Thursday, April 30, 2009

Is Truth More Exciting than Fiction?

Echinocereus rigidissimus var rubrispinus. I found a really nice, red clone of Echinocereus rigidissimus var rubrispinus which I have growing in a little cactus garden pot with a few other really cool cacti. I noticed it has a bud as well which I find pretty exciting since I've never seen it bloom before. One of the cactus dealers said they have pretty rose colored flowers which are larger than the plant itself! Given the color of the spines, of course, rose colored flowers is awesome but not surprising. We'll know soon enough. As with many of these little cacti, the spines are quite decorative all by themselves! In fact, sometimes it is hard to imagine art created by man that is nearly as intricate and exotic as some of the amazing things in nature, albeit for rather obtuse reasons. Man creates art for beauty which sometimes has function. Nature embodies functional structure that is often artistic. Go figure.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rare & Beautiful

T-shirt clothesline, Women's Project? I saw this clothesline hanging up at school. I think it was for a Women's Project or maybe an anti-rape project. There was nobody there to talk about it or give out information so I'm just guessing. I liked the first shirt that said that women are rare and beautiful like shooting stars so I snapped a picture.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blue Moss

Cattleya mossiae variety coerulea. Cattleya mossiae is native to Venezuela where it is found growing high up in the forest canopy at around 3000-5000 ft. It is fairly tolerant of cool weather and is a spring bloomer. It has been widely used in hybridizing for the large, ruffly Cattleyas used for corsages back in the 70s that are still used for formal affairs such as weddings.

This plant is a rare 'blue' color variant, hence the variety coerulea. Blues tend to be one of the rarest color variants because they often do not breed true, even when selfed. Albinos or 'Albas', on the other hand, typically breed true when selfed but may breed normal colors when outcrossed, depending on whether the same gene loci is affected in both parents.

Monday, April 27, 2009

You've Got to Love Epiphyllums

Epiphyllum Ber Tee. Cactus flowers are gorgeous, no doubt about it. Of course there is always that prickly issue of spines. Epiphyllums (a.k.a. jungle cactus), however, are largely spine free, once they get to blooming size. They are a little gangly and the snails do have a hankering for them. Still, they more then make up for any shortcomings with their huge, wonderful flowers and their ease of growth. This one, Epiphyllum Ber Tee, is one of my favorites!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Can Birds Feel with their Beaks?

I typed in the sentence, "Can Birds Feel with their Beaks?", into Google and this is what came up (on Biomedicine)! Apparently, the answer is a qualified yes. You can click on the article to see the original. Someone apparently did an experiment with tame, trained Sandpipers to figure it out! Wow. I thought I was curious...

Knots (a kind of sandpiper) can locate their favourite food -shellfish- under wet sand by inserting their beak half a centimetre into the sand for a few seconds. Scientists at the NWO's Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and the universities of Groningen and Leiden have carried out experiments to demonstrate this. The birds' ability to do so seems to be based on a hydro-dynamic principle.

The locational ability of the knots was demonstrated in experiments in which the researchers hid little stones in the sand. That the birds can detect stones is remarkable because stones obviously enough do not send out any signals. They do not move, their temperature does not differ from that of the sand, and they have no smell or electro-magnetic field; they can therefore not be observed with the birds' normal sense organs. The birds' ability to detect them nevertheless must therefore be based on their beaks' being sensitive to differences in currents in the water in wet sand between the individual grains, stones, or shells. Tame knots used in the experiments were unable to find hidden stones in dry sand.

Under the horny layer of the end of their beak, knots have clusters of 10 to 20 corpuscles of Herbst in the bone and these are sensitive to differences in pressure. When the bird sticks its sensitive beak into the sand at low tide, it produces a pressure wave because of the inertia of the water in the interstices between the particles. The pattern thus created betrays the presence of objects which are larger than the grains of sand. Knots are able to read the disturbances in the pressure field and perhaps even amplify it to some extent. The rapid up-and-down movements of the bird's beak loosen the grains of sand, which then become packed together more tightly, displace the interstitial water and cause the residual pressure around the object concerned to increase.

What's for Dinner?

