Sunday, September 30, 2012

Eye to eye? Not

Enjoying my few remaining daisies.

Finally, a daisy learns to bloom below the blades, not that I plan to mow again before winter. So this
one might pass its cleverness on to next year's crop.

 Dragonflies land with their wings spread, and damselflies land with them over their backs.  Could this be a hybrid?  Or merely a dysfunctional damselfly?
 Radar (below) graces a crack in the sidewalk while watching my photo adventure.
Finished the month of September with a satisfying 30 posts in 30 days.  Some viewers might be getting tired of seeing a certain bug on my front lawn daisies.  Let me explain.  It's not due to a lack of interesting subject matter in my environs.  It's because these little critters exhibit lots of interesting behavior.  Lacking a video camera or skill with such, I keep taking still photos to keep my memory of what I'm seeing fresh.  This morning, this pair of bugs seemed to be communicating, butt to butt.  Many insects mate in this position, so there's nothing inherently startling about this.  However, I am curious about what sort of communication takes place.  It could be primarily olfactory.  I'm sure some entomologists know.  I just like to observe and speculate.  As the late physicist Richard Feynman put it, for "the pleasure of finding things out."  As the variety of critters wandering about decreases sharply with the onset of colder weather, I'll be delving deeper into the natural history of my favorite plants and animals seen over the past summer.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Virtues of an Unmowed Lawn

 I posted a photo of this same little daisy two weeks ago and hoped it would last until Fall which began on the 22nd.  Well, it's still here and now has a companion bloom, but is still only 6" tall!  It's showing the same spirit I'm trying to maintain, think of the season in terms of beginnings, not endings.  By not mowing the lawn, I'm encouraging all sorts of activities that inspire my photos and writing. 
 The Yellow Wood Sorrel are making another appearance following a couple of days of brief watering.  The grass is still mostly brown, but evidently there were lots of other kinds of seeds waiting for such a moment.  Today I have a half dozen new blooms of Sorrel, several blooming Field Clover, and the Ox-eye Daisies are hanging in there and still hosting interesting bugs.  That the Dandelions are making a fierce stand almost goes without saying. 

More hot days forecast, so more photo and sketching fun ahead, then snow.  Last year the first snow in our yard fell October 5.  Hmmmm.... 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

4th down and long yardage...will they punt?

 A well-watered practice field being put to good use.  I'm wondering if the geese will punt (i. e., fly South), or hang in there and go for it (i. e., try to survive winter here).  The college's mascot is the Golden Eagle (I've seen one on campus in 20 years), but perhaps it should be the Honkers.
They do seem to know what they're doing.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


 A couple of weeks ago I had over 50 Daisies blooming in my front lawn.  Today, all that's left is this small patch.  AS the food supply diminishes, certain bugs are gathering for their last meals before winter.  As I came closer I saw three bugs on one daisy.  They looked like siblings.  The Daisy was about ready to dry up, but there must have been a little edible tissue remaining.  As I watched,
 a fourth bug emerged.  Probably the same species, but maybe an adult, or a different gender.  Much fancier coloration.  Click for a closer view
 In the flower patch along our fence, there are just a few remaining flowers blooming, and a purple cluster got my attention.  The bees were very wary and they took off as soon as I approached.  As I was contemplating the slightly cooler weather and the cloud cover, I thought about my unfinished gathering of firewood.  Also, wanted to compare to last fall, so I checked last year's blog.  Turns out it snowed on October 5!  It melted quickly, though, and the treehoppers on the oaks in my driveway hung around in good numbers for at least another two weeks. 
 This year, though, the Treehoppers are about gone.  Today I could only find this one (below), and all the brightly colored nymphs I photographed last week are nowhere to be seen. I thought we'd get some rain today, but we didn't.  There's a great air of anticipation around our house.  We don't have all our firewood yet, and we haven't yet fired up our new wood stove.  We're trying to prepare good shelter for our pets, and on our frequent breaks from fall chores we 're enjoying watching the plants and bugs prepare for winter.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Approach "Fall Colors" with an open mind

