Friday, February 28, 2014

Another Teaser to end the month.

Woke up to lots of bird songs just before sunrise.  First time this year, a harbinger of spring?  It was raining gently.  Then, a half hour later, I looked out the window of a downtown coffee shop and it was snowing.  When I got home, which is only around 100' higher in elevation, there was quite an accumulation.  I wonder if those birds are just hovering in various sheltered places or if they took one more trip down to the Central Valley.  Looks like March might roar out like a lion, as the song says.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

If Jackson Pollock had been a nature photographer

Trying to shoot Ponderosa Pine needles that had landed in a patch of Snowberry, I was glad my automatic focus was confused because I liked the accidental result.  Click for an enlargement and see what you think.

The closest we've gotten to snow

 A friend's front yard is loaded with Snowberries, Symphoricarpos rotundifolius.  What a mouthful.  So is the family name, Caprifoliaceae. That's the Honeysuckle family.   Up close, you can see they're shriveling and decomposing, and will soon drop their seeds, but from a short distance they appear as shiny white globes and are very photogenic when everything else in the vicinity is wintery brown and grey.
A view of another cluster accented by its proximity to some evergreen leaves.

Where's Waldo?

 No, not the little guy with glasses and the red and white striped T-shirt.  Waldo is the name I gave this spider.  I was poking around in the roadside piles of organic matter, where it's not really winter but it's also not really spring, when I spotted a cute little spider and named it Waldo.  Not sure why, because it's obviously a girl.  Anyway, in the above photo she's rather well-hidden, just northwest of center in a hole in a piece of bark.
 With a pine needle I managed to persuade her to come out from hiding.
there must have been a fair amount of heat being generated from decomposition because she got quite active and went into hiding soon after I got these shots.  I also saw some small centipedes and they were too fast to photograph.  I hear we're getting some precipitation in a few days.  Hopefully a lot!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Time to do more mocking?

I thought I'd post a bit of amateurish art to celebrate a quote attributed to Michael Pollan.  "A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule."  The reason I feel like celebrating, besides loving the quote, is that I'm seeing more and more articles in newspapers and magazines suggesting that we reconsider our landscaping habits and perhaps go with native vegetation rather than lawns.  These articles are mostly in response to California's serious drought, so they might not represent an environmental awakening.  But, if it takes a drought to get things started in the right direction, so be it.
Regarding the reference to mocking in today's headline, I am thinking about a report that our Secretary of State, John Kerry, in a recent appearance in Jakarta, mocked "climate change deniers."  It's about time!  The hyper-capitalist right wingers have been mocking science for a long time, and not only on the subject of global warming, so it's about time we started mocking back.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Not Your Typical Winter Scenery

 I've been getting pop-up ads and emails advertising winter photography contests.  I don't think I have any winners here, so I won't be entering.  But at least I'm documenting what's really happening around here.  From the looks of my roof, you'd think we were in Seattle, not the Sierra.
 A wasp nest with a few cells still filled.  I wonder if there's still life in them.  We're having such a spell of warm, rainy weather, that nothing would surprise me at this point.  Lots of Chorus frogs chorusing. 
And lots of ants waiting for us to get careless with our sugar or honey.  The mild weather is sort of pleasant in one sense, but I sure wish we'd have a much needed winter.

Friday, February 14, 2014

House Guest

More signs of spring.  We were downloading some music videos when we looked up and saw this great spider where the wall meets the ceiling.  It might be a Running Spider, but I don't have great references on spiders, so I might have to revise this guess later.  Judging from the facial expressions of family members around me, I could have passed this one off as 3" and a rival to the tarantulas, but the household rulers were too convenient to resist.  As the next photo shows, it was only around
1 1/2" long from toe to toe, and less an inch in body length. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It Must Be Spring!

The Pacific Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla.  I'm hearing them around the yard and outside my classrooms.  It must be spring.  But, just in case, I hope they don't stray too far from their hideouts.  Winter could still happen.

Happy Darwin Day!

Today is the 205th birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.  Since they've mostly stopped recognizing Lincoln on the 12th and instead have Presidents' Day on the 17th (or 3rd Monday in February), and in many places have included the 14th (or 2nd Friday) in order to make it a four-day commercial success, why not recognize Charles Darwin for giving some of us a greater understanding of our origins by having the holiday on the 10th (or, 2nd Monday)?  To continue the evolution of holidays, we could then celebrate Easter on the first Monday after Lent.  I'll bet sales of chocolate eggs and bunnies would soar.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Much-Needed Distraction

