Monday, September 30, 2013

Early Morning Darkness

 Great fun getting these photos before sunrise.  Text will follow this evening.
There, it's now 8:10 and I'm fading fast, like a certain Amanita I've been posting lately.
This morning I set out before sunrise to search for photos of dew or frost, whichever Mother Nature provided.  It was too warm for frost, but there was lots of dew.  When I approached my target spot, just outside Midtown Coffee, I could barely see the bright flowers blooming, but it occurred to me that with flash I could bring out the colors and the dew and get the background to disappear in blackness as if I were in a studio setting.  I usually don't do that sort of thing because I prefer flowers in their natural setting.  In this case, the natural setting wasn't very attractive, so why not black?  I don't know what the above flower is, but it is definitely impressive.  What's hiding in the blackness is an ugly sidewalk punctuated by a few cigarette butts.
In the above photo, the wilted flower above the middle of the frame is the remains of the one I posted here a week ago.  The most prominent flower now was a bud then.  Click on the photo for a better look at the dew drops.
I like the dew on these white roses even better.  This one was hanging downward, possibly from the weight of dew.  I'll check tomorrow afternoon when it's dry to see if they perk up.
Finally, the dew I was looking for.  The way it lines up along the blades of grass is very appealing.  Ironically, when I visited the coffee shop, before downloading my photos, I spent a little time reading a little booklet titled "Thoreau on Man and Nature" and found this:
"We are rained and snowed on with gems.  What a world we live in!  Where are the jewelers' shops?  There is nothing handsomer than a snowflake and a dewdrop ... in truth they are a product of enthusiasm, the children of an ecstasy, finished with the artist's utmost skill."
The Tansy always impresses, especially from a close-up view.  First, from a short distance, a cluster of flower heads impresses.  Then, upon closer inspection, ...
... the spiral arrangement of disk flowers impresses even more.  Then when they are visited by an interesting bug or two, that's even better.  But this early in the morning the bugs are playing it safe somewhere else.
As of wake-up time this morning, we were in the 273rd day of 2013, and I had made 273 posts to this blog during the year.  I hope I haven't upset the symmetry of it all by posting this one extra making it 274 posts in 273 days.  But I couldn't resist.  I should add that I had several very interesting experiences during the day AFTER taking the above photos, but I don't want to push it.  I'll report on today's other adventures tomorrow.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

More Woodpile Excitement

 These Katydids are called Mormon Crickets in some places.  I guess they can come in large swarms some years and destroy crops.  I still like the name Katydid better, and I'm glad I live in a place where they don't seem to get "out of control."  This one jumped out of our woodpile while we were stacking, and we had fun playing with it for a while.  The air temperature was around 45 degrees, so that might explain why it was content to sit on my son's hand for a while so i could take pictures.  The photo session did warm it up though.  A few minutes later it was hoping around the driveway, probably trying to find its former hiding place.

Seasonal Change and Microhabitats

 Yesterday I re-visited several of my favorite places on campus and enjoyed the subtle changes from earlier in the week.  The Oak Treehopper population is diminishing. This branch supported several dozen young ones just a few weeks ago.  Their mother, as far as I can tell, is the one on the far right, an olive drab color with orange spots (top photo).  Most of her babies, as you can see in earlier posts, had black and white lateral stripes with a few red accents.  In what to me is an amazing bit of developmental magic, most of them turned into adults with longitudinal red and white stripes.  And those red eyes are pretty impressive, too.  A behavioral difference that got my attention was the fact that a week ago none of them would move at all when I came in close with the camera.  Or, at least the babies wouldn't move.  The mother would sometimes slowly try to crawl to the back side of the branch, even as I slowly rotated it, always trying to stay out of sight, but not abandoning her brood.  Now that most of them are gone, the few remaining adults hopped when I approached.  They just jumped into mid air, at first seeming to just disappear.  Once I got used to their speed, I was able to follow their jumps and they just seemed to jump into mid-air and fall to the ground.  I know they can fly, so I wondered how they made these decisions - fly, hop, stay put, etc.
 The first Orange Peel Fungus I posted here is now a little over 2 inches across and still looking healthy.  I'll measure it against a penny again on Monday.
 Smaller ones are emerging from the bed of moss with a one-yard radius.  I wonder if they're all connected by the same mycelium.

