Monday, October 31, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spring Forward

I've been discovering little micro-climates around my home as the season of freezing nights and early morning frost moves in.  Sometimes a dark-colored wall, or an evergreen shrub captures enough sunlight and converts it to radiant energy and in a small space spring-like conditions occur in a place that is mostly still freezing.  So, on a 28-dgree morning, I tipped over a 1"x6" Douglas-fir board and found what looked like alfalfa sprouts.  They were undoubtedly some species of weed that grows in that part of my yard every summer.  The gravel actually felt warm to the touch while the neighboring gravel that was not covered by the board was still covered with frost.  I love finding the worms, insects and spiders that are able to find these places, take advantage of them, and remain active for a few extra weeks while their neighbors either die or become dormant for the winter.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Time for an elevation change

It was hard to get these photos yesterday as most fungi, colorful leaves, and insects in my vicinity have retired for the winter. There are only a few Oak Treehoppers remaining on my oak tree and most of the fungi have disintegrated. For a stimulus for new natural history themes, I have the urge to travel up or down a couple thousand feet. If I drive toward Chico, which is the more tempting option, I'll encounter Spring. From my perspective as a product of New England, Chico doesn't really have a winter. The brown grasses that dominate the scenery at the end of summer are starting to turn green now, and, to me, it's an early spring. Any time between now and the "real" spring, I can explore Bidwell Park and find new plant sprouts and worms and bugs under rocks and logs. The other option is to head eastward toward Reno and possibly swing through the Lakes Basin where a true winter is just around the corner. When I head in that direction during the winter extreme weather gets my attention more than the vegetation. I'm looking forward to photographing and writing about lots of new subjects as the season changes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The End Is Near

I've posted the top photo before. The point here is the contrast with the next two photos, taken this morning following our first hard frost of the season. For the past months and a half, two clusters of around 40 treehoppers each have occupied low branches of a California Black Oak near my driveway. This morning, following the frost, at least two thirds of them are gone and the remaining ones have spread out and no longer look like a community. I couldn't help but imagine them carrying little signs reading "The End Is Near." The next two photos are of the frost in my front yard, one of our nursery-bred yarrow and the other of leaves of our birch tree. The bottom photo is a repeat of some puffballs growing in our front garden. They already looked like little snow balls, so not much change there. This cold snap will cause sudden changes all around. Many trees loaded with colorful leaves are dropping those leaves today. I hope visitors who've driven long distances to see our fall colors will discover the many other wonderful sights our county offers and not go home disappointed. As usual, I suggest getting down on hands and knees and wandering around for a closer look at things. You'll discover wonders.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Some Quincy Biology

The top photo notwithstanding, I've found it quite liberating to get my mind off the fall foliage. Plenty of other people are submitting nice photos of bright-colored leaves to the various Chambers of Commerce and Visitors Bureaus, and Plumas County is definitely a hot spot for enjoying fall colors. But I've been having a great time discovering fungi, invertebrates, seeds. and persistent flowers. The top photo here was taken in the Courthouse lawn, the bottom one on the side of Chandler Road, and all the rest in my front yard. Great fun, and a learning experience. In shooting the top photo, I barely beat the Leaf Blowers.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How Naturalists Find Things

