Thursday, July 23, 2020

Amazing Tiny Things

 Click on each photo to see close-up. I wasn't even in a photography mood yesterday when I was meandering around Oakland Feather River Camp, but who could resist these little ornaments hanging from a leaf of the Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fscicularis? It turn out they are the eggs of the Green Lacewing. Their relationship to the plant and the aphids that also frequent this plant, is quite fascinating, as is the process of depositing the eggs in the first place. I leave it to the curious reader to find out more. These milkweeds are perenniels, and I try to follow them through their annual cycle every summer.  I manage to find something new nearly every time.  For instance...
this amazingly cute little spider.  She's all of a quarter inch long, and kept going to the backside of the stem every time I approached with the camera.  I must have more stamina because she eventually quit trying to dodge my approach and I got this shot from about 9 inches away. Haven't found this particular one in my bug manuals or online, but I suspect it's one of the jumping spiders, Family Salticidae.I

The Morning After, Part III

The Trail Plant, Adenocaulon bicolor, is a hard one to photograph. The intriguing feature to those without a hand lens is the bi-colored leaves, green on top and a kind of blue grey underneath. When walking through a dense cover of them, we tend to cause a certain fraction of them to turn upside down, leaving a trail, so to speak. However, the trail only lasts a few moments, so don't count on
for finding your way back to wherever your hike started.

The feature that is difficult to photograph, at least with the equipment I have, is the tiny flowers.  Each flower, only about 1/8" in diameter, is actually a small cluster of even smaller flowers that are  like miniature daisies, that is, composites.
The Yellow Water Buttercup is an intriguing species of Ranunculus.  The flowers are similar to those of many other buttercup species - yellow and cup-like.  The leaves, however, can vary greatly according to the specific habitat in which they are found. The one above was photographed in what is supposed to be a lawn, but was close enough to a seasonal ditch that there was undoubtedly water close to the surface, even in the current dry condition. Nearby there are many blooming in a ditch where the water is still slowly flowing. The leaves on those are much more sub-divided, more or less resembling ferns.I recommend reading the Wikipedia article on this fascinating species.
Bindweed, Convolvulus arvense, is in the Morning Glory family and, in fact, is usually called Orchard Morning Glory by those who like it. Although treated as an invasive weed, it beautifies many of our roadsides - until the mowers or poison trucks come along.
In many places I visit, the Crimson Columbine, Aquilegia formosa, is having a very good summer, although the one above was a solitary specimen in a large area of dry forest in the FRC camppus.
When I first saw several of these energetic white butterflies hopping from flower to flower by the college parking lot, I thought they were Cabbage Whites, or Pieris rapae, because I see them every day in my front yard only a mile or so from the college. However, the enlarged view on my computer screen convinced me they are Pine Whites, or Neophasia menapia. I don't own a comprehensive butterfly field guide, so I welcome corrections from any Lepidopterists who might be reading this.
My favorite photo experience of the day was watching many Western Tiger Swallowtails flying from blossom to blossom of the California Thistle, Cirsium occidentale.
I finish this three=part series on my short hike following the day I made the  more difficult hike up Spanish Peak. On the nature trail by the FRC campus there is one of the best patches of Sierra Goosberries, Ribes roezlii, that I've ever seen.  Definitely enough for a couple of pies or jars of jam within a 10-yard radius.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Morning After,Part II

 I started this narrative with yesterday's post. Here are the photos I took while walking around the FRC campus looking for beauty in simple things. The last photo in this post is rather startling.  Right after I took that photo, things started getting more exciting and led to the butterfly photo  that led yesterday's post.
The above photo is a close-up of some healthy-looking leaves of California black oak, the source of the name of this blog. Botantists call it Quercus kelloggii.  The tree, that is.
 Right next to the oak was a White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia.
 It's hard to look upward and downward at the same time. On the day before this walk, I had been hiking through the Red Fir forest near the top of Spanish Peak.  Hard to hike there without constantly looking upward in awe. But I kept tripping on snags and rocks on the trail, so sometimes I had to look downward again to stay safe.  On this walk through the FRC campus, I forced myself to frequently look upward then downward in rapid succession as I walked, thus staying safe and discovering things in both directions. Photo number three here is a member of the mint family, Hedge Nettle, or Stachys albens.
 The California Mugwort, Artemesia douglasiana, is an aromatic member of the Aster family that is a close relative of Sagebrush. Lots of uses, medicinal and otherwise, and important plant for the native peoples of this area.
 The Oregon Grape, Berberis aquifolium, is a hardy and beautiful native shrub, ideal for landscaping when conserving water is important - namely, always!
 The Yellow Water Buttercup, Ranunculus flabellaris, grows in and near slow-moving watwer in diteches, and, at FRC, even pops up in the lawn when there's water near the surface.  Like Dandelions, it tends to "learn" to bloom below the blades in areas that are frequently mowed.
 The attractive leaves of this small tree remind me a bit of the leaves of Dogwood, but there the resemblance ends. The attractive berries, red, green, and black in various stages of development, attract birds, so it's a great tree to sit and watch.  Cascara Sagrada.
 One of my favorite wet spots on campus is right below a drain pipe that drains what we now call The Green, a large field used for events and sport practice, or, and deer and turkey grazing. In this wet spot, beneath a grove of White Alder, is a large patch of Lemmon's Wild Ginger, Asarum lemmonii. In the Spring, it is fun to puch a few leaves aside to find the beatiful red blowers that bloom below.
 On this hot summer day, all I could find beneath the canopy were a few whitish, dried-up flower remains.
As I left the wet are, I stumbled across a dead Robin, beautiful in its own way, becoming part of the soil again. Robins were abundant around this are during the Spring, and are still often seen in the cooler mornings, but at mid-day, they're all hiding out in shady places - I assume.

