Monday, November 2, 2009

What Reeks in Mission Viejo Lately?

During the last week, have you noticed a sewer-like smell in the Saddleback Valley? It turns out all of Mission Viejo has been stinky the last few days, and according to the OC Register, the reason has to do with... microscopic organisms. In this case, a species of algae, producing the very same gas that emanates from sewage: hydrogen sulfide. (Thus the "sewer gas" smell.)

The foul-smelling algae has been surfacing in the Upper Oso Reservoir. The Upper Oso Reservoir is a man-made lake near the intersection of Los Alisos Blvd. and the 241 tollroad. (The reservoir was constructed by building a dam across Oso Creek, a creek which starts in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains and flows down toward Laguna Niguel. It's the same creek that feeds into Lake Mission Viejo).

You can read more here, at the OC Register's website.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dozen Small Tsunami Waves Hit Orange County

Read the whole story here:

Above: The mouth of the Santa Ana River, where the river lets out into the Pacific at Huntington Beach.

Scientist Mark Legg, of Huntington Beach, explain what just happened while standing in the Santa Ana River:

(all sources, OC Register)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Follow-Up on Tin Mining in Orange County

Chris Jepsen over at O.C. History Roundup (a great blog, by the way--highly recommend you subscribe to it!) as of April 22, 2009 has a very informative post on this very topic, replete with fascinating photographs. Read it here:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Spring Wildflower Season Begins...

As a Midwesterner (but also someone still relatively new to admiring plants), last year I only began to notice spring wildflowers by around April or May.

That's when you'd expect wildflowers to begin appearing in Illinois, after all. And while it's true that spring wildflower season in southern California does not reach its height until approximately the same time, there are signs of spring as soon as the first rains arrive. This season, that meant as early as November.

For me it was an odd sight. Grasses began to green. The humidity was higher than usual: on Thanksgiving Day, we actually turned on our air conditioning. By Christmastime, leaving our apartment complex at 5am for the flight to Chicago, my wife and I heard the chorus of treefrogs from a pond in the distance.

By January, in the hills I saw the youngest sprouts of wild cucumber (more interestingly known as manroot), and in a few cases, even some small fruits already developing. I witnessed tiny ferns growing in Baker Canyon on the Irvine Ranch, and giant ferns profusely scattered along the oak- and sycamore-shaded slopes of Trabuco Creek.

Today, in February, I saw Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry (Ribes speciosum, below) well in bloom. Did they begin blooming as early as January? You'll have to ask either a more observant flower-enthusiast than I, or a hummingbird. For the hummingbirds, this plant is the seasonal equivalent of an early breakfast.

While the flowers strongly resemble those of fuchsia, careful examination allows you to see it's actually in the currant family--as in the berry, like blackcurrant. (Examination need not actually be too close, as the many spines on its stem will attest just fine to its non-fuchsia status.)

California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), whose tender but pointed, linear leaves stay green even throughout the dry season, has also begun to flower. During the dry season buckwheat flowers are still present as a dried, remnant cluster of dark red (seen in background, below).

They're quite pretty even then, but it takes spring to remind you of just how pretty buckwheat is when in bloom. Hopefully the bees are noticing as well, and making that delicious buckwheat honey of which I'm craving as I write this.

Buckwheat flowers themselves are nearly as striking as the pattern in which they grow off the stalk. I lack the botanical terminology to name this growth pattern, but the picture linked to here is worth those words.

And lastly, in the understory of a grove of live oak trees, I encountered a flower that was new to me: "Milkmaids", or California cardamine (Cardamine californica, below). The criss-cross, or "X" shape of the four petals, should have been my immediate tip off that this flower is a type of Mustard, that enormous (~3,700 species) order of flowering plants. More specifically, the Cardamines are the genus otherwise known as Bittercress, whose taproot and prolificness make them an annoyance of commercial nursery growers. These are among our very earliest of bloomers, arriving as early as December if enough rain has been present (Introduction to the Plant Life of Southern California).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tin Mining in Orange County?

Consider this the first of multiple future posts about mining in Orange County (a place which in the last 130 years has been a site of mining for gold, silver, lead, zinc, and tin, among other interesting materials).

Since I first learned about tin ore earlier this year, I've been fascinated by it. Called cassiterite, it has very unique-looking black crystals. DK has an incredible image, visible here.

Smelted and refined as pure tin (see image), tin is a wimpy metal that saw its most recent heyday in the last century when used in cans. (Times eventually gave way to aluminum and stainless steel.) In the 21st century, it seems that tin has been reduced to little more than a lead-free alternative for electrical solder and fishing weights.

