Wednesday, October 9, 2013

habitat ~ 10/09/13 ~ Elkhorn Slough - NERR

Elkhorn Slough - National Estuarine Research Reserve entrance

We weren't sure if Elkhorn would be open considering the federal government shutdown.  Unlike many people, the only impact that we've noticed for us has been closed parks.  We had hoped to camp at Pinnacles National Park during fall break, but we scrapped those plans with the shutdown.  My backup plan was to go to nearby Kirby Park if the NERR was closed, but it wasn't.  What surprised me was to see folks in CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife (formerly Game) uniforms.  I don't know how I missed that.  Elkhorn Slough confuses me as to which agency does/owns what.  Apparently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is also involved.  After inquiring, come to find out the Nature Center is run by CADFG.  I did not know that. They do a nice job. 

The tide was very high during our visit.  One of the main walkways was almost covered in water.  I don't get too excited about the proliferation of invasive plants here, like poison hemlock, but for some reason I still want to go back to visit the Slough.  I've even come to like the soothing rattling sound of wind-blown dried harding grass.  It looked like they had recently done some extensive mowing.  They have an incredibly work-intensive management plan.  I think I'd feel defeated if I worked there.  It could be coincidental, but it seems like we've seen less and less wildlife (snakes and rabbits) in recent years since they've stepped up their attempts to get rid of invasive plants.

All surrounding the Slough, the farmers are just now covering their lands with a fresh round of plastic (seen in the middle picture above on the surrounding hills) for another planting of strawberries, one of Monterey County's most valuable crops.  This type of plasticulture really bothers me.  The waste generated must be incredible.  I've been wondering if anyone makes biodegradable plastic for strawberry farming.  If I did it, I'd make it so the farmer could till the plastic into the soil as a soil replenisher.  I bet the chemistry wouldn't be too difficult to figure out.  The biggest hurdle would be to invest in an efficient manufacturing process so that it would be cost effective for the farmers.

salt bush ~ 10/09/13 ~ Elkhorn Slough

 salt bush/fat-hen among pickleweed

When fellow bloggers post seasonal pictures from their neck of the woods, like the common milkweed, I'm reminded of how much I absolutely loved autumn in Ohio - the vibrant colors, the damp woodsy smell, the crisp chill in the air.  Sigh.  It's taken me a while to appreciate autumn here on the coast of CA.  I tend to seek out places, like Garzas Creek, that remind me of Ohio.  Amazingly, autumn colors occur in the slough, too, where salt water meets fresh water.

I try to take full advantage of nature center displays and will often take pictures before a hike as a take-along ID guide.  I love it when they have sample plants with identification tags... that is until what they show cannot be confirmed anywhere else.  Erg.  Assigning names for this post was a bit of a challenge since there have been recent changes among different classification systems.  Same or different species?  Who knows? Other names associated with this particular salt bush are:  A. triangularis ssp. hastata (as shown above), spearscale, A. patula ssp. hastata.  Even fat-hen refers to different kinds of plants.  Then, there's the question of is it native (as shown above) or naturalized?  Other names associated with local pickleweed are:  Pacific swampfire, S. virginica, glasswort, S. depressa.  And finally, Jepson, our CA plant bible, sticks with Chenopodiaceae as the family name.  Phew.

Mylitta crescent ~ 10/09/13 ~ Elkhorn Slough

for more information, click here and here

Eh, crescents and checkerspots are somewhat challenging to ID.  They're incredibly variable and can look like each other.  For me, I use the row of dots on the hindwing to know for sure it's a crescent; checkerspots never have the dots, which, unfortunately, makes it confusing to remember.  A funny thing about these butterflies, I find IDing them on the wing much easier to do than from photographs.  The crescents are smaller and a bit more erratic in their flight compared to checkerspots.

I have a question for you:  Does anyone know the function, if any, of the colorful antennal clubs often found on various insects?  This discussion came up on my black burying beetle post.