Sunday, July 6, 2014

Stud Flat Below Cedar Breaks

Last month I had a free couple of days and decided to spend them hiking with Kent, Spencer and Erik. We decided to go through the Ashdown Gorge Wilderness (Kent's suggestion) just a few miles east of Cedar City in Utah's red rock country. More than anything I was anticipating just getting away and seeing Cedar Breaks National Monument from the west side. I wasn't even thinking of scenic upland meadows when, after a couple of hours hiking we came into a clearing called Stud Flat.

After all, who would think that a place with such a name would be scenic? I was pleasantly surprised. Rising above the meadow are red rock formations with pine and fir forests all around. We decided that we would spend the night right there even though we weren't all that tired. We just couldn't bring ourselves to leave the place.

Just the week before I had driven through Yosemite's famous Tuolumne Meadows - also a high elevation meadow. It is famous as one of the gems of our (perhaps) most celebrated national park. And yet I can say that it isn't any more beautiful than Stud Flat in the spring. Here's a picture of a pair of large marbles (Euchloe ausonides) that I noticed near the meadow. I guess I should also mention how impressive the gorge is. We spent the following day hiking through its winding canyons. It may be a while before I do the gorge hike again though. But I can say with confidence that I will be back to see Stud Flat sooner than later.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Extra-terrestrial Sheep

Last week I found myself driving down a lonely Nevada highway listening to a boring audio book (by Sigmund Freud) when my eye wandered to a bright white mineral heap by the side of the road.  As I looked closer I discovered that there were over a dozen bighorn sheep resting on top of it idly chewing their respective cuds.

I came to a belated stop, turned the truck around and pulled off the road to have a closer look. Surprisingly they didn't seem to be all that troubled by my presence. I wondered if perhaps they had been accustomed to stop at this place for water or some other human hand-out.

As I got closer still, they did become a little agitated and I heard a few half grunts and half bleats from the ewes and watched as adolescent rams came into line. They were all quite beautiful with their brown and white contrasting colors and a couple of the rams were old enough to have sizeable horns.

When I got back in my truck I realized that I was at the western end of the somewhat famous Extra-terrestrial Highway (ending at the Warm Springs crossroads) where the sheep were resting. Who knows, maybe they were quite used to the scenery and were just waiting for the show to start.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Hoplia Beetles on Western Azalea

One of California's truly spectacular flowers is the western azalea. Every time I see this plant in bloom - with its large showy white flowers - I have to remind myself that this is not an escaped houseplant.

I came across a couple of these very beautiful bushes this last week near Big Creek (a few miles north of Pine Flat Reservoir) in Fresno County. On one of the plants I discovered dozens of Hoplia beetles. These are scarabs with only a single claw on each foot (tarsus) that are ideal for hanging onto plants.
Fortunately for the azaleas, the beetles liked to aggregate around only a few flowers while feeding. I wonder if they taste as good as they look?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Panama Bird List

Following is a list of bird species seen in Panama during the second week of March, 2014 – by Steve Bonta, Jon Quist and myself. We started the week along Pipeline Road near the Panama Canal, worked our way west and up into the area around El Valle, then drove over to Bocas del Toro and finally back to ChitrĂ© to end the week.

Magnificent Frigatebird, Sandwich Tern, Laughing Gull, Herring Gull, Neotropic Cormorant, Brown Pelican,

Ruddy Ground Dove, Tropical Kingbird, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Great Tailed Grackle, Yellow-headed Caracara, Rock Pigeon, Spotted Sandpiper, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Plain Xenops, Song Wren, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Golden-collared Manakin, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Crimson-backed Tanager, Black-chested Jay, Blue Cotinga, Louisiana Waterthrush, rufous-capped Warbler, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Common Bush Tanager, Savannah Hawk, Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Great Black Hawk, Anhinga, Wood Stork, Red-breasted Blackbird, Crested Oropendola, Green Ibis, Southern Lapwing (third picture), Northern Jacana, Purple Gallinule, Great Kiskadee, Swallow-tailed Kite, Pale-vented pigeon, Slate-colored Seedeater, Blue-black grassquit, Spectacled Antpitta, Smooth-billed Ani, Amazon Kingfisher, White-tailed Kite, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Tricolored Heron (first picture), Snowy Egret, Keel-billed Toucan, Common Tody Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, Little Blue Heron (second picture), White-shouldered Tanager, Osprey, Montezuma Oropendola, Large-billed Tern, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Prothonotary warbler, Semipalmated Plover, Willet, Whimbrel, White Ibis, Buff-breasted sandpiper, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Clay-colored Thrush, Red Knot, Black-necked Stilt, Plain-breasted Ground Dove

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

December Birds at Joshua Tree National Park

Last month I took a side trip through Southern California's Joshua Tree National Park. December is an odd time of the year to make such a trip. There are very few plants blooming and much of the wildlife is hunkering down. But I had the time so I took the trip anyway.

I was in for a bit of a surprise when I stopped behind the northeast Visitors Center where there is a desert oasis of sorts. Flitting around in the palms was a bold cactus wren, that didn't seem to be bothered by me at all. 

The ranger in the gift shop suggested that I walk along the path and check out the phainopeplas that were feeding on the mistletoe berries.

The above picture is of the uneaten berries. The picture below is of the digested ones on a wildlife marker. I sort of got the idea that phainopeplas don't like rabbits.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tired November Butterflies

It's now the beginning of November and still the rains have not come to Fresno with any sort of confidence. Our days are very pleasant in the 70's and the nights hardly get into the 40's. This is not unusual. Very often the first rains don't come until around Thanksgiving time, or even later. What this means for many of the late summer and fall insects is that they continue their lives without finding a place to over-winter, or of succumbing to the elements.  They linger and they get worn out by their long lives.

Here is a gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus) that Kathy and I ran into along the path by Cottonwood Park yesterday while we were out enjoying the warm weather. It has lost much of its delicate wing "tail" and many of its cloudy gray scales - still a beautiful butterfly but clearly tired out.

The common buckeye (Junonia coenia) was also out along the narrow stream bank in the patches of flowering mint. I was amazed that such a worn-out creature could still fly.

There is also a catchment basin by the park with a gathering of waterfowl. A snowy egret (Egretta thula) was kind enough to fly close enough for a picture. I was impressed by the striking yellow markings on the face and legs when seen up close.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bagrada Bug in Fresno

The bagrada bug (Bagrada hilaris) has finally made it to Fresno. Michael Yang announced last week that he found it among Hmong farms in Fresno County. Two days ago, I found it in Fresno proper - on my own mizuna lettuce plants no less.

The large bug is the female and the smaller one (pictured twice) is the male. They are only about the size of a plant bug - maybe a bit bigger - but quite a bit smaller than other stink bugs (of the family Pentatomidae) which the bagrada bug is a member of.

I have a pretty small garden in the middle of suburban Fresno and it must have been a very lucky pair of bugs that found my lettuce plants. That, or maybe mizuna lettuce is just irresistible to the critters. You have to admit, they're pretty colorful.