Thursday, August 28, 2008

Maltese Shawl

Lest you think I have totally forgotten about knitting, I did find time to work on the Maltese Shawl on my vacation. I am on the 32nd repeat out of a total of 75 repeats that need to be done to create the center panel. Then a wide border has to be knitted on all around the edge. You can see a bit of the starting row of yellow yarn that will come out when I add the border. The pattern comes from Jane Sowerby's Victorian Lace Today. The yarn is Kidsilk Haze which I bought a year ago. The color is meadow. I am making this for my DIL and I hope she is not in too much of a hurry!

One of the reasons this is taking so long is that the pattern is very complicated, although it doesn't look it. Usually you do the YO K2tog stitches on the knit side only and then just purl back, but this pattern calls for the lace pattern to be worked on both sides. There are only six rows to the pattern, but it took me about 20 repeats before I had them memorized. They were all too similar. Then too, because of the yarn and because of the fancy left-leaning K2tog and P2tog stitches in the cross, I kept making mistakes. At one point I was ready to rip the whole thing out and start over. Instead, I set it aside for many months.

Things are going much more smoothly now but I still find I have to give it my full attention when I knit. No watching DVD movies with this one!

Monday, August 25, 2008


We had our canyon walk at Lunada Canyon for the month of August on Saturday. The canyon is pretty dry right now and whatever the blight was that we observed in July, it has done its worst and moved on. Some of the plants have survived and put out new growth, others look dead or dormant and we won't know if they are still viable until the fall rains start. Some hardy plants, like the California Fuschia, Lemonadeberry, and the California Sunflower above, were budding and blooming anyway. How do they do that with no water? (Check out the bug I happened to catch in mid flight in the photo.) California Buckwheat was still in full bloom but starting to seed.

This Cliff Aster shows how some of the plants have managed to send out new growth despite having blackened stems. Cliff Aster was blooming all over the wide path that has been bulldozed on the left side of the trail, most likely because of fire concerns. There was no sign of any of the lupines or the California Poppy.

This time I decided to pay closer attention to the weeds that have sprung up at the top of the trail where there is some cement. The stuff is breaking through any cracks and has gotten quite tall. I was hoping that even if these are weeds, that they might be California native weeds, but no such luck. This is Bristly Oxtongue, Picris echioides. It is a European weed that has naturalized in the U.S. It can actually be eaten when young.

There was another plant nearby (photo on the right) that had similar flowers, but different leaves. I am not sure if it is the same thing or not.

And one other plant (photo on the left) also had yellow flowers, but was definitely a different plant. It was really hard to tell what some of these plants were because they were not in very good shape. But these flowers were smaller and more of a lemon-yellow color. Like the oxtongue, the leaves were hairy. The stems were downright thorny.

Below is a picture of Cheeseweed or Little Mallow, Malva parviflora, with its lovely purple flowers. The fruit resembles a miniature wheel of cheese, hence the name. It was also introduced from Europe but long enough ago that the Mission Indians used the stems to weave cloth. Cheeseweed has medicinal uses as well.

While trolling my blog list yesterday, I discovered a link to a wonderful native plant, native Indian, native everything blog by Deborah Small of CSUSM (Cal State University San Marcos). On her blog, she talks of making tuna juice from the fruit of the Prickly Pear, basket weaving, and making tea from sycamore bark and woolly blue curls. There's poetry, too, and the photos are stunning!
I work collaboratively with my art students at California State University San Marcos to help protect native lands, document cultural practices, and learn the native plants so essential to indigenous cultures as well as to the many species who share this particular part of the planet.
Small has written a book on what she calls routine contaminations referring to all the poisons and pollutants that are now part of our everyday life, and check out this booklet called Hidden Meadows on the role of archaeologists in new developments. Thank you Brent.

Friday, August 22, 2008

One More, Please

Date: 08/11/08
Time: 7:18 pm
Place: Redondo Beach
Ocean: The Pacific

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Astronomy and Sunsets

Whoopee! I saw Mercury last night! I have been trying for years to add that planet to my list but it always somehow eluded me. Once I thought I saw it but couldn't be sure. Since Mercury is always close to the sun from our vantage point, trying to catch it just after sunset and before it sets itself is tricky. This time I got a little help from Venus, so I feel more secure that I actually did see it. I also saw the "green flash" at sunset that I have heard about.

