Friday, May 31, 2013

habitat ~ 05/31/13 ~ Hatton Canyon State Property

After I first visited Hatton Canyon back on February 4, 2011, I wasn't terribly impressed by the proliferation of non-native plants and haven't had a huge desire to return.  I do remember the auditory intensity of bird songs, which prompted a second worthwhile visit this past March 10. Unfortunately without accompanying photos, it didn't inspire me enough to break out of my winter blogging hiatus to write about the birds.  Then when Monterey County butterfly guy Chris Tenney and I were figuring out where to meet for the first time, he suggested Hatton.  Oh? Turns out this place is a butterfly hot spot.  So, while there are mostly invasive plants, like poison hemlock, nestled adjacent to rare native stands of Monterey pines, the fauna density is quite impressive.  It's amazing what a few short years can do to change my opinions. I was starting to get sucked into nativism, just shy of biological xenophobia, something that's been in the forefront of my consciousness lately.  Maybe it doesn't really matter, beyond the concerns of humans, if the thriving plants originated here or elsewhere?  The animals certainly don't seem to mind too much.  Maybe it's better to let nature run its course?

gray hairstreak ~ 05/31/13 ~ Hatton Canyon

for more information, click here and here

I have a strange compulsion to want to watch hairstreaks and closely related blues rub their hindwings together, similarly to how I like to watch cats clean their faces by licking their paws. It's my understanding that the prevailing hypothesis for why they do this is "false head" complete with eyespots and fake antennae to detract would-be predators from the real deal.  But, what about bramble hairstreaks and blues that do not have eyespots or tails and still rub their wings together?  In any case, I was quite charmed by this little gray hairstreak casually rubbing those rear wings with the tails even getting tangled together.

field crescent ~ 05/31/13 ~ Hatton Canyon

Grrr. All these naming variations are starting to really annoy me.  Once again, the common name is the best identifier.  BugGuide has a succinct explanation for why the multiple sp. names of the field crescent exist.  Based on what Chris Tenney told me, I knew this was the darker field crescent, as opposed to the orange and highly variable Mylitta crescent, which we also saw on this outing. Underside, they're both a patterned pale orange.  However, the orange-tipped antennae (click on pic to enlarge) tripped me up upon closer inspection. Even Jeffrey Glassberg in his multiple books has changed his tune about field crescents always having black antennal tips - they don't always.  It's posts like this that make me question why I'm even bothering with Nature ID.  Sigh.

satyr comma ~ 05/31/13 ~ Hatton Canyon

It's always a thrill for me when I can get close enough to a comma butterfly to actually see the bright white comma mark on the underside of the hindwing.  We also spotted an oreas comma (Polygonia oreas, aka Polygonia progne oreas, more information) at Hatton Canyon, and I had hoped my second picture above was from that sighting.  Nope.  From the topside, the satyr comma has a black spot smack in the center of the hindwing, underneath the two spots along the leading margin.  It's easier to tell the difference between the two from the underside. The oreas is almost dark grey and the comma mark is shaped more like a boomerang, rather than the fish hook of the satyr.  There's really so many subtle variations of Polygonia in North America that these descriptions wouldn't necessarily work when comparing to other spp.

Lorquin's admiral ~ 05/31/13 ~ Hatton Canyon

for more information, click here and here

Lorquin's lacks the black.  Lorquin's lacks the black.  Lorquin's lacks the black.  I made up this mnemonic a couple years ago when I was trying to remember the difference between these admiral butterflies and the very similar looking California sister.  I've repeated it constantly.  Still, it hasn't really helped me differentiate Lorquin's when they're quickly flying past, so this is my first confirmed sighting.  I'm fairly sure I've seen Lorquin's before but usually guess they're the more common CA sister.  The lacking the black refers to the orange going all the way to the wing tips, without a thick dark border as is found on CA sisters.  Both butterflies tend to be in flight at the same time, too. Apparently, Lorquin's are Batesian mimics of the CA sister.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

