Wednesday, December 25, 2013

habitat ~ 12/25/13 ~ San Francisco Botanical Garden

December 25, 2013

We went up to San Francisco on Christmas again.  Get this, it didn't rain like 2012 and 2010.  It was gorgeous.  Of course, with beautiful, sunny weather, the people come out in droves, but I didn't mind too much.  The great thing we've discovered about rain is that it keeps many people indoors, which makes San Francisco feel like a totally different city.  This excursion may become a tradition for us - scenic drive up Hwy 1, House of Bagels, Botanical Garden, finding Le Soleil closed yet again and asking for recommendations from Clement St. locals, visiting with friends, and marveling at the Union Square hubbub.  It was a very good day.

red-eared slider ~ 12/25/13 ~ Golden Gate Park


I rarely get pictures of turtles I find, because they're either very shy or inaccessible and surrounded by water.  This one at Stow Lake was very accommodating to my creeping up on it.  Maybe it's used to lots of people, or maybe it was someone's pet?  According to Austin's Turtle Page, "Red-eared Sliders are thought to be far & away the highest volume pet turtle produced world-wide & are often sold to people who believe they get little larger than hatchlings.  Therefore they're probably the most widely & often dumped into the wild (both inside & outside their native range) of any turtle species on earth."  That's too bad.  They're a striking-looking turtle, and like its look-alike western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii), they're introduced into CA.

wordless Wednesday

wordless Wednesday

Monday, December 23, 2013

habitat ~ 12/23/13 ~ Jacks Peak County Park

December 23, 2013

It's as if someone pushed the pause button on the seasons.  While the evergreen coast live oaks seem to be holding their own as usual, the Monterey pines look thinner and yellower around the edges.  Closer to the ground, there's a sense of bursting at the seams, of impatiently waiting for the starter's pistol of winter rains.  The push towards spring cannot be contained.  Dustings of green grass are making their best efforts despite the lack of water.  I also found fuchia-flowered gooseberries and monkeyflowers just beginning to show their cheery reds and oranges.  I'm curious to see how everything will fare in the coming months.  Surely, we will get rain, someday?

Honestly, I wasn't expecting to find much for IDs, but I really enjoyed this heart-pumping, hilly hike. The rich smell of pines that's so distinctive to Jacks Peak and the amazing views never cease to amaze me.  In the first picture above (click to enlarge) are several locations I feature on Nature ID, starting at about 11:00 along the water's edge: the Monterey Bay Aquarium towers, Cannery Row, San Carlos Beach, Coast Guard Pier, Rec Trail, Fisherman's Wharf, Wharf No. 2, and Municipal Beach.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

heron and egrets ~ 12/19/13 ~ Rec Trail

I never used to look up in the trees while walking along the water, because I was so focused on otters and harbor seals.  One day I startled a night heron near the Coast Guard Pier, and I watched it fly off to perch in a tree.  From then on, I kept an eye on the tree.  Lo and behold, there's a small group of 4 trees, 3 cypress and 1 willow, each with its own night heron for most of the last half of this year.  I wonder if I'll get to see them make a nest or two in the coming months.  Once I started looking up, I also started seeing lots of great egrets and great blue herons (not pictured here) perched all along the Rec Trail. Whoa!  How could I have been so blind to all these large birds above my head?  I don't know if it's only my new found awareness, or if the herons and egrets are actually numerous this year.  For certain, I have seen more snowy egrets than in years past.  They're all so elegant and fashionable.

pelagic cormorant ~ 12/19/13 ~ Monterey Bay Aquarium

I love how the pelagic cormorants don seasonal attire appropriate for Christmas.  They have such a cute red face this time of year.  The sun has to hit them just right for the greens and purples to appear in the feathers, otherwise they look kind of drab.  A couple weeks ago, I noticed several already had their white butt patches (properly called flank patches), but not all of them yet.  I'll have to try to get photos of that, even if they are crappy like the first one above.  I gotta tell you, I so appreciate good nature photography now that I know how difficult it is.  I've really enjoyed watching the pelagic cormorants hang out at the Monterey Bay Aquarium all year.  They build their nests on those ledges under the building.  Their presence at the Aquarium is a relatively new occurrence, maybe within the past 10-12 years?  I believe the MBA is one of only a few places you can easily observe breeding and nesting up close, because they typically nest on inaccessible rocky cliffs.  Back in August, I suggested to Jim Covel that they add a cormorant nest cam to their relatively new Web Cams.  We'll see...

