Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Five Things Meme

Ted from Beetles in the Bush tagged me with a meme. It's been quite a while since I've done one, so what the heck.

5 things I was doing 10 years ago:
  • Designing exhibits for the soon to open Nature Museum
  • Making my first attempts at breeding butterflies in the laboratory
  • Attending my first ever Invertebrates in Captivity Conference in Arizona
  • Refinancing my mortgage and going from sole to joint homeowner
  • Loving my job for the first time in my life
5 things on my to do-list today:
  • Take cats to vet for rabies vaccines - check
  • Go to the bank to make a deposit - check
  • Write Sarah's letter of recommendation
  • Laundry
  • Put up outside Christmas lights
5 snacks I love:
  • Ruffles potato chips
  • Caramello
  • Northern Spy apples
  • Mixed salted nuts
  • Oreos
5 things I would do if I was a millionaire:
  • Build home on Olympic Penninsula property
  • Purchase property in southeast Arizona
  • Pay off remaining debt from cost of building Museum
  • Contributions to Friends of Bluff Spring Fen, Conservation Foundation
  • Spend an entire year collecting insects at exotic locales around the world
5 places I've lived:
  • Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts (childhood)
  • Waterville, Maine (undergraduate)
  • Evanston, Illinois (grad school)
  • Des Plaines, Illinois (starting work)
  • Elgin, Illinois (home ownership)
5 jobs I've had:
  • Stockboy (3 mos)
  • Machine Operator (stamp press and injection mold) (6 mos)
  • Research Assistant (5 yrs)
  • Research Scientist (13 yrs)
  • Curator of Biology (11 yrs)


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Skywatch: Sunrise, Sunset, Moonset

Alpenglow at sunrise on Mt. San Jancinto
Palm Springs, CA - 19 Nov 08

Sunset, Mt. San Jacinto
Palm Springs, CA - 22 Nov 08

Moonset, Mt. San Jacinto
Palm Springs, CA - 17 Nov 08

For more Skywatch, visit Tom and Company.

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Freedom from Want

The Norman Rockwell grandmother wasn't available. Leon is the next best thing. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lost Horse Mine

On Tuesday, we headed on up to Joshua Tree National Park. It's a fairly traditional part of our autumn pilgrimage to the California desert. This year we would retrace steps we first took about four years ago and hike up to Lost Horse Mine.

Western pygmy blue nectars in a globe mallow near Keys View

Before hitting the trail, we drove over to Keys View, a splendid overlook of the Salton Sea and Coachella Valley. In the far distance, Signal Mountain in Mexico can be sween through the haze (sadly, the air pollution was much in evidence from the view). One of the things that I enjoy about Keys view, is that you are standing on the exrtme southern edge of the Mojave Desert, looking out over the Colorado Desert, which is part of the Sonoran Desert.

Keys View

Lost Horse Mine Trail
The hike up to Lost Horse Mine passes through beautiful high desert, with lots of Joshua trees, juniper, and yucca. There is some elevation gain and about two miles to the remains of the mine. The remains of the mine include a lot of heavy equipment and a stamp mill. The interesting archaeology made me think of Homer as we explored the ruins.

The stamp mill at Lost Horse Mine

Rock outcropping along the trail

We decided to do the entire 6 1/2 mile loop on this visit, and were treated to views of the valley stat is home to the park's geological auto tour. As is often the case on these hikes, we had to hustle to get back to the car by sundown. We wound our way through Joshua trees glowing in the late afternoon light as we finished our excursion.

Headstander beetle (Eleodes sp.) sez "hurry up if you want to get back to the car before dark"

Late afternoon light on the Joshua trees

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Joshua Tree Deconstruction


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Painted Canyon

Entrance to Painted Canyon

On the east side of the Coachella Valley runs the San Andreas fault and the Mecca Hills. The hills are dissected by a maze of medium size to tiny canyons. Painted canyon was today's

Before venturing into the Mecca hills, we made a brief detour to the east shore of the Salton Sea. My goal was to see some new species of tiger beetles. I was concerned, because the guide lists most of the local species as finishing their flight times in October. So it's not surprising that I saw none. Fortunately, the bird life was worth the visit.