sea gooseberry ~ 05/28/13 ~ Asilomar Beach

These looked very much like glass cat's eye marbles scattered across the sand.  Since we had no idea what these were, we simply called them "jelly beach marbles."  And, that's exactly what I typed in to start my internet search for an ID.  It seems there are plenty of other folks who are wondering what the heck these common little blobs are, too, but there's so much misinformation around, calling them fish eggs (wrong), baby jellyfish (wrong), to salps (wrong, again). Sea gooseberries are a type of comb jelly, aka ctenophore, different than jellyfish and the myriad of other gelatinous animals. There are several spp. of Pleurobrachia found around the world. Fellow bloggers Jessica Winder @ Jessica's Nature Blog and Phil @ Cabinet of Curiosities have some nice pictures of P. pileus found across the pond.  For stunning feeding photos of P. bachei and a gnarly Beroe sp. (another comb jelly), check out Merry at

Usually, I avoid touching anything jelly-like on the beach for fear of being stung.  This time my curiosity got the better of me.  I poked one and discovered it didn't hurt at all (well, at least not me).  In my attempts to get the lighting and focus just right for a picture (er, 98 pictures!), I managed to smoosh one in my fingers.  Poor thing.  It's very liquidy.  Next time, I'd like to plop a couple into a jar to see them move.  And for those like me who didn't know, especially since local native gooseberries look nothing like this, here's what a traditional gooseberry is.

habitat ~ 05/28/13 ~ Monterey Municipal Beach

May 28, 2013

Considering our two incredible grunion greeting nights, Dr. Karen Martin wanted to make sure our City's beach maintenance crew knew not to groom where the grunion eggs are safely nestled in the moist sand of the highest tide line.  Yeah, you read that right, as in beach grooming.  I had to chuckle a little bit, because this is Monterey and we're a little more casual about such things. Karen hails from Malibu, where the likes of David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson run around flashing toned and tanned bodies for Hollywood cameras. With all that flashiness down in SoCal, apparently the beaches also get the star spa treatment... which is bad news for grunion eggs.  After a few phone calls and e-mails, I think we're set in making sure our local grunion eggs are not disturbed until they hatch when the next highest tides return with the new moon.

Even with the assurances from City Parks Division and City Public Works, I was a little worried children would have dug huge forts in the sand during the warm weather holiday as I've seen them so often do, so I stopped by the Municipal Beach before lunch to see the beach conditions for myself. Phew! It looks like nothing untoward has happened to the hot spot of hidden grunion eggs. I could be wrong, but I think the only time our crew grooms the beach is before the winter storms and they use a bulldozer to create a massive sand barricade in front of the Rec Trail.

Other than 2 blog posts on crow and sea lettuce and godwit, willet, gull, my numerous photos of Monterey Municipal Beach are dark, fuzzy, and often moonlit from many nights of grunion greeting. So, here are a few pics taken in the daylight for my habitats documentation.  I added additional names in the ID above, because this beach is often mistaken for the others.  In fact, I called this Del Monte Beach in most of my older grunion greeting posts.  Nope.  It's all really a continuous stretch of exposed sand curving northeast, but with very different slope and wave conditions and managed by different agencies. We tried grunion greeting at Monterey State Beach once, but it was extremely dangerous, especially in the dark.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

grunion greeting, 2013 #2

full moon cycle, 11:33-12:46, cloudy skies

Greet, greet, greet.  Why, hello.  Welcome.  The grunion (Leuresthes tenuis) did not disappoint for a second night in a row.  I'm debating as to which Walker Scale rating to call this run.  I'm leaning towards reporting it as a W-4.  The character of this run was very different than the night before.  It's difficult to say if there were more fish overall, but they were definitely more heavily concentrated in a much smaller area of beach and for a shorter amount of time.  Andy walked it out and figured they stretched across about 15 yards wide at the most numerous, whereas the previous night they stretched at least 2-3 times that length.  This run didn't last long.  In fact, it was pretty much done by high tide of 11:50.  It's a good thing we arrived early.  What struck us was that these fish were significantly smaller in size than last night.  Younger, maybe?  The waves were extremely gentle, and we noted how loud the fish slapping sound was.  Amazing. Charlie didn't show up until we were getting ready to leave.