 Certain Web Sites are lighting up with promotions of anticipated Fall Colors displays.  In some places B&B's are already booked and restaurants anticipate making up for a slow summer.  I've been out and about with my camera as usual, but on most days I have no specific goal.  I expect to be surprised and pleased by what Mother Nature has to show me.  I'm reluctant to invest a lot of money and drive a long distance in order to see one particular thing that might not happen, such as a gorgeous grove of golden-yellow Quaking Aspens against a bright blue sky backed by the snow-capped Sierra Buttes.  This morning I did a little scouting around Quincy, and the brightest colors I saw were on the Virginia Creeper growing on a chain-link fence by the fair grounds.  Any panoramic view I could visualize was actually rather ugly.  Power lines breaking up the blue sky, litter from fast food restaurants, and the fence itself, made most views from a distance unattractive to me.  Maybe the smell of rotting logs across the street was getting to me.   So, I did what I usually do in such circumstances - take a closer look.  Individual leaves (5 leaflets - above) look impressive when lit from behind by the sun.
 Approaching even closer, the vein patterns are impressive.
 Quincy often has bright blue skies, and photographers are often tempted, as I am, to make them even bluer on the computer.  Today, I resisted.  Blue enough!
 I actually held this leaflet in my hand as I couldn't find one sufficiently isolated to get the effect I wanted.  By the way, click on any of these for a closer view and more detail.
 If you walk around looking at the ground a lot like I do, and you're not trying to find your contact lenses, you will stumble across the "hips" of the California Wild Rose.  This one was at the side of Meadow Valley Road in a place where I saw nothing worth stopping for.  That is, until I stopped.  Then the wonders began to reveal themselves.  A few Baneberry fruits were still hanging on near the spring a couple miles from town where lots of people stop to fill their water jugs. 
 I find it amazing that the Baneberry is in the Buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.  The flowers look nothing like Buttercups.  Then neither do Columbine, Larkspur, or Monkshood which are also in that family.  One of these springs I'll photograph the flowers.  So far, the only time I've spotted them, such as in Boyle Ravine, I haven't been carrying my camera.  They're fairly non-descript from distance, so I need to return to one of the spots where I've recorded the presence of the berries in the fall.
 The California Black Oak generally turns a kind of orange and is most impressive when large stands are interspersed with the Pines and Firs on hillsides.  Occasionally, though, a few trees, especially young ones, will sport leaves that turn bright shades of red, orange and yellow while some leaves remain green.  There can be nearly a rainbow in an individual tree.  The two most reliable such trees that I've found are two young ones in front of Papa's Donuts in East Quincy.  Today, both trees are mostly green, but a few "suckers" (above) are showing some bright colors.  A closer look at the larger of the two trees (below) shows that this year they might turn mostly brown.  We'll see.  If that happens during peak season, I'll just go inside for a colorful donut or two.
 Now that fall has begun, most flowers are long past blooming.  Goldenrod and Rabbit Brush (below) are exceptions.  Since they and Chicory are among the few still blooming, the bees tend to congregate around them,  Here I caught a close view of a Carpenter Bee on a blooming Rabbitbrush near the library at FRC.  Every time I stop there in the afternoon there are lots of Honeybees, Skippers, a few Thread-waisted Wasps, and assorted other insects on the Rabbitbrush.  Enjoy while you can.  They, too, have to get ready for winter.
 While poking around the shrubs at the edge of Meadow Valley Road, I found lots of Western Fence Lizards zipping around, mostly too fast for me to photograph.  I did manage to close in on one who probably didn't think I saw him.  I'm sure they're hunting insects like crazy and trying to fatten up before going underground or into rotting tree trunks to wait out the winter.
 I wonder if these two Honeybees were kissing each other good-bye before hunkering down for winter. 
I hope I've made the case that there's lots to see in the fall even if the conventional "fall colors" don't live up to their billing.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Potentially Hazardous

This is the Spotted Assassin Bug, Rhynocoris ventralis, from my summer archives.  It can inflict a painful bite and spread disease to humans.  However, I've been lucky.  I've had these and their relatives the Western Bloodsucking Conenose crawl on my hands and I've never been bitten.  However, I have had acorns and pine cones land on my head.  After reading a bit about Chagas disease and a few others, I think I'll not be so casual about handling these again.  But they certainly make an attractive photo subject.

Dangerous Nature

I need to get a hard hat to go with my laptop.  I decided to sit under a huge California Black Oak, from which this blog derives its name, and do some research on the world wide web.  It was nice and quiet in a part of the FRC campus that has lots of very large oaks.  A sudden wind arrived and this acorn landed on my head.  I brought it home and used my laptop case for a background and got this photo.  A reminder nature is not entirely benign. 

Good-bye Until Next Year

This photo, taken this morning, will be my last visit to the Oak Treehoppers in my driveway until next year.  Each day I have found one or more clusters gone.  This is the last one, so i assume most of them have done what they do at this time of year or and/or have been eaten.  I hope they got to lay enough eggs that they'll be back next August or September.  These are big enough (around 1/3 inch) that I suspect they'll moult one last time and maybe lay some eggs.
I'm still finding pockets of intense insect activity here and there.  The best today, when I didn't have my camera, was on a small patch of Rabbitbrush by the front steps of the FRC library.  The Skippers were swarming and oblivious to my presence.  There were a few Thread-waisted Wasps and some Honeybees.  The flowers were still looking fresh.  I expect a few more days of Photo Ops here.

