Wednesday, August 31, 2011

End of August Wanderings

Here are four images captured today while wandering around Quincy plus one of my favorites from July. The top photo of a Sandhill Crane was taken by my son Ryan from the passenger window while driving down Quincy Junction Road. We hadn't seen cranes for a couple of weeks and thought maybe they were in Mexico by now. Wrong.... The next three were taken within 100 yards of Morning Thunder in weeds at the edge of the sidewalk. Last, the colorful Ladybird Beetle on a daisy was taken at Oakland Camp in July. No biology lessons today, just photos to enjoy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Close-up; Help!

I haven't been able to find this one in my "field guides for dummies" and I'm not sure I'm up to wading through my Jepson. Should be an easy one for a botanist who wanders the roadside ditches. Would love some help with ID. I was wandering through a roadside shoulder where nearly everything was already brown - Teasel, Hypericum, most thistles, grasses, and filarees. The main remaining color was provided by Tansy. Then, in one wet spot there were a few of these pink beauties with fresh, green leaves. As I said in the previous post, it seemed like a little residual spring. I won't give up on identifying it, but I'm sure some botanist can beat me to it. Click on the photo for an even closer view.

Lots of Life under the Brown

After venting about that Arkansas snake killer, I thought it would be good for me to go out and search for something positive. I wandered along the mowed shoulders of Quincy Junction Road in search of late summer bugs, or possibly some tiny, persistent flowers among the piles of dead grass and weeds. I did the same when I got home while pulling up dried thistles and preparing for mowing what's still green. In the process, I was delighted to find a wolf spider with an egg sac under an old shingle, and a beautiful pink flower I found in a ditch that was still a bit moist. With the low morning light and some residual dew, the flower had the look of springtime. I haven't identified it yet. For good measure, I've taken a few more photos of the Ambush Bug residing on a daisy in my front lawn. For the first time, I saw her move without being provoked. She actually walked all the way across the top of the daisy, a full inch, which to her was probably a day's journey. My Ambush Bug photos have been coming out blurry, so I'm hoping I did better this time. I'm thinking it is so well camouflaged that my sensor is not singling it out and instead is focusing on the background flower. When I try manual focus, maybe I'm not seeing the bug any better than the sensor. I hope I can figure it out before she disappears for winter.

Monday, August 29, 2011

We Love Einie!

My son got his pet Corn Snake about 5 years ago when it was only about 14" long. A captive-bred beauty, Ryan named him/her Einstein. He's now over 4 feet long. Very tame, we took to calling him Einie, and we love to watch the efficiency with which he catches mice and swallows them. We let him crawl around on the front lawn from time to time and he never tries to speed away. He never tries to bite when picked up. A possible exception to that would be if he was very hungry and mistook a finger for a mouse. I'm featuring Einie today because a part of his native territory (that is, of his species) includes Arkansas where a disturbing event occurred recently with respect to snakes. This event displayed the widespread ignorance about snakes in our society. As reported in Yahoo News, it seems a high school football player in Gravette, Arkansas, reached into his football helmet and felt something "slimy." He shook out the slimy thing and it turned out to be a small snake. By the way, snakes are not slimy! The big, brave football coach killed the snake then pronounced it non-venomous. He is then quoted as saying "All snakes are deadly in my book." Out of curiosity, I went to the school's website. It seems that the school is a state power in football and aspires to national recognition. I'd suggest the opposing teams adopt snake logos. This team would probably fall apart.

Something Fishy at the Fair

I like to think our little fish is happier here than he was at the county fair, but maybe it's the same. No social life, but regular food and changes of water. So far the cat hasn't discovered him.
I wonder what the mortality rate is for fishes given away as prizes at the carnival.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Nina de la Terra

Jerusalem Cricket. Where did that name come from?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Little Afternoon Fun

After celebrating the return of the Ambush Bug this morning, I decided to water the lawn. I figured these bugs should be able to survive rain storms. When I returned from some errands, the daisy had been flattened by the "rain" and the bug was nowhere to be seen. Within a half hour of turning off the sprinkler, the daisy had popped back upright and the Ambush Bus was back. Between visits to the front yard daisy, I did some thinking about how I take my rural environment and access to wilderness for granted. How can I expect city dwellers to relate to things they're seldom going to see? Then, during a brief stop at our local natural foods co-op, I sat at an outside table to talk with a friend. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a Praying Mantis egg case stuck to the frame of the picture window in front of the store. This was a nice reminder that even in urban environments, two of my favorite groups - the bugs and the weeds - are likely to make their appearance. I think the next time I go to a city, most likely Reno, I'll wander around with my camera and/or sketchbook and try to record opportunities for nature study. Come to think of it, yesterday while we were having lunch outside Whole Foods we saw quite a few blackbirds and sparrows dining on human scraps. They had become tame enough that I could have gotten close-ups with a normal lens. Next time....

"Knowing How Way Leads On To Way...."

This has been a wonderful morning. I left the house with the urge to do some photography in early morning light. The spot I had in mind was the corner of Chandler Road and Quincy Junction Road where the Common Madia have bounced back - again - from the latest roadside mowing. First, I needed to get some air in one of my tires. Since the service station was in the "wrong" direction, I let myself wander and decided to approach my destination by an indirect route. As I headed out Highway 70, westward, it occurred to me to stop by the Mt. Hough Ranger Station to see if my photos were still in the display case. I was pleased to see that they were, but disappointed it was still a showing of "spring" wildflowers, most of which have long since wilted and gone to seed. Then, I headed for the west entrance of Chandler Road. At this point, one of my favorite lines from Robert Frost was buzzing around in my head: "Yet knowing how way leads on to way...." Also, I was having occasional flashbacks to the T-shirt my wife bought me a few years ago that read "Not All Who Wander Are Lost." I know that if I saw my friend Mike in his front yard I'd stop and chat. That would likely have altered my course in yet another direction. He wasn't there, but one of my favorite milkweed patches was. A few days ago, I visited my main milkweed spot by the fair grounds and the milkweeds had turned brown and many had been mowed. I figured the season for watching milkweed beetles and bugs was over. But this little patch on Chandler Road was still looking pretty green, so I stopped. The very first plant I inspected sported the Red Milkweed Beetle featured in three of the above photos. As I drove onward toward my Madia place, I remembered the spot near the one-way bridge where I'd followed the Hooker's Evening Primrose through most of the summer. When I crossed the bridge, I saw a few blooms, so I stopped to look around. I noticed that the shoulders had been mowed, which I always find depressing, but the person mowing must have shared at least a bit of my aesthetic sense as he/she had mowed around a large, red-blooming thistle. I took a few photos of that thistle and of the remaining primrose which included some nice shots of its seed capsules. I also photographed some Gum Plants. I'll save these for later. The most exciting find was the hover flies zooming around the Chicory - next to last photo above. I started to feel like I had better get home as I am usually out only an hour or so on these unplanned wanderings. I figured I would try to get a few nice shots of the Madia then head straight home. Unlike Frost's poem in which the line cited above is followed by "I doubted if I should ever come back," I know I would come back often. This was comforting as my mind was buzzing with ideas for writing, sketching, and more photography. As I knelt in the dirt to get some nice photos of backlit Madia, I heard the "whistle" of a freight train passing by the Mt. Hough Road. The sounds of trains always lead my mind on other journeys, some nostalgic and others wishful. When I got back into the car, I quickly jotted down notes about the previous half hour's experiences, then noticed I had brought my old day pack that was stuffed with journals and writing/drawing paraphernalia as well as the new day pack I had bought in Reno yesterday. The plan was to transfer and reorganize my stuff. The new pack included a built-in sleeve for my laptop, an exciting new development. If they're mass producing these already, we obviously must be hiking around with our laptops in order to be "with it." As I type these musings while looking over my notes, I realize I've only touched upon about a fourth of the topics covered in my notes. Fodder for better-developed essays for sure. I must add one more tidbit, however. When I arrived home I decided to check on that daisy in my front lawn that had been the resting place for an Ambush Bug for nearly a week. The bug had disappeared a couple of days ago, and the daisy was now wilted. However, a fresh daisy was blooming in the bright sun about 25 feet away. I wandered over with my camera and found an Ambush Bug (bottom photo)! I wonder if it was the same one. After taking a few photos, I played with this one for a while. I even put her on another flower and watched as this usually immobile bug wandered all around the daisy as if it recognized it was on a different one. It crawled all over the top surface as well as underneath the ray flowers before finally settling into the position shown in the above photos. I look forward to checking daily to see if it takes up residence for another week or so, or as long as this flower lasts. As I said at the beginning, this has been a wonderful morning.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Spying on bugs again

Set out to photograph some Teasel, but it was upstaged by a Ladybug, AKA Ladybird Beetle. I followed her up and down and around a branch for a while, then went home satisfied. Seems like lots of Dragonflies and Damselflies are swarming, mating, etc., getting ready to disappear for winter. Thirty year ago around this time of year I published an article titled "One Last Fling" about this phenomenon. The article featured Damselflies, Crane Flies, and Wood Wasps. The idea came to me while wandering in a swampy are adjacent to Golden Eagle Drive. Not much has changed. Same insects are swarming there today. Comforting.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bugs, True Bugs and Beetles

I thought I'd give my milkweed spot one more try and see if I could find a Red Milkweed Beetle. No beetles, but I did find some of their recently-laid eggs on the undersides of quite a few leaves. I did, however, find a Small Milkweed Bug, Lygaeus kalmii, on a rapidly browning Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa. In a nearby neighborhood, I found some Gumplant, Grindelia nana, with and insect guest, either a bee or a fly mimicking a bee.
I thought I'd take this opportunity to ramble on about some interesting terminology and naming conventions. The word "bug" is used in many ways, and the two insects pictured here fit the category as it's generally used, namely any sort of multiple-legged invertebrate. When applied loosely, the word bug can refer to all insects, spiders, centipedes, and scorpions. Even snails and slugs when used extremely loosely. Insects, of course, and invertebrates characterized by having 6 legs, although it can get more complicated than that, especially when you're viewing larval stages. So, for the moment, let's agree that both critters pictured above are insects, and may also be called bugs. The insects, in a biological category named Class Insecta, are divided into numerous groups (20 - 30+) called Orders. One order, Order Coleoptera, includes the insects we call beetles. Another, Order Orthoptera, includes grasshoppers and crickets. Finially, there is an order of insects called Hemiptera whose common name is "true bugs." It so happens that the Small Milkweed Bug pictured above belongs to that order, so it is a true bug. The third photo includes an insect that is either a bee or a fly that mimics bees. I'll need to search further in my field guides to identify it. An entomologist would spot the type instantly. Anyway, if it is a fly of some kind, it's in the Order Diptera, but, if it's a bee, it's in the Order Hymenoptera.
A couple other tidbits are in order here. The orders of insects end in the suffix -ptera which means wings. So, the broad divisions of the insects into orders is based mostly on characteristics of the wings. Interestingly, the same suffix is used in the name of the mammalian order that includes the bats, Order Chiroptera. The last tidbit: when I name a general category such as milkweed or beetle, I begin the word with a lower case letter, but when I name a specific type or species, such as the Red Milkweed Beetle, or the Small Milkweed Bug, I capitalize. That's the convention in most, but not all field guides. The scientific name of genus and species, together known as a binomial, are italicized with the generic name capitalized and the specific epithet beginning with lower case.
It's been quite a while since I posted such an extensive biology lesson here - you could have just looked at the pictures, there will not be a quiz - so I'm glad I got it out of my system! Happy "bug" hunting.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I'm a Giant!

Click on this image, and I dare you not to wish you were tiny and could visit this world for a while - immune to spider bites, of course.

Synchronicity? Nah.

I was sorting through some photos, re-labeling them, and learning how to file them on my new computer, when I came across this one and decided to save it on the desk top because I had a bit of an urge to report something about cranes. I took a break to get my mail, and, lo and behold, the cover of my auto club magazine had a photo of a Sandhill Crane in the Klamath Basin. My crane was in a relatively dry field off Quincy Junction Road. I saw several cranes a couple of weeks ago, but this week I've been wondering when they headed south and how far they went. The article in Via magazine by Craig Neff, was quite an interesting travelogue about following birds along the major flyways of the West. He uses the term "birders" as writers of bird articles tend to do, and I guess it's a friendly appellation that birders use on each other. I do wonder why we don't use "snakers" or "spiderers," or perhaps "arachnophiles" and "serpentophiles." "Birders" implies to me a sort of in-group/out-group orientation. It may be my imagination, but it's supported by at least one other piece of evidence. Typical field guide series, such as Peterson's, usually have a "checklist" in front so one can check off species as they are sighted. For some reason, the guides to reptiles, amphibians, and fishes do not. Does that imply a different motivation for going out to look at birds? I think so. The bird checklist has always felt to me like a coup stick, a symbol of conquest. Perhaps akin to the long-distance hiker's term, peak bagger. These cryptic comments aside, I love to watch the cranes.

