Thursday, May 29, 2014

grunion greeting, 2014 #3

prejuvenile spotted cusk-eel

While we were out on the nighttime beach looking for grunion, it quickly became all about the cusk-eel for J and me.  Armed with a flashlight under the complete darkness of the clear skies and new moon, we eventually found 4 or 5 after waves washed out (we had different counts, and we didn't even need a 2nd hand to count - ha!).  They seemed a bit lethargic, kind of like the grunion I observed on May 15 (Something weird is going on, because even in SoCal the grunion are inexplicably beaching themselves and not in a good way.)  One cusk-eel we found wiggled its entire body down, tail first, not too dissimilar to what a grunion does when she lays eggs, except the cusk-eel completely disappeared into the sand.  We also noticed numerous mini-craters that noisily bubbled water as the waves receded.  J kept saying, "It totally sounds like a spa!"  Ya, the waves were relatively calm this night for us to hear the bubbling.  We're wondering if all the cratered holes were created by the freshly dug cusk-eels?  There were also a handful of cancer crabs and sand crabs digging down in the sand, but nothing thin enough to make a drill-like hole.

It's thanks to Dr. Guacamole (that's not his real name, btw) for alerting me to the fact my crappy photo "eel" from July 9, 2013 was a cusk-eel, but all I could recall to tell J this night was that it wasn't a real eel and was actually a fish.  Dr. Martin also chimed in and eventually I was able to get "retired" CDFW Bob Lea's expert ID down to species.  He cowrote the technical report Checklist of Fishes Known to Occur in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary with Erica Burton last year.  And thankfully, considering I'm bugging some very busy people with my ID questions, they were glad to get my observations and photos.  I'm guessing not a lot of people report cusk-eel sightings.  This is only the second time I've ever seen them in all my grunion nights.  I've seen grunion more times than cusk-eels, and that might be saying something. 

I found the burrowing tail first to be fascinating, especially in the exact same spot we've seen the grunion lay eggs.  What makes this beach so great for these sand-loving fish?  The extremely calm waters and fine sand?  With Bob's permission, this is what he said about my photo above, "The cusk-eel is a prejuvenile Spotted Cusk-eel, Chilara taylori.  At this size the spots have not yet developed; I am guessing the fish in photo is ca. 5 to 6 inches in length.  Cusk-eels enter the substrate tail first and their caudal structure is modified, fusion of bony elements, enabling them to do this.  There have been several papers discussing tail-standing and burrowing in cusk-eels and I can send you the references if you are interested.  Chilara taylori was originally described from the beach at Monterey in 1858.  We encountered prejuvenile fish last year (July or August) solving a puzzle that I did not know the answer to until then.  Also, the prejuvenile stage is nektonic and the fish you saw are in the transition process of changing from a pelagic to benthic existence.  Good to get your observation."  Man, it's been forever since I've seen someone use "ca." - no offense to Bob.  Fortunately, after having watched Bob measure grunion last year, I thought to throw down my lined-note pad next to the cusk-eel for a photo and then later the lined-note pad with a ruler to get an accurate read of size (I don't take my favorite ruler out for fear of losing it in the waves).  So, I sent a second set of photos.  The one shown above is only ~3 3/4" long, which turns out to be in the typical 70 to 100mm range.  Bob collected 20 specimens last year, and they're now housed at CalAcademy (CAS 236552).  I wonder how long they live?  Holes and infrequent sightings make me think of periodical cicadas which develop en masse every 13 or 17 years.

I should mention that I had a very difficult time finding an ID match online a couple weeks back when I was updating my July 9, 2013 post, but that's not surprising for marine life.  Little did I know the cusk-eels I've seen aren't the fully spotted adults yet.  Ha!  There are several SCUBA divers' community groups that share wonderful photos of marine animals.  Makes me wonder if any of them have ever seen grunion, because so little is known about their behavior off the sand and in the water.

I'm always entertained by Charlie.  Over the course of half an hour 3 Charlies showed up and were unusually friendly with us as we stood at the water line with them.  I think they snatched up a couple tiny cusk-eels.


Eh, we only saw 2 waves of 6 grunion each (whippee) not too far from the cement structure down the beach.  I reported it as a W-1, because Dr. Martin instructed me that any sighting at all is significant for the Monterey Bay.  It was a mellow night, good to be out with J, and always fun to find new things.  Oh!  We also quickly stopped at San Carlos Beach on our way home.  No grunion there.

