Thursday, January 31, 2013

I'm Not in London!

I'm still in Quincy.  My driveway is still icy.  I'm looking forward to summer.  And, I've never been to London.  My email contacts know what I'm talking about.

Meanwhile, I saw some great Ravens close up today, but didn't have my camera.  Their beaks are very impressive.  I got within 10 feet of one,  and it was quite fascinating to watch him continue to eat on the lawn but constantly give me sideways glances, ready to take flight if I tried anything funny.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Opportunity and Opportunism

 I'm posting the photos first in order to reserve this space and jog my memory for a narrative that will follow.  Maybe it's the warmer weather, or maybe it's just a collision of my various sources of recent reading, but I'm finding (or imagining?) connections that I will try to explain later.  First, there's a disturbing (to me) piece in today's New York Times titled "American Evangelicals fuel Uganda's anti-L.G.B.T. crusade."  Then there's an article in Cornell Ornithology Lab's newsletter titled "The Bold and the Bashfull."  Finally, my early a.m. photos of a raven (actually, there were 3, but only one stayed).  These items have caused me to explore the idea of "opportunism" both in nature and in human society, which, more and more, I'm beginning to see as one.  Stay tuned.  Maybe look up some of these items then enter the dialogue.

Sat. evening followup: The bird study mentioned above involved placing identical feeders in two different settings, one out in the open and the other more sheltered.  It turns out some of the birds (same species) were risk takers and chose the feeder out in the open and tended to be aggressive in their pursuit of food.  They were more likely to be caught by predators, but, until that happened, they tended to be better fed.  The "bashful" birds tended to choose the feeder under cover.  They were 'safer' but were more likely to go hungry.  So, the three Ravens in my 'study' probably consisted of one bold and two bashful.  I have to resist the temptation to extrapolate this study to humans. 
The NYT article and accompanying video were unnerving.  The evangelicals in supporting an atmosphere that was already extremely hostile to homosexuality spoke in the same language of Hitler's earliest followers, that is, the language of intending to take over the world!  The language of smug self-righteousness.  I'm being redundant.  Very large amounts of money from across the USA were targeting Uganda and other African countries as being ripe for the spread of their particular brand of Christianity.  Too many fanatics on the loose!  Not good for the future. 
My last comments have to do with opportunism.  Certain animals seem to be flexible enough in their habits that they can adapt to a wide variety of conditions under pressure.  Ravens, for example, and pigeons and rats seem to be able to eat most anything when they choose to live in close association with humans.  I'm used to calling them opportunistic.  When I looked up the word, nearly every source gave it very bad connotations, essentially meaning 'taking advantage of unexpected opportunities without regard for the effects on others."  In other words, selfishness.  I've read a lot about the presence of altruism in humans and other animals.  I doubt that invertebrates can have a philosophy of altruism, but there are many examples of animal behavior in which individuals and groups sacrifice their own interests for the sake of the survival of the species. 
This has been a rather loose statement in response to some ideas that collided in my brain on a warm, foggy morning.  Some of the issues are definitely worth further exploration and careful expression.  I'm working on it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sensitivity Genes?

 I've been reading about a sensitivity gene, one that interacts with environmental conditions and manifests in either positive or negative ways in a person's life.  To paraphrase the article I read on Alternet, the gene, depending on the environmental conditions of its possessor, seems to fuel both the lowest and the highest of human accomplishments - from crime to creative genius.  Our species seems to have become less and less sensitive to environmental conditions ever since the industrial revolution began.  For instance, do you know what phase the Moon is in right now, or where Jupiter is in the sky?   Discovery of this gene could theoretically lead to protocols for regaining sensitivity to the environment.  I'm not sure they'll come up with anything more helpful than walking and paying attention.  So, why the frog photos?