The conditions were almost perfect last night for seeing both of these wonders. There was haze but no real fog bank waiting on the horizon. The accompanying photos were taken the night before because, unbelievable as it may sound, I forgot my camera last night! I packed my binoculars and the spotting scope, a blanket to sit on, my hat, jacket because it would be chilly after sunset, quarters for the parking meter, but somehow forgot the camera. Oh well. The sunset was not a spectacular one as far as color goes, which was good. Beautiful sunsets are caused by smog and dust in the atmosphere, and of course clouds, and that sort of thing would obscure my view.

When I took these photos on Tuesday evening, I was just interested in the sunset, but when I got home I decided to check to see what stars were coming up and found that a very nice conjunction of the planets is happening this week. In the photo below, which was taken several minutes after the first photo, you can see Venus coming out. (It looks like a ball when magnified, but that is an artifact of my unsteadiness.) Mercury was just below Venus, but was not bright enough for the camera to capture it. And since I wasn't prepared, I didn't have my binoculars with me. So I didn't see it. I didn't even know it was there.

Last night, Mercury was just a little lower and to the left of Venus. Also Venus is magnitude -3.89 right now, and Mercury is -0.29—a can't miss it situation. (Magnitudes are reversed from what you would think, with negative numbers being brighter than positive numbers. It has to do with history.) Saturn at 0.83 was lower still and to the right, but not bright enough to break through the red haze. Mars at 1.71. never came out either even though it was higher and much further to the left of Venus. Sunset was at 7:31 pm, then Venus popped out and Mercury finally became visible at 7:55 pm.

My husband had told me about the "green flash" that can occur at sunset, but I never knew what it was I was supposed to be looking for. Thanks to Alex Filippenko and the Teaching Company's course, "Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy" I learned that it is caused by the bending of light rays by the Earth's atmosphere and can occur at sunrise or sunset. Violet and blue rays, having short wavelengths, are bent more than the longer yellow, orange, and red rays. The green rays are in the middle. Blue and violet get scattered more and are absorbed by dust, the reds and yellows set first, leaving the green behind. That's an extremely simplified explanation. You can find out more than you ever wanted to know from the link above but a simpler explanation can be found here.

My flash was enhanced by a mirage and this is where things get really complicated. In this case, the rays are distorted, bending at different angles due to differing temperatures and densities in the atmosphere. What I saw (and now I wish I did have my camera with me) was a yellow sun melting into the water, breaking up into pieces with a green glow along the edge of the top piece. It was very slight and very brief. I probably would not have been able to catch it with a camera. Here is an amazing movie that is similar to what I saw.

Oh, and by the way, to protect my eyes, I did not really look at the sun until very close to 7:30.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Signs of Fall

This is my Bloom Day post for August. I did take this photo on the 15th, I'm just a little late (again) posting it. It's a Spider Lily (Lycoris radiata) and it was blooming a little early. It's called Higanbana in Japan. It's in my yard to commemorate my one and only visit to Japan in September of the year 2000. When I got home, I planted 4 or 5 of these bulbs and waited patiently for several years before they started blooming. In the meantime, I had to constantly remind my gardener not to pull up the greens; they were not weeds!

Higanbana blooms around the time of the equinox in Japan and they make a lovely display along the edges of rice paddies. This photo was taken of a small shrine at the Dinjaiji Temple in Chofu, Japan, a suburb of Tokyo.

I am getting more blooms this year than I ever have before and there are new stalks still coming up. They may be blooming early because we have had a very mild August. There is definitely a nip in the air these mornings, but I know that the hot weather will be back in September and October.

For the birds, fall migration has begun, too. They go by the sun and sense the length of the day. Last Saturday, I went for a walk in the George F Canyon again and was surprised to find both an Orange-crowned Warbler and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet there. (Click on the links to see some beautiful photos of these two birds and their crowns which are usually hidden.) The shorebirds have been on the move since July, which is not unusual, and in the early morning on the bay at San Diego I saw Marbled Godwits, Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, and Semipalmated Plovers. I hadn't seen these small plovers in several years not because they haven't been around but because I have not been out birding very much. The Black-bellied Plover has a dramatic difference in plumage between breeding and non-breeding seasons. The birds that I saw were still partly in breeding plumage and their black bellies were very apparent. Generally, adult shorebirds arrive first in July, and then the young, traveling on their own without the aid of their parents, start arriving by late August. Shorebirds are among the most traveled of bird species.

