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Thursday, April 30, 2015

A hardy Sargent

So I can't talk about "The Cedars" without highlighting the tree for which the area has been named.

It was so much fun to spend some time with Sargent Cypress (Hesperocyparis sargentii).  I was impressed with its ability to grow in such harsh conditions.

I also appreciated this insight into its habitat: "Sargent Cypress often grows near redwood in the more mesic bottoms of ravines or on open slopes of the inner Coast Range where fog is nearly continuous."

Recently, I was trying to describe to some friends how much I liked seeing the Sargent Cypress bark.  Although it's not in the same genus, somehow it reminded me of the bark of Atlantic White Cedar from the East Coast.  I hadn't realized how much I missed seeing those long, fibrous furrows and the patterns they make as they wrap around the trunk.

Sargent Cypress has a limited geographic distribution from southern Oregon to Santa Barbara County.  If you want to see some locally and can't get to The Cedars, click here for other locations in Sonoma County.

I was curious how Sargent Cypress got its name.  It took me a little while, but eventually I found out.  It was a fun story for me to learn about because there's a New England connection!

Jepson named this tree after Charles Sprague Sargent, the first director of the Arnold Arboretum (of Harvard University) in Boston.  Charles Sprague Sargent was born in 1841, grew up in Brookline, MA (my family has a few connections there), was appointed director of the Arnold Arboretum in 1873 and served as director until his death in 1927.  I did the math he became director when he was 32 years old and served as director for 54 years until he was 86 years old!

Jepson seems to have made a good choice he named a hardy tree after a hardy man!

P.S.  Habitat information above from "Cypress Species in Oregon" by Frank Callahan in Kalmiopsis, Vol. 20, 2013.  Biographical information about Charles Sprague Sargent from Wikipedia and the Arnold Arboretum website.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Checkers and streaks

You guessed it tonight's post features butterflies seen at The Cedars on 25 April 2015. 

First, the checkerspot:

I'm pretty sure these are Edith's Checkerspots (Euphydryas editha).  However, I'm a little hampered without access to my field guides right now.  If you think this identification is wrong, just let me know and I'll correct it (I'm happy to hear about confirmations, too!).

They were actively nectaring on Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum).

Next, the hairstreak:

Muir's Hairstreak (Callophrys muiri) is a serpentine endemic.  Its host plant at The Cedars is probably Sargent Cypress (Hesperocyparis sargentii).

I had trouble photographing the hairstreaks, but I'm including one more image below:

And for the record, I also photographed a duskywing:

My guess is Propertius Duskywing (Erynnis propertius).  But I'm open to other ideas, as I don't have a lot of experience with duskywings in California yet.

Here's one more picture of it — not great, but it shows the light spots in the wings that are useful for identification:

Although none of these butterflies are likely to be found on Bodega Head, it's fun to think about them in The Cedars, only about 20 miles away.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Slippers and streams

Okay, back to The Cedars.  I don't have much time tonight, but here are two wildflowers that I think you'll enjoy.

California Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium californicum).  The Cedars is one of the southern-most sites for this wonderful orchid associated with habitats like seeps, moist slopes, streambanks, bogs, and fens.

For my relatives and friends in New England this species is similar to a Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), but the showy part of the flower (i.e., the white lower lip) is much smaller.  In the California Lady's Slipper, the lip ranges from ~15-20 mm (~3/4 inch) long...while in the Pink Lady's Slipper it ranges from ~30-67 mm (~1-2.5 inches) long.

And here's another wildflower highlight:

Purple-leaf Stream Orchids (Epipactis gigantea f. rubrifolia) were just starting to flower.  Although this species of orchid occurs elsewhere in the state, The Cedars is apparently the only place where the purple-leaved variety grows.

This next picture makes me wish I was Alice in Wonderland so I could become very small and then crawl right in to start exploring!

Monday, April 27, 2015

From the "midnight zone"

Well, I have to interrupt "The Cedars Series" briefly.  Eric and I found some unusual hydromedusae washed up on Salmon Creek Beach on 26 April 2015.  While this species might be found offshore, it's rare for them to strand on beaches, so I thought you might want to know about it.

As we walked, we started noticing these bright yellow blobs on sand:

The blobs ranged in size from ~2-3 cm across, with most being ~3 cm (1.2 inches).

Each one had 4 long tentacles:

We counted at least 50 of these hydromedusae on the beach, and we knew we'd never seen them before.  Many of the jellyfish and hydromedusae that wash up on local beaches are clear or have hints of red, pink, or purple.  This amazing yellow color is unusual and was a clue that this was something different.

