Friday, November 29, 2013

black turnstone and surfbird ~ 11/29/13 ~ Coast Guard Pier

black turnstone (left) and surfbird (right)

The problem with self-study, like I do here on Nature ID, is that it's challenging to catch my own mistakes.  Fellow blogger John Rakestraw's recent post made me do a double-take of his last picture of two birds.  Hmm, the black turnstone and surfbird sure look a lot alike!  Have I been able to tell them apart before?  Based on my only confirmed sighting of surfbirds down in Morro Bay, I remembered them having yellow legs and being significantly heaftier than black turnstones.  Nope, they're only slightly larger.  It just so happened that as we were enjoying a post-holiday walk, we saw the two birds hanging out together along the Coast Guard Pier (apologies for the distance shot, but ever since they put up the fence on the Pier, good close-ups are hard to come by).  I really loved how different they look when they take flight, as Monika Wieland captured so well on her blog Orca Watcher - the black turnstone has the more striking white center strip down its back ending in a bold black spot, and the surfbird has a solid grey back.  As I was looking at my blog records, sure enough my only previous black turnstone post also shows the surfbird.  Right?  I made corrections.

Monday, November 25, 2013

habitat ~ 11/25/13 ~ Asilomar State Beach & Conference Grounds

November 25, 2013

I feel like I should appreciate Asilomar more than I do.  It's just 2 miles across town on the ocean side of the Monterey Peninsula, and the weather is often more so than the bay side with more wind and fog.  I hardly ever get over there, unless I'm visiting a friend or taking the scenic route home from the grocery store.  To roam around, I have to be in the mood to deal with the super fine, squeaky Asilomar sand that gets lodged between my toes (I still haven't found great shoes for walking in sand).  However, it really is a gem of a place.  I love the architecture, which was designed by Julia Morgan who also did Hearst Castle.  The Conference Grounds are currently going through a multimillion-dollar accessibility renovation.  It's looking very spiffy.

Pacific sand crab ~ 11/25/13 ~ Asilomar Beach

They look like delicately patterned cracked egg shells. At first, I didn't think these pics were ideal as an ID entry, but it occurred to me that I tend to see the carapaces of sand crabs more often than actual live crabs, which has been late at night while looking for grunion.  Are they nocturnal?  I'm assuming the numerous carapaces are from a mass molt, rather than a mass die-off of sand crabs, but I don't really know. I'm always amazed how the composition of wrack changes through the seasons. Here's a mixture of sand crab carapaces, various red seaweeds, and surf-grass. It's nature's compost by the sea.

ps - In the first photo, directly behind the right carapace, the out-of-focus green surf-grass is covered in pink-colored crusting red algae called Melobesia mediocrus.

habitat ~ 11/25/13 ~ Monterey Harbor & Marina

Monterey Harbor & Marina
November 25, 2013

I'm so glad we decided to stay home for the holiday.  With an easily walkable view like this, can you blame us?  Despite our desperate need for rain, I have been enjoying the gorgeous weather we've had.  This picture was taken from the Rec Trail that I so love. The City of Monterey has a nice site on the history of the Harbor, which I just discovered.  On this section of trail, I've been keeping an eye on a family of night herons, a laughing herd of Heermann's gulls, western gulls, several kingfishers, snowy egrets, great egrets, great blue herons, brown pelicans, and new seasonal gulls with spotty grey around the eyes that I have yet to ID.

Pacific sea nettle ~ 11/25/13 ~ Coast Guard Pier

The sea nettles have been in great abundance near the shore this past month.  Their sudden appearance seems kind of random, as I've also seen large numbers in the middle of summer.  I wonder if they passively float along with the water currents, or if they actively follow food.  I wouldn't want to be a surfer or a scuba diver, because some days there are so many nettles that I imagine it would be impossible to avoid getting stung, at least on exposed hands.  Being the land lover that I am, I generally don't pay much attention to them, but they are kind of pretty in a brown sort of way. When they die, they turn a ghostly white and tend to sink (didn't get a good picture of this).  I've watched western gulls and opal eye awkwardly try to eat them.  I realized this morning that I hadn't really looked up information yet, and I was interested to see how different aquariums present their online information (sea nettles are apparently relatively easy to keep in captivity): Monterey Bay Aquarium, Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco, National Aquarium in Baltimore.  I have to say I've been impressed with the improvements MBA has made to their site over the past few years.

habitat ~ 11/25/13 ~ Stevenson Garden

Stevenson Garden
November 25, 2013

posted 11/28/13 - Whenever tourists stop me to ask what they can do in downtown Monterey, I always mention the Secret Gardens of Old Monterey.  The historic building tours cost maybe $3, but the gardens are free to enjoy.  As part of my daily walks, I visit several regularly.  I don't think very many people know they exist, because I rarely see anyone else in them.  Plus, they really are kind of secret and often hidden behind high fences.  The Stevenson House Garden has become my favorite out of all the Secret Gardens.  No matter what season it is, Vilhelm, a State Parks Gardener in charge of Stevenson, makes sure there's color.  Right now the Liquidambar sp. is in brilliant red display (I'm surprised it's spelled 'ambar', not 'amber').  I'm not absolutely positive about its ID since it's cultivated, but I'm guessing it's American sweetgum (L. styracifula), which has also naturalized in a few parts of CA.  I am very thankful for these beautiful public gardens.  Wishing all my American blog readers a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

habitat ~ 11/19/13 ~ San Francisco Bay

November 19, 2013

Of course, it finally rained on the one day I had scheduled to return the lighting equipment to Pete Oboyski, the Collections Manager at UC Berkeley's Essig Museum of Entomology.  Three out of the last four times I've been to San Francisco, it's rained. The superstitious in me thinks I could have helped end this drought if only I had planned more trips to San Francisco.  The rain followed me home to Monterey about 7 hours after it first started as I passed through Oakland.  The local Herald claims this has been the driest year since 1949.  

