Tuesday, July 29, 2014

photo series ~ 05/13/14-07/29/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

Eriodictyon tomentosum, Castilleja foliolosa, Eriogonum fasciculatum var. foliolosum
Boraginaceae, Orobanchaceae, Polygonaceae
May 13, 2014 to July 29, 2014

Can you see the rhythm of nature's clock?  Look how the paintbrush trades its colors with the CA buckwheat.  I started taking these pictures on a whim and have been pleasantly impressed by the sly seasonal color changes at Pinnacles.  When I parsed these 12 weekly photos into 2 sets every other week, it becomes apparent that the rate of change is not a constant.  Fascinating.

ps 09/10/14 - I changed the var. of CA buckwheat from polifolium to what I believe is the greener, more common one along the road.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mylitta crescent ~ 07/25/14 ~ Sierra Valley

female Mylitta crescent nectaring on Canada thistle
female Phyciodes mylitta mylitta nectaring on Cirsium arvense

Note the stronger contrast of the female underside (ventral) markings compared to the male Mylitta crescent.  The same can be said above (dorsal), too - see below.

female (brighter, ~middle of pic), male (more solid in color and at the bottom of the pic)
Mylitta crescent

Melissa blue ~ 07/25/14 ~ Sierra Valley

Lycaeides melissa (aka Plebejus melissa)

female Melissa blue
Lycaeides melissa (aka Plebejus melissa)

I'm thrilled I was able to take a close look at Melissa blues, which were flying with look-alike acmon blues at Art's Sierra Valley site.  These are L. melissa melissa, but closer to home we might have L. melissa paradoxa.  I'm hoping to find Melissa in Monterey Co. (only an old historical record) and at Pinnacles in San Benito Co. (never been reported).  Years ago, I visited the Kitty Todd Preserve in northwest Ohio the year after they reintroduced the endangered Karner blue (L. melissa samuelis, aka Plebejus samuelis).  I remember it being sandy under oaks with plenty of lupine, so I'm thinking Fort Ord might be as good as any for potential Melissa habitat.  Who knows?  I'll definitely be taking a closer look at every acmon I think I see.

Given my proclivity to mainly get pictures of only the underside (ventral) wing surfaces, I attempted to determine sex based on the amount of fading of the orange spots towards the apex of the forewing, with females more heavily marked with orange.  However, I've been assured that this is not entirely reliable, and it's best to just look at overall ground color, with a bluish tinge for the males and a hint of brown for the females, a subtle difference compared to those same respective colors on the topside (dorsal).

ox-eyed satyr ~ 07/25/14 ~ Sierra Valley

female ox-eyed satyr nectaring on Canada thistle

Like so many of Art's Sierra Nevada butterflies, I would have never gotten this ID without his patient help.  This ox-eyed satyr is one of at least 25 subspecies of the common wood-nymph!  Here I am just trying to figure out the difference between the common and the Great Basin wood-nymph (Cercyonis sthenele).  Gah!  Additional posts to come...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

CA dogface ~ 07/17/14 ~ Podere di Farfalla

male California dogface nectaring on bull thistle
male Zerene eurydice nectaring on Cirsium vulgare

Despite the fact our official state insect seems to fly practically all year around here (Monterey Co. and Pinnacles), I've only ever spotted this yellow butterfly a couple times.  It's frequently reported that its only larval host plant is false indigo (Amorpha californica).  Either that's not entirely correct, or plant folks generally don't bother looking for this native shrub.  I say this because the plant checklists for Podere di Farfalla and San Benito County strikingly do not include false indigo, notwithstanding the reported 10-month flight period of the CA dogface in these same areas.

As a note to myself, I want to be sure to not mistake the CA dogface for the superficially similar orange sulphur (Colias eurytheme), another butterfly I don't often see and have yet to photograph.

acmon blue on seacliff buckwheat ~ 07/17/14 ~ Podere di Farfalla

mating acmon (male left, browner female right) on seacliff buckwheat
mating Icaricia acmon (aka Plebejus acmon) on Eriogonum parvifolium (var. parvifolium)

Having both acmon blue sexes in the same photograph is very helpful, because I've had some difficulty distinguishing between them on their own, since lighting and wing angle can be so variable and deceptive.  Ya, I know, I've been told repeatedly, "Get a photograph of the topside (dorsal), then it's easy to tell them apart."  Ha!  As if it were that easy!  I'm thrilled whenever I can get any photograph at all that's not a total fuzzy blob.  Seriously.  And, after seeing numerous butterflies in a day, I never can remember if the topside of butterfly #34 was blue or brown while it flew away.  Maybe other people have an easier time of it?  This is only my second photo of mating butterflies that I've managed to get all year.  The first were Edith's checkerspots back in May at Pinnacles.  As with the Melissa blues, the female acmon blues have a browner ground color on the underside (ventral).

I'm noting the plant they're perched on while they do their thing, but that may not mean much.  While I do have other photographs of worn female acmons nectaring on seacliff buckwheat, I don't have any photographs of egg-laying on this plant.  It cannot be assumed seacliff buckwheat is the larval host plant of these acmons.  I didn't notice any other buckwheats or lotuses in bloom in the area, which also may not mean much.  In any case, I thought this would be a good time to showcase this lovely local buckwheat...

tight pom-pom shaped multi-colored mature pink blooms

narrow arrow-shaped leaves, cobweb top and felty bottom

seacliff buckwheat from a distance
(it apparently likes "cliffs" with a marine influence)

another pair of mating acmon blues on a drier seacliff buckwheat flower head
(browner female left, male right)

ps 11/21/14 - Jim Reveal confirmed this ID, and if he recognized varieties, he'd call this var. parvifolium.

gray hairstreak ~ 07/17/14 ~ Podere di Farfalla

"Eh?  What's this?  You're going to take my picture?"