05/28/14 full moon 11:43am
05/29/14 high tide 11:18pm 5.52 ft
beaches: Municipal, San Carlos
Charlies: 3 + 3 western gulls
others: J, Steve the Fisherman (yes, he was there - I should recruit him!)
my observation time: 10:27pm - 12:10pm
W-1, 2 sets of 6 (same individuals?) near cement structure down beach 11:33-11:38pm.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

oreas comma ~ 05/28/14 ~ Hatton Canyon

posted 06/30/14 - I only knew which anglewing this was (the other one found at Hatton is the lighter satyr comma), because Chris Tenney told me.  I think he's proud of the oreas being here.  For some reason, outside of our local area the hoary comma, aka zephyr anglewing (Polygonia gracilis zephyrus) is reported.  During the Monterey Butterfly Count on June 7, Paul Johnson took a picture of the first reported hoary comma in recent memory, and it's also lighter than shown above.  There was much trading of photographs and opinions.  I think telling them apart is quite confusing, and the flux of taxonomy shows it confuses the experts, too.

satyr comma ~ 05/28/14 ~ Carmel Valley Road

posted 06/13/14 - We found this in a small canyon behind the table rock horse stables on the north side of Carmel Valley Road.  The location is in the general vicinity as Hatton Canyon (satyr and oreas) and Santa Lucia Preserve (oreas and zephyr).  Note overall light appearance and 4 pairs of spots closest to the body on both the fore and hindwings on this individual.  Too bad I didn't also get a picture of its comma mark, but that's the way it usually happens for me.  I don't have a whole lot of patience waiting to take perfect pictures.

wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

great copper ~ 05/27/14 ~ Pinnacles


I will never malign curly dock again!  Surprisingly, this invasive weed is the common host plant for this remarkably large copper.  This butterfly is easy to spot with its bright chalky white.  And the topside isn't exactly copper, but more of a moth brown.  In flight, I mainly see the flash of white, because the brown just looks like shadow.  I believe this is a boy staking his claim to this perch of curly dock, because he repeatedly came back to this exact spot after chasing flirty wings.

variable checkerspot ~ 05/27/14 ~ Pinnacles

variable checkerspot / chalcedon checkerspot
(Shapiro and Tenney)

I'm determined to learn the local butterflies like the back of my hand, but distinguishing look-alike spp. can sometimes trip me up.  Identifying photos is very different than identifying them on the wing, and I want to improve my skills for both methods.  Several have argued with me that it is impossible to tell sp. based only on a photo.  Hogwash.  I'll admit, I want to disprove the detractors, but I could end up being completely wrong.  It certainly helps as I do this exercise that I have the added benefit of having watched the live butterfly and am focusing primarily on one location through the season.

I'm of the belief that it simply takes a differently trained eye to ID photos compared to the traditional examination of a series of pinned and spread specimens.  Emphasis on trained.  I've noticed the classic lepidopterists will most likely describe the topside view of the butterfly as they're most predominantly pinned and spread, compared to what's actually seen out in the wild.  I tend to capture pictures of the underside with the wings held up above the body.  So, guess which side needs to get the description for diagnostics as we transition from specimen identification to photo identification?  

From what I can tell from my photos, both variable above and Edith's look like the underside forewing's 3rd-4th row from the margin have 2 distinct patterns.  I would have thought the two above might be sexually dimorphic with the female facing left, but it can't be.  You know why?  The going assumption is that only male butterflies mud-puddle.  Seriously.  FYI, the only females in our area that are known to mud-puddle are CA sister.  So, we presumably have two males above.  Check.

I have to say, I really want the 2nd photo facing left and the redder of the two to be Edith's.  Red flash = red underside FW.  Nope.  Glassberg says in his west binoc book that Edith's "always lack white, off-center abdominal spots that variable checkerspots sometimes have."  Indeed, there are obvious off-center abdominal spots evident in both pictures.  Just to make sure the local ssp. of Edith's might not break that rule, I double-checked with Art and Paul J.  They both confirm that they believe the two individuals shown above are E. chalcedona, not E. editha, primarily by overall gut feeling.  Paul says, "Around here, variable always* has those spots, and Edith's always has orange rings.  *Always = unless the individual is very worn and the spots/rings are gone.  Remember, these comments apply to the top half of the abdomen."  Art also uses the all-orange antennal bulbs as indicators of variable like I do.  I've noticed shading is often present, and sometimes it's a judgment call if they're considered black like in Edith's.  Also, note the white stripes on orange antennal stems, not white stripes on black antennal stems like in Edith's.

