Friday, August 31, 2012

A Walk on the Wild Side, Part 1

 The wild side of the FRC campus, that is.  No intended connection to certain shoddy movies, songs, or other commercial entities.  Any college campus is inherently tamed nature.  In urban settings, the taming is usually extreme and it's possible to earn a degree in biology without ever going outside.  Horrors.  The setting of FRC in a transition zone forest provides closer contact with nature than most.
Every day, after I park, I walk past a nice patch of Goldenrod and California Thistle.  Yesterday, that inspired me enough to stop for photos, then produced the urge to check conditions on the college's nature trail.  Maybe I would find ripe Gooseberries!
 Oops, the Goosberries, if there wre any this year, have been picked or eaten by birds or simply dried up and gone away.  However, they provided a preview of the fall colors coming soon.
 Oregon Grape leaves, too, tend to turn bright orange and red a few at a time while others remain shiny green and provide nice contrast.  When the berries are ripe, a bright blue adds to the color show.
 Early in the season the Pine Drops are often obscured by the abundance of other ground cover, but when most grasses and annuals dry up and shrink to the ground, the statuesque Pine Drops are an impressive sight.  They're sturdy enough that they may stand for a couple of years after their season of flowering.
 This umbel of seeds inspired me to start paying attention to the grat variety of seeds that are easy to find in the fall.  I posted an acorn yesterday, and these seeds today, but expect lots more seed lore here in the coming weeks.
I never find a nature walk complete unless I stumble across an interesting bug.  This appears to be a nymph of some insect I haven't yet identified.  Click on it for a closer view.  I found several more points of interest along the nature trail and they will be shown in Part 2 later today.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Is this a tree?

That's my question of the day.  Inspired by the Republican convention.  If the oak tree had been forcibly pollinated, would I have the right to turn this acorn into flour and bake acorn muffins?


Better Light, More Patience

Like I wrote yesterday, I'll probably pester my followers with photos and stories of the Treehoppers over the next few weeks, but, I promise, I won't limit the blog to that topic.  This morning I provoked the big mama a bit to see if she would fly.  It was still too clodl for flight, but she was pretty good at trying to hide behind the twig as I approached.  I chased her around the twig several times before I could get this shot.  I assumed she was responding to my approach via the visual sense, but I'm not sure.  I'm sure someone has written a dissertation on these bugs, but I enjoy finding things out for myself.  Richard Feynman, the late physicist and Nobel laureate wrote a book titled "On the Pleasure of Finding Things Out" which I found very inspiring.  As a school teacher, I have always honored curiosity, despite the number of cats that may have perished in its pursuit.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bumps on a Twig

I titled this photo "Proud Mama."  She's the big one on the left.  The nymphs, of which there were several dozen extending far to the right of the edge of this photo, remind me of little wind-up toys.  They'll probably be gathered on the oaks in my driveway for a few weeks, and I never tire of watching and photographing them.  Click on the photo for a closer look.  I've read that they rarely if ever harm the trees, and on my oaks there are only a couple of small clusters out at the branch tips.  They're much harder to spot than you might think from viewing this photo.  They're mostly about 14" long except the adults that may be slightly over 1/2".  They seem reluctant to fly, although they can.  In the coming days I'll probably pester them a bit to at least get them to spread their wings for a different view.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

'Tis the Season of Yellow Flowers

 My early morning wanderings included a check-up at a local patch of Gumplant.  These intriguing composites bloom for a couple of months or longer and I am fascinated by the fact that one large bush may contain flowers in all stages from very early buds to the larger, gum-filled buds, to fully bloomed hosts of many interesting insects and spiders, to those already wilting and going to seed.  On this particular plant I saw a hint of a spider web beneath a flower and a bit of motion suggesting a struggle.  When I pulled the flower aside I saw a very interesting-looking spider dining on an insect.  I was already anticipating my errands in Reno and the drive through Sierra Valley that would include views of Rabbitbrush and Goldenrod, and hopefully some Birdcage Evening Primrose.  The theme of "yellow" hadn't occurred to me yet.
 The highlight of our trip to Reno, as far as floral beauty and photography is concerned, was the several patches of Giant Blazing Star still blooming along Highway 70 beginning a short way past Mt. Tomba.  I took advantage of the first safe turnout that had some blooming Blazing Star, but the most spectacular examples I saw at 55 mph were on road cuts with no safe parking.  I was also mindful of several secretly-parked CHP cruisers waiting for all those Quincy-ites who either believe the speed limit along this stretch is 65 mph, therefore entitling them to drive at 70, or simply insist on getting to Reno as quickly as possible, speed limits be damned.  I must admit, I enjoy seeing a car pulled over that a few minutes earlier passed me at an high rate of speed in a no-passing zone.
 Back to natural history of a purer sort.  I had to walk through some dense, prickly underbrush to get to the prettier blooms of Blazing Star, aware that it looked like a good place for rattlesnakes to hide.
In that state of mild anxiety, I was startled by the discovery of a dried-out carcass just below a blossom I was photographing. Here's that blossom:

 A few more shots of Blazing Star and I hit the road again, now thinking about how many roadside flowers were yellow - nearly all of them!  I was seeing lots of Gumplant and Goldenrod at first, then more and more Rabbitbrush as I approached Portola.
 I've posted Goldenrod earlier in this season, and it impresses me as one of the longer-lasting summer blooms, often remaining yellow after the first frost.
 The large Sunflowers around Quincy are certainly attention getters, and I love watching the bees busily visiting one disc flower after another, sometimes spending several minutes on one head.  For those not familiar with composites, the flower in the above photo is actually a composite of several hundred individual flowers.  I get more excited about the occasionally stray sunflower on remote roadsides than the ones planted by humans in town.
 Another long-lasting bloom in summer is Klamathweed.  Many on the roadsides have gone to seed by now, but many others are still blooming.
 Star Thistle.  Photogenic.  Hurts when you walk through it wearing shorts.  Sometimes makes approaching other roadside wildflowers difficult.  I don't mind.  Some of my favorite photos are of Star Thistle.
 Cinquefoil, of which there are several species in our area, is still blooming in my yard and on the roadsides.
 In most of my favorite photography spots the Hooker's Evening Primrose has gone to seed.  However, where there's still surface moisture, such as by the irrigation ditches in Sierra Valley, there's lots of it still blooming.
 I've been following the bug activity, especially the Ambush Bugs, on Tansy for a couple of months.  It, too, is a long-lasting summer wildflower, a composite with only disc flowers, no ray flowers, and pretty enough that lots of people plant it in their yards.  Grab a handful of leaves and take a whiff. I think you'll find it a pleasant aroma.
Just so followers of this blog don't think I've abandoned my interest in Bugs, here's a dramatic-looking Assassin Bug I found on some Tansy, but felt I could get a better photo by posing it on my finger.  I've never been bitten by one of these, but there must be a good reason for the name.
So, to summarize my Monday experience during a round trip to Reno: I still wonder why most of the flowers blooming in late August and September are yellow.  At least they keep my interest during that sometimes depressing period between seasons.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Between Seasons

Took a Sunday drive up to Brady's Camp near Argentine Peak, hoping to find some late summer wildflowers.  Having trouble letting go of summer.  We saw a few Penstemon and Rabbitbrush on the way up, but mostly dry and brown everywhere - except for the evergreens, of course.  Heard rumors there were still lots of flowers blooming at Brady's Camp.  Maybe last week, but not today.  The creeks were bone dry. So, I just tried harder to find interesting photos.  A large Crimson Columbine bush fit the bill.  There were a few wilted blossoms on it to provide some color, and there were seed pods in various stages from still green and closed (top photo), to brown ones with open tops revealing the mature seeds, to empty ones that had already lost their seeds.  The mature seeds are shiny black and quite impressive, aesthetically.  Reminded me of miniature deer poop. 
We knew the old Argentine Lookout was in bad shape, having visited last summer.  But, it's still there, inviting someone to get hurt and sue the government for leaving it there.  Whether the lookout is eventually demolished or not, it's still an exhilarating place to visit.  Great rock formations and views down to recognizable places along Highway 70.  Always fun to look back on Quincy and realize how small we are.  Met an old codger from Oklahoma, a Viet Nam veteran who said he was a traveling man, trying to see all the beautiful places he could in his remaining days.  He said this spot was among his favorites.  Had some pretty good stories, too.  He had a closer encounter with three Sasquatches in Alaska and a Black Mamba at the edge of the highway near Santa Barbara.  I wondered if it was Viet Nam or Oklahoma that caused these hallucinations, or if he was just having fun with me.  AS we descended the beautiful rock stairway from the lookout, I took a few shots in the direction of Sierra Buttes, always a dramatic presence on the southern skyline.  Then a little more exploring in Brady's Camp where I photographed the remains of Leopard Lilies and Corn Lilies that had bloomed several months ago.  All in all, an interesting trip which helped me get used to the period "between seasons."  Here, as a photographer, that means between summer flowers and fall colors.  I remember a similar period when I lived at Tahoe.  For most residents it seemed to be a depressing period between summer water sports and winter skiing.  It might have had something to do with the flow of money.  Being a teacher at the time, September and October paid the same as mid-winter, so I was happy.  When one pays close attention to nature, all seasons have their attractions.  I'm thankful for that.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Too Close for Comfort?