"No, please don't.  I'm not ready"

"Hold on a sec.  Let me spruce up a bit."

"OK, I'm ready.  Go ahead and take my picture."
male gray hairstreak perched on seacliff buckwheat
male Strymon melinus pudica perched on Eriogonum parvifolium 

What's not obvious in many of my pictures is how breezy it frequently is, which makes it very difficult to take clear shots of tiny butterflies even when they're perched on a plant.  I took the above set with the pocket camera held still while the buckwheat was waving about in the wind.  Seriously.  I've been loving the auto-macro feature on our 10-year-old Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50.  It's incredibly easy, although it's not as quick as I would like and only has 5 megapixels.  It's a shame it took us 9 years before we discovered this cool feature.  However, I'm worried that because of its age, it might crap out any day now.  I've been looking for a replacement and haven't found anything remotely equivalent.  I field tested other point-and-shoot cameras this summer and was less than pleased with the fuzzy not-really-macro results.  I'd welcome any suggestions for a replacement/addition to our Konica.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

sea butterfly ~ 07/16/14 ~ Asilomar Beach

pseudoconch of the sea butterfly

Given my fondness for butterflies, I did not, however, make up the name.  There were a handful of these firm, flexible, and bumpy clear things washed up along the tide line.  It resembles and actually fit like one of those rubber finger tips that old school secretaries used to file paperwork.  I liken finding the pseudoconch similar to finding an empty snail shell.  Online pictures of the animal itself make no sense to me.  Click the scientific name above for an excellent diver's summary with gorgeous photos.  Apparently, the sea butterfly is more closely related to the sea hare than the floating sea snail.  Go figure.  Marine life is such an alien world to me.

ps 10/09/16 - Apparently these don't seem to have a particular season.  Andy and I went out to Asilomar today and found numerous sea butterfly carcasses on the beach.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mylitta crescent ~ 07/10/14 ~ Podere di Farfalla

male Mylitta crescent nectaring on tocalote
male Phyciodes mylitta mylitta nectaring on Centaurea melitensis
for more information, click here and here

The first crescent butterfly I became familiar with was in Ohio, the pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos).  It became my mental model of what a crescent should look like on the top, something I liken to a grandmother's lace doily (don't ask me why, it just worked for me).  It was such an immediate ID clue for me that I don't think I ever really bothered to look at the underside (ventral) of the wings.  It wasn't until I recently picked up Art Shapiro's Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions that it finally dawned on me why crescents are named such.  Just look at that white crescent shape, along the margin in the middle of the ventral hindwing!  Cool.  Note: not all crescents have such strongly marked crescents.  Also to note:  female Mylitta often have more strongly marked topside (dorsal) patterns.  Ah, I'm slowly getting the hang of local IDs...

acmon blue ~ 07/10/14 ~ Podere di Farfalla

acmon blue (blue male top, brown female below) nectaring on tocalote

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

habitat ~ 07/08/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

Pinnacles National Park - west entrance
July 8, 2014

If you didn't know the date of this photograph, what season would you call this?  Maybe autumn with the deciduous buckeye trees?  Or typical CA summer?  No.  The season is drought.  Severe drought. Click to compare how this spot looked like back on April 22, 2014.  The National Weather Service recorded a temperature of 103°F by 2:37pm today, the hottest I've experienced in 3 months of my project.  It took a while to acclimate and figure out just how much water I really need to carry to be comfortable.  A wet shirt goes a long way in keeping cool.  Phew!

ps - 08/18/14 - I found Brent @ Breathing Treatment commentary about CA seasons to be relevant.

Monday, July 7, 2014

western gull ~ 07/07/14 ~ at home

I encountered a small surprise as I headed to the laundry room.  Looks like one of this year's Lord of the Dance exited its nest and fell from our roof a little too early.  It's a cute bugger.

ps 08/14/14 - I should note that this little one did not survive the week.  We found it without its head and disemboweled on the side of the road out front.  My friend Bee thought it could have be an opossum that killed the chick.  Over the course of several days, bits went missing until only a pile of feathers remained.  Gross, I know, but hey, it happens.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

crab spider ~ 07/02/14 ~ Donner Pass

posted 09/28/14 - If I were to hazard a guess as to the type of crab spider, I'd say it's a flower crab spider (Misumena), more specifically the goldenrod crab spider (Misumena vatia).  Another possibility could be the whitebanded crab spider (Misumenoides formosipes).  However, I'm guessing it's near impossible to tell from my photo, even if I knew what diagnostics to look for.  Eh, I'm not too fussed about the spider ID.  I'm guessing there are more spiders on flowers than I ever notice, because good nectar sources are essentially ready-made butterfly buffets, bee buffets, you name it, for hungry spiders.  Seriously, crab spiders are extraordinarily good at camouflage.  Art thought the Montana here is most likely a female.  Ya.  Hey, I'll take whatever photos I can get.  This is one of my better ones.

ps  - I found Ed Nieuwenhuys' Australian crab spider page to be fantastic.

Montana crescent ~ 07/02/14 ~ Donner Pass

male Phyciodes pulchella montana (formerly Phyciodes campestris montana)

If I wasn't careful, I might mistake the topside (dorsal) for a female Mylitta crescent!  Technically this is a subspecies of the field crescent, but considering I won't see this anywhere near where I live, I prefer to think of it as being a different entity entirely.  Our Monterey County field crescents (Phyciodes pulchella pulchella) are much darker than this, looking like a predominantly dark brown butterfly vs. an orange one.