Saturday, April 10, 2021

Tough Bug!

April 6:  Mildred Knaipe County Park, Douglas County, Oregon

 The sun shines, its breezy, and a little cool. As I wander from one old apple tree to another I hear individual orchestras humming and buzzing.  Maple trees are also singing.  Honey bees are out in full force and seem extra active to keep up with the coolness of the day. 

Down by the pond Dale finds one lone damselfly and click beetle visiting an English daisy, but mostly it is pretty quite down here too.  


I see a little brown blob clinging to a section of dead, floating sedge – maybe a snail. When I was a little girl I had great success raising snails and I have a hankering to try it again.  Wet, squishy earth immediately soaks my knees as I kneel, grab a twig and pull the sedge towards me.   Dale has a conniption fit thinking I’m going to roll right into the pond.  I’ve already put my camera and pack down, so I’m willing to live dangerously.    


But it isn’t a snail.  It’s a tiny, bedraggled beetle hanging on for dear life!  Lucky for him this silly lady in tennis shoes came along; and lucky for me my pack has a small plastic bowl in which to temporarily corral him.  

It looks like a dung beetle, but not quite like one I’ve ever seen before.  It has horns and a humped back.  The little guy is smaller than the end of my little finger.  He settles into his temporary corral and sets to work cleaning and drying himself.  With my eyes I can’t see much, but I’ve got a close-up lens on my camera so I can enjoy watching his toilette while Dale and I both photograph.  


The ends of each arms has a delicate ‘tarsus,’  so tiny compared to the rest of his front leg.  He wipes and wipes.  Once done with his head …

his middle legs reach up and wipe down the middle of his body 

… and finally his hind legs wipe down his tail end.  

Beetles technically have two sets of wings:  The hard out covering is the elytra – the first set of wings.  Underneath lies folded a pair on thin, transparent wings.  The magic underneath the elytra never ceases to amaze me.  I’m hoping this little guy is cold enough and slow enough for me to actually see that second pair of wings …. But, Pop!  Just like popcorn.  He pops those wings open and off he goes, flying off to new places.  I’m left wishing he had stayed longer although I had a good fifteen minutes.  

This is a different kind of beetle, but Dale did catch this beetle just before launch.  See how the wings are unfolding.


Once we got home it took a couple of days to figure out just what kind of beetle I found – a bull-headed dung beetle, Onthophagus taurus.  …and once in a while I stumble upon some gems of information.  His ‘horns’ can vary considerably.  Some have horns that would make a Watusi bull proud.  He is prepared to do battle with other dung beetles in tunnels of dung.  Most important, this little beetle has been written up in as nearly strongest animal on earth for its size!  He can pull 1141 times his own weight!   That is equivalent to a man lifting two fully loaded 18 wheeler trucks.  To come up with this amazing statistic, someone tied a thread to a beetle’s back, pulled it through a pully and added a little bucket.  Drops of water where added to the bucket to see just how much the beetle could pull.  The beetle must have been given a rough surface to cling to.  I think about this and I imagine the beetle dangling from his thread and the bucket of droplets sitting on the ground.

If that indignity isn’t enough, it was a tiny mite that has been found to be even stronger.  

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Early Spring in Yellowstone

 I keep a very relaxed nature journal .... by that I mean some pages are careful, some are quick sketches, often I make a mess, and even more often I don't get my pages finished in a timely fashion.  The weather here has been dreary and yet spring is in the air.  What better way to enjoy it than by taking advantage of a couple wet days to finish these pages from April 2019.  

We arrived in Gardiner and found our cabin was locked!  The hosts were attending a wedding out of town and forgot to leave our cabin open or give a key to the neighbors. ... and I had just picked up about $200 of fresh groceries in Bozeman.  Much to our good fortune we are good friends with both next door cabin neighbors.  One filled his refrigerator with our groceries and the other got on the phone and found us a lovely spot five miles out of town.  That night it snowed ... and in the morning this magpie greeted us.  

Late the next day we got in our own cabin and the trip really began.  Here are my journal pages from the first week.  

Winter still lingers in Yellowstone in mid April  .. sometimes a lot of winter.  I grew up in snowy Wisconsin and look forward to a taste of winter when we arrive.
Redtailed hawks are forming their territories and sunny exposed locations have often lost their snow.

Spring came early in 2019 ... Blacktail Ponds had lots of open water.  Often it is still frozen.
These pen and ink sketches were finished on location.  The other pages were started on location, but I just added most of the paint.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Itty Bitty Critters


I’m hoping you’ll enjoy seeing what I do when the weather is sour and I want a dose of nature.  I’ve enjoying a whole new arena of wildlife.


