Sunday, April 28, 2013

What Drew Me to This Flower?

 Throw away tulips.  The front yard garden we inherited with the house had too many tulips.  They were as opportunistic as dandelions.  So I pulled up a few and tossed them into the side yard, figuring they'd become soil.  Well, this spring they surprised me.  The bulbs took root and for the past few weeks I've been watching the leaves and stems grow.  Last week I saw the first hint of color in the cracks between sepals on the buds.  Yesterday, there was color all the way around, but the flowers weren't open.  Early this morning, as I headed out to the transfer station as an excuse to photograph wildflowers, I  noticed two of the three buds had bloomed.  I had to hop out with my camera and take a few shots.
 The early morning light provided the kind of glow I love at this time of day.  Then, to top it off, when I looked closer at these photos on my monitor, ...
...I discovered a bug.  Maybe an aphid.  Click on this last one and see if you can find it.  So, even though these are cultivated flowers, the visiting insect gave me the pleasure I get from photographing true wildflowers. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Reactions to Discovery

New to me this spring is the Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Veronica serpyllifolia.  At first glance, it reminded me of American Brooklime, Veronica americana, which I learned for the first time last spring. The Brooklime is much bigger, so it wasn't a surprise that I should find it in the damp, shady areas at roadsides.  My first sight of it occurred on the road to Oakland Camp in a place where a spring comes to the surface.  The Speedwell, which I first spotted last week, is much smaller and was growing in well-watered lawns at the college.  I could have easily overlooked it.  Once I spotted it and identified it, I started seeing it in lots of other places, including my own front lawn.  I've been looking at that lawn for six years, but never spotted Speedwell before!  So, my first reaction to such a discovery is excitement.  Probably similar to adding a check mark to one of those life lists in bird books.  The difference, with me at least, is the check mark does not bring closure.  It marks a beginning.  First, curiosity about what it is, then the challenge of getting good photos with minimal camera equipment and limited skill.  Once I identify a new plant or animal I want to learn more about its natural history.  Is it a native to this area or not?  What family is it in?  Actually, I'm often able to identify the family on first sight, and that helps me get to the species more quickly than I could otherwise.  If it has an interesting common or scientific name I usually try to track down the origins of such and what attitudes the names might reveal about the time and culture in which it was named, or what it might reveal about the nature of the languages spoken where it is found.  I have an unquenchable curiosity.  It may have "killed the cat," but it hasn't killed me yet.  In fact it has made life richer.
The first Pineapple Weeds of the season are popping up in sunny areas at roadsides in the area.  This is a composite, in the family formerly known as Compositae but now known as Asteraceae.  The story of that name change appears a few times in this blog's older posts, especially when I'm talking about Dandelions, which I'm about to do again soon.  The technical name of the Pineapple Weed, known by some as Chamomile, is a mouthful.  It's Matricaria matricarioides.  Pinch one of those flower heads and you'll probably enjoy the fragrance.  It might be power of suggestion from the name, but to me it smells like pineapple.  The name could just as easily have come from the fact the flower head vaguely resembles a pineapple.
In the case of Lupines which are a commonplace in these parts, the excitement of new discovery is not strong, but there is some excitement at finding the first ones to bloom in a given season.  These have been blooming in the lower Feather River Canyon for a couple of months, but are just starting to bloom at 3,000 feet and above.  I knew they were coming, so my excitement has more to do with trying to find interesting lighting in order to get a better photo than any of my previous ones.  From time to time, when I think I've accomplished that, I delete some of the older photos from my archive.  For many subjects, I really love back lighting because it reminds me of getting up with the sun, both at home and while camping.  At home, I'm in the habit of getting up before sunrise because I enjoy experiencing the sunrise.  Early morning photography is just one of the fringe benefits.  Perhaps another is feeling smug about feeling very good at a time when many other folks are struggling with the idea of getting up.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Sunday Meander, Chapter 2

