Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How Fresh Is a Daisy?

 I took my camera with me on my early morning coffee run with the silly goal of reaching 212 posts for the first 212 days of 2013.  This one does it.  My first camera stop was a little garden outside Midtown Coffee.  When I saw this first Daisy, past its prime, I thought of the common phrase "fresh as a daisy" and got curious about its origin.  Turns out it is likely related to the fact that daisies tend to close up at night and open in the morning.  They probably open more reliably than people hop out of bed.  So, if a person looks alert at 6:00 a.m. and ready to seize the day, the comparison is apt.  But it only works in spring and early summer, unless you keep watering your daisies.  Still, how do we describe an enthusiastic early riser in November?
 This neighboring daisy probably got a little more water, as it looks a little fresher than the one in the first photo.
 This one looks even better. 

Then I moved on to the Sunflowers in front of Quincy Natural Foods.  I usually celebrate them every summer around this time.  Also, on the corner of Coburn and Monte Vista, I see the Sunflower growing out of an old apple tree stump has returned and is blooming.  Further up Coburn, several homes have Sunflowers, Cone Flowers, and other members of the sunflower family looking healthy and displaying an array of bright colors.
 The Sunflowers in front of QNF are in various stages from freshly bloomed to producing seeds.  They're also attracting a good variety of bees and wasps.  Fun to watch.

Next week I'll lead my last week of daily Nature Walks for the season out at Oakland Camp.  I did a little scouting of the area yesterday and things are looking pretty dry.  There were a few species of wildflowers blooming though.  An unusually big crop of Narrow-leaved Milkweed are in the fields between the North end of camp and Gilson Creek.  If they hold out for another week as they host a great variety of interesting bugs.  The Monarch Butterlies are still active in the area.  There are also some Arnica blooming, and Spanish Clover.  The other four species of Milkweed in the area have already gone to seed, and their different sizes and shapes of seed pods are fascinating.  I hope we catch a few at the stage of bursting open and releasing their seeds to the sky.

Thus ends my 212th post in 212 days.

Symptoms of Fall

 It's been such a hot, dry summer, that I'm hearing more often people looking forward to fall.  I'm included.  When we look for something, we tend to see it.  The Dogwood (above) won't undergo major color change for another couple of months, but when one or two leaves turn bright red ahead of time, it tends to stir anticipation.
 I've been looking at tiny, immature acorns all summer, but it seems like just during the past couple of weeks, lots of them have become full size and look like they're ready to give birth to new trees.  I now the squirrels are already busy in my neighborhood.
 Toward middle to late summer, the ponds at the college hatchery tend to get pretty clogged with filamentous algae, and probably some cyanobacteria as well.  That tends to be good for the non-native Bullfrogs, but not so good for the trout.  I love to photograph frogs and to watch them catch dragonflies, so I was a bit disappointed this morning when I saw hatchery workers dragging the algae out of the ponds.  Good for the trout though.
The White Fir, being an evergreen, is not necessarily a sign of Fall.  But I am in the midst of splitting my winter supply of firewood, and the young firs near my woodpile are an endless source of fascination for me.  When I drive Plumas County roads, I tend to take the pines and firs for granted.  But, the close-up views from my woodpile cause me to appreciate the symmetry of the attachment of needles to branchlets, and branchlets to branches.  Then at each node on the trunk there are from four to seven branches shooting horizontally like radii of a circle.  I find myself staring at the White Firs every time I take a break.  My mind wanders back to my youth when school began after Labor Day and August was still summer.  When I worked in the wheat country of eastern Colorado, it was common for the opening day of school to be postponed for weeks so the high school students could help with the harvest.  I still can't get used to California where Fall Semester begins in mid-August.
And, of course, every bug and flowering plant has its own idea of when summer ends and fall begins.
The whole concept of seasons is just a human construct, of course, and our story books and social conditioning favor the northern European paradigm.  But every region of the country, not to mention country of the world, has its own cycles of climate patterns.  Between now and, say Thanksgiving, there will be many traditional markers of the change of seasons.  But every since the invention of the light bulb, it seems people pay less and less attention to the sky and to the growth cycles of native plants and animals.  I remember when a few years ago I lived by Lake Tahoe and fall was a kind of holding pattern between summer and winter, the two seasons that brought in lots of money from tourists.  Fall, as such, didn't seem to be appreciated.  I confess, I grew to like fall best because of the lack of tourists!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Survival on Campus

