Tuesday, April 29, 2014

habitat ~ 04/29/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

Pinnacles National Park - west entrance

The forecast from the National Weather Service was 95°F and increasing to over 100°F for the rest of the week.  This is April, right?  Oh my.  Here we go.  What I've been dreading.  Hot, hot, hot.  It hit a high of 92°F.  The heat drained me of energy and turned my stomach through the next day.  Do I really want to do this?  Crazily enough, yes.

Thankfully, there was about a half inch of rain from the previous Friday, which was enough to keep things from drying out, save for the creek along the butterfly highway that had already stopped running the previous week.  In fact, the grass had now grown tall enough that many of the colorful flowers were hidden from view.  This week seemed to show a shift in the dominant flower color from yellow to deep purple, from spring to the beginning of summer.  That was a quick transition.

It was a bit distracting looking for different kinds of butterflies when hundreds of painted ladies were moving through.  The ringlets and Saras were going gangbusters at over 40-50 individuals each.  I saw a couple new butterflies and skippers for the season and will post IDs soon... I hope.  I need a better way to track all my notes (handwritten and electronic) and photos.  It's starting to accumulate  from my multiple excursions in a way that's not easy to remember, let alone retrieve.  How do other people do it?

wind poppy ~ 04/29/14 ~ Pinnacles


Last week, I think I only found 1 wind poppy, and this week, quite a few are showing up on shady slopes.  Wind poppies always seem to look a little wind blown to me.  The petals are so irregular.  They're surprisingly tall for such a small flower.  It's one of my favorites.

painted lady ~ 04/29/14 ~ Pinnacles

The ladies are migrating!  Hundreds, if not thousands!  These mass numbers do not happen every year.  I've seen a steady flow of painted ladies in the area for weeks, but now it's like they kicked it into high gear.  They're the hot rods of the butterfly world, complete with a flame motif on the top side of their forewings. Without a time-keeping device, I estimated one passed by me every 3 seconds in the wide open spaces, spilling down over the Pinnacles rocks (wow!), all heading northwest.  It felt like I was standing in a river of butterflies.  It was phenomenal!  I kept taking pictures, hoping to get something other than painted, even if it was blurry.  They do move rather fast.  All painted, fresh, worn, larger, smaller.  Some of the fresher and larger ones made leisurely stops for mud-puddling or nectaring on blue dicks and other flowers.  The last time I remember a migration like this was St. Patrick's Day 2005 when I played hookey from work.  Eh-hem.  Art Shapiro wrote a nice summary of CA's experience with painted lady migrations.  2005 may have been a bigger migration (3 every second), but I'll be curious to hear what people think about this year's mass migration when all is said and done.  Art quotes they "fly like bats out of Hell."  That's an incredibly good description of what it's like.  Keep an eye out for them, they may be heading your way.

ps 04/30/14 @ 4:00pm - I just heard that this mass migration has only been seen near the coast.  Interior CA hasn't seen much... yet.

pss 04/30/14 @ 6:30pm - The first wave just started hitting Davis, CA, all fresh looking and large.

pss 05/03/14  - It looks like the migration wave has ended here.  I don't know how heavy it ever got in Davis, but I've been told it's done there, too.  The same day I saw these massive numbers at Pinnacles, they were also seen moving heavily through the San Jose area.  Very cool.

Douglas' spineflower ~ 04/29/14 ~ Pinnacles


This is the first time I've noticed this spineflower starting to bloom this year.  Its pinkish color reminds me of the federally threatened Monterey spineflower found at Fort Ord, but Douglas' is upright rather than spreading across the sand like Monterey.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

habitat ~ 04/24/14 ~ Garrapata State Park

Garrapata State Park
April 24, 2014

This is only the second time I've ever stopped to visit Garrapata/Soberanes Point.  The first time back on June 2, 2012 was on a Monterey Bay Chapter CNPS trip.  I don't really know what happened to the threatened State Park closure business from 2 years ago.  How would CA State Parks keep people off the property?  I heard something about the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District stepping in to assist with the basics for this remote spot, like toilet paper in the porta-potty, the porta-potty itself, and trash pick-up.  The MPRPD is an awesome park organization, and I wish they could help manage some other local properties (eh-hem, Hatton Canyon, cough, Jacks Peak, cough).

