Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Beautiful Things Now Under Snow

Yesterday, my son and I went back to the Keddie Cascades Trail to see if we could find the hellgrammite I had seen there on Saturday with my nature journaling class.  We scored.  It was under the same rock beneath a spout of water coming out of a rock wall at trailside.  Not too surprising really as it was so cold it couldn't move very fast.  Also, there was really no place to go.  It had a suitable puddle in which to grow until metamorphosing into an adult Dobsonfly.  The top photo is what it looked like in the water.  Then I placed it on a rock for a better view and photo then replaced it.  I'll check on it again when the snow melts, perhaps this weekend.  The next two photos are of a Maidenhair Fern, a species we missed on the Saturday trip.  And last, two photos of Rattlesnake Plantain.  This is not a real plantain, such as you find in the Family Plantaginaceae.  It's an orchid.  I'll see what I can find out about this odd name.  I assume the rattlesnake part refers to the pattern on each leaf.

Evidence of Winter

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

For Renee

Renee Hall, proprietor of Morning Thunder, a cafe that I've often referred to as my "home away from home," died Sunday evening in a motor vehicle accident.  The day before, she asked me if I had seen the crocuses yet.  She was very proud of the garden in front of the cafe, and was just beginning to get it ready for spring.  The crocuses broke ground a week ago, but they were still closed on this cold morning.  A gathering of flowers, burning candles, and personal notes in memoriam were left by the front door of the cafe.
Some of my favorite pieces of writing were begun at "my" corner table at Morning Thunder.  In fact, one I completed at that table back in 1981 was titled "The Coffee Habit: A scientific Study."  We regulars will miss Renee's energy as expressed by one of her employees in the bottom photo.
Some of you may remember when the word "Cafe" used to hang beneath Morning Thunder.  That part of the sign is now hanging above my kitchen sink.  But that's another story.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Interesting Life Histories

There's a lot of white alder along the creeks at the FRC parking lot.  I've never lost my fascination with the male catkins and female cones of the alder which began when I used the cones to simulate pine trees on my model railroad.  I used dyed pipe cleaners for the branches.  An interesting feature of the alder is that the male catkins form in the fall, but the flower don't mature and release pollen until spring.  Meanwhile, the female cones from the previous season persist until a new crop emerges in spring.  So, on the branch pictured above, we have a dozen or so male flower clusters developing all around a cluster of five or six spent female cones from last season.  I'll photograph some fresh green cones as soon as they arrive.
The bottom photo is Mullein, a member of the snapdragon family, Scrophulariaceae. Each of its many flowers has both male and female parts, like most flowers.  A fascinating feature of this plant, besides its European origin and rapid spread across the USA, is that it's a biennial.  In the first season, it produces only a ground-level rosette of large, wooly leaves.  Their shade provides great hiding places during the heat of summer for many kinds of bugs and lizards. In the first fall, these leaves turn brown, and the plant appears dead.  However, it's still alive below ground.  During the second season, a new rosette of green leaves appears in spring, then a rapidly growing spike develops six or more feet in height.  I've seen a few exceed ten feet.  The top foot or more ends up covered with yellow flowers.  They produce thousands of tiny seeds, and often support many feeding birds. 
At the end of the second season, the plant dies, but the tall, brown stalk may stand through one or more winters.  The one pictured above dies last fall, and the current winter is taking a toll.  It is bent toward the ground and probably won't stand through the coming summer.  The early leaves of the next crop have already appeared in the immediate surroundings.

Mostly Lichens and Fungi

The area around the Keddie Cascades has lots of different lichens and fungi at this time of year, and just a few signs of the flowering plants about to emerge.  The Bird's Nest Fungi (top photo) are difficult to spot, averaging about 1/4 inch in diameter, and often covered by pine needles or fallen leaves.  But, they are worth getting the knees of your pants muddy for a closer look.  Then there's a great variety of lichens growing on tree branches and trunks, and rocks.  Some of the patches on rocks can be hundreds of years old.  On the rocky faces along the trail as well as on the roadside either side of the trail entrance there's lots of Sedum (fifth photo from top) that will soon send up stalks with bright yellow flowers.  Last, is Pipisessewa or Prince's Pine.  This member of the heath family, Ericaceae, must stimulate human creativity because it has been given many different names.
Pipisessewa is probably of Native American origin.  All the other names have their reasons, and it can be quite an interesting back door into history to research the origins of plant names.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My New M.O.

