Outdoors

Sunday, March 19, 2017

HumBug: In the Key of Bee

Posted By on Sun, Mar 19, 2017 at 3:00 PM

A honeybee (Apis mellifera) on a blossom. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A honeybee (Apis mellifera) on a blossom.

We've finally had three days of warmish weather and the garden is abuzz with the sounds of busy bees. If you listen carefully, you can hear each species with its own pitch and rhythm. There is, of course, the familiar drone of the honeybee and the heavy bass of the yellow faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii). This is the biggest bee I've seen in my yard and the one with the lowest pitch. This species is actually reared commercially to pollinate certain crops which do best with something called “buzz pollination.” Tomatoes, for example, do not release their pollen unless the blossoms are vibrated at a certain frequency. Honeybees just can't do it as well as these guys.
Yellow faced bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenski), the largest bee in my yard, and fairly common. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Yellow faced bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenski), the largest bee in my yard, and fairly common.
A counterpoint to the above fairly relaxed themes are the large carpenter bees (genus Xylocopa). As big or nearly as big as bumblebees, these are glossy black and much more and active, quickly zipping from one blossom to another even feeding while on the wing. The ones in my yard are not so big as the biggest bumblebees I've seen, but significantly larger than honeybees.
A giant carpenter bee (genus Xylocopa). Although common, this is the first time I've noted them in my yard. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A giant carpenter bee (genus Xylocopa). Although common, this is the first time I've noted them in my yard.
Even more allegro are the mining bees, (Anthrophora pacifica). The same size as those carpenters, these hirsute ladies and gents take the cake for quickness, making getting a good shot all the more difficult.
A male mining bee (Anthrophora pacifica). - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A male mining bee (Anthrophora pacifica).
I'm working on identifying numerous smaller, quieter bees that lend their distinctive higher pitched voices to the choir. Although I'm learning to tell them apart I don't know of any references which use sound to identify them.
Osmia or mason bees, another species which is native but also raised commercially to pollinate crops. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Osmia or mason bees, another species which is native but also raised commercially to pollinate crops.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Milk Run in the Sun

Posted By on Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 9:39 AM

Runners take off on the Foggy Bottom Milk Run on Sunday. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Runners take off on the Foggy Bottom Milk Run on Sunday.
There wasn't much in the way of fog in Ferndale when runners of all ages pounded the Victorian Village's pavement during the Foggy Bottom Milk Run on Sunday. In fact, the 4-mile, 10-mile and 2-mile loops began and ended under blue sky on Main Street, which was lined on both sides with clusters of cheering onlookers.

The day's winners included Michael Guerrero for the men's 4-mile with a time of 23:22 and Lanore Bergenske for the women's 4-mile at 29:16. First over the finish line for the 10-mile were Aaron Campbell at 56:44 and Tami Beal at 1:10:15. August Garcinero finished the 2-mile in 10:27 and Elsa Nolan covered it in 13:05. Complete results will be posted on the Six Rivers Running Club website
Michael Guerrero, winner of the 4-mile, still had enough energy for this move. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Michael Guerrero, winner of the 4-mile, still had enough energy for this move.

Lanore Bergenske was the first woman of the day to cross the finish line in the 4-mile. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Lanore Bergenske was the first woman of the day to cross the finish line in the 4-mile.
At 2 p.m. the street was packed for the shortest of the day's races, the 2-mile. Instead of lightly bouncing pros with sinewy calves and hi-tech shoes, the starting line was packed with kids of all ages. They jostled and chatted, hooting and clapping for the last runners from the 10-mile. Mike Pigg announced to the crowd that this year's goal was to not have anyone fall down, then led the countdown to the start.

The 2-mile race was a younger crowd overall. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The 2-mile race was a younger crowd overall.
Serious runners wove their way to the front of the pack and the crowd spread out. Once over the finish line, participants big and small (a few in strollers) headed for the tent stalls for orange wedges and cartons of chocolate milk, taking photos with their medals in the sunshine.

