Saturday, March 30, 2013

Keddie Cascades Trail

 Thursday afternoon hike along the Keddie Cascades Trail felt like spring for sure.  Several new wildflowers blooming and various invertebrates and lizards were out and about.  Detailed observations and experiences will be added to this post when I get time.  Probably Monday morning.

Friday, March 29, 2013

To Drink or Not to Drink?

 This spring was our intended destination on yesterday's adventure.  We arrived thirsty.  The source in the little cave above the waterfall looked like the emerging water must have been filtered by the mountain above.  Very tempting.  However, having experienced giardia once before, I decided we should not indulge.  Our goal was to see if our friend the Hellgrammite was still under the rock at the base of the fall.  He wasn't.  But another, probably a relative, was.
This is such a fascinating creature.  The nymph of the Dobsonfly, it spends the majority of its life in larval/nymphal stages, and only a small portion as an adult.  Imagine if in a 75-year human lifespan, we decided the "age of majority" would be 70.  Think of the legal and social implications.  It's sort of a moot experiment, of course, because all reproduction and child rearing would be done my minors.  That is, if such were even legal.  And Dobsonflies are not even the most extreme example of this disparity between youthful life and adulthood.  There are many insects whose adult life is a day or less.  Food for thought.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Had a Hunch

I could see the dark clouds moving in as I left the college around 2:00, but I had a hunch that if I beat the rain to Keddie Cascades, I'd get in some good photography.  I was hoping a few new flowers were making their season's debut.  At a certain bend in the road - the road named Old Highway - where I photograph Shooting Star, Death Camas, Rattlesnake Plantain, among many others, I thought just maybe the springtime action has begun.  And sure enough, as I approached that bend, my son spotted a few Shooting Stars.  After taking a few photos, we continued on to the trailhead of the Keddie Cascades Trail, parked the car, and hiked in approximately a mile.  I wanted to get at least as far as a certain spring that comes out of the rocky wall on the right hand side of the trail and see if the Hellgrammite I've seen under the same rock for the past two summers was possibly still there.  We ended up seeing lots of interesting plants and animals along the trail, and I'll give a full report tomorrow.  The Shooting Star was a good omen.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Part Two of a Spring Hike

 The first butterfly I saw on this walk, also the first one I've seen anywhere this spring, was a Mourning Cloak.  I could tell from its flight pattern that I wouldn't be able to get very close, so I decided to switch to my telephoto.  Not quick enough.  It took off.  I didn't expect to see another butterfly, but a few yards away we came to a little microclimate, a puddle in the road where several species of butterflies had gathered.  They weren't as skittish as the Mourning Cloak, so it was easy to get some photos.  The first one, above, landed on a branch of a young cottonwood.  My butterfly knowledge and field guides are limited, but this one seems to resemble the Commas, genus Polygonia sp.  Anyone who knows the butterflies is welcome to post an ID in the comment section below.
 Always an exciting find when tipping over pieces of bark and small logs is the scorpion.  First one for me this spring, this one seemed to be about 1 1/2 inches long when the tail is straightened, which happened briefly as it tried to run away.
 This young Ponderosa Pine looked cute to me at the base of a large Black Oak.  I noticed there were no adult pines close enough to have dropped a cone or seed here, so I assume some animal transportation.  This was in a grove of mostly oaks, and there many active squirrels on this day.
 A wider view is closer to what it looked like when I came upon the scene.  SOme young firs in the background might have gotten here the same way.  No adults of this species nearby.
 I love early-season moss when nothing else around is green.  It seems to make the green appear to glow. 
 Here's some young Mullein breaking ground among a stand of older stalks.  Mullein is a biennial, producing the tall, flowered stalks in the second year of growth.  After the second summer, the stalks die and dry out, but they might remain standing for several more years if the winters are not too harsh.
 Here's a better view of the stand of old stalks.   This area is west of Gilson Creek and close to a RR tunnel that passes through the treed ridge in the background.
 The Blue-eyed Mary have suddenly appeared.  These were once in the Family Scrophulariaceae or Figworts, and still are in my most recent field guide.  Maybe the botanists are undecided.  These are so tiny, they are easy to overlook, but worth a trip down on your hands and knees.
 Many photos in this blog have featured my left thumb.  I figure it looks more natural than a ruler.  My thumbnail is 5/8" wide, so I'd estimate the width of the flower to be about 3/16".
An even smaller little beauty is one I've posted here three years in a row, begging my botanist followers to identify it for me.  Meanwhile, I'll just enjoy looking at it.  They're springing up and blooming in the warmer, south-facing areas around Quincy.  My dirt parking space at home is on a north-facing slope and I'd guess these won't appear for another month, but when they do they are plentiful.   There will be a part three to this travelogue as I still have photos of other butterflies and flowers to share.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

