Monday, March 10, 2014

habitat ~ 03/10/14 ~ Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Preserve

Once again, a casual comment on Saturday led to another nature bloggers' get-together... at least, from my perspective.  For Ken @ Nature of a Man and Cindy @ Dipper Ranch this visit was work-related.  One of Ken's CNPS friends Paul also joined us on this hike around a closed MROSD Preserve.  My first impression?  This is not what I expected of the Santa Cruz Mountains.  It was wide open and sunny.  And quiet.  Remember, I live by the ocean with an almost constant backdrop of crashing waves.  Well, it wasn't entirely quiet up in the mountains. There was the incredible sound of wind through trees, speckled with extraordinary songs of birds, and the non-stop, excited chattering of nature nuts.  I say this with complete admiration for my companions.  I was just happy to tag along for the ride.  It was a gorgeous day.  I now have more IDs than I can shake a stick at.  More to come...

coast garter snake ~ 03/10/14 ~ Midpen Preserve

coast garter snake
Thamnophis elegans terrestris
(ssp. of western terrestrial garter snake)

I don't know how to sex snakes, but I'm calling it a she.  She was quick and sought refuge in the pond, but a long-legged herp fellow was quicker on his feet.  We thought the two red dots on her head were a nice addition to a very pretty little snake.

edited 04/01/14 - Thanks to Cindy's comment, I revised the ID from Santa Cruz garter snake (Thamnophis atratus atratus) to best guess a ssp. of the western terrestrial garter snake, the coast.  All 3 ssp. of aquatic garter snakes (T. atratus) do not have any red on their sides like this one clearly shows.  Doh! 

The other possibility would be one of the common garter snakes (T. sirtalis).  While Cindy says CA red-sided (T. sirtalis infernalis), I lean towards valley (T. sirtalis fitchi).  Look at this picture and tell me it doesn't look the same with that large eye and black wedges?  Well, okay, the individual shown above has 8 labial palps (typ. of western terrestrial, elegans), rather than only 7 (typ. of common, sirtalis), but that's apparently not 100% diagnostic.  Plus, neither T. sirtalis ssp. is supposed to be found in this area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we're confident, somehow, that this is not the endangered San Francisco garter snake (T. sirtalis tetrataenia). Confused, yet?  Join the club!

For a handy-dandy key to CA garter snakes, check out CA Herps.  And, for a brief summary of the confusion around garter snakes (with links) check out my CA red-sided post from Fort Ord.

arboreal salamander ~ 03/10/14 ~ Midpen Preserve

I should note that we did not happen across this arboreal salamander resting on top of the log as pictured. I think Ken found it under some bark, but that makes it difficult to photograph. Normally, I don't go actively hunting for herps, but I'm also not documenting spp. for a preserve. This individual is not as spotty as the one-eyed arboreal salamander Andy found near home 4 years ago. I can't believe how gushy I was with my first find.  I think I appreciate the random encounters a little more, but this was definitely eye-opening as to how much is hidden just out of sight.

CA Alligator Lizard ~ 03/10/14 ~ Midpen Preserve

We saw several alligator lizards this day.  Most of them were smaller with various patterning, but this one was huge.  Note the long tail that looks like it's never broken off, which it apparently does at the drop of a hat.  I've never seen this personally, but I trust what I've been told.  The cool temperatures, especially in the shade under the trees, left most of the reptiles we found kind of dozy and easy to approach.  Usually, I find it near impossible to catch a picture of an alligator lizard.

I should note, I base all my herp IDs on Gary Nafis' California Herps website.  Ya, I know, I complained bitterly when I first found it 5 years ago, because of the impossible-to-decipher-by-looks-alone way herps are classified.  It's not Gary's fault.  Bar none, he's created the best herp site for CA out there.  It's up-to-date, extremely thorough, and easy to use.  There seems to be an unusual amount of funding to do PCR-crap (oh, did I say that?) on herps.  It's like all the university herp folks are in a race to see who can reclassify the most spp.  I'm sure there's historical biology precedent as to why this is, but I just find it perplexing.

