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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Birds of the Cuyamaca Mountains

After a little bit of an absence, it's a good time to shed some light on the mountain birds hereabouts. The avian fauna shifts with the seasons, but many of the species are year-round residents. In the past year-and-a-half or so I've been experimenting with photographing birds and mammals from a blind set up on my property. Slowly the results are improving. I am using a Canon Rebel T1i (an old camera at this point) and a Canon 400 mm fixed focal length telephoto lens to get close to them.

Here are some of the first images taken from the blind set up on a none-too-level spot near a convenient rock (a little peanut butter on the rock was employed too!). All of the images have a rusty background due to the old Eriogonum fasciculatum bushes that are in the background.

California Thrasher. Usually a shy species, but an occasional visitor to "The Rock". A year-round resident.

Acorn Woodpecker. There is a colony close by so these are regulars. This is a pink-eyed individual - a more rare eye color variant. A year-round species.

An first-year White-crowned Sparrow. This is a migratory species, most abundant here in the cooler months.

Spotted Towhee, another year-round resident. This is a male, with blacker plumage and brighter orange sides.

Oak Titmouse (formerly the Plain Titmouse). Another resident throughout the year.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Some Humble Rain-loving Organisms of the Region

We are getting an excellent wet season, with over 30 inches of rain so far since July 1, 2016.

The soil is deeply saturated, and moisture-loving organisms like fungi, slime molds and bryophytes are making many appearances in San Diego County.

I've managed to explore a bit here in the Cuyamacas, and also "down the hill", searching for fungi and other interesting things that will not be much in evidence in a few months when the dry season arrives.

Some delicate white mushrooms, to be determined. Felicita Park, Escondido (as are the other mushrooms below). Late January.

Mystery mushroom with upturned gills.

Possibly an Amanita sp.

Slime mold (a "protist", not a fungus). This one is Badhamia utricularis. Found close to our house, Cuyamaca Woods. Early February.

Badhamia utricularis, older sporangia. Found with the younger sporangia seen above.

Another slime mold, probably Leocarpus fragilis. Spotted by Gary on a walk near Stonewall Mine in the Cuyamacas.

Liverworts, which are relatives of the mosses. Non-vascular plants, they need to live very close to the ground, and usually don't reveal themselves unless it is somewhat moist out. This seems to be Asterella californica, and these may by male individuals. Found at Dos Picos County Park in Ramona in early March, as were all the remaining liverworts below.

Asterella californica archegoniophores, which contain archegonia, the female reproduction structures which produce eggs. The male plant's sperm must SWIM to these eggs; thus the need for moisture!

I think this is probably Asterella palmeri. It was growing right next the species above.

Fossombronia sp., tiny liverworts that I did not even see when I photographed the bigger, more spectacular liverworts above (if liverworts can be described as "spectacular!). I saw them in my photos, and luckily was able to crop out this image. The black "balls" are the diploid sporophytes (the green tissue is haploid).

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Quick Trip to Lake Cuyamaca for Birds

We had a clear sunny day after yesterday's raininess, so I made a quick trip to the lake to see what birds were out and about. Some made good photographic subjects.

A Snow Goose was also seen, but not photographed.

Double-crested Cormorant - one of the many that hang around by the dam.

Wing drying.

A fresh-looking Dark-eyed Junco.

Female Phainopepla. I was hearing sounds that were reminiscent of Phainopepla calls, but didn't think of them as being here in early January. But the San Diego County Bird Atlas points out that they are uncommon but not rare either, here and elsewhere W. of the deserts in the wintertime.

Male Red-winged Blackbird (one of many!).

Brewer's Blackbirds were abundant on the low dam-like walkway on the northeast side of the lake. This is a female.

Male Brewer's Blackbird. He was preening and fluffing and putting on quite a show.

He looks almost sinister here as he tidies up his wing-feathers.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Diversion to the San Diego Coast for Bird Photography

I received a wonderful gift this season - a Canon 400 mm f5.6 telephoto lens. It is allowing for photo opportunities with birds and other far-away subjects that I've only dreamed of in the past few years, especially since switching away from my film camera and its nice 60-300 mm zoom lens.

I knew that Mission Bay often has nice migratory and other water bird species in the wintertime, and the San Diego River mouth is very reliable for nice views of water birds of all kinds in the winter, especially on a sunny day. So I timed my visit to end at the San Diego River when the late afternoon light would be bathing the avian subjects (the first thirteen images below are of them). The sturdy Bogen tripod was a must for sharp shots, and even then, I took many shots of most subjects in order to get a few tack-sharp ones.

Long-billed Curlew, strutting about, looking for snacks. This bird put on quite a show in the late-afternoon light as the tide was going out.

Found something yummy! This appears to be a razor clam - probably Tagelus sp.

Cropped version of the image above - resolution still hanging in there. I did not appreciate the little drop-like shape to the ends of the bill until looking at these photos.

Swallowing a morsel.

Found another one...

A male Northern Pintail, likely displaying for a female who was floating near him.


I assumed this was a female pintail.

A little Eared Grebe swam and dived, feeding near me. It seemed fearless.

The Eared Grebe, looking away from the camera.

Marbled Godwits are a very regularly-seen bird here.

A dapper Blue-winged Teal male.

A female American Wigeon.

Over at Ski Beach in Mission Bay, the Black Skimmers were on the northern end, as is pretty typical for them.

It is hard to get an image of an individual skimmer.

A Willet exploring the shallows at Ski Beach.

A Western Gull - on one leg. Ski Beach.

This immature Ring-billed Gull was too close to get a full body shot!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Early December Arthropods

There's snow on the ground at the moment, but in early December we had some warm weather and a couple ectothermic creatures revealed themselves.

This hefty jumping spider was clinging to the side of the garden shed as we worked installing two large water-catching tanks. It turned out to be Phidippus adumbratus.

Lateral view. I took her inside (I'm assuming it was a female based on the size which was around 10 mm long) and she cooperated nicely for some photos, then I placed her back where she was found.

This short-horn walkingstick, Parabacillus hesperus was hanging onto the outside of the greenhouse. I moved it to a more natural setting and noticed that it had only five legs!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Some Jumping Spiders from August

In August I had a visit from Tim Manolis, author of "Dragonflies and Damselflies of California", and the illustrator of "Field Guides to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions" and the "Field Guide to Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States".

He came primarily with the goal of searching for Maevia sp. jumping spiders. I observed and photographed two specimens in 2014, and more specimens are needed for a proper description of what might be a new species. Here are the two individuals that I found in 2014:

Maevia sp., Cuyamaca Woods, Julian, California, July 5, 2014. First found clinging to the stucco on the outside of the house.

Maevia sp., Cuyamaca Woods, Julian, California, July 20, 2014. Found on the stairs INSIDE the house.
We had no conclusive luck in our search of my property and neighboring areas, but did find some other jumpers. Here are the best images of them below:

Young Phidippus sp.. These young ones have eluded conclusive determination so far, although P. californicus is a possibility.

Young Phidippus sp.

An even smaller immature Phidippus sp.

It looks like this one is saying "They went that-away!". All of the above (minus the Maevia sp.) were photographed in a little indoor "photo studio", and then they were released back to the outdoors.