Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Transition

I drove over the northernmost pass over the Sierra Nevada today.  The northernmost with a highway that is.  The full report will be my first post for March. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

If the Soviets Liked Apple Pie

 This selection from my archives is a celebration of interactions of plants and animals and me that are a constant reminder that everything is connected to everything else.  There's a truly crazy thing going on in my county that ignores this truth.  It seems that "sustainability" is no longer a common sense goal of all human behavior but instead is a code word for "bad people in foreign countries and their American accomplices are going to take away your property and your freedom."  Jeeeesh!
 This recent eruption of idiocy reminds me of discussions I used to have with my college buddies during the Cold War.  The anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy Era had taken many bizarre forms, and we used to say that we might need to give up our popular phrase "as American as apple pie."  You see, if the Soviets took a liking to apple pie, it must be bad and we'd have to ban it.
 So, backtracking on the photos.  I grew up hearing moths are bad.  They eat your clothing.  I found the moth in the top photo in the ladies room at summer camp.  What was I doing there?  A female camper who knew I would love to see it told me it was there and she guarded the rest room while I entered with my camera.  What a beautiful creature, an Eyed Sphinx.  I would volunteer some old clothing to feed it if in fact it ate clothing which it doesn't.
 The second photo is of a Thread-waisted Wasp feeding on a daisy in my front yard.  It might look scary to someone taught that all wsaps are scary, even deadly!  But I know otherwise and I have spent hours watching them feeding on various flowers.
   The third photo is of a Yellow Jacket building its nest.  It was too busy to pay attention to me, so I watched for ten or fifteen minutes, admiring its engineering ability.  If I get stung once in a great while watching things like this it is well worth it.  By the way, I get stung about once every few years.  No big deal.  I see wonders!
 Here is one of the many beautiful bugs that like the Showy Milkweed.  This one is the Small Milkweed Bug (not to be confused with the Red Milkweed Beetle in the bottom photo.  In the strict scientific sense of the word bug, or true bug (Order Hemiptera), a bug is not a beetle and a beetle is not a bug.
 Another visitor to the Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, is the Carpenter Bee.  These can sting or bite and eat huge holes in solid wood, hence the name, and they might like to build a nest in your house.  There are ways of dealing with this without poisoning the environment and without trying to eliminate the species. 
 A mini-ecosystem in this photo.  The intended subject was the Ladybird Beetle, but I thought the color contrast would be nice if I included the flower.  Only after I put the photo on my large laptop screen did I notice the aphid trying to stay out of sight of the beetle.  As I said earlier, everything is connected to everything else.
 One of my favorite "bugs" to watch and photograph is the Goldenrod Crab Spider, here in the middle of a meal of Checkerspot butterfly.  This spider can turn yellow, although it takes a few days, and I've caught it in the act of devouring several dozen different species of insects.  Showing more patience than most humans, it simply waits with front pair of legs outstretched, more or less resembling a crab. One hypothesis is that most if not all prey are mistaking the spider for a flower in which they attempt to feed on the nectar.  Surprise!  This drama was photographed in the Butterfly Valley Botanical Area.
Remember, if everything is connected to everything else, all these plants and animals interact and they are connected to the sustainability of all life on this planet.  By not recognizing this, our species is on a suicidal path.  Do your property rights extend to the right to destroy the environment?  I'd say not.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Early Morning Activity

 I left the house with my camera at 6:45 thinking of capturing some images of sunrise, but other things got my attention.  First, the frost on my car windows. These images count as "activity" because I could not only see the frost forming but when I turned on the defroster I could see it evaporate.  The proper term is actually sublimate since it did not melt but went directly to vapor.
 As I pulled up to the coffee shop parking lot where I would normally get a good view of sunrise, a group of Ravens got my attention.  Besides the three on the ground, there were several others on the nearby roof and individuals on top of several light poles, all eye-balling this same patch of pavement.  There must have been some tasty morsels I couldn't see. 
 It was fun watching the dynamic of social contact and competition.  Suddenly the one from the roof swooped down and the three originals flew away.  As I approached the lone brave one he was reluctant to give ground. 
 I got within 6 feet when he started to run, then soon afterward took flight.
At that point, I realized I had missed the sunrise, so I went inside to look at my photos.  I'm wondering if the plastic spoon in the fourth photo is what all the fuss was about.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Random Access Memory