ps 12/23/13 - Today I saw my first pelagic cormorant carrying kelp nesting material back to the MBA ledges.  They really don't seriously nest until about March.  Maybe they're practicing?

pss 12/30/13 - Today I saw 2 cormorants actually sitting on what look like nests.  Crazy early?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

habitat ~ 12/14/13 ~ Frog Pond Wetland Preserve

Frog Pond Wetland Preserve
December 14, 2013

On our way out to get a steaming bowl of pho, Andy and I stopped at the Frog Pond for a quick walk around.  The air felt much warmer than the ice implies.  We rarely get frozen mud puddles near the coast, and the Frog Pond is less than 2 miles from Monterey Bay waters.  We've had trouble all over town with water pipes bursting under the roads and in buildings.  Although we've had near-freezing nighttime temps for a couple weeks, it wasn't until last week's rain that frost began to appear.  Yeah, it's been that dry.

There were lots of little birds scattered in the sunny pond area and in the willows. Three turkey vultures circled overhead.  And, we heard a red-tailed hawk cry in the distance. Per expected, we didn't see any dragons or damsels.  I have to say the Frog Pond is a very photogenic place.  My favorite photo set was back on January 7, 2012, when 'pond' meant more than a frozen mud puddle.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

habitat ~ 12/07/13 ~ Fort Ord - BLM Creekside

Fort Ord National Monument - Creekside entrance

We woke up around 3am to the rainstorm splattering our windows.  Yay!  This hike was pure bliss, partly because of the decent soaking everything got and partly because I haven't been out to Fort Ord in months.  While Andy ran away for 2 hours, I headed over to the old pre-Creekside parking route. The old Public Lands sign is still up, instead of the fancy new National Monument signs.  It was nice to see water in the Salinas River; I had heard a rumor that it had completely dried up. Apparently not. There were more people on the trails than I'm used to.  Andy thinks it's a combination of all the attention the National Monument designation got last year and this year yet another parking access opened along Hwy 68 next to the Toro Park housing development.  It's okay.  While I loved the complete solitude I used to find here, I'm open for sharing this pretty unique spot of land.

ps - If Pete is reading this, I looked for rain beetles since it was still early.  No luck.

ferns ~ 12/07/13 ~ Fort Ord

western bracken fern (and possibly coastal wood fern)
Pteridium aquilinum var. pubescens (and possibly Dryopteris arguta)
Dennstaedtiaceae (and possibly Dryopteridaceae)

Look how prolific the ferns were this year.  Oh my!  I haven't been out to Fort Ord since May, so this was a little bit of a surprise to me.  While I'm normally not a big fan of brown, I appreciated the subtle variation of shades from copper to rusty chocolate. Doh!  When I took these pictures, I had assumed they were all western bracken fern. However, as I was checking information, I discovered there's a similar looking coastal wood fern also reported at Fort Ord.  Even if I had gotten decent close-ups, I'm not sure I'd be able to tell them apart.  I generally try to avoid fern IDs, but they were impossible to ignore this time.

coast live oak ~ 12/07/13 ~ Fort Ord


As we were driving out to the Creekside entrance on Hwy 68, I noticed most of the oaks had dead tips.  Speeding past, it looked like a deep green mosaic with scattered bits of tan.  I don't think this is sudden oak death, which is caused by a fungus-like pathogen.  I'm guessing it's caused by true fungal diseases, some of which apparently show themselves more when the oaks are drought-stressed, like this year.  I'm not quite sure how that works since fungi generally like moisture.  Right?  This looks very different from the swaths of entirely dead trees I saw last year at Toro Park, which is located right across the street of Hwy 68.  The U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station has an excellent technical report "A Field Guide to Insects and Diseases of California Oaks".  Maybe it's Diplodia quercina branch canker (pp. 88-89) or Cryptocline cinerescens twig blight (pp. 76-79)?  I really don't know.  I'm no tree doctor.  Half the time I can't even distinguish coast live oak from other Quercus spp.  In any case, this widespread dieback is interesting to note.

