Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Refreshing Sight

Growing up in New England, I never saw a vineyard.  I never saw grapes grown commercially on a large scale, but greatly enjoyed picking Concord grapes in friends' yards, along roadsides, and sometimes in the woods.  Sometimes in the woods, we'd find the grape vines climbing all over Baldwin apple trees.  Possibly a sign of this part of the forest having someone's homestead many years ago.  I didn't really think about that back then, but I loved the grapes and sometimes brought quite a few bunches home with me.  So these big bunches, hiding beneath the leaves in front of a local eatery made me feel very nostalgic.  I picked just one grape to quench my thirst.  After that, the memories were enough.

One Last Time for Treehoppers

 I was just beginning to pass this off as a bad year for treehoppers, and, therefore, treehopper photography when I saw this!  I spotted a few earlier in the season than usual.  Then there were very few additional ones over a period of several weeks. I was having trouble getting clear photos of those few with my cell phone.  Then, a couple days ago, while I was toting my DSLR camera, I looked over some low-hanging branches of an Oak on my driveway, and spotted this cluster.  More treehoppers were on this branch than were on all my previous photos combined.  And there was this white spot in the middle that I couldn't make out wth my weary eyes.  Click on either photos and you'll see that i've caught one treehopper in the act of its last molt.  Note the wings.
Then I had one last thought.  This was a low branch of a fairly tall California Black Oak.  Some of them here and on the FRTC campus are very tall, approaching 100 feet.  I've never used a ladder or a helicopter in my photography, but now I'm wondering if these Oak Treehoppers occupy the branches higher up on the trees.  There may be millions on a tree that I just don't see.  Maybe deer and other critters are frequently knocking ones off the low branches and I'm only seeing the survivors.  If I seem a little obsessed with Oak Treehoppers, it's because I am.  I wonder if I could raise them over the winter in a terrarium.

Who benefits?

 I saw lots of California Sister butterflies during the month of August.  Now that I'm not seeing them any more, I'm having a flashback to one of the look-alikes.  I found some photos of Lorquin's Admiral in my photo archives.  Here are three such photos.  I remember they really loved to feed on the Spreading Dogbane, a member of the "milkweed" group which consists of the combined families of Asclepiadaceae (milkweeds) and Apocynaceae (dogbanses).  When I approached these specimens, they were so deeply engaged in feeding that I could appraoch with my Nikn to within a foot without scaring them away.
The California Sister, not pictured here, looks very similar.  The pattern of white spots on the wings is a bit different, but the easiest marker to recognize in flight is the Sister has a thin black border around the orange at each wing tip.  I'll dig up a photo of the California Sister and add it here later.


I can't find this one in any of my wildflower guides.  Certainly not rare; I'm finding new ones blooming every few days in the last of August.  A weed?  The blossom is only 1/4" in diameter.  The body of the plant has rather spread out stems and branches, very thin, and the blossoms at the tips of branches are widespread.  I'm thinking it's a member of the Mustard family, Brassicaceae.  I'd appreciate a tip from anyone who recognizes it. It was very hard to get a clear photo with my camera.  Seems like it's always blowing in the wind when I come around.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Last chance...

 Just posted about Sunflowers growing larger heads (= more seeds) toward the end of the season, probably to ensure a good crop next year.  Here's a very stressed young birch tree by my driveway that seems to be doing the same thing.
 Very dense clusters of catkins.  In fact far more than are on the more mature birches in my yard. This young tree is bent over, maybe due to soil problem or maybe even bent low from last winter's snow.  I'm guessing the larger number of reproductive parts is a response to stress.

Don't lose your head, or...

 Late season Sunflowers ofen grow more massive heads of flowers, as if to make a last ditch attempt to insure seeds for next year.  Sometimes their heads are just too big, and ...
 they fall off.  Then, they might get weaker and lean into the traffic lane.
Click on these t get larger views.  They're even more impressive in real life.   Lots of great Sunflower displays around town these days, and the colder weather is welcome - to humans, if not Sunflowers.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Can plants "sense" things?

