Journal archives for March 2014

March 04, 2014

Pepperwood Preserve, CA.

Alright, this Lepidopterist has a confession: I'm a closeted...amphibian freak.
Before I got into butterflies, I used to have a 60-gallon tank in my room in the Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco that housed two illegal Mud Puppies ( where's my 12-step group?) Mud Puppies ( genus Necturus) are found in the Eastern US and are illegal to own in California because if they ever got into the Sacramento River they'd eat a lot of endangered fish. I donated them to the Cal Academy of Science when I decided to move to NYC to give Broadway a try. " I don't even want to know where you got these", the herpetologist said there, "but they're wicked cool. Thanks." Yes, they are.
The chance to go see my first Red-bellied Newts ( Taricha rivularis ) at the Pepperwood Preserve with some iNater's last week was two-fold: a) to see a newt with a tomato red underside that I'd only seen in pictures and b) the scope out this place that I'll be teaching a class on May 3rd of this year:
http://app.pepperwoodpreserve.org/pls/apex/f?p=514:2:13468060107807
I'd never been there. And with the rain, it was much more "newt weather" than "butterfly weather" (which kinda made me glad..) Went out with a group lead by Julie ( (iNat handle: "protect habitat") and lifted cover boards and saw fantastic things: California, Rough-skinned and Slender Salamanders. Two forms of Ensatinas. Garter Snakes. The densest display of Sierran Tree frogs I'd ever witnessed. The target species didn't appear till a night walk with headlamps. Then, like most elusive things, they began to appear in abundance. Had to watch where one was stepping.
I have to say the next day's walk on the Redwood Loop Trail will not leave my memory for years to come. A magnificent oak forest with more shades of green I thought possible, made charged and magnified by the constant light rain. It was an Insanity of Lichens! OMG. Form + Color + Wonder. I didn't know where to focus. It ultimately leads to a redwood forest and more splendor. Mushroom madness without even taking mushrooms! Can we talk about the Jack-o'-lantern? My first. Wow.
At a moth light with Ken-ichi and Julie the night before revealed one of my favorite Noctuids to paint: Feralia februalis - a true "harbinger of spring" Ken-ichi photographed some other wicked forms of this moth as well.
Thanks to two guys that really know and love the place: "curiousgeorge61" from iNat and Greg Damron ( I think he's an iNater as well?) . Greg took us looking for Pacific Giant Salamander larvae in a back country creek. Glorious hike as well.
So, I promise I won't look for amphibians when I teach my class there in a few months because I think...I already saw them all.

Posted on March 04, 2014 22:34 by robberfly robberfly | 15 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

March 14, 2014

" The Most Beautiful Small Butterfly in the U.S.A."

" One day in late January I was visiting my sister in San Jose. It looked as if I was doomed to spend that glorious sunny day watching the Super Bowl. Instead, I telephoned lepidopterist Robert Langston and asked where I could find the first new butterflies on the wing this season. Then I called Butterfly Gardener Barbara Duetsch: could she arrange a trip? Kick-off time found us watching the incredibly brilliant Sonoran Blue -- a lifer for me. Minute bits of blue foil daubed with fire-engined flickered over the succulent Duddleyas of nearby Alum Rock Park. The Forty-Niners romped, but I felt we'd had the better day."
Robert Michael Pyle
Handbook for Butterfly Watchers - 1984

I remember reading this book in the mid-Ninties and being excited that this park was so close to San Francisco. The name brings up memories of a second grade field trip as well, complete with big yellow bus and parental release pinned to my shirt. Remember how exciting those trips were? Screams of grossed-out joy with each of us taking a sip from the smelly, sulphuric water fountain: Alum Rock Park is a high altar to the Victorian vogue of "taking in the waters". Sulphur water trapped in bathing pools dot the small creek valley. Beautiful Acropolis-like ruins of brick-layer's whimsy.
iNat has made me ( well, not really "iNat" ...) focus this season on finding the more obscure butterflies that I seem to miss in the Bay Area each season. The Sonoran Blue ( P. sonorensis) is the Superstar of Butterflies along the San Francisco Bay - it's no small coincidence it's on the cover of Art Shapiro's "The Butterflies of the Suisun Bay and San Francisco Bay Region". The title of this journal entry is how many refer to it.
Ken Wilson told me that he and David Rawlinson had recently rediscovered the aforementioned population thought extirpated years back. I met him at the Pleasanton BART ( cuz that's what I do...I jones rides from folks: my payment if they don't take gas money? Witty, incessant banter that makes people laugh and...roll their eyes.) Perfect weather. A slight breeze.
We hit the trailhead with mud-puddling Silveries ( G. lydamus) on the shores of milky pools. Didn't seem to bother them. So weird. The smell of rotten eggs was slightly overwhelming, but the magnificent riparian water concourse trumped all senses.
Sara Orangetips appearing in abundance immediately, then another bulleting Pierid...without orange tips. Knew immediately from the rapid flight that one of my favorite was about: the Large Marble ( E. ausonides ) Rare in San Francisco Co, ( and according to Shapiro disappearing from the Central Valley of California ) it was dense as goats in a petting zoo this day. One actually landed an I got a pretty good shot.
"Target Species" are an interesting thing ( Red-bellied Newt on my last journal entry ) -
yes, hard to surpres the...expectation of joy?...but then a cool thing happens as you walk up and towards that thing you think you came for, the forest reveals even better stuff, right? And sometimes they are dismissively common things you see in a city, but seeing a Red Admiral down in a street using Stinging Nettle? Moments.
On a tallis slope, the first female Sonoran appeared, just friggin sitting there at eye level. The scattered, multi-tasking of camera gear must go slow so one doesn't scare the Damn Thing. ( Did I mention they rarely land?) Got a few shots. Thank you, Jesus.
Males started to appear near the Duddleya host on the rocky outcrops. A cacophony of blues jumping up and checking each other out: echoes, silveries, sonorans. Had one Bramble Green Hairstreak too far up the scree slide. Fourteen species for the day.
Barbara Deustch ( mentioned in Pyle's write-up ) has become a good friend and mentor and I worked on my birds in her garden awhile back in Point Reyes Station.
We lost Robert Langston last fall. His wife said the 86-year-old went up for his daily nap and never woke up. A butterfly - Langston's Blue ( E. enoptes langstonii) - flies in Point Richmond and is named for him.
They were all with me staring at that mind-boggling girl on a rock.

Posted on March 14, 2014 15:10 by robberfly robberfly | 12 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment