After a slow first five months, I'm back to blogging in earnest. In the forthcoming few months I plan to keep on tracking the blooming of wildflowers, the activities of bugs and reptiles and any other critters I'm quick enough or lucky enough to photograph, and to comment on ecological relationships. Since there is an increasing sense of ecological crisis among many people and more vigorous denial of such on the part of others, I will inevitably comment on the social and political dimensions of survival as I see them.
I am still an adjunct instructor in the English Department at Feather River College, but time permitting, I am available for hire as a nature guide in the region in and around Plumas County. A brochure describing my usual kinds of natural history adventures is in development. Email me c/o email@example.com with your mailing address and a statement of interests, and I'll send you a rough draft.
I have been teaching since 1965 and have recently joined the English Department as an Associate Faculty member at Feather River College. Recently taught Nature Literature in America and am currently teaching Interpersonal Communication and Basic Reading and Writing.
Got home from a day trip to Reno around 7:00 p.m. and immediately ran over to check on my spider. Lo and behold, she was not on the clover. Felt sad for a moment, then noticed she was not on the nearest daisy that had not yet opened. Then, in other direction, only a foot away, there she was with a new meal in her grasp.
In the above photo, you can barely make out the Red Clover in the upper right hand corner.
This last photo gives a better angle of the action. Bee and spider were absolutely still when I arrived, but a slow draining of bodily fluids is probably taking place. An exciting end to a busy day of errands in the city. Glad to be home.
I took the West Ranch Road loop this morning without my camera, and I saw a nice patch of Columbine. My Goldenrod Crab Spider, after eating several bugs these past two days, apparently is taking time out to digest. So, I thought I'd head back to West Road in the afternoon with my camera to record those Columbines. However, the first bright red spots I saw in the woods at 20 mph turned out to be the Red Larkspur (above). If you can imagine five of these blossoms wrapped around a central core, perhaps you can imagine their relationship to the Crimson Columbine (below), which is in the same family, the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.
An unopened Columbine looks a lot like the Larkspur.
Here's a fully opened one which really stands out against the background of dark forest.
Another view that I love is the view from below. But these were hanging over a muddy ditch, so I decided to get this view in another way.
Here's my front yard Crab Spider, apparently taking a rest from eating. I saw an ant crawl right over its body and it didn't even flinch. Either full from yesterday's feast, or maybe too tired. The clover blossoms are starting to turn brown and wilt, so I'm eagerly anticipating the spider's move to a nearby daisy.
Ox-eye Daisies by Spanish Creek, just downstream from Oakland Camp. These play host to a great variety of beautiful insects and spiders as you'll be seeing over the next month or two.
The Sticky Cinquefoil is home to a couple of Spittle Bugs. More on the natural history of these critters coming soon.
The Yerba Santa are blooming profusely on a small cliff overlooking the creek. These are a favorite of the Swallowtail Butterflies. They make a good tea.
Closer view of Yerba Santa blossoms.
The Purple or Heartleaf Milkweed, Asclepias cordifolia, are blooming now and hosting some great bugs like this Carpenter Bee.
Many species of butterflies also like the milkweed. I haven't seen Monarch Butterflies land on this species, but they often land on and breed on the Narrowleaf and Showy Milkweeds that grow in this same general area. Neither of them is blooming yet, but they're close.
If you're new to this blog, scroll back to see what this spider ate yesterday. The Red Clover doesn't stay in bloom for very long, but the nearby daisies are just getting started and they tend to stay in bloom longer. So, I expect this Goldenrod Crab Spider will relocate sometime in the next week or so. Last night, at sundown, she still had her mandibles in a butterfly, but now she's draining a bee. I wonder what tomorrow will bring. No way will I be mowing the lawn any time soon.
As if this weren't enough excitement, today is my younger sister's birthday, and, I've reached 29 posts in 29 days for the month of May. This self-imposed goal keeps me writing and adventuring.
I'm catching up on things seen around Oakland Camp during a recent hike. The black and red beetle (above and below) is the Dimorphic Flower Longhorn Beetle, Anastrangalia laetifica. These are females, but I wouldn't have known that from a casual glance, if it weren't for the fact that....