The correct answer is "Of course!"  But one could quibble over the meaning of "sense."  On the other hand, if I had used the word "think" there would be even more to quibble about.  So, to explain the aboce photo, I'll fall back on the first rule of science: Observe.  If a series of observations warrant it, the next step might be "form a hypothesis."
I've been observing Chicory, off and on, all summer for years.  Without taking carefully detailed notes, I can say that most of the time I have seen this plant at roadsides growing at least 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall before producing any blossoms.  That's what the plant in the above photo did by the end of June.  It was around 3' tall and produced only one or two blossoms when the neighborhood weed eater came by.  For a 100-foot strip of land next to the driveway, what was shaved near to the ground was one Chicory, one Mountain Pink, and hundreds of Hawkweed.  A couple of weeks later, the Hawkweed came back and looked similar to the original crop.  The Pink never came back.
There were several more cycles of weed eating and regrowth until this past week when the original Chicory returned and at less than a foot tall has produced 4 blossoms so far.  The latest crop of Hawkweeds look about the same, but are going to seed quicker than the original crop did.
So, did the Chicory sense "the end is near" and "decide" to produce flowers and the subsequent seeds before winter weather settled in?  All I'm sure about is the current status of the plant is more photogenic than the original, plus, as always, it reminds of the the great Chicory coffee I used to enjoy while attending college in New Orleans.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Road Block

There are days when I ignore shadows, but when I'm in a mood for photography or drawing, sometimes the shadows in a scene are more intriguing than the object casting the shadow.  It's also interesting that we use an active verb in this situation, even though the object in question is not doing anything.  Anyway, I've been seeing a lot of sunflowers in front yards and in front of businesses around Quincy on my daily walks.  It would be easy to slip into an "if you've seen one, you've seen them all" mode, un less you make a point of looking at each one.  On some there may be a fascinating insect, spider, or other object of interest.  Some are oriented toward the sun and blue sky in ways that suggest interesting compositions.  The one in the above photo could hardly be ignored.  It was gone the next day.  I was sad.

Items of interest in a parched landscape

 Last Friday I parked at the edge of Chandler Road near where the Cascades trail crosses.  I had my phone camera, a pack of gum, and no water, so I didn't expect to go far.  I wanted to hike maybe a few hundred yards to see what I could see, and maybe come back on Saturday better equipped - my real camera and some water.  As soon as I got away from the pavement there was no more greenery at ground level.  That is, until I came across this healthy young bracken fern.  I liked the setting - the shadow and the proximity to a rotting stump which is always a source of insect and fungus activity, and maybe even a spider or lizard or two.  But I didn't pick at the stump.  Save that for another day.  The Western Bracken is particularly fascinating to me because I first learned Brackens from the Eastern Bracken in Florida.  Same species, but totally different habitat, tolerances, and maybe some minor anatomical differences.  The Western Bracken seems to be very tolerant of a wide range of conditions - wet, dry, hot, cold, etc.  In Florida, it seemed to me there was not such a wide range of conditions on land, so I don't know how tolerant the Eastern Bracken would be if conditions changed.  According to the latest news, we may find out sooner than we'd like.
 A little further down (actually, up) the trail, I came across the remains of a squirrel's dinner.  Since I had recently dined on corn-on-the-cob, this scene resembled that, and maybe even the manner of eating was similar.  Click on the photo for an enlargement, then do your own archaeological hypothesizing.
I saw nothing else of great interest until I reverted to one of my life-long habits of tipping over rocks, logs, bark, garbage, etc., in hopes of finding items of interest underneath.  Lo and behold, under a rather large piece of Ponderosa Pine bark, I spied this cluster of insect eggs, or egg cases.  This whole cluster was only about 1/4" across.  By now I was very hot and thirsty, so I turned off my curiosity, replaced the bark, and headed home.  But, I remember where it was.  Might make a return trip to see if anything hatched.

Finally, good timing...

