Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mushroom/Fungi Season Not Over...Huh?

After the recent cold snap (single digits) in western Montana thought the mushroom/fungi season was over. Well, went out looking for lichen this afternoon, Cladonia specifically, and found at least three different shrooms (club, spine, and gilled) growing.

This was a northeast facing slope (Blue Mountain, Missoula MT) with a mature Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) overstory. Have had ample moisture (above normal) for November.

What a pleasant surprise (hint: good reason to get outside); mushrooms are great subjects for the camera. I'm a rookie/novice at mushrooms and fungi, having a difficult time identifying along with their natural history. From my readings I believed the season was finished, NOT :-) Using a sports metaphor, we are still in the playoff picture (dumb huh?). The fun is in the doing, so my set-up is: Canon 70D with 100mm macro, natural light, mirror lockup, Manfrotto 190 tripod. Photos were processed in Photoshop (cropped 16:9, auto tone, contrast and color).

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hatch Year Trumpeter Swan

Got some pretty decent photos of a large group of Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) today in clouds and sunshine. Several were juvenile/immature. Note the sooty gray body coloration (top photo, clouded conditions) and especially the bill color for the base and bill fringe with pink coloration for the balance (middle and bottom pics in sunshine). Matches up very well with the plates in The Sibley Guide.

The experience was a reminder again of the importance of light in identification. Though Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus) does not typically flock with Trumpeters, lone birds can be a bear without good looks and lighting.

As always, get outside and find something good :-)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Thank you Veterans... for Natural History Expeditions

Many thanks Veterans for all efforts in securing peace and prosperity for all Americans while putting your life on the line in wartime!

Randolph B. Marcy - Brady-Handy
Randolph B. Marcy (1860-1865) Library of Congress Prints and
Photographs Division. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection. 
Thanks should also be given for all that military personnel do in peacetime. As an example, Captain Randolph B. Marcy led a military expedition in 1852 up the Red River of Louisiana finding the headwaters. In so doing, he wrote a book The Prairie Traveler that provided emigrants heading west tons of practical advice on surviving difficult journeys through unknown territories. George McClellan (future Civil War General) was part of the expedition and was in charge of collecting plant and animal specimens: "an interesting collection of reptiles and other specimens, in alcohol...put into the hands of Professors Baird and Girard of the Smithsonian Institution..." Yes, during the period 1852-1854 Spencer Baird of the Smithsonian was receiving natural history specimens from 26 separate military expeditions! Here is webpage clipping of Spencer Baird recounting the reptile collection from Marcy and McClellan book: Exploration of the Red River of Louisiana, in the year 1852.
Marcy, Randolph Barnes. Exploration of the Red River of Louisiana, in the year
1852 / by Randolph B. Marcy ; assisted by George B. McClellan., Book, 1854; ( : accessed November 10, 2014),
University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,;
crediting UNT Libraries, Denton, Texas.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Butterfly Watching...Pick the Right Habitat for the Season

Bass Creek National Recreation Area (mature Ponderosa Pine habitat) is a premier butterfly watching late winter, spring and summer. Not so much late summer, early fall. Found only four species (9-15-14) of seven butterflies. Why? It might be lack of flowers (nectar) and moist soil (for uptake of minerals).

The grassland/Ponderosa Pine habitat immediate to my yard doesn't look like much. But embedded in the brown cured grasses is rabbitbrush (expanded blog treatment -, a nectar "well" for many butterfly species. Yesterday (9-14-14), under similar weather conditions as today, found seven species of butterfly comprising 25+ individuals. The photographic opportunity was...excellent (see below).

William Leach (2013) published Butterfly People An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World and summarized the butterfly naturalists of the 1800's: "...began their careers in this way, awash in the heat and smells of the meadows and forest, sensitive to something worth losing oneself in, worth knowing, worth a lifetime of vocational loyalty and reflection." That's how I feel, for sure not with their accomplishments though :-)

Try this activity... you will find it overlaps the many themes of history, culture, biology, ecology, research, exercise, critical thinking and learning to name a few.
Purplish Copper

Hoary Comma

Milbert's Tortoiseshell

Orange Sulphur

Painted Lady

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Create a Great Butterfly Watching Experience...Discover Spreading Dogbane First

So what the heck is Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)? It is a perennial flowering plant related to Milkweed that grows between 10 and 40 inches in height. Fragrant, small, bell-shaped flowers hang downward from the apex of the plant. Meadows, forest openings, and ravines in disturbed or intact habitat are home. Distribution includes most of the country, avoiding the southeast and southern Great Plains. Extensive background information of the plant can be found at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Finger Lakes Native Plant Society websites.

Spreading Dogbane
This plant flowers at at time when many other wildflowers have bloomed and gone to seed. I touched on this topic, plant phenology, on my blog earlier this spring. Essentially, wildflowers adhere to a timetable that is very ephemeral in nature...for us that is. Plants main job is to reproduce, in the form of a seed or fruit. Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies are part of the fertilization process. Wildlife seems to have an innate intelligence concerning the where, when and how of food/resources. It is taking me a while to discover this. I know in early spring find sap wells for overwintering adult butterflies. As the season progresses my looking targets specific wildflowers and mud puddles:

When late summer and fall roll around, I'm checking out the blooming Rabbitbrush. I've been missing a plant(s) that is attractive to butterflies for mid to late summer...until six days ago. A mid-elevation Sapphire Mountain wildflower meadow was the destination for a Fritillary finding expedition. As I zig-zagged made my way up Sawmill Creek Road, spied a stand of flowering plants at the 3.5 mile mark:

Dogbane Location (red rectangle)
I stopped the car, nice pull off on switchback corner, and walked over to see if there was any activity. To my surprise it was teaming with butterflies, mostly Fritillary species. Took many still photos and video of the butterflies in action:

Perhaps Spreading Dogbane is in your area to make for a great butterfly watching experience. Or don't worry about this fact...go to your favorite forest preserve, nature center, wildlife refuge and make your own wildlife discoveries :-)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Blues Legend, Johnny Winter RIP

IMHO, one of the greatest live albums produced.

In celebration of life, here are other forms of the "Blues":

Arrowhead Blue

Boisduval Blue

Greenish Blue

Silvery Blue

Sunday, June 8, 2014

First Skipper Species of the Year

Tried a new location for wildflowers (mid-elevation meadow [first photo below]) the other day and got a bonus...Common Branded Skipper (Hesperia comma). Skippers in the Hesperia genus look very similar and much of identification criteria revolve around the white chevrons (size, shape and location) on the underwing. This butterfly was not nectaring on any of the wildflowers present (photos below); simply perched on bare soil of trail. Bunchgrasses are the primary food source for larvae; definitely appropriate habitat for them here.


Common Branded Skipper

Cushion Buckwheat

Silvery Groundsel

Found a second Skipper species, Long Dash (Polites mystic), nectaring on Lavendar at the Pollinator Garden of Lee Metcalf NWR. This species is also partial to grass, however it is on the wet/moist side of the spectrum. World of wildlife is waiting for your discovery...go outside and find some.

Long Dash