The human activity on the pier was also very different from Saturday night, even though this was a holiday night.  It was pretty much deserted, except for one lady I recognized from our annual Easter festivities and from around town.  I was sad to discover she's obviously homeless.  She seemed embarrassed and tried to hide in the porta potty (she kept peeking out to see if we were still standing there), so I didn't start a conversation with her.  If I see her again during the daylight, I'll see what I can do for her.  Sometimes I wonder if we're considered weirdos for going out in the middle of the night to watch fish.  Seriously.  We tried to rally friends to come out and meet us since this is such a rare local occurrence, the last time being the summer of 2007, six years ago! Even with lots of returned enthusiasm, only two former classmates of Andy's showed up. They're both teachers, one in elementary and the other in high school science. We walked the beach towards the cement structure and found another small patch of scouts and maybe 5-20 grunion per big wave.  We laughed at how in past years, we would have been over the moon to see 20 grunion.  It was a good night for us.  Sigh.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

grunion greeting, 2013 #1

full moon cycle, 10:42-12:15, mostly clear skies

Happy dance, happy dance!  Finally!  Here's my long-awaited W-3!!! Woohooo!!!!!  I even called the grunion greeter 1-800 hotline and everything, because you know, I saved the number in my phone all these years.  Awesome.

Grunion runs are better known in SoCal south of Point Conception, although they have been reported as far north as San Francisco Bay.  Back in 2009, Andy and I signed up for this citizen science project, the first ever in Monterey to monitor the unusual grunion spawning runs.  We went out a total of 15 times in 2009, 6 times in 2010, 3 times in 2011, and zero times in 2012. Our biggest previous find was back on June 7, 2009 with a whopping 31 fish.  Over the course of 18 subsequent observation nights through 3 years, we only saw 15, 8, and 2 additional fish. It became too discouraging after a while to stay up so late for the full or new moon cycle high tide, dress extra warmly for the chilly, windy Monterey area beaches (we're definitely not like SoCal where they run around in shorts in the summer - ha!), trudge ourselves to the beach, wait around for an hour and a half or so in the dark, ooh and ahh over dead birds and camped homeless on the beach, stagger our freezing cold, wet, and sandy feet back to... eh-hem, well you get my drift. All for what, to count a handful of fish, maybe?  The worst was trying to function the next day on only a couple hours of sleep after 3 nights in a row.  Dr. Karen Martin at Pepperdine University and I have kept in contact through the years, and she and I have traded both encouragement and discouragement about the situation here in Monterey.  I held out hope.

When we pulled into parking at 10:42 well before the 11:02 high tide time, our good ol' friend Charlie was there with 2 of his night heron buddies and an oddball gull gobbling up fish.  From then until exactly 11:45 huge groups of grunion, maybe 30 to 300 at a time, washed up with each wave, dug themselves into the sand, danced a little dance, and then slithered and flopped back to the water with the next big enough wave.  We saw well over 1000 grunion, if not more. Makes that previous record of 31 from 4 years ago seem kind of paltry.

Okay, so, I fully admit I was molesting the fish by flashing my camera left and right to catch the action.  I still had the nerve to tell people with buckets that grunion season is closed.  Andy wasn't so sure, but I remembered April and May are no collecting months.  One fellow became verbally challenging, which gave Andy a major bad vibe about the guy.  Fortunately, his cohorts were cooperative.  Another fellow was picking up grunion right in front of us and putting them into a plastic shopping bag.  Initially he pretended he couldn't speak English, but I was adamant that he return the fish to the water.  Reluctantly, he did with the intention to return later.  I felt kinda bad for my bullying behavior.  Then, a fellow up on the pier related a story to me of how one time in SoCal a friend of his shouted "La luna, la luna!" and disappeared for a few minutes only to return with bags full of grunion.  They cooked them in tin cans over a fire.  He said they're a sweet tasting fish and the "caviar" was good.  I had the suspicion that he was homeless with a dirty duffel nearby. I liked him because he was very polite and kept calling me "Holy Lady".  We eventually left when we hadn't seen anymore grunion for half an hour.  Plus, the illicit pier activities seemed to uptick after midnight, complete with a man vomiting out of a parked car next to mine.  That was totally gross, and the other stuff made us nervous for our safety.  We're not sure if we're going to out again Sunday night since high tide will be later and the weather is looking chillier.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