 I cropper out the buildings so I can pretend this is a natural habitat.  The key to deer survival on campus is well-watered lawns, lots of edible shrubs on the edges, and a lack of nearby predators.  I saw this group when I arrived in the morning.  As I left in the afternoon, I startled a doe and fawn behind the building that houses the nursing program. (I haven't yet learned the names of the buildings.  The doe stood her ground.  She was apparently certain I was not a predator.
 A few yards away, I walked down into a ditch which is mostly the remnants of one of the original creeks that drained the canyon which the college occupies.  The original creek is mostly dry, but this stretch has a steady flow of water that is runoff from watering the field the deer above are visiting.  Thus, the Monkeyflower think it's still spring.  Along all the creeks in the area that have dried up for summer, the Monkeyflower bloomed months ago and are now brown and bearing seed pods.
 Here's a somewhat stunted Yarrow.  They normally bloom at a height of two to four feet, but this one, staging a comeback since the last lawn mowing, is blooming at a height of six inches.  Near the edge of the lawn that adjoins a concrete-bound creek, the lawnmower flattened a Yarrow that had already reached a height of three feet, then a series of branches performed a classic example of
 negative geotropism and pointing skyward.  I love these stubborn survival mechanisms.
 Chamomile seems to be pretty abundant as a weed in dry areas that are not being cared for.  Nice.
A well camouflaged Bluebelly lizard has found a lichen-covered rock which is actually a part of the landscaping around the library.  Nearby are many plants like the Rabbitbrush which attract a steady supply of insect food for the lizard.  The lizard seemed pretty tame, apparently confident of his safety.

Monday, July 29, 2013

How Big Can a Bee Get?

I thought maybe I had seen the world's largest this morning at the college, but I did a little research when I got home and found out I was wrong.  This Carpenter Bee landed on the Rabbitbrush near the entrance to the FRC library, and it was very impressive.  It didn't pay much attention to me as I moved in close with my camera.

I learned that the largest known bee was first seen by the naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace in what is now Indonesia back in 1859, the same year Darwin's Origin of Species was published.  The bee was not seen again until 1981 when an American biologist found one on the same island.  As far as he could tell, the natives were not aware of this bee, so it has no "common" name.  The technical name is Megachile pluto.  It is slightly longer than 1.5" and has a wingspan of 2.5".  Next time I visit a Carpenter Bee habitat, I'll bring a ruler because I think ours are close to that size.  By the way, Carpenter Bees are aptly named.  They eat through wood with ease and build their nests in any large beams that are convenient to their hunting grounds.  There are many living in or on the wood of the Campus Center at the college as well as the main buildings at Oakland Feather River Camp.  I've never been stung or bitten by these, so, for now, I find them quite fascinating.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Trip to the Dump

 Dropping off our recyclables would make for a boring trip if it weren't for the chance to survey the roadside weeds.  I always bring my camera.  One of my favorite spots for Showy Milkweed is on Lee Road, and most of the milkweeds have been cut down by weed eaters.  The few that remain play host to the surviving bugs, and I have developed a protective feeling toward the Small Milkweed Bug and the Red Milkweed Beetle.  I can't really do anything to protect them, but paying regular visits, so long as they last, builds up my store of summer memories to sustain me during the winter. 
 I can still hope that advocating for the protection of the milkweeds will result in protecting their visitors.  To get a bit more complicated, it amounts to protecting ecosystems which includes soil, other plants and animals, not just for personal enjoyment but for survival of habitat that we depend on.   
 I've been taking closer looks at Goldenrod lately.  They are the focus of a variety of food chains, and the insect visitors are peaking at this time of year.  I've overcome my aversion to Goldenrod which was established by my Dad's life-long battle with hay fever.  I grew up thinking of Goldenrod as an enemy.  I'm sorry that Dad missed out on all the wonders I'm seeing now.  Case in point: the Thread-waisted Wasp.