  A view from my driveway.  Low-hanging Black Oak and ground cover with Thimbleberry and Oregon Grape.  At this time of year, I have to check the branches within reach for Oak Treehoppers. But I was only carrying my phone.  Very hard to photograph these tiny critters with a phone camera.  So, I took a few blurry pictures when I found a group on a low branch.  Then I realized I live only 100 feet away.  Go get the "real" camera.  So, here are the results.
 An adult on the left and a crop of young from middle to right.  I haven't studied these "scientifically," but I've done a fair amount reading about them.I'm assuming the large one on the left is female because I like the idea of an insect caring for its young.
 Here's a closer look at the adult.  Click on it to get even closer.
And these young ones are probably the fourth or fifth in a series of molts that occur over a period of several weeks.  The ones in this photo are approximately 1/8" long.  The next molt will yield some new adults.  I'll probably post about these insects one more time, and when I do, I'll explain what happens to these insects during the winter.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Framing a picture - boundaries

Right now I'm at the college with lots of bandwidth so it's easy to upload photos, unlike at home, so here we are.  It's now lunch time, so I'll have to add an explanation of these two after lunch. Original title was going to be "One leaf on one rock."

The Solanaceae

As I was walking along a sidewalk in Quincy looking for things to photograph, a friend offered me this eggplant.  I love eggplant parmesan, so I gladly accepted.  Then I had a flashback on a poem I wrote years ago titled "Ode to Solanceae" in which I extolled the virtues of the many edible and tasty members of this plant family, tomatoes, peppers, etc., and the Poisonous Nightshade.  If I can find an old copy of that poem, I'll add it to this post along with some nature notes that occurred to me when I wrote it.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Dreaming of Snow

In the shade of tall Black Oaks and Douglas-fir, the Snowberry bushes still look fresh.  That's comforting during this hot and dry summer.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Colors other than brown

 Lately most places I wander with my phone (excusing the blurriness already) are brown.  Dry and scary.  Looking forward to rain.  So, when I see a bright pink thistle, even if I've posted thistles often, it stands out, and I look for visiting arthropods, or anything else to make a particular blossom unique. The one above, found along the college walkway to the upper campus, had a small crab spider visitor.  I'd say it was no longer than 1/3"
 On a neighboring thistle, I found a skipper that was so engaged (maybe its tongue was stuck?) that it allowed me to approach to within a foot.  Thus, a great view of its tongue.  Click on the photo for a closer view.
Last, another skipper landed on a leaf of Mugwort.  Slightly blurry when enlarged, but it provides a good view of its antennae which, like butterflies, are not feathery and end in bulbous enlargements,  but unlike butterflies, have recurved hooks rather than just being spherical.  Close-up photography is incentive to notice these things and have the urge to share them.  Who knows what today will bring?

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Last Violet

Thanks to lawn sprinklers and mower blades set high, a few violets spring up on the FRC campus long after their "season" is over.

Mistletoe in August?

Year 'round, actually.  This one growing on Ponderosa Pine on Chandler Road near Cascades Trail crossing.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Damaged wing

Here's a closer view of the butterfly described in my previous post.  A hole in its left wing reveals the green foliage beneath.  It didn't seem to affect its flight capabilities.

Western Swallowtail

Western Swallowtail butterflies seem to be really abundant this August.  In my front yard, and everywhere I see flowers in front yards when I walk to town.  I wonder if they're taking advantage of the absence of competitors.  This one by Quincy Natural Foods was so engaged in sipping nectar it et me get fairy close.  With a normal, 50mm lens, I got within a couple of feet and was able to take a dozen photos without scaring it off.  Click on it and you might see a hole in one of its wings.  Reminded me of bad old days when I used to shoot them with my BB gun.

Out of season?

I took this photo as I peered over the edge of a log or board; I forgot which.  I acted quickly because I didn't want these little critters to break formation.  Was it a menage (household)? or just three beasties out for an adventure.  Anyway, the Nine-spotted Ladybird Beetle is one of my favorite photo subjects.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Courtship on Golden Eagle Avenue

Note to voyeurs: click on the photo for a closer look. :)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Even more wrong than I thought

