Saturday, December 10, 2011

Trees...really big ones

Follow up from last posting. Terry Richard wrote a story in the Oregonian about the tallest pine tree (ponderosa, that is) in the world recently discovered/measured in Oregon. It was 268.35 feet! The largest ponderosa pine in Montana (mere 200 feet tall) is found along Fish Creek at Big Pine Fishing Access Site, about 40 miles west of Missoula, Montana. Here's a photo of it and interpretive signage:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Three days ago visited Lolo Creek Campground, west of Lolo, Montana by 16 miles. Target for field trip was to discover/photograph lichen species or a serendipitous encounter with other 'wildlife'.

Within minutes of leaving car and approaching creek bridge encountered group of chickadees in creekside shrubbery. Several were chesnut-backed (Poecile rufescens):
Forested hillside

They were vocalizing quite a bit, sounding like this (credit xeno-canto webpage and Tayler Brooks):

Also in the shrubs were Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) making their harsh call notes (credit xeno-canto and Chris Parrish):
After observing the chickadees and jays to satisfaction, made it across bridge/creek into the campground proper. Trees here are impressive, have never really looked at or identified them properly. Here are trunk photos of all:
Douglas Fir
Lodgepole Pine
Engelmann Spruce
Subalpine Fir
Western Larch

Looking at tree trunks is also profitable for finding lichens; here is a photo of 'lattice tube lichen' (Hypogymnia occidentalis):
Positioned near a rivulet attracted another member of this community, gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis). Quite stealthy in approach usually:
Go out and make your own is great fun!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Discovery and Happiness...

"'The good life,' in other words, may be better lived by doing things than by having things" (Gilovich and Van Boven 2003). Their research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found folks were 'happier' doing things than buying things. The authors gave three reasons a) "experiences are more open to positive reinterpretation" b) "experiences are more central to one's identity" and c) "experiences have greater 'social value'."

Andrew Warren, senior collections manager for the University of Florida's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity had one of the greatest of zoological experiences recently...discovery of a butterfly species new to Florida. In a story from the, Warren relates how a series of collected butterfly specimens from 1950-85 were misidentified in the museum collection; the species involved was the pink-spot sulphur butterfly, a native of Cuba and the Bahamas. After publishing this finding, Warren also mentioned his discovery to Alana Edwards, president of the Atala chapter of the North American Butterfly Association in an attempt to confirm if the butterfly was still alive and well in south Florida. Alana spread the word via Facebook and email. E.J. Haas got the message and sent a photo of an unidentified butterfly from her cultivated butterfly garden to Warren. Response from Warren was: "Oh yes! Most definitely A. neleis!!!!!!...they are a current breeding resident- these photos confirm it!!! WOW! Many thanks, and congratulations on your great and extremely important photos!"

So, yes, you too can experience happiness on a regular basis by going outside and discovering/documenting what you find in nature. There is an excellent chance that your local community of: bees, butterflies, dragonflies, lichens, wildflowers, etc. aren't well known. 'We' don't know everything just yet and by the time we do, things will have changed.

Here's my discovery from yesterday at Riverside Park in Lolo, Montana...Cladonia macilenta aka 'lipstick powderhorn'. Go out and find something good.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Field Trip to Pattee Canyon

For two days in a row have visited Crazy Canyon (part of US Forest Service Pattee Canyon Recreation Area [USFS-Pattee Canyon webpage]). Another review of site from the Missoulian Newspaper Hiking guide.