in Just-

 spring      when the world is mud-luscious ....  We returned to the Gilson Creek area after a week of relatively warm weather and the world seemed puddle-wonderful.  e. e. cummings captured the spirit of spring, and today's sightings confirmed its arrival.  Last week we saw just one California Buttercup blooming.  Today there were many, and several other species of wildflowers had arrived, too.  It will take two or three posts to tell the whole story of today's wanderings.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
 Before hitting the trail, I read an essay in the New York Times.  A friend in Oregon alerted me to it, or I would have missed it.  By Edward Hoagland, it is titled "Pity Earth's Creatures."  Read one way, it's rather depressing, as it's a story of how human's have run roughshod over the planet and despite all the scary evidence of the danger we've put ourselves in, we continue to do it.  Read another way, it is a lively and blunt wake-up call which I definitely intend to share with my students.  The essay is loaded with allusions from Aesop to the cyber-world that could be launching pads for dozens of discussions and essays.  And, hopefully, might stir some people toward right livelihood.
Now, back to e. e. cummings' imagery.  The above photo represents "puddle-wonderful."  A large, brown puddle in the middle of the dirt road to Gilson Creek supported at least one future wildflower.  Most plants have similar-looking embryonic leaves, so I couldn't identify this one.  By next week, if it survives a few dozen gigantic SUVs passing by, it will have sprouted the next pair of leaves which will probably resemble the leaves of the adult plant and make it possible for me to identify it.
 In the same puddle, I found an empty clam shell.  Many pictures were immediately formed in my mind.  Mussel Shoals, Alabama, the Mendocino Coast, Galatoire's restaurant in New Orleans where I first ate mussels many years ago, and so on.  When I turned it over, the bright colors on the inside reminded me of abalone.
 Then, another pleasant flashback.  A baseball, or what remained of one.  As a kid, I'd often hear my dad celebrating a Ted Williams home run by shouting "Well I'll be g--  d-----, he knocked the cover off the thing."  Now I know what he meant.  But we're a long way from Fenway Park.  Must have gotten here some other way.
 I was more hopeful today that my habit of turning over small rocks and logs would yield some excitement.  I was right.  First, I found Ground Beetles.  This is a generalized name for the ones that immediately run fast when you expose them.  Very difficult to get good photos without capturing them.  This time, it was still cold enough that she acted like the slower-moving Longhorn Beetles.
 Across Spanish Creek we saw a probable victim of lightening.  A very tall Ponderosa Pine that was quite dead.
 The next two photos should be in reverse order.  I was quite excited to find a few patches of leaves of the Fan Violet, Viola sheltonii.  I figured they might be blooming by next weekend.  Then we came to a small area that was sheltered from the wind and seemed several degrees warmed then the path to it.  I spotted my first Fan Violet blooming.  After photographing the familiar yellow face, I twisted it to show that the backside of the flower is a kind of brownish purple.
 As we roamed around the area we eventually found dozens of them blooming.
We then headed across the railroad tracks and hiked up the hill to the same spot where we did some sketching a week ago.  At that time I sketched the leaves of the Mountain Violet, Viola purpurea, and I figured that by today they, too, would be blooming.  But, I was wrong.  Lots more leaves have emerged, but no blooms yet.  After sitting and writing for a while, we headed back by a slightly different route and found several more species of flowers blooming, lots of butterflies, and some other interesting bugs.  I'll continue this story with more photos tomorrow.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Gradual Greening

 A welcome sight on my way up to the FRC library was the appearance of Duckweed in a drainage ditch.  There are several floating plants that go by the name Duckweed, and after I get out my hand lens and do a little more investigating, I plan to make some drawings and tell a little of the natural history of this plant. 
 Here's a closer view.  Click on it to get even closer.  On some ponds, even the eastern end of Snake Lake, I have seen such dense growths of Duckweed that the ponds' surface resembles a golf green and it's tempting to try to walk on it.  It's also fun to scan the surface for sight of the occasional pair of frog's eyes poking through.  Photos of such sights should be arriving soon.
 I love watching the seasonal appearance of the male and female flowers of the White Alder. The early season appearance of the male catkins contrast with the persistent female cones (not shown in this photo) from last summer.  Soon those will be pushed off by the emerging new cones.  There are a number of healthy-looking White Alders along the road leading to the upper campus at FRC, but one older specimen has an advanced infection of Tongue Fungus.  I'm predicting that one will be cut down this year, but so long as it lasts it's interesting to see how it clings to life even when the fungi outnumber the leaves and flowers of the alder.
My son spotted this new (to me) spider on a tree where I have taken many photos of the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  From its body shape and movement, I guessed it's some type of crab spider, but I haven't yet found it in my field guide. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reminder of Tarzan