Although they were in rough shape after coming through the surf zone, we wanted to take documentary pictures.  I put a few of them in a small aquarium:

The upright tentacle position is typical for this group of hydrozoans (Subclass Narcomedusae).  Also note that the tentacles leave about mid-way up the umbrella (rather than from the margin).  Meet Aegina citrea!

A side view highlights the bright yellow stomach pouches along the periphery of the bell:

And a view from below shows the mouth opening in the center:

I liked this view because it closely matches a diagram prepared by Eschscholz who first described Aegina citrea in 1829:

From Mayer, A.G. 1910. Medusae of the World Volume 1: The Hydromedusae
Carnegie Institution: Washington, D.C.

So the crazy thing about finding Aegina citrea on a beach is that it's generally known as a bathypelagic species.  The bathypelagic zone is sometimes called the "midnight zone."  It's 1,000-4,000 meters below the ocean surface that's 3,300-13,000 feet!

It has been windy lately, which can cause the upwelling of deeper water to the surface.  Is that what happened here?  Once again, I don't know the answer, but can only document the observation and consider possible causes.  I'd rather think about Aegina swimming through the depths offshore, but nevertheless it was exciting to learn about an intriguing deep-sea neighbor.

P.S.  To see what Aegina citrea looks like in better condition, check out these pictures from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  (They call them "lemon jellies.")

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Warming up

We had several nice looks at lizards during our hike at The Cedars on 25 April 2015.  I'm pretty sure these were Sagebrush Lizards (Scleropus graciosus).  However, since I'm new to identifying lizards, I'd like to ask for some help.  I'll show all five individuals that I photographed.

Here's the next individual:

I'm leaning towards Sagebrush Lizard (rather than Western Fence Lizard) for several reasons: (1) finer, smoother scales (with less of a keel and a shorter spine); (2) no yellow on the hind legs; (3) a dark bar on the "shoulder."

The next picture shows a close-up of the scales.  (And don't miss those emerald green colors behind the back leg!  Click on the image for a larger version.)

The photo below shows one of the smallest individuals I photographed.  This is a good opportunity to note the extremely long toes, if you haven't already.

Whereas the first three individuals were pale with greenish overtones, the last two were amazingly red!
Is this a color variant?  Does it have to do with the breeding season?  What a wonderful match for the red rocks of The Cedars!

One more orange-red lizard this one was sunning on the rocks by the creek:

I'd welcome any help you can provide in confirming the identity of this lizard or offering another suggestion.  And please share any thoughts you have about the red coloration.  I'm curious!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Among the rocks

Yes, this is Sonoma County.  I was lucky enough to join a LandPath's hike to The Cedars today.  The Cedars is an amazing natural area northwest of the Austin Creek State Recreation Area.  It's only accessible via guided tours (many thanks to Roger, David, and Andy!).

I have quite a few pictures to share, but for now I'll post a couple of my favorite dragonfly images.

Austin Creek runs through this area as a relatively small, rocky creek.  These dragonflies specialize in this type of habitat.

Red Rock Skimmer (Paltothemis lineatipes).  The males are bright red, while females are grayer.  Both match the landscape well.  Here's the female (below).  I was thrilled to see this species, as it is one I definitely don't get to see on the coast!

And here's another wonderful riverine dragon, this one was perched in a shrub away from the creek.  Dragonflies will do this (spend time away from water) while maturing, resting, and feeding.

This is a male Bison Snaketail (Ophiogomphus bison).  The markings on the abdomen in this group of dragonflies looked snake-like to someone, hence the common name. 

To learn more about The Cedars, start with this excellent article in Fremontia by Roger Raiche.

And stay tuned for more pictures from one of Sonoma County's very special places...

Thursday, April 23, 2015


California Sea Lions riding the waves, 23 April 2015.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Caught by surprise

They caught me by surprise:

It's been a good year for Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui), but today numbers were noticeably higher.  

While photographing one for the record, I noticed another species nearby:

This Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) was also nectaring on Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima) along the Bodega Head bluffs.

Not long after this, I flushed a large dragonfly (a darner) from near the trail.  Interestingly, its wings were shiny, indicating an individual that had emerged from a wetland not too long ago.

And then I saw this butterfly land among the grasses momentarily:

Orange Sulphurs (Colias eurytheme) are common inland, but I only seen them occasionally on Bodega Head.  

I've mentioned before that Bodega Head is not the best place for butterflies and dragonflies it's generally too cold with strong northwest winds coming off the ocean.  However, there are certain conditions that create potential for interesting insect viewing e.g., when the winds are from the south or east and the thermometer rises.