It's taking forever to load just one photo onto my blog tonight.  I think everyone in the world except for me must be watching the Academy Awards.  My son just did an internet speed test and it came up slower than he's ever seen anywhere!  So, the photo of a starfish may or may not load.  If not, I will try again tomorrow, along with an explanation of my title.

Tomorrow (2/25): Turns out there was a problem with the land line, or some switches somewhere.  So, last night I got a partial picture of my starfish.  This morning at another location I am able to load the whole thing.  This dried starfish has been a decoration in our bathroom for years.  It's been 50 years since I took Comparative Invertebrate Anatomy.  Haven't studied Echinoderms since. When I spotted the little white circle, approximately in the 2 o'clock position slightly off center, the term "madreporite" popped into my head.  It's the entry point for the pumping system that allows starfish to adhere tenaciously to rocks, shellfish, etc.  When I ponder the thousands of things I've forgotten since college days, I wonder what brain function chooses to remember such a term as madreporite.  I wonder if under hypnotism I could still pass the semester exam.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Afternoon Walk

 My plan was to walk fast for health and not make it a photography trip.  But, I brought along the camera just in case.  Sure enough, I hadn't got 50 feet beyond my driveway when I was captivated by my neighbor's Juniper tree.  The berries turn quite blue as they age, and this one was in fine form.
 I managed to walk about two more blocks before I came across a nice California Black Oak near the museum.  The acorn cups seemed to be begging to be treated artistically.  So, I practiced composition, all the while wondering if placing a rectangular border around a piece of nature is art.

 This cluster of five is my favorite.  I could have spent another hour by this tree, but the walk was for health, so I got going again.
 I met a friend who wanted to walk fast, so we did.  For another hundred yards, that is.  Then I saw this Evening Grosbeak land in some willows by Boyle Creek.  I didn't have my long lens with me, but I managed to get pretty close without scaring him away.  A sign of spring?  I did manage to walk home at a high rate of speed, thus accomplishing my original purpose. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Early Morning Light

When I left my driveway at 6:30 a.m., I entered dense fog.  At least I thought it was fog.  Had a flashback to a silly line of poetry I wrote over 40 years ago while teaching a high school class the elements of poetry.  "Desperately daring to distinguish fog from smog boggles my goggles." Sounds very silly now, but at the time it appropriately referred to the steady increase in the smog-to-fog ratio in the Central Valley that ultimately prompted my escape to the Sierra.  I'm pretty sure what I drove into this morning was not entirely fog.  It was quite dense in the direction of the 'industrial zone' of town and, as you can see in the above photo, the sky was clear toward the West.  That's Spanish Peak glowing in the early morning sunlight before it reached the valley floor.  Just bringing this up caused another flashback: a memory of studying Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People."  The theme: if bringing money to a community involves producing pollution, people don't want to know about it; and if they don't like the message, they'll shoot the messenger.  I'd better go hide.
The bed of Ponderosa Pine needles on the ground below me brought back memories of playing pick-up-sticks.  I wonder if cold weather causes these flashbacks.  What I did for a good 15 minutes was shiver and process old memories.  Hmmmm.
The frost did some beautiful things in the area, too.  As I said to a friend in an early email, I didn't need to go to a coffee shop to get wired.
A 'field' of frost on top of a fence post.  I wish I could hang around and watch it sublimate.  The air seems dry enough that the frost should disappear without melting.  That always fascinates me.
A frosty knot got my attention before I had to get back into the car to get warm.
To complete the story, here's the view East where the stuff in the sky is ambiguous.  Fog?  Smog?  Either way, it makes the sunrise more dramatic.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Some Winter Greenery

