Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)Carpinteria Salt…

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

Carpinteria Salt Marsh, 2018-10-02

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/179434850173.

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/178935010796.

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/178820030481.

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

Friday, October 5th, 2018

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/178771908966.

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching.

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Sometimes when I’m birdwatching.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/176759382626.

lies: One of the neat things about being a birdwatcher (also,…

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

lies:

One of the neat things about being a birdwatcher (also, granted, Pokémon Go player) is that it gets you out in the world, visiting interesting places. Yesterday I was walking through the marsh when another marsh enthusiast (Kim; I’m sorry I don’t know her last name) told me about a big bird that was flopping around in the bushes next to the Franklin Creek channel. I checked it out from across the creek, and could see that it was an adult osprey. It appeared to be attached by the legs to a length of fishing line that in turn was tangled in the bushes. The bird would try to fly, making loud alarm calls, then fall down into the bushes and lie there looking upset.

Kim was calling everyone she knew trying to find someone who could help; I started calling everyone I knew. Because it was a Sunday it was hard to get someone, but eventually Kim got through to someone who got through to Niels Lameijer, a Carpinterian who works with the Ojai Raptor Center as part of their rescue and rehabilitation program, and shortly thereafter he was on the scene. Here’s some video I shot of Niels rescuing the bird.

Warning: Includes a closeup toward the end showing the bird’s bleeding leg, impaled by the hooks of a fishing lure. So if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing maybe best not to watch.

In thinking about it, I think the likeliest scenario is that the bird dove onto the lure while someone was fishing with it, mistaking it for an injured fish (which, after all, is a lure’s goal). Presumably the human at the other end of the line then either cut the line or it broke, allowing the osprey to fly away.

I don’t want to think badly of the fisherperson(s) involved without knowing more about what happened. It’s possible they were fishing legally and just didn’t realize the osprey was interested in their lure. It’s also possible, though, that it was someone fishing inside the marsh, which is illegal, though I’ve sometimes seen people (usually kids) doing it along the nearby Santa Monica Creek channel. I’ve tended to turn a blind eye to that in the past, but if I see it in the future I’m going to be more vocal.

Niels sent an email today saying that the bird is doing well, and should soon be released back into the wild. I hope to see it flying over the marsh again soon.

Reblogging myself with the followup video of the bird being released in the marsh the next day (Monday). Nothing icky-looking about this one; just a beautiful raptor going back where it belongs.

Reposted from http://ift.tt/2thmIts.

One of the neat things about being a birdwatcher (also, granted,…

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

One of the neat things about being a birdwatcher (also, granted, Pokémon Go player) is that it gets you out in the world, visiting interesting places. Yesterday I was walking through the marsh when another marsh enthusiast (Kim; I’m sorry I don’t know her last name) told me about a big bird that was flopping around in the bushes next to the Franklin Creek channel. I checked it out from across the creek, and could see that it was an adult osprey. It appeared to be attached by the legs to a length of fishing line that in turn was tangled in the bushes. The bird would try to fly, making loud alarm calls, then fall down into the bushes and lie there looking upset.

Kim was calling everyone she knew trying to find someone who could help; I started calling everyone I knew. Because it was a Sunday it was hard to get someone, but eventually Kim got through to someone who got through to Niels Lameijer, a Carpinterian who works with the Ojai Raptor Center as part of their rescue and rehabilitation program, and shortly thereafter he was on the scene. Here’s some video I shot of Niels rescuing the bird.

Warning: Includes a closeup toward the end showing the bird’s bleeding leg, impaled by the hooks of a fishing lure. So if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing maybe best not to watch.

In thinking about it, I think the likeliest scenario is that the bird dove onto the lure while someone was fishing with it, mistaking it for an injured fish (which, after all, is a lure’s goal). Presumably the human at the other end of the line then either cut the line or it broke, allowing the osprey to fly away.

