Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Close, but ....

 ..., well, I didn't want a cigar anyway.  Less than a second before I pushed the shutter button for the above photo there was a Red-shouldered Ctenucha Moth resting on this Pennyroyal.  The first one I've seen in a few summers.  I was disappointed that I was not quite quick enough.  I'll be visiting this spot again.  Meanwhile, I tried to meet another challenge.  There were lots of bees around, so I
 thought I'd try to catch one hovering.  The above photo was the best I could do.  I did hang around long enough to get a few decent photos of bees that had landed.
 A few yards down the road there was a good-sized patch of Spreading Dogbane.  Some very large bees were visiting.  They were aware of my presence and spent most of their feeding time on the backsides of the flowers.  When they got carried away with feeding, they'd sometimes come to my side, and I managed to get one shot of a large bee with its wings spread.
 I'll be visiting this patch of dogbane again as it's a good place to find butterflies and crab spiders, and
on a good day, maybe crab spiders eating butterflies.
 I was about to leave this area only partially satisfied when along came one of the most spectacular-looking insects I've seen, the Thread-waisted Wasp.  Click on any of these photos for a closer view, but especially these last two.  It's an amazing insect that poses no threat to humans.  It's a pollen-eater.

A Little Ditch-digging

 I drive by the ditch (actually, a controlled creek-bed) in front of Safeway every day and think to myself "I've got to photograph those Hooker's Evening Primrose (above) before they're gone.  Finally, with a few unscheduled moments to spare, I stopped by and did a little "digging" for scenic situations down by the trickling water.  The ditch is heavily grown in with Cat-o-Nine-Tails, so I suspect the weed-eaters will come by soon and wipe out the botanical wonders.  With the thousands beginning to arrive for the High Sierra Music Fest, I'm surprised they haven't already done this bit of housekeeping.
 The Tansy are also abundant.  They are one of my favorite habitats for insects and spiders, but I didn't notice this spider until I enlarged the photo on my computer.
Down closer to the water and often hidden by the taller plants are the Seep-spring Monkeyflower (above) and lots of little blue Stickseed, that latter not photographed today.  Distracted by thoughts of a little side road near Quincy that has great crops of Pennyroyal and Spreading Dogbane.  I hope to get out there today for some photos.  This is another area that gets cleared by the weed-eaters, so I'd better not wait too long.  Maybe it's the current political situation, but, my fondness for weeds seems to be at a high pitch today.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Canyon Herps

 On the way back to Quincy from my March trip to Table Mountain, I was lucky enough to spot two different species of lizards.  Most of the photos I post here have to do with wildflowers and their invertebrate visitors - sometimes pollinators, but not always.  When I studied zoology seriously many years ago, my strongest interest was in reptiles and amphibians, lumped together in popular language as "herps."  The above photo is of an Alligator Lizard.  There are two or more species living in this general area, depending on whose classification prevails.  The photo below is of a Western Skink.  The Alligator Lizard was already out in the open when I approached, but the Skink had been under a large piece of bark before I lifted it. Fortunately, neither of them panicked, so I was able to get clear photos with a standard lens from a little over a foot away.
These two photos have been sitting on my desktop, awaiting attention, ever since I took that trip in March.  Consider this post to be a kind of spring cleaning. :)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Butterfly Valley, Part 2

 I think this is the prettiest flower that's been "under my nose" for several years without my noticing it.  On Saturday's field trip, I stopped with the CNPS group to look at the Lemmon's Wild Ginger that I photograph at this spot every summer.  My knees were actually smashing some of these orchids without my realizing it.  Thank you, CNPS, for showing me a new plant species. It's called Twablade, and it's an orchid.  Click on each photo for a closer view.

Out with the old....

 At Butterfly Valley Botanical Area, the main attraction for most people is the blooming Pitcher Plants, Darlingtonia californica, and they are truly impressive, many blooming on top of stems reaching 2 feet or more above the surrounding grasses and shorter flowers.  But early this morning, I was impressed by the translucent leaves in the early morning light.  The above photo shows last season's leaf (r) and the current season's (l).  Will post my blooming flowers of this plant later today.
I was actually leaving the meadow in my truck when I saw this Pine Drops, Pterospora andromodea, glowing beneath tall pines and firs.  Same situation - last year's dried stems on the right and this year's brightly colored fresh stems in full flower on the left.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Butterfly Valley Botanical Preserve, Part 1

