Thursday, March 27, 2014

Black Cottonwood with Robin

Where there are Robins there are worms, and where there are worms, there are Robins.  The warmth and moisture are making the lawns come alive with Robins and Worms.  There's an advancing snow storm poised to the North.  Suspense!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Lesson of the Moth

 I took a little walk in the woods above my house on Sunday to reduce the stress of too much paper grading.  Walking and taking pictures is my favorite stress reliever.  Ironically, the one animal that caught my eye was this moth resting on the warm steel of our neighborhood water tank.  Ironic because I had just studied a poem with my class called "the lesson of the moth," by the late Don Marquis.  The poem involves a conversation between a moth and a cockroach.  They argue about the adventurous, risk-taking life vs. the conservative, play-it-safe sort of life.  The moth favored the former, justifying to the cockroach its proclivity for flying into light bulbs and flames. The cockroach prefers to play it safe and live longer, although he does seem to envy the moth's love of life.  So, how did thinking about this adventurous moth help me relax?  Actually, the particular moth in the photo was simply lying in the sun, sucking up the warmth of the sunny surface of the steel water tank.  That seemed pretty relaxing to me, and I was envious.  It worked.
When I got back to the house I noticed the dense crop of Spring Whitlow Grass was blooming in my dirt parking spot.  This tiny member of the mustard family is one of the earliest spring wildflowers, and it's so tiny that you could be walking over a patch of it without even noticing it.  Tonight, it might get covered with snow, but if that happens another crop will happen afterwards.  Witnessing that sort of resilience also helps me to relax.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Love Surprises!

Well, not all surprises.  I definitely did not enjoy stumbling across that Beaver carcass featured two blog posts ago.  But this section of a willow branch attracted me because of the different stages of the blooming process of the flowers.  I was concentrating on the most advanced stage hanging below the branch so I didn't even notice the Treehopper resting above it until I looked at the photo on my computer.  I guess it's getting some camouflage value out of impersonating a bud.  So many birds frequent this stand of willows that I wonder how many bugs escape detection.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Things Got More Pleasant

 On my first "nature walk" of the day, the sight of a rotting beaver carcass spoiled my mood for photography.  I did carry my camera for another mile or so, but I didn't see anything that I wanted to photograph.  So, I headed back to the FRC campus where I thought I'd see whether the early violets were blooming yet.  On the way down Golden Eagle Avenue I decided to crawl around in the grass a bit and see if any of the tiny wildflowers like Whitlow Grass and Dead Nettle were blooming.  Then I spotted a Convergent Ladybird Beetle doing a "high wire" act on the top of a blade of grass.  After a ....
 little more exploring, I found another, and ...
 still another.  They had clearly found each other.  Finally, I spotted some Henbit Dead Nettle blooming.  I love that name.
 I finally moved on and hiked the lower tier of the FRC nature trail from the parking lot to the upper campus.  Sure enough, the first violets of the season were blooming.  Viola sheltonii, I believe.  I'll have to review my violet archives and my field guides as there will be many other species of violets blooming soon.  At least four species of which are yellow.  I saw some other interesting things along the trail, but I'll save those for my next post.

A New Form of Vandalism?

On a very dry trail, far from any creek, we find this!  Along a PG&E pole line, at least partially maintained by herbicides, and a haven for reckless ORV drivers, we found a beaver skeleton this morning.  No skull.  Perhaps that is now someone's souvenir.  Fortunately, our dog wasn't very interested.  Otherwise, some of this carcass would have ended up on our living room carpet.  A sad sight.  I have to think of it as good for the vultures.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Early Morning Walk

 I have been noticing the Corn Lilies breaking ground for a couple of weeks now, but I always seem to be on the way to somewhere else.  There's a nice crop of them growing beneath the White Alders in a kind of mini-forest just off the paved path that leads from the FRC parking lot to the upper campus.  I walk by it every day, sometimes two or three time a day, but seldom have time to stop.  Now that there are quite a few sprouts of different plants appearing, I need to stop more often with camera and/or sketchbook in hand. 
 The above and below photos give an idea of the environment where these lilies are growing.  Soon they will be surrounded by a new crop of Wild Ginger, Buttercups, and various members of the mint and mustard families.  Having taken photos in this spot for several years, I know what to expect, except for the unexpected, of course.  But this early in the season I find myself trying to will the plants out of the ground by intense staring.  Either it doesn't work, or there is a two-week lag time.
 Even though I was in a bit of a hurry this morning, and stopped only for the Corn Lilies, I did manage to indulge one of my other compulsions and turned over one small rock.  I was quite satisfied to find a centipede.  Then I hurried off to my office, day-dreaming about the wonders yet to come in this favorite spot of mine.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Where's My Camera?

