Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Impressed by what's missing!

 While tracking the life cycle of the Mountain Lady Slippers in the vicinity of Oakland Feather River Camp, I wandered around the area to measure the prospects for leading two nature walks during the week of June 18 through 24 for the Art Camp.  I remember well the first summer that I did that, and on a short walk from camp headquarters to the bridge over Spanish Creek, we identified over 90 species of wildflowers and their many insect companions.  A similar walk today impresses by the absence of most of them.  What I've assembled here is a sampler of what's left, beginning with the beautiful California Wild Rose (above).  The most obvious causes for the disappearance of many species is the aggressive weed-whacking, allegedly in response to a recent fender-bender involving the people who habitually drive too fast down this road. The recent five years of drought have undoubtedly contributed to some adjustment of species abundance, but human intervention (which undoubtedly has contributed to the drought) is the more obvious factor.
One species that is still doing fine is the Checker Bloom (below).  In fact it is one of the species that seem more abundant than ever.  The big winter rains that followed the drought seem to have caused some species to respond with abundance, while others have not made an appearance.
 Another that seems to be doing OK is the Bedstraw, particularly in areas that have not dried up yet.
 The hardy Miner's Lettuce is also abundant, although when stressed by drought it takes on different forms that can make it tricky to identify at a glance.  Below is a shot of the classic circular leaf with one flower stalk projecting through it.  Good source of Vitamin C I'm told.
 The Scarlet Fritillary are done for the season in this area, although some can probably be found a while longer at higher elevations near running streams.  I'll be checking on that in the coming days at places like Brady's Camp and Reinhardt Meadows.
 Many of the areas that usually produce an abundance of Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, are no longer showing any.  The specimen below, not yet blooming, is one a few surviving members of what used to be one of my favorite patches.  I snipped off the tip of one leaf to show the "milk."  The milkweeds in general are treated by many people as weeds.  The curse of the name, I suppose.  In and around Oakland Camp there are at least five species of milkweeds that are now combined in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae. The milkweeds famously attract beautiful butterflies and beetles that I've featured here in past years.  While some butterfly fans cultivate milkweeds for their beautiful flowers and their hosting of butterflies, most humans seem to side with the road department weed whackers and try to eliminate them.  In the long run, I'd bet on the survival of most "weeds" over that of the ultimate weed, us, or as Pogo once said "We have met the enemy and he is us."

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