Evidently, the frogs, among other critters, are pretty fine-tuned to temperature change.  
After a long spell of single digit morning temperatures (that's Fahrenheit!), we had a warmer day today.  It didn't freeze last night, and it rained a bit.  The Pacific Coast Chorus Frog, among other critters, was apparently sensitive to the change.  I parked in the lower parking lot of the FRC campus this morning, and, as I walked up the hill, I was struck by the large numbers of these little frogs chirping.  They were all in their mottled brown phase, so they were very difficult to spot.  There were also many Juncos and Ravens about, even though I had hardly seen any birds over the past couple of weeks.  I didn't see or hear any Bullfrogs, so I assume the ones living in the fish hatchery ponds are still buried in the mud at the bottom, or at least are not so easily tempted to enjoy a brief warm spell.
 For comparison, I'm posting a couple of summer photos of the same species of frog showing its green phase.    This frog occurs up and down the Pacific Coast and has amazing color variations.  Some taxonomists split it into three or more species.  The top two photos were taken in my front yard in Quincy and the bottom one was taken behind my previous home in Leggett (Coastal Range).
When I first moved to California it was still known as the Pacific Coast Tree Frog and had the scientific name Hyla regilla.  Due to some new genetic testing technology, it was found to be more akin to the East Coast Chorus Frogs and is now, in most manuals, known as the Pacific Coast Chorus Frog and scientifically as Pseudacris regilla.  This brief morning episode has given me 'delusions of spring.'  I'm sure it won't last.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

No Camera, No Picture

How I wish I were a skilled quick-sketch artist.  Today I found myself rushing through a series of errands and didn't have my camera on board.  On North Mill Creek Road, near Mr. B's auto shop, I saw a Great Blue Heron standing on snow in the middle of a crowd of parked cars.  He didn't seem to mind as several cars passed within 15 feet of him.  As I drove onward I visualized the sketch I wished I could have drawn.  This sort of scene is probably commonplace around malls in Florida, but in Quincy it seemed special.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rhyming About Rime

 I live in the shadow of tall White Fir and Douglas-fir trees, and in mid-winter, I only see the sun through the few openings between branches, and usually only for minutes at a time.  Thus, while most of the snow has melted off the south-facing slopes above Chandler Road, we still have over a foot of the white stuff in our yard.  That causes a certain amount of transportation consternation, but also results in some great displays of crystalline water.  The above photo is of one of those short-lived patches of sunlight which made the day's new layer of rime ice stand out.
 These great crystalline displays (be sure to click for a close-up) always remind me of the great displays of rapid-forming rime ice I've seen near the summit of Lassen Peak.  Sometimes the rocks are covered with six-inch-tall spikes of ice, and when they are brushed or kicked away, they can form again before our eyes in a matter of minutes.  I also have memories of fishermen returning to Plymouth harbor from the Grand Banks with their rigging covered with ice and telling stories of tragic adventures when crews could not keep up with the rapidly-forming ice and were helpless at their fishing boats sank under the weight.  My Mom is from Plymouth, still lives there at 93, and when I was a teenager I loved listening to fishermens' stories stories in coffee shops.  Their stories were far more interesting than recent coffee shop chatter about gun control.
 Our well cover is one of my snow gauges.  Snow still a foot thick there.  Our snow-damaged birch tree in the background might make it through the winter, but it's destined for the firewood pile next summer.
                                         One last close-up of ice crystals.  No signs of wildlife
                                          so far today.  But the day is young and it's supposed
                                          to warm up this afternoon.  Camera and notebook are

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Like a Kid FInding a Bird

 I was moving firewood from my woodshed to the front porch in 10-degree weather when I came across a beautiful, iridescent longhorn beetle that appeared dead.  It was out in the open, not protected by a beetle-made tunnel in the wood.  I thought I'd bring it inside for some photos regardless.