I don’t want to think badly of the fisherperson(s) involved without knowing more about what happened. It’s possible they were fishing legally and just didn’t realize the osprey was interested in their lure. It’s also possible, though, that it was someone fishing inside the marsh, which is illegal, though I’ve sometimes seen people (usually kids) doing it along the nearby Santa Monica Creek channel. I’ve tended to turn a blind eye to that in the past, but if I see it in the future I’m going to be more vocal.

Niels sent an email today saying that the bird is doing well, and should soon be released back into the wild. I hope to see it flying over the marsh again soon.

Reposted from http://ift.tt/2tJKsYq.

It’s my day to lead the docent tour at the salt marsh….

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

It’s my day to lead the docent tour at the salt marsh. Lately it’s been hit-or-miss; sometimes there are attendees, sometimes there aren’t. I hope I get at least one person. I’ve learned that’s all I need to have a fun time.

I do the tour each month and have been doing it for years, so I’ve learned which months are my favorites. September is a really good month. The chaparral mallow is still in bloom, and the coyote brush has started flowering, with the yellow male flowers out in profusion and the white female flowers beginning to do their thing.

There’s a decent high tide (5’) at 11:30, which is right around when the tour will be ending (if it happens at all). The marsh full of water is the best.

I’ll have a nice time if no one shows. But I’ll feel sad that I didn’t get to share it.

Reposted from http://ift.tt/2bLUMIa.

I made another video. This one’s about high tide, and the…

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

I made another video. This one’s about high tide, and the coastline at Ash Avenue in Carpinteria, and the salt marsh that lies behind it.

My great grandfather used to hand-tint photographs (mostly of roses in his garden, if I remember correctly). My grandfather had boxes of the slides, and used to show them to anyone who was interested.

I guess this is my version of that.

Reposted from http://ift.tt/1M8cL0U.

Insects associating with coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) at…

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Insects associating with coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) at the Carpinteria Salt Marsh, February 8, 2015.

My search for a Rhopalomyia californica emergence event continues. I’ve read that the adults, which only live a few hours, tend to emerge in the morning after a rain. It rained last Saturday, so on Sunday morning I went to the marsh hoping to catch them in the act. These photos show some of the bug-related things I found. (A companion post has non-bug-related pictures.)

I found a lot of galls, more than I’ve seen at any time since last year’s drought knocked their numbers down.

First row:

I didn’t find any R. californica galls with adults in the process of emerging, but I did find some with evidence of recent emergence. The first three photos above show what that looks like. First is a shot of my hand holding a gall to give a sense of scale. (Hopefully I’m not helping biometric-identity thieves by posting a photo of my fingerprints.) Next is a closeup of the same gall showing the leftover exuvia of several emerged adults, and finally an even closer shot of exuvia from a different gall.

I’m not sure how long the exuvia (which are the spent pupal case) remain on the surface of the gall, but I’m guessing it’s at least a few months. If I did a better job of monitoring individual galls over time, rather than just wandering through the marsh observing them on a particular day, I probably could answer that question.

Second row:

Most of the R. californica galls in the marsh are green or yellowish-green, but a few of them are magenta. I have no idea why that is. I’m not aware of any non-gall-related structures on coyote brush with that color. The biochemical/genetic interactions between gall-inducing species and their host plants are quite mysterious, especially to a layperson like me. I wonder if the magenta galls have different properties aside from color. Are they thicker-walled? Do they represent a genetic variation in the gall inducer, or are they just a more-or-less random result of the particular site on the plant where the adult midge lays its eggs?

The righthand image shows the gall of a different Rhopalomyia species, R. baccharis. This is what Russo (who first described the species) calls the “twisted stem gall”. The adult insect is indistinguishable from R. californica except by genetic analysis, but the gall is completely different. Instead of a fleshy round gall containing several larvae at the tip of a stem, R. baccharis creates a thickening of the plant stem that has a characteristic series of S-curves, with one larval chamber below each bend. This isn’t a very good shot of the gall itself, but it shows the gall’s characteristic elliptical emergence hole. That hole isn’t created directly by the larva; instead, there is some sort of communication that takes place between larva and plant that triggers the plant to create that opening at the time the larva pupates, clearing the way for emergence.

