Monday, June 30, 2014

The Pisaster Disaster and other Tidepooling Discoveries in Oregon

One of the breaks from my working, cooking, and knitting routing while in Oregon earlier this month was visiting my friends Eve and Rob Gill in Toledo, Oregon, where I joined them for just a couple days in their wholesome routines of retirement, including eating healthy, fresh foods, qigong exercises, and walks on the beach.

Their current favorite is Schooner Beach, a southern extension of Moolack Beach north of Newport, immediately north of Yaquina Head.

On our first afternoon, it was high tide, and there wasn’t much invertebrate life to be noticed. But we did walk most of the way to Starfish Cove and spotted this immature Bald Eagle, a bird that Rob and Eve have come to know well.

We also saw these two Heermann’s Gulls and at least three Black Oystercatchers at the creek mouth.

Walking back close to the bluffs, looking for interesting fossils and stuff, I noticed this blooming Trailing Pearlwort (Sagina decumbens ssp. occidentalis), an inconspicuous member of the carnation family.

We returned the next morning at low tide, one of the lowest of the month, and what a difference.

The southern base of Yaquina Head is famous for its tidepooling, but there was a lot to see here on these isolated rocks on the beach. We probably saw five or six species of fish, including these Tidepool Sculpins (Oligocottus maculosus), the only ones that photographed halfway decent through the water surface.

The Ochre Sea Star (Pisaster ochraceus) is normally a very common animal here, and this apparently healthy one was on an isolated rock near the low tide line.

But in the deeper crevices and pools I found only two others, and they were both showing signs of the now year-old plague called the sea star wasting syndrome, the devastating the populations up and down the coast. Nicknamed the “Pisaster Disaster,” the cause is apparently still unknown, though a pathogen is suspected. There is lots of information and press released to be found on the web, but the central clearinghouse for information is this website run by the University of Santa Cruz.

While several species of sea stars are afflicted, other organisms are fine, such as this pretty, pink-tipped Aggregating Anemone (Anthopleura elegantissima).

The yellow plumes identify this sea slug (nudibranch) as the Monterey Sea Lemon (Archidoris montereyensis).

This is Purple Ribbon Worm (Paranemertes peregrina) is a vicious predator of other worms.

It was fun to discover this very concentrated aggregation of Pacific Mole Crabs (Emerita analoga). Apparently they colonize Oregon beaches as larvae from California, with no self-sustaining populations this far north. That may be changing.

I’m not sure whether this tiny crustacean, apparently scavenging on a remnant of a jellyfish, is an amphipod or isopod; it’s not like any of the species in Bugguide.

This Black Oystercatcher was one of a pair on the rocks near Starfish Cove, whistling excitedly at the other beachcombers and tidepoolers; I suspect they had a nest nearby.

On the way back, we picked along the wrack line, finding some nice clam fossils and living invertebrates. This click beetle is in the genus Athous.

I had no idea what family this odd looking, tiny (3 mm) beetle belonged to, but thanks to Vassily Belov on Bugguide, I found that it’s merely a carabid (ground beetle), Akephorus obesus. Given that it’s apparently restricted to beaches in the Pacific NW, I declare its English name the Obese Beach Beetle.

This much larger beetle is in the same family, but a different subfamily, and is the Greater Night-stalking Tiger Beetle (Omus dejeanii). It’s largely nocturnal and is unusual in being a flightless tiger beetle.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cooking, Knitting and Flying Home to Arizona

On my first morning home this week, back from a nearly a month in Alaska and Oregon, my neighbor Paul found this track in our driveway. A nice welcome home, I’d say.

Just a few days earlier he had seen a large Common Kingsnake just outside my front door, where it disappeared down a hole. We don’t see many snakes here in residential Tucson, so it’s a good guess that this track belongs to it. We do have the occasional Long-nosed Snake and Western Thread Snake, but both of those are much smaller than this. We also have at least five species of lizards, coyotes, and the occasional bobcat and peccary; also this past month, Paul saw only the second ever Roadrunner we’ve had in the yard in 16 years. Thank goodness we do not have any Arizona Bark Scorpions.

I have plenty of photos to share from Oregon, though what I mostly did was recover from my week of cooking in Alaska. At my dad’s in Corvallis I cooked, knitted, and worked on my laptop. These are Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies, a recipe from Tartine Bakery. I also made their Country Bread, which is the best bread I’ve made.

I also knitted up a storm. These are booties for Mara, who just entered this world three days ago.

