Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Summer Fulfilled

Yesterday I posted photos of wonderful distractions from my work around the house and predicted there would be more. I was right! On my last trip to the hardware store, I decided to bring my camera and stop by my milkweed spot on Lee Road. I've been monitoring the milkweeds all summer, all five species, and recording all sorts of visiting bugs. I was beginning to wonder if my favorite, the Red Milkweed Beetle would reappear this season in significant numbers. Finally, as I was photographing the Showy Milkweeds near the back of the fairgrounds, quite a number of them appeared. I nearly caught a pair mating (2nd photo), but they separated as I approached. I can't get enough of this beetle. It's gorgeous, and lives its entire life cycle in and on the milkweed.
The last three photos are among my favorite bugs, all caught earlier in the day. The spider, which I haven't identified yet, barely escaped the TSP I was spraying on my back fence. After taking a few photos, I moved her to a safer place. The crab spider on yarrow has been a common sight this summer, but not too many of them have had those great red "racing" stripes. The last photo is of a scene that was quite common this summer. I found the Common Checkered Clerid Beetles on many different flowers, and the Showy Milkweed was one of my favorite landing strips for bugs in general.
Just before dusk, I photographed some Tansy. This set me to thinking about the Compositae. I'll probably have some things to say about that family tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Distractions I Like

Working on our house yesterday, and there was no time for a photography field trip. But, during our work, we kept uncovering interesting critters and I had to run for my camera. Applying wood preservative to our siding resulted in our disturbing the homes of quite a variety of bugs that were living under the deck. My favorite was this 5-inch millipede. I brought it to our dining room table for a better background then released it a safe distance from our work area.
On our front porch, I spotted a tiny spider at the edge of its web. It had its legs tightly wrapped around its belly, so I couldn't identify it. When I gently poked it, it dropped 8 feet to the deck and remained in a tight ball. After a few minutes of "playing possum" it quickly spread its legs and dashed off, but not until after i got a few photos. As far as I can tell, it's an Angulate Orbweaver, Araneus gemma.
Then, as my son was washing the siding, out came the largest cranefly we'd ever seen. Unfortunately, in our attempt to save it from the direct spray, we pulled off a leg or two. She seemed no worse for the wear and we saw her fly from spot to spot over the next several hours.
The last photo is of the trunk of our rubber plant where an interesting colony of fungi has established itself. The rubber plant has survived two falls off its pedestal and we're wondering if this cute little mushroom has a symbiotic relationship with the rubber plant. Another hard day of house and yard work ahead. Looking forward to more distractions.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Quincy's Mid-summer Flowers

Walking on paved paths is not usually my style. However, I needed to kill a little time while waiting for the banks to open. In a ten minute walk from Gansner Park to the college, I found a good array of wildflowers blooming along with lots of bees. Very nice variety of colors and fragrances. Almost all of these are non-native plants. Why don't people like weeds? Click on each photo for close-up and caption. The Gum Plant (top photo) provided a temporary resting place for the seeds of Salsify (second photo). The tuft of white fuzz (6th photo) is the likely source of the name Feather River - seeds of Black Cottonwood.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Some Currently Blooming Flowers of Interest

As our elevation in the Sierra (3,000 - 4,000 ft.) gets drier, the spring-like feel of many of my favorite photography spots disappears. The interesting flowers and bugs are mostly near the permanent streams and lake shores. The Spiraea (top photo) is a long-lasting bloom that I see near every stream and pond lately. They're especially abundant and beautiful along Spanish Creek. A member of the Rose family, they do well in landscaping applications - long-lasting bloom and little or no maintenance required. I often photograph milkweeds and write about them here. Currently, four of the five local species are blooming and attracting lots of beetles, bees and butterflies. The Narrowleaf Milkweed (2nd photo) is the lst to bloom and is abundant on the dirt road past Oakland Camp. The first to bloom, and now already going to seed, is the Heartleaf Milkweed (3rd photo). In the same area where I photographed these milkweeds, I found a small patch of Brodiaea coronaria, AKA Harvest Brodiaea. Very short, 6" or so, and almost hidden by taller grasses, I was lucky to see these (4th photo). A new flower to me, right at the edge of my driveway, is the California Harebell, Campanula prenanthoides. These were in a very shady area so hard to photograph. The Wild Hyacinth, Dichelostemma multiflorum, after a long run of blooming are now going to seed and their swelled ovaries are photogenic. Last, I can never ignore a Goldenrod Crab Spider, especially when it is taking a meal. I found this big lady on the large Elderberry bush near the entrance to Oakland Camp, on the left just before the corral. She's been there every day for a couple of weeks, so I could reliably tell my hikers we were going to see one. This might have been our last chance, though, as practially all the flowers on this bush have dropped their petals and are going to seed. That means this spider is nearing the end of its life as an adult. Her kind were so abundant this summer, though, that i'm sure many eggs were laid and next summer will again be a good one for spiders.