I’ve been attending a zoom nature journaling conference ... one of the sessions was a ’Plankton Microscope Expedition.’  That got me thinking about my very nice microscope that has been gathering dust for over 20 years.  I traded a painting for it about 40 years ago and shared it with my young daughters until the electrical cord came out (no fault of theirs).  Dale tried to fix it, but my memory said it still didn’t work... would it light up?  


I plugged it in and had light for about two minutes ... just long enough to really wet my appetite.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  I soon found I could see very well using a LED flash light!  I can either shine the light down onto the slide, or up from underneath.


First I went to a soggy puddle in my backyard and found lots of tiny, tiny little specs of microscopic critters running in mad circles – like bumper cars at the county fair.  I think they are water fleas.  How do they get there?  In summer that dip in the lawn is bone dry, but during the soggy parts of winter the puddle is an obstacle on my way to my compost pile.  

Next I harvested a tuft of mosses and lichens off the bark on my honey locust tree.  It was easy to find a half inch grub, but what really amazed me was a tiny insect  -- 2 mm in length (3/32 of an inch).  Remember, adult insects don’t keep on growing.  This was an adult.  I could hardly see it.


I have a glass slide with a little scoop out where I can trap something so small.  I put a wafer of glass on top of the scoop out and trapped him long enough to look at him.  I wasn’t sure what it was until I saw two pairs of wings and fairly long antennae – definitely not a fly and probably a tiny wasp!  I penciled him looking through the microscope and after I released, it I painted a clone.  It was so small the wings don’t even have veins, just little speckles and a fringe of hairs.  

Next day I took my exploration even farther.  Drawing through the microscope is hard ... the little critters keep zipping out of my field of view.  I wanted to photograph my finds.  I actually found another wasp, trapped it on my slide again and started experimenting.  It’s hard.  I really need three hands:  one to push the slide around, one to focus the microscope, and one to hold my cell phone in position.  But it is possible!  I even have a transparent ruler I can put under on the slide and measure pretty accurately.  


I submitted my wasp to and verified it really is a wasp, probably Trichopria sp.  

This little cutie is a booklouse:  Reticulate-winged trogid – Lepinotus reticulatus.  He is just under one millimeter!

... and this is a slender springtail, Entomobrya katzi– all of 1.5 mm.  He created a flurry of e-mails on Bug Guide.  He is the first submission since a change in the scientific name.

... and a baby spider – about 1 mm.


What will I find next?

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Outside My Window

 I haven’t posted for ages.  I have at least two journal posts tucked up my sleeve about a little reservoir near here, but I haven’t taken the time to finish some of the art.  But it occurs to me I’ve been filling my journal with pages right from my front yard.  The positive part of being home so much, is I have an added appreciation of what goes on right here. 


Sept 21:  The insect sign on the oak leaves is a confession about how easily I can get distracted while doing yard work.  We were doing some extensive pruning in our yard and I kept noticing interesting insect sign on the oak branches I was cutting. 

Sept 30:  After most flowers have dried up and withered away, our ivy starts to blossom.  Years ago I sat on a stool and drew insects attracted to the ivy.  I did it again this year – far fewer insects.  I think that is wildfire smoke related.  


Oct 9. – I posted a blog about crows and squirrels.  I'm putting the link here because it is very much a part of what goes on outside my house.

After not having any wild turkeys in the yard, two toms have started coming through every day.  I’ve been making a point of sketching them ... practicing my sketching skills and getting to know them better.  Dale puts out grain on the ground for the sparrows and along come the toms to clean it up.  After they leave, Dale puts out more grain.  Here come the toms again!  We’ve named them ‘Thanksgiving’ and ‘Christmas’  ... but have given them the obligatory pardon.

Nov 23:  The Stellar’s jays are a treat.  They are still coming.  I just spotted one while working on this blog.  

Dec 19:  Usually Dale and I participate in the annual Audubon Christmas count.  I helped on my first count about 65 years ago!  And during the past 40 years I only missed one.  This year, for the first time. All we did was a ‘feeder count’ – we happen to live within the count circle, so I got to count the birds we can see in our yard.  

Dec 25:  Christmas morning was rainy and dark ... but right away I spotted an Anna’s hummingbird taking a shower on our hawthorn snag.  It was 41 degrees outside!  It was a lovely way to start our quiet Christmas day at home.  


Yes, there is a lot that goes on in my own small turf.  

