Thursday, July 31, 2014

Finishing Up on the Tahoe Rim Trail

 Tempus fugit. It's been a while since we hiked on ther Tahoe Rim Trail, and I still have more scenics and close-ups to report.  I've not only had a lot of work to do preparing for my fall courses, but I've been distracted by several more short day hikes in the immediate vicinity of Quincy and even some wildlife encounters in my front yard.  I'm determined to finish my TRT series before seriously undertaking another long narrative, such as one about our trips to Brady's Camp and Spirit Rock.
The above scenic is of Lake Tahoe, filled with fog, as seen from the Rim Trail at a point roughly 3 miles north of Barker Pass.  The trail alternately passes through open fields of Mule's Ears (foreground) and dense Ref Fir and Lodgepole Pine forest (background).
 This was our first clear view of Twin Peaks (l) and the slightly taller and more massive Stafford Peak (r).  The slope of volcanic gravel just below and to the left of Twin Peaks intrigued me.  Such a contrast from the surrounding meadows and forests that I thought I might find unique vegetation and visiting insects.  The anticipation of such quickened out pace and gave the illusion of having more energy.  In my earliest days of strenuos hiking we called that the "second wind" but I think this was something different.
 A slightly closer view of Twin Peaks and that talus slope before we temporarily disappeared into another dense forest.
The last stretch of dense forest was so well shaded that the soil remained moist and it supported "spring" wildfowers like the Pine Violets above.  My next post will include the surprising and exciting vegetation we found growing from the volcanic gravel.  There was also a stream crossing which supported another small community still experiencing spring.  That community included some beautiful butterflies that helped us tolerate the mosquitoes. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bug Time

 Where did my week go?  Still not enough time to catch up on my stories and photos about Brady's Camp trip, and last Saturday's trip to Lakes Basin, much less finish my series on the Tahoe Rim Trail, an adventure now two week's past.  But, I do still make time to walk the dog and bring the camera in case I see any interesting wildflower drama.  So, yesterday the beautiful Ambush Bugs finally emerged on the rather small crop of Tansy growing up in Boyle Ravine.
 They must sense the minimal crop of their favorite flower and the hot dry summer that won't  support them much longer.  They were engaged in making more Ambush Bugs almost immediately after they made their first appearance of the season.
On the way home, we saw some Snake Flies on the big green water tank.  I couldn't get a good side view, but they really do look a bit like a snake with wings. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rare Bug - Guest Photo

My friend Spencer Dykstra sent me this photo of an amazing bug and asked if I could identify it.  I'm sure I've never seen one before, but I said it looked like a cross between a longhorn beetle and a bumblebee.  That would be impossible of course.  However, Spencer's research bore fruit before mine.  He got help from the Bug Guide, a really interesting insect site. 
It turns out it's in the longhorn beetle family, Cerambycidae, and it does a kind of bee imitation when disturbed!  It's called the Lion Longhorn Beetle, or just the Lion Beetle,  Ulochaetes lioninus.  The fuzzy mane probably looks even more lion-like when viewed head-on.  I sure hope I get to see one of these eventually.  Thanks for sharing, Spencer.  By the way, readers, check out Spencer Dykstra Photography. 
Hopefully, tomorrow I'll be rested and will begin catching up on posting my two recent adventures.


I think of beautiful caterpillars as symbols of hope.  This caterpillar of a Monarch butterfly was spotted by my son out past Oakland Camp over a month ago when we were hiking with some friends and searching the various species of milkweeds for visiting insects.  It appears here today as a memory of when I was keeping up with my blog.  During the month of June I exceeded my goal of averaging a post per day, but I've fallen behind in July.  I still have lots to show and tell about recent trips to the Tahoe Rim Trail (now two weeks old) and Brady's Camp (now a week old) and I'm already planning another outing with a friend for this coming weekend.  When will I catch up?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Barker Peak; the original goal, Part VI

 Within ten minutes of leaving Barker Pass we got our first clear glimpse of our original goal,  the top of Barker Peak.  However, the Rim Trail was such pleasant going, and the peak looked like a giant pile of talus, that we decided to stay on the trail and see if it might lead to some sort of "back way" up Barker that wouldn't be so strenuous.  The field of Mule's Ears in the foreground was punctuated with Leichtlin's Mariposa Lilies (below), and this one hosted a hungry Longhorn Beetle that was working hard to get a meal.  [Story continues tomorrow.]

