Monday, April 20, 2015

Thomas Nuttall...Naturalist Extraordinaire

Thomas Nuttall was born in Yorkshire (England) in 1786. Considered one of the greatest botanists following his death in 1859. As a teenager, his father signed him up for a seven year printer apprenticeship. His real love...well he got hooked on botanizing local moors. So he came to the United States in 1808 to do just that. He connected with Benjamin Barton (author of Elements of Botany, 1803) in Philadelphia. Barton just happened to be looking for an apprentice and Nuttall, now 22, jumped at the opportunity. That was the beginning of incredible accomplishment.

Nuttall became the most traveled naturalist of his generation, six expeditions as far as Hawaii. Most collection (for plants and animals) trips were done alone and on foot much like John James Audubon. He was humble; he admitted to getting lost and rescued by other travelers in his journals. Some folks of that time described him as a "whimsical kind of madman". Could be, Nuttall was singularly focused on collecting plants and animals and information about them. His hard work paid off when he got lecturer position at Harvard University in 1823. He authored, published an affordable bird guide A Manual to the Ornithology of the United States and Canada in 1833. He also coauthored Flora of North America with John Torrey and Asa Gray.

He is memorialized with three bird species named after him (can you name them?). Numerous plants are also bear his name. I found two yesterday along the Clark Fork River in Missoula, MT: Nuttall's Rockcress (Arabis nuttallii) and Nuttall's Violet (Viola nuttallii). Could not find Nuttall's Pussytoes in bloom for three of a kind :-) What's in your neighborhood that may have been discovered 150 years ago?

Reference: Audubon to Xantus The Lives of Those Commemorated in North American Bird Names, Barbara and Richard Mearns, 1992, Academic Press Limited, San Diego, CA
Nuttall's Rockcress

Nuttall's Violet

Thursday, April 16, 2015

More Spring Wildflowers

Our neighborhood has open space "parks" that are essentially disturbed patches of native bunchgrass/forbs. So after work visited for some discovery/camera work. Had success; found three new wildflower species for the year in bloom.

All were fairly easy to detect, 6 inch plus in size either vertical (Hoelbell's Rockcress [Arabis hoelbelli], horizontal (Large-fruit Lomatium [Lomatium macrocarpum] or bushy (Western Gromwell [Lithospermum ruderale]. Wildlife watching strategy can be summed up at times as "what's different?" So, in thirty minutes got fresh air, exercise, employed photography skillset and experienced "flow" (read Csikszentmihalyi 1990). You should try is fun.
Hoelbell's Rockcress

Large-fruit Lomatium

Western Gromwell

Monday, April 13, 2015

Photographic Endeavors Do Not All End in Success

Sometimes certain plants, animals and weather do not cooperate with your photographic efforts. That was partially true today; had great backdrop of temperatures in the mid 60's with lots of sunshine. I went to one of my favorite places, Bass Creek National Recreation Area. It is great for a host of wildlife (birds, butterflies, fungi,wildflowers and lichen). Primary focus today was on early season butterflies with a backup plan of birds and wildflowers. Butterfly action was good, plenty to see and cooperative. First of year Western Pine Elfin recorded along with several Spring Azure, Green Comma, Hoary Comma and Mourning Cloak.

Ah yes, then the photo nemesis, the darting/never landing Sara Orangetip (Anthocharis sara); it blasted by me until the third encounter. I ran after it (on gravel road as opposed to the uphill scramble of last week...still breathing hard :-) and it landed on one of the two Prairie Star (Lithophragma sp.) wildflower species. The slightest breeze and this diminutive plant sways. I stopped a distance away and shot a multitude of photos prioritized on shutter speed. From the "best four" I created an animated GIF for your viewing enjoyment:
Sara Orangetip (Anthocharis sara)
Yep, they are all out-of-focus :-) No worries I have a couple of shots from a couple years ago to show you how stunning these critters are (below). Now, you can understand how easy it is to chase after this is just very cool looking!
Nectaring for a brief period

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cladonia sp. lichen - The Forest Within the Forest

Sometimes little effort and little space is needed to find wildlife. For instance a single boulder (anywhere, USA) likely has six or more species of crustose (pancake-like in structure) lichen growing on it. Secondly, season doesn't effect lichen watching - snow can't cover everything (e.g. tree trunks, yep lichens grow there).  Thirdly, looking where you step in the forest is the perfect behavior for finding lichens. Yep, soil is one of the most widespread substrate for lichen, especially those species in the genus Cladonia, generically referred to as Pixie Cup Lichen.