I revisited the ditch in front of Safeway this morning and found some colorful plants, among the last blooms of summer.  Feeling a little sleepy this afternoon, so rather than try to write any natural history notes, I decided to play with cropping.  Closer views of these plants than one ordinarily gets from walking or driving by.  With views this close I identify with the insect visitors.  Close-ups always remind me of a phrase from William Blake - "a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower."

Welcome Back Treehoppers

My story about Plant Propagation and Propaganda is still under development, but on my way to a local coffee shop at daybreak, I decided to explore the low-hanging branches of a California Black Oak in my driveway.  I was delighted to find a gathering of young Oak Treehoppers which I've found in September for the past three years.  I don't know if they've emerged early or if I'm just more attuned to them.  I'm not gathering statistics but enjoying their presence.  No adults in this morning's group.  Now I'll be watching daily.  Click on this photo for a closer look.  Better yet, visit the Mainstreet Artist's Gallery in Quincy where you can buy my blank greeting cards with photos of this remarkable bug. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

There's a Story Here Somewhere

It all started when I got a glimpse of a large, yellow composite flower on the way up my steep driveway.  I thought it might have come from a seed that got away from my neighbors yard (first photo).  My mind raced over the subject of plant propagation, and as I ran to the house to get my camera, I was suddenly aware of the many other composites in my yard and along the driveway, most of which had gone to seed.  First, I got a photo of the neighbor's Brown-Eyed Susans, then trudged down the driveway to get a few shots of the one I first mentioned.  Turns out it wasn't a Brown-Eyed Susan, but a Common Sunflower.  That threw me off balance a bit, as far as my story was concerned.  I began to think about propaganda - originally about "propagation of the faith - and Thoreau's last book, Faith in a Seed.  My story ( or possibly just an essay) will be about the relationship between plant propagation and the propagation of faith.  Thoreau had great faith in seeds, although the way the word is used today, I doubt if he would have much faith in faith.  I've been collecting tidbits which compare the various ways seeds are dispersed with ways propaganda is spread.  There are many interesting analogies here.  The one I haven't quite figured out is what might be the propaganda equivalent of the way Mistletoe seeds are dispersed.  Still working on it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Very Busy Bird

We parked near the same tree that hosted the Red-breasted Sapsucker on Monday - see previous post.  He wasn't there, so we inspected the tree.  Boy, was he busy!  And probably took a geometry course.  Very systematic work.  I haven't studied birds much, so I aim to find out - by observation and/or reading - whether the bird is eating sap and just mining sap to catch insects.  There were a number of small flies and ants either consuming sap or becoming trapped in it.  The tree seemed no worse for the wear, and the sap tasted pretty sweet.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Moved North

This cute little Sapsucker spent last summer on a birch tree in my front yard.  Today, my son Ryan spotted it by one of the parking lots at FRC and he managed to get this shot out the side window.
The smokey sky from the Chips Fire can be seen in the background.

Still There

These are among the things I love about lawns.  They are trying to replace my lawn, of course, and I guess I sort of encourage them.  But, to me they are far more interesting and ecologically sensible than millions of identical blades of grass.  As Michael Pollen said, "A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule."

Formerly Known As Trees

Two views of the Chips Fire from Quincy.  Helping some parts of the economy and scaring others, it is nonetheless a part of the Water Cycle, the Carbon Cycle, and will enhance some aspects of nature's operating system.  Due to the ways we've managed forests, the places we've chosen to build houses, and probably our carelessness with cigarettes and camp fires, this one is inconvenient, expensive, and scary.  Will the right lessons be learned?  Probably not.