Monday, March 31, 2014

habitat ~ 03/31/14 ~ Jacks Peak County Park

Jacks Peak County Park
March 31, 2014

posted 04/04/14 - Zowie!  The poison-oak is going gangbusters, creeping over everything on the lower slopes of my favorite access trail to Jacks Peak.  Within 2 days of this visit, I may have developed my first-ever poison-oak rash.  Bummer.  They're just little red bumps that itch like crazy, nothing like the oozing sores Andy gets weeks later from his trail running in shorts.

Under all that poison-oak in the first photo, there's also a dusky-footed woodrat stick midden on the fallen trunk.  I find it interesting that some of them prefer to build their houses up off the ground.  I'm so happy the bright spring green has finally arrived.  A little late, but I'll take it.  And, thanks to having recently hiked in a different kind of pine forest at Lewis Creek and seeing the contrast, I now recognize there are sections of the access trail that have absolutely nothing growing down below.  It feels really old and static in there with feet deep, cushy soft layers of pine needles.  The Monterey Peninsula is famously referenced as one of the last remaining stands of native Monterey pine with Jacks Peak crowning it all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

habitat ~ 03/26/14 ~ Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park

Here's another local gem we found while driving around, ostensibly in an attempt to find a restaurant that was actually open after our hike at Lewis Creek.  Since our stomachs insisted on being filled, we planned to return the next day.  Sure enough, plans?  Rain.  I guess I should be celebrating that my rain curse has returned.  Not to be deterred, Andy kindly served as my umbrella holder while I attempted to take pictures of flowers in the rain.

Ahwahnee Hills is less than 7 crow miles from and maybe 1000 feet lower in elevation than Lewis Creek.  It's a completely different type of habitat.  I appreciate the diversity.  Give a couple weeks, better lighting, and this place could offer great glamour shots for the spring months of any CA wall calendar.  Come to find out, Ahwahnee Hills only recently opened March 15, 2014 after 20 years of planning.  It's another public-private partnership, a trend I see more and more these days of little public money.  I had forgotten that federal parks closed temporarily last fall, including Yosemite, as this Sierra Star writer mentions in his review of Ahwahnee Hills.  I can totally see why people buy vacation property in the area.  It's a lovely place, even in the rain.

American beaver ~ 03/26/14 ~ Ahwahnee Hills

Oh?  Well, look at that!  Hey, there must be a beaver nearby!  We totally missed spotting the lodge, so we backtracked about a hundred yards to look around.

Is that the lodge?  It just looks like someone tossed a bunch of cleared brush down the bank.  That can't be it, no?  

Indeed, everywhere we walked at the newly opened Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park, there were numerous small piles of cut brush scattered about.  No wonder we didn't give this pile a second thought.  They were still grading the new trails, so I imagine there was plenty of path clearing involved.

Do you think they plan to burn the small piles?  We actually saw a couple yard waste fires along the roads from Bass Lake to Ahwahnee in the rain.  One fellow had such a high flame, I'm sure he used gasoline.  Even fires crews in the Sierra National Forrest were lighting fires. I didn't know burning yard waste was still a common practice due to concerns over air quality.  At least with the rain, there wasn't going to be much danger of a wildfire.  I'm guessing the area had a strict fire ban this record dry year.  Wildfires are hella scary.  They're supposedly good for CA ecosystems, but they wreck havoc on the human inhabitants.

So, I checked out the "brush pile".  Look at the angled gnaw marks on the twig end.  What surprised me was the patted down mud and the whole thing just leaning against the sloping bank.  While not reported for this end of Madera County, the CDFW states beavers in the Central Valley are primarily bank dwellers and often don't build lodges and dams.  I did not know that.  I wonder if this beaver may have caused trouble for humans elsewhere and was relocated to this handy-dandy new park where its activities will be encouraged.