When we arrived near the northern end of Snake Lake, we looked over meadows that were mostly brown grasses, rushes and sedges. They all look more or less alike from a distance, although after repeated close observation one can remember different shades of green and recognize a patch of rushes or sedges in a field of grass while driving by on a freeway at 70 mph. One also learns that the rushes and sedges indicate wet areas. With repeated explorations and observations one learns to anticipate the presence of certain invertebrates. A lot of the fun and skill of naturalists has to do with anticipation. Anticipation and hope. One might visit a place known for eagles and hope to spot an eagle. It might take twenty visits before one is lucky enough to spot an eagle. However, if one visits with open eyes and mind, he/she will almost always see something else interesting.
When we got out of our vehicles and looked over the landscape, we saw that the meadows were punctuated by taller plants here and there. For the most part, these were the dried stems and branches of taller wildflowers such as mullein, certain thistles, and a few small trees like willow and alder. This is where the fun begins. As we approach an individual mullein or small tree, we mostly looked at the ground. I was the experienced naturalist in the group, but my companions kept spotting small bits of color amongst the dried up, brown vegetation. Perhaps a tiny red flower, or a tiny blue one. That's when we got on hands and knees for closer inspection.
While crawling round on the ground trying to identify tiny flowers, I spotted the Praying Mantis egg case in the top photo. Within seconds, one of my companions spotted a live, female Praying Mantis. It was a 3"-long, brown beauty. We noticed it had either a weird parasite or a serious injury on one side. Later when I enlarged the photos on my computer I was able to tell it was an injury and the large bubble on one side of its abdomen was a cluster of eggs leaking out of a laceration.
Then one of my companions spotted a mostly dried up Yarrow (2nd and 3rd photos) which had just a few white blossoms remaining. I decided to inspect the flower cluster more closely and spread the individual blossoms apart. This revealed one of our favorite bugs hiding out - the Ambush Bug. We never would have seen it had curiosity not set in. And, on any given day there could be quite a variety of possible denizens of these flower clusters. For example, a few minutes later we were looking closely at some 6-foot tall mulleins. As I explained their life cycle as biennials, we were probing every individual blossom and leaf for possible tiny critters hiding out. I ended up with a nice photo of a Carpenter Ant in one of the leaf axils (4th photo from top).
As we continued to wander around the mostly dry and brown meadow, we'd often spot some small areas of color among the brown. There were a few asters still blooming, a few yellow salsify, both native and non-native dandelions, and a very few thistles. I found the thistle pictured above particularly intriguing because the rather large plant was mostly dead, but there was this one blossom still bright red. There must have been at least a few xylem and phloem operating so the plant was not entirely dead.
Most of the dandelions had gone to seed, and recent rains and wind had set most of the seeds free. However, there were a few plants whose heads full of seeds had not yet opened. As the last photo above shows, just prior to opening, the head is wrapped in sepals that can be quite colorful.
It was quite rewarding to visit a scene that on first glance seemed to offer nothing much but dried, brown vegetation, then to discover in an hour and a half several dozen species of interesting flowers, bugs, seeds, cloud patterns, etc., and to share stories of prior outings and plan future ones. These past two weeks, students in my Adventures in Nature Journaling class and I have taken lots of photos and notes. You'll probably see us from time to time during the winter months in one of our local coffee shops perusing photos and entering notes and drawings in our nature journals. Reviewing these journals later is a great way to build the anticipation that will fuel another season of wandering. Meanwhile, as our weather changes into winter, we will do another kind of wandering with different expectations.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Today's Bugs and Toadstools

A narrative accompanying these photos will be posted early tomorrow. They were taken at Snake Lake and in my woodpile.
Since posting these photos, lots of people have been asking me about the caterpillar in the fourth photo from the top. I didn't know what it was when we found it, but after some searching I've found it's likely a "woolybear" caterpillar, the larva of the Isabella Tiger Moth.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Riotous Reds

Did some manual labor for a friend today and had no plans for photography, but the "fall colors" in his yard were irresistible. Bright red maples and a couple of interesting fungi. Meanwhile, on the way home I spotted a fantastic brown fungus around a foot in diameter. I hope it's intact in the morning. I drive by camera-ready.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Everything's Connected...Intermission

My son Ryan is interested in natural history. I guess that's a family requirement. But, he's more inclined toward the physical sciences and engineering. He built this approximate cube out of 270 matches. No adhesives. The matches are interlocked. As with his origami projects, I'm always intrigued by the possible natural history connections. In this case, I haven't quite found the connection except to note that the matches are made from trees. That's good enough to qualify for being on my blog because it's a really cool-looking object.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In search of exotic fungi

Beauty on the FRC campus! This afternoon I took a break from processing my photos of fungi from Snake Lake to look for a beauty on the Feather River College campus that my son told me about. He spotted it under an outdoor stairway between the computer lab and the admin building. The distractions began as soon as I pulled into the faculty parking area. I was confronted by a beautiful cherry tree (top photo) and a cluster of asters at my feet (second photo). As I began to walk up the paved path to the upper campus, I had to step into the little wet thicket where I have often seen attractive ferns, corn lilies, and other plants that like shade and moisture. This time I found the patch of Wild Ginger (third photo) looking very fresh. This is a great spot to catch a glimpse of their flowers in late spring. After that, I saw lots of colorful foliage and other attractions on my way up the path but figured I'd better turn off the camera or I'd never make it to fungi in question. When I arrived at the rumored spot, I was amazed. There was a patch of bright orange fungi surrounding the stump of a Ponderosa Pine. I assume they were probably feeding off the pine's decaying root system. There were also a few fungi of another type that reminded me of Brain Coral. Also nearby, I spotted a beautiful blue flower that I didn't recognize. Probably an exotic. Also, a couple of buds of what looked like young Snow Plant. Seems like the wrong season for these to be emerging from the soil, but that's what they looked like. I'll keep an eye on them during my thrice-weekly visits to campus. On my way back down to the parking lot I was struck by the beauty of a cluster of birch and cottonwood trees, both of which have attractive patterns of woodpecker holes in their bark. I finish off this baker's dozen with my favorite photo of the aforementioned orange fungus. Hopefully, tomorrow I'll get back to the project I started nearly a week ago of posting selected photos from last weekend's trip to Snake Lake.