Saturday, September 29, 2012

habitat ~ 09/29/12 ~ Rocky Creek

 Rocky Creek

posted 10/10/12 - It's been 3 years and 2 months since a core group of 7 of us camped down here together on private property that has been owned by the same families for almost a century.  We did not stay at the cabin.  We also had 3 dogs, a son and girlfriend, and 3 other visitors from last time. There were 3 additional campers, 6 new visitors, and 4 additional dogs who also joined us.  Phew! What I'll remember most from this excursion are the collective stories of our lives, all that has changed and all that has remained the same.  This passage of time has been bittersweet.

One of our cocktail hour visitors mentioned a celebrity wedding.  I assumed he was talking about another famous wedding that happened in Big Sur this past summer.  It wasn't until I got home that I found out another starlet had gotten married this day, and long lens photos were plastered all over the internet.  It's such a close-knit community down in Big Sur that I just can't imagine a native would sell out.  They guard and respect privacy.  I suspect the wedding planners for both weddings leaked the information and photos.  However, I'm glad to see Big Sur is getting booked after last year's economically devastating period with several road closures.

Blogger bigsurkate has been posting updates on the Rocky Creek hard closures that I believe will be starting this coming Sunday night and going through next year.  The traffic backup for the existing one lane can be seen in the last photo above.  It's something to keep in mind if you plan on visiting Big Sur anytime soon.

As for the habitat aspects, I couldn't get out of my mind a critical comment made by a fellow CNPS member during a trip to nearby Garrapata State Park back on June 3, 2012.  He felt the families were not doing enough to eradicate the cape ivy and jubata grass (shown in the 2nd and 3rd photos above) that is spreading down the coast.  Although, I'm not sure I entirely agree with him about extensive artificial planting of natives, either.  This practice gives a false expectation of what wild truly looks like and takes an extraordinary amount of resources to attempt to sustain.  I found Death of a Million Trees' Conciliation Biology: Revising Conservation Biology and Authenticity: A modern definition of wilderness posts to be fascinating.  I've long held the belief that us humans are arrogant if we think we can fully understand and control nature.  It's like holding a 2x4 against the tidal wave of natural processes that will continue long after we're gone, bonked on the head by that same 2x4.

fence lizard ~ 09/29/12 ~ Rocky Creek

I know I have fence lizards well represented on Nature ID, but this one was just so exquisite I had to post her (I think it's a female?) picture.  Click on the image to see it enlarged.  I keep taking photos of lizards with hopes one of them will eventually be a different sp.  Unfortunately, the highly variable and numerous fence lizards seem to be the most amenable to my paparazzi-like stalking. I've seen a handful of alligator lizards around, but they're a bit more camera shy.  The only other lizard spp. I've seen around these parts somewhat infrequently is the coast horned lizard and CA whiptail.

CA poppy ~ 09/29/12 ~ Rocky Creek


In all of my previous posts of CA poppies, I either talk about or show the characteristic red ring that distinguishes this poppy from other Eschscholzia spp. found in California.  The red ring is particularly noticeable once the flower has gone to seed.  I got the "red ring" terminology from Vern Yadon's collaborative Wildflowers of Monterey County.  Until researching for this post, I didn't know any other name for this distinctive flower structure.

As a backstory, I've been growing poppies at home this summer, along with baby blue eyes and a small lupine, from a wildflower seed packet handed to me by the Monterey City forestry folks at a local farmers' market. The packet mixture listed non-native wildflowers, like corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas), which did not come up.  The lupine went to seed over a month ago, which mirrors what I've seen out in the wild.  I suspected the poppies and baby blue eyes, two flowers I generally associate as spring bloomers, were only in bloom this late in the year because I was watering them.  So, I was chuffed to find these poppies blooming out in the wild down the coast.

What caught my attention about my garden "wildflower" poppies is that they have a small ring, but they're not red.  With this in mind, once I found the poppies shown here down at Rocky Creek, I proceeded to check for rings.  It was interesting because there were gradient areas where the red rings were prominent, then intergrade with partially red rings, then rings with no red.  I was actually hoping what I was growing at home and what I found with non-red rings were tufted poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa).  Nope.

I did an internet search for Eschscholzia californica with "red ring" and only came up with my own blog posts.  Jepson eFlora mentions "receptacle rim" and "spreading rim".  The USDA Plant Guide PDF talks about "torus rim" and "collar-like pedestal".  Neither mentions the color of the rim.  After some more searching, including checking all of Jepson eFlora's 12 Eschscholzia spp. and ssp. descriptions and Calflora's 17 records with its linked CalPhotos, I've come to the conclusion that only CA poppies have rings, aka rims, regardless of the color.  If anyone knows differently, I'd love to hear from you.  I did find references to a non-Jepson recognized Eschscholzia mexicana (aka Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana) having small rims, but its natural wild areas are in southeast CA to other states (as a side note, it's funny that Lee Dittmann is the photographer in my small rims AZ link, because his name was brought up in e-mail conversation with a retired Coe Park ranger regarding 30 years of erroneously reported elegant piperia that I caught).  I'm left wondering if the promulgation of wildflower seed packets has introduced a genetic mix, such that native versus non-native can no longer be separated.