Really, out in the field, there's a third way to describe what's seen as the butterfly is in flight.  Flashes of color will often present themselves that are not obvious from a still photo of either the top or bottom sides.  Variable at Pinnacles flash black and lemon yellow to me.  Edith's flash reddish-orange checks.  Sigh, I know this seems like a lot, but I want to make sure I have my basics down pat.

valley garter snake ~ 05/27/14 ~ Pinnacles

(ssp. of common garter snake)

The very few remaining puddles along the Juniper Canyon Trail creek are tightly confined hot spots for butterflies, bees and wasps, and this smallish valley garter snake!  It seems any small amount of water or moisture is coveted by wildlife this extremely dry year.   The following local nature cam trappers have done a fine job documenting the variety of activity:
Check 'em out!

ps 11/23/14 - And another Nature of a Man:  Hoping for Springs Eternal

Friday, May 23, 2014

sylvan hairstreak ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles


Compare the above to what most sylvan hairstreaks look like.  Notice something missing?  Like tails?  No, they're not broken off, like what frequently happens.  This fatty female(?) never had them, hence the ssp. dryope.  Crazy, huh?

coast horned lizard ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles

Apparently, this cool lizard is now supposed to be called Blainville's horned lizard?  Sigh.  I can't keep up with all the name changes, scientific or common.  Eh, that's not the point of this post, anyways, even though I have seen a few impressively large horned lizards during my many recent activities.

Paul has suggested I try iNaturalist as a way to document and share what I find during my weekly Pinnacles visits.  I haven't decided yet, because I have questions about macro photo quality and GPS capability in a smart phone where there's no cell service.  Click here to see Paul's photo of this same horned lizard using his iPhone 5 (don't know which letter c or s), and then click on my photo above to enlarge.  What do you think about the photo quality comparisons?  I think Paul's appears very tan colored and a little flat, even though my depth of field is shallow.  I'll mainly be taking photos of little butterflies about the size of the lizard's head anyways, but coloring is important.  And, I'm still unsure how to resolve the pseudo-GPS in phones issue.  I heard there are GPS units that bluetooth to the phone, but what a pain and more crap to carry.  Does anyone have any suggestions to obtain accurate GPS linked to a phone-generated photo?  Are there actual GPS phones, not the fake ones reliant on cell service?

Oh, have I mentioned I don't currently have a smart phone?  I've had my flip phone since 2006, which I think is the responsible thing to be aware of in this day and age of disposable everything, including electronics.  I had my last computer for 10 years before I upgraded to iMac.  I really don't need the latest and greatest toy, but it may be time to update.  Plus, we've been needing to switch carriers for some time since many of my calls get dropped at home on the Peninsula where ocean meets spotty cell coverage.  We never had a land line.  There was a bit of a city hall brouhaha over additional cell towers being installed.  On one side were the monarch butterfly lovers who didn't want the overwintering butterflies or themselves to be radiated (is that the term?), and on the other side was the city needing to offer basic public services, like cell phone coverage for emergencies.  The towers went in, cleverly disguised as chimneys.  Are we all being microwaved now?

ps 05/30/14 -  One of the take-aways I got from the Citizen Science Session of the Ocean Science Trust Conference last month was that citizen science could and should be able to provide data rigorous enough for scientific review (Thanks, Lisa Emanuelson!).  So, when a few days later CalAcademy announced their acquisition of iNat, I paid attention.

Ken-ichi Ueda, co-founder of iNaturalist, has been kind enough to reply to my numerous criticisms (hopefully, constructive!) and questions as I figure out the best recording method(s) for my project, which in an unexpected way could also help shape its initial purpose.  With Ken-ichi's permission, here's what he said, "Ok, let's talk tech. For iNat, my recommendation is to get the latest iPhone. Our iOS app is quite a bit better than our Android app, and the iPhone's GPS and camera are great. Here's are some particulars:

As you pointed out in your post, the iPhone isn't quite as good as a conventional camera, but it's still pretty good. It doesn't give you much DoF control, but it can be quite sharp, particularly for stable subjects that are close.

Any device with a real GPS chip should get coordinates *anywhere* it has a clear view of the sky, since it works by communicating with satellites, not ground-based towers. Reception may vary depending on weather, topography, or the particular configuration of satellites in line-of-sight from your position. Devices like the iPhone can improve both the speed of coordinate acquisition and the accuracy of those coordinates by using cell tower and wifi signals, but they aren't required. Almost every cell phone has a real GPS chip on board, including every iPhone and most Android phones. Note that the majority of tablets do NOT have onboard GPS. This includes the iPad.

In my experience the iPhone's GPS functionality is very accurate. If you get a chance to look over someone's shoulder, you'll see that the iNat works by continually acquiring coordinates until it gets the precision below 5m."