I've seen evidence of beavers here and there over the years from CA to WA up to AK, usually just gnawed stumps.  The most I ever saw, including several actual animals, was when I backpacked the Adirondacks in NY.  They have crazy busy beavers back there with lodges and dams literally everywhere.  I bet our North American landscape would look so much different if beavers hadn't been trapped to near oblivion.  As it is, I'm glad to see they're still around.  Go, beavers!

rusty popcorn flower ~ 03/26/14 ~ Ahwahnee Hills


Driving up to Bass Lake, we passed beautiful grazing hills scattered with, what looked like from a distance, a grand dusting of powdered sugar.  Popcorn flowers.  I had hoped to find a place where I could trespass to take closer pictures, and then we found Ahwahnee Hills.  Perfect.

Pfft.  In CA, we have a lot of popcorn flowers (66 Calflora records of Plagiobothrys spp./var.) and look-alikes, aka white forget-me-nots (92 Calflora records of Cryptantha spp./var.).  Ha!  Good luck with ID.  There is no way I would have been able to figure these out, if I hadn't found Ahwanee Hills Regional Park's flowers page.  It's the same style as Yosemite Hikes - same person? same web host?  For now, I'm totally trusting whomever put the park's site together, because even if I refine my Calflora search, I still end up with too many possibilities.  Which also means, I can't assume all the tiny white flowers I saw in the distance were rusty popcorn flowers.  

Apparently, the tinged hair on the calyx and stem gives this sp. its rusty common name. Wayne's Word has an excellent discussion of Plagiobothrys and Cryptantha, including the scary-looking bloody red dye.  It's a good thing I'm not in the habit of fondling plants, because that would have freaked me out.  Plus, he shows some excellent pictures of nutlets.  Finally!  I've been searching for nutlet pictures ever since my first Hickman's popcorn flower, which grow much closer to the ground than rusty's actively popping reach.

As a final note, what is that distinctive collar around the yellow and white throats in my first picture?  I couldn't find it on any other popcorn flower pictures online.  Is that unusual?

Menzies' fiddleneck ~ 03/26/14 ~ Ahwahnee Hills


I'm not a huge fan of yellow, but there is something structurally appealing to me about the fiddlenecks.  We saw expansive patches along the road side of grazing pasture fences and only a small patch at Ahwahnee.  These are lush compared to the skinny ones I took pictures of at Pinnacles.  Even though I inherited a very nice jeweler's loupe, I never use it.  It's a lot of trouble during what's supposed to be a hike to take such a close enough look at these tiny flowers to count their calyx lobes.  Plus, they're prickly.  I'm not absolutely positive about this ID, but I'm going with what's shown on the Ahwanee Hills Regional Park's flowers page.

giraffe's head ~ 03/26/14 ~ Ahwahnee Hills


Like with owl's-clovers, it doesn't take a big stretch of the imagination to see why the CA locals call this giraffe's head.  They're often featured as a plant in bloom at the Garland Ranch visitor's center, yet after years of looking, I've never seen it growing there myself.  So, I was a little surprised to find out this is not a native plant.  It hails from Europe, Asia, and Africa, if Wikipedia is correct.  For some reason the flowers remind me of CA hedgenettle, even though the leaves are totally different.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

habitat ~ 03/25/14 ~ Lewis Creek Trail in the Sierra National Forest

a National Recreation Trail in the Sierra National Forest
(more information here and here)

Without intending to be hip, we "unplugged" for Spring Break up at Bass Lake.  No phone, no internet, no tv.  I got recommendations in advance from fellow bloggers for Hite Cove Trail (more info) and Devils Peak, both in the Sierra National Forest... I think.  Good luck trying to find either one on a road map.  With the infinitely more famous neighbor Yosemite, I discovered information for places outside of the National Park boundaries to be thin on the ground.