Genetics is fascinating.  Red rings, non-red rings, white petals, red petals, two-toned petals, etc.  How about three petals?

At the end of the day, I revert back to my ol' classic line, "Oooh, pretty flower!"

shamrock orb weaver ~ 09/29/12 ~ Rocky Creek

shamrock orb weaver

Spiders and snakes, oh my!  It's that time of year - the month of Halloween.  Spiders have been around all summer (and in most cases, all year round), but it seems the orb weavers are often noticed in the autumn when the females are huge and about ready to lay eggs.  Close to this one, we also found a very large dark grey orb weaver that I think might have been Araneus andrewsi, but I didn't get a clear picture of it.

It's unfortunate that spiders are so misunderstood and misidentified.  To accurately identify most spiders, one would need to microscopically look at the genitalia. Depending on the age, the sex, and possible other factors, different individuals of a single spider sp. can look vastly different from each other.  A look-alike spider to the one I have above is the cross orb weaver (Araneus diadematus). The difference to me is the shamrock has a more spotty look, whereas the cross orb weaver has a definite elongated flower-petal cross on the abdomen, with a prominent "petal" closest to the cephalothorax. Clare at Curbstone Valley Farm has a great new post on cross orb weavers, which are quite common garden spiders.

I'm still looking for a decent spider ID site.  Steve Lew, associated with U.C. Berkeley, had a fabulous spider site, but his research page has been abandoned.  Maybe he finished his PhD and moved on?  Speaking of U.C. Berkeley, they do have two quick reference guides for common CA big spiders and small spiders.  BugGuide (linked in the scientific names above) is okay, but you have to already have a good idea of what you have or wade through thousands of pictures to find a match.  I still use my old handy-dandy A Golden Guide Spiders and Their Kin, originally published by Western Publishing Company, Inc., to get in the ballpark of which spider I have.  I guess St. Martin's Press is now printing the books, but I haven't checked out the new books, yet.  I'm keeping my eye on as a developing and potentially great spider site. I just hope they don't go the way of and place adverts in prime content areas.  U.C. Irvine has a nice page of arachnids of Orange County, but they don't include any of the spiders I've mentioned here.  Perhaps, they're too far south?  I'm going to continue looking for additional spider links, but the first couple dozen sites I found had so many errors that I didn't want to include them.

ring-necked snake ~ 09/29/12 ~ Rocky Creek

Diadophis punctatus vandenburghi (alt. vandenburgii and vandenburghii)

Like with quick birds, I often only photograph snakes after they've died.  This one was difficult to miss, because we found it belly-up with bright orange in the middle of the dirt road.  It was roughly 16 inches long.  Ants had already started meticulously carrying little bits away.  I wish I had more patience to have taken better photographs, I mean it was dead after all and wasn't going anywhere. The color differences between the two photographs above of the dirt and the orange was exactly what my camera picked up; I did not do any color correction in the computer.  I had a challenging time finding information on ring-necked snakes that wasn't overly generalized, especially with the alternate ssp. spellings.  This snake definitely does not have any black speckling typical of the Monterey ssp.  It looks more like the coral-bellied ring-neck snake (Diadophis punctatus pulchellus) found inland in the Sierra Nevadas, but according to some taxonomic notes these subspecies could be lumped together as a coastal CA lineage.

elegant piperia ~ 09/29/12 ~ Rocky Creek

It's funny how once you notice something, you start seeing it all over the place.  We weren't expecting to see any orchids this late in the year, then I found a small cluster of five of these elegant rein orchids.  On our return hike back down a 3.4 mile road, we ended up seeing them in numerous places, all on north-facing slopes.  The one dated record I could quickly find for the region, linked from Jepson eFlora, was made by Ivar Tidestrom on October 11, 1893 at Point Lobos. 1893!?!  Very cool.  I love how records are increasingly available online.

ps 10/02/12 - I stopped by Skyline Forest Drive this evening to see if any elegants were blooming. When we were on a Yadon's piperia hunt back in the summer of 2010, I checked the progress of a small area of elegants here on July 25, August 4, August 9, and August 27.  Today there was nothing, zip, nada.  The only herbaceous greenery I found were one bunch of sedges near a storm drain and pockets of heavily browsed and browning Asteraceae.  I couldn't even find evidence of any seed pods for elegant or Yadon's.  I wonder if the extremely dry year kept them from coming up.

pss 10/06/12 - I'm always amazed at the e-mail conversations I get into when I start searching for information. While looking for links to other pictures for this post, I came across an outlier on CalPhotos.  I e-mailed the photographer to query him about the accuracy of his ID.  Come to find out he's a retired ranger for Henry Coe State Park.  In his 30 years of experience there and knowing other botanists who ID'd piperias at Coe Park spanning the same amount of time, he agreed with me that the reported and photographed elegant piperia is actually Piperia elongata. I don't consider myself a botanist in any regard, so I take a breath before questioning 30 years of reported information. I do think access to online records makes double-checking IDs that much easier.