 Despite its being a gray and windy day with a storm looming to the North, these scenes made me feel warm.  Only a short distance from yesterday's goose and fungus photos, I walked through the woods and found vegetation that proved to me plants can be beautiful in mid-winter.  The persistent manzanita berries were almost black, but will probably hang on until the spring buds push them off.  These clusters made me wish I'd had the time to draw and paint.  Also, the longer you stay in a spot, the more likely something exciting will happen. 
 Growing up in Massachusetts, I used to see drawings and paintings of trees like this in my cowboy and Indian books, especially ones by Holling C. Holling.  I didn't think trees like this existed, but now I live among them.
 A scatologist is rather like an archaeologist.  There's a story in this poop.  I didn't think to place a pen or a comb on the ground for scale.  This gathering of bear scat is around a foot from end to end.  Evidence of the bear's diet was easy to read.
                                         Prickly Ponderosa it is. 
 The male cones of California Incense Cedar provide a nice color contrast with the foliage.
 This is the sort of view you often see of Coastal Redwoods on post cards.  Here we have Douglas-fir.  When I get in a spot like this, I feel like a little kid again.  I could stare straight up until my neck cramps, then do it again and again.

Before the Storm

 I took a short drive with my camera yesterday afternoon and came across a nice scene, a bend in Spanish Creek, where three Canada Geese were hanging out on a small peninsula in the distance. 
 As I slowly approached their spot, they seemed to be uneasy, not so much with my presence and something in the air.  Maybe I was imagining it, but they seemed to be wary of an impending storm.  I know, easy to say since today the storm arrived.  At least six inches of snow all around American Valley.  I wonder where the geese are today. 
   Anyway, two of the three crossed the creek and scrambled up the steep bank.  I zoomed in to photograph the one furthest behind.  The scene reminded me of the one on Main Street last week when I came across three Ravens feeding.  A bold one stayed behind until the last possible safe second while the two skittish ones took off as soon as they saw me coming.  I wonder which are the most successful.

 A few miles away, I wandered through the woods by the side of Highway 70 and spotted some interesting Fungi.
 This rather large "shelf" fungus was growing on a Ponderosa Pine stump.  I've seen this species (I think) grow to 18" across on large pines in the Bucks Lake Wilderness.  Making more soil.
On a larger stump, Dougas-fir I believe, I saw this nice gathering of a Turkey Tail Fungus or a close facsimile.  Even though I only have a still camera, to a Naturalist with imagination, there is a lot of activity in these photos.  I hope you can feel it.  Sometimes I'm tempted to try video, then I resist, thinking my imagination might get lazy.  Some would say that by using any kind of camera I risk having my memory get lazy. 