Sanderlings in feeding frenzy, Calidris alba, Tijuana Slough Estuary. Every now and then I'll see a whole flock of birds go crazy over a patch of sand. I even tried digging around in one of those patches once but didn't find much (different birds, different beach). Best I can tell, there appear to be patches of sea worms along the beach. Why the worms are clustered in little patches I cannot tell you but the birds love them. Now, realize that I only found what looked like the remains of one worm post birds so, of course, I could be wrong about what WAS down there. At least I didn't get bit by anything digging around down there to have a peak. The other question I had was how the heck do they know they've found a worm under all that sand? Do they have some sort of sensory organs on the end of their beak? Do beaks have nerves in them kind of like your being able to feel something with your fingers? Too many questions for this late at night! I'm going to bed and if I'm lucky, someone will have answered them when I wake back up!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fat and Sassy

California Ground Squirrel, Spermophilus beecheyi, juvenile. Here is one of Mrs. Squirrel's young charges eating a flower off of my ice plant. They don't seem to eat the leaves so I'm guessing that the flowers are a) a bit more tender; and, perhaps, b) a tad sweeter/better tasting. Hmmm...what do you call a baby squirrel anyhow? A pup? I kind of like squirrelette! Hahah.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Hooded Orioles are Back!

Hooded Oriole, Icterus cucullatus, male. The Hooded Oriole pair are back and nesting under the banana tree leaves as usual. It was fascinating watching the female flit around, nearly hovering, as she attached grass to the underside of the banana leaf. How they get the nest to stay under there is still a mystery to me! I'm not sure I could do it and I have hands and tools! Well, maybe with a lot of quick drying glue? This picture is of the male Hooded Oriole who is a stunningly beautiful yellow and black!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Squirrel Mania

Baby California Ground Squirrels, Spermophilus beecheyi. The Latin roots for Spermophilus mean "seed loving." "beecheyi" is named after Frederick William Beechey (1796 – 1856), an officer and geographer in the British Navy.

Momma squirrel's been busy. She's been eating at the bird feeder all Winter long and managed to have a bumper crop of baby squirrels (6 or 7 as far as I can tell). That would explain why Mr. Snake was hanging around the other day (Western Rattler). They claim that some adult ground squirrels are partially immune to snake venom and will aggressively defend the burrow to chase off snakes. The baby ground squirrels, however, are not immune. Notably, the squirrels are still there and the rattlesnake is gone so perhaps there was some of this. Squirrels: 1; Snake: 0.

The baby squirrels are also absolutely adorable and fun to watch. However, they have started chewing on the ice plant and I suspect the peaches and figs are next. Do you suppose putting out more bird seed would help or will I end up with the Squirrel Motel? Perhaps, by keeping the rattler away, they're earning they're keep...

Agave Blues

Blue Variant of an Agave Attenuata. I snapped the business end of the beast. I really enjoyed the smooth, even flowing colors offset by sharp margins and leaf imprints. The longer you stare the more you see.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Harlequin

Harlequin Duck Pair, Histrionicus histrionicus. Harlequin ducks are right up there with Wood Ducks and Mandarins for color! I remember seeing pairs of Harlequin Ducks up in mountain ponds in Prince William Sound, Alaska. They don't seem to flock or congregate in any sizeable numbers like some ducks do (for example, Ruddy Ducks). Just solitary pairs. Anyhow, these two were having a wing ding of a time the other day. Guess that's where all those cute ducklings come from, duh. I don't know how that female duck manages to not drown in the process but it's a pretty quick affair so a bit of hard paddling probably does the trick.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Lone sunbather amid the kelp, Tijuana Estuary Reserve. Have you ever wanted to do something so bad that you were going to do it no matter what? Even if nature were to, say hypothetically, wash a huge, stinky, fly-ridden mess of kelp up on the very beach you were going to sunbathe on? Here is just one (and only one) determined individual. I wonder what he was thinking and why he still decided to stay instead of finding a nice clean beach just down the road. It was peaceful and empty I suppose, just you and the tiny flies that feed on the kelp and the little birds that eat them. Hmmmm...

Don't get me wrong, I love storms that bring up lots of kelp. They also bring up lots of little treasures for me to take pictures of like abalone shells, ,crabs, all sorts of clams and moon snails and even a lobster tail or two. There was even, sadly enough, a dead seal. She appeared to have recently given birth and must have gotten caught in the storm... It aptly demonstrates the power of nature to create bounty and to destroy it. Fascinating and sobering at the same time. Still, sunbathing in it? Nah, no way. To much stinky, fly-infested kelp.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Addicted to Texture and Color

Mammillaria species. Yet another Mammillaria species blooming on the patio. Do you suspect that I like these Cacti! They just bloom and bloom and bloom and are easy to grow. No complaints here! Plus they have all kinds of cool colors and textures, especially if you get up close. This one has really nifty fish hook like spines with all sorts of little grey soft spines. How awesome is that?

