Tuesday, May 31, 2011


In the botanical world, I love looking at things that are "about to happen." Here are a few buds that I enjoyed seeing today. The middle one, Salsify, hasn't bloomed yet. However, when it does open, it'll look similar to a dandelion, and it will close every night and reopen the next day for several weeks. When it's ready to make seeds, it'll close up while they develop inside the sepal wrapper, then open to make a huge puffball, like a giant dandelion. Besides these buds, I saw the new leaves of several species - Leopard Lily, Narrow-leaf Milkweed, several different Cinquefoils, and Showy Milkweed. Potential excitement for the wildflower photographer.

It didn't snow, but....

It didn't snow last night as I forecast, but today, sunny in the morning, I am gathering further evidence that it's going to. Will post the rest of my story this evening.

It's now "this evening" and I already found a slight error. The top photo is of a lily that I used to call Brodiaea. It is a member of a large group that were once called brodiaeas, but have been broken up into different families. When I first spotted this one from my car, I though it was one I call Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum. On closer inspection, it turns out to be a closely related species, Wild Hyacinth, Dichelostemma multiflorum. The most obvious feature of this one is the bud-vase-like constriction in the flower tube between the spread petals and the base. This one was about 20 feet above the highway on a cliff, so I had to do some scrambling to get to it and hope I wouldn't slide down onto a passing log truck. Who ever thought hunting wildflowers was such a dangerous sport?
The second photo is a side view of a Bachelors Button. I can't get over the fact this beauty is in the same genus as Star Thistle, Centaurea. It's C. cyanus while Star Thistle is C. solstitialis. Next down the list is newly-blossoming Deer Brush, Ceanothus integerrimus. From this beautiful inflorescence, it's easy to see why it's often called a California Lilac.
Last is the Purple or Heart-leaf Milkweed, Asclepias cordifolia. I've been watching this one for several weeks, and it finally bloomed. Spectacular flower. In the general area between the Greenville Y and the Taylorsville T, all the milkweeds are showing up. This one is the first species to bloom. Soon, we'll see the Showy Milkweed, A. speciosa, and in another month or so, the Narrow-leaf Milkweed, A. fascicularis. There's a large patch of newly-emergent leaves in one spot I frequent, but it needs to get another foot or two tall before we'll see buds and then flowers. A good day for photography, despite the encroaching wind and cold air. I do expect it to snow tonight.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Preparing for Snow

A nice sunny morning. I parked by the high school tennis courts and enjoyed photographing a type of buttercup, Ranunculus repens, I believe, that is growing abundantly in the wetland across the street. I also found this blue one (bottom photo) that reminded me of Fiddleneck. Will search for an ID later. When I got home, my daughter found this beautiful little Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla (top three photos). I enjoyed playing with it for a while and, after getting some photos, I returned it to some moist bushes. Sun, flowers, frogs chirping - what more evidence do I need? It's going to snow tonight.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

More from the "Old Highway"

Considering the amount and frequency of rain and snow this spring, it was a pleasure to find so many new species blooming during my drive home from Greenville. The top photo is of False Solomon's Seal. There is a large patch of these just up the hill, driving South, from the turnoff to the Keddie Cascades Trail. There's also a lot of Red Larkspur (Delphinium) both before and ofter this point on the Old Highway. The Red Larkspur is a good indicator of where we are in the progression called spring. Sensitive to local conditions of light, moisture, and who knows what else, the first blooms in one place might be a month or more ahead of first blooms in another nearby place. The ones in a certain favorite spot of mine along Highway 89, north of Indian Falls, are already wilted and going to seed, while those on Old Highway are just now blooming. The third photo from the top is of a thistle that soon will sport a bright red inflorescence. While the spines are menacing, I think the overall plant is quite beautiful. When the bloom erupts, it'll definitely catch your eye. Unfortunately, it's on a cliff by the highway in a place that is not safe to stop.
The white flower in the next photo is Woodland Star, a member of the Saxifrage family. This is growing on the small cliff just up hill from the Solomon's Seals. A good place to stop, there are many species blooming here, as the next photo shows, with Wild Irises the most noticeable.
After the Irises, we have the delicate Pacific Starflower which is blooming under the pines in many places between 3,000' and 4,000' elevation. Last, I found a cluster of Gooseberries in this same spot. The Old Highway is a great place for wildflower viewing because there is very little traffic - there was none on my pass through on Friday - and there are many safe turnouts. Be sure to get out and walk, especially a few dozen yards away from the road. You'll definitely find items of interest.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Wonderful Drive Home

