an aside, many brown marine algae are known as kelp. Seaweed is an informal term for marine green, brown, and red algae.

Egregia menziesii (now includes E. laevigata)

Finally, a seaweed that I absolutely know the ID. This post took me several mornings to research (click all the blue highlighted links), and I ended up feeling like I was banging my head against an intertidal rock. There's an incredible world of underwater life that very few people appreciate unless it happens to wash ashore in its dying and broken form. I'd love to take up scuba diving or go out on marine watching boats, but alas the hole in my eardrum keeps me from going underwater at any depth and I get terribly seasick. I probably should resign myself into simply saying, "Oooh, pretty seaweed."

plovers and western gull ~ 09/01/12 ~ Asilomar Beach

western snowy plover (aka Kentish plover)
Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus (aka Charadrius nivosus)

western gull and semipalmated plover
Larus occidentalis and Charadrius semipalmatus

Bird IDs do not come easy to me, especially small shorebirds and songbirds. They simply do not have the courtesy to hold still while I try to get a good look. It doesn't help that I'm only armed with an 8-year-old point-and-shoot with a max 4.3 digital zoom. Binoculars and field guides are usually left in the car or at home. Then, the most challenging aspect is birds change their looks more often than Lady Gaga, depending on their age or time of year.

When I took these pictures I had no idea the first was a snowy plover, since the only time I recognized one it had its nesting outfit on with dark patches on its crown, behind the eye, and above the shoulder. I was surprised to see in my enlarged pictures the one I captured had pink, sky blue, lime, and golden yellow bangles - quite the fashion statement! That was my first clue it might be a snowy plover, because I know they're closely monitored due to their federal status as being threatened.

I'm almost ashamed to admit, but I assumed the second small bird was a killdeer (Charadrius vociferus). As I was looking at Cornell's All About Birds site for snowy plovers, I noticed under similar species that killdeers have "two distinct chest bands." Erg. Semipalmated plover was not even on my radar since most pictures online only show its breeding plumage. Wilson's plover (Charadrius wilsonia) markings looked similar, but the bill was too big and it's found nowhere near here. I thus began my search of the various kinds of plovers. There are a heck of a lot of plovers out there in the world.

Finally, for the gull, I now know to first look at its leg color. Pink legs narrow down the possibilities for which kinds of gulls are found here in Monterey this time of year. Add in the dark grey of this juvenile, and I can only make a best guess.

Heavy sigh. I pulled out all of my bird books and looked at all of the bird links on my online ID resources page. I ended up getting sidetracked looking at other birds. I'd really like to find a comprehensive bird site that clearly shows the various plumage and coloring like some of my bird books. It's a process that's sometimes frustrating and other times enjoyable.

gooseneck barnacle ~ 09/01/12 ~ Asilomar Beach

gooseneck barnacle
Lepas sp.

I'm hoping some of my blog readers may be able to direct me to decent links about these 5-plated flattened barnacles I found attached to the holdfast of a bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana). My best guesses would be first Lepas pacifica and second possibly Lepas anatifera. However, my main issue with these IDs is the plates are not primarily white. Does the color change as the barnacle ages? Also, there are other Lepas spp. that are not readily found pictured online. It was amazing to watch these open up to show their feathery appendages and wave around on their translucent stalks (not to be confused with the caramel-colored haptera of the kelp). Click on the pictures to see them up close.