Sunday, February 16, 2014

habitat ~ 02/16/14 ~ Los Padres Dam

Los Padres Dam

The Los Padres Dam along the Carmel River is owned by California American Water (CalAm) and is one of several trailheads to the Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest.  While it's a popular backpacking destination, I don't particularly have any desire to go myself: it's drier than I prefer; there are way too many mosquitoes, ticks, and poison oak; and quite frankly, some of the die-hard Big Sur folks make me a little nervous.  We've only ever done the Carmel River Trail for very enjoyable short day hikes.  I'll admit I'm woefully ignorant of the heated water politics surrounding the Carmel River, and it's always in the local news.  CalAm is currently removing the San Clemente Dam located downstream.

ps - Does anyone know what causes the orange colored seepage?  Iron bacteria?

margined white ~ 02/16/14 ~ Los Padres Dam

female margined white / grey-veined white
female Pieris marginalis venosa (aka Pieris napi venosa)

nectaring on Cardamine californica

Check out the cool yellow "shoulder" in the first pic above.  I'm so glad we finally found the macro setting on our ol' camera!  A small patch of milkmaids near the water was a very popular nectaring spot, being visited by butterflies, bee flies, and honey bees. There's not much in bloom, so it's worth noting that just down the way the patch of western coltsfoot had no visitors.

I also spotted margined whites at Stevens Creek last week, which at first sight I knew were related to cabbage whites (look at that dot on the male), but second guessed myself when I went to look for an ID.  I've totally missed the margined white ID before based on the fact I rely heavily on two quick references which omit entirely or misrepresent the early spring, first brood, bold version that I find in the area.  The summer brood is apparently almost all white.  It doesn't help that there doesn't seem to be much consensus on the Pieris "napi" complex.  I need to add notations to my field guides, so I can remember this for next time.

bald eagle ~ 02/16/14 ~ Los Padres Dam

What a nice surprise!  I almost didn't believe it.  This bird was massive with an all white head and all white tail.  I didn't even know we could find bald eagles in Monterey County, because I usually associate them being further north starting near Oregon. Now, I wonder how many I may have seen in the distance riding air currents and mistook for turkey vultures.  I'm almost ashamed to admit how little I know about the bald eagle story here on the Central Coast.  This blog post is as good of an excuse as any to read up on this delisted federally endangered and currently state endangered national symbol.  It's interesting how the bald eagle was extirpated from the county back in 1934 and reintroduced by the Ventana Wildlife Society starting in 1986. Monterey Birds 2d ed. by Don Roberson has an excellent accounting of bald eagles and their nesting history in the county.  Don confirmed to me that they are indeed rare at this location.

western coltsfoot ~ 02/16/14 ~ Los Padres Dam


Not much was in bloom, just a couple small patches of white flowers: milkmaids, miner's lettuce, and this.  On first glance I thought it was cowparsnip (Heracleum maximum), but the flowers didn't look quite right to me and there weren't any leaves. After I got home, I flipped through my Wildflowers of Garland Ranch by Michael Mitchell and Rod M. Yeager, my personal favorite local flower guide.  I double-checked online (see embedded links in the ID above).  Michael and Rod also do an impressive online MontereyWildflowers site that I tend to forget exists.  It looks like they've made a lot of improvements in the past few years.

CA newt ~ 02/16/14 ~ Los Padres Dam

Taricha torosa

Well, color me orange!  More newts!  This seems to happen to me all the time; once I see something and learn to recognize it, I tend to notice a lot more of them.  We found a couple dozen, and in much drier areas than I would ever expect to see them.  Click on the picture above to take a closer look at the amazing newt iris.  Very cool.

possible rough-skinned newt intergrade?
possible Taricha granulosa intergrade?

Supposedly, rough-skinned newts have not been found in this area before, but I'm still closely examining my photos with Gary Nafis' Taricha spp. comparison.  I dunno, do the eyes "extend past the margin of the head"?  Would it help if I said the lower eyelids on this individual were ambiguously dark?  Erg.  Erg.  Erg.  I may have to throw in the towel on being able to separate the 2 spp.

How many newts?

Answer: 2.  It could well have been the different lighting and moisture level (sunny vs. the overcast skies under tree cover at Stevens Creek from last week), but it seemed to me the newts here at Los Padres Dam have more of a reddish coloring on top.  In fact, I'd say their red was almost a perfect match with the madrone bark.

in the Carmel River

Good-bye, newts.  See you next time.  Have a lot of love and lay a lot of eggs.

Sara orangetip ~ 02/16/14 ~ Los Padres Dam