To keep this from becoming free advertising for phones and plans, I'm skipping some of what Ken-ichi recommends.  Then, he goes on to say, "Regarding iNat recording devices, keep in mind you don't need a phone to use iNat! You can upload images directly. My usual practice is to use my phone for most observations, but to also carry around my SLR and a handheld GPS in my pack. The GPS is always recording a track, which I use to add geotags to my SLR photos later (I use for this, but there are many other such applications, including Lightroom). The SLR is much faster and sharper, so for things like butterflies, that's usually what I'm going to use. Getting identifiable lep shots with a phone takes more time and patience than you can probably spend if you're doing a research project. Most high-end point-and-shoots would probably be as good or even better (in terms of flexibility) than my SLR setup."

Then, I asked questions about iNat itself.

I haven't found where it explains the different color map markers (red, blue, green?).
"Colors relate to the "iconic taxon" of the thing observed: blue for most animals, orange for insects / spiders / molluscs, green for plants, purple for slime molds, brown for chromists, pink for fungi. It isn't really explained anywhere. There are a lot of things on the site we just assume people will figure out for themselves."

I also don't understand how the "Redo search in map area" works, because it comes up with new and different points depending on the zoom level on the map.
"It redoes the search using the bounding box of the current map. It loads different observations because some of the observations in your previous search will be outside the bounding box."

Then, how do you select the marker that sits just below another one when on max zoom?
"I guess you don't, but you can see them all in the list on the right. You can also zoom in much farther with the satellite tiles."

Is it possible to select by week number to see everything found at a particular location in that week of any year?
"You can't look up observation by week, but you can do it by month. If you go to and click the "Search" button you'll see a bunch of filters, one of which is a month filter. If you set that and leave year and day blank, you'll see all the observations added in that month, regardless of year."

... He did say he privatizes his locations, does not carry a GPS unit, guesses based on a google app, so maybe that was the result of being "obscured" as well.  It doesn't seem like that should qualify for "research grade".
"... his observations for that day is due to the fact that he obscures the coordinates, which means each observation is displayed at a randomly chosen location somewhere within 10km of the true coordinates. iNat's "research" quality grade doesn't consider how precise the coordinates are, just that you've added them. The name "research" was probably a poor choice since it seems to get people's ire up, but it just means observations of that grade are probably more accurate / complete than others. Then again, the definition of "research" is pretty flexible. For some studies, precision of 50k might be adequate."

Finally, in the spirit of encouragement to become better, I had the audacity to question Ken-ichi's algorithms.  It's a bit meta, and I've noticed not everyone appreciates the different perspective.  In fact, he seemed very receptive to it.  I agreed with him that the freedom to make errors is educational, which is why this hobby blog has been so liberating for me over the past 5 years.  By being okay to make mistakes, being honest in the not knowing, asking those questions, and accepting of others' help, I have learned so much.  Here's Ken-ichi's reply to my algorithms charge:
"I would argue that our crowdsourcing approach generates data that is close to the accuracy of professionally collected data, with the added benefit that it usually comes with media evidence for independent verification. It is generally not as comprehensive as professionally collected data (most casual naturalists aren't going to identify every carabid under a log in the way that a working coleopterist would), but if you look at the inaccuracies present in supposedly professional collections at museums or in GBIF, you will find most of the same geographic biases (no collections far from roads or trails), identification mistakes, and taxonomic confusion... except it's really hard to see this errors because either there's no associated media evidence or you have look at a specimen. An actually quantitative comparison between professional and crowdsourced data collections like this would be a pretty cool outcome of being at CAS. We shall see."

This is all very helpful information for me.  Thanks, Ken-ichi!

The future of natural history documentation is at our feet, a path extending into the digital age through the eyes and hands of millions of curious participants.  I know that sounds corny, but it's true.  This is exciting stuff!  It's too bad it currently selects for the well-to-do with expensive phone requirements, GPS devices, and fancy cameras.  The reality of the situation is nature is available to pretty much everyone... and it's free, if we just put down our electronic devices.

lippia ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles


I really liked this flower and how it carpets the ground.  I would totally have this in my garden, if I had a garden.  It's native to CA and beyond, all along the lower half of the U.S.  It also has an incredibly fun (yet hard to say really fast) common name of turkey tangle fogfruit.  Seriously, I didn't make that up.

