Saturday, August 19, 2017

Revisiting the Gumplant

At this time of year it seems that a high percentage of flowering plants along the road sides have yellow blossoms and are in the Family Asteraceae.  This includes Goldenrod, Sunflowers, Arnica, and Gumplant.  I posted photos of Gumplant in 2012, but I haven't really paid attention to it this summer until today.  I've been driving past a patch of it on Highway 70 near Cromberg for several weeks.  Today I actually planned a stop.  The above photo included a beautiful Caterpillar.  As I look over the dozen or so photos I took during my brief stop, I realize that the magic of technology, both camera and laptop, allows me to do a kind of "magic schoolbus" journey into the details I couldn't see while taking the photos.  The scientific name is Grindelia nana.  Tomorrow morning I'll select my favorites and post them.
Nearby, I made another stop to explore a patch of Sunflowers, and that produced some surprises.  I wondered about the origin of the name, although it's pretty obvious that there's a resemblance of each flower (composed of two kinds of flowers, disc and ray) resembles the Sun.  I also thought about the many times in the Sacramento Valley west of Colusa I have seen fields of cultivated Sunflowers facing the early morning Sun as I drove by, then still facing the Sun in the afternoon on my return trips.  So, I wondered if the name could have originated from the fact they "follow the Sun."  With that in mind, I was startled to see that in this patch near Cromberg, all the blossoms were facing away from the setting Sun.  Hmmm.  Tomorrow I'll post my favorites of the Sunflowers, too.

Goal: 1 Photo

 I pulled into the parking lot by the South Park trailhead and had 20 minutes to wait for an appointment.  I started thinking about Ansel Adams and the early days of film photography.  Adams would sometimes spend days in preparation for a single photograph.  I wondered what it would be like to wander around with my camera in the vicinity of my truck and wait for the opportune situation to take just one photo and base the day's blog post around that one photo.  With the advent of digital photography I have this nagging feeling that people, including myself, take too darn many pictures without giving much forethought to any one photo.  We might come home with hundreds, download on a computer, then delete most of them.  Choose a few good ones (lucky ones?) and feel we've created high art.  I wanted to slow down and get just one photo.  Couldn't do it!!!
After wandering for around 15 minutes in a very dry, brown, and combustable field, a shrub-like flowering plant (above) stood out as the pink blossoms were like little lights in an otherwise drab background.  Then I dropped my lens cap, and as I bent down to pick it up, I noticed that my new pants were covered with sticky seeds.  That called for a photo.
 I was running out of time and wondered whether the pink flowers would be worthy of my goal.  So, I paused briefly by the big sign with a map of the trail system.  Below it was a brown metal box containing free trail maps.  Printed sideways, as you can see below, the word MAPS jumped out at me and stirred a feeling I often got when I lived in Ukiah.  I never stopped getting a quick thrill when I saw the word "Haiku" on the "entering Ukiah" signs in my rear-view mirror.
 With about a minute to go, I passed a large Thistle that stood out above the surrounding dried-up vegetation.  Even though most of its flowers had gone to seed, the plant was obviously still alive and I found it photo-worthy.  So, there you have it - 20 minutes of wandering and thinking and producing a few photos and ideas that I'll undoubtedly revisit from time to time and see where they lead me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


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.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Catching up to today

 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.

Some things happen fast

 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.

Interesting Friday, Part 3 of 3

 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.