Tuesday, August 26, 2014

photo series ~ 04/08-08/26/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

April 8, 2014 to August 26, 2014
Pinnacles National Park - west entrance

posted 09/02/14 - My weekly Tuesday Pinnacles practice visits have come to an end.  It's been quite a journey and an utterly unique experience that began essentially 6 months ago when I visited Pinnacles on February 25, 2014.  This vantage point from the westside parking lot doesn't highlight the seasonal changes as dramatically as some of my other photo series (posted here or in my archives), however it is the longest continuous run I have at 21 weeks.  They were not my primary purpose, but it was easy to do and I liked seeing the changes over time.  It never rained on me once in this record-breaking drought year.  I surprised my finicky self, so dedicated to this project that I even went out hiking in 105°F weather.  Good golly, that was hot, hot, hot!  Now that it's done, maybe I'll get around to backposting more of my photos?  

CA striped racer ~ 08/26/14 ~ Pinnacles

While I don't go out of my way looking for snakes, I get a thrill when I do find them.  This is only my second time knowingly spotting a striped racer; the last time was at Fort Ord over 3 years ago!  True to its name, it quickly skedaddled when I attempted to get a closer picture.  And, yes, my location label below is correct for the east side of Pinnacles.  This was the first time since camping back in 2011 that I've hiked from one side of the park to the other.  I'll admit, I'm a bit of a hiking wimp, especially in the heat on hills.  It was worth the trek.

yellow star-thistle ~ 08/26/14 ~ Wishing Well


This cheery yellow flower is easily in my top 5 most despised plants in the state of CA, which gained a foothold here sometime before 1869 and hails from southern Europe and western Eurasia.  It's super pokey and stops me in my tracks while out hiking.  I realized recently that I may have been mistaking another star-thistle tocalote for this yellow star-thistle, so I made a point to find it on the road outside the west entrance to Pinnacles National Park to take a closer look and these pictures.  If only it weren't such a great reported butterfly nectar source...

Friday, August 22, 2014

habitat ~ 08/22/14 ~ Asilomar State Beach & Conference Grounds

August 23, 2014

When I was younger, I had no interest in history.  None, whatsoever.  Now that I'm getting older, I'm finding I'm becoming interested in the changes that happen through time.  From a local events website I discovered free summer tours were being offered at Asilomar.  It was just last November when I was lamenting how I didn't appreciate this gem that's on the other side of town from where I live.  So, a friend and I did the State Parks tour Friday afternoon.  It was very informative about the history of the YWCA here (1914-1935), the impressive female architect Julia Morgan and subsequent architects, and the formation of this State Park (you can read the whole story here).  We also heard about the pitch canker that's infesting the Monterey pine trees and how the "restoration" of the Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve (shown above) became a solution to the moving sands.  How will these dunes look in another 100 years?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

shrubby butterweed ~ 08/19/14 ~ Pinnacles


posted 09/16/14 - I first noticed a handful of these bright yellow shrubs blooming on August 5.  I paid particular attention, because I was looking for nectar sources, and it was the only plant blooming besides vinegar weed, isolated spots of CA buckwheat, extremely scattered patches of narow-leaf milkweed, and a tiny tarweed.  Hymenoptera seemed to love it with loud buzzy busyness.  However, the strangest thing is that in all of August, I never saw a single butterfly nectar on this plant.  Not one.  It's known to be a good butterfly nectar source, so what gives?  

August happened to be when I stopped seeing most butterflies altogether at Pinnacles, except for about 5 spp. (I haven't finished tallying all my notes... ugh!), in contrast to the many species reported on the Pinnacles butterfly list (zoom to 220% to see the light shading) for August from 1999-2011 and mainly observed from the east side.  It's unclear the reasons for the stark discrepancy.  Certainly, this year's extreme drought (in addition to 2 previous very dry years) comes to mind, but the differences could also be due to observation location (east vs. west) and individual recorder's methods (Paul's trained eye vs. mine, which isn't the best, btw).  As a note to me for later, some types of adult butterflies, specifically the coronis fritillary (but there may be others?), spend the extreme heat of the summer hiding in reproductive diapause (pers. comm. Shapiro and Hill), so they wouldn't be out nectaring.