So, we did the next best thing, we drove around until something looked interesting.  It's our way of quickly exploring a new-to-us area.  See that trail sign?  Yep, that's all the notice you'll get from Hwy 41 as it quickly heads to Yosemite.  Andy chose to stop here, because there were a couple other cars already parked and it was in the middle of the week during a season when most everything in the area is shut down until at least mid-April.  Hence, it must be a good stop, right?  

Yes, most definitely, yes.  I loved it!  Although, I think our timing was a little early to catch its full spring glory.  It's a casual hike along what I assume is Lewis Creek, under a startling variety of very tall trees, including the prettily-puzzled ponderosa pine.  There are a couple scenic waterfalls, too.  If it were a big water year, I'm sure the creek would be deafening.  One thing to note, for the two of us who are used to the grippier Monterey pine needles, the ponderosa pine needles are extremely slippery to walk on.  Mr. Sure-Footed Trail Runner slipped very hard on the needles over granite.  His elbow is going to hurt for a long time.  Other than that, we enjoyed our little hike very much, and I hope to return someday.

For future reference, I should tip my hand in the water of the tributary (2nd photo above), beacuse I read mention of possible warm springs here.  Say, does anyone know, at what point does a creek become classified as a river?

turkey tail ~ 03/25/14 ~ Lewis Creek

turkey tail
Trametes versicolor

Look at the pores!  From the top, it looks very similar to false turkey tail with both having strips of fuzz, but the "true" turkey tail is more velvety in texture, like fluffy corduroy upholstery.  For me, these lack the characteristic orange tinge of false turkey tail.  Plus, it has a thicker 'shroom appearance at the edges, especially when they're fresh.  This batch was growing on a fallen incense-cedar, which is reportedly rare for this hardwood saprobe.

Again, I normally don't go around pulling fungi off wood to take pictures of the underside, but this comparison endeavor was for Cindy @ Dipper Ranch.  I have no idea if these comparisons can be made beyond my local CA range.

Pacific bleeding heart ~ 03/25/14 ~ Lewis Creek

Papaveraceae (formerly Fumariaceae)

I really like bleeding hearts and rarely get to see them out in the wild closer to home. These don't quite look like the pale pink wider ones that I posted from Washington last year, but that may be because these blooms are young.  Maybe they'll lighten in color as they age?  Reported bloom times are June-July on Calflora and May-July on Yosemite Hikes.  Another early bloomer?

snow plant ~ 03/25/14 ~ Lewis Creek

posted 04/03/14 - Hey, here's something different!  I vaguely remember always seeing these coming up out of the snow back when I used to ski twenty years ago.  They made me think of Snow White's red lips.  The reported bloom time is May - July, even from local Yosemite Hikes site.  Hmm?  I guess these are early? Maybe plant people generally aren't out looking for blooms when there's enough snow on the ground for skiing?  In the week since I took these pictures, it snowed quite a bit in the area.  These were the only ones I found next to a slow moving side creek.  The middle picture is a snow plant seed stalk that was laying nearby.  I also spotted plenty of upright seed stalks, but I was mistaken and they ended up being the similarly odd-looking pine drops (Pterospora andromedea).  I keep wanting to call these snow drops, but that's not correct.  Snow plant, snow plant.  For more information on this flaming red parasitic plant, the USDA Forest Service and Botanical Society of America have good pages.

Monday, March 24, 2014

western brown elfin on ceanothus ~ 03/24/14 ~ Bass Lake

western brown elfin on ceanothus

As I was trying to get pictures of the unusual-to-me ceanothus, she flew right into focus and sat there.  No nectaring, no laying eggs.  Guess she wanted her picture taken.  So I did.


Now, back to the ceanothus.  Grrr.  I'm most familiar with the buck brush found at Pinnacles in San Benito Co., and it happens to be the last place I saw a western brown elfinC. cuneatus is the only sp. on their plant list, which seems odd to me considering Calflora has 82 records of native Ceanothus spp./var. (some are outdated, but still!).  At Pinnacles, the flowers are whiter, the leaves are shinier, and the stems are browner... and there's quite a bit of variation as I just noticed.  I think lots of people are confused about Ceanothus ID, myself included, and many online pictures are too inconsistent to be helpful.

