May 09, 2015

Warblers and the Big Bend National Park

" A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."
- Maya Angelou
Clearly the famed poetess was not a birder...
It has a number of songs, Maya. It's song can sound like this in this area and and like something else over here. It, evidently, also has something called a chip. So, those of us new to this complicated world of birding are kinda grateful that...it doesn't have an answer. Or...maybe they do. Somewhere. Metaphorically.
It was decided on my last trip to Texas six months ago that a return in the spring was a must. Amazingly enough, I had not burnt the snarky bridge with Greg "greglasley" Lasley in Dripping Springs. As the plane's wheels hit the tarmac, I was greeted with a welcome bouquet of Texas wildflowers in bloom everywhere. ( Christ, now I have to do plants as well...) When we pulled up in his driveway, things got off to a good start with a lifer for me - the resplendent Question Mark, jumping around with some other Nymphalids. A hug with his brilliant wife Cheryl and a petting for each of the cats, Joshua and Jericho. Jericho helped me unpack.
Before we took off for the Southwest, a day with Eric "ericisley" Isley at Hornsby Bend. The trip was even more special for me when Greg made another quick airport pick-up for another hardcore iNater Mark "maractwin" Rosenstein from Cambridge, MA. ( He looked so much better out of that Scuba mask and neoprene...) I think I added five new dragons and damsels that day. Such cooler names in the Ode world than butterflies - Spot-winged Glider, Prince Baskettail & Cobra Clubtail. Like violent, gang-member names. No wimpy butterflies allowed.
We had a long drive to Big Bend from Austin but Greg knew all the stops to see stuff along the way. Saw my first Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in some nondescript creek in some nondescript town. My first Eastern Black Swallowtails at a pull-out overlooking the Pecos River High Bridge. Hard to run through cactus with a butterfly net.
Mark was quite the birder as well. To have he and Greg using those things called binoculars was a great bonus for this novice. I helped Mark with his butterflies and suppled pithy, unsolicited witticisms for all: those are what I carry around my neck into the field, to help me survive the hostel wild, while making me more hostel to others.
Greg had been coming to Big Bend since the early 70's. Mark and I scored that this year was an exceptional flower bloom: they'd received in the region a good enough soaking in early April. The anchor composite bush, Damiana, spray-painted the far mountains yellow, visible a good 50 miles away. Claret Cup cacti and flycatchers slamming your brain here and there with vermillion. Mark finally got his Greater Roadrunner, a lifer for me as well. Plus 23 other's darting cross the road. Fantastic, snarky bird with a cavalier agenda - my kinda pet. Does Purina make Lizard Chow?
Met the Webers, Jim and Lynn. Charming naturalists I'd met on the prior trip in November, who were organizing the Colima Warbler Survey. This event only happens every few years. They also had been updating the Butterfly List for the park.
Greg was overwhelmed daily with where to take us. " You really need ten days to see everything." We had four and I can safely say we never had a dull moment. Long hikes, camera's ( mine: a Barbie, theirs: Adult, assing-kicking monsters ) constantly clicking. Camaraderie each night back in the lodge, all iNating madly before we'd lose the signal. Fun to gloat about the Black Bear they all missed after dinner.
Greg's good friend Chuck "gcwarbler" Sexton joined us. OMG, the dude is charismatic, smart sprite in the field! He helped me with my plants. How does someone constantly smile when they speak and teach. A complete honor to...listen...to him. A day hike into Pine Canyon on the first day of the Survey for Colimas was superseded by a rare sighting of a Western Pygmy Owl. Lunch at a great filigree waterfall revealed many lifer's at the mud: Golden-headed Scallopwing, Meridian Duskywing and the endemic Chisos Skipperling - Piruna haferniki - named after a good friend/mentor of mine here in San Francisco John Hafernik, who surveyed the region in the late 1960's and discovered this species.
Met a good friend Chris Tenney there who was 18 weeks into his Butterfly Big Year.
He wrote about the encounter: http://www.butterflybigyear.net/
I couldn't really add anything the next day birdwise to the survey except...trying to be quiet....which Mark reminded me I...wasn't very good at. "Oh, was that the Owl? No, Liam, still a dove." Saw beautiful tanagers and finally a good look at the Colima - a not-too-showy little thing darting about the canopy. One of the most limited ranges for a bird in the U.S. I tried not to be too enthralled with the lichens on the ten-mile hike cuz I'm supposed to be a birder on...a bird survey...looking up. With the other...birders. Lynn was...patient.
The day before I flew home, an event I'd been looking forward to the whole trip. An iNater-palooza at Hornsby Bend. Met sambiology ( who'd driven down from Dallas three hours away) , ncorley & cullen. gcwarbler & ericisley joined me, Greg and Mark.
I'd brought just a few t-shirts from Ken-ichi and luckily Scott had given Cullen some as well. There was not a living organism that did not have a expert on the trail that day.
As I flew home over West Texas, I was reminded of that foreboding vastness I saw from a car window all week. You are supposed to look wherever you place your steps out there because of rattlesnakes. Caution - never one of my strong attributes. Like a gang of Roadrunners, iNaters help each other on a daily basis around the world see things, which are both exciting and scary, beautiful and real, and dream of seeing,all from the safety of their computers. Like those birds, we devour the horizon with our eyes.
Thank you Mark and Greg for occasionally telling me where to put my feet and and for all the times I...didn't listen...to birds.
Lifers: 31 Butterflies, 18 Odonates, 14 Rep/Amphs, 8 Mammals and 45 Birds. And a bazillion Plants...

