Monday, June 30, 2014

End of the Month Musings

 I've only seen one rattlesnake this year, and when I saw it I didn't have my camera with me.  It was on the FRC campus, on the sidewalk right outside someone's office.  Heroic maintenance staff took care of it.  I saw it being carried away on a shovel.  I heard that someone's dog was a victim of a rattlesnake bite yesterday near Oakland Camp.  With that said, I must admit that I went out to Oakland Camp this afternoon hoping to see a rattlesnake.  I certainly don't wish any people or pets any harm from rattlesnakes, but I do know they are an integral part of our ecosystem, and I would like to get some good photos of them in their natural habitat.  So here I have posted some less dramatic subjects.  The above photo of Narrowleaf Milkweed intrigued me because it is finally producing some seed pods.  They're narrow, just like the leaves.  Of the five species of milkweeds in our area, three have passed the peak of their blooming period - at least in most places I've visited around Quincy.  The first to bloom, the Purple Milkweed, went to see pods several weeks ago and I don't see any more flowers blooming at the American Valley elevation.  If one wants to see Purple Milkweed blooming, I'd suggest gaining 1,000 to 2,000 feet in altitude on our Forest Service roads.
 Another thing I thought a lot about today was the effects of our drought.  There seems to be far fewer species of flowers blooming at any given time than in most years since I've been in Quincy.  Also, many species are blooming as much as a month earlier than average.  What intrigued me today were the several species that seemed to be thriving, maybe even benefiting, from the drought.  The classic survivor that most people love to hate is the Star Thistle (above).  I think they are beautiful, and I don't like to get stabbed by them any more than the next person.  My solution: be careful.  I must admit, part of my fascination is knowing they are close relatives (same genus) of the well-liked Bachelor's Buttons.
 Another species that seems to be thriving more than ever is the Spanish Clover.  The blossoms seem more plentiful and bigger than those I remember seeing in previous years.  The ones in the photo above contrast nicely with the rocky background.
 This nice Spanish Creek scene can be uplifting or depressing, depending on one's perspective.  If you live in a place without free-flowing water, this probably looks wonderful.  If you've work hard all day in the sun, this looks like a great place to get wet.  However, if you live around Quincy and pay attention to Spanish Creek every year, you realize it is frighteningly low.  Some areas borderline stagnant.  Too much algae growing.  Makes me want to do a rain dance.
 In certain shady spots, the Scarlet Gilia are bright and beautiful, even though in sunny areas just a few yards away they have already gone to seed.
Back to the Narrowleaf Milkweed,  I love watching one of its most frequent visitors, the Checkered Clerid Beetle.  Many pairs were mating today, but they were also quite skittish and I never managed to get a good photo of them mating.  I did get a few bad photos of that, but I digress....

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Best Yet

 These are probably not my best yet photos of the Leopard Lily, but they are the best two lilies I've seen this year as far as color and detail are concerned.  We were hiking along the west side of Spanish Creek in the vicinity of Oakland Camp, perhaps 100 feet from the water's edge, when these two bright, red-orange beacons shone from the surrounding dark green background of Umbrella Plants.  They  topped stems that were 5 to 6 feet tall and leaned over the water of the creek.  Most of the daisies along this trail are drying up and the only other flower flourishing is the wild Sweet Pea, probabnly a mixture of naturalized varieties.  This small patch of Leopard Lilies made the hike memorable.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Today's Creepy Crawlies

 Moths on Showy Milkweed.
 Same moth on a daisy.
 Bumblebee on White Sweet Clover
 Insect eggs on Indian Hemp leaf.
Acrobatic Ant on Start Thistle.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Did I Miss It?