 I visited the Butterfly Valley Botanical Area last Saturday with a group from the California Native Pant Society, and here I'm posted my first few photos from the trip.  I'm at home with very limited bandwidth, so it took me a half hour just to upload these photos.  I'll add more tomorrow ehen I visit a place with better Internet.  Although the trip focused on searching for wildflowers, I was frequently distracted by interesting insect activity.  The photo above hides a butterfly.  It was easy to see when it was flying, but when it landed on a brown background, it seemed to instantly disappear.  Can you find it?  The photo below was taken in the same area a couple of summers ago, and whenever I see butterflies in Butterfly Valley, I am reminded of this dramatic moment when I watched a Goldenrod Crab Spider snatch a Checkerspot butterlfy the moment it landed on the Labrador Tea bush.
 I have not been able to identify this impressive mint (next two photos), but I'm pretty sure it is a mint.

 If someone knows what it is, feel free to post an ID in the comments section below.
 White-veined Wintergreen (above) is a beauty, and in a quick glance it reminds of the Prince's Pines which were abundant in this area.
The White Brodiaea were abundant at the edge of the meadow.  The most recent name I have for it is Triteleia hyacinthina, but the status of flowers at one time or another called Brodiaea seems to be forever changing, and they are now divided among several different families, having once been in the Liliaceae.  I need to go back out to Butterfly Valley alone with a newer Jepson manual and figure those elusive Lilioids, the most memorable one I saw last Saturday being the Bog Asphodel.  Being more of a herpetologist than botanist, I really enjoyed the expertise of the CNPS people and I saw several plant species for the first time.  To be continued tomorrow.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Little Reconnaissance

 Last Thursday afternoon I took a quick drive and hike through the Butterfly Valley Botanical Preserve as a preliminary to leading a hike there on Saturday for a group of Native Plant Society people from several counties south and east of Plumas.  Predictably, the Pitcher Plants and Sundews were in bloom, and they are usually the highlight for visitors who come a long way to see this place.  But with some 500 species of plants having been identified here, not to mention the insects, spiders and birds one is likely to see, it is a remarkable place.  I have yet to visit the area without seeing at least one plant or animal I've never seen before, and this trip was no exception.
The above photo is of Leopard Lily, and they were abundant and in healthy form.  I never tired of trying to capture my best ever photo of them.
Below, is my favorite insect, or one of my 100 favorites!, the Red Milkweed Beetle.  This past week I saw them for the first time this season.  It didn't take any coaxing to get this one to crawl off a Milkweed Blossom onto my hand.  It was on a roadside patch of Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, and it is one of the Longhorn Beetles, Family Cerambicidae.  I love how Spellcheck stresses over these Latinized words.  Fortunately, the red underscores don't show up in the final posting.
 Sometime difficult to spot amongst taller blades of true grasses, the Blue-eyed Grass (below) is a member of the Iris family and is Sisyrhinchium bellum.  The Iris family is closely related to the lilies, and some books still have it listed in the Liliaceae.  The Botanical Preserve also has lots of Yellow-eyed Grass, but I was too busy chatting with guests to take a picture.  I plan to visit again this coming week to capture it among others I missed.
 One of the most beautiful members of the Buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, is the Crimson Columbine, Aquilegia formosa, below.  Soon I'll post more photos from the Saturday trip during
which I learned several new plants that were first spotted by my guests. It's great to share a hike with a group with such a great variety of experience and background knowledge.

Friday, June 10, 2016

More than meets the average eye

 One does not usually visit a college campus to experience wild nature.  Some other kinds of "wild" occur, of course, but I'm thinking of wildflowers and wildlife.  But the Feather River College campus is surrounded by forest and has both permanent and seasonal watercourses running through.  Despite human attempts to "tame" the wild - i. e., mow lawns, eradicate gophers, and monitor mule deer behavior with electronic collars, what remains of wilderness still penetrates the fringes.   On an afternoon hike last week, I got off the nature trail just a few yards and encountered some wildflowers such as the Leopard Lily above, and the "naturalized" Yellow Salsify, AKA Goat's Beard, below.
 There were also a few specimens of Blue Dicks, a lily, and...
 Sierra Stickseed (below), a kind of wild Forget-Me-Not.  In these dry times, not many native wildflowers are easily spotted on campus.  Much more prominent are the roadside and pathside daisies (non-native) and the expansive playing fields and other lawns.  And, of course, the trees.
Along the western edge of campus where the nature trail is located are some very large trees.  Douglas-fir, Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, White Fir, California Black Oak, Bigleaf Maple, White Alder, and others.  Beneath the trees are less noticeable but equally beautiful wildflowers such a Poison Hemlock, Trail Plant, Spotted Coralroot, Corn Flower, Lemmon's Wild Ginger, many species of wild violets, and a good variety of fungi.
This particular hike got me to reminiscing on wildflower and insect photos I have taken on campus over the past several years, and a quick perusal of my photo archives revealed over 100 species of wildflowers.  Many of these photos include spider and insect visitors to said plants. 
I have decided to gather these photos and organize them, and attempt to put together a Enjoying the Wild at Feather River College DVD and/or booklet that will include natural history notes, folk lore, etymologies, and other material about these flowers and bugs.  For those who live at or near the college, some of the available pleasures include learning what is "in season" and anticipating seasonal changes, comparing conditions from year to year, and introducing the "wild" environment to visitors.
My self-imposed timeline says I need to have this project accomplished by mid-August.
Meanwhile, another distraction coming up tomorrow.  I'll be guiding a trip to the Butterfly Valley Botanical Area.  It might be wise to leave my camera at home this time so I can get back to my to-do list rather than be tempted to change it.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Still Spring? Not.