I took the Old Highway loop today on my way home from Greenville to Quincy. It was sort of gray and drizzly, but I managed to see some wonderful new blooms. They gray sky actually provided better than average lighting for photography as the whites and reds were not so harsh as they often are in bright sunlight. Will post a dozen or so of my best finds early tomorrow morning when I'm rested.
The top photo here of Choke Cherry was actually taken on the east shore of Lake Almanor during a short run up to the lake before the aforementioned "drive home." The Gooseberries and the Spotted Coral Root (a saprophytic orchid) were on Old Highway, just 100 yards or so up the hill from the turnoff to Keddie Cascades Trail. This is a hot spot for flowers now, and tomorrow morning's post will include another 9 or 10 taken there. As you drive up the hill, going south, there will be a wonderful rock garden like formation on your left. Not only are there lots of different flowers blooming from the cracks of the small cliff, but it's worth scrambling up over it to the flatter pine forest above. Lots of different species blooming there.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Commencement, or Things Are Not Always What They Seem

It's the season of graduations and commencements. Same thing, really, but in the former case people tend to think of them as the end of a process, and in the latter case, a beginning. For some reason this spent dandelion (top photo) made me ponder the difference. Normally, after the seeds are gone, you might think the dandelion is done. Has fulfilled its mission, so to speak. However, instead of having the typical drooping sepals, this one looks fresh and still has one seed left to yield. Also, the dandelion has a hardy root. Not only will it be back, but its progeny are all over the neighborhood, or possibly the world, bringing delight or hostility to millions. I'm one of the delighted ones. I identify with the weeds as survivors. One of my first jobs was picking dandelions out of our lawn for a penny apiece. My brother and I conspired to always leave a few so we wouldn't make our job obsolete. If we had known how resilient dandelions are, we wouldn't have hesitated to pick them all.
So, I'll be attending a commencement soon. I'll present my seniors, knowing that for some graduation is the end of a kind of marathon, and for others, a pit stop on a race to the future. Some will feel lucky to have made it, and will be looking for jobs or military service right away. Others will feel proud and well prepared for greater adventures and much more learning. The latter group will definitely see their commencement as a kind of beginning.
So, on the theme of "things are not always what they seem," the dandelion may seem dead, but it's really at a beginning.
The other two photos, in terms of this theme, are a Lilac, which is actually an Olive, and a Clover, which is actually a Pea. When I see a Lilac and enjoy its fragrance, the last thing I think of is olives, yet the Lilac is in the olive family, Oleaceae. The Clover, of course, is in the pea family, Fabaceae.
I'll close with an updated announcement of "Adventures in Nature Journaling." My class, through Feather River College, is now scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 11th at the FRC Student Center. Watch for details in next Wednesday's Feather River Bulletin, or e.mail me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Favorite Yard Critter

My Trademark

On my way to work this morning, I stopped at a turnout I often visit and photographed dew drops on clover, and was about to move on when I spotted one blossom with a visitor. The visitor is probably a Longhorn Beetle, of the family Cerambycidae, but I'm not sure. If I hadn't been in such a rush, I would have taken out my hand lens and/or put the beetle in a jar until I could identify it. Click on the photo for a closer look. Let me know if you recognize the type. In any case, the clover was attractive, and I'll post some other photos from this stop later on.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Three more from my Sunday Walk

