Wednesday, July 24, 2013

habitat ~ 07/24/13 ~ Wilder Ranch State Park

 Wilder Ranch State Park
July 24, 2013

After looking at these pictures and reading past habitat posts (03/07/10 and 09/17/11), I realize that I haven't given Wilder Ranch a fair shake.  For a couple years there, Z kept asking me to go hiking with her here.  I always refused.  From a speeding car along Hwy 1, I totally judged this park by its roadside cover.  It looked like the trails were nothing but hot, sunny, dusty paths through dried grasses (eh).  Plus, it was obviously a crowded place, given the number of cars parked on the side of the road for the common practice of avoiding paying the State Park Day Use Fee. It took Andy's encouragement for me to finally check it out.  While Andy went off to do his typical trail run, I strolled around by myself.  This day's visit was wholly pleasant and meditative with few interruptions by other bikers, horseback riders, or hikers.  Waldeinsamkeit.  The Engelsmans Loop trail currently has a zigzag detour towards Peasley Gulch, which I think improves the interest level of the trail.  The diversity of habitats in such a relatively small area really struck me as being special.  Wilder Ranch has grown on me.  I'll have to visit again, sooner rather than later.

Per our usual when we drive the hour it takes to get to the Santa Cruz area across Monterey Bay, we made plans to eat out for lunch.  This time we went to the Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers' Market, which is my favorite farmers' market for market variety, funky food vendors, and programs, like composting bins just for the weekly event (wish more markets did this!). While we waited for the market opening at 1:30, we discovered a new to us local coffee shop Verve.  Andy liked their short pull, while I enjoyed a refreshing homemade seasonal soda.  For dessert, we also discovered The Penny Ice Creamery, which has a booth at the market despite being located just down the street.  Both are places we will definitely patronize again.  Sometimes I think I could easily live up there, but then the heavier traffic stops me short.

deer mouse ~ 07/24/13 ~ Wilder Ranch

posted 08/01/13 - Even though it's dead, this mouse is pretty cute.  I thought it'd be easy to ID, but I was unaware of how many different kinds of mice there are.  Ignorantly based on the short tail length, I'm ruling out all kangaroo mice (not that they're found near here anyways) and pocket mice (Chaetodipus and Perognathus spp.) in the Heteromyidae family.  That leaves me with the extensive Muridae family. Erg. My only online land mammal references are the Smithsonian and the American Society of Mammologists, which are not very helpful in figuring out an ID, only confirming if you already know what you're looking at.  My CA field guides aren't much help, either.  My best wild guess is a juvenile deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus).  Can you ID?

I have to say, I'm feeling a little like this mouse right now.  I had a spectacular spill off my bicycle on Tuesday.  Andy claims I tumbled 20 feet downhill.  With a grade 2 shoulder AC separation and a badly road-rashed knee, I won't be going out for a while.  Bummer.

ps 08/03/13 - I've added in the ID with links under the picture.  Ken confirmed the ID in the comments.

woodland skipper ~ 07/24/13 ~ Wilder Ranch

Two little skippers sitting on a leaf, k, i, s, s...  Right before I took this picture, these two were flirting and dancing in the air.  Well, at least that's my guess.  It could have been a territorial fight?  However, I'm further guessing the individual on the bottom of the frame is a male, while the one above him is a female.  Look at the color of the antennal hooks.  The bottom one's is orange, while the top's is black. I couldn't find any references specifically to woodland skippers and sexual dimorphism in antenna color, but I did find a couple references stating they are apparently the most common butterflies to be found this time of year in western North America.  That's good to know.

Despite my love for butterflies, I generally tend to write off skippers.  Partly it's because I find them so difficult to ID on the wing.  There are so many different kinds of little orange and brown skippers out there, many found in the same location, perhaps only separated by temporal spaces.  I wonder why.  I mean, why aren't there many different kinds of buckeye butterflies, e.g.?  Or swallowtails?

Actually, before looking this ID up, I never heard of woodland skippers.  They're new to me.  For those who know of my proclivity for Lepidoptera, I first use Jeffrey Glassberg's Butterflies through Binoculars: The West, then confirm details online at sites I've embedded in the ID above.  This book is just the right level for most people who simply like butterflies.  Another Lepidopterist complained to me about the accuracy of his books, but they're field guides, for goodness sakes, not exhaustive checklists.  Jeffrey Glassberg broke new ground 20 years ago with his first Butterflies through Binoculars book covering the Boston-New York-Washington Region, which has since been reformatted into The East.  Without ever having met him (well, maybe I did once, but I don't recall specifically), he has influenced my appreciation for nature.  Thank you, Mr. Glassberg.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

habitat ~ 07/18/13 ~ Morro Bay State Park

July 18, 2013

Wanting a shower, we headed over to the main Morro Bay State Park camping area to use their facilities (this access is included with a stay at the Strand).  While Andy went for a pre-shower run, I strolled around to see what was new.  It's weird to think of my life in decades, but I've been coming to this spot for close to 4 decades.  The very first time, I remember coming home from Morro Bay and not understanding why we were returning to our old house after vacation.  I thought we had moved!

