Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Pit Stop on Caribou Road

 The more I explore the drier things look.  That is, until I came to one of the few roadside cascades still looking good.  This was around 5 miles north of Highway 70 on the Caribou Road.  I wandered around for about 10 minutes, celebrating the repair of my camera, and got these photos in or adjacent to the stream that flows into the North Fork of the Feather River.  Around Quincy, most of the Crimson Columbine has already gone to seed, but at this creek it still looks fresh.
 I was surprised to find some Stream Orchid blooming.  The yellowish green flowers blend in so well with various grasses, sedges and rushes, that it would have been easy to miss them.  I usually come to this spot in April to photograph various orchids, so I was really paying attention to finding any that might still be photogenic.
 Even the Poison Oak looked good.  Plenty of white berries to seed next year's crop.
 This Damsel Fly was pretty touchy about my approach.  It took quite a few attempts to get one in focus.

There was lots of Five Finger Fern in the area, looking just as fresh as it did in the Spring.  This little side trip on an errand in the Canyon, was yet another distraction.  I still plan to post photos from three recent hikes to higher altitudes:  Grizzly Peak, Sierra Buttes, and Five Lakes in the vicinity of Alpine Meadows ski area.  I should probably put the camera in a closet until I catch up.

My Ant Lion expired.

Read my previous post for the story of how I acquired this adult Ant Lion.  Just a short while after putting her a jar, she passed away.  I placed her on a yellow PostIt (r) for her last photo.  An impressive-looking insect roughly resembling Dobsonflies and others that tend to gather around light bulbs at night.  I watched the work of the larvae of this insect for years, as they stay beneath the sand at the bottoms of "funnels" they create to trap ants.  When I've come across one of these funnels and there were no ants in sight, I've even caught a few ants nearby and fed them to the tunnel.  The Ant Lion larvae detect the presence of ants and start pulling sand away from the bottom of the funnel, causing mini landslides that bring the ants into the grasp of its impressive jaws.  Occasionally, I've been able to get a shovel or trowel beneath the larva to catch it and get a few photos.  When released on the sand, they very quickly construct new traps. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Before and After My Camera Broke

 An amazing fungus at 7,500 feet and an adult ant lion on my desk.  The story connecting these two events will come first thing in the morning.

Sunday a.m., August 2:  Some would say my lack of a smile in the above photo is my typical expression.  However, I think it's because I was instructing my wife on how to use my camera.  I have a DSLR which operates quite differently than her point-and-shoot.  Anyway, after a 4-mile hike to get to this spot, during which I got some nice wildflower and scenic photos, we were startled by the beauty of this brightly-colored fungus growing on a dead and downed Red Fir.  After she took this photo, I wanted to get a couple of extreme close-ups of the fungus, but the camera ceased to function.  It flashed an error message and suggested some steps to correct it, but they didn't work.  The remainder of the hike was depressing.  My wife felt guilty that she had somehow broken my camera, and I was distraught because I figured the best photo ops of the trip were yet to come.  We got only to the edge of the first of five lakes when we decided to quit early, and head to Reno for some grocery shopping.  I don't think either of us ever shook off the trauma of a dead camera.
That is, until we got home, and my techno-whiz son got onto Google and found a website with step-by-step instructions on how to fix that exact error.  Apparently it happens often enough to warrant a dedicated website.  It not only worked, but when Ryan returned my newly fixed camera he brought the above bug in a jar.  He had captured it in his bedroom, and neither of us knew what kind it was beyond the most general category.  Once again, Google to the rescue.  I figured out it was an adult Ant Lion, the first one I've ever seen, Myrmeleon exitalis.  The above photo is the first one I took with my newly-fixed camera.  I placed the bug on a sheet of white paper, and as it struggled to move around, it was apparent that it was near the end of its life.  I placed it back in the jar with the intention of releasing it outside.

