Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gone Fishing

I am so busy!  Good busy, but busy!  I've got oodles of raw notes, photos, sketches, sketch ideas and just can't find the time to post because we are so busy learning a lot of new insects, picking blackberries, writing more raw notes, etc.  

And I've got a couple of projects going for which I feel a big commitment, plus I get frustrated when I can't find any time to paint or finish a sketch.

Soooooo ...... I'm not going to worry about blogging for awhile.  I suspect it will be sometime during our rainy season (Nov - March) before I fire up again.

So, for those of you who aren't familiar with American slang, "Gone Fishing" is just an expression for taking off .... sometimes quite literally to go fishing, sometimes to just go do something you want to do.

I hope you'll look forward to my coming back.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Prickly Subject: Blackberries

Douglas Co., Oregon, USA

Blackberries are a royal cane .... or is it a royal pain?  I have a long, ongoing love hate affair with blackberries. Where I live is blackberry heaven / hell.  

In the late 1800s two varieties of blackberries were introduced into Oregon for their fruit.   One has sharply serrated leaves, tends to grow close to the ground, and knows its place.  The other, the Himalayan blackberry, took off on a wild stampede and soon was common throughout much of western Oregon.  Most of us have forgotten there is a quiet native blackberry and that there was once life without the Himalayan blackberry.

Untended field often look like unruly black berry farms.  Great big clumps of Himalayan blackberrries start as little clumps and soon there are island of blackberries all over;  Plus they love fence lines, disturbed soil along roadsides, and my backyard.  

Many years ago birds probably pooped the starter seeds into my yard.  It was about the time the garden had become too much for me to handle by myself ... and so I nurtured the patch in its place. I actually encouraged them, even watered them during the dry summer months.  Then, about five years ago, it dawned on me I had unleashed a monster in my backyard. My neighbors might not like the big canes reaching through the fence and doing their best to invade their backyard too.  

Since then I try to maintain a modicum of control over my blackberries.  Two or three times a year I trim them, making sure there is about a five foot blackberry free zone before our property line, and I nip and snip the unwelcome volunteers that pop up all over.  Of course my tidyness doesn’t last long.  Blackberry seem to be stimulated by a good pruning.  We even hired a friend to attack our patch with his chain saw, drastically cutting it back along the edge that faced our backyard.  When we left for Yellowstone I was sure that was the end of blackberries for this summer.  BUT, the blackberries loved it.  By the time we got home the butchered edge was a solid wall of blooms.  
Blooms are good, it was the great big canes rearing up out of the middle of the patch that worried me.  Blackberry can spread by seeds, by roots and by sending out huge canes which reach beyond the outer edge of the patch until they touch ground ... and then put down roots.  True to my goal of keeping my patch within controllable limits I set about cutting all the monster canes, all but one.  I was nearing the end of my project when I got to wondering, “Just how fast do they grow?”  I tied little twisties onto my remaining cane and sat down on a bucket to sketch it.  

Three days after marking and sketching the blackberry cane I went out to measure -- it had grown six inches!  No wonder I have trouble keeping up with them!  

On day six I went out to measure again. My experiment had been nipped off!   Fresh deer droppings suggest one of our nighttime deer is the guilty culprit.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Diamond Lake Parking Lot

Umpqua National Forest, Oregon, USA

Diamond Lake is one of Oregon’s gems for outdoor recreating:  fishing, bicycling, hiking, camping, plus it is just a few miles from Crater Lake National Park.  Three of the last 5 days we’ve driven 180 miles round trip to spend the day at Diamond Lake.  But we don’t act like normal visitors.  We’ve spent hour after hour either on the edge of a parking lot or within 200 yards of it.  Cyclists flow past, children wade along the sandy shoreline;  we can see a small fleet of anglers.  We picked one of the hottest spots on a hot day to photograph insects ... and were so busy I didn’t even get any time to draw.  I promise myself, ‘next time I’ll spend a little time sketching.’  Meanwhile, between the two of us, we took about a thousand images to wade through need to delete 80% of them.  

Here are some of our treasures from our long days at Diamond Lake.....

This surprise came early.  I hopped out and spotted what I thought might me an odd wasp.  I called to Dale but he didn’t get there soon enough.  Fortunately I had taken several shots.  After we got home I pawed through our insect books... not a wasp ... not a fly.  Finally I realized it is a clear-winged moth.  Hummingbird moths are a classic examples of a clear-winged moth, but I’d never seen anything like this one.  Most clear-winged moths live in the tropics.  This one is quite likely a ‘fireweed clear-wing moth’ (Albuna pyrdamidalis).   On day three we both briefly spotted it again, this time near the fireweed patch.  

It was combination of the seeing the clear-winged moth and wanting more time watching aphids that took us back to the parking lot for two more days.  Large carpenter-like ants had several little aphid colonies on a lone thistle plant. Dale spent hours just concentrating on their activity.  

There was a lot of traditional behavior, i.e. ants protect the aphids and in return they eat the sweet juice the aphids excrete.  The ants also appeared to keep the area tidy by removing exoskeletons the aphids shed as they grow. The ants tolerated some ants, probably members of their own colony, and violently attacked others.  

On the second day I was excited to see that lots of damselflies were emerging.  Very new bluets are tan and initially their flight is weak.   I soon found a damselfly nymph that had just walked out of the lake.  It was still wet and looking for a place to settle onto, where it would let its exoskeleton crack open and then the damsel would emerge.  I thought to my self, “Oh goodie, I get to finally see a damselfly emerge.’  I’ve watched dragonflies, but not damselflies.  But then I realized ants were playing havoc on the damsels that were emerging at this time of day.  My little damsel was soon attacked too.  Bummer.

This big, black long horned beetle is probably a pine sawyer (Monochamus scutellatus).  He inadvertently gave us a good laugh.  We had our good friend Eleanor with us on our second day at Diamond Lake.  During our lunch-break the beetle landed on the car next to us.  I quickly put down my nice tuna fish sandwich and grabbed my camera.  Eleanor grabbed her camera too.  Once he flew off I went back to my lunch ... I pawed through the back seat where I’d been sitting .... looked under ever shirt, hat, sketchbook, ......  No sandwich.  Finally I looked farther afield.  There was Eleanor leaning against a sunny boulder and munching on something that looked suspiciously like my sandwich!  She had inadvertently picked it up. Unfortunately she had eaten most of her own sandwich too!  Hummus, nuts and chips for me.  

Dragonflies and damsel flies have an unusual posture when breeding.  This Great Basin snaketail (dragonfly) is a good example.  First the male transfers his sperm to a little pocket on the underside of his thorax.  He then grabs the neck of a female with the tip of his abdomen and she swings the tip of her abdomen around to receive the sperm now stored in the sperm pocket.  This posture is called a ‘copulation wheel.’  Our parking lot is the best place I know to find Great Basin snaketails.  

It wasn’t bugs all the time.  The first day I looked and listened for spotted sandpipers near the shoreline and was disappointed.  All was quiet.  But the second day I heard the tell-tale calls of an adult and caught glimpses of tiny, fuzzy ‘teeter-bobs’ scurrying along the shoreline.  Both adults and chicks teeter frequently.  

Spotted sandpipers are one of those unusual birds where the male is usually the primary caregiver.  According to Cornell Lab’s Birds of North American Online, some females mate with up to 4 males, each of which cares for a clutch.  In other areas some pairs are more traditional with both adults caring for the young.  I looked carefully for a second adult, but suspect this is a clutch were Papa is in charge.