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Time for a Breath of Fresh Air

Note:  Brown type indicates transcriptions of my journal notes with very slight editing ...

Sept. 19:  Two night ago I tried to grab the colors of rain clouds and the setting sun ... fresh vibrant color, not smothered in a smoke screen.  Today a turkey vulture soared against blue sky -- music for my soul.  The Oregon fires aren't over yet, but they have quieted and everyday the news is better.  We even had some rain. 

When I blogged on October 8 I had an advanced case of cabin fever.  Wildfire smoke had kept us home for over a month.  We had brief stretches with decent air quality when the air moved in from the Pacific, but to the north, south, and west wildfires still kept us smoky.    

Cool, damp and a light haze of smoke hangs in Cooper Creek’s canyon.  Long rays of sun slip through tall firs as the sun slips over the far ridge


Real relief finally came October 15 – our first day back out sniffing the breezes and seeing what nature had to offer us.  As you can see from my sketchbook painting, some smoke still hung in the air, but in a tolerable amount.  It actually was quite beautiful. 

There is a stillness in the air and the quiet of a warm fall day waiting for fall’s bluster.  Tall dry grasses and dried Queen Anne’s lace sparkle with shimmering strands of spider silk.  Strands float past, slow and easy, drifting on the barely moving air.


Sounds come individually with pauses inbetween – a noisy fly ... one fish rising .... far, far off a woodpecker pounding  ... a California quail.  Mostly stillness.  Sitting here on the bank of the pond feels so ­good


The next day found us out exploring nearby turf again.  We spent the afternoon at nearby Mildred Knaipe County Park.  It was a lovely fall day tucked between the heat of summer and the wetness of our Oregon winter.  I could sit on the ground and enjoy every moment.

While I’m sketching Dale stalking dragonflies, one lands near me – a striped meadowhawk.  Sitting on the ground I’m at eye level with the hundreds of strands of gossamer, floating eye level in the barely moving air, each shimmering, backlit by the sun.


I confess my next page was drawn after I got home.  I was still hanging onto the flavor of the day.  I photographed the hawthorn knowing I wanted to draw it at home, and the fawn is drawn from the photo Dale took when the fawn paused to watch me.

We were just passing the machinery shed, heading for what is left of Mildred’s old apple orchard, when a doe came by on the other side of the shed.  She, too, was heading for the orchard.  Her fawn trailed her, paused with uncertainty, watching me.


Big treat on the way home!  Just a glimpse – stubby tail / pointed ears .... a young bobcat scampered across the road.  It’s usually 2-3 years between sightings, and all too often sighting are as brief as this.


I’m sure our day at Mildred Knaipe County Park felt especially good because we had been cooped up for so long.  Little did I realize it was just the beginning of a lovely run of getting outside.  Two days later we were at a different park, one to which we returned for 18 days in a row!  More on that in the next blog.


Friday, October 30, 2020

Spiders, Spiders, Spiders


It is Halloween ... a good time to share some spiders with you.  This is a collection of my spider art with comments about the spiders.  

Jumping spider

I must confess, I am just a little squeamish about spiders.  If one surprises me, I’m a ditz and may let out a little yelp.  That said, they are fascinating little creatures and I’m even up to inviting my favorites, the jumping spiders, to hop aboard me, for my closer inspection.  Jumpers are so cool – great big ‘head lights, i.e. four eyes facing forward and more tucked back farther.  Their eyes are so shiny, I sometimes see my reflection in them.  That dark spot in the center of the jumper's eyes is my head reflected in her eyes.  


The little sweeties stalk their prey.  No fancy orb for them, but rather a bungee cord.  When watching one hunting on huckleberry, he jumped from one leaf to another, but always had a safety line behind him.  Should he miss his next landing, he just dangles, eats his line as he shortens it, and soon is back in a safe place.  Should I disturb one on a telephone several feet off the ground, he may take a flying leap.  Close watching shows he has his bungee cord out and he’ll land somewhere farther down the pole.  

Crab Spider

Crab spiders are another spider who don’t need to bother with an orb.  They like to sit quietly and grab with their extra long front legs.  My favorite time for looking for crab spiders is when Shasta daisies are in full bloom.  The spiders often tie half the petals together, thus creating a shady place to quietly wait.  They’ll even nab bumble bees!  This one is looking at a small bupresid beetle.  

Wolf Spider

Little black wolf spiders are awfully common around here, but they come in bigger species too.  Many wolf spiders skitter around on the ground and pounce on their prey; others hide in burrows, ready to ambush their prey.  They have a behavior I find fascinating.  The female wraps her eggs in a tidy, silken bundle and carries it with her while her eggs ready for hatching – as seen in my sketch.  Once the babies hatch, she carries them on her back until they are old enough to fend for themselves! 