Douglas' spineflower ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles


Because of the spineflowers' family relationship to buckwheats (a fave butterfly host plant), I'm keeping an eye on them.  I first started seeing Douglas' this year April 29 on the westside.  These are small plants, which may have tiny caterpillars, too.  Don't know yet.  In addition to the Douglas' shown above, here are the known spineflowers found at Pinnacles National Park (with my common name updates taken from Jepson eFlora):

(CalPhotos) - (Calflora) - (Jepson) - none of the below with CNPS status
red triangles/Thurber's - Centrostegia thurberi (formerly Chorizanthe) - common, sand or gravel

variable checkerspot ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles

variable checkerspot / chalcedon checkerspot
(Shapiro and Tenney)

I love the face she's giving me, as if she's sticking out her tongue.  Technically, what I call "tongue" is her proboscis, a long, coiled and extendable mouthpart that functions like a drinking straw to suck up various liquids, such as nectar from flowers, water from mud, and moisture from poop (or so I've heard - I used to have a volunteer who would travel with domestic cat poo in a baggie for just this purpose...  I wonder how he explained at customs?).  With enough patience and a quick trick, I find butterflies are regularly agreeable to climbing on my finger so that I can take a closer look.  Paul took a picture of me with her on my finger.  I think he found my doing this rather peculiar. 

If it's not obvious from my photos, I prefer not to carry a net.  More traditional lepidopterists use a net to either collect and/or catch and release for a closer look.  This can be a legal issue in public parks or in areas where endangered butterfly species are found.  I'm still solely a collector of photographs (and trailside litter, especially glass bottles).  I'll admit that I've been dragging my feet writing up a request to obtain a collecting permit, which will also cover any primary catch and release activities for my project.  Eh, I'm in no hurry to start hauling around a bunch of collecting crap up and down hot hills.  Carrying enough water for myself is heavy enough, thank you (136 fl oz = 8.5 lbs 4 L >1 gallon 8 hours for me).  Photographs are working just fine for my needs right now.

Note her dark topside, which is very typical of the variable checkerspots found at Pinnacles.  This individual also shows solidly colored pumpkin-orange antennae, compared to the look-alike Edith's checkerspot, which has black-striped stems dipped in various curry colors at the tips. I find it impossible to distinguish the underside patterns between the two look-alikes in photos.  However, when both of these butterflies are on the wing together at Pinnacles and can be seen chasing each other, the variable flashes black and yellow, while the Edith's has a definite reddish background color.

Oh, I should mention that I'm not 100% positive she's a she.  I'm only guessing based on the hefty girth of the abdomen (fatty, fatty).  Honestly, I don't know how to sex most butterflies. Some can be obviously sexually dimorphic, but I have to be careful when there are look-alike spp. found in the same area and flying at the same time (there's a practical distinction between physical and temporal proximity), when one sex looks like the opposite sex of another sp.  It's a strange phenomena that I'm starting to notice.

As a last note, I generally don't use the name chalcedon to ID this butterfly.  It's the Bay Area folks from whom I first heard the name, probably to distinguish it from the federally threatened Bay checkerspot, which they do not call Edith's, btw, even though it is.  Plus, I mangle the pronunciation of chalcedon.

Edith's checkerspots ~ 05/23/14 ~ Pinnacles

I call this butterfly p0rn.  It's a bit perverted, I know, but the term tickles my funny bone, so it stays.  Sigh.  It was initially challenging for me to distinguish between the look-alike Edith's and variable checkerspots, mainly because the variable are indeed quite variable from place to place.  Paul was helpful in pointing out how much redder the Edith's look on the wing, compared to the very dark version of variable found at Pinnacles.  Also, in nice close-up photos (click pic to enlarge), notice the black-striped antennal stems with clubs dipped in curry colors, compared to the completely solid pumpkin-orange of the variable checkerspot (this may also be variable, unfortunately).  I'm making the guess that the female is on the left and the male is on the right, based on whose belly is hanging down, looking a little pregnant (i.e., filled with fat and eggs).  They're getting their groove on perched on blooming woolly yerba santa (the butterfly version of the neighborhood pick up joint).

ps 05/31/14 - Considering it is so hard to differentiate variable from Edith's, I asked Dr. Shaprio's opinion on these.  He said, "But the mating pair may be editha. Can't see the abdomens, but the antennae match editha, and the male has a vaguely 'cold' yellow color that is editha-ish, as well as a rather rounded FW apex."  Based on the photo samples he sent me, the female is on the left like I guessed, and the rounder FW apex male (it's hard for me to "see" this) is on the right.  To me the female FW is wider and less pointy than the male's.  Paul mentioned that at Pinnacles, Editha's tend to have orange rings on the top side of the abdomen.  There are rings shown here, but both sp. can have them on the underside of the abdomen, so that's not conclusive.  Does this make sense?  Overall vote, Edith's checkerspot.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

lupine blue ~ 05/20/14 ~ Pinnacles

edited 08/15/14 - I initially wrote a bunch of hooey about bloom times and timing of butterflies, which I've deleted for how utterly ignorant it was, and once again I've changed my mind about this ID from acmon back to lupini.  I tend to think of the non-early-spring female acmon as definitely having a true brown ground color, which this does not have.  Determination of female or male is still up in the air, because I've been told that male lupini can be quite dark like this (e.g., series of P. lupini monticola plates).  My understanding is the whole group of acmon/lupini is currently being revised.  So, for now, I can only make my best guess.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

coast buckwheat ~ 05/18/14 ~ San Bruno Mt.