 Only about ten feet from the pavement, and I walk by it every day.  Yet, I didn't see this Pine Drop until this morning.  A member of the Wintergreen family, along with the familiar Manzanita, it was in a shady spot surrounded by tall Douglas-fir.  Also, it was around 3 feet tall, so it must have been there for several weeks by now.  Maybe on most walks I'm in a hurry or my mind is elsewhere.  I still can't believe I haven't noticed it before today.
When you first see one of these Pine Drops, you'd never guess it could be in the same family as Manzanita.  But when you get close enough to study the individual flowers it becomes more obvious.
One major difference, though, is Pine Drops doesn't have chlorophyll, so it doesn't make its own food the way green plants do.  It gets its nutrients from the soil in much the same manner as the Fungi.  It's a saprophyte.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Moth Sightings

 This was an exciting day, topped off by finding this beautiful Achemon Sphinx Moth resting on the side of my house.  We played with it a little to get different poses for the camera.  On my son's finger, it spread its wings a little and revealed its bright red underwings.
 Earlier in the day, I spotted a Plume Moth on a daisy on the college campus.  When these are at rest, the wings are thorough;y folded up so the animal looks like the letter T.  In flight, the wings spread open like a fan (or plume), but it's difficult to get a photo of them in that configuration.
We topped off the day by making some ice cream with liquid oxygen.  LOX is good for something besides bagels and rocket fuel.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Bright Light

Hooker's Evening Primrose, Oenothera elata.  Some really large blossoms, and, despite the name, they are blooming in the morning about 1/4 mile north of the FRC turnoff on Highway 70.  I love spotting them while driving 55.  It's equally dramatic to not be able to see them at all in the afternoon, even when you know exactly where they are.  Any botanists out there know what's going on?  All my field guides say they bloom in the evening, but they don't!

Is it a Leopard or a Tiger?

The native lilies that look like this are Lilium pardalinum, and the species name means leopard.  The cultivated lily that looks like this and that you might buy in a nursery is most likely Lilium tigrinum, and that species name means tiger.  Does that settle it?  Not really.  So many people use the names interchangeably and do not know one from the other anyway, that the question is probably only important to botanists.  When leading people on hikes in our local forests where I know we will only encounter L. pardalinum, I always say Leopard Lily, except when I don't.  :)  We do have a few other native species of lilies that look more or less like this one except for size and a few other details, but don't forget to enjoy their beauty.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ways of handling bugs....

 The Red Milkweed Beetles do such a good job of chewing milkweed that I feel pretty sure they could do a job on my skin; however, they don't seem inclined to.  They don't crawl very fast, so I let them crawl aroound on my left hand while I photograph them with my right.  Lucky that all the cameras I've seen have the shutter button on the right.
 This next critter is a different story.  See those jaws?!!!  This is an Antlion larva.  I've never caught one.  You've probably seen the evidence of their presence, small craters in the sand.  When an ant slips over the edge of the steep, sandy walls, the Antlion hiding beneath the bottom point pulls sand toward and past itself and the resulting landslide carries the ant into those menacing jaws.  Every time I've tried to catch one with a large spoon, a trowel, or similar device, like a professional razor clam or sand crab it disappears deeper into the earth faster than I can dig.  Well, my youngest son Ryan solved that problem.  He saw a crater at the edge of our driveway and brought out his shop vac.  It worked.  Our ping pong table made a nice background.  The above photo is of its back side.
 It was difficult to turn this critter over for a photo of its front or ventral side.  It popped back upright very quickly.  It took many attempts to get it tired enough to play 'possum for a few seconds for a photo.  This is the larval stage.  It turns into a larger, lacy-winged adult resembling Dobson Flies, Stone Flies, and other large, lacy-winged insects that fly into your Coleman lantern on camping trips.
I hate to kill bugs, but sometimes I can't help it.  I try to train my family not to leave anything out for ants to eat, but the ants are able to detect  the tiniest, sweet particles.  So, ultimately, I get out the drops of Boric Acid.  Here they are, happily drinking at what they probably consider an oasis.

Western Minus-tail Butterfly

 Formerly known as the Western Swallowtail, it showed up when I was finished photographing the Red Milkweed Beetle on the small remaining patch of Asclepias speciosa on the western end of Chandler Road.  I was about to leave, and was having a chat with a fellow who stopped to see what I was doing.  This Swallowtail flew in and flitted from flower to flower, then circled the area a couple of times, and repeated the sequence several times.  The lack of a right "tail" piece didn't seem to impede its flight skills.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I Can Hardly Wait

 We're having a really good crop of Western Pennyroyal around Quincy this year.  It seems to be one plant that is responding favorably to drought conditions.  Whenever I see the Pennyroyal blooming, I eagerly look forward to the arrival of the elegant Red-shouldered Ctenucha moth.  So far, I have found other insects on the Pennyroyal.
 In the photo below I found a Common Checkered Clerid beetle buried deeply in the cluster of flowers.  I actually spread them a little to be able to photograph the beetle.
 Nearby, I followed a Pale Swallowtail butterfly around the area for quite a while and got a few photos of it landing on Pennyroyal.
 Then I consulted my blog archive and found that the Ctenuchas don't usually arrive here until July.  The photo below was taken July 27, 2010.  Gosh, it seems like yesterday, but it's been four years.  So,
the whole month of July I'll be jumpy with anticipation.  This is the type of critter that tempts me to get into video. 