But before fishing weights and tin cans, tin was once a mighty metal. The more potent use of tin, of course, is as an additive to copper in creating the alloy bronze. Despite the relative weakness of tin and copper by themselves, the alloy is surprisingly strong. The term "Bronze Age" underscores the fact that it was the unique hardness of bronze which saw metal itself graduate from use as mere decorative curiosity (e.g. gold & silver jewelry) to primary material for tools and weaponry. So in no small way, tin lifted mankind out of the Stone Age and in so doing, brought him that much closer to the Iron & Steel Age (which continues at present).

Here's a link to a tantalizing blurb about tin mining in Orange County.

I've heard it said that no tin was ever found in Orange County, but the caption here suggests that one "A. Gasparina" discovered some tin ore in 1877.

The Geologic Map of Orange County (Morton & Miller, 1981) identifies both the Trabuco Tin Mine, and another one called the Temescal Placer Mine.

So perhaps the verdict is still out... was some tin in fact successfully mined in Orange County?

I've sent this query to several local Orange County history and geology buffs, who have already responded in kind with what promises to be some useful information. Once I learn more, I will amend an update to this post.

UPDATE: Read Chris Jepsen's post of April 22, 2009, "The Santa Ana Tin Mining Co.", over at OC History Roundup.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My First Wild Tarantula Encounter

Ooh, scary, coming toward me. (Just kidding. I was going toward it. He was actually trying to get away from me!)

Male Desert Tarantula trying to get away from me.

Trip co-leader Mike demonstrates that the desert tarantula is surprisingly docile.

Some interesting facts I found:

Factoid #1: The desert tarantula seems to be North America's only tarantula genus (Aphonopelma). Several species are readily found in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California.

Factoid #2: At dawn and dusk, the males go out in search of females. Once they mate (within their first three years of life), the males will die. Females, on the other hand, live for up to 20 years. NOT FAIR!

Factoid #3: During their final molt (shedding of their skin), males develop extremely long "pedipalps" (the spider equivalent of antennae). Then they go out in search of the ladies.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Orange Spring Amanita & Mushroom Season

Moisture in Southern California, is like Santa Claus--it comes just once a year--so I feel compelled to post about mushrooms once again (and possibly for the last time this year), before they become unfashionable.

(1) The earliest mushroom I found this season is pictured below, next to a standard-sized plastic spoon (used as a makeshift trowel). It popped up alongside several others of the same kind in January, in a patch of landscaped wood-shavings near an intersection that I drive by on my way to work every day. My hectic schedule, combined with the awkward location of the mushrooms, prevented me from getting to it before it had dried out, and thus made it virtually impossible for me to identify. As I wrote in my last post, mushroom identification can be hard enough as it is, even when spore prints are made.

(Here's a top view of the same mushroom pictured above):

Based on similarities in structure and habitat, I suspect that several other mushrooms I've seen during March and April were the same species. Here they are, in fresher form than the above:

Curiously, notice that the one in the background has been chomped on a bit. (If you read my last post, then you'll know why the culprit could not have been me.)

Since these mushrooms were fresh, I was able to make a spore print from them, which turned out to be the color of cocoa:

(2) This next mushroom is the first one I encountered that I feel somewhat confident in having identified. If I'm right, this is an Orange Spring Amanita, Amanita velosa. These mushrooms especially prefer the leaf litter found under live oak trees, which is exactly where I found them (Wilderness Glen Park, Mission Viejo):

Notice the elongated acorn of the live oak tree which was near this mushroom. Such strangely-shaped acorns are exotic to my Midwestern eyes! Also surrounding the mushroom are the dried, dead leaves of years past. Live oaks, although evergreen, nevertheless do drop old leaves--I imagine much as an evergreen pine still drops its needles.

The photo below clearly shows three features possessed by Orange Spring Amanitas: 1. the white spot on the cap (here somewhat soiled), 2. the ridges along the edge of the cap, and 3. a cup-shaped bulb around the base:

As willing as I am to shift around the subjects of a scene in the interest of making a photograph more glamorous (I confess that above I moved the acorn a few inches closer to the mushroom!), I swear the scene in this next photo was as is. It's a darkling beetle on an Orange Spring Amanita (Caspers Regional Park):

What a fun shot. Darkling beetles like to eat decaying vegetation. Perhaps he's attracted to the smell of the mushroom??

(3) Two mushrooms popped up from the soil around my potted lime tree here in Irvine in early April. No positive ID, but they left dark brown spores. (See below sketch and spore print.) I left one of the mushrooms to drop its spores in the soil, in the hopes that it will fruit again.

(4) Last week (mid-April) I encountered several small, whitish puffballs in the hills above Three Arch Bay (in Laguna Beach). They were by that point extremely dried up and had already released their spores, so identification would have been very hard. And alas, I did not have my camera with me!

(5) And, of course, there were the false morels (or maybe black morels), as featured in my last post.

I'll be very curious to see what, if any, other mushrooms I encounter in the weeks ahead, and when will mark the end of the season! The weather's been awfully dry of late...