(fuzzy and not fuzzy)

 coast buckwheat leaves
(fuzzy and not fuzzy)

coast buckwheat in bloom
(fuzzy and not fuzzy)

(fuzzy and not fuzzy)

I'm on a mission to learn the regional buckwheats as they bloom this year, because it's much easier to locate them when they're in full blooming glory.  Calflora currently lists 256 spp./var. of Eriogonum.  That's a lot of buckwheat, and it's all quite confusing.  Fortunately, I'm focusing on the dozen or so found regionally from the central CA coastal area, inland to Pinnacles.  So when the opportunity came up to visit San Bruno Mountain with Santa Clara Valley CNPS guru Ken Himes, I was ready to get my buckwheat IDs sorted.  Turns out, the mountain in all its uniqueness has only one sp. of buckwheat, E. latifolium, locally known as coast buckwheat, and elsewhere described as seaside buckwheat.  I found plenty of variation, from pink to white blooms, perfectly round to flatted pom-poms, fuzzy to green leaves, short stalk stature to reaching for my knees.  I kept asking Ken, "Are you sure this is still coast buckwheat?"  He laughed at first, but then I think he tired of my repeated questions.  I still suspect there's some naked buckwheat (E. nudum) in the above with the flattened flower heads and greener, fuzzless top, larger leaves.  In any case, I'm now familiar with coast buckwheat, and I hope I can recognize it even when it's not blooming.  I found the low-growing, wavy-edged leaf shape with fuzzy underside to be recognizable, but not entirely distinguishable.  It's a perennial herb.  So, does that mean it dies after 2 years?  Yes, I'm seriously asking.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

diffuse spineflower ~ 05/17/14 ~ Fort Ord


These short and spreading white flowers tickled my fancy.  I wish I had better pics a couple steps back, but with a large tour group that kept moving at quick clip (thanks to speedy Jane Styer) I only had time for a couple quick pics.  Too bad it was also blustery windy (read: blurry photos).  I'd like to note that spineflowers belong to the buckwheat family, an extremely popular food source for several local butterflies.  I double-checked this ID with David Styer who gave me his 2014 updated Fort Ord plant list, which is different than the online 2012 CNPS list.  I hear from his wife Jane that he's recently described a new spineflower sp.  Very cool.  Out of the 51 Chorizanthe spp./var. listed on Calflora and in addition to the diffuse spineflower shown above, here are the other spineflowers of record for Fort Ord (with my common name updates taken from Jepson eFlora):

(CalPhotos) --- (Calflora) --- (Jepson) --- (CNPS status)
narrow-leaf spineflower --- C. angustifolia --- uncommon, sand --- may be new sp.*
Douglas' spineflower --- C. douglasii --- sand or gravel --- 4.3
Monterey spineflower --- C. pungens var. pungens --- sand --- 1B.2
robust spineflower --- C. robusta var. robusta --- sand or gravel --- 1B.1 --- not on David's list**

* With David's permission, this is what he said, "Also, what we had called C. angustifolia, turns out not to be that, but a species new to science that will probably be called C. minutiflora. It has smaller flowers than any other Chorizanthe."  He goes on to say, "You can mention it, but you should note that the new name is not yet official."

** Also, David said, "I would, however, remove C. robusta from the list. Randy Morgan says he added some years ago (perhaps when he was working for Jones & Stokes), but learned later, when he saw the real robusta, that what he had seen at Ft Ord was not robusta. That is how it got on the Ft Ord list, and why I removed it from the list."

I also made a spineflower list o' links for Pinnacles National Park with Douglas' being the only spineflower found at both locations.

northern Pacific rattlesnake ~ 05/17/14 ~ Fort Ord

(ssp. of western rattlesnake)

Rattlesnake or rattle snake?  Ugh.  In any case, you'll notice the max, fuzzy zoom on this baby.  Lyle, the Army Lands munitions safety officer, also served as the snake safety officer and kept all of us a respectable distance away.  This is probably only the third rattlesnake I've ever seen here in CA.  The other two sightings have been tucked in among rocks at Pinnacles at the east entrance to the Balconies Cave and the switchbacks along the Juniper Canyon Trail.  I sometimes forget we have these poisonous snakes, because for me their sighting is rare.  Gary Nafis has created quite a montage of rattlesnake warning signs.  Note the wide head and 3-segmented rattle.  Can you tell how old a rattlesnake is by the number of rattle segments?  This one was small, took up an area probably smaller than a salad plate.