Monday, August 22, 2011

White is the color of the day

These three white beauties are now blooming in the Lakes Basin - all near wet areas, the streams connecting and draining the many lakes. Click on each photo for a closer view and a caption.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Another New Discovery

In the Lakes Basin, we drove by a dried-up pond and thought we were looking at an expanse of grey, dried mud. A second glance revealed a blueish tinge. We decided to make a U-turn and take a closer look. Sure enough, an area of a couple of acres was densely covered with tiny blueish flowers. As we approached the area on foot, we were overwhelmed by a fragrance that reminded us of grape-flavored cough syrup. A quick look at the flowers and a few photos later, i thought we were looking at a type of Monkeyflower. A quick check of my field guides and the close-up photo shown above revealed that I was wrong. It was a member of the bellflower family, Campanulaceae. Known commonly by its generic name, Porterella, it is the only species in that genus, Porterella carnosula. A new discovery for me and an intriguing one. I need to learn more about this plant. None of the websites I've consulted so far make any mention of the fragrance. I wonder if we imagined it.

They seem exotic to me.

My hike in the Lakes Basin last Thursday reminded me in some ways of a trip I took to the Galapagos Islands many years ago. I was asked to give lectures about the islands and Charles Darwin to a group of tourists. These lectures were to be given on the ship on the way to the islands. Problem was, I had never been there before! I read a lot, of course, and had studied zoology in college, so I had a good book knowledge of the place. But, that's not the same as learning on-site.
In the case of the Lakes Basin, I had been there before, but not often. Especially not focused on learning the flora and fauna in any detail. Thus, I relied a lot on books I had read and my general knowledge of natural history. It helped that I had visited a number of Plumas and Sierra County mountaintops at a similar elevation. So, I stumbled across a few species of flowers I had never seen before, including the two pictured here. I didn't recognize the Twinberry at first. I didn't linger and consult my field guides, but I did get a few good photos so I could consult the books when I got home. When I found the Twinberry in one of my field guides, I realized I had known about the flower (i. e., shrub) and its affiliations for a long time based on pictures in books, but I had never seen it in situ. This particular Twinberry, AKA Twinberry Honeysuckle, and Black Twinberry, is in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, and its scientific name is Lonicera involcrata. The sensation I got when I matched my photos to the pictures and text in my field guide was similar to how I felt when I first saw Galapagos Tortoises, Blue-footed Boobies, and Sally Lightfoot Crabs in the Galapagos. I guess it's somewhat similar to the feeling upon seeing a famous person for the first time whose photos you recognized beforehand. Like most discoveries in nature, it led to all sorts of questions that I must investigate and stirred my interest in repeated visits. Is it edible? Can I transplant it? Would those berries make good ink? One of my passions as an adolescent was making various colors of ink out of wild berries. Pokeweed was my favorite.
The second plant shown here (bottom photo) fooled me at first. I thought it might be Jewelweed. However, it's actually a "pink," that is, a member of the pink family, AKA the carnation family, Caryophyllaceae. Its scientific name is Silene sargentii. There are quite a number of species of Silene in the Sierra, and I was already familiar with California Indian Pink, Silene californica. Again, the discovery of a new plant and its affiliations is very exciting. More still to come tomorrow, although the flow could be interrupted by new discoveries at daybreak!

A Few More from Lakes Basin

These four from last Thursday's hike in the Lakes Basin were abundant and the area felt like it was spring. There's a great, jungle-like wetland on a path heading west out of Elwell Lakes Lodge toward Long Lake. Lush vegetation, impossible to keep your feet dry, and constantly changing fragrances. A great end-of-summer hike when things are turning brown at the lower elevations. Of course, the fall colors season will be here soon. I'm especially looking forward to the colors of the Umbrella Plant. Looks like a very healthy crop along Spanish Creek. With all the great wildflower action at the higher elevation meadows, I'm torn over where to go on any given day. Will probably try Brady's Camp area next. besides the late season flowers, there's definitely a sense that lots of insects are making winter preparations. On that note, my Ambush Bug, that had occupied a daisy in my front yard for six days, is gone. Probably got ambushed!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Different backgrounds, fun....