Mike Pigg informs the kids up front that this year's goal is to have nobody fall down at the start. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Mike Pigg informs the kids up front that this year's goal is to have nobody fall down at the start.

Post-race cool down in the afternoon sun. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Post-race cool down in the afternoon sun.


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Sunday, March 12, 2017

HumBug: Falling Blossoms

Posted By on Sun, Mar 12, 2017 at 4:35 PM

A flower fly on an ornamental plum blossom.
  • A flower fly on an ornamental plum blossom.

It's been a long rainy spell and my plum trees have been waiting in full bloom for a warm day. I kept expecting them to lose their petals but despite sometimes heavy rains and occasional hail, they kept them. I think they're like orchids. The flowers of most orchids can hold for weeks or even months so long as they're not pollinated. On the very day they achieve pollination they start to wither. Once the flower's beauty has served it's purpose, seducing some critter into performing the deed for them, the petals are discarded, nectar production shuts down; the real work of building seeds and fruit gets under way.
An angelwing butterfly photobombed by a bee. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • An angelwing butterfly photobombed by a bee.
Wednesday started out wet, but by afternoon it warmed up. If the sun didn't actually peek through, the sky lit up and flies and bees were out in abundance, accompanied by a single anglewing butterfly. Along with the nectar sippers came predators, as well. One of North America's smallest birds, a ruby crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula), took a honeybee right in front of me, landed and repeatedly smacked it against a branch before swallowing it in one gulp. It happened too quickly to even get my camera up. To a bird not much bigger than my thumb, a bee sting must be a terrible danger. But the bees were the largest and slowest moving prey I saw, so I guess it did a quick risk /benefit calculation and went with it. A golden haired dung fly snatched a fly nearly its own size out of the air and dragged it to the grass.
A dung fly dining on what looks to be a flesh fly. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A dung fly dining on what looks to be a flesh fly.
Two days later my trees are starting to leaf out and the ground is littered with petals like tiny discarded petticoats.
A green Gage plum tree - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A green Gage plum tree


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Sunday, March 5, 2017

HumBug: O Hideous Little Bat

Posted By on Sun, Mar 5, 2017 at 3:00 PM

Black gnats on daisy. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Black gnats on daisy.

American poet Karl Shapiro begins his poem "The Fly" with the address, "O hideous little bat, the size of snot." No other group of animals is as reviled as flies. Annually, members of the order Diptera account for millions of human deaths through diseases they spread. The ones that pester, infect and disgust us are really only a small percentage of the 160,000 known species, which is only a small fraction of the estimated 1 million species, the majority of which are unobtrusive and unknown to us. Named for having two wings, unlike other winged insects which have four, the order Diptera is the most diverse in lifestyle. There seems to be a fly tailored to feed on anything organic, living or dead.

Fetid adder's tongue photobombed by a gnat, a moth fly, and a tiny wasp. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Fetid adder's tongue photobombed by a gnat, a moth fly, and a tiny wasp.
The other day, taking photos of fetid adder's tongue flowers (Scoliopus bigelovii), I got one shot with three insects in it. Even bugs photobomb us. Drawn by the flower's dank odor, there was a fungus gnat, a moth fly, and a tiny wasp (order Hymenoptera). From the look of it, the wasp may have been trying to prey on the gnat. So much of what goes on at this scale is unknown to us.
Moth fly, about 2 or 3 millimeters long. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Moth fly, about 2 or 3 millimeters long.
At 2 to 3 millimeters, moth flies look like tiny moths but are truly flies, also known as drain flies and sewer flies. While harmless, they are considered pests when they infest our homes.

Some fungus gnats are small and vaguely resemble mosquitoes, but feed on — you guessed it — fungus. Others, like the tiny, glistening black Bradysia, emerge from soil in potted plants to become household pests.
Fungus gnat, about 6 millimeters long. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Fungus gnat, about 6 millimeters long.
While researching them I was continually referred to the book Flies by Stephan A. Marshall so, despite it's heft (5 pounds 5.5 ounces) and hefty price tag ($88), I ordered a copy. It is a truly great book and a new favorite among my collection of entomological works.



