After a slow first five months, I'm back to blogging in earnest. In the forthcoming few months I plan to keep on tracking the blooming of wildflowers, the activities of bugs and reptiles and any other critters I'm quick enough or lucky enough to photograph, and to comment on ecological relationships. Since there is an increasing sense of ecological crisis among many people and more vigorous denial of such on the part of others, I will inevitably comment on the social and political dimensions of survival as I see them.
I am still an adjunct instructor in the English Department at Feather River College, but time permitting, I am available for hire as a nature guide in the region in and around Plumas County. A brochure describing my usual kinds of natural history adventures is in development. Email me c/o email@example.com with your mailing address and a statement of interests, and I'll send you a rough draft.
I have been teaching since 1965 and have recently joined the English Department as an Associate Faculty member at Feather River College. Recently taught Nature Literature in America and am currently teaching Interpersonal Communication and Basic Reading and Writing.
Today I drove to camp via Quincy Junction Road even though it's not the quickest way. My goal was to photograph the Common Madia (below) which blooms only in the morning. Then, at camp, I led a group of kids on a hike to Gilson Creek. I was pleased to note that the creek rose a few inches as a result of the rains early in the week. We saw lots of interesting bugs and flowers, including the caterpillar of the Monarch Butterfly and a healthy specimen of Grand Collomia (bottom photo). I'll post more photos and some text about our adventures tomorrow morning. A high point was catching a small garter snake in the creek. Most of the kids wanted to pet it before we released it.
Interesting that the Monarch was on Narrow-leafed Milkweed, even though there was lots of its favorite Showy Milkweed nearby. There were plenty of adult Monarchs circling the area as well.
Headed into Safeway to buy some OJ and spotted a patch of Tansy growing in the ditch out front. Couldn't resist. Tansy is such a bug magnet, the insect and spider activity in the flowers gets better and better over the next couple of months. One thing led to another, and after photographing several interesting insects on the Tansy, including a mating pair, I circled the ditch and found some Hooker's Evening Primrose, Wild Sweet Pea, Cat-n-nine-tails, Monkeyflower, and Orchard Morning Glory. This excursion took only about 10 minutes. Over the next couple of days I plan to spend a few hours around this ditch. There is much more to see and record. Click on each photo for closer views.
Nan Brown was a great photographer and friend. She shot in black and white, and was a skilled lab person. A true artist. Nan passed away this past weekend and will be missed. She knew I was more of a naturalist than a photographer, so I think she wouldn't mind that I converted this photo of a Monarch Butterfly caterpillar to black and white with the click of a button.
I posted a photo of this beauty last Wednesday, but it was in the palm of my left hand. This is how it looked when I found it along the Tollgate Creek trail. I have the urge to paint one of these on a wall in our home. It's the White-lined Sphinx. I hope I get to see the moth later in the summer.
We don't find many flowers blooming on a gray, cloudy day. But there is still much to discover and enjoy on a nature walk. On Sunday morning two images that stood out were the wasp galls on the willows (above) growing along Spanish Creek, and a yellow flower (below) on a vine-like plant crawling in the shade beneath the willows and alders at the side of Spanish Creek. I haven't been able to identify the yellow flower, so if you have any ideas please add them to the comments section.
I took a morning hike around Oakland Camp when the sky way gray and there was a feeling of storm brewing. Ironically, on cloudy days the bright colors of flowers and bugs tend to register more truly. I'll post more of my observations tomorrow morning, but I wanted to post my favorite shot of the day before quitting for the night. The bug is one of several in the Family Pentatomidae that are commonly known as Plant Bugs, but are also often called stink bugs, even the ones that don't have a noticeable odor. It's supposed to rain for a couple of days so I'm looking forward to a dynamic response from the flora and fauna.
It's always a feel-good for me when on the first day of summer the Farewell-to-Spring are blooming. The above flower is also known as Dudley's Clarkia, or Clarkia dudleyana. Named for William Clark of Lewis-and-Clark fame. There's at least one other species of Clarkia known as Farewell-to-Spring. Naming can be confusing, so just enjoy the beauty of it.
Another photo that excited me today is of a small, greenish bug that seemed like nothing special until I looked at it enlarged on my computer monitor. Wow! What an exciting color pattern. It looks like some sort of Grasshopper, but I haven't been able to find an exact identification yet.
My enthusiasm for this first day of summer is somewhat tempered by these last two photos. The Red Milkweed Beetle, Tetraopes basalis, looks like it's going into hiding, crawling under the flower as I approached. Maybe she knew the weed eater was coming. I took the photo on Wednesday, and the plant was mowed down on Thursday. Discovered its absence this morning. I wish I could change the dominant paradigm about roadside vegetation.
I photographed this Evening Primrose several days ago between the sidewalk and parking lot in front of Dunn's coffee shop. The next day it was gone, as were several other attractive blooming wildflowers. Now the area looks sterile. And I contributed this photo to the Bloom Blog and told people where to find it. Sorry, I couldn't save it. Hurry and extract as much enjoyment as you can from our roadside wildflowers before they get mowed, poisoned, or paved. over.
