Outdoors

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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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Return of the California Condor

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 11:01 AM

Yurok Wildlife Program biologist Tiana Williams releases a condor in Big Sur. - COURTESY OF THE YUROK TRIBE
  • Courtesy of the Yurok Tribe
  • Yurok Wildlife Program biologist Tiana Williams releases a condor in Big Sur.
The Yurok Tribe led a major effort to restore a bird that hasn’t been seen on the North Coast for over a century. The Tribe teamed up with a number of agencies, including PG&E, The National Park Service, U.S. Wildlife and Fisheries and the National Park Foundation to restore the California condor population.

“The condor has played a major part in Yurok ceremonies and culture since time immemorial,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., chairman of the Yurok Tribe, in a press release. “It is through collaborative projects like this that we will bring balance back to our natural world.”

The condors will be released into the Yurok ancestral territory located in Redwood National Park. “The park staff at Redwood National and State Parks is excited to work alongside the Yurok Tribe and our park neighbors to eventually return the iconic California condor to its historic range along the North Coast,” said Steven Prokop, Redwood National Park superintendent, in a press release.

The National Park Service is seeking public comments on Jan. 24, at the Wharfinger building, in Eureka. This public meeting will be one of five held in order to listen to public comment on the restoration project.


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Sunday, January 15, 2017

HumBug: No Bugs Today

Posted By on Sun, Jan 15, 2017 at 3:00 PM

A red headed sapsucker inspecting a pepperwood for bugs in my yard. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A red headed sapsucker inspecting a pepperwood for bugs in my yard.

Last week, for the first time in several hundred excursions along the Van Duzen River spanning over 20 years, I saw no bugs. Only the sad remnants of a few abandoned spider webs and a bit of residual leaf damage testified to their existence. Despite a lifetime of experience at picking out tiny critters and a bit of effort, the cold and rainy weather had pushed them all into dormancy and hiding.
A robin taking a worm in my front yard. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A robin taking a worm in my front yard.
There were however, a great many birds looking for bugs as if their lives depended on it. That's because they do. Insects, spiders and other creepy crawlers are the basic food group for many birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians.
A bluegill (photographed this summer) feeds mostly on aquatic insects. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A bluegill (photographed this summer) feeds mostly on aquatic insects.
Because they are a place in the biosphere where proteins and other essential nutrients are concentrated, species like swallows and bats are adapted to be strictly insectivorous and many more take supplemental bugs as a part of a balanced diet. Hummingbirds take small flying insects and collect spider silk to line their nests.
An adult swallow going out for another order of regurgitated bug for the kids. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • An adult swallow going out for another order of regurgitated bug for the kids.
No matter the weather I always see something marvelous in the woods.


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Sunday, January 8, 2017

HumBug: Great Beginnings

Posted By on Sun, Jan 8, 2017 at 5:13 PM

Side view of the blister beetle. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Side view of the blister beetle.

A great way to start the New Year! Astronomically, meterologically and biologically, winter solstice marks the end/beginning of our annual cycle. My year is starting off most auspiciously. About 1 a.m. on December 21st I counted eight glow work rms in the little grove, a record for the year.
Variegated Meadowhawk on a rock. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Variegated Meadowhawk on a rock.
The day started sunny and bright so I took a walk along the Van Duzen River and counted a dozen variegated meadowhawks, the little dragonflies I have reported overwintering every year for the last five in my area. This was unheard of before I started reporting it, so I guess it's my claim to fame, and this is a record number for me sighting them in this area.
Variegated Meadowhawk on alder leaf. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Variegated Meadowhawk on alder leaf.
A couple of large Caddisfly larvae were making tracks in the mud along the river margin.
Caddisfly larva making tracks. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Caddisfly larva making tracks.
Caddisfly larva dragging its cylindrical "house" with it.  Kind of like a hermit crab. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Caddisfly larva dragging its cylindrical "house" with it. Kind of like a hermit crab.

Finally, getting ready to go to a Solstice Party I noted a large black beetle on the garage floor. I have seen one of these in the same place every year for as long as I can remember. I have no idea why. I knew it was an “oil beetle” of the genus Meloe, family Meloidae, or blister beetles. So I took extra care collecting it to photograph later. Like their infamous relation the Spanish fly, their bodies contain the blistering agent cantharidin and can be seriously toxic to cattle who ingest them. This species has tiny useless wings which do not cover it's distended looking abdomen. Its larvae have a sort of parasitic relationship with bees.
Blister beetle on a centimeter/millimeter grid. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Blister beetle on a centimeter/millimeter grid.
So hooray, the omens are good, we can look forward to to seeing interesting insects in record numbers in 2017! Don't everybody cheer at once.


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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Return of the Great Gray Owl

Posted By on Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 1:43 PM

The rare great gray owl returns for the second year in a row. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • The rare great gray owl returns for the second year in a row.

