Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Batyle ignicollis

Last month while wandering among the scrub willows of a tributary of the Duchesne River (near Altamont, Utah) I happened upon this attractive longhorn beetle (Batyle ignicollis). It was resting on the willow leaves in a cobble-strewn riparian habitat.

It is a variable species with a handfull of subspecies sprinkled accross the Western US. It is about an inch long. It isn't an uncommon insect at the right time of year (and in the right place). But then again it isn't all that common either. Finding it made my day.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Laphria fernaldi

There are a handful of robber fly species in the United States that look like bumblebees. They are an impressive group. The best way to tell the difference is to count their wings. Robber flies (as with other flies) have two wings. Bumblebees (as with other bees) have four wings. Of course this isn’t the easiest thing to detect in living individuals. In the field, it’s usually best to look closely at the body. Robber flies are narrower and have a narrow mouth (like a little knife projecting from its head). Bumblebees are typically wider and their mouthparts are usually projecting in and out of flowers. Robber flies, on the other hand, don’t visit flowers – at least not to get pollen and nectar. They are usually looking for other insects to feed on.

I happened upon this male Laphria fernaldi a couple of weeks ago near Altamont, Utah (in Duchesne County). The area is a high desert sagebrush and willow habitat near Lake Fork Creek. This is without doubt one of the most beautiful flies in the US. Not only is it an impressive bee mimic, but the bumblebees that it resembles are those species with an orange or salmon colored spot on the abdomen – not your typical bee. It was kind enough to let me take a picture before it buzzed off.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Freeman Creek Bears

I had my first really good look at a wild bear yesterday morning in the Freeman Creek Grove east of Porterville (California). I was by myself (probably not the best thing) enjoying a short backbacking trip into a forest conataining many sequoias. The entire area is very impressive. There is a nice diversity of trees (besides the sequoias) and the forest is managed to leave many old snags alone. This makes for a habitat rich for bears. The undersotry contains a lot of fallen trees in various stages of decay (harboring bear food).

 Just before bedding down for the night, I discovered a fresh bear scat near a copse of sequoias conatining very suitable sleeping places for bears. I was impressed enough with the area that I decided to move elsewhere to sleep. I also made sure all my food was in a bear canister (which is required by law) that I kept a distance from my camp. Early the next morning I woke up and was enjoying the fresh day in my sleeping bag when I heard the sound of breaking branches and of bark being stripped off of dead trees. I also realized that the sound was not coming from the direction of the trail. I put my shoes on, gathered my camera, and quietly got out of bed. I was a little bit nervous.

I saw the bear before he saw me (I'm assuming it was a male - since I'm guessing it weighed close to 400 pounds, which is bigger than females are known to get). He was light brown and only about 70 feet away. Fortunately there were two fallen logs between him and me. My adrenalin started to take control of my judgment at this point (hence the poor quality of the pictures). Fortunately, I didn't run. I did, however, remember that black bears are not normally aggressive to humans - especially if the humans appear big enough and aren't threatening their cubs.

Just as I thought this, the bear discovered I was nearby (probably cought my scent) and hopped over the first log in my direction. This definitely got my attention. In fact it was a real rush. I was certainly a bit scared (maybe more than a bit). Acting on instinct, I stood up next to the fallen log in front of me and tried to look very big. The bear stopped and looked around. Then it saw me and we watched each other for several seconds. At this point it was only 40 - 50 feet away (I measured the distance later). After a few clumbsy attempts at taking a picture, I watched in releif as he gave me a grunt and then climbed back over the log and hopped away. 

I was stunned and very impressed. I also decided that it was time for me to pick up camp and head on my way. I had only just started to do so when another bear, this one a bit smaller and darker brown, bounced into my camping area. I'm guessing that this was the big boy's girlfriend. We were both startled by each other's presence at the same time. When I reached for my camera, she got spooked and ran away - at least partially. Some 30 feet off, she turned to look back my way. I tried to make my camera work but only got a poor picture. She then left with a huff and I never saw either one of them again. I have, however, been thinking of them a lot. It was a magnificent, yet frightening, experience. Next time, however, I am going camping with a bear-sized can of pepper spray. Just to be on the safe side.