CA newt ~ 03/10/14 ~ Midpen Preserve

Taricha torosa

OK, what are they feeding the amphibians at this preserve?  Good golly, they're fat and huge, just like the Pacific chorus frog we found.   Seriously, no one is actively feeding these wild-found animals, but there must be plenty of food stuff available and plenty of comfortable habitat.  In one month's time, the CA newts have gone from skin and bones, like at nearby Stevens Creek on February 10, 2014, to fat, fat, fat.  Ya, the two locations have very different habitats, but still!  I'm unsure if the one in my hand is male or female.  Are those male nuptial pads on the toes?  Do you know?

a Rubenesque California newt

Pacific chorus frog ~ 03/10/14 ~ MidPen Preserve

Pacific chorus frog / Sierran treefrog
Pseudacris sierra (formerly P. regilla)

Oh.  My.  God.  Look at how fat and huge this adult is!  Fatty, fatty frog.  With its dark throat, I'm guessing it's a male.  Those toe pads are amazing.  Oh, that large hand is not my own. Compare the size of this sucker with this anemic-looking juvie I raised a couple years ago.  

Apparently, I prefer an outdated common name by calling it a Pacific chorus frog on Nature ID.  I don't get why "treefrog" is commonly used as one word, when in fact, it is a frog.  Remember, I used to be a science content editor.  Technically (there are indeed naming rules for common names), if the thing in question is truly the noun, then it is at least two words, descriptor 'space' noun.  If the thing in question is not the noun, then it is either one word (e.g., butterfly is not a fly) or hyphenated (e.g., poison-oak is not an oak).  Perhaps, like its/it's and their/they're, this is a frequent grammatical error that many people don't pay mind.  At what point does common usage change the rules?

wolf's milk and common grey disco ~ 03/10/14 ~ Midpen Preserve

It amazes me how so many natural sightings are time sensitive.  Just the week before, Ken mentioned a distinctive slime mold (which is not a fungus btw) called wolf's milk.  Then, Cindy also included some nice pictures in a recent blog post.  Fun name, no?  So, when I found these, I knew exactly what they were.  I've only ever seen the creeping plasmodium of other slime molds before, not the aethalia (aka sporangia stage) like these pink balls are.  I squeezed a couple, and sure enough, pink milk squirted out, reminding me of Pepto-Bismol.  Oft-repeated descriptions of the milk being a thicker consistency of toothpaste was not my experience. These aethalia were probably too young to be thick.  They're like pea-sized pink paintball pellets (apologies for the excessive alliteration). Apparently, our wolf's milk don't know they're only supposed to be out June-November, yet another oft-repeated statement that doesn't match my encounter.

It wasn't until I got home and looked at my pictures of the wolf's milk that I noticed the tiny grey disc clusters.  I probably should start carrying my reading glasses wherever I go (ugh, one more thing to haul around).  I thought I'd never get an ID on them, but a couple days later during my blog reading, I found Skev's B.L.O.G. had posted Mollisia cinerea from across the pond.  Oooh, a lead.  I'm not sure if what we have in CA is the same found in the UK, especially considering there are several grey-colored Mollisia spp. 

As a side note, there are other similarly looking cup and saucer fungi, but colored sunny yellow, called lemon disco (Bisporella citrina and its smaller sibling B. sulfurina).  It's the tiny world of cool.  Shall I dance?

black rat ~ 03/10/14 ~ Midpen Preserve

Rattus rattus alexandrinus

posted 03/19/14 - Here's another dead animal to add to my virtual collection.  I'll take it.  I just noticed most of my dead animal finds have been mammals and snakes.  Hey, it's the only time I seem to get any pictures of them.  I'm not very good with their IDs and often have to ask for help.  I try to spread my queries around so as not to pester any one person too much, because everyone's busy and my blog is not that important.  In my zeal to double-check my facts as I always do, I ended up being a bit ratty myself.  Eventually, it was passed among a couple big-wig Mammalogists, so I am confident of this expert ID.  I'd quote the e-mails, but I didn't ask for permission, so I won't.  Sorry, all.

There were two other possible IDs:  the native dusky-footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes) and the introduced brown rat / Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus).  Without looking at teeth and skulls, they're not as easy to distinguish as I would have guessed.  My personal, completely uninformed, vote was woodrat, because of its obvious white belly, even though the tail wasn't as hairy as I would expect. Nope.  It's a black rat that isn't actually black.  Go figure.  I should note, the 2nd picture was my attempt to return the body back to its original stuffed-in-the-hole position, so that the black burying beetle I spied could get back to business.  I wouldn't even begin to guess how the rat died and got stuffed.