I was in my office early this morning when I thought I heard a child drowning.  That didn't make sense because I was nowhere near any open water.  So, I figured it was some students fooling around and I kept on working.  Then there was a flickering of the light coming through the office window.  I looked up and saw three wild turkeys no more than 10 feet away perched on the railing leading up to the office.  Unbelievable.  It appeared to be a male and a couple of females clearly communicating about something exciting - like maybe making more turkeys?  And I didn't have my camera with me.  When I walked over to the exit door, I saw that a small crowd with cell phone cameras had gathered.  Luckily, my colleague, Cindy Barrett, had a new cell phone with a good camera.  Despite the tricky lighting - the turkeys were in very deep shade while the sun caught the trees and building a little higher up, making the contrast ridiculous.  She agreed to share this photo which under the circumstances is outstanding.  Thank you, Cindy!
Spring is really coming alive, even thought it doesn't officially begin until tomorrow.  I vowed to bring my camera everywhere I go from now on.
I'm seeing lots more birds lately.  Robins, Juncos. Ravens, and many little brown ones I don't know.  I'm also hearing more Stellar's Jays.  I've been so busy with school, that I haven't focused much on natural history these past two months, but that's going to change.  I find myself staring at new sprouts breaking ground and trying to will them to grow faster and bloom.  The Corn Lilies are nearly a foot tall, the Stickseed and Buttercups have broken ground on campus.  I'm seeing more and more shoots of Death Camus and Shooting Star.  I can hardly wait for the colorful blooms and the pollinators to arrive.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pre-spring wanderings, Sunday

 I noticed the first few Forsythia blooms on the Feather River College campus over a week ago.  Today, on my way to a short hike in the woods, I decided to grab a few photos of these bright beauties in the olive family.  I might shoot a few more tomorrow and propose one for the cover of next spring's catalog.

 Around the bases of some of the large Black Oaks on campus, the Henbit Dead Nettle are breaking ground.  No blooms yet, but their tiny serrated leaves are distinctive.
 When I returned to the PG&E pole line just north of campus, I noticed right away a great deal more insect and spider activity than in days past.  This nice Wolf Spider must have still been cool from the night before because when I removed the piece of bark covering it, it stayed for several photos before seeking cover again.
 This Bumblebee was sitting in the middle of the dirt path and made no attempt to escape until I poked it a few times.  Maybe it was still too cold to fly.
 The prize of the day was this young Rubber Boa.  I found it under an old piece of plywood.  I picked it up and tried to photograph it one-handed without good results, but it was very gentle, and when I put it down it simply tried to hide its head.  I'd guess it was around 14"long.  I'll be checking under that piece of plywood every time I walk by. 

Pre-spring wanderings, Saturday

 On Friday, I had to do an errand in the Bay Area, so I had to drive through the Feather River Canyon without stopping.  That can be quite a tease this time of year.  Lots of spring wildflowers, and presumably their usual invertebrate visitors. were emerging from winter sleep.  I had my camera in the back seat just in case, but time was crucial and I couldn't stop when I saw bright red spots that I took to be the Scarlet Fritillary, the bright orange of the Wallflower, and the yellow of the Seep-spring Monkeyflower.  On Saturday, also short on available time, I just had to go back down the canyon a short distance to at least find the Fritillary.  I failed.  The great Bluebelly Lizard in the above photo made up for it.  He was my first reptile of the season.  While I was on foot, many smaller ones scooted ahead of me and found their hiding places faster than I could manipulate my camera.  Finally, I spotted this big one from the front seat of my car while driving very slowly.  He stayed still long enough for me to switch to my telephoto and take the picture from the front seat of the car.
 While crawling around on the ground I spotted a patch of Spring Whitlow Grass. 
 Here's a close-up of this cute member of the Mustard family.
 Not only have the Dandelions bloomed in great numbers, the ones living in the "fast lane"...
 have already gone to seed when most flowering plants haven't yet broken ground.
Here's a remnant of last year's Hooker's Evening Primrose.  More later.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Splitters are at it again!