Garrapata is a popular local tourist destination about 5 miles south of Point Lobos, which I also do not visit much.  I'm not fond of how crowded the trail feels, even in the middle of the week.  The path is narrow, and for anyone to pass, you often have to stand to the side in the poison-oak to let them go. We met a couple from Appalachia under the redwoods.  He was a herpetologist, and I enjoyed chatting with him and his wife about their trip and, of course, herps. However, I wondered if he would collect if he found something he liked.  I've been blind to that kind of activity, because I only collect photographs these days.

Honestly, I wouldn't have stopped here had I not been tagging along with Chris Tenney as he searches Monterey County for butterflies.  He had a couple places in mind down the coast, pending the weather.  So often it can be cool, breezy, and foggy.  We lucked out with the sun, and tucked inland there were a couple hot spots totally protected from the wind.  I was quite impressed with the butterfly diversity, because those same narrow, human-crowded paths in the creek canyon also funnel butterflies into a small area of space.  Within 5 feet of Dudleya, we spotted a couple late season Sonoran blues.  

Sigh.  It amazes me how much I've redirected my own life's path in the 2 months since my first Sonoran sighting.  I only recently realized the true reason why I gave up netting as an entomologist.  Basically, I'm too lazy to process specimens on pins and labels.  What a tedious job.  It's so hard for me to admit that.  I'm looking for alternatives and am still considering a Lytro Light Field Camera as my next camera, pending Andy's beta test with his yearbook kids next year (yes, I asked, and the company is agreeable).  Here's a sample of what it can do - click anywhere on the photo to change the focal point.  Eh, it needs some improvement.  Maybe in another year they'll have a better software patch for macro shots?  The potential is exciting.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

habitat ~ 04/22/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

Pinnacles National Park - west entrance

There may have been a tiny amount of precipitation overnight resulting in a rather chilly morning and forecasts for sunny skies by noon with wind gusts.  The wind is not ideal for butterfly watching and challenging, at best, for flower photos.  I went ahead with my plans once it hit 60°F mid-morning, because I was curious to see any changes in flora, greenery, and water in one week's time, for the second week in a row.  I want the experience to feel and observe first-hand the seasonal passage of time, something that's difficult to discern daily and easier to notice on a weekly basis.  Like I said before, Pinnacles is far enough away from home for me to really note the difference.  I've been intrigued by phenology ever since biobabbler mentioned the word 4 years ago on her blog.  I never knew it was a thing with an -ology name before.  I'm still brainstorming and following the proverbial path at my feet.  Plus, I love being outside this time of year.  It was a gorgeous, crystal clear day.

I gotta say, as someone who has been to Pinnacles 4 times this month alone, if you want to see CA spring wildflowers, visit the west side right now!  Do not pass go, do not wait a week, do it now.  The noticeable uptick in floral diversity and density compared to last week really impressed me.  The Juniper Canyon Trail is the showstopper.  In addition to the 2 weeks or more of blooming Johnny jump up, goldfields, lomatium, tufted poppy, CA poppy, buttercup, common monkeyflower, wallflower, cream cup, blue elderberry, blue dick, shooting star, delphiniums, Chinese houses, both blue and white fiesta flowers, woodland star, milkmaids, miner's lettuce, linanthus, saxifrage, and buck brush, the new appearances this week are Fremont's star lily, fiddlenecks, fringepods, phacelia, crinkled onion, tower mustard, stonecrops, and a pretty face relative.  Phew!  Plus, there are some unusual findings on the higher trails, like bitter root, but you've got to go find them yourself.  It's National Park Week, btw. 

I'm beginning to think this is the drought version of peak spring green, right here, right now.  At the 9 mile turn towards Pinnacles, the hills are already turning a reddish brown, which was not the case last week.  It remains relatively green closer to the park entrance.  Who knows if any additional rain will alter this seasonal shift.  The creek along my butterfly highway is no longer running, but there are a couple scummy puddles of water.  That was quick, only 8 weeks of moving water.

