Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Bird: Say's Phoebe

Say's Phoebe, Sayornis saya, Tijuana Estuary Preserve, San Diego, California. These birds Summer up through Alaska and Winter as far South as Mexico while permanently residing in much of the lower half of their range. They are in the tyrant flycatcher family, so named because these birds will rest on a shrub, rock or, in this case, fence where they wait for passing bugs which are snatched up out of mid-air.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Two-striped Garter Snake, Thamnophis hammondii

Two-striped Garter Snake, Thamnophis hammondii, Tijuana Estuary reserve, California. These little non-venomous snakes have toxins in their saliva that will cause an unpleasant reaction in humans but are generally considered not a threat. They are found in Western North America from Salinas, California down through Baja, Mexico, generally near water. While this little snake was sunning in the middle of the path (probably due to the cold Winter air temperature), these snakes are primarily aquatic, preying on tadpoles, small fish, frogs, toads and newts.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Hail in San Diego

Hail on the back deck. I had a nice crop of orchid flowers blooming for an early Spring but, alas, it was not to be. Just when I thought San Diego was too far South for hail of any size, we get pelted with these little pea sized things. Oh, it could be worse. I still remember the baseball sized hail that made huge dents in the cars and roofs in Denver. So, perhaps I should count my blessings.

Buck-horn Cholla

Buck-horn Cholla, Cylindopuntia acanthocarpa, Tijuana Slough. Acanthocarpa was a best guess. Let me know if you believe it is a different species as I believe acanthocarpa may bloom later in some locales. In any case, this particular species (acanthocarpa for lack of a better name) is in full bloom at the Tijuana Slough/Estuary Reserve down in Imperial Beach, California. They're quite beautiful but their little paws detach all too easily and are a nasty, prickly mess if you happen to get one in your shoe or into your clothing. They actually have tiny/microscopic barbs that latch them in good and tight. I accidentally stepped on a small pad and the spikes stabbed me right through the leather of my tennis shoe. The spines in the sole would not come out without pliers so I settled for detaching them from the paw and leaving them there (as they had not poked through the rubber itself). Apparently, some native Americans tribes harvested the unopened flower buds, de-spined them and roasted them for food (kind of like a cactus artichoke).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Amaryllis: Pot versus Ground?

Red and White Amaryllis. I planted this in the front yard in late Summer. A month or two later I bought another Amaryllis in pot and put it about a foot away. The one in pot bloomed repeatedly from late December through early February. The one in the ground just bloomed for the first time a few days ago (shown). The question is why did the one in pot bloom first? Was the ground more consistently cool than the pot? Was it because the one in pot had a head start in a greenhouse somewhere? I'm guessing that the ground was cool enough to delay blooming by about two months but I suppose I'll never know for sure short of buying two more bulbs and starting them from scratch side by side. Any volunteers to run a little science experiment next year?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gold Veilteil Angelfish

Gold Veilteil Angelfish (g/g - V/+) with Java Fern. Gold veiltail angelfish are homozygous for the recessive gold gene and heterozygous for the Veiltail gene. Homozygous veiltails have excessively long fins, sometimes to the point of appearing broken.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fish Connoisseur: The Platinum Pearlscale Angelfish

Platinum Pearlscale Angelfish (p/p - pl/pl), Pterophyllum hybrid. This fish is a result of homozygous recessive genes in a loci for pearly/shiny malformed scales and in a loci for lack of color. The platinum line was derived from a gold line where the yellow color was bred out. They may also show a tint of green or blue.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Out of Season Wildflowers: Lupinus formosus (Summer Lupine)

Summer Lupine, Lupinus formosus, is a member of the pea family. This one is blooming really early, typically blooming from April through August. There was only one in bloom and no others in sight (or perhaps one other very young plant). The early blooms are probably due to the somewhat warmer Winter weather this year. Note, identifying Lupines is a little dicey without getting in behind the wings (petals) to get a close look at the keel (lip structure), which I didn't do; hence, if you want to suggest a different species, I'm open to suggestions...