 Here are some photos from the second half of my meander to the Greenville Y on Sunday.  I need a good night's sleep before providing the narrative to accompany them.  Fortunately, I took good notes.
Wednesday, 4/24: Last Sunday, and in the days since, I have noticed a large portion of the early bloomers are in the mustard family, Brassicaceae.  Here's another view of the Stout-beaked Toothwort, Cardamine pachystigma.  Note the elongated seed pods on the right, tyhpical of this family which includes radishes, mustard, broccoli, etc., the group known as the cruciferous vegetables.  In fact, the family name used to be Cruciferae.  4 petals look like a cross.
A couple of reminders of the sort of people I share the woods with.  As a species, I wonder if we will ever mature beyond our trash habits.  At a recent trash-collecting day at FRC, students collected nearly a half ton of trash in two hours.  Cause for celebration and awards - except for one thing: why was there a half ton of trash on campus in the first place?  I guess I'm a curmudgeon. 
Here's another view of some flat-backed millipedes.  Cannot identify the species.  I don;t have a millipede book.  They are fun to watch, though.  The wave motion produced by their legs is mesmerizing.  Probably very interesting physiology.
The Sow Bug, close relative of the Pill Bug, a terrestrial Crustacean.  These cannot roll into a tight sphere like the Pill Bugs.
A nice batch of termites, making new soil.  They do a lot of necessary work in the forests.
My first exciting sight when I got to the Greenville Y was this Fence Lizard.  He was curious and let me get pretty close for photos.  No telephoto here.  I got within three feet before he ran off.

The Elegant Rock Cress, another member of the mustard family, is blooming on the rocks by the Y.  Here a butterfly in the category called whites is coming in for a landing.  Most of the whites favor members of the mustard family, and every time I scared this one, it flew around a bit then always landed on another rock cress even though there were plenty of Lupines, Dandelions, and other blooming flowers all around us.
Here's a shot of the white landed on another Rock Cress. 
I caught this Robber Fly just as it was landing on another Rock Cress.
Lupines are plentiful at the Y now, and I liked the back lighting on this particular one.  They're attracting lots of different flying insects.  I'll visit this spot again soon.  Ran out of time on Sunday.
Bitter Brush, Purshia tridentata, is in the Rose Family. The top photo emphasizes the blossoms, then the next one emphasizes the leaves which resemble those of Sagebrush whose species name is also tridentata.  I wonder why.
I'll try to catch up tomorrow.  I've visited other places and taken more photos since last Sunday's trip.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Sunday Meander, Chapter 1

 Even though I was driving, I call this a meander because I couldn't decide where to go.  Headed for Oakland Camp, but changed my mind and headed for Keddie Cascades, then changed again and ended up at the Greenville Y.  Had that weird sensation of wanting to be at several different places at once.  I was rewarded.  First, the Stout-beaked Toothwort was blooming.  I love the plants with names so weird that Spell Check doesn't recognize them.  This member of the mustard family has the technical name Cardamine pachystigma.  I don't expect the Spell Check to recognize that.  But, toothwort?
 In the same vicinity I found a patch of the small Woolly Mule's Ears with just one blossom.  The taller and more familiar Narrow-leaved Mule's Ears won't be blooming for several more weeks.
 I saw one specimen of Dusky Horkelia over a week ago, but today they were all over the place.  They're hard to spot amongst roadside weeds and grasses, but once you see one you start seeing many others.  It's Horkelia fusca to botanists.
 The Blue-eyed Mary also began to bloom a couple of weeks ago, but now one can find large patches of them at this elevation.  Very tiny and difficult to spot.  That is, until you see one or two.  Then they start jumping out at you.
 The Scarlet Fritillary aren't blooming yet at this elevation, but I couldn't wait.  Had to take a picture to remind me of where to follow their progress.  This one was on the right hand side at the top of the hill just north of Quincy.  The hill with the passing lane.  In most years, several dozen of these bloom in the forest on the right hand side of the highway.
 A good-sized section of backbone made the forest floor more interesting.  Couldn't suppress the thought that a Mountain Lion might be in the vicinity.
 Viola purpurea is suddenly appearing everywhere.  This one has so many "common" names, I won't venture to choose one.  There are so many species of yellow violets that the common names get pretty mixed up anyway.
All the photos in this set were taken before I got to the Y.  Will post a second set tomorrow. 