I just read a post from Sandy Steinman's nature blog called Natural History Wanderings.  Turns out a recent exploration of the cockroach population in SW USA has turned up 39 new species!  Mostly subterranean, they were largely ignored for nearly 100 years.  This brings back memories of many lunch time debates between splitters and lumpers, not to mention my study in Invertebrate Natural History of the coackroaches on New Orleans sidwalks at night.  It turns out the very big ones we'd catch while taking evening walks with our dates were a fascinating laboratory animal.  We would remove the wings, fasten the live cockroach to a piece of cardboard, then watch the heart beating through the rather transparent skin on the back.  We would adminster various chemicals that increased or decreased the heart rate.  From a purely pragmatic point of view, we never got reported for animal cruelty because no one cared about cockroaches - except perhaps for me.  When I moved on to take a course in parasitology, I got to discover the incredible variety of organisms that populated the cockroachs' intestines.  I still have my report from 1962.
This moves me to look in my photo archive and gather up what photos I have of the cockroaches inhabiting the Plumas National Forest.  I've never found one in my house in Quincy.  They must be content with conditions in the adjacent forest.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Walking Into Spring, Part 2

 I've been burning the midnight oil, so this is not a good time to be adding text.  However, the photos provide a good enough record of our experience of last Saturday that I'll remember the stories when I'm feeling more rested.  Although we had a frosty night last night, the general trend of warmth and moisture continues so many signs of spring are appearing.  I'm photographing lots of things I have photographed in previous springs, always in search of a better photo of a given species or situation.  Also, while keeping up to date on familiar species, I always come across a few new things every month.  What I particularly enjoyed on this walk was recognizing a number of wildflower species just from the early leaves.  In another few weeks I'll find out how many I've got right.

It's now Wednesday, and I'm a bit more rested.  The new leaves in the above photo may be those of Shooting Star.  The local species that tends to pop up earliest is Henderson's Shooting Star.  I'll keep an eye on it and report later when it blooms, or at least sends up a stalk.
The nemesis of the indoors types, but to me a reminder of well-functioning social organization.  We could learn a lot from the social insects.  Why don't we?  We just call the exterminators.
Another social insect, better at architecture than we are.  I'm promising myself to sit and watch for a long while, at least once this coming spring.  I could bring some of  E. O. Wilson's ant books to read while I wait with my sketch book and camera.
Looks like an early Death Camas.  Definitely a lily of some sort.  I was surprised when I stumbled across the first one, then I started seeing them everywhere.  This walk really whetted the appetite for wildflower photography.  I'm hoping there's enough moisture inthe ground from the recent rains that the forecast week or so of sunny weather will cause the wildflowers to go crazy - so to speak.
Manzanita displays different forms of beauty in every stage of its life, including death.  Here are the first buds I've seen this spring.  There are two species of Manzanita along this trail.  The other one hasn't produced buds yet.  I'll write more about both after they bloom.  Friday and/or Saturday, I'll take a little excursion in search of Tumbleweed.  More about that later.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Walking Into Spring, Part 1

 A short walk just north of town on Saturday gave me the feeling spring is really here.  I will provide the text tomorrow, but there is lots of activity in response to the recent rains and warmth.  The young Lupines were abundant on a hill top along the PG&E power line just north of town.  I'll have more to say about the flowers and bugs tomorrow, and also more photos.