Monday, August 18, 2008

More Blues

I'm really into butterflies right now, especially little tiny blue ones. Saturday I went to the PVIC (Point Vicente Interpretive Center) again to see if I could find the Acmon Blue butterfly to compare it with the El Segundo Blue. It was another beautiful day. Not too hot. Not too windy. But by late morning, I hadn't seen a single small butterfly. Then one pair obliged me by flitting around the Coast Buckwheat I was observing. These guys are really tiny! No bigger than 1/2 an inch across. It's good exercise for your eyes to try to follow them around.

OK, so now comes the hard part, trying to identify them. As with most of these butterflies, the blue part is on the top and the males usually have more of it than the females. But interestingly, it is the underside that tells the story. I think this pair was the Acmon Blue and here is why. In looking at many websites and photos, and reading many descriptions, I noticed that the Acmon tends to be cleaner and neater especially on the underside. The El Segundo Blue (ESB) has a smudgy gray appearance especially towards the body. The orange on the underwing of the Acmon is in a nice neat pattern (usually) or there is less of it, and on the ESB it is smeared. The black dots or squares are bigger on the ESB, especially on the forewing. One web page that compares the Acmon to the Smith's Blue Butterfly, mentions that the Smith's has a black-and-white checkerboard pattern along the edge of the upper wing. I noticed that the ESB has this, too, to some extent. The Acmon again is cleaner and the edge, when you can see it, is all white. It seems the ESB is closer to the Smith's than it is to the Acmon!

Walking around the garden, another pair of blue butterflies attracted my attention. While they also flitted around the buckwheat, they never landed on it. When they finally did settle down, it was on plants with red flowers like the Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica). The blue of these butterflies was very deep at the body and sort of iridescent. The underside was completely different with a brown zebra pattern and two or three large eye spots at the end.

My friend Yvetta has come up with two possibilities for this pair. (Why are there always two?) One is the Marine Blue (Leptotes marina) and the other is the Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus gyas). (Don't click on the link if seeing a beautiful butterfly stuck on a pin bothers you!) I am tending towards the Marine Blue because the striping continues all the way to the body. But what do I know?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Ocean

My recent vacation was something of a staycation, like the comic strip character Kathy had, in that I stayed close to home, but my son and family had to travel from Arizona to get here to join us. There is so much to do in Southern California that a staycation is no hardship. We did lots of different things but if our vacation had a theme to it, it was the ocean.

We started off by taking the Catalina Express to spend a day on Catalina Island, where the photos above were taken on the Nautilus Undersea tour. I was amazed at how much there was to do over there and plan to go back to do some hiking.

I took my grandson Nick to Redondo Beach which is just a few miles from my home, and he had a grand time. Nick is used to swimming in a pool so I was wondering how he would manage with the waves, but they only added to his delight. This photo was taken in San Diego, but the beaches were very similar. Grandma got knocked off her feet a couple of times!

We then went off to Bolsa Chica to do some birdwatching. These are Elegant Terns, one young on the left and one adult on the right. These terns nest by the hundreds at this preserve and make quite a racket!

We did a few things that were inland, like Disneyland (how could I not take my two grandsons to Disneyland!), but even Legoland had some ocean displays.

For the second week, I rented a condo on on the Bayside of Mission Bay in San Diego so we could all be together there. This was the view (below). The open ocean was only a short two-block walk to the west. We did more swimming, shell-collecting, and got sunburned. (Don't tell my dermatologist.) I buried Nick in the sand and Toddler C. had fun knocking down any sand castles anybody tried to make. My son, Nick, and I went out kayaking on the bay. First time I have ever done that. It was great fun. On our last night, we took the paddle wheel steamboat tour of the bay.

And then there was SeaWorld, about which I have already blogged.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I had a visitor to my backyard yesterday. He (she?) was after the birds around my feeder. This is either an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk or an immature Cooper's Hawk. My vote is on the former because of the rounded head, the white eye-stripe, the square tail, and the cry he was giving. Unfortunately, I never saw the front of him, so I can't say whether or not the barring was heavily streaked. And because I didn't have a Cooper's and Sharp-shinned sitting side-by-side, I can't compare the size, length of tail, or flight pattern. Both are uncommon in the east but are common, especially in summer, in the west. Both are found around feeders because both feed on smaller birds. I have seen similar hawks in my neighborhood several times, but this is the first time I managed to get a photo.