 Farewell-to-Spring abundant along the trail today, with over two weeks of Spring remaining.  It felt like summer, though.  The first time I discovered this plant was on the first day of summer several years ago.  It seems to appear earlier every year, although it's possible I'm just getting better at spotting it.  Known to botanists as Clarkia dudleyana.
Easily ignored on hikes is the tiny Spanish Clover, Lotus purshianus.  Individual blossoms are around 1/4" wide, and they are often facing the ground and hidden by their green sepals.  Outside the borders of my photos of this plant are often hidden fingers.

A Diamond in the Rough

Known as Diamond Clarkia, and possibly many other common names, Clarkia rhomboidea was abundant in the "rough" at the edges of the trail I hiked this afternoon.  The generic name is after William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the species name is based on the overall flower shape, a rhombus, or more popularly known as a diamond.  I have never seen an actual diamond in that shape except in a deck of cards.  Nearby was another species of Clarkia, commonly known as Farewell-to-Spring.  I'll dig through my digital extravaganza to find an image of it.  I'm pretty sure I took a few photos of it on this same hike, although I was so hot and dry, I might have been hallucinating.

The Second Half

Found this half-poppy at a trailhead in a local undeveloped development.  I hope it remains undeveloped, but as I wandered around I wondered what sort of "vision" was operating here.  A vision of wonderful human habitat, or just money in the bank.  Maybe there are other visions possible here, but I couldn't help but see it as a reduction in the wild, and that always makes me sad. 
On a more positive note, I wondered about the first half.  The half that is now rapidly on its way to becoming soil, but which, earlier in the season, experienced a variety of insect and spider visitors, a variety of weather conditions, and had the fun of opening and closing every 24 hours.  As we approach what the humans might call the "off" season for poppies, i was thinking that to any living thing that is truly alive, there is no such thing as an off season.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Split Personality?

Nigella damascena Kelloggii, also known as Love-in-a-Mist, Ragged Lady, Devil in the Bush, Fennell Flower, etc., etc.  So, I wonder if those names reflect properties the plant has, or perhaps the mood of the person coining the name.  I've done a little web browsing, and so far have found the following tidbits.  The "petals," which come in various shades of blue and white and combinations, are not really petals in the strict botanical sense.  They are sepals.  The actual petals are tiny and rather hidden at the bases of the stamens.
Nigella is in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. It's a native of the Mediterranean region and the species name refers to Damascus, Syria.  If Donald Trump should be elected - perish the thought - maybe he'll deport all things Syrian.  And build a wall so no more will enter.
 The generic name, Nigella, is the diminutive of niger, a Latin word for black.  This refers to the black seeds.  From them, we get still another name in the culinary realm, black cumin.  So, my answer to the bard's famous question "What's in a name?" is "plenty."

A Pink Light Glows

I brought my camera to work this morning with pollinating insects in mind.  I didn't see any insects on the daisies and clover that I knew were growing along the path to the office, but I did a double-take when I thought I'd spied a pink piece of trash in the forest around 15' off the path.  On closer inspection, it turned out to be a young Pinedrops, a plant that resembles the fungi in terms of preferred habitat and "way of life."  However, it bears flowers and is in the Heather family along with Manzanita, Madrone, and Prince's Pine, all common green plants in this area.  This specimen is actually faily well hidden, so I hope to check in on it regularly over the summer during which time it should reach 3 - 4 feet in height.  A nice way to begin blogging in June.