The Oakland Camp Road, or, I should say the shoulders on either side, have been the site of several hundred of my wildflower and insect photos over the past several weeks. I am planning to offer a nature journaling workshop this coming Saturday that will involve walking a particularly beautiful stretch of this road and meeting at a quiet, shady pool in Berry Creek, just off the Oakland Camp Road. At least that was the plan. On Monday, the road department dispatched one of its monstrous machines with a weed eater on the end of a hydraulic arm and decimated all vegetation in a 5-foot wide strip all the way to the camp entrance. I suppose this is considered by them an improvement. I was horrified. I had come to think of this strip as my own private wildflower garden and teaching laboratory. Oh, well. Yesterday I explored the remains to see if it was still a viable route for my class to take. When I got to the pool on Berry Creek I found one Leopard Lily blooming. This one blossom seemed like the most beautiful one I had ever seen. I had a powerful flashback of a scene in the movie Soylent Green in which the Edward G. Robinson character cries over the beauty of what might be the last fresh tomato on Earth.
I photographed this blossom from many angles and didn't want to leave the site.
The plant was surrounded by several others that had buds, and I found their potential just as beautiful as the oe that was blooming. It seemed that the sounds of birds in the alders overhead and the cicadas in the shrubs were more intense than usual. I started having visions of other Leopard Lilies I have photographed in some of my favorite spots around Quincy - the mouth of Gilson Creek, the Greenville Y, the East shore of Snake ake, and so on. When I got home to look at these photos on my computer, I couldn't help but retrieve one of the Leopard Lily's cousin,
the Washington Lily, that I photographed last summer and have recently discussed with a botanist friend.
Then I got back to thinking about my forthcoming class and search for other inspiring items that might have survived the onslaught of the beautification machine. One wonderful patch of Crimson Columbine was nearly destroyed, but I did manage to get a few photos of this one at the foot of the dirt road up to the pool on Berry Creek.
The spring-fed ditch about half way between camp and Berry Creek was also mowed. This was a great watering hole for many species of butterflies. I wonder if they will return since most of the flowers are gone. I did manage to find a surviving specimen of Water Plantain and got a close-up of its tiny flower.
I also hiked a short way up the Tollgate Creek trail as a contender for Saturday's outing. The most memorable sighting on that brief walk was this caterpillar of the White-lined Sphinx moth. I could understand why many people believe that this incredible color pattern was 'designed' to please us humans. I put the caterpillar back on the same plant where I found it and fantasized about telling my group about it and then finding it again in the same place on Saturday morning. Such are the drams of naturalists.
The reason for the question mark in the title of this post is that I couldn't be sure these pairs were "making more bugs" or were about to, or just finished. In some cases, as with humans, it's difficult to distinguish between love and war. That's especially true of the two photos of Red Milkweed Beetles below. The pair of Pentatomid beetles on the Daisy above didn't move for several minutes, so I couldn't determine their intentions or their recent past.
This group of millipedes found under a log might be a recently hatched litter, or might participating in an orgy. I couldn't tell.
This deadly embrace is a dramatic discovery, a Goldenrod Crab Spider (white phase) devouring a Checkerspot butterfly on a cluster of Red Clover. The Crab Spiders sit in wait with their front pair of legs outstretched as if waiting for an embrace, but they are waiting for a flying insect to mistake them for a flower and land for a meal of pollen or nectar. Then, zap, the spider injects its paralyzing poison and quickly begins to drain the insides of its prey.
I did this painting in my journal of a pair of Damselflies mating. It's based on a photograph that I did not take. I haven't been so lucky. I find it cute that they assume the shape of a heart. The female is the bright blue one on top. She is holding the male by the neck while he bends around to meet her with the tip of his tail. If they are seriously engaged in the act, but are disturbed by a predator or a camera, they tend to fly off remaining attached.
I witnessed such a pair flying in tandem in the Darlingtonia Bog at Butterfly Valley. I was photographing the Sundew (the red plant with drops of sticky stuff) when a pair of Damselflies landed. They immediately realized they were trapped, separated from each other, then struggled to get free from the carnivorous plant. It was obvious to me they'd never escape, so i got a small stick and gently freed each one. They flew off, apparently unharmed. I wondered if they would ever get together again. Each was probably blaming the other for the mishap. I suppose the female would be the more responsible since she was apparently "driving."
I uncovered a pair of face-to-face pill bugs. They stayed in this position for at least a minute. I took the photo and replaced the piece of bark covering them. Never did find out if they were about to mate or were just engaged in idle chatter.
Lots of drama happening on daisies this past week. That's one reason I don't like to mow my lawn. That's where the daisies grow. The above photo is of a pair of Longhorn Beetles. That's the family they are in. I haven't identified the species, although it could be Stenocorus nubifer. We have many species of Longhorn Beetles around Quincy and many get quite large. Adults can be more than 2" long and some of their larvae can exceed 4" in length and make sizable tunnels in the roots of pine trees.
The Pacific Ambush Bug is beginning to appear. A few weeks from now it will be the most abundant bug on Tansy (below) and occasionally visit the Daisies (above). I've never seen it on any other plants.
Defying gravity, this is one of my favorite photos (below).
The most abundant beetle where I've been exploring this past week is the Common Checkered Clerid. The word "clerid" is the Anglicized version of the family name, Cleridae.
When this pair sensed my presence they started move across the Yarrow. Or, I should say the female did. Looks like the male didn't have much say in the matter.
A pair of Convergent Ladybird Beetles (AKA Ladybugs) having fun among some young Stonecrop.
Two's company, three's a crowd, or maybe not. A menage a trois?
Another couple having fun on the edge of some Yerba Santa.
Longhorn Beetles on Angelica.
A couple of Dendate Eleodes, AKA Stink Bugs, uncovered while making love under a piece of bark (below).
Two pairs of tiny beetles mating under the watchful eye of a Skipper on Mountain Dandelion.
I call this last one "Double Dating on Buttercup."