I wonder if there are advantages to developing inside the coyote brush’s stem rather than in a bud gall. The outer covering of stem galls is tougher, which I’m guessing helps protect the larvae from the ovipositors of parasitoid wasps. But that also means the larvae’s jaws probably aren’t adequate for chewing their way out, the way R. californica larvae do. It’s mind-boggling to think about the shared coevolutionary history between plant, gall inducer, and predators/parasitoids that led to the current situation.

Third row:

Here’s a photo of another one of my favorite coyote brush galls, that of the moth Gnorimoschema baccharisella. I didn’t notice it while taking the photo, but I think those may be two more G. baccharisella galls growing at the tips of the stems to the left and right of the large gall, with a fourth one visible in the photo’s lower righthand corner. My guess is that those are all from a single egg-laying session; unlike Rhopalomyia galls, G. baccharisella galls are monothalamous, meaning there is only one larva per gall.

The middle photo shows some kind of hide constructed from a number of leaves stuck together. I don’t have any idea what made it, and didn’t want to tear it apart to try to find out. I’m going to post my photos of it to Bugguide and see what Charley Eiseman thinks.

Finally, the Trirhabda flavolimbata leaf beetles are coming back, with a number of bushes showing signs of being munched by beetle larvae. Most of the larvae are still quite small; only a few millimeters long. This is one of the largest ones I found; it was about a centimeter. I wonder if this will progress to a full-on outbreak like it did last year, or if instead the beetle numbers will stay low, allowing the plants to escape widespread defoliation.

Previous ravings about the galls I talked about here are in these earlier posts: Baccharis pilularis galls at Solstice Canyon, Malibu (including bonus I Didn’t Write This content), and Bugs at the marsh.

Reposted from http://ift.tt/1AP1RMz.

It rained yesterday, so I went to the marsh this morning hoping…

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

It rained yesterday, so I went to the marsh this morning hoping to see a Rhopalomyia californica emergence. I’ll post separately about my bug hunt, but in the meantime here’s the water and sky that kept distracting me.

Reposted from http://ift.tt/1xTmRdZ.

I visited the marsh this morning when it was a +6.5, which is…

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

I visited the marsh this morning when it was a +6.5, which is about as full as it gets. I love it like this. All that low marsh habitat, covered by Salicornia and a dozen other species, completely inundated, transformed for a few hours into aquatic habitat, before the tide goes out and they all go back to being land plants.

Reposted from http://ift.tt/1AHCURj.

rhamphotheca: Dodder (genus Cuscuta) This unique vine is a…

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

rhamphotheca:

Dodder (genus Cuscuta)

This unique vine is a parasitic plant, incapable of supporting itself through photosynthesis. Most species are red, orange or yellow and lack much if any chlorophyll. They derive their sugars and nutrients from their host using haustoria, root-like structures that burrow into the tissues of the plant. They usually have a select number of host plants that they can rely on, and use volatile (airborne) chemicals produced by the host to locate them; some dodder species can be serious crop pests.

However, the seed needs to sprout nearby a suitable host – if the seedling doesn’t encounter a host plant within several days of germination, it will use up the stored energy in the seed and die. In temperate regions it is an annual, growing from seed each year; but in more tropical areas it can grow continuously and form heavy mats draped over trees or shrubs.

The vines have no obvious leaves (they’re tiny and appear scale-like), but do produce pale flowers early in the summer; pea-sized berries appear from mid-to late summer. Previously classified in its own family due to its unique characteristics and behavior, genetic studies now place it in the morning glory family. Species can be found throughout North America; this one is Saltmarsh Dodder (C. salina), which occurs west of the Rockies.

Photo by sfbaywalk on Flickr

(via: Peterson Field Guides)

When I’m leading a docent tour at the Carpinteria salt marsh I usually pull off a little bit of pickleweed with some saltmarsh dodder attached and pass it around. Lately, though, I’ve been having second thoughts about doing that.