East Shore of the Salton Sea

Black-necked Stilts

White Pelicans were abundant in the shallows

The first partof the Painted Canyon loop takes you through Ladder Canyon. Ladder Canyon is a narrow but deep slot canyon. The name comes from a series of ladders that have been placed in the canyon to allow hikers to negotiate several dry waterfalls in the canyon. This is not an exercise for the claustrophobic.

Leon on one of the ladders

In a narrow section of Ladder Canyon
This photo only works with somebody in it to show the scale

Looking up from Ladder Canyon, the sky is a narrow ribbon of blue far above you.

The canyon first closes in on you. At it's narrowest, I was unable to hold my butterfly net horizontally because the caynon walls were too close together. Gradually the walls become lower and further apart. Eventually, the trail emerges onto the stark, parched canyon rim.

Shadow self-portrait on the canyon rim

Beavertail Cactus

The trail winds along the rim of painted canyon for a way, then drops into the canyon itself. Painted Canyon is said to be named for the brigthly colored rock formations in the canyon walls. I found the colors to be brighter and more varied on our hike in Parallel Red Canyon two years ago. But it's still beautiful. In several places, white quartz fills myriad cracks in nearly black rocks, making them look as though they had been spattered with paint. Perhaps this is the real source of the canyon's name.

In Painted Canyon

Rocks and vegetation on the canyon floor

White quartz in a black rock gives it a painted appearance

We saw few insects on this hike. The grasshopper Trimerotropis pallidipennis posed nicely- but as a very abundant western species it was not terribly exciting. The sunset over the Santa Rosa Mountains and the Salton Sea was.

Trimerotropis pallidipennis

Salton Sunset

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Palm Springs Sunday Morning

Greetings from Sunny (and warm) Palm Springs. We got in about noon time yesterday. Even though our flight was on time, we didn't have checked luggage and Palm Springs City Hall is mere steps from the airport, we did not arrive in time to attend the anti-Proposition 8 rally yesterday. Thanks to all my readers who did turn out in their home cities.

So far, we've done little beyond hanging out by the pool. We had dinner with our friend Steve from Los Angeles last night. This morning, our hosts wanted to make sure that I got to see the caterpillars devouring their passion vine.

Caterpillar on Passion Vine

They're gulf fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), and there are caterpillars all over the vines. Dozens of adults are flitting through the yard here. I caught one that had just emerged from its chrysalis. Today's vocabluary word is exuvium, the empty husk of a chrysalis that a butterfly has emerged from.

A freshly-emerged gulf fritillary sits on it's exuvium.

There were numerous chrysalides from which adults had not yet emerged, too.

Gulf Fritillary Chrysalis

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Radio Silence

I've been really slow about blogging, reading blogs, and commenting this week. It's been the week before vacation, so I've been getting things together before going out of town. I'm in the airport about to fly to Palm Springs right now. Expect a week of blogging about hikes in the desert, with interesting flora and fauna and (I hope) a really kickass Skywatch next Friday. I hope we land in time to zip over to City Hall this afternoon and participate in the end of the anti-Proposition 8 protest.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Harvester - Feniseca tarquinius
Photo by Tom Poklen

Two postings on other blogs today reminded me of a nice photo from last summer. Over at Gallicissa, Amila has a nice photo of an Apefly, a Sri Lankan relative of the Harvester. Coincidentally, over at Niches, Wayne has a post in which he mentions the vegan propensities of butterflies and moths- they are vegetarians at all of their life stages.

The Harvester is a great illustration of carnivorous tendencies in butterflies. They are one of the few species that doesn't have a host plant. Like the Apefly, their caterpillars are insectivores and feed on mealy bugs and wooly aphids. There are other examples of non-veganism as well. Some of my favorites include Hawaiian inchworms in the genus Eupithecia, which are insectivores, and noctuid moths in the genus Calyptra. They are sometimes called vampire moths, because their proboscis is modified to pierce mammalian skin, and the adults feed on blood. Happy belated Halloween. There are also a bunch of moths that feed on lachrymal secretions of mammals. Like some humans, they are vegetarians without being vegans.