 After a few shots of its backside (dorasal) and front side (ventral), I left it on a piece of copy paper and went about my business.
 Some four hours later, I came back for a closer view of the ventral side.  I wanted to show how the segments of the antennae closely resembled the segments on the distal portions of the legs.
 When I poked the corpse to turn it over, I thought I saw a slight movement in one of the legs.  Hmmmmmm....  I decided to put a little water in the lid of a yogurt container and see what would happen.  Darned if more leg movement didn't occur.  I set the lid down on a sheet of ukulele chords I'd been using to work out a new song.  I might have been humming it.
 Lo and behold, my beetle started walking around and appeared to drink a little water.  The last photo in the series shows the beetle assuming a life-like posture, antennae poised for receiving information.
I felt really good about saving a beetle.  Reminded me of childhood experiences rescuing baby birds that had fallen or got pushed out of their nests.  Not really sure we saved any but for a few hours.  However, the experience taught us kids a lot about the nurturing attitude.
I knew I couldn't feed this beetle, and I thought the best I could do was return it to the woodpile.  While I enjoyed the feeling of being a rescuer, I realize I might have shortened this beetle's life by putting it through two radical temperature changes.  One beetle may not be important in the scheme of things, but thinking about protecting creatures that most people are inclined to destroy without question probably is important.  I love beetles.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Road to a Warmer Place

 From 8 degrees at sunrise in Quincy to 61 degrees in the afternoon in Chico felt like cheating.  Driving down Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon was an eyeful as usual, but we had appointments to keep so we drove by many photo opportunities at 55 mph.  Fortunately, we were able to head back to Quincy with plenty of daylight and photo time remaining.  The first compelling stop was just east of Jarbo Gap where the bright berries of Toyon decorated the hillsides.
 Another favorite that I haven't seen in months was the California Bay Laurel whose irresistible fragrance is released when leaves are pinched.  There were lots of fresh-looking ones from Yankee Hill onward through most of the canyon.
 Roadside wet spots had some greenery in the moving water, mostly watercress and small greens i couldn't identify.  Still standing from last summer were lots of Cat-o-nine-tails.
 The bush lupine was abundant from Jarbo Gap all the way down to the Pulga Bridges.  Looking forward to flower watching in spring along this stretch.
 Between Rich Bar and Paxton were lots of displays of frozen waterfalls.  It took great will power not to stop when I saw these on the way down in the morning, and I was hoping they would melt and crash before we returned.  These displays reminded my wife and me of days in western North Carolina where we'd see massive frozen waterfalls where daring people practiced their ice climbing.  Every now and then we'd be present when the temperature warmed and tons of ice would come crashing down onto the highway.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

More Scenes from Sunday

 This spot on the edge of Highway 70 always fascinates me.  It's a nice demonstration of one-point perspective, but more importantly, it points toward Spanish Peak and Bucks Lake Wilderness, on eof my favorite summer haunts.  Every time I look at it, I yearn for snow melt and summer hiking.  Some of my friends get just as excited about the place in winter and hike to the top of Spanish Peak in order to ski or snowboard their way back down.  I always wonder to what extent those activities foster a closeness to nature as opposed to a thrill ride that could be simulated at a theme park,  Probably a little of each.
 One of the reliable sources of color in winter is the lichen-coated branches of Black Oak.
 The trunk of the tree covered with berries that I posted yesterday has many beautiful patterns of holes drilled by the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  I always park in front of this tree and it never looks the same from one day to the next.  The blooming dandelion in yesterday's post is growing at the base of this tree.
 The trout ponds by the FRC fish hatchery provide many photogenic scenes.  We looked for animal activity in vain.  I'm sure there are lots of bullfrogs and tadpoles in the mud at the bottom.  Maybe fish, too.  We saw no motion of any kind except for a pair of mallards that took off as we approached.
 The mullein, a non-native member of Family Scrophulariaceae [I love to pronounce that word], has become an icon of western roadsides.  It has a two-year growth cycle after which the dead stalk may persist through several winters.  It provides interesting photo opportunities at all stages.  In the spring and summer it serves as host to many insects, spiders, and birds. I've heard that it first came to the USA on the Mayflower.  I have a habit of passing on that story during my guided nature walks, even though I'm not 100% sure of its truth.  But people are doing that sort of thing in churches and schools all the time. 
 In summer and fall, the Black Cottonwood is noticed for its foliage, but in winter, I am drawn to the bark and pattern of branching.  A common trees of streamsides at the Quincy elevation, its high-altitude cousin, the Quaking Aspen, has similar features.  Whenever I take a close look at any member of this family, I am reminded of all the others, and one of the stories about how Plumas County got its name.  Some think it was more likely to be the seeds of cottonwoods floating on the river than the down of waterfowl that gives the Feather River and "Feather" County its name.
As we exited the FRC campus after a satisfying photo mission, the oaks by the tennis courts look dramatic against the sky with their fairly stable crop of mistletoe.  The propagation of mistletoe is another interesting natural history story - for another day.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Three More from a Frigid Day

