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 www.Bugguide.net 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.

https://elvafieldnotes.blogspot.com/2020/10/nature-comes-to-me.html


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 (http://elvafieldnotes.blogspot.com/2014/02/henrietta-part-i.htmal).


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.  

Meterpeira

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: http://elvafieldnotes.blogspot.com/2020/05/space-aliens.html.


Harvestman

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.



Friday, September 25, 2020

Summer Sketches


 Here is a series of sketches I painted over the past summer.  The first, the full moon, mentions smoke but it was smoke coming all the way from Siberia!  They must have also have had a bad fire season.  Our fires have stopped growing.  We’ve had enough rain greatly reduce the threat, but they won’t be totally out until more fall rains come.   At least for now and our air quality has been wonderful and I doubt many more Oregon acres will burn this season.  California is still too dry.


The next three little paintings were painted while watching the osprey nest (I blogged about the osprey several times).  This is the farm house to the south.  


Orange Sulphur butteries are as bright and sunny as a summer day. They didn’t make an appearance until our osprey nestling had nearly fledged.  




The unexpected is often as interesting as the expected.  On Aug 19 we were quietly waiting for an adult osprey to return to the nest when this little family of California Quail scurried across the road.  During all our sitting we’d heard them a few times but only had one good look.  Members of the grouse family are unusual in that even at this tiny size they can fly.  Most birds are nearly full grown before taking to the air. 


Grasses turn gold by the end of June in Oregon and stay golden until the fall rains come.  These swallows there zooming low over the tall grasses, catching bugs.  


... and finally here is one of my favorite flower combinations:  Queen Anne’s Lace and chickory – also painted at the osprey nest. I knew both were there, but when I went to paint them, I couldn’t find the chickory.  Much to my surprise I discovered chickery close their blossoms in the early afternoon.  Next morning they are open bright and early.  

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Wildfire Update: September 16

 

I hadn’t planned on blogging about the wildfires near me in western Oregon – I like to think my blog is a pleasant place where readers get a whiff of nature; but now that things are improving, I’m motivated. I won’t dwell on the misery, instead I want to focus on a few observations … a different focus other than our media coverage.  Other than a brief introduction, I don’t need to repeat information readily available on the news.  

 

The fires started September 8.   Very unusual winds came from the east, bringing hot, dry air from the high desert.  The dry winds slipped over the Cascade Mountains and suddenly we had several large fires in the Cascades.  Our Governor Brown says in 72 hours 900,000 acres of Oregon burned.  Our yearly average is only 500,000.  National news made the mistake of saying 500,000 people were evacuated.  Actually the number is around 40,000 and the rest were put on alert.  

My journal page pretty much says what happened from my perspective:  

Today was supposed to be just another hot day … too hot to go ‘bugging’ (we photograph insects a lot).  I had just started eating lunch when I noticed a dark cloud hugging the western horizon.  With a sinking heart I knew it was wildfire. 

A big, thick pancake of smoke eased over all of Roseburg.  I got on the internet and found three fresh fires.  Not only that, but Lane County to the north is erupting and Insterstate 5 has had to close south of us.”  

 

At 3:50 PM I couldn’t even take a picture with my camera set on automatic.  I had to set manually.  I turned the lights off in the living room and couldn’t read.   Really hot weather was predicted.  I worried. Is it going to be like sitting in a hot car.  Just how hot we would get with all our windows closed up tight?  We don’t have air conditioning.  I assumed we fry.  Big surprise.  The heavy smoke shielded us from the sun.  Instead of roasting, on two of the days we turned the furnace on!  Plus, the air quality in the house stayed pretty good.

 

Even though we have felt reasonably safe from the fires, I feel a little as though we have been thrown into a COVID-19 quarantine – only with bad air.  Other than quick trips to the mail box and to wet down some shrubbery we have stayed indoors … nine days of indoors and we’ll probably have more as the wind shifts back and forth. My planned grocery trip was for a week ago.  We’ve held off, not wanting to stand around the parking lot waiting for the wonderful store near us to bring our groceries out.  I look forward to finally placing an order tomorrow.  

 

Meanwhile its tinder dry around here. Two years ago we took ‘defensible space’ seriously and took 70 cans full of blackberries and brush to the mulcher.  Even though we already have done a pretty good job of removing burnable vegetation from around the house, Dale decided to wet down whatever is near the house.  He fooled the termites!   Usually a big emergence happens when the fall rains come, but, all of a sudden, the yard was full of flying termites.  They had a horrid surprise when they emerged – bone dry and smoky.

Stellar's Jay -- taken up in the mountains

Most insects disappear when it gets smoky – that’s why bee keepers use smoke to calm their bees. Meanwhile our bird feeder birds seem to be gobbling down our offerings.  Perhaps there are getting fewer insects than usual and eager for our food.  We even had a Stellar’s jay in the yard today.  I think that is the first one in all the thirty plus years we have lived here.  They are common in the mountains and wooded areas, but not in town.  He probably is wandering about looking for a new home. 

 

At noon today (Wednesday, Sept 16) we saw a change coming.  The air quality finally dropped out of ‘hazardous’.  When I painted the red sun midday (at the top of this blog), I was already excited. The local internet was full of friends heaving a sigh of relief.   Then, late Wednesday, did you hear a big cheer coming from Roseburg?  Oh my gosh!  Our air quality actually dropped from hazardous to green in about eight hours thanks to a shift in the winds.  Emotionally it feels as if the fires are under control. They aren’t, and won’t be for weeks, but they are slowed way down  … and what did I do?  I grabbed my vacuum cleaner and started vacuuming.   After the news telling me not to vacuum for days, I figured I finally had a window of opportunity.  I never knew I was that domestic.

 

My last observation also reflects on my domesticity.  We’ve been running an air filter in our dining room.  It sucks in air and whooshes it up and away – up towards the ceiling.  I had no idea I had so many cobwebs up there.  They all got dusted with tiny particles and now I can see them.  Guess I know what I’ll be doing tomorrow.  


... and just to make you smile, here is a little barn owlet.