And I don't mean Modus Operandi.  I mean Moss Obsession.  Having lots of fun observing and trying to figure out this group of "lower" plants.  My wildflower guides give only passing attention to mosses, ferns, liverworts, and the Kingdom Fungi, that latter no longer considered plants.  They make discouraging statements like "some of these are very difficult to identify in the field, even with a hand lens."  But I find their reproductive patterns fascinating, as well as their ability to adjust to changing weather, and the associations with other plants and invertebrates.  There are many great little worlds to be discovered while crawling around on hands and knees among the mosses.  I'll be looking for a new field guide that gives them their due.

Put Down the Camera for a While

Too many choices.  On yesterday's hike with the Adventures in Nature Journaling class, I forgot to bring my camera.  The result was that I took a few notes, and probably interacted with the students better.  They indulged in varying degrees of sketching, note taking, and photography.  We had lunch together and did an informal "debriefing" of the outing.  I was mostly glad I hadn't brought my camera - with one exception.  At the foot of a little spring where water poured out of a crack  in a rock face, there were pieces of shale in the puddle below.  I compulsively turned them over, one by one, looking for caddis flies, salamanders, or anything else that might be moving.  Found a very large and active hellgrammite.  This is the nymph of the Dobsonfly of which I have several really nice photos in the adult stage.  I am now longing to go back with my camera in hopes the hellgrammite will be there for a few more days for a photo session.
Otherwise, the experience motivated me to rearrange my day packs, and have one primarily dedicated to my portable art supplies.  The one I used yesterday that carried colored pencils, a set of pan watercolors, a waterbrush, and some other odds and ends, accompanied me to a coffee shop this morning.  Out of habit, I brought along the laptop as well.  The pack that usually carries my laptop is otherwise filled with what I'd call office supplies.  Oh my, decisions....  Meanwhile, I've decided I need to take up the drawing and painting habit more seriously.  Here I have photos of a moss page from my journal, finally completed, and a painting of damselflies mating.  I've been ambivalent about that painting ever since I did it.  I wanted to show it in the gallery, then made a bad choice of frame, then became dissatisfied with the painting itself.  This morning I removed it from the frame and decided it was good enough to show off here.  Meanwhile, the photo of my various day packs and a tote bag show the dilemma I'm trying to resolve.  I need to prioritize my portables and choose matching day packs within the next week or so before the wildflowers start to show up in force.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

More Bugs from the Keddie Cascades Area

When I wasn't photographing mosses and lichens, I was tipping over small rocks and logs to see if any invertebrates were awake.  I've already posted the centipedes and millipedes.  The top photos here are of a click beetle I found under a rock.  Upon first glance, it appeared dead.  When I rolled it over onto its back, all six legs were still there, albeit folded up into dead position.  However, when these beetles die, the legs don't last long.  So, I breathed on it for a while, and it woke up and quickly took off.  I was a little disappointed that it just ran rather than perform its characteristic click which feels like a small jolt of electricity.  If it had been warmer, I think that might have been its preferred strategy.  Next are a couple of photos of a wolf spider that had been living under a dead manzanita stump.  These are easy to see when they are running, but when they come to a sudden stop they thoroughly blend into most backgrounds.  Under the same stump I found a small colony of ground termites, and the residue from playing with these various bugs on my hand started to attract flies.  The one pictured shows it's spongy mouth parts.  Yes, I washed my hands before lunch!  Click on any photo to view an enlargement.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Myriapods Are Awake

