Monday, September 30, 2013

habitat ~ 09/30/13 ~ SeaRock

stone castle in the Carmel Highlands

Back when I started blogging in 2009, it didn't occur to me that I might meet some of my fellow bloggers in real life. As I was setting up Nature ID, I used the automated keyword search featured on blogspot's profile pages to find local bloggers with nature-oriented themes. There were very few, and one of them was Bread on the Water. I quickly added her to my list of blogs I follow. Gradually, we learned about each other. In all honestly, it took me a while before I realized she lived on the compound of a private Carmel Highlands landmark. Then over two years ago, we had rumblings of maybe meeting... someday.

That someday came into being thanks in no small part to the death of a mutual friend, my invitation to fulfill his promise to take her and her husband (who's also a blogger) on a tour of Rocky Creek, and their sudden 2 month preparation to move out of the area. Within days before their moving, we finally met up twice in 2 days with reciprocating tours. The passing of loved ones really reminds me that someday could easily become never.

Speaking of somedays, I totally want an attached conservatory like they have in the guest house (2nd to last pic above). I already have in mind the kinds of windows and recirculating H2O system, types of plants and insects, and style of furniture I'll have. The first time I discovered such things existed was when I watched Angels and Insects. The scene with the moths enchanted me. That movie inspired me to raise almost 1000 monarchs and various other moths, mantids, and millipedes in my apartment bedroom in the summer of 2000. A more kid-friendly movie that also features a private conservatory is The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Thank you, Jeannette and Mark, for a lovely tour.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

habitat ~ 09/29/13 ~ Rocky Creek

Rocky Creek
September 27, 28, and 29, 2013

There was only a core group of 10 of us with 4 small dogs that camped this time.  The girlfriend invited her recently engaged friends, and I invited a fellow local blogger, Bread on the Water, and her husband down for a visit.  We had a bit less revelry than in the past, with no cocktail hour visitors and an evening honoring 2 of our friends who died recently.  Rocky Creek is a special place filled with fond memories.

The pond was engineered by one of the family members who's a hydrologist.  The overflow goes right back into Rocky Creek.   There are several decent sized fish that jump around on occasion. 

I'm always amazed at the power of the wind to mold redwood trees into sculptural shapes.  And, yes, there always seems to be something in bloom, such as this silver bush lupine.

Here's what happens to tanbark oaks when Sudden Oak Death hits them.  SOD first started appearing in this canyon maybe about 10 years ago (?).  

And last, here's a view of Rocky Creek Bridge from the lower property road.  Caltrans is still working on repairing and upgrading a section of Hwy 1 just south of the Bridge that slid into the ocean 2 years agoBigSurKate has excellent updates on road closures there.

ps 10/22/13 - For a blog post about a recently released paper on SOD and redwoods, check out BigSurKate.

rubber boa ~ 09/29/13 ~ Rocky Creek

I first saw this snake as I was walking up the road to greet a fellow blogger whom I had invited for a Rocky Creek tour.  I figured it might be the same kind of snake that I saw last year during our now annual excursion.  All I remembered was last year's snake belly was orange, similar to this one.  My blogging visitor jokingly expressed disappointment that I didn't know the name off the top of my head.  Hey, I tend not to remember everything from Nature ID, but at least I can easily track past information. That's kind of the point of this blog.  Of course, when I got home I looked up my blog entry from last year.  Ring-necked snake?  Definitely not. This one has an unusual rubbery appearance to it with lots of bite marks down the length of its body.  Apparently, body scars are common in rubber boas.  During the course of the visit, I passed it 4 times total.  It couldn't have been entirely dead, because it changed positions each time, but it was still on the road.  Neat!  Here's a new-to-me snake that I never knew existed around here.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

white sheet lighting ~ 09/28/13 ~ Rocky Creek

Not wanting to miss out on socializing in order to check for insects, I moved the sheet set-up closer to the edge of our evening hangout.  Our camp clearing is at least 50 ft around at the base of a hill and within 15 ft of Rocky Creek. It wasn't ideal considering our camping lanterns competed with light output, but the access for our fellow campers was great.  I experimented a little by placing the light a foot away from the sheet and resting it against the sheet.  It really didn't seem to make much difference.  I got a little more variety of moths and opiliones in this location, but there still wasn't very much activity. I suspect if there were a lot, my fellow campers may have freaked out.  All in all it was casual fun, and I think I might do it again.

moths ~ 09/28/13 ~ Rocky Creek


Here are all the moths from night 2 of white sheet lighting.  Again, I'll add the moth IDs at a later time.  I welcome anyone who wants to help me ID these coastal moths in the comments.

