Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday afternoon break

 Took a nice little break from school work and drove out the LaPorte Road to the Middle Fork of the Feather River.  The river was pretty low, but there was still a lot of pleasant vegetation along the edges.  My favorite sight was the Dippers landing and pooping on one rock after another out in the stream, but I wasn't fast enough to get a photo, and I didn't have my telephoto mounted.
A close second was the above close-up of a Dragonfly resting on a blade of Sedge.
We crossed over a little tributary in a shady canyon and found a couple of Monkshood still blooming.  A very nice spot east of the LaPorte Road bridge.  We decided we'd come camping here when we get a chance.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Canon vs. Nikon? Nah....

 In case you're reading this, Spencer, just know that I'm not trying to make Canon look bad.  :)
Here's the situation.  I'd been watching the annual frenzied insect gatherings on the Rabbitbrush in front of the FRC library, which they insist calling the LRC.  But for days, I'd traveling without my camera.  So, yesterday, as we walked by this spot, my son reminded me that he had his little Canon point-and-shoot, smaller than a pack of cigarettes.  It boots up faster than you can blink.  A very nice little camera with 12 MP resolution.  However, it is very small, which makes it harder to hold steady.  Also, with no viewfinder, and a less-than-great viewing screen, it is very hard to tell if you're focused on what you want.  Too much glare on the screen.  Also, I'm not used to this camera.  So, these first two photos were taken with the Canon.  They show Skippers, which a family related to butterflies and moths, but showing some characteristics of each.  Most entomologists put them in a separate family.  Note that the sharpest focus is not on the Skippers themselves but on some of the adjacent blossoms.  I couldn't tell this when I was shooting.  But this was good enough for recording the event.  Just not good enough for showing in a gallery.
 Today I made sure to bring my Nikon to work.  It's an older D40, one of the first DSLR's with a mere 6 megapixel resolution.  But, Vive le difference!  A viewfinder no less.  Heavier body, easier to hold steady.  Probably better optics.  And, definitely a plus - I'm used to it.
 The honeybees were so engrossed in their feeding that I could approach within inches without fear of getting stung.
 Here's an image of a Skipper.  Note that long proboscis probing a blossom.  Click on any of these photos for closer views and to see the relative sharpness.

 Note the resting position more typical of moths than of butterflies, but they fly in the daytime which is more typical of moths.  A distinct feature would be the little hooks at the ends of the antennae.
When we left the Rabbitbrush behind I checked the lower branches of a huge California Black Oak and saw my favorites, the Oak Treehoppers, for the first time this season.  It was quite dark in the shade, but that helped me achieve a black background which made the insects stand out brightly.  Note there are adults and juveniles in the photo.  As in previous years, I'll be photographing these often over the next few weeks, always trying to get better photos.  I'll also share more of the lore of these fascinating, tiny insects.  Click for closeups.

Thinking back on Lake Madora

 Hiking the trail that loops around Lake Madora was a last minute decision.  Several weeks ago my friend Spencer and I had spent an adventurous morning climbing a rock I've always known as Spirit Rock.  It's a granite dome in the Lakes Basin, and the summit provides some great views.  It's also a test of whether someone my age should still be climbing rocks such as these.  Since I survived, I guess the answer is "yes."  As we were circling the lake, which I hardly noticed because of its advanced state of eutrophication, we came across a nice greenish Alligator Lizard.  The amateur herpetologist instinct kicked in and I had to catch it.
 He immediately pooped all over my hand and made it difficult to hold him firmly yet gently with my left hand while operating my camera with my right.  On warm days these critters try to bite when you first catch them, and they can bite pretty hard.  However, if you're gentle, they'll hand tame pretty quickly.  True to form, when I set this one down on a big log it didn't run off immediately.  We both got some good photos...
 ...before he decided to go back into hiding.  Notice that his tail is still intact, a sign that he was handled gently enough and won't have to expend most of his energy growing a new tail.
 Another nice sight, since the lighting was perfect, was this pair of Thistles.
 As usual, I was so enthralled by what was right in front of me at close range that I almost forgot to look at the lake.  From the north side I could actually see some open water although most of the lake was grown in with Cattails and Rushes.  The lake won't be here much longer in geologic time unless humans keep on clearing the emergent vegetation.  Years ago, whenever I visited this lake I'd see an abundance of Yellow-legged Frogs.  I didn't see any this time.
 Back to looking at what was right under my nose, I spied this nice specimen of White-Veined Wintergreen, a member of the Heath family.
So, after this brief visit to my three-week-old archives, I plan to share some current events.  Next post will be photos taken on the FRC campus this week.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What if Katy Didn't?

