Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Amazing Day for Naturalists

These photos are but a hint of what an eventful day it was. My narrative will have to wait till morning when I am fresh. The bottom photo of an American Avocet was taken by one Jeanne Collins whom I have never met. It was submitted, with permission to use, by a fellow writer friend.
[It's now early morning, July 1.]
The top photo shows a Goldenrod Crab Spider (white phase) preying upon a butterfly, I believe a Hydaspe Fritillary. This drama was taking place atop a branch of Spreading Dogbane, a milkweed-like plant, about a foot off the ground. Beneath the spider on the ground was a small pile of butterflies it had killed earlier (sample in the second photo from top). The remarkable thing was that we saw the same drama, on the same plant, on two previous days. I'm going to check again today. It's not often you can say to a hiking group, "We're going to see a remarkable spider on a very interesting plant," and have it be there when you arrive. Better than Disneyland!
The third photo is of a Sharp-tailed Snake, Contia tenuis. This one was found by our head maintenance guy in the empty tots' pool where we found a big toad last week. A great, tame little snake that is an adult when about a foot in length. I included my pen for scale. These little guys have a sharp tail which they use to stabilize prey like small insects and slugs while they swallow them. Harmless to people and seldom seen because they are both nocturnal and secretive. Thanks, Justin!
The next two photos are of beautiful beetles on a species of Clarkia called Farewell-to-spring. Ironically, the first ones we saw blooming showed up on the first day of summer. The first beetle seems to be a species of Cerambycid, the Long-horned beetles. The second is the Common Checkered Clerid.
The next photo of shiny, metallic beetles, is a scene I've often seen but never researched until now. Along the Tollgate Creek Trail, and I'm sure many other places at this elevation, I've been seeing these beetles on top of Klamath Weed (cousin to St. John's Wort), mostly not yet blooming. Turns out the beetle is the Klamath Weed Beetle.
Then we have another Goldenrod Crab Spider, this time on a cluster of Yarrow blossoms. This one, too, has been found on this same plant several days in a row. Hopefully, I'll be able to show it to some kids again today.
The bottom photo of the American Avocet was taken somewhere in Sierra Valley by one Jeanne Collins - Thank You, Jeanne - and submitted for my use by a friend who writes for the Portola newspaper. Thank you, Trish.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Snack Time

More Trailside Wonders

There's lots of Springtime activity going on along the roadsides on my way to work as well as along the trails I use at work. New flowers blooming every day, new insect and spider visitors, and lots of birds singing. The top three photos here are of Madia at a spot near the intersection of Quincy junction Road and Chandler Road. I love the low light early in the morning as well as the variety of bugs. The Yerba Santa was along the Tollgate Creek Trail out of Oakland Camp, and the bottom photo is a garden variety Fuschia. I don't usually photograph domesticated flowers, but this one near the Chow Palace at camp was irresistible.

More Discoveries at Camp

I hiked with three wonderful families yesterday and discovered some new (to me) things. I told them that I'd been hiking daily for about a month now and have discovered a new plant or animal almost every day. Yesterday, I discovered three!
The beetles in the top photo are about half the size of the more common ladybugs and were clustered on willow branches by Tollgate Creek. I haven't identified them yet. The middle photo is of Clustered Broom-rape, a saprophyte. It took me a while to find this one in my field guide. I believe the bottom photo is a type of gentian. Will investigate further. An elegant flower growing on a bluff overlooking the railroad track at Oakland Camp - known by our visitors as a cell phone hot spot. More wonders of nature on this chip. Will try to post them this afternoon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Take an insect view...."

Henry D. Thoreau said, "Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain." I try to do that in most of my photographs and be influenced by it in my drawings and paintings. I get a similar feeling when I look over my home town of Quincy from the top of Mt. Hough. From up there, the town looks insignificant. An 18-wheeler is but a speck, much like the insect viewed from human height. Coming into town from the mountain top is similar to getting on the ground and taking an insect view of a particular plant and the bugs that may be living in or on it or visiting. And, what do I look like to them? Probably frightening.
So, today's photos - taken yesterday - involved different perspectives than the usual. Columbine is nearly always viewed and photographed from the side. I found the views from above and below (top two photos) intriguing. The view from below - top photo - in particular helped me imagine being an insect and tempted to enter one of the tubes.
The third and fourth photos from the top are of the Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, and show that it is just beginning to bloom around Quincy. A beautiful flower, and when fully bloomed they have a fragrance that reminds me of peach cobbler just out of the oven. It reminds some people of pineapple. I find the unopened buds just as beautiful as the blooms. I've seen one of their favorite visitors, the Red Milkweed Beetle, land on the buds and try to pry them open to get at the nectar. Haven't seen those beetles yet this year. Probably are still larvae living within the stems. I look forward to seeing them again - if the road crews don't mow them down beforehand.
Next are a Cranefly on Cow Parsnip and some sort of caterpillar on Showy Milkweed. Most of the campers I'm working with call the Craneflies "mosquito eaters" and insist that they eat mosquitoes. Not so. They feed off plant nectar and also love humidity and lapping dew. You'll find them in abundance along shady creek beds and around dripping water faucets on the north sides of houses. Basically, the same environments where you might like to grow peppermint.
The last photo is Pineapple Weed, Matricaria matricarioides. These are often called Chamomile which they resemble. It's not a native, but seems to be well established on roadsides and other disturbed ground. A nice fragrance resembling pineapple.

