Splish Splash

Photos by Robert David Siegel

words by Robert David Siegel

In keeping with the adage: “Water is Life,”  many of us—plants, animals and people—eagerly await the coming of the winter rains. Unlike in many places, winter dramatically transforms the Peninsula from golden brown to lush shades of green. Streams swell, and mushrooms, amphibians and invertebrates reemerge. Beyond its ability to rejuvenate, the physical properties of water make it a wonderful, yet challenging, subject for photography.

With approximately 32,000 known species, the aster family (Asteraceae) is the most numerous group of plants on earth. Also known as composites, the structure that appears to be “the flower” is actually a large collection of smaller flowers, each capable of producing a single seed. Only the flowers on the outermost ring produce a single large petal.
The wild radish (Raphanus sativus) is believed to have originated in Southeast Asia but is now widespread throughout the open spaces of the Peninsula and across the globe. With its four distinctive, veined petals, this is the same species that is used to produce the commercial varieties of radish. And, like the cultivated varieties, it is edible.
The coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is one of our greatest natural wonders here on the Peninsula. This species includes the tallest trees on earth and each tree forms a dense repository for organic carbon. Here, in Wunderlich Park, a single drop of water lingers on a branchlet before giving in to gravity on its inexorable path to the ground.
As my Santa Cruz fungus fair t-shirt proclaims: “When it rains, it spores.” Like a little red umbrella, pleated marasmius (Marasmius plicatulus) rises from the ground on the stipe, or mushroom stalk, to facilitate the spread of fungal spores giving rise to the next generation. This specimen was photographed on the slopes of San Bruno Mountain State Park.
This spider was encountered during a very wet field trip to Filoli Gardens with my “Photographing Nature” class. Despite the downpour, we persisted with many interesting results. Although spiderwebs are designed to catch insects, they are also very good at catching water drops that glisten like gems linked by silky threads.
The common water strider (Aquarius remiges) makes use of water tension to skate along the surface of local streams and ponds. Happily, it can feed on mosquito larvae and other insects. Remarkably, water striders can communicate using “ripple communication,” sending different messages by varying the strength, duration and frequency of the ripples produced by their legs.
Like humans, birds use water in many ways. As part of its preening ritual, this young sparrow at Geng Road Park in Palo Alto is taking a bath in a parking lot puddle after the rain. In addition to bird feeders, bird baths can be a good way to lure birds into our backyards, especially during the dry months.
This American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is taking a drink from a backyard swimming pool. A number of birds—from small perching birds to large raptors and herons —treat pools as if they were giant bird baths. While crows are often wary of humans, they are quite intelligent and very adaptable in taking advantage of human environments.
This Snowy egret (Egretta thula) is using the ponds at Renzel Wetlands as a source of food. He is standing at the base of the spillway waiting for the fish to come to him. With their golden slippers and matching eye mask, delicate head plume, strikingly white plumage and majestic flight motion, snowies are very charismatic birds. They are relatively common, and sometimes indifferent to photographers, making them wonderful photographic subjects.