Monday, April 20, 2015

Sunday morning on Mt. Hough, Part I

 On Sunday, I drove part way up Mt. Hough for the first time this season.  For the first couple of miles, the obvious dryness and lack of any wildflowers was very discouraging.  I already knew we were in a drought, of course, but as long as our water faucets at home continue to produce, the drought doesn't seem as "real" as it should.  I was relieved to see my first obvious flower display, even though the flowers were covered with road dust.  It was a Sierra Plum.  Same genus, Prunus, as the Choke Cherry and Bitter Cherry that also occur in this area.  There's also Service Berry, in a different genus, that can look similar to the plums and cherries when viewed from a moving car.
 Followers of this blog know that I'm rather fond of Dandelions.  In fact, I try to defend Dandelions, which I admit are a non-native species, against toxic kinds of warfare, all too prevalent in lawn-obsessed neighborhoods.  At the very least, they should be removed mechanically and eaten.  They're more nutritious by far than any green you can buy at Safeway.  But here, in the next three photos, we have the Mountain Dandelion, a species native to the Sierra.
 When I spotted these, it was still early in the morning and rather chilly, so the blossoms were not quite open.  The stems tend to be rather long, so I couldn't get a good photo showing the flower up close and the basal leaves simultaneously.
 So here are the basal leaves.  Click on the photo for a closer view.
 Finally, I found another specimen surrounded by grass, but if you look closely you can see the Dandelion's leaves, too.
 Just in case, I took a photo of a leaf I picked.  Note, it looks like a very skinny version of the leaves of your lawn Dandelions.  The leaves of this species tend to be rather skinny even when we're not having a drought.
 As I got further up the mountain, I started seeing more Buck Brush and Deer Brush, which the fire fighters from Mendocino N. F. call Ceanothus, which happens to be the scientific name of both.  On the coast it's common to use Ceanothus as the "common" name for several species, including the Blue Ceanothus and Whitethorn.  In the Sierra, besides Buck Brush and Deer Brush, we have Mahala Mat, Indian Tobacco, and many other species of Ceanothus.
 Close-up of blooming Ceanothus, above, and the first patch of bright color, a dense patch of Lupine, below.

 These Lupine must have deep roots as they are looking quite healthy while growing out of apparently bone-dry soil and cracks in rocks.
 The above patch of Mahala Mat, formerly known as Squaw Carpet, I spotted above eye level on a flat place above the road.  It looked like a vague spread of very light blue, possibly even some spilled paint.  I parked and went exploring.
 The mat was beneath a large Ponderosa Pine, os the flowers were enmeshed in fallen pine needles.  Here are tow photos, one with the pine needles cleared and one in situ.
 Across the road from the Mahala Mat, I spotted a bright red something-or-other and thought it was a bottle or a shotgun shell until further exploration revealed it to be my first Indian Paintbrush of the season.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Flowers on the Monument Peak Trail

 On this afternoon's hike up to Monument Peak, the wildflowers were few and far between, and I didn't have my camera along.  I'm not very good at composing photos on a small pocket-sized device and on a screen as opposed to a viewfinder.  Under the circumstances, I'm satisfied with these photos taken on my wife's device as a record of what we saw.  A couple of photos of Showy Phlox, ...
 ...some Hartweg's Iris...

 ...and Sulfur-flowered Pea.  The Snow Plants along the trail that I posted here a few days ago had gotten a few inches taller.  Also, an interesting added feature - someone has placed little ceramic figurines in various holes in tree trunks along the trail.  One troll-like smiling figure was in a swing hanging from an oak branch.  Sort of cute at first, then I felt I'd rather see them in a gift shop - and I never go to gift shops.

Hello from Monument Peak

Despite the trail markings and maps provided, we needed to dust off our path finding skills in order to get to the top of Monument Peak.  I was imagining a new bumper sticker that would say "Where the hell is Monument Peak?"  Bib and I spent the afternoon hiking the 3.4 miles from the parking lot at the South Park Trailhead to eventually arrive at a rounded top of a mountain that had some nice views toward Spanish Peak and Mount Pleasant to the West and various familiar points along Spanish Creek from the Oakland Camp area to Keddie to the North and East.  I thought we might find a USGS benchmark at the top, but instead we found a nice little home-made monument of pieces of shale assembled by earlier visitors.  I didn't bring my camera for a change, and paid more attention than usual to things above eye level.  Fortunately, Bib had her pocket camera and got this view looking North.  That little thing takes pretty good photos (I'm referring to the camera.) and Bib also got some blooming wildflowers that I'll post later.  It was quite dry - if it were August, I'd say it felt about right.  For April, it was a bit scary.  Please do a rain dance!!!!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mycelium Magic?

 More often than not, when you see a group of mushrooms (fungi caps) they are connected by a thin underground membrane called a mycelium.  It's especially easy to visualize such a thing when you see the mushroom caps arranged in a circle and known as a Fairy Ring.  But I've heard of mycelia covering an area of thousands of square miles.  Imagine all the mushrooms of a given species in a particular state or region being essentially a single organism.  Creepy or wonderful, depending on how much science fiction you've read.
 I found these clusters on opposite sides of a building on campus, separated by at least 50 feet.  I couldn't help but wonder if they are connected, and maybe lived here before the buildings were erected.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Are they collectables, or collectibles?

 It might be hard to imagine a story line that unites the items in these six photos.  In fact, I'm still working on the story.  Let's just say for now that I've been accused of being a "pack rat."  In one sense, I suppose I should confess.  After all, I do hang on to things that to others might seem useless.  However, as a biologist who respects wood rats, I need to point out that the stereotype "pack rat" demeans this imaginative creature, known to biologists as various species of Neotoma.  Rats aside, this introduction to my story includes a couple of photos of a tiny abalone shell, a couple photos of one of my favorite photos (that I didn't take), an ebony letter opener, and one of my favorite books, now out of print.  To be continued....
If you're an abalone diver, or a tourist who has viewed the hundreds of mature abalone shells adorning fences along California's North Coast, like me, you probably have an image in your mind of a "normal" size for abalone, say 5 - 8 inches across. So, the particular appeal of a tiny shell, such as the 1 3/4" specimen in my photos, is in the stimulus provided by contrast.
In a similar vein, a few days ago I came across a student at my college who was staring, jaws agape, at a large, black bird grazing on some errant food scraps.  he muttered "My God, that's some mutant crow!"  It turns out he's from a Central Valley, where the normal size for such birds (actually Crows) was around half the size of this particular bird which was a Raven.  The student was having a similar experience of contrasts from the "normal."  I recall another such experience.  I grew up in Massachusetts where I spent many a day walking through grassy fields and fixing the impression of grasshoppers as being entertaining insects mostly around an inch or less in length.  Years later, when I first encountered dead Lubber Grasshoppers in college dissection labs, then alive on the roads in western Texas, I was "blown away."  They seemed to range from 3 - 5 inches and were actually kind of scary when they landed on you. So, I "collected" this shell and have it for a number of years.  It stirs lots of memories.

One of my favorite photos that I did not take is the one above by one Kurt Klevin. More later.  Time for a break.