Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Four-leaf Cinquefoil

This concludes June's wanderings, another month in which I've managed to average more than one post per day.  There may be a few stories in June that I've left unfinished, so I'll review June's postings soon and rectify any oversights.
I almost titled this one something like "An Inverse Four-leaf Clover Experience," but that sounded a bit far-fetched.  But it does described the sensation I had when I stumbled across a common local species of Cinquefoil that had only four petals when I'm used to seeing them with five.   The name actually means 'five leaves,' but most species don't have five leaves.  In fact, there are a few species that have compound leaves each with five leaflets, but plant systematics is not the point here.  The point is that one of the delights of being a regular observer of nature's details is not only discovering patterns, but also discovering things that break the patterns - like a two-headed snake, or an albino something-or-other.  We are all familiar with the delight of discovering a four-leaf clover.  For me, it was just as delightful to find a four-petal Cinquefoil.  And to discover that my Spell Check doesn't recognize the word Cinquefoil.  Nor the word systematics.  I guess a title like "Spell Check for Dummies" would be redundant.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Trying to Improve

I drive by this Hooker's Evening Primrose every day.  Since the flowers open and close every day, I'm always judging the lighting and the state of opened/closed at 55 mph.  I nearly always stop to take a couple of photos, each time trying to get a better one than last time.  I find the wilted blossoms and the seed pods just as fascinating as the wide-open blossoms. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Random Sightings with Kids

I led two groups of kids on nature hikes today.  One of the groups is pictured above.  Mostly from the Bay Area, they were quite curious about what inhabits our Sierra forests and were especially interested in what might be dangerous and what might be safe, or even edible.  For the kids with cameras, I showed how many people who photograph flowers don't get close enough.  There are three pairs of images above that show a plant from a few feet away and the same plant from a few inches away.  In the latter case, much more detail is apparent, and that detail can be even more appreciated when accompanied by a magnifying lens or shown on a computer monitor.  Be sure to click on these images for full effect.  The three pairs are Hooker's Evening Primrose, Chicory, and Scarlet Gilia.  I only posted one image of the Showy Milkweed as that has been featured in this blog many times before.  After a bit of flower talk, the kids then started looking in earnest for signs of animals.  First, artifacts like a wasp nest.  Then they discovered Caddisflies on the undersides of rocks in the creek.  The little bundles of twigs glued to the rocks started moving and caused shrieks of delight.  When placed in my hand in the sun, the larvae undoubtedly became a bit distressed and poked their heads out as if seeking wetter "pastures."  Then the Mosquito Hawks, AKA Mosquito Eaters, AKA Crane Flies in the rest rooms.  It's hard to convince people that these critters do not bite, do not eat mosquitoes and in fact feed off plant nectar.  I must say the kids are easier to convince than the adults.  Last, we saw lots of Checkerspot butterflies gathering on Spreading Dogbane.  I told the kids to be particularly watchful for ones that didn't fly away when we approached.  In that case, there's a good chance they were in the grasp of a Goldenrod Crab Spider who was draining their insides of juices.  No luck on today's outing, but many kid remember seeing this when they attended camp last year.  Today's experience, judging from the kids' responses,  was great evidence that we should deliver much more of our education out of doors.

