Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Army Pass

Hiking the trail over New Army Pass (From Inyo County, California) is a high country adventure worth making. The pass itself is right on the boundary between Inyo and Tulare Counties. From the Inyo County side (take the road SW from Lone Pine up into the parking area) the trail passes through Cottonwood Lakes – a cluster of high elevation lakes that feed from snow melt near timber line (over 10,000 feet). We spent three days in this magnificent country two years ago (in July) and had a wonderful time. There are a number of foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana) groves which are uncommon anywhere else on the eastern side of the Sierra. This picture is of one of the Cottonwood Lakes just east of New Army Pass.

Even in the summer there can be a morning frost on the ground at this elevation. The plants are all well adapted to grow and bloom in this harsh environment. This second picture is of rock fringe (Epilobium obcordatum) that we found holding to a rock face just below the pass. This is a cold and windy holdout, and there were pockets of snow not far away. It is a remarkable plant in a remarkable place.

Here are the three of us (me, Michael, Spencer) a bit travel-weary but happy among the foxtails. You can almost see how spectacular the air is

Monday, February 20, 2012

Scaphinotus ventricosus and S. striatopunctatus

The snail-eating ground beetles (genus Scaphinotus) are a diverse group in California (see my post for May 21 of last year for a note on S. subtilis). We have several in the Sierra, several more along the coast and a handful in other places. A month ago we were camping near Watsonville (in Santa Cruz County) and I found a small meadow near the campground with a few boards that had been left lying on the ground. I turned some of them over and found two different species, S. ventricosus (the smaller one below at around 13mm long).

and S. striatopunctatus (the larger one in the second picture at around 18mm long).

They were of noticeably different sizes at least in this particular place. Some of this may be a partitioning of their habitat (because of an immediate sympatry). The size range of both species normally overlap quite a bit (at least in museum series). Here, however, they were easy to tell apart based on size alone.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ellychnia megista

There is a subdued grandeur in a redwood forest. Animal sounds are often muffled and seemingly distant. The forest floor is covered with deep green ferns and other shade-loving plants. One doesn’t expect to see large numbers of insects, especially in the winter months. Of course, the California coast is not completely dormant this time of year and a patient observer will still discover a few creatures finding their way around. So it was that we came across this attractive firefly in the Forest of Nicene Marks State Park (in Santa Cruz County) a couple of weeks ago.

The Forest of Nicene Marks State Park is primarily a second-growth redwood forest. It was logged extensively last century but the owners decided to protect the area in subsequent years and gave the park to the State of California. It is a fairly large area (as state parks go) and there are a number of nice trails. During our visit, we discovered a side trail with few hikers along Aptos Creek where there were remains of old growth redwoods. It was cool but not cold and a few stoneflies could be seen flying above the water as they moved into illuminating pockets of sunbeams. I took a short detour to an area of old redwood stumps and was trying to get my mind around the age of the erstwhile giants, when this firelfly landed on one of the dead logs.

It is a species of Ellychnia (E. megista to be precise) that does not have lumenescent organs – a light-less firefly if you will. There are several species in the the US. The more commonly seen E. californica occurs throughout California. It has been known for over a hundred years. On the other hand, E. megista is restricted to the coastal area and was described fairly recently (in 1970) by Ken Fender. The Type locality is Santa Cruz County. Who knows, it may have lived in the same forest. It is most easily recognized by the parallel-sided black band running down the center of the pronotum.