ps 03/12/14 - An intern from a local paper The Californian contacted me regarding this post.  She wants to use my pictures and information in an article she's writing.  This is the first time I've ever been contacted by a newspaper for Nature ID, so it was an interesting experience... I think for the both of us.  She was sweet but sounded a little nervous.  I gave my photos free of charge, because I didn't want the hassle of creating an invoice and dinging for payment (so many places conveniently "forget" to actually pay).  I'll link to the article once it comes out.  Cool beans.

telegraph weed ~ 12/07/13 ~ Fort Ord

Wikipedia says this is a roadside weed.  No kidding.  In my tradition of trying to capture plants in various stages through the seasons, I came across this lovely, dried flower-looking thingie (yes, my terminology).  Thanks to an instructive set of photos by Zoya Akulova on CalPhotos, I now know those thingies are "receptacle and phyllaries after fruiting".  So, I'm wondering how to label this stage, because * fruits/seeds is not quite accurate.  Any suggestions?  While reading up, I found an excellent compilation of information at The Weed Society of Queensland, even though their descriptors like "infestation" and "unsightly" are not generally used here in its native CA.

toyon ~ 12/07/13 ~ Fort Ord


I've featured toyon on Nature ID before, but I want to show how prolific and plump the berries can get, rather than the desiccated example found in February at Garland Ranch.  It could merely be what's catching my eye lately, but the toyon does seem to be going gangbusters this year.  There are splashes of red everywhere.  About 2 weeks ago I spotted a flock of cedar waxwings at one of the State Historic Parks downtown Monterey, and I'm hoping in the next few months I'll be able to photograph them systematically stripping a toyon of all its berries like I saw for the first time last winter.

pet peeves ~ 12/07/13 ~ Fort Ord

filled dog poop bag

I'm not sure this is any better than fuzzy, mold-covered, open-air poop that I used to see at Fort Ord.  Can anyone tell me why dog owners leave used poop bags on the trails?  This makes no sense to me.  The now-common dispensers at trailheads indicate these green bags are degradable.  Is that different from compostable?  I don't see how individual bags would degrade/compost properly.  Are the dog owners expecting someone else will come along, pick up all those randomly dropped filled bags, and properly compost them like they do in a State Park in Ithaca, NY?  My going assumption has been, if it's your dog, then you need to take care of it and pack it out. Erg.

ps 03/19/14 - OK, this is too funny.  Santa Cruz now has "There's No Poop Fairy" signs.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

unknown willow ~ 12/05/13 ~ Rec Trail


This handsome willow has me stumped on what it could be. Of course, most willows stump me. Calflora lists 11 species of willows reported in the general area. I haven't found a visual match for the young, glabrous (hairless) red stems and wide leaves, and Jepson eFlora descriptions don't help me. I'm sure it's quite obvious as to what it is, but I simply don't know it. Can you ID?

ps 12/07/13 - I took another look at this willow area during my walk yesterday.  There's a much older willow tree with a white trunk nearby, and it has the same leaves.  So, I looked at the possibilities again, thanks to John Wall's suggestion.  If I were to make a guess, this could be the arroyo willow (Salix lasiolepis).  There's either an incredible amount of variation in the arroyo willow, or there are lots of people out there, just as confused as I am, who are posting pictures of mislabeled willows on the internet.  I think I'll pester Vern Yadon.  He'll know for sure.

pss 12/10/13 - Vern and I have been in contact.  He doesn't want me to quote him until he's sure.  He wants to take a look at the plants in person and maybe wait until the catkins come out.  To be continued...