Prior to last winter, it had been 30 years since the last sighting of a great gray owl locally (both times in Redwood National Park). And now we have another one here to make it two winters in a row. Seeing the owl was quite a gift in between continual snow/rain showers on Monday, Jan. 2 near Alder Grove Road in Arcata.
On a fence on private property in Arcata. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • On a fence on private property in Arcata.
Members of a family living nearby said the owl appeared in their back yard just after Christmas, feeding on voles and gophers on their property. They reported their grade-school age son has been collecting video and photos and and intends to do a project about the owl for an upcoming science fair.
The great gray owl is the longest owl in the world. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • The great gray owl is the longest owl in the world.
Owl-watching advice for this location: Unlike the easy access and parking availability in Redwood National Park, this is all private property on both sides of the narrow road with limited parking. This owl appeared more sensitive to the presence of humans and noise than the one in the park last year. Get more advice from local bird-watching experts here.
This is only the fifth recorded sighting of a great gray in our area. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • This is only the fifth recorded sighting of a great gray in our area.
I watched the great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) move frequently from perches on nearby fences and on tree branches, listening for distant voles to reveal themselves. The world's largest owl (by length), it has remarkable hearing partly due to it having the largest facial disc of any raptor. Also called Phantom of the North, cinereous owl, spectral owl, Lapland owl, spruce owl, bearded owl and sooty owl, this is only the fifth sighting on record locally. Fewer than 100 are found in the Sierra Nevada (the southernmost population of the species' range) and they are listed Endangered under California's Endangered Species Act.
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Sunday, December 25, 2016

HumBug: Don't Lick the Newts

Posted By on Sun, Dec 25, 2016 at 3:30 PM

Our poisonous friend under water; you can see the roughness of the skin on its back. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Our poisonous friend under water; you can see the roughness of the skin on its back.
Sometimes when I'm out looking for insects to photograph, I see other things. Imagine a creature sporting a neurotoxin hundreds of times more deadly than cyanide in sufficient quantities to kill a full grown man. And it's common in our area.

The Rough Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) sports the same toxin that makes the pufferfish and harlequin poison-dart frogs so deadly, tetrodotoxin. I wasn't at all familiar with this species until I had the pleasure of seeing several in a slackwater portion of the Van Duzen River periodically surface, breathe and almost disappear among the dead leaves lining the riverbed.
Newt surfacing to breathe. (There are two in this photo: one in the lower right just hangin' out on the bottom.) - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Newt surfacing to breathe. (There are two in this photo: one in the lower right just hangin' out on the bottom.)
According to the Seattle Times, a 29-year-old man in Oregon swallowed one on a dare and died within hours. The toxin interferes with the transmission of nerve impulses, causing progressive numbness, paralysis and eventually cardio pulmonary failure. There is no known antidote. Fortunately, the toxin does not transmit through skin, which is why children have played with them with no ill effect. It is totally a defensive weapon.
The newts have two known natural enemies: the common garter snake and other larger rough skinned newts, both of which have a limited tolerance for the poison.
Just swimming along, all deadly and stuff. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Just swimming along, all deadly and stuff.
So, if you're out and about and see a dark-backed, orange-bellied salamander, keep your pets and kids away from it — all in all it's probably best for everyone to just let it go its own way.



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Sunday, December 18, 2016

HumBug: Rainy Day Critters

Posted By on Sun, Dec 18, 2016 at 3:05 PM

A flower fly on rosemary. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A flower fly on rosemary.
As the song says, “It's raining again/ Oh no, it's raining again.” So what does an entomological photographer do when it's been raining for days and days? He gets wet. Today, taking stuff out to the compost, I noted the rosemary is blooming. At first I couldn't see anything moving, then bit by little bit I first heard and then saw a number of honeybees industriously working their way through the blossoms.
A tiny gnat with fuzzy antennae. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A tiny gnat with fuzzy antennae.
Some really tiny gnats appeared next and once my eyes adjusted to seeing the tiny creatures a number of small hover and flower flies showed up. Of course, they were there all the time, moving about, but it takes time to get my mind to not filter them out and allow me to notice them. It's almost like a magic trick. First they aren't there, then they are.
Honeybee with corbicula on its hind legs half full of pollen. Note pollen grains on bee's head as well. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Honeybee with corbicula on its hind legs half full of pollen. Note pollen grains on bee's head as well.

I busied myself following first this one then another, but eventually got distracted by a hum of a different pitch than that of the honeybees. Eventually I was able to track it down. It was a drone fly, which is a very good bee mimic. You can tell them apart by the flattened shape of the abdomen and how the fly's eyes meet in the middle, whereas the honeybee's are separated. Also the bee has corbicula, or pollen baskets on its hind legs. When I was a kid, I'd catch droneflies and surprise my less entomologically inclined friends by holding them in my hands and not getting stung. Of course, I never ever dared those kids to try anything like that.
A drone fly, not a honeybee. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A drone fly, not a honeybee.



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Sunday, December 11, 2016

HumBug: Glow Worm vs. Snail

Posted By on Sun, Dec 11, 2016 at 3:00 PM

A portrait of the hunter. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A portrait of the hunter.
Tonight I counted four glow worms (Pterotus intergrippinis) under my redwood trees. I have counted as many as 27 in the leaf litter beneath my small 20-foot-by-50-foot grove (roughly 1/50th of an acre.) The first ones I ever saw were beneath redwoods at Grizzly Creek Campground.

