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.
Our lilacs seemed to remain in a state of "almost blooming" for over a month before the right combination of soil temperature, length of daylight, and available moisture, got them motivated to bloom. The lilacs in the sunnier parts of downtown had been blooming since late March. When ours bloomed, they were visited almost immediately by the usual array of insects: several species of bees and butterflies, the most colorful of which was the Painted Ladies (top two photos). I haven't identified the one in the bottom photo. It reminded me of all those little brown birds that I can't tell apart.
I was thinking about Yogi Berra's advice when I walked from my car up to my office yesterday. If I had walked fast, I wouldn't have noticed any of the following. Large patches of green, heart-shaped leaves look like a flowerless ground cover, but being a great fan of this particular plant, I spotted the little red dot (above photo) below the ground cover. I put down my backpack, lunch box, handful of books, and camera bag, and moved in for a close-up (below). Lemmon's Wild Ginger is one of those
small delights that most people walk by without noticing. Click on these photos for closer views.
Also blended in with the surrounding greenery, especially the much taller grass, is a sprinkling of Western Dog Violets, our only violet violet.
Below as a broader view of a patch of ginger. This is the way it looked when I approached. Can you see that red speck? In wetter years, the green cover is continuous and none of the flowers would be visible. You'd have to know they were there and start parting leaves to look for them. There's always a chance you'll find other interesting things - bugs, snails, snakes, etc.
Another attractive, but tiny flower along the path was the Blue-eyed Mary. These blossoms are around 1/4" wide.
The early morning dew formed on every branch of this horsetail and it looked like a tower of jewels. Very nice. There was no water flowing in this ditch as there should be, but there must be some close to the surface as this year's crop of horsetails looked OK.
I can always count on Dandelions to be my entertainment centers. Even in bad weather or on days when not many other wildflowers are blooming, the dandelions always have some sort of activity around them. I've probably photographed at least two dozen insect and spider visitors on them and seen many more when I wasn't packing a camera. Today was no exception. Beetles and bees were plentiful.
The Red larkspur, or Delphinium, started blooming on South facing slopes a month ago. Noe they've begun to bloom in Boyle Ravine, with mostly dark and shady North-facing slopes.
Boyle Creek isn't flowing as fully s it should be at this time of year, but thanks to the cool shade the moss still looks healthy.
Soon, I'll be looking for insect life in the creek and new species of wildflowers blooming on the edges.
The Stream Violet, Viola glabella, is so plentiful here that I'm surprised it doesn't appear in Jack Laws' popular field guide, The Laws Guide to the Sierra Nevada.
Someone built a cairn on top of a stump, so my wife decided to decorate it a little with some lichen.
I guess this is a cairn, too. A group project that has been here for a few years, always changing shape, but indicating a major intersection in this trail system.
On Thursday morning, as I was leaving my regular coffee shop, I saw a sight that brought back memories of an essay I posted here a few years ago. It was a "Crack in the Sidewalk" from which was sprouting a tiny Pineappleweed. In that essay, which I plan to bring up to date this week, I mused about why we find the cracks in sidewalks so fascinating when we are children and develop certain rituals around them that probably never entirely leave our consciousness. That does happen to you, doesn't it? Didn't you try to avoid "breaking your mother's back?" I still do, even though my mom has passed away.
Here's a closer view of the "weed," probably around 3" across. This little non-native is often confused with Chamomile, also a non-native. Both are members of the Family Compositae, or Asteraceae. Each yellow blossom is actually a cluster of disk flowers, like you find as the central portion of daisies and other members of the family. No "petals" or, more precisely, ray flowers. If you squeeze the flower head, it smells like pineapple, and I suppose when intact they look a bit like miniature pineapples. I'm not sure which is the origin of the common name.
Our trail took us through a dark, dense stand of young pines where hardly any blooming flowers were seen. Any change in the grey-brown background color was likely to get out attention. So, I got excited when I saw a small patch of bright yellow barely breaking ground. I could tell right away it was some sort of spring mushroom. I decided to give it a little help by removing some of the pine duff. Then my wife remarked, "Oh, look, it's three." I agreed, but then had to add, "but, to a mycologist or a Buddhist monk, it's all One."