Despite all the financial difficulties the CA State Parks have faced in the last many years, I've been impressed with the improvements they've managed to implement here.  The housing for employees is very nice, with one growing native plants in the backyard for what I assume will be park landscaping.  I sometimes fantasize working at a state or national park with housing provided in the actual park would be awesome, but then you've got to be careful what you ask for.  Like health insurance for many out there, if you lose your job, you end up loosing way more than a paycheck. Maybe when we retire, we'll try the whole camp host thing.  The groomed trails around Black Hill didn't exist when I was a kid; there used to be only an exercise loop with stations and a painted pole-style frisbee golf course. There's also a new boardwalk along the estuary. It's artistically laid out, zigzagging through the muddy parts, but it'll mean no more looking for native horn snails for me.  I have mixed feelings about that.  On one hand I know things need to be protected, fenced, signed, etc., but it comes at the cost of us humans not allowed to get in touch with nature.  In the act of saving, it's also distancing from raw human experience, which is ironic.  Hey, lady, put that shell down and step away!

And, finally, I included the eucalyptus tree above, because I wanted to ask my nature-loving blog readers... have any of you ever heard of hummingbirds clustering in 1 or 2 trees?  I could not believe the loud chatter coming from this tree, and I figured there had to be several dozen hummingbirds, if not a hundred.  It was really wild.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

habitat ~ 07/17/13 ~ Morro Strand State Beach

July  17, 2013

Per our usual of not making reservations, we were out of luck securing a camping spot at the main Morro Bay State Park.  So we settled for the parking lot at Morro Strand State Beach.  Truth be told I wouldn't exactly recommend either campground at $35/night, but the locations work well for what we like to do down there.  Perhaps it's mostly nostalgia for why I keep going back.  I was a little surprised to find out Morro Strand SB is still open for business considering it has been on the chopping block twice since 2009.  How did this get resolved?  Did Save Our State Parks actually save it?  Does anyone know how this played out?  Darn news these days rarely offer follow-up reports.

The nicest thing about staying at the strand is, well, the beach... even though it can get extremely windy in the afternoons.  I know, I know, I live along Monterey Bay with plenty of perfectly fine beaches here in town, but there's something about this beach adjacent to Morro Bay that hits home for me.  It's my favorite central CA coast beach for beachcombing.  It's long and flat and rarely stinky. There are always plenty of birds, like the Heermann's gulls, western gulls, and marbled godwit shown here.  There are also many more sand dollars, crabs, and clams than I can find at home.  It's a lovely spot to watch the sun set.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

tarantula hawk ~ 07/16/13 ~ Cayucos

posted 07/24/13 - This sucker was HUGE!  Capturing a real sense of size seems so tricky in photography.  Using my finger as a makeshift measuring guide, I estimate this tarantula hawk at 30mm from head to abdomen tip.  Interestingly, according to Powell and Hogue, this is not the largest spider wasp found in CA;  that title goes to the closely related Pepsis thisbe coming in at a whopping 32-44mm.  Secondary to its size, I noticed it was rotating around in a clockwise fashion and continued even after I poked it a couple times.  Very odd behavior.  It's beautiful and magnificent in a bold way.

Later I found out that a dear friend unexpectedly died this day.  I'm dedicating this blog post to Steve Gally.  He was truly one-of-a-kind with a booming voice, a heart of gold, and endless stories.  A mason by craft, and an artist by heart.  He loved insects and would have found this tarantula hawk absolutely amazing.  He helped shaped my life today in ways few people ever do.  I am incredibly thankful and honored to have been included in his fold of many friends.  To quote Bob Dylan, "But to live outside the law, you must be honest."  Goodnight, sweet man.

ps 08/17/13 - Additional links for Steve:, BigSurKate, Bread on the Water, SeaRock.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

grunion greeting, 2013 #4

cusk-eel, grunion, and other fish

new moon cycle, 11:05-12:39, cloudy skies

This was a pleasant night and a nice way to finish off my birthday activities. When we arrived at the beach, 13 people were already there with buckets containing grunion, cusk-eels, and other fish. The local fisherman in the bunch said they arrived at 10pm and saw about 20 grunion thus far. This was their first time out since learning about grunion from the CA Fish and Wildlife schedule.  The other groups were a young family and a couple individuals.  Somewhat unusual compared to past grunion nights, everyone seemed incredibly respectful of the grunion (e.g., waiting until the female was done laying eggs before collecting her) and curious about what else was on the beach (e.g., Charlie and 3 of his night heron friends, a medium-sized sea turtle making its way parallel to shore, bioluminescence they had witnessed 3 nights before while sardine fishing).

I asked to take a quick picture of one of the small cusk-eels they had in their bucket before they let it go. It's too bad it's such a crappy photo. In any case, I discovered it's very difficult to find online information about the different kinds of eel-like animals. has a searchable db, but like BugGuide in its early days, it needs more content to truly become a user-friendly site. Can anyone recommend an eel ID site?

At 12:07, we were all starting to pack up when another decent run of 60-80 grunion came up with a big wave. We stayed for the next half hour with another 2 runs at 12:20 and 12:37. I've reported this night as a W-1.  It certainly wasn't as exciting as May 26 (W-4), May 25 (W-3), or June 8 (W-2), 2013, but way better than no grunion (W-0) as has happened too many times in past years.

ps 05/18/14 - Thanks to a grunion greeting e-mail exchange with Dr. Guacamole and Dr. Martin and quotes from Bob Lea, the unidentified eel above has been identified as not a true eel, but a cusk-eel.  As to species, I can't say for sure.  Although, spotted cusk-eel (Chilara taylori) is mentioned quite a bit online for this area.  Paperbone (Lamprogrammus niger) and giant (Spectrunculus grandis) are reported for Monterey Bay as well.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

home again, home again, jiggety-jig

Mt. Shasta
(from Hwy 97)

Yippee!!! I haven't been this happy to see a California landmark, like Mt. Shasta, in at least 10 years. The volcano looks very different from this highway with Shastina clearly visible to the right, as opposed to the usual I-5 route. It's good to be home.