But back to the Harvester. They live in the eastern US, but I have never found them common. The one pictured is only the fourth or fifth one I've ever seen. It was found during this past summer's Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Workshop in DuPage County. Unfortunately, I was so preoccupied with preparing for the workshop that I left the house without my camera. Not only did we find an uncommon butterfly, it posed nicely and let many folks take its picture. Fortunately, several of these folks were willing to share the images they got. Thanks, Tom!

Update: Kathie at Sycamore Canyon was kind enough to give me a blog award! Thanks Kathy! More on that later.


Friday, November 07, 2008

A Smile for Friday

Cobban at Lopaka Lounge has the funniest take on the election that I have yet seen. Go check it out- I guarantee it will put a smile on your face (possibly not if you were a strong McCain supporter).

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Moving Sedges

Carex trichocarpa on a gravel spit at Bluff Spring Fen

This post seems really lame. I wanted to write something profound and insightful about the fact that Proposition 8 passed (which depressed me royally). I just haven't been able to come up with the words. Probably because I'm royally depressed.

OK, look at the pretty plants. A problem that we have in various parts of Bluff Spring Fen occurs when sedgey areas are shaded out long enough that they die off completely, and there is no seed bank. The bare peat doesn't take new plants well, and it's very harrd to gaterh quantities of seed for the plants- mostly sedges- that should be growing there.

(Mostly) Bare peat in a degraded seep

A second problem that we have arises out of the fact that the Fen was slated to become a sewage treatment plant sometime in the 1970s. During site evaluattion, a number of gravel spits were bulldozed out into the fen's wetlands. These alter hydrology, and are often colonized by non-native plants. We are planning to have some of these removed with heavy equipment over the winter. One of them somehow grew up in a native sedge (Carex trichocarpa rather than non-nattive vegetation.

Carex trichocarpa that was transplanted last spring

For about a year, I've been slowly transplanting the sedges off of the gravel spit ant onto an area of bare peat around one of the seeps in a corner of the nature preserve. They have done very well. Most have not only survived but have begun spreading by runners. Onb Saturday, I transplanted a bunch more. I'me hopeful that this area will transform from bare peat (with a few aggressive weeds) into a nice sedge meadow over the next several years.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Fashion Statement

I'm very happy to be wearing one of these right now. Voting was interesting this morning.

Typical election day: I am usually out the door at 5:30, so I hang out at home until about five till six, then dash over to the polling place. I arrive at 6 on the dot, walk up to the election volunteers, show my ID and vote. I'm out the door by 6:05. Typically I'm the first voter in my precinct. For presidential elections I've been behind as many as two other people.

This year: Hearing stories of long lines during early voting, Leon and I get to the polling place at 5:45. The line already stretches around the building. We file into the building about 10 minutes after queuing up. I have to wait to vote. I'm not complaining, it's just something I've never had to do before. I roll out of the polling place by 6:35. Not at all bad considering the waits that others have had. Still, it's unlike anything I've seen before, and I've voted in this precinct in every election since 1988.



Sunday, November 02, 2008

Early Birthday Gift

My birthday isn't until the end of the month. Leon gave me my gift early-- a new cheese press! I took it for a spin this weekend. My interest was partly because the press advertised itself as using molds that avoid the problem of "brittle" cheese by draining through the bottom only. I'm assuming that brittleness refers to the very crumbly texture that my hard cheeses typically show.

When I took the Gouda out of the mold this morning, I did notice an improved feel to the cheese wheel as I removed it. I also like the flatter and wider shape that this mold produces.

Q: What does this cheese have in common with John McCain and Sarah Palin?

A: It's going to get waxed on Election Night.

On a related note, the other day new visitor rsb75 commented on an old cheesemaking post and left me a link to a new cheese supplier. Wow, they have great stuff, and they're much closer than New England Cheesemaking. They have some bits of equipment that look really useful, and that I've not seen before. In a mildly frustrating development, I realized that just a few days before I heard about them, I had been just a couple of miles from their store. Oh well, they're still fairly close, I should be able to get back up there.

Thanks rsb75!