Saturday, May 24, 2014

Going Buggy

* * *

I got to the gate a little before 7 a.m. and was surprised to see the sun already shining on the "Mount Tamalpais State Park" sign. I mentioned to the ranger who came to unlock the gate how weird that seemed since it was still so dark at this time of day just a few months ago, and she agreed, saying she feels like she's running late when it's this light out.

I was the first car through the gate and stopped to check out this vista point. I photographed a gorgeous post-7a.m. sunrise from here not that long ago.

By 7 a.m. these days the good light is almost over already. Almost.

I was a little disappointed to find it so windy on the mountain, but at least I'd left the cold and fog back in San Francisco. I was surprised to see how tall the grass has gotten in the meadow at Rock Spring, so I took a picture. 

I had the whole place to myself, and I enjoyed just poking around at a leisurely pace. In fact, I stopped so often and for so long that "pace" is probably not the right word for what I was doing. 

I tried not to be creeped out by finding European earwigs (etymology) in the mule ears blossoms. I suppose that old Night Gallery episode is responsible for some of the cringiness of them. They're actually kind of cute when they're just lounging around and eating nectar or pollen or whatever. It's only when they "scuttle" that they seem creepy, especially if they're scuttling toward you.

According to Powell and Hogue, this is the most abundant species in California, but it wasn't known in the state until 1923. It's interesting to think of the first earwigs coming over to California in some very specific location(s), then spreading out over much of the state. They are omnivorous, feeding on plants as well as dead and living insects, including aphids. When these guys realized they were being watched, they scuttled to the underside of the flower, returning topside when the coast seemed clear. Almost every mule ear blossom in this part of the meadow had a resident earwig.

There were many more species of grass in the meadow than I would ever have the patience or skill to identify, and you've got to hand it to the grasses for finding so many ways to express themselves.

The tiny beetle climbed up the grass stalk and flew away.

A little farther down the trail I spotted my first foxglove flowers of the season, though I've been watching the plants come up for a few weeks.

Here, a beetle forages on a cluster of blue dicks. Apparently you can know by the wing coloration of this species that this particular beetle is female. It's common name is dimorphic flower longhorn beetle.

I finally found a spot that was protected from the wind, allowing me to run the only focus stack of the morning on this checker bloom with a frothy mass of spittlebug larvae attached. 

On a much more "mature" checker bloom blossom I found this other species of flower longhorn beetle. I see this beetle every year and know it must be very common, but it's not covered in Powell & Hogue.

I guess it was just last week when Pam and I were hiking farther down the mountain that I couldn't recall if I'd ever actually seen one of these clicking critters. You hear them in the trees all around, but if you try to walk over toward the tick-tick-tick sound, it abruptly stops before you can zero in on it. I spotted this one because it was fluttering around on the ground next to the trail. It eventually climbed up onto this grass stalk where it was kind enough to allow me to photograph it at my leisure. 

To give you an idea how small these woodland cicadas are, my macro lens was set a 1:1 ratio in this shot, which is shown full-frame. Their genus, Platypedia, would appear to mean "flatfooted," which does not seem like their most obvious trait, if you ask me. There are 18 species in the genus in California, mostly in the northern half of the state.

I didn't go far down the trail before I turned around and headed back to the Jeep. I stopped along a drying-out seasonal streambed to look for snakes, but only found these witch's teeth.

I didn't find a snake until I almost ran over this sunbathing gopher snake. I didn't see him in time to stop, but I was at least able to drive over him without running him over. I parked just up the road and returned to snap this picture with the 50mm, then I nudged the snake so he'd slither off the road and into cover. As soon as I touched him, he reared up as if to strike, then hissed at me and slithered into the grass. Once he was all the way in the grass, he hissed again even louder for good measure.

I drove out along the road a ways to look for more snakes sunning themselves, but didn't see any more until the return trip. This small, baby rattlesnake was in the middle of the returning lane and had not been as lucky as the gopher snake. This little guy had to have been killed only a short time before I saw him since he hadn't been there when I first drove by.

I set him on this rock to get a better look at him, but the Jeep was idling in the middle of the road, so I made a quick snap and got moving again.

When I got home I found the latest ("final"?) version of my Mt. Tam book, which includes many of the D800E images I shot during the year of this blog. I got it with Blurb's highest quality papers, and it cost just over $200 with tax and shipping. You wouldn't want to spend that much on something for yourself -- but if you're lucky, maybe you'll get one as a gift. 

* * *