A little further along the trail I spotted a White-veined Wintergreen. No flowers yet, but the decorative leaves really stand out. As easy as this is to identify, I have to give myself a refresher course every spring because two other plants that grow in this same habitat keep getting confused in my memory bank. One is the Prince's Pine which, like the wintergreen, is in the same family at Manzanita, Ericaceae, variously known as the heath family or the wintergreen family. The other plant that somewhat resembles this one, especially before the flowers bloom, is the Rattlesnake Plantain, which is actually an orchid, not a plantain.
On this same walk we spotted a few more colorful wildflowers in the sunny spots. I'll save those for another post. They include the first blooming Red Larkspur I've seen on this trail and the first buds of Scarlet Fritillary.
Our morning hike up Boyle Ravine was mostly shady and cool. Lots of dew. In contrast, a ray of sunlight shone through the branches of Douglas-fir and Incense Cedar and brightly illuminated this Mountain Dogwood, Cornus nuttallii. Interesting that this is not one single flower, and those large white expanses are not petals. However, there would be no harm done if you called them petals. Click on the second photo for a close-up and you'll see that the central
disk is actually a cluster of individual little flowers. The white expanses surrounding the disk of flowers are bracts. The is a great tree to follow throughout the seasons as it will have bright-colored leaves in the fall and eventually bright red berries when the flowers and bracts fall off. The pattern of leaf venation is also very distinguishable in most, if not all, species of Cornus. I remember many years ago while hiking above the treeline on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, my brother and I came across some ground cover that intrigued us. The plants were only six or so inches tall, and the leaves looked like miniatures of the Dogwoods we have in California. We remarked "it looks something like a bonsai Dogwood, but it couldn't be." After our hike we purchased a Field Guide to White Mountain Wildflowers, and it turns out it was a dogwood! Neither of us is a botanist. We're just plant enthusiasts, so it was fun to have noticed the relationship.
I haven't finished sharing my observations from a drive up Mt. Hough last Sunday morning. However, a more recent visit to the Oakland Camp area has thoroughly distracted me. On Wednesday, I decided to drive out there to check on the progress of the Mountain Lady Slipper. When I got the the special spot where these orchids grow, the far more noticeable plant was the False Solomon's Seal (above) which was blooming in a very dark, shady spot. It was also cloudy and that usually is best for the richest greens in photography. I took quite a few photos of the Solomon's Seal before going back to the Lady Slipper I had posted here over a week ago (below). As you can see...
it hasn't grown much in the meanwhile. In the above photo, the Mountain Lady Slipper is the plant in the background, and another False Solomon's Seal is in the foreground. I uses flash here, or else I'd have required a much slower shutter speed.
Another view with some Douglas-fir needles for scale.
In this same area there were many young Trail Plants. Note the undersides of the leaves are quite a contrast from the top sides. When one walks through a dense patch of these, the turned over leaves form a sort of trail marker, although they correct themselves fairly quickly. in other words, don't depend on them for finding your way back.
There were quite a few young shrubs called Utah Serviceberry (above) and they seem to be blooming at a much earlier stage of growth than usual.
The Arrowleaf Balsamroot are blooming profusely on the hillsides lining the road into the camp. They'll be followed soon by Mules Ears which have nearly identical looking flowers, but a quite different leaf. I'll wait until both species are blooming before commenting further on them.
Lots of Horsetails looking fresh in the shady areas near the creeks. This one was near the place where Tollgate Creek emerges from a culvert under the railroad tracks. In this area there are many new windfalls of large Ponderosa Pine. I'm wondering if they'll be "cleaned up" before the camp season begans. It's a popular area for sitting and writing or sketching, or just listening to the water.
Chokecherry are blooming all over the mountains surrounding Quincy. This one was just a few yards above Spanish Creek along the road into camp.