I set out today to photograph mosses, lichens, and maybe some ferns, and check on what else of interest I might find around the Keddie Cascades.  We had a warm afternoon, and some of the pieces of bark and discarded boards on the ground absorbed enough sunlight that the bugs underneath became active.  The top three photos here are of a centipede i found under a small piece of plywood in the forest.  I picked it up with a stick and after playing with it for a few minutes, it became very active and stretched out to run at full speed.  The millipede was under a rotting log.  It's not a full adult, so it had a pale pinkish white color and was quite inactive.  I breathed on it for a few minutes, and that was sufficient to motive it to crawl away, although very slowly, as millipedes always do.  If you click on these for enlargements, you can see the main differences between centipedes and millipedes.  If these were video clips, you'd see there are obvious behavioral differences, too.  My favorite trait to watch is the wave patterns of their legs while walking.  The way they hold their antennae is a clue to their preferred diets.  The centipedes, which are carnivores, not only move much faster, but they wave their antennae around in all directions, seldom touching the ground.  The millipedes, which move slowly, let their antennae droop to the ground as if tasting.  They dine on dead and decaying plant and animal matter.


I was having fun photographing a click beetle on my hand when a fly showed up.  I saw an opportunity to show its spongy mouthparts.  It was only when I enlarged the photo on my computer that I realized I had created a self-portrait.  Click on the photo for a close-up, and it will be more apparent.

Trying to Capture the Mosses

With my current limitations of equipment and/or skill, I am still trying to make an impressive photo of moss showing the sporophytes projecting upward from the mat of gametophytes.  For now, the top three photos above will have to do.  I urge you to click on each one and explore as if you were an ant, a strategy recommended by Thoreau even when viewing the "real thing."  I find the life cycles of mosses intriguing, and will start searching for other species.  Right next to the log on which I photographed these mosses was a nice young sagebrush, Artemisia tridenta, (bottom photo) which was a more cooperative photo subject.  I walk by this one nearly every day on my way to the FRC library, so I'll be watching for its tiny, camouflaged flowers.  It's in the sunflower family, Asteraceae. formerly known as Compositae. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gathering Data vs. "Smelling the Roses"

I was sitting on the lawn, chatting with my wife, when I noticed pine needles lying about.  They were from the Ponderosa Pines surrounding our neighborhood.  For some reason they brought back a memory of a passage from one of my field guides that said the needles of Pinus ponderosa occur in bundles of three and are from 5 to 10 inches long.  These looked bigger, so a I gathered a few, 11 bundles to be exact, and brought them inside to measure.  As serious taxonomy goes, 11 is a pretty small sample, far too small for generalizations.  Yet, out of 11 bundles, 4 of them exceeded 11 inches in length!  The two champions at 11 9/16 inches are above the ruler in the photo.  This little episode brought back memories of my formal study of biology years ago and the emphasis on gathering data.  I realize how useful data gathering is, but I also realize how the practice can narrow one's relationship with the natural world and possibly warp it, especially when the politics of funding research enters the picture.  In recent years, I've chosen to call myself a naturalist.  To me, a naturalist is part scientist, but also somewhat of an artist and philosopher.  I wouldn't complain if someone called me a "jack of all trades and master of none."  I am just incredibly fascinated by natural history and love to share what I find out.  Data are just one small part of what my senses gather.  Yet, for the next little while, I'll be looking for a bundle of pine needles longer than 11 9/16 inches.

The Fungi Are Busy

Earlier, I posted a photo of the Bird's Nest Fungus and promised five more.  Here they are.  I think an awareness of their ecological roles must be a major factor in my seeing them as beautiful.  There are many elements of the natural environment that most people find ugly, but I think an understanding of the interdependence of all organisms would change that.  I just helped my daughter finish a biology assignment dealing with this very topic, food chains, food webs the role of decomposers, and so on.  The lesson came from a textbook, and I don't think she was very interested.  While she was in school, I was walking in the woods and seeing this lesson in real life.  What a difference!  Brought back memories of days teaching when I was sometimes reprimanded for bringing kids outside.