Friday, July 31, 2015

I Stopped for Death - Twice

I was headed up to the FRC office to pick up my paycheck when I was distracted by a small patch of Gumplant at the edge of Golden Eagle Avenue.  I got out of my car with my camera and started noticing other things that wouldn't be noticed while driving.  Maybe I was daydreaming about lots of things, but all I can remember is that I was startled to find a dead fawn in the tall grass (above) just past the mowed zone along the edge of the road.  I just took one photo and hurried to the parking lot and started walking up the paved path.  Right in the middle of the paved path was a dead Grey Fox (below).  This fox had been lying in tall grass about 10' off the pavement for over a week, but something or someone had moved it onto the path.  Two carcasses in a matter of a few minutes set my mind racing.  For several days, I have been grading papers in my correspondence class, Nature Literature in America.  Among other literary pieces that came to mind was Emily Dickinson's poem, "Because I Could not Stop for Death" which inspired the title of this post.  I was also reminded of Mary Austin's little book of essays, The Land of Little Rain, and the essay "The Scavangers" and an essay by the late Ed Abbey titled "Death Valley."
 To top it off, just before choosing the photos for this post, I read Jon Carroll's column in today's S. F. Chronicle, titled "Nasty, brutish and short - and so very confusing,"  I hadn't really thought about Hobbes' Leviathan since my freshman year in college, but Carroll's column brought back those memories and yet another view of death.  It seems to me that all the writers mentioned here except for Hobbes had come to see death as a natural part of life and were reconciled to its inevitability.  My heart was pounding as I hurried the rest of the way up the hill to get my paycheck while wrestling with the images of these two dead animals.  What is not apparent in these photos are nature's cleanup crews - the ants, earwigs, and various beetles that have already begun the work of feeding their families and returning these two dead animals to the soil.

on my way down the hill, I stopped by the little patch of daisies I've been watching for a couple of weeks.  When I saw my two "adopted" Ambush Bugs till embracing, a feeling of peace came over me.  I urge you to click on this last photo and look at the amazing architecture of these two bugs in love and think about them as you get out the house and hike in a beautiful place this weekend.  That's what I'm going to do. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Clairvoyant Naturalist?

On my way up to the office this morning, I made my usual stop at this little patch of daisies.  What first caught my eye was what had been the freshest daisy of the bunch, the one on the far left.  It was injured!
I came in for a closer look, and was surprised to see the one Ambush Bug that had been occupying it was still there!
Hanging on, beneath the flower, it seemed oblivious to being upside-down.  I wondered if any food species were likely to land on an upside-down flower.  Finally, after getting this photo, I turned my attention to the flower on the right.  Yesterday, under the title "Reincarnation?", I had ended the text by pondering what might happen if a tasty-looking prey species landed right in front of the amorous couple.
Well, here we are.  Click on this photo and you can probably make out the fly on top.  It appears that the top Ambush Bug, the male, is able to have sex and eat at the same time.  They answered my question!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Onward to Grizzly Peak

 Two more wildflower photos from Brady's Camp, then onward to Grizzly Peak to search for the Devil's Punchbowl.  The above pair of Monk's Hood coming off the same stem intrigued me.  I couldn't get a good angle for the photo without using my hand.  THe flowers were hanging very low in dense grass.
 The Checker Mallow was not plentiful, but the ones we saw looked fresh.  After about a half hour of walking around and taking pictures, we head several miles westward to the road up toward Grizzly Peak.  I hadn't been there since last summer, so some of the intersections were confusing.  Some of my favorite landmarks are probably now parts of houses.
Since my last visit, they've closed the road at this point.  When I came here in my 2WD van, I went another 500 feet up the grade and got stuck.  Maybe a number of people have had the same experience, thus the barrier.  Anyway, we parked in the shrubs to the left and began our hike.  Tomorrow I'll post wildflower close-ups and scenic vistas including views of the inside of Devil's Punchbowl.