OK, I'll admit, there's a part of me just wishing this to be a different sp.  I did drive over 3 hours, up the hills, suppressing awful memories of childhood car sickness every single time we visited the Sierras (ah, now I remember why I generally avoid the area like the plague).  I want to find something different, dang it!  I tried to convince myself that this is mountain whitethorn (Ceanothus cordulatus). However, it didn't particularly have any thorns, the bushes were taller than me (Jepson eFlora states C. cordulatus is generally < 1.5m), and the leaves are not 3-ribbed from base.  Anyone have a better guess?  Big bushes like these were blooming everywhere in open sunny areas.  It was really stunning.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

cobweb spider ~ 03/20/14 ~ at home

A couple years ago in October, a friend expressed disgust at the amount of cobwebs around our front door.  He even offered to clean the stairwell for me.  I told him to leave it alone, because I was letting nature do my decorating for Halloween.  Ha!  Truth be told, I'm a lazy housekeeper. Then, last spring when dead crane flies and moths* were accumulating at an excessive rate, I finally did the deed and attacked everything with a broom, vacuum, and a rag.  Quick and dirty. I discovered that a big broom is ineffective against the nickel-sized tan egg sacs that are almost always laid against a corner or crevice.  Bugger.  The spiders dropped and fled for their lives. 

So, I've been watching her up by the porch light the past few months.  I started worrying that she might drop on my head.  Not likely, but still.  This year I decided it was time for Katie's Spider Relocation Program (KSRP) to kick into gear.  I armed myself with an old sock, an old toothbrush, a wide-mouth jar, and a magazine paper advert.  Because of her sticky cobweb, it was really hard to catch her.  I may have accidentally dented her abdomen.  Phooey. Hand-in-sock and the toothbrush worked wonders with removing webbing and those stubborn egg sacs.  She, her eggs, and a smaller male companion are now spending the rest of their days in the neighboring park.

For blogging purposes, I had hoped this was the false black widow (Steatoda grossa).  I can't be sure.  None of my pictures clearly show the markings on the front part of her abdomen.  It looks like there might be a lighter colored stripe that curves around, but it's hard to tell.  I'm satisfied only going to family for ID.  Sonja had me use the a Golden Guide Spiders and Their Kin when I fielded spider ID calls at the museum.  I have the older green cover 1990 edition, and it's still pretty handy if you're not fussed about getting exact species. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Annaphila decia ~ 03/19/14 ~ Pinnacles

More dead animals.  Hey, don't laugh at my photos, okay?  I should have asked for better lighting; the busy office was incredibly dark.  Getting decent pics is a crapshoot for me, as is evidenced by my crappy photos label.  I have zero interest in photography itself.  However, looking at my photo set compared to the standard is making me feel a bit embarrassed that I didn't take the time to line them up perfectly, properly sized, lighted, etc.  Eh, as it was, it took me a good 2-hour visit to take photos of a few trays' worth of Paul Johnson's Annaphila specimens, some from the Pinnacles National Park collection and some from his personal collection.  Thank you for your time and attention, Paul!

While I prefer alive and natural, over dead and spread, collections do have their uses.  My photos of a live Annaphila from March 9, 2014 match Paul's 4 A. decia specimens, especially compared to the series (scroll down for Annaphila spp.).  There's a distinctive, cartoony sideview of a boy's face on the hindwing, too.  The collection dates were 03/12/02, 03/18/07, and 2x 04/13/06 (yes, yes, I use mm/dd/yy).  That's good enough for me, even though I still don't think they're well represented online and barely match old hand-drawn plates (Hampson Species Index, figs. 7 & 8).  I did find it interesting that a couple more photos were uploaded to BugGuide in the days since my live post.  It's natural, since they're on the wing now.  And, I also located this gorgeous live shot, despite its misspelling (a challenge of online searching).

