Another piece on NPR's Morning Edition mentioned a group in Oakland, the Greywater Guerillas. Due to years of drought there's a movement afoot in government to make it easier to use greywater; apparently it's a difficult process to do legally now, hence "guerrillas" in the name of the group.
Managing Water: Avoiding Crisis in California, by Dorothy Green
Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West, by James Lawrence Powell
Introduction to Water in California, by David Carle
The Great Thirst: Californians and Water—A History, Revised Edition, by Norris Hundley, jr.
A River No More: The Colorado River and the West, Expanded and Updated edition, by Philip Fradkin
Photo courtesy flickr/RichardMasoner
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego launches its summer evening lecture series TONIGHT with a lecture on undersea robots. Jules Jaffe, Scripps research oceanographer will speak on his "latest scheme" to use "inexpensive, miniaturized robotic floats that travel with currents, sense the environment, and report their findings back to us." His lecture is called "Swarms of Small Autonomous Robots: A Future Vision for Ocean Observation."
At a second lecture on July 13, Jeffrey Graham, marine biologist, will talk about sharks. "Learn how shark biologists study shark physiology, life history and behavior for insight into what allows these fishes to rank among the world's most efficient predators."
The lectures, which are intended for and open to the general public, take place at Birch Aquarium, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego campus. See the Scripps website for more information.
The lectures are also broadcast on UCSD-TV
For further reading:
Oceans: Exploring the Hidden Depths of the Underwater World by Paul Rose and Anne Laking
Experience the California Coast book series
California Coastal Access Guide, Sixth Edition, by the California Coastal Commission
Sharks, Rays, and Chimaeras of California by David A. Ebert
Illustration of Cookiecutter Sharks ambushing a school of Dolphinfishes by Matthew D. Squillante appears in Sharks, Rays, and Chimaeras of California by David A. Ebert.
"As a result, California’s households and its multi-billion-dollar agriculture industry depend largely on water pumped in from faraway lakes and rivers—sources that are now threatened by overdrainage, species depletion, pollution, and three years (and counting) of drought."
Read more about California and its Water at: Saving Water, in the West and Beyond
(This is a cross-post from the UC Press weblog.)
Although the UC campuses tend to get a bit quieter during the summer months, the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden has a number of events coming up that should be of interest—and not just to those who already have a garden full of native plants.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
"Come enjoy the early evening hours at the Garden on this self-guided walk through the collection. An exclusive opportunity to wander the Garden paths underneath the sunset. Also a great time to take beautiful photographs in the evening light."
Thursday, June 11, 2009 5:30 pm – 7 pm
"Come listen to an evening of Jazz in the Garden’s magical Redwood Grove Amphitheater performed by the acclaimed BabShad Jazz trio, featuring Barbara Hadenfield on vocals, Bob Calo, on guitar and Dean Muench, bass"
Saturday, June 13, 2009 1 pm – 2:30 pm
Oceans and Water Children's Tour - Water Ecology: Ponds and Creeks
"Visit the Garden’s creeks and ponds. Be amazed by the plants, insects and microorganisms you’ll discover in these watery environments. Investigate the crucial role of photosynthesis and decomposers as you compare and contrast the Garden’s pond and creek ecosystems."
Saturday, June 13 & Sunday, June 14 10am - 6pm
Live Oak Park Fair 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009 2 pm – 5 pm
Garden Party Fundraiser: Cultivate your couture
"Join this year’s Garden Party Fundraiser, green gala, for a
Registration is generally required and some events may have a fee. See the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden website for more information.
A hike in Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore sent one of my colleagues to Raptors of California by Hans Peeters and Pam Peeters to learn more about the Osprey. With their conspicuous nests and distinctive features, Ospreys are fairly distinctive. Less easy to discover are some of the secrets of the raptor Pandion haliaeetus.
There's still time to see Osprey chicks--they usually don't leave the nest until mid-summer.
A few quick links:
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Institute for Wildlife Studies
The International Osprey Foundation
Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula
Point Reyes National Seashore
Raptors of California
UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
You don’t see them very often, but California has more kinds of owls than you might realize. Fifteen species in fact, give or take a few. This uncertainty makes a lot of sense when you consider that owls often live in remote areas and are mainly active at night, when most of us are asleep.
Fortunately, owl biologists love to prowl around at night and ask hard questions about how owls survive in the dark – bringing these near-mystical creatures at least partially into the light for the rest of us.
One of the first things you might notice about owls are their prominent eyes, forward-facing in the skull to give them superior binocular vision. An owl has huge eyes (and a very small brain as a result) that comprise 32% of their skull weight, a far cry from the 1% of skull weight found in humans. Imagine a human carrying around eyeballs that weight several pounds
For all their visual acuity, owls seem to have a problem with close-up vision. One captive Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii) had to back up for a better look and a second try if it missed a tossed ball of wadded paper on the first pounce.
