Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Scenes around the Jail

Some attractive yellow flowers just outside the county jail. I wonder if they look as nice from the other side of the fence. Brought back memories of Chekhov's "The Bet."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More Late Summer Yellow

In an earlier post, I remarked that late in the summer it seems that the preponderance of roadside wildflowers are yellow. I photographed lots of Madia, Star Thistle, Gumplant, etc., and began to speculate on why this would be so. I left open the possibility that my observations were biased. Yesterday, while rushing toward meeting with one of my students, I saw lots of the aforementioned species blooming along the east and north shores of Lake Almanor, then saw a wonderful patch of Blazing Star in full bloom. These large (4" or so) five-pointed stars are impressive. I didn't have time to stop, but vowed to photograph some of these on my way back. It was 1:30 in the afternoon. Well, I didn't get back to this spot until 4:30, and by then they had mostly closed up for the evening. I took a few shots anyway, and here they are. You'll have to imagine what they looked like when fully open. Or, I may dig one out of last summer's archive and post it here later. More yellow - more questions....

Monday, August 23, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Roadside Attractions

It's apparent at this time of year that the ratio of brown to green along our roadsides is increasing rapidly. What is not so obvious, if you don't get out of your car, is the tremendous increase in the variety and numbers of bugs that are visiting the few remaining species of blooming flowers. Some are storing up food energy for their last mating rituals before winter. I published an article many years ago about this phenomenon titled "One Last Fling." It was mostly about dragonflies, damselflies, crane flies, and wood wasps. Yesterdays roadside attractions included a whole different set of bugs. Click on any photo for a larger view as well as a caption in the upper left corner. We should see another few weeks of this intense insect activity. I'm still checking the showy milkweeds constantly and still haven't seen any Red Milkweed Beetles. :( The first five photos of Gumplant were taken at a turn-out on Highway 89 about a mile south of the Taylorsville T. The rest were taken near the Greenville Y. Alphabet soup anyone?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What's in a name? Lots!

Spent four days in the office after a summer of daily nature hikes. Very hard to sit in a chair that long. So, on my way to work, I had to make several roadsides stops to check out the weeds. I can never get enough of the milkweeds, so here's another shot of Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, sporting a cluster of seed pods. They'll burst open soon. Still no Red Milkweed Beetles, Tetraopes sp. My favorite bug last summer, doesn't seem to be around this year.
Then I saw a nice patch of Star Thistle. Aggravating as it can be, it has a pretty flower and attracts lots of interesting insect guests.
The hit of the day, however, happened IN the office! I went to answer a phone call on the front counter. On the floor below me was a potted palm of some sort, and resting on one of its fronds was the prettiest Pacific Chorus Frog I've seen in a long while. This frog used to be named Hyla regilla, and was considered a true tree frog. Inspired by the many species of Hyla in Florida where I attended graduate school, then this one when I moved to California, I named my first daughter Hyla. I don't know if it was DNA testing or just closer inspection of its anatomy and habits, but biologists have decided it's a chorus frog (still in the Hylid family) and should be named Pseudacris regilla. I would never have named a child Pseudacris. :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Better Late Than Never?