European Cross Spider

Orb weavers weave the traditional orb, usually a small orb for small spiders and bigger ones as they grow.  One summer I spend an inordinate amount of time watching an orb weaver, a European cross spider, on my deck.  She was so fascinating I wrote a series of four blogs about her life ... and mine (

The 'Halloween spider' at the beginning of this blog, is another orb weaver, a black and yellow Argiope.  They are the biggest spiders I find around here ... and noted for the zig zag webbing in the center line of their orb.  There is a variety of opinions as to why they add the zig zag; does it stabilize the web?  Does it keep birds from flying into the web?

Banded Argiope

This summer I finally found my first Banded Argiope – same genus as the black and yellow Argiope.  I’ve known for years they are in the area, but it took me forever to find one.  She also had the zig zag in her web.  I’m pretty sure this is a relatively young banded Argiope.  Many of the online photos are much plumper.  


At first I didn’t realize these beautiful spiders are also orb weavers.  I spotted a messy cone with lots of little guy lines.  When I looked for the spider I found her tucked inside the little cone.  Only after I read about Metepeira did I realize she is also an orb weaver.  When I went back I looked carefully and found a delicate orb off to the side.  Just a couple of weeks ago I found another.  This time she was resting on the outside of her cone and it appeared the cone was closed off.  I suspect her egg sac is tucked safely inside.  For more about this little treasure go to this blog of mine:


My last ‘spider’ isn’t a spider at all, but many of us assume they are.  Spiders are all arachnids and differ from harvestmen because their thorax is separated from their abdomen.  Spiders usually have 3 or 4 pairs of eyes.  If you look carefully at a harvestman, you’ll see their thorax and abdomen are fused into one unit and riding on top is one pair of eyes!  Sometimes we call harvestmen ‘daddy long legs’ because they are so leggy!  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Nature Comes to Me

 Note:  You don’t need to bust your eyes out trying to read my handwriting on the journal pages.  My text here is a slightly expanded and edited version.  


Oct. 7.... I was pretty bummed when I saw the air quality this morning.  We’ve had day after day of light smoke and promises of clean air coming.  So far, when we do get a day of decent (not too smoky air) there always are chores to do in the yard or an appointment.  Usually we are out and about at least three days a week.  We haven’t taken a wildlife photo since Aug 31!  


The air was supposed to be good by last Sunday .. Monday ... Tuesday ... now it’s Wednesday and the air quality is getting worse.  I felt a little like a boil ready to pop if I didn’t get out into nature.  


But then nature came to me!  We’ve had a family of crows in the neighborhood all spring and summer.  I see them out my front window many mornings.  I’ve nicknamed them the ‘Bad Boys’.  I like the crows, but named them that way because one of my neighbors wishes they would disappear. She has a legitimate beef.  Last year she watched them raid a bird’s nest.   


I enjoyed listening to them beg when they were nestlings and now we watch the raucous bunch swoop in and inspect one area after another.  Lately their focus has been on harvesting walnuts. Until this fall, I wasn’t aware of a small walnut tree in the next block.  I looked for it when the crows started dropping nuts on the asphalt and was surprised to find I can see the top of the tree from my couch!  


I decided to brave a little smoke and go outside to sketch the Bad Boys.  The crows were most cooperative.  I could see how easily they rip the green nuts off the tree, and how easily the green husk pops off then the nut is dropped.  Once the husk is off, the nut looks like the unshelled nut you and I buy in the grocery store; but now the crow needs to get that hard shell off.  Sometime the crow drops it onto the asphalt again; sometimes he flies to the top of a telephone pole and pounds away.  He may pound for 2-3 minutes before making any progress and another 5 minutes to harvest the yummy nutmeat inside.  


I watched one crow wait patiently for another to finish his nut and then the glean was little was left up there.  Another crow just flies in and steals without much of an argument.  He must be ‘top dog.’

While watching I had another treat in store. Our local grey squirrel was also making trips to the walnut tree, and racing back with one nut at a time. He is a fussy inspector, but eventually picks a spot to bury his nut.  Our neighbors across the street are in the process of extensive landscaping.  I think they are going to have a few walnut trees they didn’t plan on.  


I started my crow sketches outside, but finished up inside.  The squirrel was a constent motion machine so we took photos of him for me to sketch from.  After a mix of being outside and finishing sketches inside, I had a good taste of nature.  I felt ‘centered’ again.