My back yard bird chorus seems less intense than usual for this time of year, but the squirrels are doing fine.  I love watching their death-defying leaps from my back deck.  Once in a great while I see a mistake.  They'll jump for a branch that can't support their weight.  But, like a cat, they manage to go through rapid body contortions on the way down, reducing their speed, and usually having a safe landing.  Unlike cats, they seem just as adept at climbing down a trunk as they are at climbing up, due to their ability to rotate the rear legs into a position that the claws on the rear feet can grasp the bark.
Woodpeckers have this ability, too, with two toes pointing forward and two backward, rather than the more common configuration for birds of three forward and one backward.  Exciting details.

I B-egg to Differ

I must have been born a skeptic.  The way I see it, either there are live chickens in this truck, which would be cruel, or eggs can get fresher.  Nice photo though.  I mean the one on the truck.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Baker's Dozen from the FRC Nature Trail

 OK, I counted wrong.  Let's just say it was a generous baker.  My narrative about this wonderful hike will be posted tomorrow morning.  It's past my bed time.  Make no bones about it.
Friday: 7:54 p.m.  I didn't exactly make it by Wednesday morning. Got very busy and had to put blogging aside.  Since my enjoyable hike on the FRC nature trail, we've had more warm weather and more wildflowers are blooming, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  The top two photos were taken soon after I got on the trail from the trailhead at the south end of the main parking lot at the college.  The most noticeable feature, if one looks upward, would be the large Ponderosa Pines, Douglas-firs, and even some large California Black Oaks.  On the other hand, if one looks downward, the most prominent feature would be horse poop.  I'm generally in favor of "multiple use" in principle, but I do think different access points for hikers and horses should be developed.  As one gets into the higher elevations, the concentration of users thins out and an occasional pile of poo on the trail is not a problem.  But, as it is now, that first 100 yards can be quite unpleasant as well as suffering from erosion. 
After that beginning stretch, I began to enjoy other natural features.  The top photo is of a part of a pelvis, most likely of a deer.  Then I came across a group of squirrels that seemed to be playing with each other.  Click on the second photo for a better view of one of the squirrels racing across a downed tree trunk.  Then, where the trail forks into upper and lower routes, someone had decorated the signpost with a hawk feather.  Nice touch.
Next is a view of the lower branch of the trail in a stretch where the canopy was thin enough to let some sunlight through.  Compare that with the following photo taken a little further along where the canopy closes and lets very little sunlight through.  It's kind of a nice, mysterious feeling which could be scary if it weren't so close to the campus and a relatively busy paved walkway.

I suppose this next one is out of order since the main accumulation of horse poop was near the beginning of the trail.  But I couldn't resist posting at least one image of it.
Next, at the bast of a large oak, I found nice adjacent patches of moss and lichen.
Then an even prettier sample of a fruticose lichen growing up through a patch of moss.
As I approached the end of this branch of the trail near the buildings of the upper campus, the large trees gave way to shrubs, many of which were covered with a bright gray lichen.  Is bright gray an oxymoron?  Click on this image and see what you think.
When I came across a group of three deer, I had to shoot into the sun, but the rays gave this one a dramatic look, as if this deer were something special.
Beyond the first buildings one encounters, the trail passes through an oak grove with a sign honoring the early presence of Maidu Indians on this site and explaining a bit about their controlled burns used to increase the acorn harvest.
Last, as I entered the nearest building to use the drinking fountain, I spotted a very active moth.  I tried a half dozen times before I could get a shot of it standing still.  The carpet in this photo reminds me of a package of assorted jelly beans.
Then, on the way back to my car, I found the Spring Whitlow Grass was springing up in the lawn everywhere.  This flower is so small, one could walk over it every day throughout the spring without noticing it.  It's quite pretty close up.  A member of the mustard family, Brassicaceae.