I have been going crazy trying to identify things for this blog lately. I spent way more time than I should have on Sunday making sure that the photo of Corky I put up really was Corky. I think I have identified the other two whales in the show as Kasatka and Ulises. There are tons of websites devoted to these Orcas and many have pictures so that you can get to know them personally.

My previous blog entry about the native plants of George F Canyon has also caused identification problems. I posted a photo of what I thought was a Toyon, but my friend Yvetta corrected me and said it was a Mexican Elderberry. I hunted all over the web for a photo of the Toyon in bloom to compare the flowers to those of the elderberry, but couldn't find anything. There are lots of photos of the berries, but none of the flowers. Yvetta graciously sent me this photo of the Toyon in bloom from her extensive collection of plant photos.

You really need to see these side-by-side, so here is my photo again. The color difference is probably due to different lighting conditions and different cameras, but the elderberry has an all-white center and the Toyon has a dark center with different colors.

And last, I come to the problem of the little blue butterflies. I had no idea it was going to be so difficult to identify them. Apparently, there are many little blue butterflies and even the experts can't always tell them apart. My post about the El Segundo Blue Butterfly sent Yvetta off to find out the difference between the ESB and another butterfly called Acmon Blue. The expert (another Ann) sent us these photos and description of the ESB. Again you need to have them side-by-side to really tell them apart.

You can distinguish an Acmon from an El Segundo blue by the slightly larger size, a more fluid flight pattern that tends to be higher off the ground, more extensive orange coloration along the hind wing margin, and the even, light gray color of the ventral wings. I’ve attached an ESB image for you to compare your photos.

I was out surveying yesterday and it appears that the ESB flight season is winding down, but Acmon blues are in greater abundance. Acmon blues do well in a variety of settings and have a much longer flight season.

So there you have it. If you are confused, welcome to the club. The answer to all these problems is to have more experience in the field with these species and others that are hard to identify. So grab your hat, binoculars, and camera and let's go for a hike.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Remember Corky?

As you may have guessed, I haven't blogged lately because I have been on vacation. It's been a fantastic two weeks including a week with my older grandson Nick here in LA and then a week with all of the kids, kids-in-law, and grandkids in San Diego. We did so many different things that it seems longer than two weeks and it will take me awhile to catch up.

One of the things we did together was to go to SeaWorld. It was right across the bay from our condo on Mission Bay in San Diego. In fact, we watched the fireworks from the condo every night at 10:00 pm before going to bed. Any trip to SeaWorld has to include viewing the killer whale show for which they are famous. We sat out in the blazing hot sun on even hotter aluminum benches to see the 11:00 am show called "Believe." The first whale to rise up into the air and make a huge splash was introduced as Corky. Could this be the same Corky that I remembered from Marineland, I thought? The one that made headlines all the time when she gave birth to baby whales? The one that was sold to SeaWorld and taken away from us? Turns out, yes it is.

Corky (Corky II) is now approximately 43 years old, still performing, and from what I could tell, loving it. Orca whales can live to be 70 years old, but her mate from Marineland, Orky II, died in 1988 at age 26, after siring 7 calves with Corky (none of whom lived more than 46 days) and two more with other females. One of these later babies, Orkid, still survives and lives with Corky in San Diego. Corky became Orkid's surrogate mother when the calf was orphaned and now Orkid is very protective of the aging Corky.

There was a big brouhaha when Marineland was sold to SeaWorld in 1987 and the whales moved to San Diego. We loved Marineland and would take all visiting relatives there to see the whales, dolphins, and aquariums. It was right in our backyard, so to speak. However, the tanks at Marineland were small and that may have been the reason that Corky's babies did not survive. Also, since she was captured in the wild when she was only 4 or 5, she didn't know how to nurse her babies. But to add insult to injury, when the whales became part of the San Diego marine park, they were all referred to as "Shamu," SeaWorld's stage name for all their killer whales. So I was surprised and pleased to hear Corky referred to by her own name. After 39 years in captivity, she deserves it.

There were three whales in the show on Thursday, August 7th, but Corky was the only one introduced by name. It was good to see her again. After the show, I bought my younger grandson a plush toy whale and firmly told him that the whale's name was "Corky" not "Shamu."