Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The East is Different!

Nice to be back in the land of GREEN!! Even though it's rained some in Morrison since I left, it's much wetter, drippier, soggier in general here. Not only is the East different, but the Nature of the East is, for me, a large part of what makes it different. On Monday, June 26th, we walked in Watkins Glen, not far from my original home(s) in the east, and got to see some things I rarely see out west.

Here's one I never see in Colorado! Maidenhair Spleenwort... they were all over the vertical shale walls of the Glen. A particularly dainty, delicate fern... and lots of thalloid and leafy liverworts. Don't know if I've captured them very well, but here they are.

And here are the liverworts--little tiny leafy liverworts, and larger ribbons of the "thallus-type" liverworts. They are related to mosses.

Both types are clinging to the shale walls, along with lots and lots of ferns. A very drippy place.

What's a Glen? For those that don't know, here are a few photos of Watkins Glen. Also known as "ravines" in upstate New York, this is what we think of as glens, tho this is a particularly spectacular example.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Parting Shots

Time is short this a.m. and packing is in progress for my big adventure--eastbound! So future nature notes here on Foothills Fancies are likely to have a quite different flavor.

Here's the view--nice of my cholla to flower for me before I leave. And every blossom has its bee! They are loving it... Will try to add more from the road if/when technology cooperates.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More on Coralroot

In response to Haiku Monday and the earlier post on Coralroot orchids, friend Cat Woman sends the following:

Also noticed your reference to a rare cousin of the Spotted Coral Root orchid, probably Wisteriana, which I occasionally find growing not far from the creek here. Compared to the spotted, it's paler, more fragile, has few spots, and lacks the small lobes at the base of the lip (which is more gnarley around the margin). You have to look really close to tell them apart.

Since it's Haiku Monday:

On hands and bent knee
The only way to know her

Indeed CW, I was talking about Corallorhiza wisteriana--glad to know you have them nearby. The haiku is great too! Meanwhile, here's a better photo of the more common Spotted Coralroot, C. maculata.

Photo copyright L. Livo.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Forest Pathway

Our theme for this Haiku Monday is pathways. A tough assignment from One Deep Breath! Here is my entry this week:

forest pathway strewn

with hail beckons

through the trees...

They say you can break the rules (5-7-5, or 17 syllables, or...), but this may have gone too far! See today's other post for more photos of Friday's unconventional weather.

So here's a more conventional haiku, following up on last week's assignment:

blessings on the land

in a healthy quenching rain:

Earth sighs in relief.

Adventures in Cloudland

Friday's adventures were… well, adventurous, to say the least! On our way to the Moonworts, we were enjoying a pleasant but cloudy day driving up Squaw Pass, at least until the hail started. It came down so hard that we finally decided to pull over and watch. While we sat near the road, we watched sunlight hitting the Continental Divide in the distance through a screen of Englemann Spruce and Subalpine Fir. That puts us, probably at an elevation of 10,000 ft, give or take…

If you click to enlarge this shot, you can see, I think, the hail bouncing on the horizon at the edge of the road (which is the entire foreground) in front of the spruce trees. Sun is still shining on the Continental Divide in the background. It was very entertaining… that, and the noise it was making on the roof of the truck. We estimated it as “pea-size” or smaller, no golf ball hail this time. Unusual in the high country, but hail is pretty normal in June at the lower elevations.

After a brief pause, we reached the aptly named Cloudland, and checked out what we could see of the resident plants. As the hail was small and less forceful than it might have been, it did little damage to the plants we were looking for, other than, of course, covering them up! Here's a little mustard peeking out. Personally, I think they were grateful for the moisture—in whatever form!

We always say, in Colorado you can have any weather you want--you just have to know where to go for it! When I arrived home, I discovered our dryness had broken as well-- we had a good rain here at home while I was gone, and you could almost hear the soaked earth sighing in relief! A second rain last night more than makes up for my lament of last week. Thanks, Haiku friends, for all the good wishes!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Stalking the Wild Moonwort

Herp Pal wanted to see moonworts, so off we went this morning to try to find a locality someone showed me, oh probably 8 or 10 years ago. No problem, right. We know it’s along a roadside on Squaw Pass, surely we can find them.