 Note the little flying thing just above and to the left of the wasp. 
 The Gum Plant is thriving around the Chinese restaurant in East Quincy.  One thing I love about this plant is how it will bear flowers in all stages of development simultaneously from gummy buds to seeds.  Also, those recurved bracts beneath the yellow ray flowers are intriguing.  The plant is sticky, so I often find wind-blown seeds of other nearby plants, especially Salsify, stuck to the stems and leaves. 
Don't be in a rush on your next trip to the dump.  Learn to appreciate the biological wonders at the side of the road.  Root for the weeds over the weed eaters.

R. I. P.

                                          I just mowed the lawn.  Sad.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Inspiration for video

 The tip of this Yellow Salsify looked like something was about to happen, so I took a picture.  Then, I did an errand downtown - twenty minutes at most.  When I got back, Voila!  It was open.  I am determined to see this happen one of these days.  It must have been beautiful to watch.  And it could have happened in much less than 20 minutes!  Tragopogon dubius.

Bedroom Visitor

The Underwing Moth, Catocala irene, paid a visit to my son's bedroom today.  Probably came here to die, as it couldn't get airborne and only fluttered when I touched it.  In resting position, the colorful hind wings are covered and the fore wings provide good camouflage against most surfaces. Antennae and parts of head are gone, but it was still alive.

On the illusion of age

A friend published a column today that seems to be both celebrating and feeling a bit forlorn about turning seventy, which he calls three score and ten.  What occurred to me is that I didn't harbor many of the same feelings when I turned seventy, and I'm wondering why.  It might be partly the fact that I've had good heath and fitness, so on my 70th birthday I didn't stop and contemplate the fact.  I was in the midst of a summer of leading nature hikes, as I am doing this summer, and I didn't really feel older than I had the day before.  Maybe my friend is a little more worn out.

Another thought that occurs to me is how hooked we are on the base-10 numbering system.  We relate to markers like 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, and each one gets a little more scary.  I'll be 72 next week, and I'm still feeling good.  I'm fit enough to take long hikes, split my own firewood, etc.  So, I'm going to pretend that I'm living in a culture that uses the duodecimal system of numbering in which case I'll turn 60 next week.  Better yet, hexadecimal, in which system I'll turn 48.  That still gives me 3 more years than one of my main heroes, Henry David Thoreau (we share at least a middle name), who checked out at 45!

I think my most comforting perspective comes from my blogging which is driven by watching, writing about, and photographing cyclic phenomena in nature.  For most flowers and insects, a season is a lifetime, and their DNA appears  in a different body every year.  There's a biennial that intrigues me: the Mullein.  This plant, an immigrant like me, produces a basal rosette of soft, fuzzy leaves in its first season of life.  These leaves die off in the fall, but the root remains alive.  During the next season, the Mullein grows a stalk, maybe 8 to 10 feet tall, on which there bloom dozens if not hundreds of snapdragon-like flowers.  Then the whole plant dies in the fall, including the root.  The stalks are rugged enough, almost woody, that they may continue to stand tall for several more seasons.  I particularly enjoy coming across a patch of Mullein that contains first-year, second-year, and dead-standing-tall stalks of three or more years of age.

I'm looking forward to turning 50 (in hexadecimal) and hope that I'm still hiking, writing, and sharing my findings with fellow nature lovers and winning some new fans.  If I make it to 60 (in hexadecimal), I'll definitely celebrate, and maybe will sound a little forlorn.  We'll see.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Composite World

 As I headed down my driveway for an errand at the college, I noticed a few flowers blooming at the sides.  They were all weeds, technically, and I knew a weed eater would arrive before long.  So, I got out to take a few photos.  I noticed that all of them were in the same family, Family Asteraceae, formerly called Compositae.  That made an impression.  As I continued on toward the college, I was musing about what I might say about the preponderance of mid-summer blooms in the composite family and what a composite actually is.  I've written about that subject before, but here's a little refresher.  A so-called flower in this family is actually a cluster of flowers on a kind of platform.  The larger ones, like sunflowers, are easier to explain.  The central part of a sunflower is usually brown and is made up of hundreds of individual flowers that are called "disc" flowers.  Each one may produce a seed.  The so-called petals are actually individual "ray" flowers.  Over the eons, some composites have lost their ray flowers and all that remains is the disc.  A local example of that would be the Tansy.  Note my previous post about Ambush Bugs.  Other composites, over time, have lost their disc flowers and retain only ray flowers.  Why they are consider to still be a part of the composite family is a technical matter involving DNA, embryology, and other evolutionary concepts.
 So, the first from my driveway collection is the Chicory.  Next is what is usually called Mountain Dandelion, Agoseris sp., which looks like a more streamlined version of our lawn dandelion.  The former is a native and the latter is an import from Europe.
 Then there were a few Ox-eye Daisies, also an European import, which goes by several different common names in the USA, differing by region.  It's scientific name is Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, so you can guess what one of its closest relatives is.  The daisies have adjusted pretty well to America so they're seldom considered invasive, or even weeds, the latter terms usually reserved for plants most people don't like.