So far I've seen them in every grove I've checked out on nights when the weather and moonlight was ideal. They seem to come out and display their glowing tail segments when it's dark and drippy. It is on such nights the prey to which they are particularly adapted comes out. They hunt, capture and devour small snails and slugs.
Glow worm strikes and elicits sticky bubble bath. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Glow worm strikes and elicits sticky bubble bath.

I think I have seen about all of the steps. I suspect they locate their intended prey by tracking the snail's slime trail with their short antennae. Once it catches up, the glow worm attaches its caudal appendage to the snail's shell. This gives it an anchor point from which to stretch out and bite the victim's soft body, injecting a toxic saliva. The snail then reacts violently often excreting a great mass of sticky clinging bubbles. I've been surprised surprised that the snail didn't just withdraw into its shell as they usually do when disturbed. Instead, it stampeded (well, as much as a snail can stampede) through the tiny world of mosses and grass stems. In one case the snail actually succeed in scraping its tormentor off and escaping. I do not know if the snail survived the toxic bite but after about 10 minutes the worm did succeed in escaping the sticky clinging suds.
Glow worm getting clotheslined by a stalk of dry grass.  Note worm's sickle shaped mandibles. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Glow worm getting clotheslined by a stalk of dry grass. Note worm's sickle shaped mandibles.
Snail makes its escape, leaving glow worm mired in goo. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Snail makes its escape, leaving glow worm mired in goo.

When the glow worm is successful, it can take up to three days to clean out the snail's shell, often glowing eerily, illuminating the hapless mollusk's shell from the inside.
This drama has been played out for millions of years. The power of evolution has adapted the players through a neverending arms race.
A glow worm enjoying a victory dinner of escargot following a successful hunt. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A glow worm enjoying a victory dinner of escargot following a successful hunt.
If my little grove is typical and there are about 1,600,000 acres of redwoods, it means there are somewhere between 32 and 216 million Pterotus obscuripennis out there. Considering that their common name is the “Douglas fir glow worm,” and there are probably many more acres in Douglas fir than redwoods, this insect may be incredibly numerous, but they are largely unseen and unknown because who goes out looking for tiny green LED looking bugs on wet dark sloppy nights? Me.


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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Wavesgiving

Posted By and on Tue, Nov 22, 2016 at 12:26 PM

Organizer Chris Johnson catching a wave. - SEAN JANSEN
  • Sean Jansen
  • Organizer Chris Johnson catching a wave.

On Saturday, Nov. 19, while some of us huddled inside and watched the rain, Humboldt surfers woke before dawn and headed out to Trinidad State Beach for the second annual Wavesgiving Surf Contest. Some 20 contestants zipped into their wetsuits and hit the water to compete for cash and salty glory. Photographer Sean Jansen was in the splash zone capturing highlights. Check out the action in the sea-battered slideshow below.
Slideshow
Wavesgiving 2016
Wavesgiving 2016 Wavesgiving 2016 Wavesgiving 2016 Wavesgiving 2016 Wavesgiving 2016 Wavesgiving 2016 Wavesgiving 2016 Wavesgiving 2016

Wavesgiving 2016

By Sean Jansen

Click to View 25 slides


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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Close Call Leaves Mills with Lessons Learned

Posted By on Tue, Nov 8, 2016 at 12:04 PM

Mills in cooler days. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Mills in cooler days.
Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills has a PSA for would-be wave-watchers: "When they say don't go out on the jetty, don't go out on the jetty."

Mills was driving along the north jetty with his wife last Saturday when he decided to walk out on the jetty and take pictures of the large waves sweeping in due to an upper-level storm system. The National Weather Advisory had warned of 19 to 22 foot waves over the weekend, and advised people to "stay safe ... by staying farther back from the surf and off of rocks and jetties." It's a frequent warning on the North Coast, and one that sometimes goes unheeded to deadly consequence.

On Facebook, Mills quipped about his foolhardiness, "Big waves 22'+ they say. Stay off the jetty they say. I am smarter, faster and stronger than them, I say. My cellphone now sits at the bottom of the ocean along with the skin from my arms and knees. If you are trying to call or text me...sorry. Call tomorrow. For now the laughing squid who has my phone may answer."

In a phone interview today, Mills said that as an experienced surfer, he thought, like many, that he could judge the speed and trajectory of the waves and stay out of their reach, but in just a short time, "the waves got gigantic."

In seconds one crashed down on top of him, throwing him onto the cement.

"It treated me like a little tiny rag doll," he told the Journal, comparing the impact of being pushed against the rocks to a cheesegrater. "It's cement, wood, cement wood, like a cheesegrater. So, I thought, I’m going to get on top of the wall. That was a mistake. It pushed me off into the rocks. I held on my with my upper body and the next one came in and took me out."

Mills said a smaller person would definitely have been swept out to sea and killed. He managed to make it safely back onto the beach and to the car where his wife was waiting, although his phone was lost and a favorite shirt bloodied. He called the experience "humbling" and urges others to learn from his experience.

"The real thing is, compared to the power of nature, we are insignificant," he said. "Lots of lessons to be learned for Chief Mills."

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