 I was chatting with one of my best students whom I met along the path on my way to my car.  It was hard to pay attention because I've gotten behind in my paperwork, my sleep, and my blogging.  Lots of papers to grade, lots of planning for the near-term classes as well as plans for the coming summer.  So, as I was trying to pay attention, I was startled by the group of Ravens taking off from the woods next to us.  They were probably only 50 feet away, but I hadn't noticed them before they took off.  Nature always breaks my spells and puts me into new ones.  I had to investigate.  I walked up the slope into the woods and found the hindquarters of a deer (above photo), or what remained of such.  Basically, the rear legs, pelvis, and a few sacral vertebrae.  The bones were picked pretty clean, and looked pretty fresh.  No odor that my nose could detect, although the Ravens probably smelled the skeleton from quite a distance.  I decided I needed to come back with my camera.
When I returned with the camera, I didn't see any part of the front of the deer, so I moved in closer for a look at the ball-and-socket joint.  This live view was more impressive than any drawing in an anatomy book.  What an engineering marvel that we take for granted until it fails.  I found myself silently reviewing terms from my Comparative Anatomy class taken many years ago.  Ilium, ischium, and pubis came back easily, as did an old mnemonic device for distinguishing ilium from ileum.  How acetabulum (the socket) popped into mind after all these years, I'll never know.  I didn't see any other parts of the skeleton, so I packed up my camera and headed for class.  Just a few seconds later I came across the skull.
 So, here's the skull and part of the vertebral column.  As I took photos of the skull from several angles, another memory made an appearance:  my term paper in Comparative Anatomy titled "The Teeth of Mammals."  I still have it in my file cabinet!  The topic was inspired by my having collected some skulls of wild and domestic animals while wandering the forests and swamps of southern Louisiana.  Once I decided on the topic, I felt I needed more skulls.  So, I started visiting slaughter houses and acquiring skulls that were being thrown away.  I got cow, sheep, and goat, then from other unnamed sources added dog and cat skulls.  My goal was to find skulls representing the dentition of as many orders of mammals as I could find.  Needless to say, I didn't find any skulls representing the Proboscidea or the Cetacea.  I didn't realize at the time how ridiculously over-broad my topic was.
An added bonus of all these slaughter house visits was that I remembered how limited my experience with dissection in high school  was.  Here I had the opportunity to collect and preserve lots of animal parts that were going to be thrown away - specifically the eyeballs of cows and sheep.  These were expensive for a high school to buy from biological supply houses, but were an exciting way to learn about the human eye.  So, I filled two gallon jars with eyeballs of cows and sheep, brought them back to the lab and preserved them with formalin, then brought them home during Christmas break with the intention of donating them to my high school biology teacher.  I phoned him and said "Mr. ________, I've got two gallons worth of pickled mammalian eyeballs."  He said, "What's a mammalian?"  That reply was probably symptomatic of why I decided to major in physics instead of biology when I entered college.  That side trip wore off quickly, though, and my first roommate, who was a snake collector, pulled me back into the realm of biology.  My first degree was in Zoology.
So, this much-needed distraction has been an enjoyable reflection, and I think I'm ready to get back to correcting papers before I go back to the woods in search of mammalians and other kinds of aliens.

Friday, February 7, 2014

It seemed like there would be no winter!

 Taken toward the end of January, the 31st I believe, these don't look like winter.  We've since had a little snow, and more is forecast.  The rest of the narrative will be added later this evening.  First, I need to go walk in the rain and hope it turns to snow again.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The West Wasn't Won; It's Being Destroyed

Saw a bumper sticker today on an old pickup truck with aggressive tires.  It said "Eat More Beef; the West Wasn't Won on Salad."  I a nutshell, it expresses the attitude that has contributed to the destruction of the West.  How do large herbivores like antelope, hippopotami, and elephants get so strong eating their versions of salad?  Maybe we'll learn some day.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Did the Crocus see its shadow?

 It's Groundhog Day, even though the town of Quincy pretended it was yesterday.  Probably to avoid conflicts with our national religion, AKA the Super Bowl.  But, I got the early morning news from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Phil saw his shadow, which they say means six more weeks of winter.
In Quincy, I don't see how we can have six more weeks since we aren't really having winter in the first place.  We don't have any Groundhogs in Quincy.  The closest we come to having them would be the Groundhogs' cousin, the Yellow-bellied Marmot, high up on the mountains surrounding Quincy.  I'm sure they didn't see their shadows this morning, for two reasons.  The main reason is that it's cloudy.  Another reason is that there was probably no one up there to drag a marmot out of its den.  Thankfully.  If our imaginary local groundhog couldn't see its shadow this morning, that means an early spring.  That figures.  As you can see from the above photo of Crocuses about to bloom, it appears that spring is already here.  There's a possibility we're yet to receive a big snowstorm which would cover the Crocuses and force them to start over after the melt.  They're used to that.  If they couldn't tolerate the occasional snowstorm after blooming, there would be no Crocuses here now.
 Yesterday's blog featured a photo from this time last year - around 6" of snow in my front yard.  Here's this morning's photo of the same scene.  No snow, but a lot of frost.
Perhaps another sign of spring, a pretty spider showed up in my kitchen sink.  I like spring!
I'm excited about returning to regular blogging after a meager month of January with only 9 posts.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Around this time in years past

 Memories of more water.  The above scene, in February, 2012, shows a nice pond and some geese.  Not this year.  The pond is dry and the geese are few.
 A view of Spanish Creek from the Chandler Road crossing, February, 2013.  That was a dry winter, too, but not as dry as the current one.  See the geese crossing at the bend?  Much less water flowing by this spot in 2014.
My front yard on Boyle in February 2013.  Tomorrow morning I'll take a photo of this spot for comparison.  Hint: there is no snow!  If you know how to do a rain dance, please do.  It can't do any harm.
January was a busy month for me, so I didn't keep up my desired pace for blogging.  I plan to fix that from February onward.  Some new images will arrive tomorrorw.