Oh—you are probably wondering what a Moonwort is! Well, it’s a special kind of fern, in its own family (the Adder’s Tongue, or Ophioglossaceae), of which all of the members in Colorado are considered rare, if not endangered. So, very special indeed!

And we found them! Here are the results of the search. Two species, we think, or at least two kinds that looked quite different. There may have been more had we been more attuned to diagnostic characters. Our goal was to photograph ANY, and our time was short, so we were happy with the results reported here.

First up was this little darling. Probably Reflected Moonwort (Botrychium echo), appropriate as we were not too far from Echo Lake (though I suspect that has nothing to do with the name.) That’s pretty much a wild guess I’m afraid. This is a huge plant, as you can tell from the size of the penny!

And then there was this variety, which we are tentatively pegging as Botrychium lunaria. Somewhat smaller, or the penny has grown substantially. Also note the bluish color and different configuration of the pinnae (or leaflets). Moonworts have a sterile vegetative leaflet (behind) and a fertile spore-bearing leaflet, in the foreground here.

How hard is it to find them? Now that you know what they look like, give it a try! Remember, look for the penny, it’s still there in this photo. (Click to enlarge.)

A New Plant Community

Ecology moves on, creating new plant communities where the old originals have lost vigor, or resistance. So we discovered on Tuesday's hike in Red Rocks. In the shadow of Ship Rock, we found this new plant association I'd never seen before, though the elements will no doubt be familiar to you, as they are to all of us! This is the kind of plant community that makes Europeans feel welcome when they visit our unfamiliar habitats.

Let's take a closer look... Of course, the familiar brown stalks are last year's seed shoots of Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). Can you see its light green rosettes ready to bloom this year? In the foreground is the clump of Showy Milkweed we discussed in yesterday's post. There's also a consistent, light brown background matrix of Cheatgrass, already seeded and dried for this season (and a great fire hazard).

In case you can't make out the rest, here's a labeled version. What makes a road bank of Mullein and Cheatgrass unusual to me? Its pals... Consorting here are darker green clumps of Catnip (Nepeta cataria), a patch of Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans), and pale blue stalks of Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), which normally prefers a little more moisture.

Exiled in America from Russia, Vladimir Nabokov was struck with nostalgia at the sight of clover and dandelion in Oregon. These and the plants mentioned here, especially the Common Mullein, have gained a reputation as "white man's footsteps," simply because they've become so ubiquitous here in the "New World." Charles Darwin once teased American botanist Asa Gray because our wimpy native flora was being trounced by imports from Britain and Europe.*

Finches and Fritillaries enjoy the flowers of the Musk Thistle (and probably the Catnip as well when it blooms), so our natives are adapting to some of these new food sources. It's exciting that something has also started to focus on the Poison Hemlock, because every one of the bluish stalks in this picture is stripped of leaves. Bee Lady and I think this is a surprise, not a planned "biologicial control" introduction, but we're still trying to figure out who is virtually wiping out the Poison Hemlock here in Red Rocks, and whether this is happening elsewhere as well. Any ideas, please share them!

*See The Ends of the Earth, page 103, Donald Worster, Ed. for these stories from Alfred W. Crosby's book on Ecological Imperialism.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lunch with an Assassin

When Book Lady and I walked in Red Rocks the other day, it was clear that the flowers were attracting more than just the two of us. The insect world, in particular, was buzzing... literally! Don't forget to click for a closer look at the photos.

One of the attractions was the abundant thistle crop, both native and introduced. We think this one, happily, is a native-- either the Wavy-leaved Thistle (Cirsium undulatum) or perhaps a close relative, Cirsium ochrocentrum. (Depends on whether you consider the leaves deeply pinnatifid and the upper leaf surface less canescent than the lower. If so, go with the C. ochrocentrum. I think I will.)

The important thing is that the flowers were putting out lunch for a couple of our spineless friends. The large grasshopper was clearly enjoying the thistle, as he soon dove into the blossoms head first. A Yellow Tiger Swallowtail (minus one tail) paused at a nearby flower, and the three seemed to be happily enjoying the sunshine and service.
The third party, however, turned out to have no interest in nectaring. He did, in fact, react to our presence, seeming a little skittish or perhaps just alert. I've always kind of called these guys "shield bugs" in my informal taxonomy, but around the corner a new name popped into my head.