I'm surprised at how sentimental I became while sorting through these moth photos.  The feeling reminds me of "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.  My only published papers were 6 checklists of moths with Sonja Teraguchi.  I googled to see if it's out there on the internet, since the pubication predates Y2K.  Hey, it's on eBay.  Cool.  I think?  It's also referenced in a paper by Roy Rings in The Great Lakes Entomologist.  Very cool.

Friday, September 27, 2013

white sheet lighting ~ 09/27/13 ~ Rocky Creek

The first evening of our camping trip, I set up the sheet and battery-operated UV light under a thick cover of alder trees about 100 feet from Rocky Creek.  Remember, I borrowed this equipment from UC Berkeley's Essig Museum of Entomology last week.  I was intending to lure moths, but I primarily lured a handful of other interesting insects, like beetles, wasps, and crickets.  Specific IDs will be forthcoming as soon as I do a little research.

moths ~ 09/27/13 ~ Rocky Creek


I'll add the moth IDs at a later time.  Thanks to Pete at Essig, I borrowed Moths of Western North America by Jerry Powell and Paul Opler.  It's a spendy tome at $100 a pop, so I wanted to take a good look before I purchased.  I haven't had the patience to sit down with the hefty book, yet.  If anyone would like to help get the ID ball rolling, please comment.

camel cricket ~ 09/27/13 ~ Rocky Creek

This is my best guess. Until I started looking for this ID, I didn't know there were so many different kinds of camel crickets. Grasshopper and cricket ID is challenging to me, because there are multiple nymphal instars that don't always look like the adults. Lack of wings is never a reliable identifier, because it could simply be young. I really enjoy the winglike patterning on this one's femur (click to enlarge photo).

ichneumonid ~ 09/27/13 ~ Rocky Creek

likely Netelia sp.

Eh, you can tell I studied entomology 20 years ago by the names I still prefer to use. Apparently, it's now fashionable to call these wasps ichneumons, rather than ichneumonids, as you will find on Wikipedia and BugGuide linked in the ID above. Powell and Hogue state there are probably more than 1000 spp. of ichneumonid wasps in CA.  I've always loved the delicate grace of these wasps.  These and braconids were featured heavily in my Economic Entomology class, because they are easy examples of beneficial insects that parasitize other insects in a most spectacular fashion. Unfortunately, see that not-insignificant ovipositor?  Well, that apparently can deliver quite the sting. A look-alike ichneumonid wasp that does not sting is Ophion spp.

black burying beetle ~ 09/27/13 ~ Rocky Creek

Nicrophorus nigrita carrying Poecilochirus sp.

This sexton beetle, without the typical Halloween markings, was by far my favorite find. I love its bright orange antennal clubs. And, it brought hitchhiking friends to the blacklight party. I played around with the camera flash and a handheld flashlight. I'm pleased with the lighting results. The mites weren't too keen being in the spotlight and would crawl underneath the beetle if lit for too long. Despite the tall tale or two I told while camping, these mites do not feed on the beetle. Finding information online proved to be challenging. The Hilton Pond Center has a nice article on phoretic mites and carrion beetles in general.

ps - Graeme, I'm waiting for a good carrion/carry-on pun.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

autumn thoughts

September 22, 2013

I feel like autumn arrived 3 weeks early this year.  Does anyone else feel like that, too?  I can't really put my finger on why.  Maybe it was the sound of the waves crashing earlier than I expected?  Or maybe it was my first seasonal sighting of a Townsend's warbler on 09/15/13, a whole month earlier than I've seen them previously (Roberson states wintering extremes run from early September to mid-April)?  Or maybe my strong yearning to see autumn rain is so much so that I'm hoping the late summer dry season could just hurry up and be over?  I'm getting impatient.  The sweet half hour of rain on Saturday was not enough to quench my thirst.

In any case, early Sunday morning while sipping coffee, Andy and I groggily discussed where we wanted to go for a hike.  Elkhorn Slough got tossed out, because it just didn't capture our fleeting interest - although it'd probably be fabulous for migrating birds starting about now.  I tend to avoid extremely dry and dusty Fort Ord this time of year, too.  Andy has been running enough at Jacks Peak lately that he didn't want to head there.  I suggested Mt. Madonna, because I figured the shady hills could provide us relief from the 70+°F heat predicted for the day.  Andy disagreed and thought it'd be blazing hot on the inland side of the mountain.  So, we settled on Garzas Creek with the promise of Jefferey's for breakfast.  I'm a little impressed and a little disturbed that we can rattle off various local places to hike and take a pick depending on the season and our finicky desires.