...a couple of summers ago, I caught a couple in the act (below). The male, on top, is totally black. I had often seen the sexes separately, always thinking they were two different species. After seeing a couple on a daisy, I did a little library research (Remember library research?) and confirmed that there's a good reason its name includes "dimorphic."
Of the many composites that produce puffy balls of seeds, perhaps the best known locally is the
Common Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, which is non-native. Whether or not it's considered an invasive weed is partly a matter of aesthetics and is certainly influenced by culture. The above photo, though, is of the Mountain Dandelion, Agoseris retrorsa, which is native to the Sierra. They can grow quite tall, and the "teeth" along the leaf margins are much more prominently recurved than they are on the Common Dandelion.
How can I get any work done? This great Goldenrod Crab Spider made her first appearance this morning. Within an hour or so she caught a small fly or bee (see earlier posts). I left the house for an hour or so, and when I got back, she had already taken on a bigger meal (above), a butterfly. Maybe the earlier catch was an appetizer. I hope I get to see desert before dark. The clover must feel proud, hosting all this activity.
Oh, the drama! After finding the Crab Spider on the clover earlier in the morning about 50 feet from my front door, I discovered that I could see from the inside hallway. So, I checked on it periodically without going outside. That is, until the first time I couldn't see it. When went up close to the flower to check, I was rewarded by the sight of the spider dining on a captured hover fly or bee of some sort. The spider had dragged his prey around to the shady side of the flower to dine in privacy. It wasn't until I put the photo on my large screen that I noticed a piar of mating beetles on the top of the flower.
I should say "flowers," because each clover flower is actually a cluster of many smaller flowers, each of which has a shape typical of the pea family, Fabaceae, of which it is a member. I hope this spider likes her new location. Last summer, one took up residence on a daisy less than 6 feet from this spot, and it stayed for over three weeks, capturing a new bug every few days.
Once again, vindicating my tendency to neglect my lawn, this beautiful Goldenrod Crab Spider has made my day. Actually, it's been a purposeful kind of neglect. I am looking forward to a wonderful season of photography on the front lawn. It's getting to the point that maybe I should no longer call it a lawn. It's great to look at one of these spiders and think "Go ahead, make my day," and feel more enlightened than either Dirty Harry or Ronald Reagan when they used the phrase.
I wonder if one of my childhood heroes, Yogi Berra, has visited this spot. I thought of him when I passed by on a nature walk this afternoon. I followed his advice and got some nice photos. Will post later tonight.
...for a vulture, that is. Or a flock of crows. We first saw this beaver carcass when it was intact, nearly a month ago. How it got to this place on the PG&E power line, far from any creek, remains a mystery to me. On our walk yesterday, I first came across the bones of a rear leg. Then I started finding other parts strewn about.
Scapula and front leg bones, then, in the middle of the path, the lower half of the backbone with the tail pad still attached.
Not the most pleasant sight on a nature walk, but, nevertheless, part of the cycle of life. It didn't smell at all, so our dog didn't notice it. Some insects and microorganisms must be doing their jobs.
I'm trying to grade papers, relocate my office, and fix my lunch all at once. Hard to stay glued to the chair when it's such a nice day. So, some of the distractions are welcome. My daughter found a dead bat, so I had to take a look. Rigor mortis had set in, so I couldn't really spread the wings. There was no sign of external damage, such as might be caused by a cat. Maybe its sonar failed and it crashed.
The next distraction, also a pleasant one, was this maple leaf that fell out of a file folder. I picked it up off the courthouse lawn a couple of years ago while writing a rant about excessive use of leaf blowers. I was pleased to see that is was still in good shape and retained some color. Back to work....
While hiking through an extremely dry stretch of forest, imagining fires, I sought out the flowers that were still surviving. This gives the impression of a healthier situation than what I actually witnessed. It felt like 100 degrees at Noon. Sticks on the ground were crackly. We could smell the pine needles as the Sun drove out their last bits of resin. This was by far the driest I've seen the local forest in my 7 years here. And it's only May! Please be careful with matches. Better yet, leave them home.