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Sunday, February 26, 2017

HumBug: Beacon Islands on a Dreary Day

Posted By on Sun, Feb 26, 2017 at 3:00 PM

A tiny fly using its long mouth parts to gather nectar from a pussy willow. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A tiny fly using its long mouth parts to gather nectar from a pussy willow.
It was sunny when I went to get my hiking boots but by the time I got dressed and out the door, it was 49 degrees and drizzling. I went anyway. The path down to the river was dark, the only sounds were the gentle “pok, pok” of water dripping from branches. The burning in my fingertips told me it was too cold for insects to be servicing the barely open Indian plum flowers. Down on the flood scrubbed river bar were scant traces of life.
A bumblebee on a pussy willow branch. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A bumblebee on a pussy willow branch.

Near the end of the trail, out in the open, something buzzed furiously around me three or four times then headed off. From the quick glimpse I got I knew it was a bumblebee. It headed for a big pussy-willow about 50 meters upstream. Against the subdued damp earth tones of the river bank, dark overcast sky and somber evergreens, the yellow green of their catkins stood in sharp contrast, beckoning nectar and pollen feeders.

A teensy wasp gets in on the pollinating. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A teensy wasp gets in on the pollinating.

It was busy despite the cold. Insects were there in numbers. I started taking pictures and realized except for a couple of tiny bees they were all flies of one sort or another. Members of the order Diptera they are unique among the orders of insects in having only two wings instead of four. In my opinion it is the most diverse order. They fill the same niches as most of the other orders from parasites and hunters to, in this case, nectar feeders, which provide pollination services to a great many flowering plants. My college entomology professor did his thesis on pollinators of the wildflower Clarkia. To everyone's surprise, the majority of insects to visit the flowers he monitored were various species of flies. It may be true for willows as well.

A black fly pollinating on the same plant. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A black fly pollinating on the same plant.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

HumBug: Season's Greetings

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2017 at 7:26 PM

Ferelia februalis. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Ferelia februalis.

Undaunted by the rain, I was out barbecuing a chicken a few nights ago when, attracted by my porch light, a moth buzzed me. I kept working but noted where it came to rest. Of course I had to investigate, and when I did I noted it was decorated with a lacy black pattern on a pale green background.

A little research in a book I got for Christmas Moths of Western North America led to identifying it as Feralia februalis. No common name is listed. I think I'll call it the February moth.


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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Attack of the English Ivy

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 3:24 PM

Conservation groups point to the fact that invasive English Ivy poses a risk to redwoods in arguing for banning sales of the plant in California. - FILE
  • FILE
  • Conservation groups point to the fact that invasive English Ivy poses a risk to redwoods in arguing for banning sales of the plant in California.

A number of conservation groups, government branches and a logging company petitioned for a ban of selling English Ivy in California. Over 20 organizations, including the Environmental Protection Information Center and Green Diamond Resource Co., led a petition to designate English Ivy as a noxious plant.


Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of Environmental Protection Information Center, said the Ivy is harmful to North Coast forests. The sale is already prohibited in Oregon and Washington, and it’s time for California to join their North Coast neighbors.


“English Ivy is a very destructive and invasive species on the North Coast,” Wheeler said. “It’s a direct threat to our most iconic species [the Redwood] but also other vegetation as well.”


English Ivy is not a native species, it was brought over from European settlers as ornamental plant, but has since spread throughout public lands. Because the plant is not indigenous to the North Coast, it out competes the plants like Salal and Huckleberries, which are indigenous to this area.



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Sunday, February 12, 2017

HumBug: Winter Pygmies

Posted By on Sun, Feb 12, 2017 at 3:00 PM

A 1/2-inch grouse locust on my garage door. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A 1/2-inch grouse locust on my garage door.

Today, on the front garage door was the tiniest grasshopper you are ever likely to see, its body measuring about ½ inch long. Its general body shape, short antennae, and large hind legs, were unmistakably those of a grasshopper (sub order Caelifera). Its size, coloration and the fact that it was out in the middle of winter told me it was a member of the Tetrigidae family or grouse locusts also known as pygmy grasshoppers. Both regular grasshoppers and their pygmy cousins are members of the order Orthoptera, which also includes crickets, camel crickets, Jerusalem crickets and katydids (all of which have long antennae).

