Sunday, June 19, 2016

Beach Sights at the Water's Edge

On Friday morning, I visited the beach near our house and wandered along the edge of the high-tide water. It was a lovely, sunny morning, and the waves had brought out all sorts of interesting creatures, including several creatures that were deceased, washed up from their ocean homes and onto the sand.

Several strange, thick, jellyfish-like things were scattered along the beach, and they turned out to be a totally bizarre animal called a salp (it's worth looking these guys up to read about their life cycle and to see pictures of them underwater):

More specifically, the salps on this beach were the largest species of salp in the world, the strangely named Thetys vagina. (Some online sources suggest that this species' name doesn't actually come from an anatomical reference, but I don't know for sure.) In any case, I am once again struck by the strangeness of things that come from the ocean. I had no idea such a creature even existed:

Several large and beautiful Dungeness Crabs were also washed up on the beach, dead:

The beach was also teeming with Pacific Mole Crabs (Emerita analoga), and they were very much alive. At one point, I saw a spot behind a receding wave where the sand was practically roiling, and I (perhaps foolhardily) stuck my hand into the spot and felt more crabs than sand! These little crabs are such impressive diggers, but I managed to flip one out of the sand for closer viewing. I believe this is a female, with her orange eggs just visible behind her tucked-up legs (she's head-down in this picture):

Several birds were foraging along the water's edge, including this flock of Whimbrels:

A very handsome Black-crowned Night-Heron was patrolling the area as well:

It's always nice to meet one of these fancy herons, and the beach backdrop is a cool bonus:

It occurs to me now that this will probably be one of the last times I visit the Pacific Ocean for quite a while. We now have a week left before the move (ah!), so I'll be wrapping up my Northern California experience as best as I can during that time. Here we go!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Horse Mountain

In a continuing effort to squeeze out some last drops of Northern California while we're still in the area, Paul and I drove about an hour eastward on Sunday morning, up into the nearest mountains (~4,000 ft or so). Despite a lack of maps and marked trails, we were able to explore a bit of the Horse Mountain Botanical area, and we really liked what we saw. We had sunny skies, pointy conifers, and snow-capped Trinity Alps in the distance; what's not to like?

I find upper-elevation trees so weird and interesting. This small stretch of woods was nice and shaggy:

And a nearby ridge made a very pretty backdrop for our walk:

One especially cool thing about this place -- and a reason why it's protected as a botanical area -- is that the ground contains a large amount of serpentine (California's state rock), and so the plants here tend to be rare and specialized for growing in these harsh soil conditions. (Click here for some more information about plants' adaptations for serpentine soils.) Serpentine rocks are, incidentally, quite pretty, and I kept getting distracted by the green/black stones on the road where we were walking. Here's a lovely hunk of serpentine rock that found its way home with me (I wet it with water to make the colors clearer):

In any case, we saw a lot of flowers on Horse Mountain, and some of them were indeed serpentine specialists. Evergreen Everlasting (Antennaria suffrutescens), for example, only grows in serpentine soil, and this little clump was providing quite a banquet for the local pollinators:

I haven't been able to definitively identify this tiny hairstreak butterfly, but it and several of its jewel-like fellows were making good use of these flowers:

This Wedgeleaf Violet (Viola cuneata) apparently also likes serpentine soils, although it can be found in other environments as well (the pretty leaf in the background is a lily whose flowers were already spent):

And I'm not sure what species of wallflower this is, but its bright orange blooms really stood out, and this (I think) Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) certainly seemed to like them:

Several small lizards dashed across our path at various points during our walk. We watched this pair of Common Sagebrush Lizards doing lizard-couple things in the shade; the male on the left was doing pushups to impress the female on the right, and she watched for a while, then she led him on a bit of a chase and out of sight:

While driving through the area, we even caught a glimpse of a Mountain Quail scurrying across the road -- it was surprisingly big, compared to a California Quail -- and we later heard another of these birds calling in the distance.

What an amazing and interesting place!