Meanwhile, it has been HOT here. I think we came close to 100F today (high nineties). This is still April! What is with the weather? The extremes seem to keep getting more extreme. Plus they are talking water rationing. My poor Swiss Chard went droopy on me (big wilty mess). I think I'm going to have to harvest before the heat kills it all. I suppose, with the water rationing, it's a good time to be into cactus, huh? Now about those orchids...sigh...

One Little Ladybug

Ladybug, Tijuana Estuary Preserve. There was one little ladybug, there in the middle of the beach, surrounded by endless sand and drying kelp. Why was he there? Certainly, there were no aphids to eat. Perhaps some of those sand flies on the kelp would provide a meal. More likely, he was just blown off course from across the dunes. Poor Mr. Ladybug. Will he find his way home?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cloning Gone Awry

Cattleya skinneri 'Heidi Jacobs' FCC/AOS, Meristem/tissue culture

Cattleya skinneri 'Heidi Jacobs' FCC/AOS, Division from original plant

Supposedly, when you buy a meristem or tissue culture, the offspring should be identical. However, sometimes, when the grower asks the lab to make too many plants from the same tissue division, the genetics may "wander" leading to mutations. Sometimes these mutations are good (bigger, rounder flowers, sturdier plants) and sometimes, as in this case, they are not. You can see that the cloned plant has a nasty tilt/skew to the dorsal sepal and pinched petals which show up on every flower but are not found on the division of the original plant. I can only hope that they got some good ones too.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mammillaria species in the Morning Sun

Mammillaria species, San Diego, CA. You've probably figured out that I like the genus Mammillaria. It gives those beautiful halos of flowers in all sorts of shades. This one has white flowers with an adorable peachy-pink stripe down the mid-rib of each petal! I tried in vain to identify the species. Peachy-pink is not the most common color (that being a bring lavender) among Mammillaria species. I eventually gave up as Mammillaria is a large genera and, after going through some 500 or so pictures, I was all spined and flowered out. There were a few close ones but somehow the spine pattern and/or flower color never quite matched. Hahah, maybe it's a new species (waywardhawaiianii), chuckle! Anyhow, this one is destined to remain Mammillaria species for now...unless some good reader wants to volunteer an ID (hint, hint)!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Succulent Colors

Red Edged Agave, San Diego, CA. They have these for sale at Daylily Hill. They have deep rich tones with a vibrant red edge and, wonder of all wonders, not a lot of thorns. They are a hybrid, likely of the thornless blue-toned Agave attenuata, perhaps 'Nova', and a more prickly, red-edged cousin. Beautiful, low maintenance, and, yes, drought tolerant! Given all the city warnings about water rationing, I figured it was time to go cactus garden in the yard. If you water stingily enough, you get the side benefit of less weeds as well!

Proud Mamma

Female Mallard with Duckling, San Diego, California. I can't help thinking that Momma duck has a look of pride on her face as her duckling follows her across the pond. There were about 12 more siblings in front of Mom who were "cropped" out. Flowers and baby animals everywhere! Don't you love Spring?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Orchids from the Greenhouse

Phalaenopsis equestris 'Sue' HCC/AOS. This is blooming in the kithen right now. It has a prime spot by the window. These little guys hail from the Philippines and this one comes from two venerable lines of equestris breeding, 'Riverbend' AM/AOS, a good grower and breeder, and 'Malibu', a great parent for dark color. This one grows well and has a nice stardust sparkle on top of dark lavender segments with a nice white picotee to set it off. Small, pretty, easy growing. What's not to like? They do prefer to be warm, however, so they suffer a little in my greenhouse since I run the greenhouse cool to avoid having a huge electric bill. That's why this one is still hanging out in the kitchen!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pushing for Protea

Protea blooming in my back yard. Protea species are known for originating in South Africa and being used for cut flowers that last and last and last. A Protea farm owner told me that they like well drained, sandy, moist soil and lots of sun. Constant moisture is particularly helpful if you are trying to root a cutting. While Southern CA is a bit dry, they appear to do well here as evidenced by this really healthy specimen on the North side of my house. Note that some of them grow quite large.

Proteas and the family Proteaceae come in a great variety of shapes, colors and forms, thereby earning the moniker from the Greek God Proteus who could change his form at will. Protea species are also native to Australia and South America.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Serpent in the Garden

Western Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus helleri, possibly a melanistic variety; San Diego, CA. The dog found this little guy coiled up in the back yard enjoying some joyous Easter afternoon sunshine. The dog was sniffing around and the snake was rattling for dear life! Clearly, it would not have been so joyous if the dog had been bitten; but, he didn't. The snake and the dog both live on (a good thing). The snake notably had taken up residence behind an old log just adjacent to a couple of ground squirrel holes. Coincidence? I'm guessing not. We'll see if the squirrels show up under the bird feeder tomorrow. I guess I'm going to have to be a little more careful when tromping around the scrub brush in the back yard.