My fascination with the Family Cleridae has grown beyond the aesthetic. Not only have they been abundant where I've hiked so far this summer, they alight on a wide variety of flowers and are often found crawling around among many other fascinating bugs. Early in the morning it is cold enough that the Clerids are disinclined to fly so photography is easy. During hot afternoons they are quite skittish and will fly as my camera approaches. In researching their habits, i came across the term "hypermetamorphosis." Turns out it's a term in psychology as well as entomology. With respect to entomology it refers to insects that undergo several changes in larval type on their way to adulthood. Each larval stage might look quite different from the others and have quite different habits. Thus, in its development, the clerid might have intimate feeding arrangements with many other bugs and plants. Among others, their preferred is often bark beetles and other longhorn beetles that damage trees. They also get involved with bees and pollen in interesting ways. I'm going to save further details for a more developed essay on the subject, but meanwhile, I'd recommend some internet browsing on the subject. The Wikkipedia article is not a bad place to start. Then look into the term's relevance to psychology. The term was apparently coined in the realm of psychology in 1859, the year that Darwin's famous tome shook up the world.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In My Kitchen Sink!

This handsome bug greeted me in my kitchen sink, a nice beginning for the day of a naturalist. It's a snakefly.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Great Day for Milkweeds

These two are my favorite images from today's walk: a Checkered Clerid Beetle and a Butterfly on Showy Milkweed. I saw all five species of our local milkweeds today, four blooming and one gone to seed. Will post photos of the others tomorrow. Large patches of Narrow-leafed Milkweed and Showy Milkweed were attracting Monarch Butterflies as well as a variety of bees and beetles, but the Monarchs wouldn't sit still long enough for me to get pics. I'll try again early tomorrow morning when it's cooler.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Wildflower Stroll

I have several favorite viewing spots on my way to work, and one of them is just east of the bridge over Spanish Creek at Chandler Road. There's lots of willow, daisies, Spiraea, and wild grasses, both native and non-. But the highlight, for me, is the small patch of Hooker's Evening Primrose, the flower that is always in full bloom in the morning and closed up by early afternoon. The family, Onagraceae, also includes the various Clarkia that I've featured here, California Fuschia, and Fireweed (3rd photo from top). The fireweed and the following photos are some of the prominent flowers we've seen on our daily walks in and around camp this past week. The Self-heal (4th photo) is a member of the mint family and is common in the wet spots by the edge of the road into camp. It is sometimes known by its generic name, Prunella. Next is a close-up of one of our five common milkweeds. The Spreading Dogbane, Apocynum androsaemifolium, is in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae, but that has been combined with the former milkweed family, Asclepiadaceae. For convenience, I initially call them all milkweeds. The dogbane pictured here has begun to go to seed and the slim seedpods show a resemblance to the familiar fatter seed pods of the better known milkweeds. I hope to spot these when they dry out and split open, releasing their seeds to the wind. Next on this list, perhaps a bit out of context, is a nice shot of a large Gopher Snake that my daughter stepped on while wandering in the same general area as nature walk I was leading. It was apparently well-hidden in dry oak leaves until she stepped on it. She got a couple of good photos in the process of falling down after being startled. In the same area, she got a good close-up of the Snowy Thistle (last photo). After the snake photo, I've included two of flowers that have been blooming for weeks, Saint john's Wort and Crimson Columbine. The area around Quincy is drying up quickly, but near the permanent streams there's still lots of good wildflower watching to be had, and the great variety of attractive bugs that accompany them. Happy hiking!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Exotic Bugs of Plumas

Twice a week during camp a "bug walk with Joe" is announced, and what always crosses my mind is "What if we don't see any bugs?" But, they never disappoint. The Common Checkered Clerid seems to be landing on every species of flower now blooming. I wonder if each species of pollen tastes different to the beetle? The Crab Spider is sometimes reliably found resting on the very same flower for many days in a row. The one above has been on the huge Elderberry bush by the camp entrance - actually, just before the corral. It's really fun to be able to tell people we're going to see a certain bug in a certain place and have it be there as if consciously playing a part in my story. We hiked along the railroad track above camp for a few hundred yards and passed large patches of Spreading Dogbane in full bloom. They were being visited by the largest Bumblebees I've ever seen (third photo from top). There were also some large specimens of Snowy Thistle in full bloom. Last, I found another attractive bug of the Hemiptera order on some wilted daisies. I wondered if this was just a resting place or if they were actually extracting a bit of nutrition from the daisies. Saw no signs of dining, but they weren't particularly eager to fly away either. Later I'll post some of the attractive flowers we saw that had no bugs on them. There's still a Spring-like feel to the environment in some spots, even while the main areas around camp are drying out rapidly.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's Still Spring Around Bucks Lake

My second trip of the season to the Bucks Lake area was on July 17, a week after my first trip. I saw two new species blooming, the Marsh Marigold (Buttercup Family) and a small Larkspur (also Buttercup family). There's still a bit of snow on the trail, especially on the Bucks Creek Loop, and many species of flowers seem to be a month or more behind schedule compared to most years. I wonder if some species will skip this year. I saw no signs of Monkshood anywhere, for instance. The biggest difference in a week's time was in the abundance of Corn Lilies, Leopard Lilies, and Camas. I work every morning at the 3,400' elevation, so it's fun to climb a couple thousand feet in the afternoon and compare notes. Spring really does move up the mountain, so one of the joys of life in Plumas County is a very long spring if you know where to look.