For all my Pinnacles temperature links on Nature ID (there are several, because it gets hot, hot, hot in the summer), I've used an online personal weather station, Pinnacles CA US on Weather Underground.  However, wunderground.com has recently updated its site, and my old links don't work quite right.  Grrr.  Paul has been encouraging me to use the National Weather Service.  As of 7:00 am, there was an 11°F current temperature difference between the two stations.  Wunderground matched what Paul said the reading was at his office a few hours later, but NWS still ran colder.  I kinda recall this discrepancy 5 years ago when I picked a station.  By Paul's description, the NWS station may be at a higher elevation.  I may resort to tossing a thermometer out in the shade when I arrive and take a second reading when I leave, use the Beaufort scale to estimate wind, and note sky conditions.  That's what I did for Sonja on both her moth and butterfly surveys.  I'll have to ask Art Shapiro how he handles his weather records when I take him out next month to one of his butterfly sites; he's quite proficient in meteorology and is likely versed in how to link the data to butterfly observations beyond the antecdotal.  Butterflies can be rather particular about weather (sounds like me), and more than any other -ists that I know (besides meteorologists, duh), lepidopterists watch the temperature, wind, and barometric pressure very closely.

Oh!  I saw 13 pale swallowtails, plus 2 more by Soledad.  That may be the most I've ever seen in a couple hours' time.  I also saw my first acmon of the year.

And, as a last note, I finally noticed the micro-trash confetti Easter egg signs in the bathroom.  I think they were there last week, but I wasn't paying attention (haha, scary thought when I go out to observe).  I hadn't given it much thought since it's not a part of my tradition, but I went to Toro County Park the day before and saw what a massive mess it creates.  Aren't there animals that like to pick up shiny objects?  I bet there are some well-decorated nests and middens all across CA now.

Monday, April 21, 2014

habitat ~ 04/21/14 ~ Toro County Park

Toro County Park has an Easter hangover.  Oy vey!  What a mess.  I talked with one of the grounds guys.  He told me it was packed at the park the day before with massive Easter parties and lots of BBQing and music.  He said everyone seemed to be having fun.  I didn't envy the job ahead of him.  How does one clean up confetti mixed with leaf litter and dirt?  He was in good spirits, because it was a beautiful day.  I like people like that.

I can't say the mess is a pet peeve.  I realize this is a county park, and in my mind they serve a definite purpose of human use.  If everything is pristine and natural and hands-off, you end up alienating the very people who need the outdoor experience the most.

Plus, I understand the fun, because I totally want to be in a massive confetti parade myself, like they do after the SuperBowl.  I remember making a cascarĂ³n in 6th grade here in CA, but we did it at Christmas for some reason.  There was one particular boy who was especially mischievous and kept bringing in numerous eggs to crack on all the girls' heads.  I bet his mother was accommodating, because my mother would only spare one egg for me to practice.

goldfields in the lawn

One of the wildest things about Toro County Park is how the native flowers grow in the lawn like invasive weeds.  They even park their cars on it.  It's not herbicided or whatever is usually done to keep grass only grass, like at sterile golf courses.  Besides goldfields, I found checkerbloom, Johnny jump up, popcorn flowerslotuses, and one of my favorites, coast pretty face.

This is only my second visit ever to Toro County Park.  The last time in September 2012, it was dry, dry, dry.  Do you blame me for waiting so long?  Andy runs here regularly, and indeed he was on a 2 hour run while I meandered up one of the trails looking for flowers and butterflies until the poison-oak was too thick over the path.  It was a pretty day and very green.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter 2014 in the Highlands

decorated beer cans for hiding

brightest flowers (irises) that caught my eye

Bird Island of Point Lobos

hidden egg

my favorite spring garden view

Easter landed late on the calendar this year.  Tulips are long gone, and irises are making quite a showing in gardens all around.  The blues and purples reign right now: pride of Madeira, CA lilac, greater periwinkle, and a variety of other garden flowers.  Does anyone know what the purple flowers behind the hidden egg are?  Andy and I didn't dye any eggs this year.  And, there wasn't actually a beer hunt after the egg hunt, but I was happy to see some folks made the effort to decorate cans.  It's one of those things where it's more fun to talk about than to actually do. Plus, the ages of the participatory kids ran too young to do a proper beer hide, and there were enough young teens who felt the shaked-can joke was getting old.  No one drinks the beer anyways.  It's all about the yummy potluck of epic proportions.

