Friday, April 24, 2015

Shooting in the dark

 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.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Whew! In a nick of time.

 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.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sunday morning on Mt. Hough, Part I

 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.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Flowers on the Monument Peak Trail

 On this afternoon's hike up to Monument Peak, the wildflowers were few and far between, and I didn't have my camera along.  I'm not very good at composing photos on a small pocket-sized device and on a screen as opposed to a viewfinder.  Under the circumstances, I'm satisfied with these photos taken on my wife's device as a record of what we saw.  A couple of photos of Showy Phlox, ...
 ...some Hartweg's Iris...

 ...and Sulfur-flowered Pea.  The Snow Plants along the trail that I posted here a few days ago had gotten a few inches taller.  Also, an interesting added feature - someone has placed little ceramic figurines in various holes in tree trunks along the trail.  One troll-like smiling figure was in a swing hanging from an oak branch.  Sort of cute at first, then I felt I'd rather see them in a gift shop - and I never go to gift shops.

Hello from Monument Peak

Despite the trail markings and maps provided, we needed to dust off our path finding skills in order to get to the top of Monument Peak.  I was imagining a new bumper sticker that would say "Where the hell is Monument Peak?"  Bib and I spent the afternoon hiking the 3.4 miles from the parking lot at the South Park Trailhead to eventually arrive at a rounded top of a mountain that had some nice views toward Spanish Peak and Mount Pleasant to the West and various familiar points along Spanish Creek from the Oakland Camp area to Keddie to the North and East.  I thought we might find a USGS benchmark at the top, but instead we found a nice little home-made monument of pieces of shale assembled by earlier visitors.  I didn't bring my camera for a change, and paid more attention than usual to things above eye level.  Fortunately, Bib had her pocket camera and got this view looking North.  That little thing takes pretty good photos (I'm referring to the camera.) and Bib also got some blooming wildflowers that I'll post later.  It was quite dry - if it were August, I'd say it felt about right.  For April, it was a bit scary.  Please do a rain dance!!!!