Saturday, November 24, 2012

Big Baldy

Big Baldy is a very worthwhile, and fairly easy, hike in King's Canyon National Park (in California). It is only a couple of miles from the trail head (which is just a few miles from the park entrance on Highway 180) and climbs maybe 1,000 feet. The top of Big Baldy itself is just over 8,000 feet. We decided to make the effort the day before Thanksgiving.

There was a bit of snow in sections of the trail, which is to be expected in November at this elevation. But the trail was nice and the view on top was well worth the effort. We could see the backbone of the High Sierra to the east, rolling hills in every direction, and even the top of the coastal range far to the west (thanks to Drew's sharp eyes). The valley was hazy but air moving in from the west was clearing up the atmosphere. We watched as rain fell from isolated clouds all around us.

This is definitely a hike for young and old alike - for anyone who likes to be outside and enjoy a walk in the woods - as long as the weather permits. The picture below is of Drew, Jon, and Michael at the trail head.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Epargyreus clarus

Here's a picture of the silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) that I found feeding among lupine near Altamont, Utah this last June. It is a large species, as skippers go, and quite attractive. It occurs throughout the western US and feeds on a number of legumes.

The second picture shows it feeding in flight - sliding its long proboscis into the uneven curves of a cupped-shaped hypanthium. This is quite impressive if you stop to think about it: a relatively heavy insect holding itself in midair and twisting its slender mouthparts through an undulating tunnel to get nectar. Nature seems to know what she's doing.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Silver Beak Tanager

It occurred to me the other day while visiting the Memphis Zoo that there are a lot of fascinating creatures in the zoos of the world that ought to be more digitally recorded and available. There is a tremendous amount of history (can I call it natural history history?) and zookeeper expertise cloistered behind the fences of these animal parks that goes unrecorded. This is especially true, I think, of some of the smaller creatures that don't draw big crowds - but that might be unique organisms (or specialties) of a particular zoo.

So here is a picture of the silver beak tanager (Ramphocelus carbo) from northern South America, a creature that I have never seen in the wild and probably never will. Yet the good folks at the Memphis Zoo have taken care to make it available for visitors to see. What a beautiful bird.