A 1-inch shield backed katydid. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A 1-inch shield backed katydid.
Unlike most other grasshopper families, adults of this group are known to survive through winter. During the summer I've seen many of these tiny hoppers along river bars, where they feed on algae on rocks. With the river swollen from recent rains, I guess they've headed for higher ground. This is the third one I've seen lately at my house which is about half a mile from the nearest river.
An immature katydid (about  3/4 inch long) eating one of my roses. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • An immature katydid (about 3/4 inch long) eating one of my roses.

Once I get my fly tying paraphernalia back together I may try to imitate these. Since they live so near the water, the fish may well see them as a tasty and familiar morsel.



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Sunday, February 5, 2017

HumBug: An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

Posted By on Sun, Feb 5, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Striped willow beetle, about 1/4 inch long. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Striped willow beetle, about 1/4 inch long.

The great geneticist and evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane once said, “The creator, if he exists, has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles.” It is believed there are more species of beetles than any other order of animals on the planet. They fill so many niches in the environment it is no surprise to happen across one in an unexpected place.
Predacious diving beetle about 3/4 inch long. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Predacious diving beetle about 3/4 inch long.

I recently stopped to chat with a friend near a puddle; it was an inch or so deep and as large as the shadow under a pickup truck. I was distracted from our conversation by strange ripples on the water's surface. When I looked I found a predacious diving beetle. Adapted to an aquatic life, they have paddle-shaped hind legs and often hang head-down with just the tip of their abdomens touching the surface to replenish the air supply they keep trapped under their wings. (And we thought we invented scuba diving.)

These beetles are good fliers, allowing them to escape a drying pool but having only a bug's brain, they often land on shiny, dark cars.
A western tiger beetle standing tall. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A western tiger beetle standing tall.
Beetles fill so many different roles in nature it is impossible to catalog them all and entire books are devoted to this one order. Two excellent volumes from my collection of entomological books devoted to just this one order are Field Guide to the Beetles of California and Peterson Field Guide to the Beetles.
Like Cruella DeVille: "You come to realize you've seen her kind of eyes watchin' you from underneath a rock!"  A pretty common ground beetle hereabouts. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Like Cruella DeVille: "You come to realize you've seen her kind of eyes watchin' you from underneath a rock!" A pretty common ground beetle hereabouts.


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Sunday, January 22, 2017

HumBug: All Aglow

Posted By on Sun, Jan 22, 2017 at 3:00 PM

A florescent millipede of the Mytoxia genus needs no black light to glow. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A florescent millipede of the Mytoxia genus needs no black light to glow.
The other day I received my new ultraviolet (black light) 51 LED flashlight from Amazon.com ($9.99). A significant upgrade from my old one. I discovered that some millipedes glow brilliantly under UV. Outside in the dark it's like a different dimension in a sci-fi story — the trees are in the same places but everything else changes. Wherever the rhizomes of the Redwood Sorrel break the surface the black light makes them glow mightily in the yellow green part of the spectrum, while their leaves light up a dim, dark red.

Spots where animals have urinated glow a diffuse yellow, bird droppings light up and here and there some (but not all) mushrooms fluoresce in various colors.

A modest mushroom under white light. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A modest mushroom under white light.

The same fungus, but more fun. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • The same fungus, but more fun.

The real stars of the show are the millipedes. While some light up brilliantly throughout their entire body, the cyanide millipede (Harpaphe haydeniana) appears as a twin chain of moving dots.

The cyanide millipede under black light. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • The cyanide millipede under black light.
The cyanide millipede by day. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • The cyanide millipede by day.
It gets its common name from emitting hydrogen cyanide when it is disturbed. A bit of research on millipedes (class Diplopoda) led me to the High Sierra genus Motyxia, whose members glow even without the need for a black light. There is an interesting article with a cool video clip of them on www.nationalgeographic.com.  
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