Once when I was taking a tour led by one of the other docents, the other docent plucked a leaf gall from an arroyo willow and sliced the gall open with a thumbnail to reveal the sawfly larva inside. It was interesting, but it also condemned the larva to a lingering death. I didn’t say anything, but it saddened me. I don’t do that during the tours I lead.

When the lemonade berry is ripe I sometimes pull off a fruit and invite the group to taste it (fourth-grade marsh tour attendees unanimously agree: nothing at all like lemonade). I do the same with pickleweed (consensus: salty, and yeah, maybe a little like pickles). But picking the dodder for them to pass around makes me uncomfortable. Why is that?

There a lot of it in the marsh; the little I’m plucking is not going to make a difference. I show it to the group because I think it’s interesting up close (like in the photo above), especially when it’s flowering. It’s not some primitive moss or fungus; it’s a full-on flowering plant, albeit one with no green parts, no ability to photosynthesize. But it grows slightly off the trail, and rather than take the whole group down to the water’s edge I figure it’s better to bring some of the plant to the people, even if that means I’m killing that part of the plant just for the momentary educational benefit.

Maybe I feel okay about the lemonade berry and the pickleweed, but not about the dodder, because there’s a difference between removing part of a plant to eat it and doing so just to look at it.

Another aspect of the situation is this: with the sawfly larva, the whole organism was being killed in the name of satisfying a momentary curiosity. But when picking a piece of plant, the donor plant survives. Of course, that argument runs aground on my knowledge of things like dodders’ ability to regrow from a small piece of the plant, to say nothing of the knowledge that whole communities of smaller organisms live, Horton Hears a Who-like, on everything in the marsh.

I wonder if my feeling sympathetic toward the dodder is a result of my finding its obligate-plant-feeder lifestyle more familiar, and hence easier to identify with, than that of autotrophs like the pickleweed it grows on. We in the animal kingdom are all parasites in that sense; maybe this plant seems more animal-like to me, and hence more worthy of non-plucking consideration.

My brain is ridiculous.

The next time I do the tour I think I’ll have everyone walk off the path with me to observe the dodder in situ, rather than plucking it and passing it around. It’s a dumb thing that will only make a difference to me. But I think I’ll feel better.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/63691092362.

Plants at the marsh I blogged previously about the California…

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Plants at the marsh

I blogged previously about the California Phenology Project, and how I’m keeping track of some plants at the Carpinteria salt marsh as part of it. I thought I’d share a quick update.

One of the tricky things about doing phenology in southern California is that our plants don’t follow the familiar four-season cycle that occurs in places like New England. New England plants are all about the temperature. Plants leaf out in the spring, grow through the summer, flower and fruit in the fall, then drop their leaves and become dormant for the winter.

In southern California, at least in the coastal zone where I live, temperature isn’t as big a factor. Precipitation is much more important. Almost all our rain falls in the winter and early spring, followed by a long, dry summer and fall. Coyote brush, one of the plants I’m tracking, has a particularly weird (by northeastern U.S. standards) growth calendar. It might start leafing out after a heavy winter rain, then just stop, with its leaves half-grown, until months later when it will have another spurt of vegetative growth.

It can be tricky distinguishing “young leaves” (which have a technical definition for phenology purposes) from older leaves, especially on a plant like coyote brush where new leaves can appear at any time. One thing that’s helped me is that a number of my plants had all their leaves eaten earlier this year during an outbreak of green leaf beetles, Trirhabda flavolimbata.

Back in May when I started the project, four of my six coyote brush plants had no leaves at all. Now, though, all four have started putting out new leaves. The first row of images above shows three of my study plants, the first two (plants #3 and #4 from the study) with newly emerged leaves. The third shot is of plant #6, one of the two plants in my study that didn’t get completely defoliated by the beetles. Plants #5 and #6 are off to one side of the study area, and though the beetles eventually made it that far they didn’t do as much damage to those plants. Now #6 has emerging flower buds, and I’ve learned something I didn’t know before: which gender it is.

Coyote brush is dioecious, meaning plants either have all male flowers or all female flowers. Or, as I explain it to the fourth graders who take the marsh tour sometimes, there are boy plants and girl plants.