Additional photos from my recent trip to Lakes Basin can wait. During a brief pit stop at Quincy Natural Foods this morning, I was struck by the progress of the sunflowers and the opportunity to photograph them against two different backgrounds - the dark brown building and the bright blue sky. Fun. Also, while sitting by the side of the road while my freshly-washed car dried, I made notes on some new plans for drawings, paintings and photos that will appear here over the next few weeks. Join in the fun by signing up for my Adventures in Nature Jouornaling class at FRC. Begins Saturday, September 10.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More from the Lakes Basin

Took an unexpected trip to the big little city of Reno today, so no time to post and discuss many from yesterday's hike in the Lakes basin. Two of my favorites will suffice for now. This great cluster of aphids was attached to a tiny, damaged fir tree. I love to introduce people to aphids in the wild as they always prompt a negative reaction. That gives me a chance to demonstrate their interesting characteristics and ecological relationships and advocate for unpopular critters in general. We saw the ants herding aphids like cows and feeding off their secretions. We also saw an interesting reaction to an approaching hand or camera. They reacted as one to either the visual stimulus or possible compressed air pushed ahead by the hand or camera. Not really sure what they were responding to, but they were definitely responding to our approach. One of my hiking companions is sometimes bothered by aphids in her garden. I suggested that the aphids, especially those herded by ants, might be such an interesting attraction that she might want to cultivate aphids for ecology lessons. I don't think she was convinced.
The Monkshood is one of the more interesting members of the Buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. Beautiful, preferring damp shady habitat, and poisonous to eat. More about Monkshood later.
And more photos from this hike tomorrow.

It's still spring above 6,000'

I heard from several people that the flowers were great in the Lakes Basin. Yesterday we went to check it out. The fun began as soon as we left town. Heading east, the great display of Blazing Star began around the Massak rest area a few miles from Quincy. There were clusters of this magnificent flower off and on all the way to Blairsden. Then, on the way up the Gold Lake Road the roadside ditch was full of all kinds of blooms - Madia, Paintbrush (2 kinds), Rein Orchis, St. John's Wort, Elderberry, etc., etc. Will be posting many of these later today. For now, one sample from near long Lake, the Leichtlin's Mariposa Lily. Abundant along several of the local trails. If you take a short drive out of Quincy just to see the Blazing Star, go early in the morning. These flowers close up around noon then re-open the next morning.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


This Ambush Bug is an awesome-looking bug, and it has been sitting on the same daisy for four days now. It's easy to spot from 10 feet away. I wonder why no bird or cat has gotten it yet. Maybe a bad smell? My lawn needs mowing, but I think I'll leave this lone daisy alone and see how long he/she lasts. I'd love to catch it in the act of ambushing something.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Love Potatoes

A nice surprise from the Poisonous Nightshade family, Solanaceae. These potatoes arrived at one of our local eateries and the proprietor told me she was going to cook up a batch of Love Soup. She should celebrate the family by including some tomatoes, eggplant, and a variety of peppers.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Milking" the last bit of fun out of my milkweed patch

I know the Red Milkweed Beetles are nearly finished doing what they do at this time of year, and soon the adults will vanish and leave their eggs and larvae behind. However, the milkweed patch is a great source of entertainment and knowledge for naturalists until the very last seed blows away and the brown, dried body of the plant returns to the soil. This morning I spotted one milkweed beetle from my car seat even before I got my camera out of its bag. I got a close-up shot - always looking for the ultimate photo of this creature - then a shot from further back to show some context. Then, across the street, I found another patch of milkweeds that might have been above a leach line or septic tank as the leaves were huge. I balanced my pocket comb on a leaf to show its size. Impressive. When I returned to my milkweed beetle, she hadn't moved. I picked her up and watched her play possum in my hand, then placed her on a large concrete block nearby. It was a long while before she "woke up" and started to crawl away. Due to the early morning light, her shadow is as much a part of my composition as the beetle herself. I've added to this post one photo from another milkweed patch by Oakland Camp where the aphids were plentiful and somehow aesthetically pleasing to me. Finally, when I got home to my journal in which I'm playing with various border designs, I decided to try a sketch of the Red Milkweed Beetle from memory.