Monday, February 18, 2013


 My friend Spencer Dykstra (at Spencer Dykstra Photography) enthusiastically reports that early blooming is underway at Table Mountain.  He posted a photo of poppies.  I was aching with envy.  I could feel his enthusiastic paragraph urging the seasons along.  I thought I'd try a little of the same.
There won't be any wildflowers blooming around Quincy for a while longer.  Still too cold.  Some people urge the process along by planting Crocuses and other early-blooming cultivated flowers.  See my previous post.  The Crocuses were planted in front of Patti's Thunder Cafe, formerly Morning Thunder.  Call it cheating if you will, but I've decided to help spring along by posting one of last year's poppies.
I encountered more concrete evidence of seasonal change when I took an early morning walk downtown yesterday.  There was a sudden increase in bird activity over previous days. Robins are a harbinger of spring of course, and there were lots feeding on the courthouse lawn and in many people's front yards.  I also saw and heard many Stellar's Jays and they were sitting side by side with Mourning Doves on the the power lines.  There were also Ravens and Brewer's Blackbirds, and maybe a few Starlings.  More birds than I've seen in my neighborhood since last November.  It's hard for me to capture birds with a camera, and I didn't have my camera with me which makes it even harder.  So, again in the spirit of urging the season along, I'm posting last year's hummingbird.  They will come back, won't they?
10:10 a.m.  I published the above around 6:30 this morning when I wasn't fully awake.  I just now realized that I made no sense of the title.  It was inspired by Spencer's recent post in which his words, stirred by early blooms, reminisced on past trips to Table Mountain in all seasons and projected ahead to exciting trips to come.  The poppies were just markers in a continuum, and anyone who visits a place like Table Mountain often enough (your own back yard probably qualifies) will develop a sense of being part of a cycle, a continuum, which has its own special features in every season and time of day.  I've always been curious about life cycles in the tropics.  We temperate zone people tend to think we have a corner on seasons, but even in lands with much less temperature variation than ours, there are undoubtedly seasons for individual species of plants and animals that are noticeable and provide the same feeling of continuity.  Thanks to Thomas Edison's light bulb, more and more people at all latitudes are staying inside most of the time.  Do they know what they're missing?

Friday, February 15, 2013


 I was determined to photograph flowers today, even if I had to visit a nursery, or the Safeway flower department.  But I came across freshly bloomed Crocuses in the garden in front of Morning Thunder.  Thanks Patti for helping spring along.
A cruised around town a bit longer to see if I could find any native wildflowers blooming.  No luck, but I did find new leaves of Cinquefoil emerging along North Mill Creek Road.  New I have a few places to watch.  More sunny weather ahead, and I should see some action.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Little Botanical Confusion

One of my favorite images from yesterday's walk around FRC is of the Watercress.  This was in a 50-foot long strip of lush greenery along the south-facing side of one of the hatchery buildings.  The creek that flows by has been confined to a cement channel, and I suspect the building absorbs a lot of solar energy creating a kind of windowless greenhouse.  Watercress is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae, along with cabbage, broccoli, and other edibles.  The scientific name is Nasturtium officinale. There are several other species of Nasturtium in the USA, but the garden nasturtium with its bright yellow and orange flowers is not one of them.  In fact, that nasturtium isn't even in the same family.  It's Tropaeolum majus.  More warm (relatively) weather ahead, so maybe we'll be seeing some crocuses and other early birds among the spring wildflowers soon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wandering Under the Sun

 Feather River College is in the northwest corner of American Valley, so it receives a great deal more sun each day than my house on the south side.  I'm at the base of Claremont Mountain and shaded by tall Douglas-firs and Ponderosa Pines.  On my wanderings around FRC I found large areas with no snow on the ground and the soil was actually warm compared to my front yard which is still ice and snow around a foot deep.  Along Golden Eagle Drive leading into the college the willows in the wet areas are budding beautifully (above) and there are many kinds of green starting to show on the ground and in the water.
 The filamentous algae in the flowing water are colorful, and I couldn't resist picking up a couple of blobs with a stick.  I wish I had a microscope because these green hairs are habitat for a wide variety of microscopic organisms - ciliates, flagellates, and flatworms, etc.  This coming spring I'm going to find a way to borrow a microscope and start photographing the wonders found in creek and pond water, especially the unclear kind.

 No polarizing filter, but if you click on this photo you can probably make out the large trout in the hatchery ponds.  Covered with ice only a couple of weeks ago, the ponds are now an exciting scene with fish jumping and ospreys planning robberies.
 Healthy clumps of moss adorn some of the sidewalk cracks.
 This young plant will produce a five-petaled, pink flower, only a quarter inch in diameter.  These grow in my dirt driveway and I haven't been able to identify them.  Probably non-native.  Will try again this spring when they bloom.
The Lupines have made their first appearance.  This clump is about 4 inches across.  Exciting signs of spring.  I now it's only February, but I'm ready for April!