 I think I posted a premature obituary here last Thursday, the 23rd, titled "R. I. P., or Carry On?"  Over the following weekend, not only did I see no Ambush Bugs, but also the Daisies seemed nearly dead.  This morning, on my way up the hill to my office, I thought I spotted anew bug (above).  He/she is back!  I immediately thought of a comment attributed to Mark Twain: "Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated."  AS the below photo shows, there's just one fairly healthy-looking Daisy remaining in this little patch, and this bug was on it.  It may or may not be one of the bugs I first noticed a week ago.
 So, I went up to the office and worked for a couple of hours, then checked in on this spot on my way down to the car.
 Yikes!  The moment(s) I'd been waiting for.  While the bug in the top photo hadn't moved, now these two occupied one of the other daisies and were obviously in love!
 This one is looking at the amorous pair on the neighboring flower.  This one appears to be a female.
I pulled the two flowers a bit closer together so I could get a picture of all three.  Ever since I came across a little paperback book titled Six-legged Sex, I've been finding and photographing lots of insects mating.  Now I'm wondering what would happen if a tasty-looking bug of another species landed within range of the mating pair.  Maybe I'll get to witness such an encounter one of these days.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

On our way to Grizzly Peak and the Devil's Punchbowl

 Starting with the incredible Monk's Hood, this is the first of two or three posts on what we found around Brady's Camp last Friday.  The foothills of Argentine Peak were looking pretty dry on the way up with Squirrel Creek barely flowing.  However, around the little campground called Brady's Camp, there was enough water flowing through the meadow on the north side to support a good variety of wildflowers like the Monk's Hood (above) and the Ranger's Buttons (below).

 There were Corn Lilies blooming on both sides of us - at the edge of aforementioned meadow as well as around the dried-up creek bed to the South.  The creek bed looked a bit damp, so there might still have been some water flowing or seeping beneath the surface.  There was quite a good variety of helthy=looking woldflowers in and around the creek bed.
 A very nice stand of Paintbrush, and occasional ...
 clusteres of Checker Mallow (above) in the family that gave us the original Marsh Mallow (before Kraft or some similar entity turned it into sugar and air.
 Pine Drops, a member of the Heath or Wintergreen family were under the pines and firs all over the area.
 A white specimen of Monk's Hood.  I think it's the same species, just a variant, but I look into that further and correct myself if I'm wrong.
 My colleague, Joan Parkin, tried out my camera.  I can't do "selfies" with it.  This gives a rough idea of the surroundings near the creek bed.  Mostly Lodgepole Pine and Red Fir.
 Standing amongst the Leopard Lilies which extended for at least an acre, I could have stayed here for hours just photographing Leopard Lilies.
 A sampler. 
My favorite flower photo from this area, or tied with the Monk's Hood at the top.
Part II coming after dinner.

Golden Eagle Weed Inventory, Part II

 For Part I, scroll back to Thursday, July 23.  Here are ten more photos taken on a short drive down Golden Eagle Avenue, the entry road to Feather River College.  Fortunately, the weed eaters only cut about 10 feet from the edges of the pavement.  That leaves plenty of uncut area for observing and photographing wildflowers, both native and non-native, and the bugs that visit them.  The top photo here is Goldenrod, a member of the Sunflower or Aster family.
 Bachelor's Buttons come in many colors and are in the same genus as Star Thistle.
 Teasel is prolific along the South or pasture side of the road, especially close to Highway 70.
 Another view of Teasel.
 I never tire of photographing Chicory. The stamens and pistils are so intricate, and may different insects and spiders visit all through the summer.  And, a little ground up root improves coffee.
 Chamomile resembles miniature daisies.
 Yarrow, also a member of the Aster family.
 Wild Sweet Pea.  More attractive the closer you get.
 Gum Plant with an insect visitor.  Not sure whether it's a wasp or bee or fly mimicking such.
Different stages in the blossoming of Gum Plant. 

Hiking Poles and Duct Tape, a Marriage Made in Heaven?

 In my previous post, I poked gentle fun at people for bringing urban accouterments to their so-called wilderness experiences.  I must admit I have poked fun at my wife for using hiking poles, even though I am now more aware of their importance for protecting her knees.  And she has made a quip or two about my carrying a roll of duct tape.  Well, on yesterday's hike one of her poles came apart and we couldn't fix it in the recommended manner.  As you can see in the above and below photos, my duct tape came to the rescue.  We hiked a total of ten miles with several thousand feet of elevation change.  Today, she reports no knee problems. 
So, this pairing worked out fine.  I still refuse to bring a cell phone on my hikes.  :)

Multiple Use and Abuse?