Our first observation when we got out of the car was how the oaks had a healthy crown of leaves, in stark contrast to the bare stripped branches we saw the last time we visited 10/14/12.  There were no oak moths to be found today.  I was expecting this to happen based on what I've read about oak moths.  Does anyone knows why oak moth populations crash after a couple years?

I have to say, I'm in awe with how much Garzas Creek blatantly changes through the seasons and from year to year.  Here on the coast with evergreen oaks and conifers bathed in moderate year-round temperatures, seasons are not always quite so obvious as it is at Garzas.  I've linked to past posts for photo comparisons below. 

(compare to second photo 11/19/11)

I'm starting to prefer the little redwood groves we have down here compared to the big monotonous forests starting around Santa Cruz going north.  I like the variety interspersed with oak/bay and maple/sycamore areas.  This trail is absolutely gorgeous when the leaves change colors and drop.

(compare to third photo 11/11/10)

It's difficult to tell for sure, but I think there's even less water this year than last year.  They take the footbridges out mid-November, which makes me wonder about the seasonal timing of the Creek. Does it always dry out, except for small pools of standing water here and there?  And, what's the typical timing?  How many rains before it starts running again?

(compare to first photo 07/14/11)

I was actually surprised to see all the dried buckeye leaves.  When everything is green the proliferation of buckeye trees is not as obvious.  I never really noticed them here before.  We usually hike here a little later than this in October or November, so the leaves would have already dropped.  I heard somewhere that buckeyes drop their leaves based on water (summer deciduous) and not light (autumn deciduous), like many other trees.  Is that true?

(compare to third photo 10/14/12)

Again, notice how the oaks are all intact and not ravaged by oak moths?  Looking back through these photos, I'm struck by how green it was.  Now, if it weren't for the dogs that jump all over you ("should be under owner control" - Ha!), Garzas could easily be my new favorite place to hike.

fence lizard ~ 09/22/13 ~ Garland Ranch

Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii

We've had the Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50 for 9 years now, and we just discovered a new automated macro feature.  Yep.  The more we look for a new camera, the more we like the one we already have.  

Once again, I was surprised to find juvenile fence lizards this time of year.  I don't know why it's still a surprise when I've seen them at Fort Ord in August a couple times before.  When do they hatch and how big are they?

And, yes, for some reason I cannot resist picking up little lizards.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

habitat ~ 09/19/13 ~ Tilden Regional Park

 overlook to San Francisco Bay from Centennial Drive, UC Berkeley

What started out as a passing idea turned into a little adventure for me.  For our upcoming camping trip to Rocky Creek, I thought it'd be a fun activity to white sheet light for moths, so I asked around if anyone had DC (no electrical outlets available) equipment that I could borrow.  Of course, as usual, the only "local" moth person anyone knows of is Jerry Powell at UC Berkeley. Since he plans on using his equipment, he put me in touch with the Collections Manager at the Essig Museum of Entomology. Before I knew it, I was making the 2 hour drive north to Berkeley to pick up a UV light, two 12V batteries, and a charger, all in the name of fun.  Given the cost of gas and the money spent on food, I could have purchased a lighting set for cheaper.  However, I would have missed out on the adventure of visiting UC Berkeley, meeting Pete, touring the Essig, finding Tilden Regional Park, discovering Mid-Autumn Festival mooncakes on Telegraph Avenue, and enjoying Ethiopian cuisine for lunch and Japanese cuisine for dinner.  Yum!

I am so unfamiliar with the East Bay area that I used google maps to find a park not too far from the University campus.  Obviously I didn't zoom out far enough, because once I got to the Botanic Garden, I discovered it's only a small part of a much larger Tilden Regional Park, which itself is only one of a whopping 65 parks in the East Bay Regional Park District.  What an incredible find!  It's an impressive park system.  I spent most of my afternoon walking through the Botanic Garden.  They took much of California's flora and squished it into 10 acres.  I noticed many well-established plants weren't faring so well.  Maybe given the drought we've had the past 2 years?  They had sprinklers going, which I ran through to cool off (always gotta do it... er, only if it doesn't smell like mixed fertilizer).  I'm so looking forward to the upcoming rains.

 incredible stonework by the CCC

There's a distinctive style of stonework frequently found in our National, State, and regional parks and forests.  Whenever I look to see who did it, it's almost always the Civilian Conservation Corps. Those young men certainly left an indelible legacy in only 9 years of work, a much better use of human resources than fighting wars.  As turbulent as the first half of the 20th century was, I'm continually amazed at what came out of those years compared to the seeming counterproductivity of today.