 Once again I stopped by the Rabbitbrush in front of the library.  This time I got a somewhat sharper image and you can see its affinity with the sunflower family.  Click on the photo for a closer view.
 Living close to plants that have many insect visitors, I'd say this Blue-belly lizard has a more reliable food supply than most.  He looks pretty plump.
 In the same area, the large Filaree, a specimen that has borne at least 100 flowers, now has nearly all of its seeds dry enough that they start curling up immediately and rapidly when removed from the plant.  Here are a couple that had been in my son's hand only about ten seconds before I took the photo.

A Riot of Yellow!

 Thursday afternoon, after my late-afternoon class, I decided to accumulate photos of yellow flowers on my way back to my car.  The idea had occurred to me days ago when I noticed on all my local drives I was seeing only yellow wildflowers.  But as I left my office, the first sight that begged for notice was a maple tree that was beginning to turn red.  I remember last year this tree was an incredible sight during the peak week of fall colors.  Would I jump on the bandwagon and shoot mostly colorful leaves for the next month?  I resisted.  After a "full body" shot and a close-up of the red zone, I returned my attention to yellow flowers.
 In the immediate vicinity of the library entrance, there were many yellow species blooming.
 This Mullein was only about a foot tall yet blooming.  They usually get anywhere from 5 to 10 feet tall before blooming.  I think this one was probably subjected to lawn mowing several times, and this was its last minute adjustment, like often happens with Dandelions, an attempt to bloom ASAP, even while quite short.  I love that trick, since I'm mostly against lawnmowers - even lawns!
 Nearby was the Star Thistle.  Quite a pretty plant, even though I don't like getting stabbed any more than the next guy.  The point is, you don't have to walk through them!
 Then the Rabbitbrush, still thriving around the library and on roadsides all around Quincy. 
 THe white petals on the Camomile might seem to violate my plan, but not really.  You see those white things are not petals.  They are ray flowers.  So, just ignore them.  The yellow disk flowers make up the central portion of each head.   So, each "flower" of Camomile is really anywhere from several dozen to 100 or more individual flowers.
 Still close by were several plants of St. Johns Wort.  They've been blooming all summer, so each plant already had many wilted flowers and clusters of seeds, but also some freshly blooming flowers.  Each flower is really elegant.  Click on a photo to enjoy more detail.
 Then, a hundred yards closer to my car, on the backside of the gym, was a patch of Gum Plant blooming.  All the blossoms were past the "gum" stage, and some had already wilted and were producing seeds.  It was the fresh-looking yellow flower heads that got my attention.
 When viewed sideways, another interesting feature of the Gum Plant is the recurved sepals beneath the flower head that look a bit like barbs of a fish hook.

 Along the sides of Gold Eagle Drive closer to Highway 70, there were many healthier-looking Gum Plants, so I stopped for more photos (below).
 Across the street from these Gum Plants were some Goldenrod.
 A taller species with purplish stems might also be a Goldenrod, or possibly a Groundsel.  I haven't found this one in my field guide so I suspect it's not a native.
 Finally, closer to home, when I checked my mail, I had to stop by Quincy Natural Foods to photograph their incredible sunflowers.  They won't be around much longer, so I snapped a few photos.

 Next door, in front of Midtown Coffee, there is still a healthy stand of Tansy.  Definitely click on these last two photos to enjoy the great spiral design of the placement of Disk Flowers.  This plant doesn't produce ray flowers, but it's still a composite.  The reason has to do with embryology and anatomy beyond the scope of this blog.  Reminds me of when people ask "Why is a legless lizard a lizard and not a snake?"  By the way, several new species of legless lizards were discovered recently in the greater Los Angeles area.  An exciting event for herpetologists.

"Ah, finally," my several fans say, "a bug!"