Hidden under an owl’s feather are highly specialized ears that allow it to track sound with pinpoint accuracy. On the right side of an owl’s head the ear sits below eye level and points upward, while on the left side the ear is above eye level and points downward, resulting in a discrepancy in the arrival of sound waves at each ear. Our common Barn Owl (Tyto alba) can detect arrival intervals of 10 millionths of a second and precisely locate mice in the absence of light.
We tend to think of owls as fierce hunters, but owls are actually fairly vulnerable to predators and must stay hidden during the day in order to avoid being eaten. In fact this is probably the main reason why owls are so expertly camouflaged in brown, gray, and white tones. This fact, coupled with persecution and habitat destruction wrought by humans, makes an owl’s life harder than you think.
In general, however, owls are a ubiquitous component of the landscape, even in suburban neighborhoods where Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) and Western Screech-Owls fill the night air with their varied hoots, trills, and screeches. Every California county has at least 2 to 3 species of owls, while oak woodlands of the Coast Ranges average around 6 species per site.
There are some species like the Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis), Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa), and Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) which are declining in numbers, even though their populations are carefully managed by wildlife biologists. And then there are other species whose presence in California remains a mystery. For example, biologists strongly suspect that there might be populations of the Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus) in the montane forests of northern California or Sierra Nevada, but very few people venture into these habitats during the winter months when boreal owls are actively calling. And the desert Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi) was until relatively recently found clinging to survival in fragmented slivers of habitat along the Colorado River but seems to have disappeared in the last couple years.
With the coming cold nights of winter, many owl species are rising from their drowsy summer quiet and actively calling for mates, making this a fantastic season for discovering the owls of your neighborhood. Great Horned Owls in particular can be extremely vocal and active, and their large hulking shapes make them easy to spot in the daytime. Sometime in late December or January, female Great Horned Owls settle down on abandoned red-tailed hawk nests and start incubating their 2 eggs, so this is a good time to start checking out every bulky nest of sticks for a distinctive “two-horned” face peering down at you.
David Lukas, co-author of Sierra Nevada Natural History
Butterflies are such a common sight that we can be excused for thinking we understand these beautiful insects. They fly around on big floppy wings, visit flowers, and their larvae are called caterpillars. It's all pretty simple, right?
The truth is that the lives of butterflies are far more interesting and complex than this. Even our popular notion of what separates butterflies from moths breaks down upon closer inspection. One lepidopterist recently commented that butterflies are simply colorful day-flying moths.
We also tend to think that butterflies fly around when their favorite flowers are in bloom, yet there are many exceptions to this rule. The West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella), Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), and other species can be observed all winter long. And the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) is active during the scorching heat of summer when its host plant, the California pipevine, has long ceased flowering.
California’s diverse landscapes provide excellent opportunities to study butterflies and learn about their lives. Whether you visit fog-enshrouded coastal chaparral or fields of alpine flowers in the Sierra Nevada, you will find many species of butterflies. And once you find butterflies you can start hunting for caterpillars – look for them chewing on just about any plant, even scraggly weeds in a vacant city lot.
It is surprising, however, that the butterflies of our populous and well-studied state are so poorly known. Very few of California’s unique botanical and geologic sites have been surveyed for their butterfly fauna, and of those sites that have been surveyed many have revealed new subspecies or new records. Much remains to be learned.
Consider the Pipevine Swallowtail. New genetic studies have revealed that this large, glittering blue-black butterfly is a recent (post-Pleistocene) arrival from the tropics. It has the strangest life cycle of any California butterfly because its early spring larvae either pupate until the following spring, hatch immediately into adults, or wait to hatch in late summer. Adults may fly during the summer but they will die without laying eggs unless they find pipevines that are actively resprouting after being burned or cut back – talk about an obscure niche!
Even the brilliant colors that we see on butterflies hide deeper secrets. It is now known that these colors mainly serve to communicate species status and sex over a distance. For instance, the glittering orange tips on the wings of the Sara Orange-tip (Anthocharis sara) glow different colors in the ultraviolet spectrum depending on whether the butterfly is male (purple) or female (orange), yet both appear as orange to the human observer. And in a different example, it is now known that the whites (Pieridae) hold their reflective wings partly open so that the angle of their wings reflects warming sunlight onto their cold bodies.
After decades of surveys it is becoming clear that many butterfly populations are responding to human-induced changes in California, and that observations by amateur naturalists play a critical role in understanding these changes. Formerly common species such as the funereal Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) and stately Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini) have become notably scarce, while other species hover on the edge of extinction or local extinction. There is no better time to wander afield to appreciate the beauty and mystery of these delightful insects, and to contribute your observations to our scant body of knowledge.