Coyote brush #6 is a boy plant. The flower buds haven’t opened yet, but you can see that they have the rounded shape of male buds, rather than the pointed shape of female buds. Besides, the male flowers emerge first. All the coyote brush I’ve seen with flower buds at the marsh this year have been male plants. Over the next few weeks those buds will swell and open, revealing the yellow disks of the male flower. The female plants will flower soon after.

Plants flower throughout the year at the salt marsh, with different species flowering at different times. The coyote brush is just getting started, but another species, the chaparral mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus) is in full bloom. In some ways the late summer is my favorite time to lead the marsh docent tours, because I get to take people down the walk to the amphitheater when it is lined with the beautiful purple flowers of the chaparral mallow. The bottom two images above give you a sense of what that’s like, but the photos don’t do it justice. You have to be there to get the full effect.

I love those plants.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/57850486041.

Marsh phenology I’ve started collecting data on the timing of…

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Marsh phenology

I’ve started collecting data on the timing of events in the lives of various plants at the marsh. I submit the data online as part of the California Phenology Project, which itself is part of the National Phenology Network. I’ve selected 10 individual plants of 3 species, and now I watch them to see when they leaf, flower, drop their fruit, etc.

Six of the 10 plants are coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis). I chose so many of them because I want to increase the chances that I end up with data from at least two plants of each sex, and I can’t tell the males from the females until they flower in the fall. Also, I just like them best.

The two coyote brush images above are not of one of my six phenology plants, but of another one nearby that has an interesting gall, a thickening of the plant’s stem caused by a fungus called Puccinia evadens. A few weeks ago I posted a picture of a “witch’s broom” produced by P. evadens, but that gall was old and dried out. The images above show an active gall, with lengthwise cracks filled with bright orange fungal spores.

The next row shows three images of my second species, blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra). The big plant in the first image, behind the interpretive sign, is the one I’ve labeled “blue elderberry 1” for data-collection purposes, and the second image is a spray of its flowers. The third image is a close up of blue elderberry 2, showing both flowers and some developing fruit.

The third species I’m monitoring is Rosa californica. The last row shows some of California rose 2’s flowers, as well as a close up of the rust fungus I wrote about previously, which grows on the underside of rose leaves and causes them to bend back on themselves.

I guess I’m turning into Egon from Ghostbusters, with his thing for spores, molds, and fungus. Can I help it if they’re cool?

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/51888878506.

Green leaf beetles (Trirhabda flavolimbata) at the Carpinteria…

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Green leaf beetles (Trirhabda flavolimbata) at the Carpinteria Salt Marsh

I mentioned previously that I’m a volunteer docent at the Carpinteria salt marsh. I started off being mostly into birds, but in the spring of 2009 I started obsessing about bugs, and it was this beetle that started that. I was looking for invertebrates to photograph for Circus of the Spineless, when I discovered that there were large numbers of shiny green “caterpillars” (I thought) feeding on the coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) at the marsh. I estimated that there were more than 500 of them in a single medium-sized bush.

It turns out they were actually beetle larvae. Over the next several weeks I watched as they turned into adult beetles and kept munching. By the end of the outbreak, in late May, much of the coyote brush along Ash Avenue had been completely defoliated. The first two shots above are from that 2009 outbreak; they show the larvae (left) and an adult beetle (right).

By the next year the coyote brush had bounced back. There were only a few leaf beetles at the marsh each of the next three springs, but this year they’re back in a big way. Once again, a lot of the marsh shrubbery has been eaten down to bare twigs.

I was out there yesterday and today gathering data as part of a citizen science project that I’ll write up in another post, and while I was there I took some photos.

The second row of photos above shows the effect the beetles have on the coyote brush. On the left is a plant that still has leaves (and beetles), on the right is one that’s already been eaten.

Finally, there’s a shot I took with the macro lens attachment I bought recently for my iPhone. It’s just a little dingus that slips over the end of the phone. I’m pretty impressed with the results, though I need to work on my focus skills. There isn’t much depth of field to work with.

Isn’t that beetle adorable?

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/51419196463.