On an all-day hike on one of the lesser-used trails in the Lakes Basin, we shared the trail at times with cows, and cowboys, and YUPPIES, but mostly hiked alone.  Friendly encounters withe the few humans we met.  But evidence of the presence of humans, cows, and horses along the trail between times raised questions about multiple use and abuse.  On this particular hike, mountain bikers were not a part of the mix, but elsewhere in the Lakes Basin they would have been.  The above photo was taken by my wife as I held our dog to keep her out of trouble.  As Emma exhibited symptoms of her approach/avoidance conflict with cows, mixed with her urge to meet up with the cowboys' dog, she was also obviously aware of the presence of Marmots living under the rock in the background.  Earlier in the day we passed by this same rock and she got to chase a Marmot.  The increased popularity of this gorgeous area that embraces parts of adjacent national forests, the Plumas and the Tahoe, is motivating different sorts of preservation efforts at the same time it is destroying it.  I think the solution could be found in more walking without the accoutrements of urban living, electronic and otherwise, but I'm just dreaming.  I had a great time, but returned home with troubling questions.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Plant That Saved My Camera

A beautiful member of the Family Ericaceae, the White-veined Wintergreen, at approximately 7,500' elevation near the summit of Grizzly Peak.  My colleague, Dr. Joan Parkin, and I live on opposite sides of Grizzly Ridge and Mt. Hough.  Her view of this mountain range from the northern edge of Indian Valley is quite different from the view from Quincy Junction Road.  We have talked for a couple of years about wanting to hike to the top of Grizzly Peak, the tallest peak in the range, and try to locate the mysterious (to us) Devil's Punch Bowl.  We finally did it today, and I have lots of photos to share.  But, for now, before I get a good night's sleep, I need to tell you about this little wintergreen.
We were on our way down from the summit, heading to a place in the woods where we had parked.  It was getting late, and we were beginning to get back into "check your watch" mode, when I saw this pretty little plant at my feet.  We had hiked downhill about a half mile from the peak where we had eaten lunch.  I bent down to consider a taking a photo, when I remembered that I already had decent photos of this species in my files.  Suddenly, I realized my camera was not around my neck, and not in my backpack.  I had left it hanging from a tree branch where we had lunch.  As the kids say these days, OMG!!!  Had to make a quick decision.  We really needed to get back to town, but I couldn't leave my camera there.  I contemplated going home, then making a quick trip back up there to get the camera, but knew that if I left it there overnight it might have been a goner.  So, I left Joan and her dog by the Wintergreen, and quick-stepped my way back to the peak to get my camera and returned to continue our descent.  If we'd gotten back to the car before making this discovery, it just might have been too late and too far to consider going back to get it.  So, that's how this Wintergreen saved my camera, just by being there.
By the way, the Ericaceae are variously known as the Wintergreen Family, the Heath Family, and other names, and contain such unlikely members as Manzanita, Madrone, Pinedrops, Snow Plant and Prince's Pine.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What will naturalists do?

If the "sixth extinction" is well underway, as we are told, what will naturalists do when there's no more wilderness or places that can be called natural?  That is, assuming humans are still able to survive for a while.  Watching (even while trying not to) the tune-ups for the Republican primaries has given me some ideas.  For example, types like that jackass named Donald are clearly over-specialized and are probably on their way to extinction like the Irish Elk and the Dodo.  They may be having "their day in the sun," but the evidence seems to indicate they're getting too much sun.  In a possibly viable substitute for studying mimicry, which has always been one of my favorite subjects within ecology, we have the spectacle of Senator Graham mimicking the behavior of the Donald by making videos of himself destroying his cell phone.  Is there something wrong with me for being totally uninterested in watching such a spectacle?  Is there something wrong with me for worrying that millions of people actually are interested in watching such things?  I guess when there are no more Rattlesnakes to watch, nor Gopher Snakes to mimic Rattlesnake behavior, and no more Monarch Butterflies or Viceroys to mimic them, I'll have to decide whether to keep blogging based on my photo archives or start watching and writing about the new unNatural History and call myself an unNaturalist. 

Golden Eagle Weed Inventory, Part I

 I was hoping I'd be able to get some better photos of Ambush Bugs mating by today, but the two I've been watching have left their flowers.  The above photo is from my archives of a couple of summers ago.  However, the short drive from the FRC parking lot out to Highway 70, AKA Golden Eagle Avenue, was a weed lover's delight.  Especially if you are willing to get out of the car, walk around,m and get some stickers in your socks.  I was.
 St. Johns Wort.  It attracts some great bug life, so I'll be paying close attention to this species as it should be blooming for another month or more.
 A nice crop of Orachard Morning Glory beneath a jungle of Star Thistle.
 Yellow Sweetclover adorns roadsides throughout American Valleu - Heck, throughout California!
 Star Thistle.  Sorry, but I like it.
 Gum Plant, a nicely blooming flower and a bud.  I love the re-curved spines on the buds.
 Filaree blooms around here for half the year.
 A six-foot-tall Mullein.
 Close-up of Mullein
Hawkweed,. or some close relative in the Aster family.  Part two in the morning.  It was easy to spot a couple dozen species of blooming flowers in that short drive.