Target today being lichen discovery. However, this area is also excellent for birds, butterflies, and wildflowers (photos below) in other seasons. The paved road going into the area is usually well maintained even during winter. This allows wildlife watchers to find 'higher elevation' species almost year round.
Green Comma
Common Camas
Gray Jay
Today heard one/two pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator) calling (courtesy of xeno-canto webpage):
Clouds prevailed on both days, but temps were above freezing. Time flies by when intensely focused on the ground, especially moss on downed timber. Below are three photos of lichen (Cladonia genus) photographed today. You can do this too, give it a try :-)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Another Field Trip for Lichens...@ Kim Williams Nature Area

A recent warm spell has melted early snows in spots at least at the lower elevations exposing many lichen species. An especially good place for finding these plants (and other wildlife) is the Kim Williams Nature Area (Missoulian Newspaper guide to Trail) along the Clark Fork River in Missoula, Montana. 
It may be the factors of trees and rock bordering the river that make this a productive site for discovery of lichen.

The trail, a former railway bed, is great as it directly borders the rock cliffs/talus slopes and conifer stands for excellent access. Lots of people recreate on this trail; a good safety feature when wildlife watching here. If you are geologically inclined precambrian and cambrian rock is exposed; note also the strandlines of Glacial Lake Missoula on the sides of Mount Jumbo looking north across the Clark Fork river. Another feature I really like is the 'seep' coming out of the rock cliff immediate to the trail:
Here are two lichen species (from the Cladonia genus) recorded here:
Cladonia cerviconis
Cladonia pyxidata
I encourage you to find these plants yourself, it is fun and will become addicting once your knowledge begins to build. Go forth and discover!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bass Creek rock face...why are the rocks colored?

The colors on the rocks are from lichens. Lichens are the result of fungus having a symbiotic relationship with certain types of algae. Many different combinations result; there are over 500 different species of lichens in the Pacific northwest. Yep, that means color, structure, and habitat are different for each also. All lichen do not live on rocks; they also are found on wood and soil. They are beautiful and somewhat ubiquitous. Here's a close up of a member of the Cladonia genus:
Take along a magnifying lens or camera on your next hike and look closely for these miniature splashes of color. Not everything is currently covered with a white blanket of that oasis of greenery. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Spotted Spreadwing...damselfly of wooded wetlands in Bitterroot Valley

Lestes congener is a brown damselfly belonging to the spreadwing family of Lestidae. There are five species of spreadwings in Montana. Similar in size (~1.5" in length) and habitat selection with bluets and dancers (other damselfy families); they can be differentiated by their habit of spreading their wings at perch. Spotted spreadwing is one of the easier damselflies to identify because it has two spots on the lower part of the thorax (that's looking perpendicular from the side of the animal). Another diagnostic feature is the size and shape of the male cerci and paraprocts (structures to hold the female during reproduction) at the end of the abdomen (see photo below).
Consider having both a close focusing pair of binoculars and a camera (a point and shoot will do) with you when dragonfly watching; photos of damselflies are especially important to assist with identification. Florence Bridge Fishing Access Site is a particularly good spot to observe this species.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Butterfly species for Life List

While "dragonflying" (goal-get quality photos of a Spotted Spreadwing) at the Florence Bridge Fishing Access Site, happened upon a butterfly nectaring on Spotted Knapweed:
Reviewed butterfly field guides by Kaufmann (Field Guide to Butterflies of North America) and Glassberg (Butterflies Through Binoculars) for concrete identification. Turns out there is much variability in appearance for this species, the Woodland Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanoides). The yellow/creamy spots on this individual are on the light side. Kaufmann states: "the most common orange skipper of many habitats late in the season." I was delighted to find this small, colorful butterfly (a lifer!) as many fewer lepids are being found of late. Serendipitous discovery for sure...likened to an axiom from Seneca: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lichen...nature as art

Have taken on lichen as newest "wildlife" challenge. These plants are extremely colorful and come in one of four growth "forms": foliose, fructicose, crustose, and squamulose. Just future blogs will dive into detail. Have gotten great book to unravel all things lichen, Lichens of North America by Brodo, Sharnof, Sharnof (2001). Book is as heavy as the rock lichens grow appropriate! Finding out these plants are very difficult to identify without a lot of work...then again need challenge and something to do. Check out this photo taken at Bass Creek, Bitterroot Mountains on large boulder:

Several lichen species...easy to find, photograph and appreciate...a bear to identify

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Red-shafted Flicker winter feeding

Red-shafted flicker, a northern flicker subspecies, Colaptes auratus (1st described by Linneaus), is a colorful and fairly large woodpecker. Name in part may have come from its call, an onomatopoeia "flicka, flicka, flicka..." Like all birds it spends much of its day searching for food. Dietary research published by Arthur Cleveland Bent (1939) revealed stomach contents that contained 40% vegetable matter and 60% animal matter. Majority of animal matter consumed was ants (75%). Most of the vegetable matter consists of fruits and berries.

Red-shafted flicker looking over the berry selection
In the winter ants are not readily available. So much of the search for food now consists of searching nooks, crannies for other arthropods (insects, centipedes, spiders, crustaceans). Arthropods overwinter in four forms, from most to least in number: egg, larvae, pupa or adult. Each form has advantages/disadvantages to surviving the winter. Moore and Lee Jr. (1991) described cold hardiness of aquatic and terrestrial insects. A fly larvae of Eurosta solidaginis withstood -55F winter temps in a goldenrod gall. Further research suggested that insects specifically choose sites for wintering on the basis of: size, shelter, position, and moisture content. Waldbauer (1998) calculated that one square mile of airspace from 20 feet above the ground to 500 feet up contained 32 million arthropods. Abundance increases closer to the ground. So, flickers and most birds, likely have a lot to food to find, albeit small.

The TwitPic photo posted shows two flickers searching my neighbor's brick chimney for wintering arthropods. Seems like a difficult way of living...geez these animals are incredible and tough. CX7K4Z9RYUGY

Monday, January 3, 2011

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend's solitaire visited our yard yesterday. Myadestes townsendi was named by Audubon for naturalist John Kirk Townsend. Townsend and Thomas Nuttall undertook a western US expedition in 1834. Both collected many plant and animal specimens undescribed to science. Nearly a seventh of the bird plates of Audubon's Birds of America were from Townsend's collection efforts. Though considered a genius and well skilled, circumstances of life prevented Townsend from attaining the ornithological notoriety of John James Audubon. An account of Townsend accomplishments can be found in Audubon to Xantus: The Lives of those Commenmorated in North American Bird Names (Barbara and Richard Mearns 1992).Townsend did publish a humorous, historical account of the expedition in 1839 that sold out in three weeks. J.K. Townsend died 11 days after Audubon passed away.

Townsend's Solitaire is a frugivore, most pronounced in the winter time. A favored fruit are juniper berries. The wax coating on these berries is an important nutritional component. A short essay in The Birders Handbook (Ehlich, Dobkin & Wheye 1988) outlines this and the importance of wax substances for many bird species. I especially found the explanation for the expression "whole ball of wax", way cool. Wax is a major structual component of many marine species, especially shrimp, which seabirds eat. Young seabirds keep a ball of wax in their stomachs to draw nourishment from, between extended periods of adult feeding :-)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Stevensville Christmas Bird Count

Had a good time doing the 2010 "Stevi" CBC. Did Lee Metcalf NWR with the help of Sherry Ritter. Temps started out in single digits and much of the open water on the refuge was frozen...not typical. 

Lee Metcalf NWR...looking northeast...Sapphire Mountains in background

Found 33 species by mid-day. Morning highlight was immature northern goshawk that whooshed by us only to perch in a nearby tree...opportunity for digiscoping. Go here to see cropped image: 

The afternoon objective: finding waterfowl species here-to-fore unseen, e.g. gadwall. Started out well...scads of ring-necked duck, then discovered 2 Virginia rail skulking along outlet channel. Then a marsh wren vocalized followed by 2 others. Noted a pied-billed grebe (unexpected) in open water channel...whoa 2 more American coot...3 trumpeter swan and the coup de grace, a ruddy duck. Finished the day with 45 species, about 5 species less than normal. Great day to be outside connecting with nature.