 When I got to the college, after thinking about composites during the drive, I decided to carry the camera up to the library and look for photo ops along the way.  One of my favorite composites is growing near the library entrance.  It's Rabbitbrush.  Here's a photo of that beauty with a bonus feature, a Thread-waisted Wasp.  Soon these plants will be covered with Skippers, an attractive kind of butterfly that resembles a moth.
 This next one, a tiny kind of daisy, might be Chamomile.  I'll need to check on that. 
 The next one I saw, one of my favorites, is the Gum Plant.  Around Oakland Camp and on most roadsides in American Valley, these are still blooming or have already gone to seed, whereas this cluster at the college hasn't yet bloomed.  Soon the ray flowers will poke through that wad of gum.
 The California Thistle gets lots of people irritated, even though it produces very colorful flowers.  Just don't walk through a dense patch of them wearing short shorts.  And remember, artichokes are thistles.  Thistles are good!
 Common on Plumas County roadsides at this time is Goldenrod.  There are several species.  For some people, it's a threat of runny noses and sneezing.  Fortunately, I'm not afflicted, so I can enjoy the beauty of the flowers.  Both this and the Rabbitbrush warrant close-up views.  The individual "flowers" are actually like tiny daisies or sunflowers, each in turn consisting of bunches of disc and ray flowers.  It's almost a composite of composites.  
 Last, another flower that consists of a cluster of composites, the Yarrow.  I often tell my nature-hiking guests that it's named after Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.  Most seem to believe it.
Two wide-spread composites I left off this post are the Star Thistle and Trail Plant.  Star Thistle was left off because I thought including one thistle was pushing it, and including two might cause me to lose some followers.  AS for the Trail Plant, the flowers are so tiny that I can't get a good picture with my limited camera equipment.  Same for the Mugwort which is also blooming all over American Family.  In fact it's flowers are the same color as the leaves and stems so it's hard to notice when it's blooming.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Living Up To Its Name

 The Pacific Ambush Bugs began emerging in my neighborhood over a week ago.  Today, they seem to be fully engaged in ambushing.  In a period of five minutes I found one in Boyle Ravine ambushing a butterfly, then, in my front yard, another one ambushing a bee.  As with the Crab Spiders, the first clue is a butterfly or other large insect that does not fly away as I approach.  Then, if it is not only still but upside down, there is probably a predator underneath sucking away at the bodily fluids of its prey.  In this case, the Ambush Bug was not visible when I approached, but the butterfly way obviously dead.  I pushed it aside a bit for the photograph and that didn't phase the Ambush Bug a bit.
 The bulky front pair of legs can firmly grasp prey much larger than its possessor.  I've seen the same bug occupy a flower for a couple of weeks, always waiting for a potential meal to land within its grasp.  Very efficient!
 This photo of the one in my yard eating a bee clearly shows the bulky front legs.  The bee was still struggling a bit, but had no chance.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

D. O. R., but still beautiful

I'm beginning to believe in phone-cameras.  When I don't have time to get out my sketchbook, or am not carrying my big DSLR camera, maybe pulling a small phone out of my pocket to record a beautiful sight would be a good idea.  I'm not there yet, but my son Greg is.  He sent me this image of the beautiful Sheep Moth from his phone.  Spotting it dead on the pavement during his busy work day, he couldn't resist sharing it with me, so now I'm sharing it with you, along with ID provided by his wife Kelly.  Thanks! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Are you an artist?

 The French sculptor Auguste Rodin said, "To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature."  This is a test.