The strange thing about today was that I hadn't really noticed these conditions, and there were lots of butterflies and at least a sign of dragonfly movement along the coast.

Had I just missed it?  I looked back at the weather data for the last few days.   The maximum air temperatures were about 57°F and 58.5°F.  Those temperatures are about average, and in fact it was warmer earlier in the month.
Then I looked at the wind.  I checked for the percentage of winds that came from the south, south-southwest, and south-southeast during the last few days.  Here's what those percentages looked like:

April 22 ~15%
April 21 ~14%
April 20 ~35%

Below is a visual representation of the winds on April 20th:

Did the winds on Monday, April 20, encourage a strong northward push of butterflies and dragonflies?

I don't know, but it's worth keeping an eye out for these events and noting the weather around them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Going in

"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, 
for going out, I found, was really going in." John Muir

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lurker in the lily

On Sunday, we were enjoying the variation in Calochortus tolmiei, moving from flower to flower, pausing at each one, looking down and wondering what pattern we would see.

I heard Peter say that I had to come over to photograph one.  I didn't know that he had found something lurking inside the lily!

That's a somewhat scary view of a crab spider, Misumena vatia scary if you're potential prey, such as a bee or a fly.

At one point I was on the other side of the flower and the spider was moving around on the petal, so the next picture shows a nice view of the spider from above:

I was intrigued to see this spider "in white."  I have seen this species in Bodega Bay before, but previously it was predominantly yellow.  We wondered if white forms were more common on white flowers?

We looked around at more flowers and spotted this next:

Hmmm...a bright yellow crab spider in a lily!  So they're not always white when lurking in these lilies.  Next I thought perhaps the color didn't matter and maybe both strategies would work, i.e., a spider could be cryptic in different ways white like the lily, or yellow like the center of a "generic flower," e.g., the Blue-eyed Grass in the background of the picture above.

Doing more research at home tonight I learned some things that made me think about this again.

The spiders can change color!  They're typically white, but when on a yellow substrate they're triggered to release a yellow pigment and then become yellow.  When on a white substrate, the yellow pigment is moved below the surface or degrades, and then the spider looks white again.  [Interestingly, it takes longer to turn yellow (10-25 days) than to turn white (only 6 days).]

Another study found that insects may see this whole scene differently than we do.  It turns out that what we see as a cryptic pairing (white spider on white flower) may really stand out to an insect.  Researchers found that a white crab spider camouflaged on a white daisy was highly conspicuous to honeybees sensitive to ultraviolet light.  And even though a predator was lurking, the bees still visited the flowers because they were attracted to high contrast color patterns!

One more interesting picture to share with you tonight:

Yes!  That's a small crab spider holding onto prey at the base of the lily.  I think the prey might be a syrphid fly, also known as a hoverfly or flower fly.  You can see the yellow-brown legs of the fly below its abdomen, and at least two legs of the spider (lighter yellow) held up above the abdomen and the wing of the fly.

P.S.  The ultraviolet light research mentioned above is from Heiling, A.M., M.E. Herberstein, and L. Chittka. 2003.  Crab-spiders manipulate flower signals.  Nature 421: 334.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Is it a cat, a tulip, a grass, or a lily?

I'm very grateful to Peter and Carolyn for taking the time to show me this beautiful wildflower today.  All of these pictures are from Bodega Bay on 19 April 2015.

This is Calochortus tolmiei.  It has several common names you might see it called Pussy Ears, Hairy Star Tulip, or Tolmie's Star Tulip.  

I'm guessing you can see how the extremely dense hairs on the petals led to a couple of those common names:

And if you view these flowers from the side, you'll see why "tulip" has sometimes been used in their common name even though they're not tulips!  (Calochortus and tulips are both in the Lily family.)

I was also intrigued by the scientific name.  "Calochortus" means "beautiful grass."  I just mentioned that this wildflower is a type of lily (not a grass).  I don't have great pictures of the leaves, but they are very simple, elongate leaves that are grass-like.  Still, it would be interesting to know the story behind the naming of this genus because it seems a little puzzling that these striking flowers are named after their leaves!

The species "tolmiei" is named after William Fraser Tolmie.  Wikipedia describes Tolmie as a surgeon, fur trader, scientist, and politician (read more here).  He was born in Inverness, Scotland, moved to Washington in 1833 and worked for the Hudson Bay Company there (and then in British Columbia) until 1871.  [MacGillivray's Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei) is also named after him.]

I know that was a lot of wondering about the names of these petite white-and-purple lilies.  Here's one more picture to enjoy!


Friday, April 17, 2015

Long period swell

Long period, northwest swell, 10-11 feet, on 16 April 2015