After a leisurely lunchtime walk in the rain with Pete, I was a little concerned about the traffic for getting home.  I'm not a fan of the multiple lane highways in the Bay Area with everyone going 80 mph. Then, add in the wet, slick roads, and an accident is just waiting to happen.  Since it's getting dark earlier around 5:00pm, I decided I barely had enough daylight to do a scenic driving tour of San Francisco through to the much slower and less crowded Hwy 1 down the coast.  I stopped to take a look along the way.  The second picture was taken at the end of University Avenue in Berkeley at Shorebird Park looking across the Bay to San Francisco on the left and the famous Golden Gate Bridge on the right.  The first picture is a closer view of the Golden Gate Bridge, taken from near the Warming Hut at Crissy Field.  I enjoyed my drive home. Yay, rain!

ps 12/17/13 - Looks like the Herald misquoted.  Local t.v. station KION states Monterey records have only been kept since 1949, ergo "on record", which is different than saying "driest year since 1949" that implies 1949 was a dry year, too.  I had a little blog chat with John Wall comparing San Francisco and Monterey weather records.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

black-tailed deer ~ 11/17/13 ~ at home

 Columbian black-tailed deer
Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

I have yet to figure out if there's a seasonal pattern for when the different groups of deer visit the end of our drive, because it all seems so random. In the past, I've seen groups of females and singular older bucks this time of year. These two young bucks, a first for November, lolled around all day on the barely-there green grass patches and occasionally tangled antlers together.  The day after I took this picture, a third young buck joined these two.  They made me very nervous as they stood at attention only 10 feet from where I was trying to get into the garage.  I've heard various stories of local folks getting into tussles with the deer, to the detriment of people, pets, and cars.

As I was rereading up on Columbian black-tailed deer this morning from all the links I've provided in past IDs, I want to offer kudos to the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife for their excellent "A Sportsman's Guide to Improving Deer Habitat in California".  It's very well written.

habitat ~ 11/17/13 ~ Garland Ranch Regional Park

It's been a while since I've been out to a local park for a hike.  It's not that I haven't been getting outside, however.  I've been focusing on daily 5 mile walks from home along the Monterey Bay in an effort to gently heal from my bike accident.  Just look at what I've been missing!  The sparkling yellow cottonwood was glowing in the sunshine and filled the air with a soothing rustling sound.  We made sure to hit the hillside canyons littered with crunchy bigleaf maple leaves, which give off a distinctly dry aromatic scent when kicked around.  And, the bright red toyon berries seemed to be going gangbusters everywhere I looked.  There was enough color around that I could easily ignore all the dried straw and grey bits that dominate the landscape this time of year, compared to the lovely green of spring.  The seasonal foot bridge at the main parking is still up, but probably not for long.  It offers a lovely view of Carmel River.  Quite frankly, I'm amazed there's any water flowing this late in the season before the rains.  The nature center is still under renovation. We took a look, and I could hardly tell that they had changed anything.  All in all, I left feeling I need to get out more, because it's beautiful out there.

wedding tree ~ 11/17/13 ~ Garland Ranch

I love that we have a wedding tree.  And, yes, we do occasionally visit even if it's not our anniversary.  Analogies could be made comparing our marriage to the continuous changes in and around this tree.  With the relatively recent trail closure, I'm having to adjust to taking a different route to reach the tree.  I was resistant at first.  I noticed a new trail has popped up, and maybe next time we'll explore that path.  The leaves were still hanging on.  They were a bit crispy compared to the soft shoots of spring.  I'm not sure when they drop.  January?

ps 11/28/13 - I came across "That Tree: A Year in the Life of a Lonely Oak" on the Sierra Club site, and it reminded me a little of what I'm doing with our wedding tree.  So far, my less-than-artistic photos document 7 1/2 years of this oak tree, and I hope to continue chronicling at least once annually for the rest of our lives.

vinegar weed ~ 11/17/13 ~ Garland Ranch

Given how late in the year it is and how dry it's been, I really wasn't expecting to find any flowers blooming at Garland Ranch.  Quelle surprise!  I spotted two short vinegar weed plants in their lovely purple glory on a small sunny slope, a location which usually sprouts shootingstars and Johnny jump ups in the early spring.  These were softly fuzzy (i.e., non-irritating) and left a heavy scent on my fingers for hours.  I associate the smell to a mixture of turpentine and pitcher sage.  I kinda liked it.  It didn't remind me of vinegar at all.  The structure of the flowers fascinates me with its curve way back and then up and around.  I'd love to see how the mechanism works on pollinators.