black-tailed deer ~ 05/19/13 ~ J's place

Cindy @ Dipper Ranch reminded me to keep an eye out for fawns.  I spotted the last pregnant deer at home about a week before her blog post in the second week of April.  Every year the deer seem to disappear from view for a little more than a month, reappearing with fawns in tow.  I was at a friend's house, 1.4 miles as the crow flies across town on the other side of the Peninsula, when I saw my first 2013 fawn.  It has much darker coloring than any of the ones I've seen at home. And, sure enough the next day, I saw my first fawn at home, which fits right into my late May, early June first sightings.  My friend said that she usually starts seeing fawns in mid-April, but they were about 2 weeks late this year.  I'm fascinated the deer in town have a seasonal presence, as if they mini-migrate from yard to yard.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

lustrous copper ~ 05/14/13 ~ Lang Crossing


Dr. Shapiro sent me a list of butterflies he recorded for Lang Crossing 3 days before our excursion.  I was very disappointed to discover I wouldn't see the gorgeous lustrous copper at Washington and told Art as much.  So, late in the afternoon, parched from the extremely warm day, as the shadows filled in the primo butterfly hangouts, we faced a dilemma: go straight to the Washington Hotel for some much needed liquid refreshment and call it a day, or go 10 miles up the road for me to see my first ever Lycaena cupreus at Lang.  It was Art's wife who suggested doing both, but only after making him guarantee that I would see a copper butterfly.  That guarantee looked like it was going to be a bust, because we failed to find any coppers at the spot Dr. Shapiro saw them previously.  Fortunately, in a moist meadow across the river, we hit the coppery mother lode.  I have so many pictures of this wildly, brilliantly, bold butterfly, including the last one above where a greenish blue wanted to get in on the photo shoot action. Tired as I was, I was extremely glad we made the extra hour and a half round-trip.

Some additional notes - If I hadn't known what to look for, I could have easily brushed off the resting butterfly in the second picture as the more-familiar-to-me acmon blue, with only the underside of the hindwings showing.  It's easy to distinguish when they're flashing their brilliant copper tops or are still in a photograph, but from a distance and hiding in real life, it's not so easy.

There's some question how the lustrous copper larvae feed primarily on the moderately invasive sheep sorrel.  With all the recent heavy bashing of non-native plants [I'm a believer in if it's alive, then why kill it?  Unless it's doing great harm to others, our ever-changing opinions should not be the sole reason for death, which extends to humans and wars.], it's interesting to note that some native butterflies have taken to them and likely depend on them for their survival.  Or do they?  Art wonders if our local sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) has been incorrectly deemed an Old World species, and could be found native through genetics techniques.  Hmm?

What tripped me up throughout the day was mistaking the blue moth (Caenurgina caerulea) for one of the blue butterflies.  Now that I looked it up, it doesn't look blue at all.  Weird.  And finally, I would have had a difficult time figuring out which fuzzy blue butterfly is in the last picture, not to mention yellow mustard-looking plant, if it wasn't for Art's continuing patient guidance via e-mail. Thanks, Dr. Shapiro!

naked mariposa lily ~ 05/14/13 ~ Lang Crossing

naked mariposa lily
Calochortus nudus

posted 06/02/13 - This is my best guess. The other possibility is the Sierra mariposa lily (Calochortus minimus). Ya, I looked at Jepson eFlora for both nudus and minimus, and I can't make heads or tails out of it. Regardless of what it is, I like it! If anyone knows for sure which species, please comment.

habitat ~ 05/14/13 ~ Washington

Have you ever had one of those days, when while you're experiencing it, you know deep down that it will forever influence who you are?  This was one of those days for me.

I want to thank Dr. Art Shapiro for cheerfully accepting my requests to tag along with him at one of his butterfly sites. I initially asked him exactly 3 years ago May 14, 2010. I finally got my act together and bit the bullet to drive through 3+ hours of intense Bay Area traffic to UC Davis to meet him. Little did I suspect, he doesn't drive! Can you imagine doing 40+ years of field work, at multiple sites, every other week without driving? He's utilized public transportation and the assistance of many students. Wow.