On a patch of Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), we found a literal circus of the spineless. A bug-hunter's paradise, these yummy flowers were a-buzz with attention from huge bumblebees and other pollinators.

But there's something else going on in the lower right part of the photo. A honeybee was not enjoying the activity of his (her?) fellows, but was remarkably still. Closer examination revealed that he was in the grip of the Assassin Bug, as my colorful friends were now revealed to be. The bee was long dead, and the Bug was sucking out its liquefied innards as we watched. Sharp eyes will also find a different ambush specialist in this photo, and two more Assassin Bugs in the photo above.

A little online sleuthing clarifies these able predators, some species of which even attack humans and, in Mexico, carry Chagas disease. And I always thought they were cute! The moral is, be a little careful around these guys, as even the insect-eaters can inflict painful bites. More reading here and here. And if anyone can give me genus/species on this little guy, it'd be appreciated! (I gather they belong to the family Reduviidae, but that's as far as I've gotten.)

Much later update: Thanks to Ted, of Beetles in the Bush, we now know these are Apiomerus spissipes. More photos and information here. Thanks, Ted!!

For more stories on bugs and other boneless types, check out Circus of the Spineless, an ongoing guide to invertebrates online.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Yuccas, Part 2

(These paragraphs are moved and modified from yesterday's post, because this is the only way Blogger would let me upload the rest of the photos.)

On this photo, the stalk labeled B has lots of healthy flowers. Stalk A, however, has 27 buds or flowers toward the top, and 19 empty flower stems below. I did a small census elsewhere in the neighborhood a week later (6/10), and checked out two stems. One had a single developing green pod on a stalk of 40 flower stems, the other had four pods developing out of 45 flower attempts. In that admittedly small sample, then, we had a success rate of 5.8%... so far! Those five pods haven't made it to ripe yet!

We saw another plant on which all the flowers had shriveled beyond recognition. The stalks, on 6/10, were covered with black and ashy white residue, no flowers or pods survived… Besides predation by Mule Deer, then, these flowers face other threats, which sometimes get the better of them.

Here a pair of Ladybird Beetles patrol healthy buds, while nearby, another shoot faces a serious infestation of yellow aphids. Even the ants are rallying to the defense, and I believe the small white specks may be eggs of the ladybugs, soon to hatch into helpful larvae, devouring even more aphids. (Please click photo to enlarge those cute little aphids!)

As if that weren't enough, Book Lady tells me she encountered a spider eating a Yucca Moth on one plant. Could that be part of the pollination problem? Stay tuned, for the rest of the story...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Yuccas are Happy!

This is a great year for yuccas! Everyone seems to be commenting on how prolific and luscious the flowers are this year, and making comparisons to last year when few plants flowered and they were less obvious in the landscape. Back in mid-May, Bee Lady remarked on it first—when we saw this young stalk sprouting in Red Rocks with a thousand or three of its kin.

I took the rest of these photos in early June (6/3). Each stalk has many individual large waxy flowers, 40-50 on average, and many plants have more than one stalk, as shown in this typical healthy plant. That should mean LOTS of reproductive power. However, despite the efforts of the Yucca Moth, its dedicated pollinator, only a few fruits per stalk or plant will ripen to seed. One problem is, the flowers are tasty! While I didn’t pick any for salads, I noticed our Muley friend checking one afternoon to see if they were at peak flavor.

[*followup on 6/13/06 at Yuccas part 2]

*Blogger doesn't want to upload any more photos right now... will try again later.

Full Moon Rain Down!

So, we've established that the Yuccas seem to be having a good year. But they may be the only ones! I'm sorry to add, things are looking bleak for the rest of Nature around here. It is dry, dry, dry. Promises to be equal to-- hope not worse than-- the bad year of 2002, when rattlesnakes moved down out of the hills in search of prey, and water rationing was the rule of the day in most local jurisdictions.

Bee Lady reports from a park down south a ways that even the native Junipers are dying! We need rain... badly! On our walk a week ago, we noticed the native Delphinium leaves were dried to a crisp, without flowering. All that green promise I reported so optimistically a month or two ago is withering before our eyes.