Friday, May 16, 2014

large marble ~ 05/16/14 ~ Mal Paso Canyon

Did I choose the butterflies, or did they choose me?  I guess it helps when studying butterflies that given enough patience they'll cooperate for poses on my fingers.  Am I the butterfly whisperer?  Not really.  Macro, macro, macro!  Mwahahaha...  In the hand, this large marble is totally a piece of cake to ID.  However, I still can't distinguish this butterfly in flight compared to the more ubiquitous cabbage butterfly, which has been extremely frustrating for me.  Chris is quite impressive with his flight ID skills (probably all those years spent as a birder), but it's hard to explain to another person exactly what you look for to make that ID.  I think everyone has different cues that work for them.  I know a local botanist who is color blind, and I actually think that helps him distinguish the slight color variations in plants.  We all have our gifts.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

grunion greeting, 2014 #2

 fish p0rn
female grunion dug in sand and laying eggs
while male releases cloudy milt around her head

unusually small male, others were lethargic

grunion greeting

We try to arrive about 1/2 hour before high tide, because our experience has been if the grunion are going to run, they will usually have already started.  We also know that if we spot a black-crowned night heron (aka Charlie) on the beach as we pull up on the pier, there will be grunion.  This held true for both Wednesday (no blog post) and Thursday nights.  If there isn't too much human interference, we noticed the Charlies seem to know when the grunion are done and fly away. 

I submitted both night's reports to Dr. Martin through her online form and sent her an e-mail per her request because grunion sightings in Monterey are not common.  She invited me as her guest to the first Ocean Science Trust conference held at Asilomar last month.  The various perspectives on crunchable Citizen Science were extremely helpful to me as I embark on my own project.  Thank you, Dr. Martin!

I'm reformatting my typical grunion greeting blog posts, now 5 years after we began.  Man, I can't believe we've been doing this so long... okay, we did skip a year, because we got so discouraged from too many late nights with no grunion sightings.  I hope to add better information this year, although reading back through our experiences has been fun.
05/14/14 full moon 12:18pm
05/14/14 high tide 10:42pm 5.8 ft
beaches: Municipal
Charlies: 4 + 1 western gull
others: Chris Tenney, Dr. Matsumoto & friends, Steve the Fisherman
my observation time: 10:15pm - 11:45pm
W-1, 25-50 already running on arrival
beaches: Municipal, San Carlos, Asilomar
Charlies: 5 + 1 western gull
others: J, Steve the Fisherman, Dr. Guacamole & crew
my observation time: 10:45pm - 12:15am
W-2, 100's already running on arrival

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

lupine blue ~ 05/13/14 ~ Pinnacles

I told Art Shapiro about this day's visit, "Blues are numerous at Pinnacles with swirly flights of flirting and cooling fluttering clouds under shady rocks.  I love it.  I only wish I could tell them all apart.  Ha!"  This beautiful little blue butterfly has caused me so much headache you wouldn't believe.  No one seems to agree.  There are many variations of lupine blues depending on region, and there's also the look-alike acmon blue (Plebejus acmon) with a blue-colored early spring form female.  Who knew, all this time I've had a hard time figuring them out, and the experts also have a hard time figuring them out.

I didn't know I caught one laying eggs in a series of several photos until I got home and looked at my pictures.  I was so concerned with quickly sticking the little camera over there to hopefully, maybe, catch a decent picture that I wasn't actually watching what the butterfly was doing.  And, I'm paying attention to the difference between the two var. of CA buckwheat found at Pinnacles.  The one shown above could potentially be polifolium, the fuzzier one.

With Paul Johnson's encouragement, this is the butterfly that has changed my mind about collecting for research.  I wanted to make sure any collecting I do would not be merely self-indulgent.  I am not a hobbyist butterfly collector.  However, I believe collecting in this case is worth the contribution to our understanding of these fascinating little blue butterflies.  I will be applying for a collecting permit, and the specimens and associated plant data are tentatively earmarked for the Pinnacles National Park collection.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

western tanager ~ 05/11/14 ~ at home


On Saturday, Andy spotted an all-yellow bird in the neighbor's kiwi Christmas tree from our 3rd floor window and described it to me.  He said it looked like a canary with a yellow head and some coloring on the wing, but not all black.  Besides Townsend's warblers over the winter, we rarely get bright yellow birds on this side of town.  So, I queried a friend less than 2 miles away on the ocean side of the Peninsula since she sees yellow birds regularly around her home.  She's also noticed a couple atypical birds with orange heads hanging around.  We finally got a picture of it Sunday after several glimpses of it and a mate as they flew around from the neighbor's tree to the tree tops in the park and back again.  We went running from room to room, too, hoping to see them through one of the windows.  I think they'd be impossible to see from the ground.  I went from guessing it was someone's lost pet parakeet to a female hooded oriole.  Ha!  Nope.  Depending on the angle, that orange crown is not always visible, which makes distinguishing male from female difficult at times.  I wonder how long they'll hang around?  They really seemed to like picking at the red blooms that look very much like bottle brush.