This is the back of a vest for myself. The yarn was a gift, and I found just the perfect project for it.

I was often joined by my step-mom Sharon, here knitting herself a pair of socks with Lola the rabbit-flushing beagle looking for attention.

I also went to visit my friends Rob and Eve in Toledo, where we walked a beach twice and did some fun tidepooling (more later on this).

And I went to Sisters to lead field trips for the Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival. This is a Red-breasted Sapsucker, one of 10 species we saw on the field trips I led with Tom Crabtree. (More later on this too.)

After a wonderful dinner with friends in Portland, I flew direct from there to Tucson – perhaps one of the most scenic routes in North America. I recommend a window seat on the left side of the aircraft, Alaska Airlines. As we departed Portland, Mounts St. Helens, Adams, and Hood all stood up above the low overcast. We then flew directly over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. This is looking down on the nearby 40-square-mile Diamond Craters lava flows, at most only 25,000 years old, perhaps as young as 17,000, and one of the few good examples of pahoehoe lava in Oregon.

Looking directly down on Steens Mountain. I can’t quite make out the Black Rosy-Finches, but they are there. I'll be looking for them this coming late August on my Oregon tour.

Just past Steen’s Mountain is the Alvord Desert.

Much of Nevada looks just like this – basin after range after basin, and it’s all gorgeous. Then there is Utah. This is looking eastward into Zion National Park, the little town of Virgin in the lower right.

And a stunning view of the Grand Canyon, which I haven’t seen while standing on solid ground since 1979; I’ve seen it from the air like this maybe 6 or 7 times now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cooking in Gambell Alaska – Where You CAN see Russia

Here’s a mishmash of photos documenting my week –plus in Alaska from May 29 to June 9 this year, some from my good friends Will and Beth Russell. For example, the one above was taken by Will as we staged our 9 coolers, 10 boxes of food, and 2 totes with 30 dozen eggs at the Anchorage airport, ready for check-in to our flight to Nome. Each of the 15 participants of the WINGS tour group to Gambell claimed a cooler or box or two as part of their checked luggage.

Even before we had taken off from the Anchorage airport, we had a natural history moment. In the cabin of our Boeing 737, as we were being pushed away from the gate, a large moth was bouncing against the ceiling, working its way back from the front            . Passengers were commenting, some of them clearly uncomfortable. As it came closer to us, I quickly unbuckled my seat, stood up, and grabbed it. I’ve handed lots of sphinx moths and know you need a firm grip and can’t damage them very easily. I recognized the genus, as it was the same size and shape as our White-lined Sphinx, but I had to use my iPhone and Bugguide (my phone temporarily off of airplane mode) to find that this is the Galium Sphinx, Hyles gallii. We hadn’t started taxiing yet, so the attendants opened the back door of the jet a crack and let me release it. They then thanked me publicly over the loud speaker and everyone applauded.

When we arrived in Nome, it was clear something was amiss. Alaska Airlines had decided that eight of our nine coolers wouldn’t fit on the jet, despite their 400 pounds being only a tiny fraction of the weight of the passengers and other cargo. So we arrived in Gambell without the fresh Copper River salmon I had purchased the day before for dinner. Luckily, the one cooler that did arrive had something – our pork loin meant for day 5; and the boxes that did arrive had many of the vegetables, enough to piece something together for dinner. Here’s what we had tonight:

Dinner: Roast Pork Loin with Apricot, Cherry, and Pecan Stuffing | Green Beans with Toasted Hazelnuts and Brown Butter | Leafy Green Salad with Balsamic-Dijon Vinaigrette | Baguette

Another natural history moment came this same evening, while Beth was helping me prepare the salad by washing the organic lettuce I had bought in Anchorage. You should always wash your vegetables to get rid of dirt at the very least. But if they’re not organic, there’s always the possibility of trace herbicides and pesticides, and there’s no guarantee that a simple rinse will get rid it them all – some are even absorbed by the plant and can’t be washed off. But with organic produce, you may be surprised by the occasional insect, and this time, Beth discovered this live Mexican Tiger Moth, Notarctia proxima, nestled in the base of the leaves! I was amazed to have seen two lifer moths in one day in Alaska, and as far as I can remember, I had never seen any moth in Alaska. This one was obviously a hitchhiker from the source, and though I don’t remember reading where the lettuce came from (the natural food store in Anchorage actually labeled the source of all their produce), the range map of this moth indicates that the lettuce probably came from California.