With all this in mind, One Deep Breath wants us to talk about the Moon this Haiku Monday. Thunder clouds gathered yesterday afternoon, raising our hopes, and obscuring its face. I never got to see the Full Moon til after midnight. I will try to add a photo later, but for today, here is my hopeful, nay desperate, haiku for a rainy moon.

Thunder without Rain--
Is This Moon Full of Water?
Goddess, Let it Fall!

I wouldn't want to short anyone else, but from what I hear, points east have more water than they can handle. We could sure use a little.

Here's a favorite remembered haiku, by one of the Japanese masters I believe, that I reenacted all last night:
Nine times rising to see the Moon,
Whose silent pace
Marks only midnight yet.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Why Blog?

We’re all so busy… who has time for blogging? Evidently, a large number of us do, and we know it’s great. But how do you explain the fascination to someone who hasn't tried it, or doesn’t get it? Here’s my attempt, but I’ll look forward to hearing more ideas from the rest of you. (This post is for those to whom I’ve promised to send my list of interesting links.)

1. You like to write. Some of us can’t help writing. It’s a disease. It may even be infectious, because bloggers seem to inspire each other to write more. Before I joined the blog world, I would have thought writers (and even thinkers) were relatively rare. Now I know better—there are, just in my limited experience, dozens of amazing writers in the blog world. Thank you all!

2. You like to read. Some of us will read cereal boxes if there’s nothing else available. Reading blogs is a far better use of your time.

3. You don't like to write--or read.If you're not into writing, try lurking, being a blog voyeur of sorts. If you don't even like to read, try a photo-blog. Several good ones are listed at Tuesdays Photos.

4. You like people. You meet the nicest people online! Join—or create—a virtual network. Find one person whose blog you like, and let him/her lead you to other like-minded (but very different) individuals. I found a blog carnival, I and the Bird, and met some real birders and great people, like 10,000 Birds, Birdchick, Carel, Coturnix (who recently went pro-blogger), Nuthatch, and Dharma Bums. Endment found me from IATB, and introduced me to Cate the Bean Counter, Willow Grace, DebR, Tammy, Fran, and Susan and Jennifer (see Haiku Monday under #6), among her many fans.

5. You don’t like people, but you want to. The internet, like the world, like life, is filled with the good and bad, the ugly and the beautiful. It is, in short, whatever you choose to make it. If you’re selective, you will find something online that matches (or challenges!) your interests, your biases, your understanding. And helps you grow. Browsing blogs can restore your faith in people. Could probably destroy it too, but I’ve been focusing on uplifting arenas, and I’m charmed by what I find. Please note: Most of my blogging has been science-nature oriented, so you'll have to find your own way in other arenas. Art, culture, politics, crafts, parenting, celebrity, music, cooking, unimaginable diversity!

6. You’re bored. Need something to do? How about Sunday Scribblings, Haiku Monday, Tuesdays Photos, Poetry Thursday, Illustration Friday? That only leaves you Wednesdays and Saturdays to be bored, and a little browsing is likely to fix that as well. (Who could be bored?) Fun and games? Try a meme, like the letter B, or The ABCs of Me, or Wordplay.

7. You’re nosey. Blog-browsing is like eavesdropping on the lives of strangers. We can only learn so much from our one (current) lifetime, why not learn from the lives of others as well? Especially because we can learn things we will never personally experience. The more you learn, the more you blog—and you can share what you learn each week at Life’s Little Lessons.

8. You wish you could travel more. You can, even if you only have a few minutes, go anywhere in the blog world—free! Blogs hosted on often have a small “Next Blog” button at the top of the page. Click on it, and see where you end up! Can’t read Malaysian? Click again for another random page somewhere else in the world. Or use the “Search” feature to find blogs from Tasmania or Lapland. Remember, one nifty blog leads to many others (think Six Degrees of Separation). In 3 clicks, I think it was from I and the Bird, I discovered Baghdad Burning, an inside look at what’s really happening in Iraq that the newscasts aren’t telling us. We all should be reading this!

9. You want to escape reality. You could use the “Search” button again to find fantasies or science fiction worlds. But remember, someone else’s reality can also be your fantasy—see number 7.

10. You want to immerse yourself in reality. If you think your life is too boring, start a blog. Then you’ll have to find something interesting to do, just to blog about it!