Tahoe Rim Trail, Part V

Sunday, July 13, 2014

We finally arrive at Barker Pass, Part IV

Related to Cauliflower?  Amazing.  Whenever I see a dainty wildflower like Jewelflower (above) and discover that it's in the Family Brassicaceae (formerly Cruciferae), I am impressed all over again that it could be in the same family as Mustard, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Bok Choy, and many other nitritious greens.  This series of photos is from the last half mile or so of the road up to Barker Pass and includes a couple from the parking area near the pass. Photos from the hike along the Tahoe Rim Trail, from Barker Pass to Twin Peaks, will probably occupy two more posts.  Then, I can move to to the wonderful trip Ryan and I took to Brady's Camp and vicinity last Sunday afternoon.

Here's a dense bunch of the Red Elderberry - not safe to eat.
I never tire of photographing Pussy Paws.  This was a particularly beautiful specimen grwoing out of the roadside gravel.  I love how these are perky in the early morning, then lie down during hot afternoons and appear to melt into the ground much like our Labradoodle melts into the carpet on hot afternoons.
Photos of Leichtlin's Mariposa Lily will appear from time to.  I'm always looking for one that's prettier than the last and/or is hosting an interesting insect or two.
The Mountain Spiraea is dense along the wetter spots of the roadside.  We have this growing in our front yard, and I muist say if you're looking for low-maintenance landscaping plants, this is one.  Blooms for a long time.
This is the highest elevation (approx. 7,000') where I've found Check Bloom.  Usually at this elevation, especially in wet areas, i find its cousin the Checker Mallow.  Along the Barker Pass road, we found both.
A small Phacelia, Faily Hydrophyllaceae, is a pretty flower that is easy to overlook when there are bright-colored ones nearby.  The bright green leaf in the foreground reminds me of one of the Yellow Violets that bloom around here in the spring.
The first plant I photographed when I got out of the car at Barker Pass was this Spotted Coralroot.  It ws growing right in the trail.  I was amazed it hadn't been stomped to death.
This beautiful blue Larkspur was growing just a few yards from the Coralroot.  Only about a foot tall, the blossoms were particularly large and bright.  Maybe someone spilled some MiracleGrow here.
My favorite specimen from a group of Mariposa Lilies growing at this same spot by the trailhead.
My wife, Bib,standing by evidence that we were there.  Next: the actual Tahoe Rim Trail experience.  Leaving the pavement.

The interruptons I love

 I haven't finished telling the story of last Sunday's trip to the Tahoe Rim Trail by Lake Tahoe.  Yesterday morning I had to face the bitter-sweet reality of yard work.  The sweet part is that the yard ends up looking better by conventional standards which makes family and neighbors happy.  The bitter part - or maybe I should just say 'sad' - is that the miniature wildlife habitat that arises when I neglect the yard work is a source of all sorts of biological wonders.  The "cat and mouse game" represented by the above photo was just a start.  Then I had to inspect each of the daisies that were about to be mowed down for possible insect guests.
 The leaf hopper on the above daisy satisfied that inquiry.  Then, I moved on to the California Thistle
 growing among the Irises and grasses under the roof over our inoperative well.  Like Henry Thoreau and E. O. Wilson, I love to watch ants.  I watched the ants on this thistle for quite a while before removing it.  It was easy to imagine mountain-climbing adventures as I watched them negotiate the details of each spine and leaf.  The red blossoms were occasionally visited by bees, butterflies, and other flying insects. 
 Then I moved on to the area where we have our firewood delivered.  I picked up a few old pieces of wood and bark from last winter's wood processing and discovered a great nest of Carpenter Ants.  What first caught my eye was the collection of eggs (above), some of which had about-to-be-hatched ants visible through their translucent skins.  It only took a few seconds for the ants to start gathering up their eggs (below) and moving them to safer hideouts.
 Last, as I split a few remaining rounds from last season, I came across a predictable variety of larvae and nymphs of various insects, mostly beetles, that spent the winter inside the logs.  This entire excursion took about a half hour, then I had to get back to the yard work.  My morale remains high when I remember that all the weeds and bugs I dislocated will be back.
Meanwhile, I need to get back to finishing my story of the Tahoe visit, because I went on another adventure yesterday afternoon with my son Ryan.  We went to Brady's Camp, around 7,000' elevation on Argentine Peak, and had the best wildflower photography day of the year so far.  We also got lost on the network of roads between the roads to Mt Hough and Argentine Peak, and drove 40 aimless miles in order to get home.  It should have taken only 15.  Who stole all the road signs up there?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On the way to Barker Pass, Part III

 This third part of my series on the way to Barker Pass marks the transition from focusing on wildflowers to climbing around on rocks.  The rest of the narrative will be posted this evening.