I stop to inspect the Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, every chance I get.  I am usually always rewarded by finding a great variety of insects and spiders, and, of course, the wonderful fragrance.  But, I must admit, I am always hoping to find the Red Milkweed Beetle, Tetraopes basalis.  Finally, I found two of them on what remains of one of my favorite patches of milkweeds on Chandler Road.  It was a fairly large patch until yesterday when the road department came by to beautify the place by cutting down all manner of beautiful weeds.  That included most of the milkweeds where a few eays ago I photographed Monarch Butterflies. I'll post a few more posed of each of the two beetles a while later.  These beauties spend their entire life cycles in and on the milkweed plant.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Some Interesting White Subjects

 I'm not sure if it's their relative abundance this year, or the lack of other species blooming in this drought, but for some reason I'm more aware than ever of the Rein Orchid.  I'm so intrigued by the tall spike of flowers that I've yet to zoom in for a high-quality image of a single flower.  There are plenty of these in wet places around Quincy, so I probably have at least another week or so to pursue that goal before they wilt.  For the second photo, I backed up a bit to give a better idea of the scene as I approached.  You can see there are quite a few specimens in this photo.  They were at the edge of Highway 70 just north of the turnoff to Feather River College.
 The third photo is a close-up of one on Blackhawk Road on the way to the Butterfly Valley Botanical Area.  In much deeper shade and actually growing in standing water, the flowers are less abundant and more widely spaced.  The stem and leaves, not visible in this photo, are much fleshier and healthy looking than those in the first two photos where the orchids were exposed to a lot more sun.
 In any given meadow where these orchids are found, one might also find a lily with the scientific name Hastingsia sp.  (below photo).  Easy to distinguish when viewed up close.  The orchid flower is bilaterally symmetrical while the lily is radially symmetrical (three petals and three sepals that are white, so to the amateur it appears to have six, radially arranged petals).
 The other white things that capture my attention daily are the daisies and their visiting crab spiders in my front yard.  The Goldenrod Crab Spider was probably named for its association with Goldenrod in the Mid-West, but the spider itself often changes to a goldenrod color.  It also often has two prominent red stripes on its abdomen.  See these in several posts over the past few weeks.

Dinner time on a daisy.  This spider has occupied the same daisy in my yard for about a week.

Blue Milkweed Beetle

What a creative name for a blue beetle found on milkweed, huh?  This one's on a Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa. I've seen them munching on the edges of the leaves, so apparently it doesn't bother them that the buds haven't opened yet.  The fragrance of the flowers of this milkweed are incredible, at least to humans, and it does seem that some invertebrates arrive only when the flowers are blooming.  I'm still looking for that image of two of these beetles mating.

Treat of the Day

 I took these photos of this morning's hike yesterday.  Let me explain.  Friday morning I hiked with my camera from the northern boundary of Oakland Camp to Gilson Creek and back to look for things I might point out to my guests on this morning's planned nature hike.  I figured I wouldn't bring my camera on today's hike so I could pay more attention to my guests and their questions.  I carefully inspected all five species of milkweeds in the area hoping to find a variety of bugs.  One can never guarantee the same bugs will show up on any given day, but the bugs shown in these photos did show up again today, so my story holds.  The above photo of the Narrowleaf Milkweed shows a guest with the unimaginative name, Small Milkweed Bug.  That is, bug as opposed to beetle. After a while, I realized that I was paying so much attention to the flowers at the tops of the plants that I'd forget to inspect the stems and leaves up and down the plant.  When I did (photo below) I found a caterpillar of the Monarch Butterfly.  We found another one today.