Not exactly the tomorrow I had in mind. It is now Wednesday.  The excitement I felt when I stumbled across the "scene" in the above photo is that of recognition.  You can tell from the pine needles that the little bundle of lupine leaves is only an inch or two across.  To a botanist or serious naturalist, recognizing a lupine from its earliest leaves is a no-brainer.  But, that's beside the point.  The excitement stems from (no pun intended) recognizing the "arrival" of a friend after winter, a period of several months when no new greenery poked its head through the soil.  It's a kind of reawakening made even more exciting by the act of recognition.
As soon as I spotted the first one, they seemed to be everywhere.  Then it became fun to photograph them in different settings and think about their slight adaptations to different micro-climates within a few yards of one another.
This looks like one of the early-blooming yellow violets of which we have around 5 or 6 local species.  I'll need to review them from last spring's photos.  Then, a bit later, we get white ones and blue ones - not counting the cultivated ones in people's yads.
This type of fungus always makes me think of a scene in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.
Ostensibly photographing an immature beetle, but later appreciating the aesthetics of dry leaves of California Black Oak even more.
Possibly an early Delphinium?  Need to review photos and text from March of last year.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

My Second Wildflower of the Season

 I spotted some Filaree along Lee Road in a place that a few months from now I'll be calling my "milkweed place" because it's where I've been I've been watching the Showy Milkweed and its insect and spider visitors go through their annual life cycles for several years.
When I see the first tiny flowers blooming, I usually crawl around on my hands and knees and find the sprouts of many species that are only a week or two behind the first ones to bloom.  In this case,
one of the Filaree's neighbors was the Cinquefoil whose leaves resemble those of marijuana.  This member of the rose family with get two to three feet tall and sport yellow flowers that superficially resemble those of buttercups.  On another small adventure today I hiked up a pole line off the Snake Lake road in search of other early blooms.  I didn't find anything blooming, but the manzanitas were close.  I did see the early foliage of quite a few species of wildflowers that will bloom soon.  I also saw some interesting insects.  Will post photos and description of those findings in the morning. With a break in the rain and some long distance views of the mountains, I suddenly got the urge to pay my first visit to Table Mountain.  The blooming is underway already and I don't want to miss the show this year.

First wild blooms in my neighborhood

 I've been getting reports and photos of early spring wildflowers (even though it's still officially winter) from friends at lower elevations, and I figured it was time to go out looking in earnest at 3,500', plus or minus a few hundred.  The above photo looks like a lawn when you walk over it rapidly without looking down at the details.  Easy to overlook the tiny white flowers, Chickweed, a native of Europe.  It's a pretty little member of the Pink Family (Carnations, etc.), Caryophyllaceae.  You can get a closer look by clicking on the  photo.  But, I'll go you one better.  I picked one and held it in front of the trunk of a large White Alder tree.
 I then moved in still closer.
I was excited to photograph my first blooming wildflower, even though I've been posting a few photos of cultivated flowers in the neighborhood that always come out earlier.  Daffodils, Crocuses, and the like.  While wandering around my favorite photo spots in the Quincy vicinity, I saw lots of sprouts of the wildflowers that will be blooming soon.
I was so excited about finding the Chickweed, that I decided to "google" it.  Among the first 20 hits, there was a pretty good Wikipedia article on the plant and 19 websites of purveyors of herbicides.
You see, despite its beauty, its nutritional value, and its medicinal properties, it is a WEED, and we must hate weeds, musn't we?  So, let the springtime rants begin.  Writing again in defense of weeds, I am also excited that most likely tonight my blog will reach 90,000 page views!  I love round numbers, and I love knowing that there have been 90,000 visits.  There's nothing to sell here, either.  Just sharing the excitement of wandering and communing with nature.  I also love receiving questions and having people share their photos and observations. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Rite of Spring

 No, not Stravinsky's.  This is my rite of spring.  Turning over logs, rocks, sheets of cardboard or plastic, and most any other object that might be covering some interesting wildlife - invertebrates, plants, fungi, etc.  The recent rains and relative warmth have brought lots of things to life.  Well, they were already alive.  Let's just say they have begin their springtime activities.  The boards around my yard are now covering a good variety of slugs.
 Slugs are snails without shells.  Fun to watch, and they move slowly enough that they are easy to photograph.  Also, the grey skies allow for more accurate color rendering in photographs.  These photos have not been altered at all whereas the same photos taken under bright sun would have required some editing to produce pleasing results.

 I removed a big piece of black plastic from an area where i was trying to divert water runoff only to discover our tulips are well on their way to spring stature.
 Also, they're all leaning toward the South where the low sun angle is providing their needed light.
 This 50-pound, flat rock, year after year, is a reliable site for Earthworm viewing.
Here he is again, the early worm that gets the bird.