 On yesterday's cold weather photo trip, we parked in front of the same small tree where I've photographed the Red-breasted Sapsucker during the summer and followed the progression of leaf buds in spring through full foliage in summer to leaves falling in the fall.  This time the fruit stood out against a cold blue sky and there was just one persistent leaf remaining on the tree.  The snow from recent storms has mostly melted away in this particular spot, and it was a pleasant surprise... find a blooming dandelion that survived it all.
A few yards away where we took lots of photos in the vicinity of the FRC fish hatchery ponds,  I found this bold Iris surviving the snow and giving off enough heat to melt a small zone around itself, a kind of miniature version of the huge ones we see around the trunks of large Red Firs up at the 6,000 foot level on the surrounding mountains. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

This Bud's for You

Went out with a camera this afternoon in the frigid weather to see what nature had on display.  I couldn't operate the camera with gloves on, so I got really cold.  Hopped in and out of the car between shots.  I was showing my daughter a few things about composition, but it was so cold I didn't think I'd bring home anything noteworthy.  Now, in the warmth of my dining room, I find that I did!
I'll share my findings tomorrow morning. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Dust of Snow Without the Crow

 This photo captures what remains of yesterday's dusting of snow.  It is snowing again as I post this.  No crows around, so the snow might stay put for quite a while.
 In a nearby oak, a similar coating of the terminal branches made me contemplate my favorite summer attraction on this part of the oak trees, the Oak Treehoppers, which are now safely ensconced below the surface in the oaks' roots.  I always look forward to their reappearance in late summer or early fall.
                                         Dedicated to the late Robert Frost.

Invention of the Chair, or A Hunch About Haunches

I just read a popularized account of a scientific study that claims sitting down for 5 or 6 hours a day shortens one's life expectancy more than a pack-a-day cigarette habit.  I had read a few years ago in some magazine about men's health that a lot of sitting was bad.  Interestingly, that article didn't express any concern about whether it was also bad for women.  Anyway, the idea is now backed by data.   This got me to thinking about chairs, a human invention to be sure.  Before we had chairs, we sat on haunches.  And in most cultures, not for very long at a a time.  Seems like the ability to do that for more than a few seconds requires a certain amount of physical conditioning and good balance.
So, possibly the invention of the chair was a major turning point for humanity in the direction of poorer fitness.  We all know the term 'couch potato,' but 'chair potato?' 
I then pondered other human inventions that are mostly portrayed as advances or progress: agriculture, light bulbs, fossil fuels, nuclear power, computers....  Every one of these could be examined (and perhaps should be) from the perspective of trade-offs.  When we gained from the invention of agriculture, what did we lose?  Ask the same question for each of the 'breakthroughs' on my list.
I've walked around downtown a few times these past few days and am finding the streets and most sidewalks quite icy.  There's a lot of chatter at the coffee shops and gas station/mini-marts about the risk of falling, especially for senior citizens.  As a member of that group, I usually stir up a bit of trouble by claiming to enjoy the challenge the icy conditions present.  Good practice.  Why shouldn't I have to pay attention while walking around town?  [Same question could be applied to driving.] If I  slip and fall, should I sue and expect my fellow citizens to pay for my fall?  I think not.
One impression I get from spending a lot of time watching wildlife is of the incredible levels of fitness and alertness I see.  Animals' fitness for what they do is actually very inspiring to me.  We can't live forever, but why should we sacrifice years for the sake of sitting in a chair?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nature Impressions