The reason why I bothered to look this plant up today is because a fellow butterfly enthusiast Dave sent me pictures of an unknown plant from his camping trip at Pinnacles (read: east side) last week, on which he said numerous Mormon metalmarks were nectaring (interesting).  This post is for him, because I believe his plant photos match my shrubby butterweed from August. I'd like to point out that close-up shots of the flower heads shows much brighter green in color than lower down on the plant with the sagey-silvery colored leaves.

variegated meadowhawk ~ 08/19/14 ~ Pinnacles

When I'm out looking for butterflies, I try my best to ignore the other cool little animals flying around.  It's difficult.  Especially, when this fellow repeatedly circled me on the path and perched, begging for a photo op.  His face reminds me of those old-fashioned political cartoons with big heads and drunk, rosy cheeks.  Given how dry it's been with only a single, shaded pocket of surface moisture (that I've found on the west side), I don't know how the dragonflies are managing.  The reservoir on the east side of the National Park must be swarming with odonates.  Maybe?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

photo series ~ 05/06-08/12/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

May 6, 2014 to August 12, 2014

Another seasonal photo series tester that I was playing around with.  These were taken 1 week apart for a total of 15 weeks. There were a handful of weeks in the middle where everything appeared to remain unchanged.  I wasn't consistent about taking this vantage point in the morning or in the afternoon, hence the random shadows.  I'd like to try this again, starting earlier in the spring when grasses are still green.  And, if I can find the right software, I'd like to center the photos around the big red rock in the distance.  Does anyone have suggestions?

ps 09/02/14 - I posted this earlier, and then removed it.  I had plans to stabilize it, thanks to Neil Kelley's suggestion.  Unfortunately, I couldn't make heads or tails out of the freeware with the plugin that he suggested.  Sorry, Neil!

tocalote ~ 08/12/14 ~ Pinnacles


This is the plant that while it was blooming, I had mistaken for yellow star-thistle.  There are large patches of tocalote inside the National Park and almost no yellow star-thistle (thanks to an aggressive targeted weed management program).  What made me realize I had been mistaking this ID is that while I was hiking past it, it dawned on me that it didn't hurt as much as I thought it should if it were yellow star-thistle.  No kidding.  I'm apparently not the only one who mistakes the two related plants, because Anna Bennett did a nice job comparing the two on CalPhotos: here, here, and here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

coast horned lizard ~ 08/07/14 ~ Podere di Farfalla

It's August.  That means it's baby lizard time around these parts.  This one puffed itself up as I continued to follow it to the shade.  Unbothered, it can look quite flat and deflated.  Still, so tiny. Cute.  And, well camouflaged.  There's an unusual growth near its tail.  Don't know what that's about.

Can you find the horned lizard?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

CA kingsnake ~ 08/05/14 ~ Pinnacles

There is something to a 6th sense, I gotta tell ya.  I spotted a patch of narrow-leaf milkweed about 20 ft. off trail and was excited it was still in bloom.  I wanted to take a closer look for nectaring leps, and as I lifted my leg to go, a voice in my head shouted "Look for snakes!"  Sure enough, in the shadow of my boot was this cryptic CA kingsnake.  Whoa.

Who would have thought that someone out looking for butterflies also has to keep a keen eye out for snakes?  Fortunately, every organized field trip I did this spring came with stern warnings about rattlesnakes and watching where you step.  I try to keep snakes in mind at all times... that is, if I'm not too distracted by some other new find.

While I probably would have done more damaged to this snake than it to me, I'm glad I didn't step on it.  I have to say those stripes do a good job hiding it in the grass.  The only other time I've seen a CA kingsnake was a freshly flattened one on the road out of Pinnacles, and the camouflage made little impression on me then.

This was the only picture I managed to take.  Once it deemed I was interested, it quickly slithered backwards into what looked like a gopher hole.  Given that I had already seen an unusual number of fence lizards, both juveniles and adults, I figured it would be safer for me to stay on trail for the remainder of my hike.  Something about this day made it a good one for finding snakes and lizards out and about.  It could have been my startling heightened awareness, or the sunny temps were just right for sunbathing reptiles?

ps 08/14/14 - We also saw a CA kingsnake at Podere di Farfalla in Monterey Co. on August 7, 2014 not very far from where we saw a juvenile horned lizard.  Maybe baby lizards make great snake snacks?  It's the season, apparently.

CA clearwing ~ 08/05/14 ~ Pinnacles

posted 08/15/14 - I've tried numerous times from late July to mid-August to get a clear picture of this fun bee mimic that hovers like a hummingbird.  Unfortunately, the CA clearwing moth usually finishes feeding at a flower the split second before my auto-focus sets, to then move around to the privacy of a bloom opposite the stalk to me.  It then becomes a game of ring around the odoriferous vinegar weed.  Sigh.  I end up smelling vinegar weed for the rest of my hike, too often from a carelessly dangled camera strap.  Ah, good times.  Smelly.  But, good.

For those not hip to the taxonomic tricks (like me), western Hemaris thetis was split off from eastern Hemaris diffinis (7855) in 2009.