Also note, Lupinus formosus is widespread throughout California. Unfortunately, it is poisonous, containing piperidine alkaloids (as does hemlock). The younger the plant, the more toxic it is. It has been implicated in congenital issues in goats and cows and has therefore been the subject of eradication by some farmers. That being said, it is also one of only three Lupine species that the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly will lay eggs/develop upon.

Beach Primrose: Spring starts early in Southern California

Beach Primrose, Oenothera drummondii, blooming at Ocean Beach, California. Spring along the coast of Southern California starts a little earlier. At Ocean Beach, the Beach Primroses were in full bloom.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Squid Eggs

Squid Eggs at low tide at Ocean Beach. Surprisingly, the birds were not out there eating all of the squid eggs interspersed among the seaweed. My suspicions that these were squid eggs were confirmed when I zoomed in on the digital image. You could see the baby squid, their tiny black eyes, their white little tentacles and bulbous body sac. I wondered if they would survive the low tide to hatch and what kind of squid left them. Fascinating stuff!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How Do Flamingos Eat?

Flamingo head and beak up close. When I looked at this picture, I marveled at the similarities between a flamingo's beak and the mouth of a baleen whale. The little teeth on the sides of the flamingo's beak act as filters to catch tiny shrimp and algae similar to how a whale's baleen filters krill. As a flamingo eats, it uses its tongue as a pump to suck food-filled water in through the front of its beak and then force it out through the sides roughly once every three seconds. Fringed plates on the flamingo's tongue trap crustaceans and algae in the process.

Horned Grebe with Goby for Dinner

Horned Grebe, Podiceps auritus, with goby, Mission River. Little mud Gobies are a favorite food for many of birds in the Mission River Preserve. For some of the smaller birds, like this Horned Grebe, swallowing them can be as tough as catching them.

Monday, February 13, 2012

In San Diego for the Winter: Surf Scoters!

Surf Scoters, Melanitta perspicillata, swimming towards me. With wild ducks, it is sometimes tough to get them to swim in towards you, most wild ducks being a little skittish. However, if you sit still and wait for while near where they were formerly hanging out, they will often come back closer to shore.

Surf Scoters are also known as skunk ducks because of their black and white coloration. These medium sized sea ducks spend Summers up in Alaska and Northern Canada but fly South to the Southern U.S. and parts of Baja California during the Winter. There is a large flock that Winters in San Diego Bay and in surrounding areas.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Valentine Chihuahuas out for a walk along the beach dressed in matching pink jackets. I couldn't tell if the little jackets were actually heart shaped when I snapped the photo but it all seemed rather topical. Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Victoria Crowned Pigeon

Victoria Crowned Pigeon, Goura victoria, is named after Queen Victoria of England. They are native to New Guinea where they live on figs and other fruit and invertebrates. These sizable birds reach roughly 5 pounds and are occasionally hunted for their meat and feathers. They are one of the largest and most flashy members of the pigeon family.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird, lounging on the protea plant in the front yard. These are tiny little birds, considerably smaller than the more common Anna's Hummingbird. This one has a beak full of pollen, a hazard of poking your beak up long tubular flowers. Some plants, such as Heliconia, specifically require Hummingbirds as pollinators due to their long, tubular flowers with a tiny opening on the end.

Lorikeets at the Wild Animal Park

The Lorikeets at the Wild Animal Park were very, very friendly... The one on my lens was chewing on the filter. Argh... Still, they are awful cute.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Nature Quiz: Mystery Holes Containing Acorns

Nature Quiz! This old oak tree trunk contained neat rows of holes, each containing an acorn or the remains of an acorn. What critter creates these holes and stores their Winter meal within?

Star Magnolia: Magnolia stellata

Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata, Huntington Botanical Gardens, California. These beauties are native to Japan. The flowers are known to vary from year to year, depending on the day and night temperatures prior to flowering. The plant forms a large shrub up to around 20 ft. in height and blooms in the late Winter or early Spring.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Bird Sighting: Wild Turkeys at William Heise Park

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo variety intermedia, William Heise Park, California. You didn't have to hike to see the Turkeys at William Heise Park. They was a large flock of them just hanging out near the camp ground parking lot.