A Fine Piece of Architecture

Common Ground Beetles of the Family Carabidae generally move pretty fast once they're exposed, but on cold mornings they can be outwitted for photography.  Beetle season has begun.

Don't Mow!

I don't know if it's part of an austerity program, but I like it.  This is county property, and when the lawn isn't mowed, it is a far more interesting place to explore.  Thank you.  A cluster of Grape Hyacinth drew me over the fence.  Then I saw much more.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Roadside Decorations

 Spring Whitlow Grass, Draba verna, is growing in dense patches on roadsides and in my yard.  A cute little member of the mustard family, it opens and closes every day and rewards those who are willing to get down on the ground for a close look.  The blossoms are only around 1/4" across.
 Filaree, AKA Storksbill, Erodium sp., has many species in the Sierra.  The next five photos feature Filaree, some punctuated by Dandelions.
This "weed" goes by many different names in Europe and the USA.  It's in the Geranium family.  I typed Filaree into a browser to refresh my knowledge of its relations and the first site I found had it listed under "noxious weeds."  Seems redundant.  At any rate, I haven't discovered any of its noxious properties, unless its mere existence is one.

Late Arrivals

 Tulips have been blooming around town for at least a month.  Ours arrived today.  We live in a place locally known as "the cold spot."  Yesterday I spotted one bud with a little color showing.  Then today I had at least a dozen fully blooming.  Very exciting, even though I prefer wild flowers over domestic, I do enjoy photographing these.
 Grape Hyacinth is complemented by a Dandelion.  Ironically, as I enjoy photographing my Dandelions, I smell the acrid odor of a neighbor's herbicides.  I just don't understand the hatred for Dandelions.  Children play on the poisonous grass.  It makes no sense!
 Looks like Luther Burbank and Van Gogh got together on this one.
 And maybe an architect.
 This was fun, but not as much fun as finding the blooming roadside weeds that will be in the next post.

Under the Firewood

 Bringing my last loads of firewood to the front porch to prepare for spring cleaning.  I love finding the little critters that have been hiding under logs and boards all winter.  Actually, many of them have been a few inches below the surface and have only recently returned to their summer homes beneath or inside the decaying logs and bark.  My first discovery of the day was the beetle above.  Slow-moving, I believe it's in the Family Tenebrionidae that includes the Darkling Beetles.
 Under a rotting 2x6, I found these two large earthworms and two pill bugs.  It was pretty cold and damp, so they weren't moving at all.  I decided to move one into the sun for a few photos.
 It immediately tried to escape from the heat and stretched out to nearly a foot in length, which is just what I wanted.  After a few photos, I returned it to a damp and shady spot where it will probably start a family.
 The pill bugs are showing up.  Soon they'll be accompanied by their close relatives, the sow bugs.  The latter are not able to curl up into a closed ball, but otherwise look pretty similar to pill bugs.
A pair of Flat-backed Millipedes.  That's a category, not a species.  Millipedes have two pairs of legs on each body segment, and they move very slowly while testing the ground ahead with their antennae.  They are not poisonous.  Centipedes are also active now and they will be featured here soon.  I saw quite a few on yesterday's hike while photographing tree stumps.  Some were in close proximity to termites which made me wonder if they were dining on them.  Might need a hidden camera to find out.

Insects Awakening

 Inspired by Henry David Thoreau ("The Battle of the Ants") and E. O. Wilson, Harvard Professor Emeritus and world authority of ants, I love watching ants.  On yesterday's walk in search of photogenic tree trunks, I found Carpenter Ants (above) and Red Mound Ants (next three) and could have watched for hours.  Click on these photos for closer views.

 Saw just one Cockroach, probably the Oriental Cockroach.  There had to be others in the vicinity, but I didn't have time to search.  I'm sure they'll hang around until my next visit.
 Slime Mold, not a nice-sounding name, makes very interesting patterns in damp setting beneath logs and boards.  Under some conditions, it can grow fast enough that with a hand lens you can see it grow.  It's helping to make new soil.