The rest of my week at Gambell was mostly spent in the kitchen, on my feet, from 4:45 to at least 10:45 p.m. (one night until 2:00 a.m.). Our menu, modified from the original to accommodate for the lack of coolers until the afternoon of our second day there:

June 2
Breakfast: Fluffy Scrambled Eggs| Buttermilk and Buckwheat Pancakes
Lunch: Egg Salad Sandwiches| Butternut Squash and Chickpea Soup
Dinner: Oven-roasted Salmon with Tangerine and Ginger Relish | Baked Wild Rice | Parsnip Fritters | Shaved Daikon and Turnip Salad with Arugula and Baby Spinach with Chunky Garlic and Pimentón Dressing
Dessert: Blueberry-Peach Cobbler with Lemon-Cornmeal Biscuit Topping and whipped cream

June 3
Breakfast: Fluffy Scrambled Eggs | Cream Biscuits with Cheddar Cheese | Oven-fried Bacon  Sausage
Lunch: Roast Turkey Breast and Cheese Sandwiches | French Onion Soup with croutons
Dinner: Crispy Roast Lemon Chicken | Maple-roasted Brussels Sprouts and Rutabaga with Hazelnuts |  Leafy Green Salad with Foolproof Vinaigrette | Tartine’s Country Bread
Dessert: Fresh Strawberry Mousse

June 4
Breakfast: Spinach-And-Fontina Strata | Sausage | Fresh Fruit
Lunch: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches | Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup
Dinner: Lasagna Bolognese and Vegetable Lasagna |Fennel-and-Endive Salad with Dried Currants and Walnuts | Classic American Garlic Bread
Dessert: Wicked Good Boston Cream Pie

June 5
Breakfast: Fluffy Scrambled Eggs | French Toast | Oven-fried Bacon
Lunch: Roast Turkey Breast and Tuna Sandwiches |Broccoli-Cheese Soup
Dinner: Glazed All-beef Meatloaf | Quinoa-stuffed Eggplant | Raw Kale Salad with Lemon and Toasted Almonds | Tartine’s Country Bread
Dessert: Classic Apple Pie | Vanilla Ice Cream

June 6
Breakfast: Sonoran Sunrise Bake | Fresh Tomato Salsa | Fresh Fruit
Lunch: Grammy Hoyer's Olive Sandwiches | Hearty Chicken Noodle Soup
Dinner: Roast Cod Fillets with Potatoes, Garlic and Olive Oil | Sugar Snap Peas with Asian Dressing  | Walnut-Apple Celery Salad w/ Mustard Vinaigrette | Tartine’s Country Bread
Dessert: Chocolate Cake and Passionfruit Mousse

June 7
Breakfast: Fluffy Scrambled Eggs | Blueberry Scones |Fresh Fruit
Lunch: Homemade Pizza |  Zuppa Toscana
Dinner: Egg Drop Soup | Gingery Chicken Stir-fry with Bok Choy | Steamed Jasmine Rice
Dessert: Blood Oranges with Caramel Sauce and Cocoa Nibs

June 8
Breakfast: Fluffy Scrambled Eggs | Overnight Sticky Buns

Here are the sticky buns for the last morning’s breakfast, perhaps the most decadent thing I made (though the Boston Cream Pie is a close second). Almost all other baked goods used much less butter, often only half the sugar called for, and whole wheat flour. Not these. Once a year is ok for this most delicious of poisons.

I did get outside a couple times. On our second day came word over the radios of a cuckoo a short walk from the lodge. I was ahead on lunch prep (and without the coolers yet didn’t have much to work with anyway), so I headed out. Before long the bird was spotted by Gavin and others, and I came to the assembly of all the birders, independents and other birding tour groups.

This female Common Cuckoo, probably a second-spring bird, was taking shelter from the strong SW winds in the middle of town.

Late one night I also took a walk to the NW point to get my puffin fix. On the way was this Lapland Longspur.

And near shore was at least one Horned Puffin, with many dozens flying past farther out, along with even more Tufted Puffins and numerous other alcids.

This is the view to the NW, and yes, you can see Russia from Alaska. But Sarah Palin didn’t actually know you could see it from here, nor would she even think of setting foot here, if she knows the place even exists; she was just being boastful in an exaggerated way, exposing her extreme ignorance of geography.

This is another view of the Chukchi Peninsula, just 36 miles away. Yes, it was cold (that’s ice on the Bering Sea, after all) but only about 34°F, and the north wind was light. Bundled up well, I was actually getting warm in this midnight sun.