 A week ago I posted a piece titled "I was wrong."  It followed another which claimed that nearly all the yellow wildflowers that usually dominate the local roadsides in August had either wilted early or never bloomed in the first place.  That earlier post was based on photos of red flowers, the thistles.  One trip to Reno revealed, to my surprise, some great patches of Blazing Star and Gum Plant.  Well, since that trip last Sunday, I have looked around my immediate vicinity more intensely.  The combination of very hot weather and the high cost of gasoline have kept me closer to home.  So, these new findings show that I just wasn't looking closely enough to what's actually going on rather than what isn't.  The above photo was taken along Golden Eagle Avenue and is of a healthy-looking Canadian Goldenrod.  Ironically, my favorite local spider is the Goldenrod Crab Spider, yet I've never seen one resting on Goldenrod.
 In the vicinity of the Goldenrod, as well as along my own driveway, are lots of Hawkweed, a composite in the Aster or Sunflower family.
 The flower that most people love to hate, the Star Thistle.
 Past its prime, but still hanging on, one can still find lots of St. john's Wort along the roadsides.  In places with some standing water, or even a slight trickle, they may still look fresh.
 The Mullein is also past its prime for this season, but there are still a few blooming near where I park on campus.  I'm also seeing small birds land and eat the seeds where they are already formed.
Last, but not least, in some extremely dry places with mostly dead grass, some patches of Common Madia look "fresh as a daisy."  Weird expression to use today when virtually all the daisies do not look fresh.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Much Ado about Treehoppers

 Spotting this adult Oak Treehopper on a California Black Oak the other day, a month earlier than expected, sent my bug-loving mind a whirl.  I'm sitting at my favorite coffee shop where the Internet speed is great and I can upload these photos quickly.  Now, I'm going to walk home, treating the oppressive heat and haze as my free weight-loss program, then add add text to this post in he comfort of my home office.  Please stay tuned.  Meanwhile, click on amy photo for a closer view, and possibly some surprises.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

No, I spoke too soon.

 Earlier this morning, two posts back, I spoke of the apparent disappearance of the sole Treehopper I found on an oak branch yesterday.  Just a few minutes after completing that post, I headed home down the same path, armed only with my phone camera.  This time, though, the Treehopper was back - or maybe it was just my eyesight that was back.  Steadier hand?  Luck?  I managed to get a passable photo with the phone.  Holding the branch in a good position with my left hand, I managed to get a reasonably-focused few shots with my right.  If you click on the photo, you'll see what I never saw, even while cropping the photo for publishing here.  A crop of babies!  Look in the upper right-hand corner.
In this differently composed photo, you can see the notch in the branches, also upper right, where I spotted the adult in the first place yesterday.  Also, another view of the babies.  This is amazing to me.  Now I'll need to check on them every day and see what the season has in store for these creatures.  On a cold morning, maybe I can get some good photos of them in my hand.  I can operate my DSLR more easily with one hand, and also get sharper images.

Mosquitos anyone?

 Not far from severe drought conditions all around the campus, we have watered lawns and the shade of some magnificent California Black Oaks.  As I walked by the one shown above, I was intrigued by the subdivided trunk and imagined suspending a treehouse 15 or 20 feet above the ground.  What a great reading place, especially if the platform were camouflaged.  So, I took a closer look.
A sizable puddle.  Looked like an ideal spot for raising mosquitos, but who'd want to do that?  Maybe someone with an aquarium full of Gambusia, AKA Mosquitofish. 

I have only a passing interest in mosquitos, based mostly on two things - their potential as vectors for many human diseases, especially in more tropical areas, and several horrendous mosquitos attacks I experienced during college days in Louisiana. 
Several of us in the zoology department at Tulane U in New Orleans had been given permission to study certain ground-dwelling mammals on Avery Island, the location of Tabasco and a wonderful wildlife sanctuary.  E. I. McIlheny (the 3rd?) was a Tulane zoology major, so that was a great connection.  I remember setting Hav-a-hart (sp.?) live traps in a grid pattern over a large meadow in the sanctuary.  Lots of mosquito bites!  The next day while we were checking the traps, they were waiting for us.  A dense cloud of mosquitos attacked.  We worked very fast, screaming, swatting, swearing, then finally giving up and running for dear life, dropping traps along the way.  That was many years ago, so I can't remember how we resolved the situation.  Probably came back to collect traps when it was not prime time for mosquitos. And, I was not privy to whatever study my professor was involved in.  My true interest then was in reptiles, amphibians, and food flavored with Tabasco sauce.