Oh!  We had a heart-stopping 10 minutes down at the beach.  Three people had gotten stuck on a rock in the very active high tide.  It looked like they could have easily been swept out to sea with the next rogue wave.  It's well known around here that the first rescuers are often the ones who end up dying, not the person in trouble. It's such a helpless feeling to watch this.  There's a beach just on the other side of Point Lobos that the locals call "Mortuary Beach", because every year people die in the waters there.  Thank goodness these three eventually got off the rock safely after holding on for dear life and waiting for a break in the wave action.

As always, my best memories are in the sharing of this Easter tradition with good friends, old and new.  It's one of the few holidays for which I'm very sentimental.  Happy Spring!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

habitat ~ 04/17/14 ~ Chews Ridge in the Ventana Wilderness

Chris Tenney took me up to the Chews Ridge Lookout to find hilltopping duskywings and a couple blues.  He's been monitoring this site for butterflies for a number of years.  The weather wasn't ideal with a high cloud haze, which we had hoped would have burned off by noon this far inland from the ocean.  We still had some measure of success when the clouds uncovered the sun for brief bouts.  I'm now confident I can identify a Boisduval's blue (Plebejus icarioides), even though I didn't manage a picture of the numerous ones flying knee high above a grassy slope.  We also saw a handful of Columbian skippers (Hesperia columbia), but I'd have a hard time distinguishing them from other local Hesperiinae.

It's really beautiful up there and completely unfamiliar to me.  The variety of pines and oaks are new to me.  There's also the MIRA Oliver Observing Station down the ridge and plenty of charred evidence from the massive 2008 Basin Complex Fire.

I don't have a local's perspective of the area at all, despite having lived in neighboring Monterey for the past 11 years.  The Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest is a place I tend to avoid, except for the trailhead at Los Padres Dam.  The scary fire danger and hidden pot farms make me nervous.  It's rugged with long, curvy, dirt roads as the only way in.  I was thankful Chris was driving and knew where to go.  Although, we did get lost on the way back.  How the land in the Santa Lucis Mountains is divvied up is a complete mystery to me.  I have a feeling if I keep going out with Chris to look for butterflies, I will become better acquainted with this remote and unique area.  I think he's an explorer at heart.  I feel like I should brush up on CPR and reevaluate my standard take-alongs, because places like this require preparedness.

goosefoot violet ~ 04/17/14 ~ Chews Ridge


Note the chew marks on the flower petals above.  Violets are well-known caterpillar hosts for all Speyeria spp. butterflies.  Usually the leaves are the reported food source, but I wonder if the tender petals could be easier to eat for the first few instars.  Chris has found callipe fritillary (Speyeria callippe comstocki), coronis fritillary (Speyeria coronis), and unsilvered fritillary (Speyeria adiaste) at Chews Ridge.  True to its name, the unsilvered fritillary lacks the flashy white spots on the underside of the hindwing that many other CA Speyeria spp. have.  I'm hoping to return with him in the next couple months to see these gorgeously large butterflies on the wing.

I never really appreciated the variety of wild violets there are before this year of numerous spring outings.  Calflora lists 46 Viola spp./ssp.  Many of them are yellow, not violet.  We also found yellow violets that had rounder, shinier leaves, which I suspect was V. pupurea spp. purpurea.

ps 05/05/14 - I added callipe fritillary above after Ryan Hill reminded me.  Many people have only heard of the callipe in terms of the subspecies S. callipe callipe because of it's federally endangered status.  There are several recognized ssp. of S. callipe.

duskywing moth ~ 04/17/14 ~ Chews Ridge

Considering we were keeping our eyes out for medium-small dark duskywings, it's no surprise I spotted this subtly decorated day-flying moth.  It has no official common name, but I've heard Jerry Powell calls it the duskywing moth.  Then, I thought about what I'd name it.  I see a face in the wings.  In some pictures, it looks like a winged mouse or an elephant.  It's like that game of seeing shapes in clouds.  Is that a type of pareidolia?  I'm drawing a blank as to a fun common name.  Duskywing moth works just fine for me.

duskywings ~ 04/17/14 ~ Chews Ridge

I find many skippers (Hesperiidae), including the dark duskywings (Erynnis spp.), extremely difficult to tell apart.  I'm conferring with Chris Tenney before I finish placing embedded IDs on these pictures.  More to come...

ps 04/21/14 - Chris confirmed my IDs.  He said we also saw pacuvius duskywing (Erynnis pacuvius callidus, Shapiro, Tenney), but I probably mistook them for the similarly dark sleepy duskywing since ours in CA don't have the white fringe.  These are all hilltoppers for the most part, and we found them either right at the top at the base of the lookout or in a fairly limited radius around the summit.  I don't have any helpful ID notes to offer, because Chris basically pointed them all out to me.