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Nice Damp Spot

 While most of our area is still experiencing the standard drying out of late summer, a few shady, damp spots are where I visit often to keep track of Fall developments.  Light rains, or morning dew, provide sufficient moisture to launch a series of beautiful fungi.  On my way to the spot where I am keeping track of Orange Peel Fungi (below), I spotted a patch of blooming Burr Clover (above).  This was a reminder that most wildflowers that are still blooming at this time of year are yellow.  I don't know if that's really true, or if I'm just subject to selective observation.  At any rate, these little yellow blossoms planted the idea in my mind of doing a more directed search for blooms, maybe tomorrow, and see if what I find are mostly or entirely yellow.
 I've been watching the Orange Peel Fungi for over a week and keeping track of their growth by using a penny for scale. A penny is about 19 mm in diameter, so that makes the fungus about 34 mm across at its longest dimension, or penny at 3/4" and fungus at a little over 1 1/4 ".  You can follow the growth rate by scrolling back to last week's first photos of this fungus.  I'm going to keep track of it as long as it lasts.
Right next to the fungus is a latch of grass that is always laden with dew in the morning, and due to the shade, often stays wet all day.  An ideal place for fungi to thrive.
I first photographed this little pair of fungi (above) last week when they were tiny, perhaps 1/8" across.
The Amanita, growing in a similar habitat by a neighboring building, was once round and looked like a classic cartoon mushroom or toadstool.  This is a slightly sunnier area, and perhaps the Amanita has a different programmed season, but it is clearly fading.  Click on any of these photos for closer views.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Trail Decor

 On a cold, damp morning it was nice to see bright colors.  As I approached the TRIO building, I was stopped by the sight of this beautiful butterfly landed on Red Field Clover.  By the time I put down my bags and got my camera out it had flown to a nearby rock.  I took a number of photos of it on the rock (below), then it came back to the clover and spread its wings for me (above).  I'm no butterfly expert, but I think it's an American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ascending and Descending

 The Orange Peel Fungus I featured here over a week ago has grown, and many smaller ones are emerging, some as small as 1/8" diameter.  While these fungi are at the beginning of their season and will usually get to 2 or 3 inches in diameter, the nearby Amanita has passed its prime and is seriously shriveling.  Will become soil in a few more days.
Funny things happen when I'm observing nature and trying to take photos on the fly.  For some reason this ascension of one species and decline of another reminded me of a quote I saw years ago in a cartoon: "Be nice to people on your way up because you may meet them on your way down."  I got a few more interesting photos this morning, but will post them tomorrow when I'm not feeling so tired and silly.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Still Thinking About Seeds

It's Monday, and I'm adding some text to photos that are from one to several days old.  Once again, on a day that I left my camera at home, several impressive sights were seen.  For one, the Orange Peel Fungus is now larger in diamter than a penny (See previous posts about this fungus.), and the Amanita has throughly shriveled.  I'm hoping enough will remain tomorrow for an interesting photo. Now, for the seeds.  The Rose Hips shown above were photographed in an alley outside Quincy Natural Foods co-op.  Why are they called hips?  Like any other fruit (well, almost any other), they contain the code for the next generation, along with some Vitamin C and other good nutrients.  These ovaries usually dry out on the plant and drop their seeds to the ground.  However, some are eaten and that becomes a means of dispersal.
I was looking for photogenic bursting pods of the Showy Milkweed at one of my favorite spots along Lee Road.  That spot is becoming less and less appealing as nearby industrial activity has taken a toll on what was once my favorite milkweed place.  The first pods I spotted on this particular day, not yet burst open, were a substrate for wandering Small Milkweed Bugs.  Yes, that's its name.  Not very elegant. On another plant, I did find some seed pods burst open.  This scene always reminds me of one of my favorite volumes by Thoreau, Faith in a Seed.
Then I got a few photos of acorns of the California Black Oak.  For a couple of weeks, I have been following the lives of Oak Treehoppers on this tree, but today I am thinking about the oak itself.  Here's a shot of an acorn still on the tree, then...
...a few on the ground nearby.  Note the tiny hole in the acorn in the middle.  My students now know this is a sign that there's an insect larva inside.  Chances are this acorn will not produce a tree, although there could still be some edible acorn "meat" inside.  More about seeds undoubtedly coming soon.  Size differences, means of dispersal, and potential in human nutrition are among the many related topics swirling around in my mind.  I'm also getting the urge to put the camera aside and resume drawing regularly.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

More Woodpile Excitement

 We had some rain last night, so I was glad I had put a tarp over the new load of firewood that had been delivered earlier.  This morning we had a break, so I was able to get in about 4 hours of splitting and stacking before the rain resumed.  One stubborn piece of cedar, full of knots, tested my patience.  I almost gave it one more very hard blow when I thought I spotted some legs.  I poked a small stick into the cave-like crack under a knot when a bark beetle dwelling there exited out of the back side of the log. It was probably still too cold to run away quickly when I first exposed its hiding place, so I had time to run inside to get my camera.  I have another 1 1/2 cords to go, so I'll make sure I keep the camera nearby when I start splitting again.  I almost forgot how exciting it was last fall.