On many of the milkweeds, both the Narrowleaf Milkweed above and the Showy Milkweed which was also blooming abundantly, we also found many Checkered Clerid Beetles and several types of tiny black and brown beetles we didn't identify.  When I catch up on my blogging I'll post a photo I got of two Blue Milkweed Beetles mating that I came across in a different part of camp.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Damsel

 Once again, I am reminded that my skill at manipulating the order of images and text on this blog is very undeveloped.  Yesterday (6/20), I posted what is now the fourth photo in this group, along with the text below it, with the promise of adding several photos of flying things, now the first three photos.  Oh, well.  My skill at finding photogenic subjects in nature is pretty good I think.  The above photo is of a Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, found along the paved road leading into Oakland Camp.  It's on the left around 100 yards before the green entrance gate.  I couple of summers ago this very milkweed was knocked over and had a severely damaged stem.  I propped it up with a pile of small rocks, and it finished out the season with several large clusters of blossoms which played host to a great variety of insects and spiders.  The plant came back for a healthy 2013 season, and it's doing fine now.  Somewhere in my collection of photos from this past week I have one of a Monarch Butterfly and a Carpenter Bee apparently fighting for access to the same blossoms.  Click on the photo for a better view of the butterfly and the flower's details.
 I believe this is the Pale Swallowtail resting and dining on the Western Pennyroyal.    It took around 20 shots before I got one with the wings fully spread.  I was only around three feet away, so this was not shot with a telephoto lens. 
The above photo is a Fritillary, I believe, and I managed to get a shot of it coming in for a landing.  Note the shadow it's casting on the ground.  This one was landing on nearby Spreading Dogbane where it would alight one one flower after another continually for many minutes.  I always watch as long as possible because there's a high probability that on one of these blossoms it will get nabbed by a Goldenrod Crab Spider.
Now we're back to the text I wrote for the original post:
I didn't use a telephoto here, just a standard 55mm lens.  Out by Gilson Creek, a mile past Oakland Camp, I practiced my quiet approach and got within a foot of this Damselfly.  Later I got some nice close-ups of Swallowtail butterflies and Monarchs, including a caterpillar.  Will post those later, along with flowers of the day.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Wildlife in a Parking Lot

 Sent via iPhone from Chico by my son Greg.  In a Safeway parking lot, deceased.  Here are dorsal and ventral views of what I think is a California Giant Stonefly.  I wish our Safeway parking lot were as interesting.  Of course, there's the ditch out front in which I find a lot of interesting wildlife - and beer bottles, cigarette butts, etc.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Currently Blooming around Quincy

 These past few days I've had to squeeze photo trips between other errands, dog walks, and the like, so there might be some repeats.  As of yesterday's brief trip to the Oakland Camp area and today's dog walk up Boyle Ravine, here are some of the flowers that grabbed my attention.  The Monarchs are chasing each other around in the Gilson Creek area north of Oakland Camp.  They seldom alight on flowers for more than a few seconds at a time and are very skittish when I approach.  But the one above is rather young, and maybe naive, and I sneaked up from behind while its tongue was committed to a flower.  I got within three feet for this photo.
 I photographed a couple of Leopard Lilies at a certain spot in Boyle Ravine a couple of days ago.  Today there were two to three times as many blooming.  With setting sun sending strong rays in from the side, there was quite a variety of lighting conditions.  I used a large Douglas-fir for a background and used flash to get this photo in which the blossom glows and the background is nearly black.
 A few days ago I posted photos of Hooker's Evening Primrose taken in the afternoon when the blossoms are shriveled up.  I took the above photo in the same spot in front of Safeway but early in the morning.
 The Mullein don't seem as tall or as plentiful than in previous years.  This one at Oakland Camp is blooming while only about two feet tall.
 The Thimbleberries are looking good along the trail from my house to Boyle Ravine.  I see lots of green berries.  I hope there's enough moisture in the ground for them to ripen.
 The roadside standby, Chicory, also seems less plentiful and robust than in an average year.  Maybe later in the summer they'll seem more prominent.  I love the delicate flower parts.  Click on the photo in order to better see the details.
Here's a parting shot of the Goldenrod Crab Spider that held fort in my front yard for over a week.  I photographed her eating at least five different insects over that span of time.  When I mowed the lawn on Friday, she had to relocate.  Now there's a new one in the neighborhood without the red stripes.  If it catches an interesting insect tomorrow, I'll post a photo of it here.