For Ladybugs, my frame of reference is bright red ones with or without black spots. The most common ones where I live seem to be the Convergent Lady-beetle and the Nine-spotted lady-beetle. So, when I came across this brownish, not-very noticeable, Ladybug-like beetle (top photo), I wasn't too excited. But, when this one landed on a back lit tip of a Big Leaf Maple branch, it was a dramatic setting that begged for a photo. According to my favorite field guide, it's probably a Rathvon's Forest Lady-beetle. Now I'm curious. Before I retire for the night, I'm going to find out who this Rathvon person is. This beetle eats aphids.
Another nondescript find was this black beetle (middle photo) under a huge piece of Douglas-fir bark. I was in a very dark, shaded bit of forest, but this beetle stood out in two ways. It was quite shiny and it moved pretty fast. Those clues and the longitudinal stripes on the wing covers put it in the Carabidae family. We'll just call it a Carabid Beetle.
A plant we take for granted around here - it is so common - is the Oregon Grape, Berberis aquifolium (bottom photo). In the Barberry family, Berberidaceae, it may be a one-plant pharmacy. One of my field guides, which emphasizes medicinal properties of plants, would have me believe this plant is pure magic. Dozens of medicinal properties are attributed to it. Along the path I was hiking on Sunday, there were a few specimens that seemed particularly healthy. No damaged leaves, and clusters of bright yellow flowers. With the low afternoon lighting, they glowed like beacons. Very nice.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Another Triplet and....

The Blue-eyed Mary (top photo) should have been included with my previous post where everything, Like Gaul, was divided into three parts. Other points of interest on my afternoon hike were the lush dandelions, many reaching 2 feet in height and populated by large groups of beetles. Another beetle, a type of Ladybug (third photo), was seen on a Big Leaf Maple. I gave it a chance to "read" my palm, but without result. I titled this one "Failed Chiromancy." Last, I saw an attractive bundle of new leaves on a young California Black Oak. The sap was running, and I wondered at what stage of emergence were the Oak Leafhoppers, one of my favorite subjects last summer. They winter in the roots, then follow the sap up in the spring, eventually setting up camp on the tips of branches and sucking a little bit of sap for their nutritional needs, seldom causing any damage to the trees. These photos were taken in Boyle Ravine, a short distance up the trail from the end of Coburn in Quincy.

Seeing Triplets

Early in Spring when lots of species of lilies are blooming, one gets used to spotting petals and sepals in threes, characteristic of the Liliaceae and related families. On this particular day, I haven't seen any lilies, but my tulips are dropping their petals and near the end of their season, so this ovary (top photo) stood out as I walked by. Had to run and get the camera. Then, a short while later, my son and I were walking down Main Street and he spotted this Maple seed cluster (middle photo) in which the seeds usually come in twos. How he spotted this threesome I'll never know. It was probably the only one on the tree. I took a break after putting these two photos aside, and while sitting on my front stoop, I noticed a bunch of tiny blue flowers (bottom photo). When I checked them out with my hand lens, I saw another three! Granted, these have four petals, but three are large and one is small, so the three stood out. Maybe only because my mind was already set for seeing threes. My hypothesis may or may not bear out, but I do know I was primed, as usual, for looking very closely at small things. A few more photos from my afternoon walk will bear this out. I'll post them in a little while.

No Comment

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Who turned out the lights?

A beautiful Ceanothus Silk Moth, Hyalophora euryalus, landed on the steps in front of the office at Oakland Feather River Camp this morning. By the time this moth is so tame it will rest on one's hand, or hat, it is pretty much at the end of its short adult life. It has dined and mated. Named for the Ceanothus, a genus that includes Buck Brush and Deer Brush in the Quincy area, it will feed and breed on several other common plant species in the area including Manzanita. In the redwood country of the California coast, it likes the Ceanothus species locally named Whitethorn, California Lilac, and Blue Ceanothus, among others, and is itself usually called the Redwood Moth.
This gentleman was considering a self-portrait, but that might have required him to be a pretzel, so I obliged with my camera. The moth stayed on his hat for quite a while and the pair were followed around by groups of admiring and curious kids.

Three Cheers for the Visible Spectrum!