Alright, I'll admit I was jumping the gun the other day, fantasizing about how I may have accidentally found a previously undescribed species.  It's funny; I'm not ashamed.  Regardless, it reminded me of an item on my bucket list.  I'm not ready to go down that path now, anyways. Someday, right?  

Annaphila decia head on view

I should mention, it's really difficult to spread tiny moths this well.  Spreading takes good dexterity, talent, patience, and desire.  I have none of those qualities.  It's cool how those upright scales (that looked like jumping spider eyes) are still preserved in the spread body.  Now, all I need to do is find me some jumping spiders...

ps 03/27/14 - I am still researching this and may end up personally comparing with U.C. Berkeley's Essig Museum of Entomology original paratypes, which are accurately identified.  There is a potential that my photos, Paul's specimens, BugGuide, and Flickr are all the same, just not A. decia. Crazy, huh?  Go museums!

Monday, March 10, 2014

habitat ~ 03/10/14 ~ Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Preserve

Once again, a casual comment on Saturday led to another nature bloggers' get-together... at least, from my perspective.  For Ken @ Nature of a Man and Cindy @ Dipper Ranch this visit was work-related.  One of Ken's CNPS friends Paul also joined us on this hike around a closed MROSD Preserve.  My first impression?  This is not what I expected of the Santa Cruz Mountains.  It was wide open and sunny.  And quiet.  Remember, I live by the ocean with an almost constant backdrop of crashing waves.  Well, it wasn't entirely quiet up in the mountains. There was the incredible sound of wind through trees, speckled with extraordinary songs of birds, and the non-stop, excited chattering of nature nuts.  I say this with complete admiration for my companions.  I was just happy to tag along for the ride.  It was a gorgeous day.  I now have more IDs than I can shake a stick at.  More to come...

coast garter snake ~ 03/10/14 ~ Midpen Preserve

coast garter snake
Thamnophis elegans terrestris
(ssp. of western terrestrial garter snake)

I don't know how to sex snakes, but I'm calling it a she.  She was quick and sought refuge in the pond, but a long-legged herp fellow was quicker on his feet.  We thought the two red dots on her head were a nice addition to a very pretty little snake.

edited 04/01/14 - Thanks to Cindy's comment, I revised the ID from Santa Cruz garter snake (Thamnophis atratus atratus) to best guess a ssp. of the western terrestrial garter snake, the coast.  All 3 ssp. of aquatic garter snakes (T. atratus) do not have any red on their sides like this one clearly shows.  Doh! 

The other possibility would be one of the common garter snakes (T. sirtalis).  While Cindy says CA red-sided (T. sirtalis infernalis), I lean towards valley (T. sirtalis fitchi).  Look at this picture and tell me it doesn't look the same with that large eye and black wedges?  Well, okay, the individual shown above has 8 labial palps (typ. of western terrestrial, elegans), rather than only 7 (typ. of common, sirtalis), but that's apparently not 100% diagnostic.  Plus, neither T. sirtalis ssp. is supposed to be found in this area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we're confident, somehow, that this is not the endangered San Francisco garter snake (T. sirtalis tetrataenia). Confused, yet?  Join the club!

For a handy-dandy key to CA garter snakes, check out CA Herps.  And, for a brief summary of the confusion around garter snakes (with links) check out my CA red-sided post from Fort Ord.

arboreal salamander ~ 03/10/14 ~ Midpen Preserve

I should note that we did not happen across this arboreal salamander resting on top of the log as pictured. I think Ken found it under some bark, but that makes it difficult to photograph. Normally, I don't go actively hunting for herps, but I'm also not documenting spp. for a preserve. This individual is not as spotty as the one-eyed arboreal salamander Andy found near home 4 years ago. I can't believe how gushy I was with my first find.  I think I appreciate the random encounters a little more, but this was definitely eye-opening as to how much is hidden just out of sight.