Not Posed

We saw lots of good bugs and slugs on our nature walk yesterday. I'll post more of the photos later today. The hike was on an old dirt road that paralleled Tollgate Creek by Oakland Camp. Lots of wildflowers and colorful insects there. The road department is mowing lots of my favorite roadside places, so I have to go deeper into the woods to find interesting critters. No problem. I love the exploring. It's just not as accessible to everyone.

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Favorite Spider

Saw lots of interesting wee beasties today. Will post more photos and stories tomorrow.
This is one of those photos in which I see more than I did when I took it. Click anywhere on the photo for a close-up. Then, click on the spider for a greater close-up of that portion. I love the shadow, the Fibonacci pattern in the daisy's disk, and the bud breaking through the ray flowers.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kids' Discoveries

When the kids find out I'm the camp naturalist, and figure out what that is, they continually bring me their findings. Yesterday a bright young entomologist-in-training brought me a beautiful Mexican Tiger Moth, Apantesis proxima, in a plastic gallon jar. He and his buddies were thrilled to confirm what they had in my field guide. The larvae of this moth develop on mallows, the most common local example of which is the Checker Mallow, Sidalcea glaucescens, blooming abundantly in and around camp at this time. Then, on our Saturday morning "bug walk," we stumbled across a Singing Cicada, Okanagana tristis, emerging from its skin on a rush.
We then walked around and checked on various lichens growing on rocks and tree bark and decided that this example (next to bottom photo) of Witch's Hair Lichen growing on the bark of a California Black Oak was the most photogenic. That's the whitish, hairy stuff just above the patch of moss.
The bottom photo is of Deer Brush, Ceanothus integerrimus, which plays host to many kinds of moths in this area, perhaps the most impressive of which is the huge Ceanothus Silk Moth which was featured on this blog recently. They seem to like living their last hours and days in the restrooms at camp.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

More From Oakland Camp

I think the most fun I've had lately as a wandering naturalist is looking for one thing and funding another. I was looking for certain species of flowers when I came across the spider (top two photos) hanging onto a blade of grass. This spider had a tendency to "play possum" when disturbed rather than run away or strike a menacing pose. The Ringneck Snake, Diadophis punctatus, was a total surprise. I used to see them often in the more humid coastal range, but I've only seen them rarely in the Sierra. This one was found dead on a dirt road by one of our visiting artists. It was still in good shape with beautiful colors, so she decided to incorporate it into a project of her paper-making class. The Salsify, Tragopogon sp., is common around Quincy - the entire Sierra at the elevation - and attracts a lot of interest from our Bay Area visitors where a purple relative is found. It's a member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae, of course, but is variously called Oyster Plant, Goat's Beard, Yellow Salsify, and who knows what else. When it goes to seed, it forms a huge puff ball of seeds like a slightly beige version of a dandelion puff ball, but at least twice as large.
The last two photos are of flowers that are both blooming at this time and are often confused with each other, The top one (5th photo from top) is Checker Bloom, a member of the mallow family, and the bottom one is Farewell-to-spring, a member of the evening primrose family. The latter is of the genus Clarkia, after William Clark of "Lewis and Clark" fame. More notes coming soon. Got to run off to an art show.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Some Wonders of Oakland Camp

Today I found more new (to me) species than ever before in a single day. Some great insects and flowers. The most exciting new name, so far, was the Western Bloodsucking Conenose. There are a couple I haven't identified yet.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Butterfly Valley Botanical Area

Here are some images from Butterfly Valley Botanical Area taken last Saturday. So much going on there biologically, someone needs to write a book that goes beyond identifying species. That book is great for its purpose, but the real thrills, to me, are watching things happen. Bugs pollinating, bugs eating bugs, or escaping being eaten, bird activity, illegal wood cutting, snakes, lichens growing very slowly, leopard lilies growing fast, tourists making funny comments, people getting lots trying to find the place, it's all very interesting.