I listened to a news item yesterday about a tribe in the Amazon that had no words for time - nothing for hour, day, week, year, etc., so they don't know how old they are, at least on our terms. When they recognize they've passed into and out of particular stages of life, they take on a new name and pass the old name down to someone younger. I was parked next to a quiet place in the forest while listening to this. I set my mind to wondering about how life would be different in the absence of each of my senses. I realized right away that, for me, loss of the visual would hurt the most, but had to acknowledge that something could be gained. If I didn't give up in discouragement, I would likely nurture the other senses. As I am now typing before sunrise, I am acutely aware of the songbird chorus outside my window, and I think the auditory sense ranks second. But when I was parked in the woods, I was enjoying the fragrance of Buckbrush. It was that time in the afternoon when their fragrance seems to erupt. At that time, I would have put the olfactory sense in second place.
All of these musings had the effect of making me appreciate the sensual pleasures available to anyone who wanders in the natural environment. When my wife came home with some new art materials for me to try, I was primed for celebrating color. I created the above test page just before bed time. I am excited to have discovered a brand of watercolor pencils that cost about 1/4 the ones I had been using. They performed well, with and without the water brush treatment. The pigments were not quite as intense, but I needed to tone down my flowers anyway. My tanager looks a little too fat, and it's a copy of another artist's watercolor whose painting was far superior to mine. But, I must say, I just loved looking at all the colors. Making color charts might be my new rainy day therapy.
My first class in Adventures in Nature Journaling starts Saturday, June 4. E.mail me or call FRC for details.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Great Place for Umbrella Plant

Last summer I stopped by this spot when the Umbrella Plants were huge. It must have been at least mid-August. The leaves were over 2 feet in diameter and the stems were around 3 feet tall. For a stretch of 100 feet or so, I couldn't see the creek. I then climbed down an embankment and puched some leaves aside and got down on my hands and knees. There were some incredible views between stems up and down the creek. I imagined being in the Amazon. It was one of the rare times I didn't have my camera with me.
So, today I stopped on the way home to see if the Umbrella Plants had emerged from the water. Wow! Some were in full bloom, some had already gone to seed, and many had new leaves on their way, mostly a foot or so above the water.
So, from top to bottom, here are today's sights by the creek at the foot of the road off Highway 70 that goes to Butterfly Valley. Top photo is the prettiest fully-bloomed plant I could find. Next is a view upstream from that spot, a view that will be completely obliterated by August if last year's pattern is repeated. Then there's a cluster of flowers that have gone to seed, barely. The seeds were still green and juicy, but they'll be brown in another week or two. The next photo is a cluster of young leaves, still less than a foot tall and not yet unfolded. Last is a close-up of a fuzzy stem, an attractive part of the plant that is often ignored because of the showier flower clusters and gigantic leaves. Thus ends my tour of Umbrella Plants for the day.

Roadside Highlights

It might seem strange to head this post with a somewhat pixelated, long-distance shot of a bird, but it's a reminder of a great bird-watching experience and a recommendation to check out this spot. I have an inferior telephoto lens, and this bird was probably 1,000' away. At any rate, a spot roughly a quarter mile off highway 89 on Stampfli Lane in Indian Valley, is currently surrounded by wonderful wetlands. There's lots of willow, rushes, sedges, and wildflowers at the edges of ponds that will last a while longer before drying up. It will remain a great bird watching site even after the ponds go dry because there are extensive fields that harbor little mammals that attract all manner of hawks and owls. Today, the treat was Yellow-billed Magpies. They were flying around, pairing off for little dances, and so on. The only place they stood still long enough for photos was an area quite a distance from my vantage point. Anyway, if you click on the photo, twice, you'll get progressively closer. better yet, drive out there when you get a chance and have some time to wait for the action.
The other two photos are of crickets that were under a piece of bark I turned over around 1/4 mile north of the Greenville Y on Highway 89. I believe they were involved in some intimate activity before I disturbed them. The brownish one disappeared quickly, but the black one was easily tamed to my hand for a photo session. I need to research the color difference. I've never seen brown and black ones together like this. Might be a California thing.:)