Jiminy Pays a Visit

 As I approached my office this morning, hoping to have a productive writing session before lunch, I was intercepted by Jiminy Cricket.  He said he'd given up on Pinocchio and was checking on other folks who have a lot to say.  As I approached him with my camera, he made a few leaps, but ended up saying he thought I was basically honest and he was going to move on to a Tea Party meeting. What a relief!
He rested a while on my fresh-cut birch rounds. Then I was suddenly overwhelmed by an image of an honest cricket  entering a room full of people with very long noses.  I can hardly wait til November 7 at which time Jiminy and I might begin a well-deserved break from political chatter.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reliable Fall Colors

Different Kinds of Flowers

 When I thought about the people who cannot see anything aesthetically pleasing about bugs and weeds, but are attracted to lots of things I find ugly, I decided I needed to step, however briefly, into that other world and see if I could relate.  So I drove to a place that is one of the ugliest I know of within a short drive of my home.  That would be an acre or so of forest just off the Snake Lake Road around 100 yards beyond the shooting range.  Just past the "No Dumping" signs I found a colorful display of shotgun shells.  This brought back memories of my first box of Crayola crayons in elementary school.  They were beautiful.  The teacher laboriously had the class repeat the names of the colors before we were allowed to open our boxes!  We could see the colors through a crescent-shaped slit on the front of the box.  "Class, repeat after me: red, orange, yellow, green, etc...."  I had known these colors for at least a couple of years, so this was incredibly boring.  I wanted to color!
 Within a few minutes, I was so impressed with the range of colors, I decided I would search for the full rainbow.  When I got to yellow, another first grade memory haunted me.  The teacher asked "What comes after yellow?   Mr. Willis?"   Being called mister in first grade gave me the creeps.
 I couldn't articulate why that was such a stupid question, so I whined softly "I don't know."  They all laughed at me.  Simple!   Green comes after yellow.  I was furious inside, but too timid to express myself further.  What if my box was upside down?  Then orange comes after yellow.  Are we supposed to read crayon boxes the same was as the printed page, left to right?  Who says?  It was absurd.  So, since my strongest memory is of the color yellow, this next photo celebrates an abundance of yellow.  I was in first grade around 3,000 miles from my present location, so it should be safe to vent after all these years.
 Precious green, which comes after yellow - at least in this photo sequence.  Enjoy.
 Blue seemed to glow in this environment.  One of my new favorites.
 I don't know if this one began as purple or if the sun is turning a blue one to purple.  At any rate, this is the best purple I could find.  Rusty, too, to break the monotony. 
 I found some bullet casings, too, which added to the excitement of finding these items which to some people are undoubtedly as beautiful as wildflowers are to me.  In fact, while posting these I found myself thinking of a recent flower sighting that matched each color: sweet pea, poppy, Gumplant, no green flowers laterly, but lots of leaves still green, chicory, and vetch.  So, I tried my hardest to see the shotgun shells as flowers
 The bullet casings stirred another aesthetic dimension - geometry.  I've always found geometry the most aesthetic branch of math.   The above photo I call "Eccentric Circles; Not Quite Concentric."
 I haven't seen any gold flowers.  Might as well call this one "Rimfire."
 And "Silver," memories of watching the Lone Ranger, liking Tonto, but hating the fake sound of hoofbeats on a sound stage.  Gadzooks, those Saturday a.m. cowboy shows were so phoney.

My archaeologist companion said this one looked like it used to be some sort of pigeon.  I just enjoyed the shade of orange.
 Speaking of different aesthetics, I was trying to imagine this being some sort of romantic setting, but I couldn't.  Maybe a launching pad for dirt bikes?
 Things get pretty ugly from this point onward.  An ugly mattress, but it might have become a good home for rodents.  I didn't check.
 I called this array "Targets" until I got closer.
 Then, I renamed this one "Another Kind of Logging?"
 And this horrific target must have been designed for the "sportsmen" who never got over WWII.  Challenges my faith in the principle of Freedom of Speech.  I wonder if targets on Japanese shooting ranges have pictures of John Wayne or some other such icon of American toughness.
 So, after contemplating my findings on this lovely field trip, I decided this was not a case of people unable to read, as I first suspected, nor necessarily a defiant crowd.  No, I decided they were just operating with a different aesthetic.  They weren't "dumping" but rather were "redecorating"  or perhaps "landscaping."  If people keep coming here they must find it beautiful.  I'm going back to communing with the likes of Star Thistle, Wasps, Rattlesnakes, and Poison Oak.  I feel safer.