I ended up being a very willing chauffeur to him and his wife to go the additional 90 minutes up the hills to get to Washington. They are a lovely couple with a mind-boggling variety of interests that's infectious, including a taste for fabulous food, a love for clouds, dogs, rocks, and local events, keen observations of quirky people and the ethics surrounding news headlines, and a giggle-inducing fixation on a baffling old British license plate game using cadence and rhymes. I had tears running down my eyes from laughing so hard by the time we passed Sacramento on the way down.  I'm proud to say that I had the honor to glimpse a tiny bit of the Shapiros' incredible lives.

Sigh. It's absolutely gorgeous up there, not to mention very, very warm. It was like stepping into an alternate reality, familiar, yet different enough that I questioned its validity. Eh, maybe I'm still exhausted? The day was extremely long, with my getting up at 3:30am and arriving back home through the door a little past midnight and cleanly tucked into bed by 1:30am. But, man, oh man, it was well worth the effort!

Hwy 20 overlook down across Washington to Sierra Buttes, 21 miles away as the crow flies

South Yuba River

metasedimentary-serpentine contact

view from the lovely back porch of The Washington Hotel, notable for sending Muppets to space

Through the journey of this blog, I've learned to go ahead and ask questions from complete strangers, to not be afraid to show how much I really don't know, to be actively curious, and to explore...  

Specific IDs will be forthcoming in future posts.

CA sister ~ 05/14/13 ~ Washington

more information

Dr. Shapiro and his wife joked that this butterfly truly wanted its picture taken since it kept landing right in front of me to mud-puddle. I'm glad I did, since I'm not sure if I have another top view of a CA sister in my photo archives. I consider it fairly common at several of the places I hike closer to home. It's such a stunning butterfly, even viewed from the underside. Art mentioned that both male and female CA sisters mud-puddle, which is unusual considering often only male butterflies do this mysterious behavior. What got me with this post is just now noticing the name change. Erg. A. bredowii is now reserved for the Mexican sister, which per its name is found in Mexico. It does seem like common names are becoming more reliable.

yellow star-tulip ~ 05/14/13 ~ Washington


I was pleased to find yet another Calochortus.  I wonder if these yellow star-tulips might be bigger if they were on better soil, kinda like how fairly lanterns are incredibly small at Fort Ord compared to all the other places I've found them.  It's interesting that the common names seem to divide the genus into globe lilies, mariposa lilies, and star-tulips.  Considering the current enthusiasm for renaming everything under the sun, I'm betting Calochortus will be split apart at some point in the future.

ps - I'm still hoping someone out there knows which x-some deletion causes short pinky fingers.

Nelson's hairstreak and deer brush ~ 05/14/13 ~ Washington


A desire to add new species to my virtual collection has pushed me to use pictures that are heading into the crappy photo category.  The first 2 photos above were taken an hour apart at different spots and are still pretty crappy.  I get frustrated when I just can't manage to get better pictures of what could be now-or-never shots.  I still worry that if I get a fancier camera, I'll spend too much attention attempting to get perfect pictures, instead of focusing on enjoying where I am.  Does that make sense?  It's kind of like how so many people are consumed by their cell phones that they completely neglect the perfectly companionable human sitting right next to them.  I don't want to be like that.

As I was looking back through my entries for hairstreaks or Ceanothus, I noticed how often I've posted various lepidoptera interacting with these ubiquitous bushes: nectaring as shown here, egg laying, larval host, perching.  Cool!  

As two final notes about the deer brush, it was easily the most prolific plant in bloom at Washington, and I noted how not-evergreen the leaves were compared to the Ceanothus found closer to home.