On our last morning, however, over an inch of snow and very limited visibility seemed to doom our chances for an on-time departure, and I began to make mental plans for an emergency lunch. However, the plane arrived around 9:40, and we made our escape to Nome, thence Anchorage.

Back in Anchorage, it was practically tropical. This is Lake Hood, behind our first and last night’s hotel near the airport.

These Tule Bluets, Enallagma carunculatum, were abundant on the walls of the hotel and in the grass around the lake.

Later that afternoon, my friend Dave Sonneborn took me to Potter Marsh just east of the city.

This Arctic Tern is by the main pullout on the highway and is probably the most photographed individual of its species in the world.

Dave pointed out this Common Muskrat at the same location.

I’m now recovering from my week in Alaska at my dad’s in Corvallis, Oregon. You’d think that the amount of time on my feet in Gambell would be tiring, but it wasn’t while I was there, or so I thought. But once I had a chance to sleep in – 10+ hours the first night – then the exhuastion flowed over me, and in one day I finally felt like I had just run a marathon. I can’t wait until next year!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Out and About With the Naturalest Naturalist – Part 3

On our last day, Jeremy Gatten and I decided to skip the exploratory hike into what was probably going to be a bone-dry Holden Canyon and headed for Sycamore Canyon, certain to have water and some cool damselflies. We spent much of the day at the moist seep below, trying to get photos of what turned out to be at least five species of damselflies, possibly even more.

In the morning from within my tent at California Gulch I enjoyed a tremendous dawn chorus of more than 20 species, with White-winged Dove and Cassin’s Kingbirds leading the orchestra more than an hour before sunrise. Even some migrants such as Green-tailed Towhee and Hermit Thrush chimed in with warm-up versions of their songs, grossly out of place in this desert canyon.

The only bird I paused to photograph at our campsite was this Hooded Oriole, which demonstrates the distinctive yellowish color overall and the yellow of the forehead coming all the way down to the bill, unlike the nominate subspecies from Texas and eastern Mexico, which is much more rich orange and shows a narrow strip of black from the face just over the bill.

We then headed for Sycamore Canyon, about a half-hour drive away. Here we found yet another band-wing that appears to be Red-shanked Grasshopper, Xanthippus corallipes pantherinus, with a rather variable forewing pattern from population to population.

A Dusky-capped Flycatcher greeted us at the trailhead before we headed into the canyon.

More Montezuma Quail were calling from the hillside above a side wash, and Canyon Spotted Whiptails, Aspidoscelus burti, darted here and there, this one pausing just long enough to me to get a photo at 50x. They are extremely shy and fast.

I first heard these tiny bee flies, Lepidanthrax angulus, as several were sipping nectar at various clumps of Phacelia distans flowers. It was a very high, nasal whine that intensified when they were either courting or jousting over control of a flower.

This common grasshopper is Oak-leaf Grasshopper, Tomonotus ferruginosus, recently pointed out to me by Margarethe on our outing to Molino Basin.

Finally some odonates. Dragonflies were scarce, but there were plenty of damselflies. The ones that we have names for: Amethyst Dancer, Argia pallens

Spine-tipped Dancer, Argia extranea

Painted Damsel, Hesperagrion heterodoxum

For some reason, I missed getting a photo of Black-and-white Damsel, one of the most interesting species here.

This female katydid (it has a very long ovipositor, which you can't really see in this photo, except for a bit of an outline through the tip of the wings) is a Broad-tipped Conehead, Neoconocephalus triops.

Thanks to the water, there were several of these gorgeous Santa Catalina Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja tenuiflora.

Yet another Sheep Skipper, Atrytonopsis edwardsi, this one on a thistle that I did not identify (they can be tricky, and I don’t trust the old keys to be current).

Our last stop before heading out of the Atascosas was a side draw I call Thumb Rock Wash, where this Siva Juniper Hairstreak, Callophrys gryneus siva, was getting moisture from the mud.

While scrambling up the hillsides near here, I found a cell phone just under the edge of a border. Long story short: I took it home, charged up the battery and turned it on to find that it apparently belonged to an undocumented immigrant. There were photos, mostly of a group of camo-dressed immigrants on their hike, but also one of a grocery store and two of some toddlers. And there were quite a few text messages dating from last June, some in a native language that my friend Carlos Ross determined is Ma, a Maya language spoken in Guatemala. The ones in Spanish mostly said things like “miss you,” “love you,” etc. I sent the phone to a human rights organization in Tucson that works with missing immigrant cases. I haven’t heard if they were able to find out the continuation of this guy’s story.