Saturday, May 14, 2011

Roadside Attractions

On the way to Reno we experienced such a powerful fragrance of fresh spring air, we risked getting rear-ended and pulled over for some focused breathing. I heard lots of blackbirds chattering, and when I looked in their direction I saw this irresistible scene: a pair of Red-winged Blackbirds on neighboring fence posts with Beckwourth Peak in the background. The classic red barn was a nice finishing touch. A wonderful spot for pleine-air painting. From this spot I also spotted magpies, sparrows, and at least two kinds of hawks, but wasn't quick enough to get photos. I could also hear meadowlarks all around me, but only saw one on a distant fence post.
Meanwhile, my wife spotted what she thought were tiny fish in the roadside ditch back near our car. On my way back to that spot, I stumbled across a couple of Tidy Tips. The bloom in my photo is a good demonstration of what composites are all about. Click on the image for a closer view, and you'll see tiny individual flowers blooming in the "disk." A first glance at composites leads one to perceive the whole collection as a single flower. but it's actually a couple dozen to hundreds. The so-called petals are individual ray flowers, and the central disk is made up of many individual flowers of another type. This family of flowers bore the name Compositae for a long time, but it is now called Asteraceae. In common parlance, it is still known by most as the sunflower family.
There is so much of interest along this roadside, I thought I'd never get to the "fish," much less to Reno, our destination for the day.
The fish turned out to be tadpoles. If we stood still for a few minutes, more and more of them emerged from hiding in the submerged vegetation. They were mostly feeding at the bottom, but occasionally surfaced presumably for a gulp of air. Even though they are gill breathers at this stage, perhaps they are practicing for their eventual metamorphosis to lung breathing.
At our last stop in the "wilderness" near Hallelujah Junction, I spotted a cottontail rabbit, probably Nuttall's Cottontail. Before cracking the door, I took this photo through my dusty windshield. Predictably, he disappeared quickly as soon as I cracked the door. Meanwhile, my wife was looking in another direction and spotted a "large furry thing." It too, disappeared when I cracked the door, so I didn't get a look. I guessed it was either a large ground squirrel or a small marmot.
As we merged onto 395 toward Reno, I once again regretted that time constraints prevented us from staying the the Sierra Valley all day to explore. We vowed to bring the canoe one day soon to explore the wonderful network of rivulets that coalesce here to form the Middle Fork of the Feather River. It's a wonderful place to view waterfowl and aquatic vegetation and critters of all kinds. Even cows seem beautiful in this setting.

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