Coulter pine ~ 04/17/14 ~ Chews Ridge


These pine cones are gigantic.  Holy cow!  Reminds me of the time I regretted driving over a gray pine cone.  So, I wondered about the relative sizes of Coulter vs. gray pine cones, even though Wikipedia says, "Coulter pines produce the largest cones of any pine tree species."  I found this handy pine cone comparison on Tree Identification blog.  It looks like Coulter is longer, while gray is wider, and both are huge and heavy.  Chris told me he had a Coulter pine drop on his shoulder once.  He said it beat him up pretty badly.  Ouch.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

habitat ~ 04/15/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

 Pinnacles National Park - west entrance

Are you tired of Pinnacles, yet?  I'm not.  The flowers are really starting to get their groove on, particularly the tufted poppies compared to 1 week before.  I met up with Paul Johnson and his kids this visit.  He showed me moths, and I showed him my butterfly highway (pics 1 & 2), which I'm considering extending down another trail (pics 3 & 4).  This is nothing official; it's for my own amusement to help me learn the local butterflies.  The lesson I took away from our tips and tricks is that I haven't been looking for lepidopteran host plants, which are often quite small with the tiniest flowers.  There's plenty of detail up close, but it's only been in the last year or so that I've started to need reading glasses.  Ugh, I'm still adjusting to this new visual experience and getting older business.

The thing for me about Pinnacles is that it's different enough from home that I really notice the changes between visits.  I'll take any spring green I can get this drought year, and it's a very pleasant low-stress and low-traffic drive to get there.  Given Paul's office is on the east side (here and here) and I prefer the west side, we don't always see the same things or at the same time.  He told me that most visitors to the east would have no clue so many wildflowers are blooming right now on the west.  Interesting.  I'm curious to see how things progress. 

white-lined sphinx ~ 04/15/14 ~ Pinnacles


Well, I won't win any photography awards for these photos, but it's good enough to show how impressively long its proboscis is and for an ID.  I've been casually calling these hummingbird moths.  Problem is no one knows what I'm talking about.  In my defense, I spotted what I believe was a Hyles lineata during a break in the rain at SFB Morse Botanical Reserve on February 28, which happened to be around the time when I also started seeing rufous hummingbirds on migration.  On an overcast day, the overall coloring for both the hefty moth and the tan bird are remarkably similar, and the name stuck in my head.  I have Paul to thank for correcting me when we saw another white-lined sphinx along the butterfly highway

Thanks to the blurring of memory through time, I had forgotten all about the clearwings (hey, if you don't use it, you lose it).  Back when I lived in OH, I was familiar with the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), which can have the more traditional green and red coloring of hummingbirds.  They were popular subjects of insect question calls to the museum and were frequently described as hovering like a hummingbird with a lobster tail.  Pinnacles has a different clearwing, the bumble bee moth (Hemaris thetis), formerly classified under the eastern snowberry clearwing sphinx (Hemaris diffinis).  I plan on keeping my eye out for them, because day-flying sphinx moths are fun to watch.

Greya moth ~ 04/15/14 ~ Pinnacles


Paul showed me this tiny moth nectaring on a woodland star.  In the sunlight, it has a lovely pearly sheen.  He said they can also be found with their butts stuck in there.  Some Greya spp. are known to lay eggs in the calyx, which also serves as an effective means of pollination for the flower.  Reportedly, the larvae feed on the developing seed, although later instars and other Greya spp. can also mine leaves. The Thompson Lab at UC Santa Cruz has been looking into the coevolutionary relationship between Greya moths and their host plants across western North America, including at Pinnacles.  The two reported spp. for Pinnacles are G. obscura (more info) and G. politella (more info).  Paul and I have been going back and forth over the ID of this particular individual.  My vote is G. obscura, but if questioned enough, I'll double-check ad nauseam.  I've asked opinions from others, and everyone has their own preferred way at arriving at an ID possibility:  wing pattern and size, behavior on specific host or nectar sources, dissection of genitalia, DNA analysis.