 My strongest nature impression today occurred early when I was driving over the Highway 70 bridge near Gansner Park.  There was a Bald Eagle and a Raven, perched on the same large Black Cottonwood, no more than 6 feet apart.  There was no way I could get a photo.  No camera on board,  going too fast, and on a bridge.  All of the above.  Which brings me to today's photos.  I actually chose these two from my archives last night and promised myself I would post them this morning.  I was inspired by a posting on my friend Spencer Dykstra's blog.  He found some beautiful orange fungi poking up through moss over on the coast.  His photo reminded me of these two of mine  from last summer taken in my neighborhood, basically Boyle Ravine.  I cannot look at the top photo without thinking about some sort of organism sitting on top of or underneath each toadstool.  Perhaps elves singing or chanting, or maybe one ant per 'shroom.  All sorts of things come to mind.  Even though it's a still photo, I imagine animation.  Maybe a really long centipede or millipede walking through the mushroom forest wrapped around each stem in a convoluted pattern.  I think I need to send this one to my friend Chris Bolton.  He'll think of something.
This is the one that reminds me most of Spencer's photo.  By the way, check his out at SpencerDykstraPhotography and click on Expressions Blog.  But mine is all moss.  The tall, tan guys are the sporophyte generation while the green ones are the gametophytes.  For an interesting read, look up moss reproduction, or 'alternation of generations.'  The latter search might also lead you to jellyfish who have a sort of analogous process.  Although I got no photo, I'll remember the Eagle and Raven for a long time.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Something More Hopeful

After that last post of dead and dying things and a message about global warming, I thought I'd post something more lively and positive before going to bed, perhaps an idea for a Valentine's Day card.  Another item for my Beetlemania collection.

It's Getting Hot Around Here!

 Here are eight photos from dry places.  According to today's news (from many sources) 2012 was the hottest year in the USA on record by a full degree over the previous record which was in 1998.  To go along with that news, the January, 2013, issue of Harper's reports in its 'Harper's Index' that 98% of Canadians believe in Global Warming, 70% of Americans do, and 48% of Republicans do.  Appalling. 
 The dead animals in these photos didn't necessarily die of dehydration, but I've staged this set to show what extreme drought might look like.  There were extreme droughts in parts of the USA this past year.  Instead of putting lots of research energy and money into prevention, we think of technological 'cures' like cloud seeding, building bigger dams, drilling deeper wells, etc., piling stupidity on top of stupidity.  Sometimes I get very angry about stupidity, especially when I think about a generation or two into the future when children might not be able to know what a healthy Earth looks like, and therefore, not be able to work toward such a result.

Do something to reduce your ecological footprint.  Walk more!  Change your diet.  Use a rake instead of a leaf blower.  It would take more than a book to list all the easy ways to improve on our habits.

Plant "Decisions"

 A questions that has always fascinated me when looking at plants: how do they decide when and where to produce a branch?  Our Rubber Plant has survived man traumas including cat attacks and a fall off a counter that resulted in its coming entirely out of its pot and breaking a few smaller branches.  We carefully returned it to its pot after that last catastrophe and added some nutritious soil and water, and Voila!  it's still alive, although a bit droopy looking. 
But recently our plant produced this fast-growing branch near its base.  If this were a commercial fruit tree or other plant whose growth pattern we were trying to control, we would call it a sucker.  In this case, it might be the way the plant would attempt to survival if nearly everything above it were to die and fall off, like an old tree.  A lot of research has gone into this sort of question in recent years and has included analogous questions pertaining to the animal kingdom.  For instance, how does an animal blastula decide when and where to grow and arm, a leg, a tail, eyes, etc.  In college, I was fascinated by the study of embryology.  We'd study cross-sections of many types of animals, notably chickens and mice, in various stages of development from egg to birth.  We were amazed by the sequence of changes and the evolutionary relationships among the various animal categories, such as the gill slits that humans have at a certain stage, and the tail, and how these parts would turn into different things during development, such as parts of the middle ear, the lower jaw, and so on.  But way back then, the science of figuring out how these changes are triggered had barely begun.  In fact the structure of DNA had only recently been figured out.  As the science gets more complicated, and I get left behind, I can still take pleasure in being able to think of questions much faster than my ability or anyone else's to find answers.