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Morning After, Part I

I thought I had planned carefully for yesterday's hike with my son Greg to Spanish Peak from Bucks Summit. As I left the house in a hurry, I noticed my camera battery was still on the charger and the light had stopped blinking, so it was ready. Close call. During the 15-mile drive to the trailhead, I was getting excited about what would be my longest hike to date since my hospitalization last summer. Also, Greg had told me about the abundance of wildflowers in the meadows, and where there are wildflowers there are always interesting bugs.
As we readied our day packs, I discovered that I had left my water bottles at home. :(  We managed to share Greg's water until we got to a good spring where we could filter more water and continue on. While waiting for the water prep, I found that my camera shutter was not responding. Eventually, I discovered that the problem was that I'd left my SD card at home in my laptop computer. Oh, well, no photos.  I could concentrate on hiking and hoping I could get to the summit without ill effect.
So, this morning, I was very excited to have my camera back with fully charged battery and remembering my SD card. I headed out to Feather River College to wander around and look for beautiful things to photograph.  The above Swallowtail Butterfly feeding on a thistle is just a sampler. Today I had great luck with butterflies, among other things. More photos to follow.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Going too fast

 I was going too fast on that last post. Trying to catch up.  Too many photos, not enough time.  In any case, I like these two better than the one I posted yesterday.  They both feature the Checked Clerid beetle, the above one enjoying a spot on the Showy Milkweed, and the one below exploring a cluster of blossoms of Brewer's Angelica. In both cases, I was looking for other species of bugs, but the Family Cleridae has many species that are as beautiful as any other beetles.

Monday, July 6, 2020

July 4th Favorite

This is my favorite photo from the recent July 4th weekend, not because it's a great photo technically, but because it symbolizes my experiences over the weekend, namely "looking for one thing, but finding another." I visited several different stands of Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, mainly looking out for Monarch butterflies, in any stage of development I could find, Red Milkweed Beetles, and the Small Milkweed Bug. I found none of those, but instead found many other interesting things, including the Checkered Clerid Beetle above. As I photographed flowers, bugs, and miscellaneous other natural features over the weekend, I found three separate story lines forming in my head. Over the next day or two, I hope to unscramble my field notes and photos and try to relate these three stories. For me, it was a great weekend during which I was continually thankful that I could maintain "physical distancing" from other humans, although I am also looking forward to the day when that may no longer be necessary.

Rest in Peace Rex

Every year toward the end of Spring I start scouring the roadsides leading to Oakland Feather River Camp looking for wildflowers and their companion bugs. The goal of gathering photos for this blog makes me look closer than I might ordinarily do when hiking fast. A favorite stopping point has been a very large Ponderosa Pine at the edge of the road next to a spot where a spring leaves a  puddle in the road well into summer in normal years.  This has not been a normal year. The puddle is almost completely dried up. I still poke around there, looking for interesting wildlife and ready for surprises. The above photo is of a special chunk of bark on this tree that was first pointed out to me by naturalist Rex Burress.  On the day I first met Rex, he had driven up from Oroville to see the Mountain Lady Slippers that I had photographed in the woods nearby. Rex had been the naturalist at Oakland Camp for over 20 years, following an equally long and distinguished tenure of his mentor and predecessor Paul Covel. When I came along, I more or less stepped into these verybog shoes and was camp naturalist for several years beginning in 2006.
     On the day I met Rex, he stopped by this big pine and started talking to this piece of bark.  He said in a very friendly, touching voice, "Hello, Walter."  Turns out Walter was the fist name of another naturalist who had inspired Rex and Rex acted as though Walter's ghost resided in this tree.  FOr the past several seasons I have photographed Walter then emailed Rex to say Walter was still there and looking fine.  This year I got no answer, and after some frustrating net surfing, discovered that Rex had passed away last Fall. The big pine is not doing so well these days.  The woodpeckers have created some new holes so Walter does not stand out as so unique any more, and there are more and more dead branches and brown needles above as the tree is showing the effects of old age and the drought. I miss Rex's friendship and inspirational story telling, and I'll miss this tree - if I outlast it.