11. You could use a little therapy. As someone said “I write to find out what I’m thinking.” Expressing yourself in a blog, as in a journal or a letter to a friend, can help you figure out what you’re about cheaper than—and probably faster than—conventional psychotherapy.

Okay, this has taken most of the morning, so breakfast will now have to be lunch. More links another time--this is more than enough to get you started!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

If the Lady's Slipper Fits...

We returned to the hidden site of the elusive Yellow Lady's Slipper today, not to be disappointed. She showed her face, and her cousin was likewise more visible than last week--two orchids for the price of a short walk in the woods. What more could a naturalist ask? (Perhaps better focusing? Sorry!)

For those who are keeping tabs, this is Cypripedium calceolus.

And her more abundant relative, the Spotted Coralroot, Corallorhiza maculata, left. (No, I didn't key it out, so please consider this a "most likely" approximation, the next most likely being a rarer species.)

Are we crazy, venturing abroad in search of the elusive Cypripedium? Let me offer this historical tidbit, at least 100 years old, I've no doubt. Enjoy this excerpt from a poem on the trials of field work by Henry Beers, Ye Laye of Ye Woodpeckore, in which the "Woodpeckore" and the "Pale Student" speak alternately:


O whither goest thou, pale student
Within the wood so fur?
Art on the chokesome cherry bent?
Dost seek the chestnut burr?

Pale Student:

O it is not for the mellow chestnut
That I so far am come,
Nor yet for puckery cherries, but
For Cypripedium.

[nigh on 11 verses omitted]

Full two long hours I've searched about
And 't would in sooth be rum,
If I should now go back without
The Cypripedium.

Farewell! Farewell! But this I tell
To thee, thou pale student,
Ere dews have fell, thou'lt rue it well
That woodward thou didst went:

[3 more omitted]

The wood-peck turned to whet her beak,
The student heard her drum,
As through the wood he went to seek
The Cypripedium.

[2 more skipped]

The mud was on his shoon, and O!
The briar was in his thumb,
His staff was in his hand but no--
No Cypripedium.


Nonsense? I think not! [Will provide the date, and a link to the full poem, as soon as I find it!]

Walking in Nature

Today, Foothills Fancies has an entry (actually, two) to One Deep Breath, recommended by Endment. One Deep Breath is looking for haiku on this week's theme: Walking in Nature. Thanks for sharing, Endment!

beside a dead log

springs new life, form, and color:

Indian paintbrush

rock ledge overgrown

with moss, bearberry, lichen:

lion's secret lair?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

What a Tease! Lady's Slipper Tempts

Our visit to a known location for Yellow Lady's Slipper on Thursday was a qualified success. First, because the headwaters of the Bear (above) were a delightful place to do field work, wouldn't you agree? (Don't forget to click on photos for a closer view if desired.)

Second, the Lady herself did put in an appearance, coyly peeking out from under her bangs, but she was not yet quite ready to reveal herself. We plan to go back Tuesday for a better view of her Ladyship's beauty. Once we reached the right bend in the trail, we scouted for a quarter hour or so before spotting this one flower, not quite open, and several more plants just getting started.

Tuesday we'll know exactly where to go, as several field signs now have the location distinctly registered visually. On a flat table behind a rock, we found a deer leg pointing the way. First one, then the other three. Just five feet from the flower, the final resting place, a pile of fur under a young Blue Spruce. Being of a naturalist bent, we quickly deduced we were exploring the vicinity of a Mountain Lion's dining room.

It's enough to make you glance nervously over your shoulder for the rest of the visit, and I did. Herp Pal, seemingly unperturbed, proceeded to demonstrate what it takes to get a good closeup of a flower in the field. Photos for this "inside look" at field tripping are below.

Who is the Lady so often cited in plant names? For more about her (or them), read on.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

To the Woods: Cypripedium

Herp Pal and I are off in search of the elusive Yellow Lady's Slipper orchid today. With any luck, we'll have an exciting post (with a photo! dare we hope?) for you tomorrow. Yes, I'm aware that orchids are not herps, but maybe we will return with photos of a scaly critter as well.

In the meantime, I've added an essay link from the Douglas-fir post of May 28th for your further exploration.