Western Rattlers grow to over 50 inches and are around 10 inches long at birth; this one was probably a young adult. They make that telltale S shape that you see when they are poised to strike. They typically rattle their tale when threatened and/or surprised although it's not a given. These guys can bite, even if dead, apparently by reflex.

Western rattlesnakes will wait by lizard or rodent trails and strike when the hapless prey goes by. They will then release the prey and follow it, waiting for it to die. They probably do this to keep from getting bit by angry rodents. This feeding behaviour might explain why this one was hanging out right next to the ground squirrel hole. Adult CA ground squirrels are immune to rattlesnake venom but it is Spring so there are likely baby squirrels in the nest. Western rattlers will eat a whole host of other things including mice, rats, rabbits, birds, lizards, insects, amphibians and even other snakes.

Happy Easter!

Easter Bunny, Junior Brigade. Heheh. Happy Easter! Wishing warm Easter tidings to all of you and hoping Easter leaves you good memories and a full tummy. ;-P

If you're wondering, this little wild bunny was hiding under a bush at the zoo. He was gracious enough to not run away as I snapped a few pictures with flash (no less) to bring you this Easter message. My French compatriot said that this little bunny conjured visions of lapin au moutarde(with an evil grin) but that it was trop petite!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

California Bluebells

Phacelia campanularia, California Bluebells, Lake Poway. There are about 100 species of Phacelia in California. This one was probably named for its similarity to Campanula (and yes, we have wild Campanula as well!). Of all those Phacelia, Phacelia campanularia has got to be one of the prettiest with its rich blue flowers. There are not all that many blue flowers in nature and fewer still that are a deep, velety blue! These were all over the path around the Lake and made for quite an enjoyable walk. Of course, I stoped at every other clump to take a few pictures which, after a few stops, ended up with my fellow walkers just moving on while I snapped pictures. Thus, I ended up with a bit of jogging as well to catch up after each set a pictures. More exercise than I had anticipated but that's not all bad. It is a bit of pressure on taking your shots though.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Serious about Tricocereus

Trichocereus species. This may have been lumped back into Echinopsis. I'm guessing Echinopsis smirziana (=Trichocereus smirzianus). If you're a cacti lover and know the nave of this huge flowered, apical blooming columnar cacti (quite a mouthful), please let me know.

In any case,this cacti appears to bloom late at night through early morning, only to close by mid-day. The 4 gorgeous, white, apical flowers lasted a few days (3-ish) and then closed up for good. They are amazing, especially in the early morning sun.

Most times the cactus stores carry the more common Trichocereus pachanoi (San Pedro Cactus) which is rumored to be mildly hallucinogenic. It amazes me that anyone would be willing to risk all those spines but someone obviously did. I found this really cool cactus as Exotic Gardens, a local cactus and succulent shop.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Prickly Beauty, Splitters and Lumpers

Sulcorebutia menesesii. The cactus are blooming in my back yard and oh what a wonder it is to watch them bloom! It always amazes me as these brilliant, gorgeous flowers that seem so ironically delicate come out of their prickly hosts (which also have a symmetry and beauty of their own). They're all different and not an ugly one among them (well...Euphorbias aren't much for flowers but otherwise...).

Sulcorebutias are a small genera of cacti from the Bolivian Andes at 8k-12k ft. Wow. Ironically, they are susceptible to frost and rot, even when originating from such a high, cloudy climate. They have recently been moved back into the genus Rebutia. Score one for the "Lumpers". One way to tell if a cacti is likely a Sulcorebutia or a Rebutia is that they tend to flower basally (from the bottom and sides of the cactus) as opposed to other cacti that flower from the top.

For the non-initiated, lumpers are taxonomists that prefer to combine more species and perhaps more diversity into an existing Genus and splitters are taxonomists that prefer to create Genus' of fewer but more closely related species. I suppose it is somewhat arbitrary where you draw the genetic line but it does make it confusing for us novices as Genus' come and go.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Ducking Geese

Geese ducking under a floating pier, Lake Poway. Whoever heard of Ducking Geese? Sometimes you just don't want to pose for a picture! These geese clearly were tired of me snapping pictures of them so off they went under the pier, in spite of the gap under the pier being shorter than the geese were. Not photogenic at all! I'm guessing they're used to little kids chasing them around and are wary of people getting too close. Now, if only I had a handful of bread...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Oak Revival