Leichtlin's mariposa lily ~ 05/14/13 ~ Washington


Calochortus are quickly becoming one of my favorite groups of flowers.  They're common enough that I'm rarely disappointed at not seeing any, and they're distinctive enough that they stop me in my tracks.

pale swallowtail ~ 05/14/13 ~ Washington

I generally have such a hard time distinguishing between the yellow and black-colored swallowtails, especially in flight. Sometimes they flutter in wafts high up in the treetops and other times they're spastic through a natural corridor like a crazy cat chasing a laser light. I meant to ask Dr. Shapiro how he tells the difference, but I was already struggling with information overload much of the day. We also spotted western tiger (Papilio rutulus, aka Pterourus rutulus), two-tailed (Papilio milticaudatus, aka Pterourus milticaudata), and anise (Papilio zelicaon, more pictures) swallowtail butterflies.  This distinctively light-colored pale swallowtail was kind enough to be mud-puddling so that I could get a half-way decent picture.

Pacific bleeding heart ~ 05/14/13 ~ Washington

Papaveraceae (formerly Fumariaceae)

This is one of three reported larval host plants for the clodius parnassian butterfly, with the other two hosts being D. pauciflora and D. uniflora.  The last time I saw this flower was at the annual wildflower show at Big Basin Redwoods State Park's coastal Rancho del Oso in Santa Cruz County on April 27, 2013. I can't recall if I've seen it anywhere else, because when I think of bleeding hearts I usually picture Lamprocapnos spectabilis, a very popular garden flower.

clodius parnassian ~ 05/14/13 ~ Washington

Themidaceae (formerly Liliaceae)

Isn't it pretty? Those red spots make me want to pull out my art markers and draw butterfly spots. When I first saw Parnassius about 15 years ago in the Ohio museum collection where I worked, I initially thought someone had grossly misfiled the drawer in the swallowtail (Papilionidae) cabinet. I figured they should be with the whites and sulphurs (Pieridae). Wrong! They are somehow classified along with swallowtails but in their own subfamily Parnassiinae, aka apollos. After looking at the pinned labels and discovered none were found anywhere near OH and several were collected in CA, I wished I had become more familiar with butterflies before I had left my home state. Not thinking I would ever return to CA at the time, I was a little sad at the prospect that I'd probably never see one on the wing. Wrong, again! When Dr. Shapiro mentioned we might spot early seasonal individuals of this high altitude butterfly, I got very excited. There used to be ssp. strohbeeni in the Santa Cruz Mountains closer to home, but it is now assumed extinct. Sure enough, there were numerous P. clodius ssp. sol fluttering about along the South Yuba River. Yeah! I was amazed at how large they appear. This one looks very fresh and notably still slightly crumpled in the wing. As an additional note, it seems whenever Parnassius are mentioned, the butterfly version of a "closed for business" sphragis is also mentioned. For great pictures and a brief discussion of what this means, check this out.

As for the white brodiaea, I kinda surprised myself at how easily I tracked down its ID. Closer to home the coast pretty faces have made an incredible showing this year, and these white flowers reminded me of them as well as dwarf brodiaeas. I guess I'm getting slightly better at recognizing related plants.

Friday, May 3, 2013

blow-wives ~ 05/03/13 ~ Fort Ord


posted 05/22/13 - I've seen these before but simply had never bothered to look them up.  Look at what I've been missing.  What a peculiar common name!  I wonder what the story is, because it seems like it should be a good one.  Trying to google it returns some lewd results.  You'll notice I added the fruits/seeds label instead of the flower label. Apparently, the actual flower is a tiny yellow ray flower; it's a native version of the dandelion. I caught the flowering stage a little too late in the bottom center of the first photo. Still, cool beans.

I wanted to note this hike, because I met a local woman online and took her along with me.  She searched the internet for Yadon's piperia after seeing flags just like I did.  She found my images through flickr [I don't know what to make of their recent changes; it's flashier probably for high phone traffic.], which led to my Yadon's blog posts.  We exchanged a couple e-mails and set to meet up. Oddly enough, this is the second time I've actually had a face-to-face with someone I met online because of my Yadon's photos.  Has anyone else experienced that with a particular photo set?

ps - Here are links for later, comparing blow-wives with silverpuffs at Sierra Foothill Garden and the inaccurate picture on Wikipedia, which has unfortunately also populated and Editing Wikipedia is a bunch of mumbo jumbo to me, so I asked the iNat fellow to correct this in the interest of internet-kind.  Even, UCSC Natural Reserves has this incorrectly pictured.  Erg!