If I lived in Berkeley (don't think I haven't considered this), I would probably come swimming here regularly.  The beach was crowded by young and old alike.  I also went to a place called "Inspiration Point", which didn't really inspire me.  Maybe in the spring?

It doesn't matter how old I get, I still like seeing farm animals, be it at the county fair or attached to parks.  I was very impressed with the variety of recreational opportunities in Tilden.  All in all, it was a good day, complete with a full belly.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

CA sea hare ~ 09/18/13 ~ Coast Guard Pier

There's a balcony behind the boaters' bathrooms that offers a direct downward view of the water.  It's a spot I like to check during my daily walks.  I often find interesting things there, like night herons. In past years I've only seen a sea slug here or there off in the distance.  Then, about 2 weeks ago, I started spotting a dozen or more sea slugs on the rocks and hanging on for dear life to waving giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera). It's wild. What these pictures don't really show is how huge these are! I'd say the light-colored one in the first picture was at least 14 inches long.  Then that clump of sea slugs to the right of it, had an individual that probably exceeded 18 inches long.  No joke.  Notice the one on top of the clump, and how it does indeed resemble a hare?  These sea hares both fascinate me and gross me out, mainly because of their size.  I still haven't quite figured out how they're related to nudibranchs.  In any case, there's some interesting information about them, partly because they're apparently used extensively in research.  Who knew?  In addition to my usual links in the ID above, here are some more, since this is a new animal for me:
Sea Slug Forum (I'm amazed at the stuff I find online.  A sea slug forum.  Really?)
squidoo (I haven't decided if I like this format yet or not.)

ps 09/25/13 - Amazing!  The CA sea hares laid eggs!  Bright yellow masses that appear to cling to the rocks.  I'm hoping to get back there with a camera.

pss 03/06/14 - Here are a couple colorful sea slug blog posts:  Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds. and Catalogue of Organisms.

Monday, September 9, 2013

habitat ~ 09/09/13 ~ Wilder Ranch State Park

September 9, 2013

Well, I made good on my promise to visit Wilder Ranch sooner rather than later.  I met up with a friend I've known since we were 11 years old.  I love that we've been friends for over 30 years.  She said the bluffs at Wilder have been beautiful lately.  She was right.  The sea breeze was minimal, so it was unusually comfortable hiking along the coastline, something I haven't done since my first visit to Wilder.  The coastal geology reminds me of MontaƱa De Oro State Park, which is 130 miles southeast as the crow flies.  We were chatting quite a bit (yep, I was one of those I usually despise on the trails), so I wasn't paying too much attention to individual items to ID.  Although, we did see a bobcat on the trail!  This is only my 3rd bobcat sighting (1st at Los Padres Dam, 2nd at Palo Corona Park).  My friend didn't believe me and thought it was a house cat. "No way!  Look how big it is!  Wait until it turns to see if it has a tail."  Sure enough, a bobbed tail.   And, yes, it's pumpkin time. Wilder Ranch is the southern boundary for an area along Hwy 1 up to Half Moon Bay that I like to call "Pumpkinville" for the plethora of pumpkin farms.  I am so looking forward to autumn this year.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

sunrise ~ 09/01/13 ~ at home

sunrise from home
September 1, 2013

We heard there were over 100 humpback whale sightings yesterday due to anchovies in the Bay, so we're keeping an eye on the water more than usual.  It's been absolutely gorgeous here the past few days.  Lots of sunshine, finally; June gloom fog that last through August is long gone.  September and October are the hottest months in Monterey with an average high temperature hovering around 70°F (21.1°C).  The water has been extremely quiet, despite it being comfortably breezy.  Based on my observations from past years, it should remain quiet until the autumnal equinox later this month when the waves kick up in a big, loud way.  Hopefully, I'll be finishing up my physical therapy from my bicycle accident, and then I'll be able to enjoy the fall changes out on the trails.  Until then...

ps 09/07/13 - Well, that was a load of hooey.  The waves are very loud this morning, much earlier in the month than I expected.  So much for my past observations.

pss 09/08/13 - A belted kingfisher came flying into view out of the fog this morning, trailing its distinctive rattle.  Ha!  The fog has returned in all its glory.  I'm enjoying the variation.