Friday, July 31, 2015

I Stopped for Death - Twice

I was headed up to the FRC office to pick up my paycheck when I was distracted by a small patch of Gumplant at the edge of Golden Eagle Avenue.  I got out of my car with my camera and started noticing other things that wouldn't be noticed while driving.  Maybe I was daydreaming about lots of things, but all I can remember is that I was startled to find a dead fawn in the tall grass (above) just past the mowed zone along the edge of the road.  I just took one photo and hurried to the parking lot and started walking up the paved path.  Right in the middle of the paved path was a dead Grey Fox (below).  This fox had been lying in tall grass about 10' off the pavement for over a week, but something or someone had moved it onto the path.  Two carcasses in a matter of a few minutes set my mind racing.  For several days, I have been grading papers in my correspondence class, Nature Literature in America.  Among other literary pieces that came to mind was Emily Dickinson's poem, "Because I Could not Stop for Death" which inspired the title of this post.  I was also reminded of Mary Austin's little book of essays, The Land of Little Rain, and the essay "The Scavangers" and an essay by the late Ed Abbey titled "Death Valley."
 To top it off, just before choosing the photos for this post, I read Jon Carroll's column in today's S. F. Chronicle, titled "Nasty, brutish and short - and so very confusing,"  I hadn't really thought about Hobbes' Leviathan since my freshman year in college, but Carroll's column brought back those memories and yet another view of death.  It seems to me that all the writers mentioned here except for Hobbes had come to see death as a natural part of life and were reconciled to its inevitability.  My heart was pounding as I hurried the rest of the way up the hill to get my paycheck while wrestling with the images of these two dead animals.  What is not apparent in these photos are nature's cleanup crews - the ants, earwigs, and various beetles that have already begun the work of feeding their families and returning these two dead animals to the soil.

Then....
on my way down the hill, I stopped by the little patch of daisies I've been watching for a couple of weeks.  When I saw my two "adopted" Ambush Bugs till embracing, a feeling of peace came over me.  I urge you to click on this last photo and look at the amazing architecture of these two bugs in love and think about them as you get out the house and hike in a beautiful place this weekend.  That's what I'm going to do. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Clairvoyant Naturalist?

On my way up to the office this morning, I made my usual stop at this little patch of daisies.  What first caught my eye was what had been the freshest daisy of the bunch, the one on the far left.  It was injured!
I came in for a closer look, and was surprised to see the one Ambush Bug that had been occupying it was still there!
Hanging on, beneath the flower, it seemed oblivious to being upside-down.  I wondered if any food species were likely to land on an upside-down flower.  Finally, after getting this photo, I turned my attention to the flower on the right.  Yesterday, under the title "Reincarnation?", I had ended the text by pondering what might happen if a tasty-looking prey species landed right in front of the amorous couple.
Well, here we are.  Click on this photo and you can probably make out the fly on top.  It appears that the top Ambush Bug, the male, is able to have sex and eat at the same time.  They answered my question!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Onward to Grizzly Peak

 Two more wildflower photos from Brady's Camp, then onward to Grizzly Peak to search for the Devil's Punchbowl.  The above pair of Monk's Hood coming off the same stem intrigued me.  I couldn't get a good angle for the photo without using my hand.  THe flowers were hanging very low in dense grass.
 The Checker Mallow was not plentiful, but the ones we saw looked fresh.  After about a half hour of walking around and taking pictures, we head several miles westward to the road up toward Grizzly Peak.  I hadn't been there since last summer, so some of the intersections were confusing.  Some of my favorite landmarks are probably now parts of houses.
Since my last visit, they've closed the road at this point.  When I came here in my 2WD van, I went another 500 feet up the grade and got stuck.  Maybe a number of people have had the same experience, thus the barrier.  Anyway, we parked in the shrubs to the left and began our hike.  Tomorrow I'll post wildflower close-ups and scenic vistas including views of the inside of Devil's Punchbowl.

Reincarnation?

 I think I posted a premature obituary here last Thursday, the 23rd, titled "R. I. P., or Carry On?"  Over the following weekend, not only did I see no Ambush Bugs, but also the Daisies seemed nearly dead.  This morning, on my way up the hill to my office, I thought I spotted anew bug (above).  He/she is back!  I immediately thought of a comment attributed to Mark Twain: "Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated."  AS the below photo shows, there's just one fairly healthy-looking Daisy remaining in this little patch, and this bug was on it.  It may or may not be one of the bugs I first noticed a week ago.
 So, I went up to the office and worked for a couple of hours, then checked in on this spot on my way down to the car.
 Yikes!  The moment(s) I'd been waiting for.  While the bug in the top photo hadn't moved, now these two occupied one of the other daisies and were obviously in love!
 This one is looking at the amorous pair on the neighboring flower.  This one appears to be a female.
I pulled the two flowers a bit closer together so I could get a picture of all three.  Ever since I came across a little paperback book titled Six-legged Sex, I've been finding and photographing lots of insects mating.  Now I'm wondering what would happen if a tasty-looking bug of another species landed within range of the mating pair.  Maybe I'll get to witness such an encounter one of these days.