Couldn't Find the Bloodsucking Conenose

I had a great time leading kids on a nature hike yesterday. Kids mostly from cities in the Bay Area mostly have some trepidation about entering the wilderness.  A few hundred yards off pavement constitutes wilderness.  Right away, they asked me "what's the most dangerous animal in these woods?"  I quickly answered, "People!"  Then I had to qualify that.  They feared the woods were full of dangerous people and I had to reassure them that we were not likely to be attacked, or even see anyone on this trail that parallels Tollgate Creek. 
I built some excitement by explaining that we would search for the Western Bloodsucking Conenose which I have found most often on a plant called Mugwort, a close relative of Sagebrush.  It's always risky to promise that we'll see a certain bug because the bugs don't have copies of the script.  However, even if we don't find the target animal, and we didn't, nature never disappoints me.  She provides alternatives.
From the top, here's a sampler of what we saw:  The dramatic-looking Ichneumon Wasp and its buddies were landing on daisies and Indian Hemp.  Ichneumon Wasps have a life style that could be a source of great science fiction stories.  Their "babies" grow up inside other insects while thoser insects are still alive.  We also talked about how the daisies come from Europe and the Indian Hemp is in the milkweed family and the strong fibers are suitable for home-made rope.
Then we saw the Checked Clerid Beetle, a beauty, first on Klamath Weed, a cousin of St. John's Wort, then on Yarrow, a relative of carrots.  The kids were able to catch and handle some of these and were thrilled to find a bug they needn't fear.  By the end of our walk, ost bugs were in this category.
Then we saw a Choke Cherry shrub with "pimples."  I explained what galls were, and we dissected a few to find the larvae of tiny wasps growing inside.  Another exciting discovery.
In the middle of the trail we came across a lone specimen of Elegant Rock Cress, one of the earliest in the mustard family to bloom in the spring.  This one had long since gone to seed and the kids enjoyed the dramatic arrangement of seed pods and the knowledge that it was closely related to many vegetables they eat, and often hate: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.
I asked the kids to check every Yarrow and Daisy we encountered for possible bug visitors and assured them they would not encounter Black Widow spiders on these flowers.  This little Tiger Moth was one of the prettier discoveries.
Then the Showy Milkweeds were in full bloom in some sunny spots.  They were visited by many different insects, the most impressive of which were large Carpenter Bees.
Last, some sharp-eyed 10-year-olds discovered the tiny Klamath Weed Beetles that are smaller than ladybugs and come in a wide range of metallic colors.  The kids got a charge out of passing them around and celebrating the fact that they ticked and didn't bite, although they did poop.
I showed the kids pictures of the Western Bloodsucking Conenose so they would believe they exist.  I suspect some of them will keep on looking whenever they come across a patch of Mugwort.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Looking More for Beauty than Science Today

I led two groups of young people on nature hikes this morning.  The first group went out when it was still chilly and not many bugs were active, but that made some of them easy to catch and study.  When the second group went out, more flying bugs were around.  Both groups were curious and asked some "sciency" questions, but they were clearly more enthralled by the insects' and wildflowers' beauty and the fact that many items they previously feared could be safely handled.  The orange moth, for instance, was definitely alive, but was too cold to move.  We handled it gently, but were able to look at top and bottom and inspect mouth parts, antennae and hairy legs without its escaping.  We didn't try to handle the Ichneumon Wasp, but the kids were certainly intrigued by my story of its life style.  Kind of creepy actually.  Kids usually like creepy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My Favorite Bug

Found at my "milkweed place" on Lee Road by the fairgrounds in Quincy.  Click on it for a close-up.

The Insides of Flowers

Wandering among the roadside weeds, I sometimes wish I were an insect so I could explore the world inside a flower.  But, I know I wouldn't last long, so I'll just enjoy the way my camera allows me to get closer.  Click on each photo for a closer view and enjoy the tour with me.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Elegant Insects

Two beautiful moths, the Eyed Sphinx and the Vashti Sphinx at Oakland Camp, an Ichneumon Wasp on the way out there and a Longhorn Beetle on the way home.  No need to go to the rainforest to see beautiful insects. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Little Drama Among the Flowers

This is a small sampler of the drama we witnessed during a visit to Butterfly Valley Botanical Area on Wednesday.  We were mostly trying to photograph wildflowers, but the whole scene was made more interesting by visiting pollinators, predators of pollinators, and possible some visitors just resting.  The flowering shrub in the top photo is Labrador Tea, one of many members of the Heath family in this area.  The bug drama being played out on it is a Goldenrod Crab Spider sucking the juices out of a butterfly, probably a Checkerspot. Then, I got a few nice photos of the carnivorous Sundew before I got to witness a pair of mating Damselflies landing on the plant and fighting for survival.  They separated from each other and independently fought to free themselves (3rd photo) but couldn't.  After taking a few photos, I carefully freed them and they flew off, apparently undamaged.  Next, a photo of the Red Milkweed Beetle on a leaf of the Showy Milkweed, taken on Chandler Road on our way to Butterfly Valley.  Last, in the bog were many blooming Leopard Lilies and many Western and Pale Swallowtail butterflies feeding on them.  As I said, this is a small sampler of what we saw.  More photos from that trip will be posted over the next few days.   Meanwhile, the culmination of the one-week Feather River Art Camp at Oakland Camp is tomorrow.  There will be a show of art in many different media produced during the week.  The public is invited.  It's from 3:45 to 5:45.  Come on out and see some outstanding work and meet some amazing people.