David Lukas, co-author of Sierra Nevada Natural History
Galls are something you can be forgiven for overlooking, but they’re an important and surprisingly common feature of the natural world. In fact, gall expert Ron Russo has found as many as 30 species of galls on a single blue oak, and even casual observers may run across giant ones nicknamed “oak apples” that are formed by the California Gall Wasp (Andricus quercuscalifornicus).
But what are galls exactly? The short answer is that they are any kind of abnormal swelling of plant tissues caused by a wide variety of insects, bacteria, fungi, and mistletoes. Either accidentally through irritation, or intentionally through the release of chemicals, these invaders cause plant cells to proliferate or grow abnormally large, creating a tumor-like growth.
Galls typically arise when insects, such as cynipid wasps or tephritid fruit flies, insert their eggs into plant tissues, and the plant swells until it forms a protective growth around the developing larvae. It’s a case of insects co-opting plant defense systems for their own ends.
Galls come in an astonishing variety of shapes and sizes and can be found on nearly any type of plant. They may be as small as the period at the end of this sentence or as large as four feet across; they may be smooth, warty, spiny, or hairy; and they may be shaped like cups, saucers, donuts, sea urchins, or caterpillars.
Even more amazing is that out of the thousands of species of insects and other organisms that cause galls, each one creates its own distinctive and unique type of gall. This allows biologists called “cecidologists” to identify and study these galls with a high degree of specificity.
Spring is the best time to observe galls because insects prefer to lay their eggs in rapidly developing plant tissues like buds and shoots which are being supplied with enormous amounts of sugars and carbohydrates. The developing insect larvae then co-opt these nutrients for their own growth.
California has a particularly rich diversity of galls associated with its oak trees, so an oak grove is an excellent place for a spring walk in search of galls. Try finding some “oak apples” which start out smooth red or green before aging to dark brown, and look like out-of-place potatoes dangling among the oak branches. Examine a few leaves closely and you might discover the bubblegum-pink sea urchin-shaped galls of the crystalline tube gall wasp (Trichoteras tubifaciens). Or the measles-spotted ping pong balls of the speckled gall wasp (Besbicus mirabilis).
Not only are galls fascinating in their variety and ecology, but very little is known about the insects that cause them. Many species remain to be discovered and named, and virtually nothing is known about the identification and biology of even some of the commonly observed galls.
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at discovering new species, cecidology might be the field for you. If nothing else, the fact that so little is known about galls might add a little mystery to your next walk this spring, so keep your eyes open and see how many types you can find.
David Lukas, co-author of Sierra Nevada Natural History
Winter is a special time in one of California’s most distinctive and widespread plant communities. Whether you travel to the dusty hillsides of southern California, to the fog drenched slopes of the northern California coast, or to almost anywhere in the Sierra Nevada, you will encounter chaparral. This plant community is comprised of different species in each region, but at all times it is recognized by its thickets of low, dense trees and shrubs. These woody plants grow so tightly together that they are virtually impenetrable and anyone foolish enough to push through chaparral will find their clothes and skin scratched and torn.
Due to the seemingly hostile nature of chaparral it is an easily overlooked habitat. But chaparral is rich with life, and winter may be the best season to appreciate it. I lived among foothill chaparral in the Sierra Nevada for 10 years and found it a breathtakingly beautiful habitat.
Chaparral is typically a pioneer plant community that quickly takes over a site after fire or other large-scale disturbance. Chaparral plants like manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.), chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), ceanothus (Ceanothus sp.), and coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) are successful because they produce huge crops of seeds that blanket the landscape so they are ready to immediately germinate in newly opened sites.
With the approach of winter thousands upon thousands of robins, thrushes, waxwings, sparrows, and other birds descend on chaparral to feast on the abundant seeds and fruits. Prominent among these foods is toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), also known as Christmas berry. This plant protects its berries until they are ripe by locking two chemicals in separate plant tissues that will mix to produce highly toxic cyanide gas if the berry is bruised. When the berries are ripe, the plant withdraws the chemicals and announces that the feast is ready by turning its berries bright red.
While birds roam the chaparral in huge numbers, this is also a busy season for the dusky-footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes) whose homes of tall mounded sticks are abundant in chaparral thickets. These large, and apparently tasty, rodents find safety among thickets so dense that mountain lions, bobcats, and other predators can’t surprise and chase them. If you crawl in under the overhanging eaves of the chaparral and peer closely at a packrat nest you may spot the front door on the nest, complete with a little protective “roof” and small pile of recently nibbled fruit and leaves.
If you find yourself around chaparral this winter, take a moment to crawl a few feet back into the forbidding wall of branches and sit quietly. A ray of sunshine may angle into the gloomy depths and illuminate a patch of mushrooms or a sparkling spider web. You may hear the soft purring call of a wrentit or hear the scratching sound of a towhee kicking leaves aside under a manzanita bush. You may even find the ground surprisingly soft and inviting. Chaparral is a magical place when you approach it on its own terms.
David Lukas, co-author of Sierra Nevada Natural History