After a slow first five months, I'm back to blogging in earnest. In the forthcoming few months I plan to keep on tracking the blooming of wildflowers, the activities of bugs and reptiles and any other critters I'm quick enough or lucky enough to photograph, and to comment on ecological relationships. Since there is an increasing sense of ecological crisis among many people and more vigorous denial of such on the part of others, I will inevitably comment on the social and political dimensions of survival as I see them.
I am still an adjunct instructor in the English Department at Feather River College, but time permitting, I am available for hire as a nature guide in the region in and around Plumas County. A brochure describing my usual kinds of natural history adventures is in development. Email me c/o firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address and a statement of interests, and I'll send you a rough draft.
I have been teaching since 1965 and have recently joined the English Department as an Associate Faculty member at Feather River College. Recently taught Nature Literature in America and am currently teaching Interpersonal Communication and Basic Reading and Writing.
I brought the Nikon to work today, not just the iPhone. Was it a premonition? Normally, the Oak Treehoppers have not arrived (or, I should say "emerged") at this particular Black Oak until mid-September. This is mid-August! I've often mentioned on this blog how the Mountain Lady's Slippers have been blooming earlier and earlier every year since I first encountered them some six years ago. They are now blooming a full month earlier than they did that first year. This is the first time I've been so startled by the early arrival of the treehoppers. We'll see what sort of winter lies ahead. then, in the Spring we'll play "Monday morning quarterback" and assess whether or not the arrival of the treehopper was some sort of premonition regarding weather. Now I'm excited. The treehoppers go through a life cycle on the tips of the branches and the really cute red, black and white babies will probably arrive within a month.
I just got back from feeding my neighbor's cat while she's out of town. In her front yard there's a single Tanzy bush. I haven't seen much Tanzy in the usual places this summer, so when I do see a bush I usually check it out for interesting visitors. On this particular outing, I did not have my Nikon, so I had to make do with my limited skills with the iPhone camera. The interesting visitor was an Ambush Bug. They tend to stay on the same plant, or even the same flower, for long periods, sometimes several weeks. So, I'll be checking on this one again. I'll bring the Nikon on my afternoon cat-care trip and hope for something more dramatic and better focused. Maybe a pair of Ambush Bugs mating, or an Ambush Bug actually ambushing some other kind of bug, or being ambushed by a spider. Stay tuned. If I'm not so lucky today, I may feel moved to go back to older posts from earlier years during Ambush Bug season that have photos of these kinds of occurrences.
Three days ago I posted a photo of a blooming Yellow Wood Sorrel, Oxalis stricta, that was blooming in my otherwise completely dead and brown front lawn. I mentioned that eventually it would go to seed and the elongated seed capsules are fascinating as they burst open when they dry out and shoot their seeds every which way. Well, these photos were taken yesterday and the change has already happened. Click on each photo for a closer view and try to spot the seed capsules. They stand vertically and resemble tiny seed pods of Okra.
They were not dry yet, so I pinched one open to reveal the seeds. This plant is sometimes called
Sour Grass due to the acidic taste of the Oxalic Acid contained in the leaves. Sour Grass is not a particularly useful name since several other plant species that also grow in and near my lawn go by that name. They do taste pretty much the same however.
I call this an interesting Friday because it was basically a normal work day pleasantly interrupted by three different events that put me in direct contact with Mother Nature. The previous two posts describe my discovery of a thriving crop of Alder Tongue Fungus and a small flock of juvenile wild turkeys on the FRC campus. This last post is from a short hike right out of my front yard into Boyle Ravine. The Tanzy crop along this path is much diminished over previous years when it was a favorite place to view visiting bugs of all kinds. On this particular hike with my wife and her dogs, I spotted a lone Tanzy bush a short distance off the trail. Since I brought along my camera "just in case," I wandered over for a closer look and discovered a tiny crab spider. The yellow disks of the Tanzy flowers are approximately 1/4" across, so that was the size of this little spider. I'm sure I would not have spotted it if I hand't had some sort of subconscious expectation of such.
On another stretch of this same trail I saw a False Solomon's Seal that had an impressive cluster of berries that somehow the birds have overlooked. I hope they continue to ignore this plant so I can check on it periodically and hopefully photograph it when these berries turn bright red.
These chicks grow fast. I think they are part of the same bunch of chicks I saw around a month ago balancing on the wooden railing just outside the office. On this cool morning, they were grazing on a lawn wet by sprinklers. Maybe the sprinklers were driving worms and other bugs to the surface. The birds were definitey engrossed in feeding and did not panic as I approached with my camera phone.
Click on any photo for a closer look. I had no telephoto, so these are not National Geographic quality, just a record of what I saw.
No, I'm not about to describe my early morning dental hygiene challenges. Instead, these two photos show what I spotted just as I parked my car in the FRC larking lot. The west side of the lot is bordered by a creek that sports a healthy crop of White Alder trees of all sizes. The ones right in front of me as I parked were infected by Taphrina occidentalis, variously called Alder Cone Fungus, Alder Cone Tongue Fungus, and Alder Tongue Gall Fungus. ANd some websites more accurately refer to the Alder "cones" as bracts, but lay people call them cones. How can they resist? They look like miniature pine cones, especially in the Fall when they dry out and turn brown. I used to use them as pine cones on my model railroad set. I find them rather photogenic, especially when they show a lot of red.
These particular alders looked no worse for the wear, but there is a lone alder on the right hand side of the main driveway to the upper campus that I think will soon succumb to this fungus, or at least to a combination of factors. The main trunk is already hollowed out from rot. This was just the first photo op of an interesting day. A few minutes later, I was photographing wild turkeys just outside my office.
I was waiting for a ride in the hot sun when I thought I was developing an eye problem. Something seemed to be moving along the surface of the steel rails that enclose the edge of the lawn at the college. The air was still quite smoky from the Minerva Fire and my eyes were watery. I'm glad I took a closer look. The motion was caused by a long line of ants. I love watching ants. I am currently teaching a correspondence class to inmates in California prisons, and through their nature journaling assignment I find that more and more inmates have become interested in watching ants, and even keeping some as pets rather than stomping on them. Some catch them as a food supply for lizards they catch and keep as pets. I find this kind of activity very therapeutic at home, so I assume it works that way in prisons, too.
This last photos of a group of four reminds me of a passage in Thoreau's Walden that is often published separately as an essay titled "The Battle of the Ants." It contains metaphors about how humans treat each other. I guess I should add that I took these photos with my iPhone. I know that Apple would want me to mention that.