Burned oak tree sprouting new shoots at Lake Poway. You can see the burned branches still, even two years after the fires. Interestingly enough, the large oak tree and many of its bretheren are re-sprouting leaves. However, the leaves come out in short, tufty growths rather than in large branches. I'd guess they will eventually turn into large branches but it gives it an odd look, as if it were a wig. I admit I did not get close enough to look at the shape of the leaves so no ID is provided here. If you're interested in California Oaks, I found descriptions of some of them at IHRMP, Integrated Hardwood Range Management Program.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Lake Poway in Bloom

Lupine and California Poppies, Lake Poway. A couple of us hiked around Lake Poway on Sunday morning. It is absolutely drenched in wildflowers: poppies everywhere; two or three species of Lupine; two species of Phacelia in stunning blue and lavender; huge spikes of Agave and much more. It's even more amazing to see given the huge fires that ripped through this area in the past. You can still see the charred black carcasses of trees throughout the landscape surround by this profusion of flowers and, in some cases, new sprouts coming from the root base of bushes and trees or even out of the blackened branches on the ancient, huge, old oaks trees. Of course, poppies and lupine are specialists in taking advantage of areas cleared by fire. Still, you would hardly ever notice a fire had been through there unless you looked for the signs.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Brewer's Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus, Lake Poway Parking Lot. This little blackbird was having a fluffy moment. I'm not sure why he fluffed up like that but it was really cool, making him look like a black pom pom or a feather duster. It could be a display of some sort to make him look bigger or more fearsome. Or, it might be him about to leave his mark on the car! As I took a whole sequence of pictures, I can confirm that he did not (ahem) mark that car so perhaps one of the former possibilities after all.

These guys live on seeds, insects and berries and are pretty common around parking lots in San Diego.


Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus, Daylily Hills. A pair of Killdeer had taken up residence next to an artificial pond at Daylily Hills. The male attempted to lure me away from the foliage surrounding the pond with a classic broken wing strategy. I can only guess that there was a nest hidden in the surrounding brush. Killdeer are one of the most widespread of the plover family. Lest you wonder, the name, Killdeer, apparently is based on their call. Apparently, they are also capable of fluffing up and chasing large mammals like cows away from their nest.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Big Pollinators

Hummingbird, possibly an Anna's Hummingbird, Daylily Hill. Notice the bright yellow pollen on this hummingbird's beak? Hummingbirds are key pollinators in their native environments. Look for long tubular flowers with nectar on the bottom and there is probably a hummingbird behind it (or maybe a moth). This hummingbird was enjoying the abundance of Aloe flowers at Daylily Hills Flower Fields. Besides Aloe, Hummingbirds are generally necessary to pollinate Heliconia in their native South American Habitat. When these plants are removed to habitats without hummingbirds (or maybe even a particular species of hummingbird), they are unable to be pollinated. Thus, if you go to Hawaii, you'll see lots of Heliconia and you never see Heliconia seed (all planted by man). On the other hand, you will see wild Ginger and notably Ginger is pollinated by bees!

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Hills are Alive...

Hiking Trail Up a Flower-covered Hill, Mission Trails Park. The hills flowed as the wind ruffled waves through the tiny yellow pea-like flowers. Little orange butterflies (Metalmarks) flitted by in irregular patterns, occassionally landing long enough for me to snap a fleeting moment on a branch. Even tinier white flowers adorned the edge of the path at tennis shoe level. Overall, it was a wonderful afternoon.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Scrub Jay Hanging Out

Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica. This scrub jay was hiding up in a tree. Unfortunately for him, the trees haven't leafed out yet. At least his tree hadn't leafed yet. So I snapped his picture. Of course, you never really know how annoying autofocus can be on your camera until you try to take a picture of a bird in the middle of a bunch of branches. Aggravation as the camera seems to focus on every branch but the one you want. I'm sure there is a setting somewhere to get around that. Maybe center focus? Oh well.

Scrub jay trivia: did you know that Scrub Jays store food during periods of abundance for times with less food?

Scrub jay trivia #2: did you know that Scrub Jays will steal and horde shiny objects?

I guess they're just like people then, eh?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Stinging Lupine

Stinging Lupine, Lupinus hirsutissimus. I saw these along the trail the other day. They were not in great numbers but rather they were interspersed among the other wild flowers somewhat infrequently. I noticed them over and above the other Lupine because their hairs sparkle in the sun, looking like glistening pipe cleaners with flowers on them. Luckily for me, I only wanted a picture of them. When I looked them up I discovered that they sting, resulting in dermatitis - i.e., a nasty itch. They are native to Coastal California sage scrub.