Here are the follow-up photos promised for this morning, but it is already evening. Oh, well. From the top, here are my notes:
The fruit of the manzanita (little apple in Spanish) is a companion to the bear poop posted earlier. A little detective work is always fun. What are the prominent berry-like particles in the bear poop? without getting too messy, just pick one or two berries out with a stick or knife blade. Then, cut them in half and observe - is there a single pit or stone, or several seeds, or...? Then, in the vicinity of the poop, what berry-like ovaries are abundant? In this case, it was manzanita and wild cherries - either Choke Cherry or Bitter Cherry. Case closed. Our bear was eating lots of manzanita. While my photo of bear poop was taken near the Oakland Camp, I walked down Coburn Street later Sunday afternoon and there was fresh bear poop in the middle of the street - still steaming, as one of my campers would say. Apparently not afraid to come into town. Sunday a week ago, many people in this neighborhood put their trash cans out in the evening for the Monday morning pickup. Monday morning there were tipped over can and ripped open bags of trash up and down the street. Duh!!!
The next two photos I took along the railroad track above Oakland Camp. Intriguing because the Purple Milkweed in and around camp as well as along Highways 70 and 89 were all pretty healthy looking and were now producing their seed pods. This particular specimen was probably stressed in some manner and was covered with such a dense colony of aphids that there literally a big puddle of aphid secretions on the ground beneath the plant. Beautiful photos? Not in conventional terms. But, in terms of my earlier hypothesis - interesting = beautiful - they were quite satisfying. When I saw the dense cluster of aphids, I looked in vain for the ants that often herd them.
Then, the Pennyroyal. Down at camp, along the roads in both directions, the Pennyroyal had gone to seed a few weeks ago, but here was a lone specimen by the railroad tracks still in full bloom and full fragrance. Beautiful, but why was it still blooming? The immediate surroundings seemed hotter and drier than the habitats below where the others had gone to seed. Again, I come away from a walk with more questions than answers.
Last, the Snowy Thistle, one bloom and one cluster gone to seed. A pretty plant. Many specimens in the vicinity had huge clusters of ants on them. I choose to post this photo because I thought my readers might be tired of bugs and ugly stuff.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can't stay away!

Still busy, but there are so many interesting things to share, I can't stay away. This momento of a hike I took last Sunday will remind me to add a few photos in the morning. Lots of fresh bear poop right in town as well as at Oakland Camp. More details about these sightings tomorrow a.m.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Not enough time in a day...

I'm taking a break from blogging. Probably at least a couple of weeks. Too much to do. :( But, I'll leave this with one of my favorite images, my kids at Snake Lake.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Late Bloomers

Took a drive yesterday to an area 5,000' above sea level, around 1,500' higher than Quincy, and found a few things blooming that went to seed in Quincy a month ago. Also found a couple (the Penstemons) that don't live as low as Quincy. After months of hot, dry weather, what allows these to bloom? Are they genetically programmed to do so? How much variance is there due to particular seasonal conditions? It's so dry, do they have deeper roots than the earlier bloomers? In my wanderings, I always come up with more questions than answers, but end up enjoying the beauty whether or not I find answers. I took these photos on a drive from Quincy to Westwood, mostly on the approach to Westwood. Not too noticeable from 55 mph. Get out and walk through the open forests, and there they are. The Hooker's Evening Primrose is abundant near the Greenville Y. The rest are up at 5,000'. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Potential - Realized

Click on image for closer look.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Satisfying, Impressive Bug

In a recent post, I lamented searching milkweeds all summer for the Red Milkweed Beetle and finding only one. I resorted to posting a photo of a beauty taken last summer. Today, I was rewarded by a co-worker's finding an impressive specimen of Prionus californicus in the men's room at camp. I caught it and showed the kids who had just returned with me from a morning "bug walk." It was very impressive. It made a rubbing or hissing sound whenever touched. I often come across the larvae of this great beetle while splitting firewood. I know the larva live in tree roots and can cause great damage. But I also know they have been around much onger than humans and do far less damage to trees than we do. Even though one of this beetle's favorite foods is the namesake of this blog, black oak, I like the beetle, too. As the great geneticist Haldane said, somewhat facetiously, "It appears that God had an inordinate fondness for beetles."

My Friend's Long Driveway

My friend has the longest driveway I know of around Quincy. At this time of year, it's mostly lined with dead grass. That can be beautiful, especially when seen up close in early morning light, or when romanticized as "amber waves of grain." However, while driving along, one notices little spots of yellow and blue, and occasional white and pink. I got out and walked and discovered the beautiful array of wildflowers shown here as well as some great patches of lichens growing on the barn. For close-up views and captions, click on any photo.