Wildlife names usually hint at what the plant/animal looks like. So, Pixie refers to the "little people" myth of the United Kingdom and I'm guessing they employed Cladonia as drinking vessels (many are cup-like in structure and these lichen occur in Great Britain).  The "little people" must have been really small as many of these lichen are only a half-inch tall, if that. For sure they look like cups, but also like a miniaturized forest, stumps and shrubs in particular. You will see what I mean if you take along a hand lens/camera; either is sufficient to magnify and identify. Any public land area in your area should have a representative of the Cladonia genus; there are 128 species in the U.S. (Brodo et al 2001).

Video (habitat and context) and macrophotographs of four species found in the span of a 30 yard road cut at Bass Creek NRA (Stevensville, MT) follow:

Cladonia multiformis (Sieve Lichen)

Cladonia chlorophaea (Mealy Pixie-cup)

Cladonia coniocraea (Common Powderhorn)

Cladonia fimbriata (Trumpet Lichen)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Candy Lichen...Harder to find than Easter Eggs

Candy Lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum) is considered common in Montana (McCune et al 2014) on rotting wood or soil of low to mid-elevation sites. However, finding/photographing this species (at Lolo Creek Campground if you would like to find it too!) is a first for me. Colors and form (mint and pink, what a combination) are it should not be hard to miss or misidentify. Size, about 2.5"" in diameter, may be a factor. But that is the beauty of all doing, one never gets it "all" without putting in time (lots usually :-)
Candy Lichen
In fact, finding this plant was Plan B. Originally stopped here to find Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca); that did not happen. Temperature of 41 F and snow may have been the cause of this result. Video below gives some context:

Monday, March 23, 2015

2nd Wildflower Species for 2015

3" tall Douglasia in flower 

Pictured is Douglasia (Douglasia montana), a cushion plant of the Phlox family. It blooms early in the spring season. "Cushion" plants usually grow in alpine sites where wind and poor soil challenges plants; natural selection response is short structure. In this case, there's no need to scale a mountain to see this in action, simply go to Missoula Waterworks Hill (  Accessed by foot up an initial somewhat steep slope. Because of this foothill orientation it is exposed to sunshine early in spring; so it is also great spot for other early wildflowers. I finally had blooming plants on my third try (March 22).

Below is a short mp4 (shot with Nexus 7 tablet) of this site on March 2 (note windy wintry conditions :-) The plants grow on the left side of the trail...looks very barren for this video:

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Drizzle...Great Birding Conditions

Rain concentrates birds, the questions become can you figure out where and can you deal with it. Early spring is perfect for birding in a drizzle/intermittent downpour. Cool and wet drives birds to the food.
Low cloud deck drizzle this morning
Insectivores like swallows will be closely over water sources hawking hatching aquatic invertebrates. Robins will be working short grass areas for earthworms. And waxwings will be visiting fruit bearing trees. Had a mixed flock of ~300 Bohemian and Cedar using neighbors' European Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia) trees. It is a wonder every time I see these large flocks; in sum, the calls of these birds might resemble rusty whistles :-)
Cedar Waxwing eating fruit
The sounds not only attract my attention, but also birds that prey on them. Yep, within a short period of watching a Sharp-shinned Hawk showed up.
Sharp-shinned Hawk in Ponderosa Pine near European Mountain Ash
This is likely the same bird seen and photographed on January 1. Yes, if you can protect your camera gear excellent photos can also be had. Please reflect on the animal ethical in behavior :-)