None of the flowers I saw on this trip were having many insect visitors, so I was excited to see at least one animal before I had to head home. This large, male Fence Lizard had just enough blue spots and yellow beneath his thighs that I knew he was in hot pursuit of a springtime rendezvous with a female I didn't see. His pushups and overall body language indicated that he probably did see her.
As I type, I can hear the weedeaters attacking the very place where I took these photos 15 minutes ago. So sad. These are the first daisies I've seen this year, and the one in the above photo has two different species of insect visitor. I was hoping to see some Painted Lady butterflies land, as they are very plentiful on campus this morning. However, the daisies were in a shady spot, so the butterflies are out in the open sun visiting dandelions.
Click on these photos for close-up views of the flowers' details. I especially love the spiral patterns in the disks of composite flowers. It stirs memories and impulses in art, mathematics, and biology simultaneously.
The tiny Blue-eyed Marys are plentiful on the forest floor surrounding the FRC campus as well as around Oakland Camp which I visited early this morning. I'll soon post an update on this morning's sightings.
In the sunnier spots on the hillside above campus the Western Dog Violets are blooming. Out at the camp, they were in deep shade and not yet blooming, but I spotted many new leaves so maybe in another week or two we'll see them blooming out there. This is the only local species of wild violet that is actually violet in color. Most of our species are yellow.
On Sunday, I drove part way up Mt. Hough for the first time this season. For the first couple of miles, the obvious dryness and lack of any wildflowers was very discouraging. I already knew we were in a drought, of course, but as long as our water faucets at home continue to produce, the drought doesn't seem as "real" as it should. I was relieved to see my first obvious flower display, even though the flowers were covered with road dust. It was a Sierra Plum. Same genus, Prunus, as the Choke Cherry and Bitter Cherry that also occur in this area. There's also Service Berry, in a different genus, that can look similar to the plums and cherries when viewed from a moving car.
Followers of this blog know that I'm rather fond of Dandelions. In fact, I try to defend Dandelions, which I admit are a non-native species, against toxic kinds of warfare, all too prevalent in lawn-obsessed neighborhoods. At the very least, they should be removed mechanically and eaten. They're more nutritious by far than any green you can buy at Safeway. But here, in the next three photos, we have the Mountain Dandelion, a species native to the Sierra.
When I spotted these, it was still early in the morning and rather chilly, so the blossoms were not quite open. The stems tend to be rather long, so I couldn't get a good photo showing the flower up close and the basal leaves simultaneously.
So here are the basal leaves. Click on the photo for a closer view.
Finally, I found another specimen surrounded by grass, but if you look closely you can see the Dandelion's leaves, too.
Just in case, I took a photo of a leaf I picked. Note, it looks like a very skinny version of the leaves of your lawn Dandelions. The leaves of this species tend to be rather skinny even when we're not having a drought.
As I got further up the mountain, I started seeing more Buck Brush and Deer Brush, which the fire fighters from Mendocino N. F. call Ceanothus, which happens to be the scientific name of both. On the coast it's common to use Ceanothus as the "common" name for several species, including the Blue Ceanothus and Whitethorn. In the Sierra, besides Buck Brush and Deer Brush, we have Mahala Mat, Indian Tobacco, and many other species of Ceanothus.
Close-up of blooming Ceanothus, above, and the first patch of bright color, a dense patch of Lupine, below.
These Lupine must have deep roots as they are looking quite healthy while growing out of apparently bone-dry soil and cracks in rocks.
The above patch of Mahala Mat, formerly known as Squaw Carpet, I spotted above eye level on a flat place above the road. It looked like a vague spread of very light blue, possibly even some spilled paint. I parked and went exploring.
The mat was beneath a large Ponderosa Pine, os the flowers were enmeshed in fallen pine needles. Here are tow photos, one with the pine needles cleared and one in situ.
Across the road from the Mahala Mat, I spotted a bright red something-or-other and thought it was a bottle or a shotgun shell until further exploration revealed it to be my first Indian Paintbrush of the season.