Friday, May 2, 2014

goosefoot violet seeds ~ 05/02/14 ~ Chews Ridge

goosefoot violet seeds and seed capsule
Viola purpurea ssp. quercetorum seeds and seed capsule

Chris Tenney has kindly been my local butterfly mentor as I seriously pursue butterflies again.  This week he wanted to introduce me to a couple of butterfly researchers out of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA.  He's been helping them study the unsilvered fritillary (Speyeria adiaste). Sure!  I'm just following the path laid out at my feet here, and don't think I haven't considered graduate school.  However, I have my own questions I'd like to pursue, not someone else's.  If a professor out there wants to sponsor me while I do my thing, then all the better.  Eh-hem...

Dr. Ryan Hill and his soon-to-defend Master's student Khuram Zaman met us in the middle of nowhere.  They pulled up in Khuram's flashy black BMW sedan with vanity plates.  Haha!  I had to laugh, because only in CA would serious field researchers drive a fancy-schmancy car.  The reason for their 3-hour drive down was to collect goosefoot violet plants and seeds, and census the violet population.  You see, before you can raise butterflies, you first have to raise and propagate their natural host plant.  It sounds easier than it really is.

Before my mentor Sonja died, she was figuring out how to reintroduce the extirpated regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) to Ohio.  She used a grant to purchase a large incubator with timers, lights, and heat.  It looked like a fridge, but was the exact opposite.  She had me practice rearing leps in the incubator, first with cabbage butterflies.  It ended horribly when we ran out of cabbage from her garden, bought some from Whole Foods, washed it twice in huge tubs knowing there'd be Btk residue, and it still killed all my stock.  I cried, because all my babies died and it was a month's worth of work down the drain.  Remember, organic does not mean pesticide free.  In any case, she didn't get very far with the regals, because she couldn't find a violet she could successfully grow and that they'd eat.  So, I totally feel for Dr. Hill's predicament.  

If anyone has a source for native Viola purpurea ssp. quercetorum, please contact Dr. Hill!


locally known as Johnny jump up
Viola pedunculata (most likely)

When studying butterflies, it's helpful to know your plants, because they can be incredibly picky about which foods they eat.  Ryan and Chris have been working on verifying that V. pedunculata also grew on the hill. Growing on a dry southwest facing slope was a group of plants that seemed to intermingle with V. purpurea.  Chris suggested they were V. pedunculataRyan couldn't confirm this from specimens collected last year and wanted to study them more.  Two weeks ago, Chris asked what I thought about the different violets, and we discussed it.  Ryan was finally convinced on this trip by the golden yellow petals of V. pedunculata (vs. lemon yellow), the more heavily marked nectar guides in V. pedunculata, the large root mass complex with many rhizomes in V. pedunculata (vs. simple in V. purpurea) and the relatively large and glabrous capsule of V. pedunculata (vs. smaller and pubescent in V. purpurea).  Funny enough, none of Ryan's plant keys mention the nectar guides that I use to distinguish V. pedunculata from other native violets.  To me, they're very distinctive with the bold, forks/splits/frayed on each side of the center guide, regardless of what the leaves look like.  I actually don't know if that's a reliable diagnostic, but that is what I use to distinguish what's found locally.  Of course, this doesn't help if the flower is not in bloom.  Ha!

tea-bagged violet seed capsules
tea-bagged Viola purpurea ssp. quercetorum seed capsules

This was Ryan's method to bag the seed capsules for collection after they've ripened and popped.  I think he said violet seeds can fling themselves out of the capsules by 6 ft. or so.  I like the high-tech use of emptied tea bags and a stapler.  He'll return later to collect the dried seeds.  Very cool stuff.

view from Chews Ridge

I always like taking a step-back look, because over time with all the close-up shots, I tend to forget what it really looked like.  This day will forever remain in my memory as a good day.

ps -  Please note, I allowed Dr. Hill to edit this blog post for factual accuracy, and I found some of his edits rather humorous.  It wasn't his car!  Hehe.  Plus, he added additional usage of the scientific names, more than what I would typically use for Nature ID.  That's fine, he writes for a different audience in peer-reviewed papers.  I try to be casual, accurate, and first-hand so that anyone can understand.  Have I ever mentioned it's because of my hearing impairment that I prefer common names?