 Does Katydid qualify as onomatopoeia?  Not to my ear.  Doesn't matter, though.  When the word Katydid was new. probably in the 18th Century when Bartram was traveling, and possibly coined the name of this beautiful insect, other observers, or should I say listeners, thought it sounded like Katy Didn't!  On this warm afternoon,  my son caught one on the college driveway and it didn't make a sound.  He released into the car, and we drove it into town.  When we got home, we took a couple of photos then released it to the wild. 
To me, attempting to replicate animal sounds with English words is futile.  It's interesting to compare how the same process is done in French, Spanish, and German, much less languages I know nothing about.  One quickly learns that French, Spanish and German cats sound different than American cats. 
Maybe it's because the cats are trying to imitate us.  This view is consistent with my belief that babies learn "baby talk" from adults who imagine they are imitating babies.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Friday morning sights

 Sights on the way to work included lots of yellow flowers blooming.  The Gum Plants (above) along the highway look especially hardy these days while most species of wildflowers have dried up and gone to seed.  I've always found it interesting how the August wildflowers are mostly yellow.  My observations account for a very small sample.  Has anyone from other ares noticed this?
Another local species that thrives in late summer as well as playing host to interesting bugs is the non-native Tansy. This one had a crab spider visitor, but now the stretch of road where I took this photo has been visited by the rather aggressive road department weed eater.  What remains is an ugly stretch of splintered wooden stems and fragmented foliage.  At least now it's all exactly the same height.  Like a lawn of sorts.  Or a large sweat shop.

"I am struck once again by the unutterable beauty, terror and strangeness of everything we think we know."  A gem from Ed Abbey passed along by a friend.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sights of Labor Day Weekend

 Nearly all the Monarch Butterfly activity I've seen this summer has been on Narrow-leaf Milkweed, rather than on the Showy Milkweed it is more often identified with.  Interesting.  It's been great to see lots of them during the last weeks of summer, especially when I read about their rapid decline in most areas.

 I find the aphids that gather on the Narrow-leaf Milkweed at this time of year beautiful.  The orange is bright beyond words, and the Milkweeds don't seem to mind.
This little iguanid was only about three inches long from snout to tail tip. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Septem means seven, so it must be the ninth month :-)

 My previous post, my last for the month of August, remains incomplete.  My title suggested I was going to write about the thinking abilities of ants, specifically their aspirations.  My actual intention was to write about "organization," exploring the pros and cons.  I saw the colony of Carpenter Ants as a model of organization.  I've been wrestling with the ideas of organization and efficiency as opposed to creativity, although they are not necessarily opposed.  I'm still not sufficiently organized to commit my thoughts to that blog post.  But I am organized enough to remember where I left them.  I shall return.

Meanwhile, I had to run an errand up Mt. Hough this afternoon.  I had to investigate what one of my friends told me was a devastating logging operation.  I braced myself for the worst.  I bought a hot tea from the Co-op to fuel the drive.  However, before I could leave town, I was distracted by the beautiful Fritillary (above).
All logging operations are ugly - unless you find them beautiful.  I must admit I was startled for a few minutes by the disappearance of various subtle landmarks that I always communed with on my drives up Mt. Hough.  I wondered if I would recognize Reinhardt Meadow, or the turnoff to the lookout.  At one point, as I was headed down hill, I thought I had missed the turnoff and was already descending to Taylorsville.  Once the initial shock wore off, I must admit I fantasized about driving some of that heavy equipment and had flashbacks to my youthful love for Tonka toys and my kids' periods of fascination with them.  Then I realized that the actual devastation wasn't nearly as bad as I had braced myself for.  I realized also that I'd become a bit possessive about Mt. Hough and might resent any alteration of my favorite stopping places.  I eased my mind into a grudging acceptance of our destructive ways of life and started looking for beauty.  That first appeared with the only remaining blooming flowers I could find, the Rabbitbrush.  I stopped to get a closer look and was pleased to find their most common visitors this time of year, the Skippers, a sort of cross between butterflies and moths.  I could stare for quite a while at that proboscis inserted into a single flower.
After that brief photo session, I headed down the mountain as quickly as I could because I had to prepare for tomorrow's classes.  When I hit the pavement, I got the overwhelming urge for one more side trip.  That was to check out one of my "milkweed spots" near my old friend Mike's former residence on Chandler Road.  The Showy Milkweed still had pods, and they were turning brown, but were not burst open yet.  I'll be back to catch some of that action.
Very close to the milkweeds were a couple of nice patches of Star Thistle.  I like to look at Star Thistle.  That doesn't mean I like to walk through it with bare legs, nor do I believe in cultivating it.  However, I do think it's beautiful and I am fascinated by its closeness to Bachelors Buttons.