Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cliff Lake California

Spencer, Michael, Zack (Michael's friend) and I spent a couple of days last week in the high country northeast of Fresno (California). We started from the Cliff Lake trailhead just northwest of Courtright Reservoir (elevation just over 8,100 feet) and climbed about 1,300 feet to Cliff Lake. July is a great time to be backpacking at this elevation. The trail was nice and the temperature couldn't have been better. The one drawback (and it was a big one) was the relentless cloud of mosquitoes that never went away.

This has been a wet year and a lot of snow has accumulated in these mountains. There were several snowpacks still dotting the meadows that we walked through. In some places, the trail had been transformed into a small stream and we were forced to walk along the side. With all this water there were also a lot of snowmelt pools. And in these pools there were mosquito larvae (wigglers) by the thousands (by the millions). At first we thought they would disappear as we got higher. We were wrong. Even though the first sight of Cliff Lake was a welcome reprieve to sore legs, it turned out to be just as mosquito - infested as many other places on the trail. We ended up covering ourselves with repellent and covering our faces with articles of clothing in order to keep our sanity.

We somehow managed to set up a small camp and enjoy the evening (after the mosquitoes went to sleep) but by the next morning we were ready to get away from the torment. Later in the day we drove to Wishon Reservoir and jumped in the cool water. It felt great on our many festering wounds.

I don't mean to make this sound too bleak. Cliff Lake is a beautiful place. Hopefully these pictures will make you want to make the trip. I just advise that you do so at another time than July in a wet year. The hike itself is four to five miles long (one way) and not all that difficult.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cucujus clavipes

Cucujus clavipes is the largest flat bark beetle (Family Cucujidae) in North America. This may not seem like much since most other species in the family (and related groups) are normally not much more than a quarter of an inch long. Cucujus clavipes, by contrast, commonly comes in at over half an inch. It is also striking in its bright reddish color.

It lives under the bark of dead trees and feeds on other insects. I have seen it in a number of US states (north, south, east and west) but it seems to be most abundant in the coniferous forests of the Western US. This individual was found about 40 miles northeast of Fresno (California) under the bark of fallen Douglas fir at about 6,000 feet.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Metrius contractus

Just over three months ago I was spending the night by a neglected dirt road north of Auberry, California (Fresno County). Before nodding off to sleep, I took a walk with my flashlight and came across this black ground beetle - Metrius contractus - wandering in search of something to eat (I suppose).

It was crawling up this large rock covered with lichens and browning moss. It is a squatty thing, not so typical of other ground beetles and just over a centimeter long. Its shape reminded me of the snail-eating carabids in the genus Dicaelus but this resemblance is superficial. In fact the beetle belongs to the primitive ground beetle subfamily Paussinae, a group that is much more diverse in the tropics. Many species are associated with ants in some way. This species may as well although I am unfamiliar with any work confirming this.

The habitat picture is from the spot where I found it, but on the following day.