Posted on May 09, 2015 08:18 PM by robberfly robberfly | 32 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

January 05, 2015

Into the (red)Woods...

You'd think a person born in "Redwood City, CA." would be into them. Redwoods.
You'd think so, right? This happenstance-of-fate had less to do with my parent's 60's connection to the Earth and more to do with my Mother's OB/GYN moving in her third trimester from Los Gatos. She took the bus (very pregnant with me) to stay with the doctor after his transfer. I was born in friggin' SEQUOIA Hospital! Those first six months in utero must have had a greater impact because I really like cats ( los gatos) and am utterly blaise about a tree EVERYONE loves in California - the Coast Redwood ( Sequoia sempervirens)
Pretty. Smells nice. Have to wear a jacket cuz it's cold there. After " Wow, that's...tall", what then? I'm a Child of the 70's - we drove through them for kicks. The ones you could drive through with your car. Lots of fun for 7-yr-olds. All of the special ones had majestic names...if they hadn't been turned into roadside, chainsaw art of Big Foot ( More on Squatch later..)
My Mom would write a bad check for some burl in a gift shop that we would take home and watch grow, like Sea Monkeys only slower. One of the cats would inevitably pee in the special Redwood plate we needed to grow the burl. Seems weird to be able to buy pieces of a tree in a place protecting them. We'd go "camping" when I was a kid in a place called Cabana Holiday near Piercy, CA. - a glorified motel with a fire pit. Jolly Rancher Apple Sticks, the Trees of Mystery and flirting with 13-year-old girls with Farrah Fawcett-Majors hairdos. I was 11, rockin the same floppy bangs.
My little brother Colin and myself almost dying from taking a short cut from the trail up a shale cliff from the Eel River and falling face first back down. Bloody-faced and crying all the way back to our Mother's arms. Saw real eels in the Eel River though.
The short cut was my idea.
"It's my favorite place in the world!", JJ said to me. We'd met the first time on the Green Hairstreak Biobiltz and found we were both in our freshman year of the same new obsession: lichens. " Really?", I said, " Redwoods? Huh, I just...don't get it."
Known by "metsa" here at iNaturalist, she invited me for a 10-day camping trip with she and her husband Tom V. to go north near the Oregon border. To get me in the mood, she lent me THE WILD TREES by Richard Preston. Between the silly soap opera, it's the true story of Steve Sillet - the guy who climbed and searched for the Tallest of the Tall redwoods and exposed the world to the little-researched world of their canopies. " He found what amount to a coral reef in the air" Interesting. Yeah, I'll go for the lichens and ( secretly ) for the salamanders.
Few days along the "Avenue of the Giants" along Highway 101. I appreciated the now-and-then motel in amongst the tenting. These two are hardcore campers. Me, more than a night and I'm longing for a Complimentary/Continental breakfast. The big hike occurred in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. 4.3 miles out with gear to the beach. A "hard freeze" of 29 degrees overnight let me woke to a...tent/igloo. Thank the Lord Tom V. might be the Greatest Fire Maker alive. Looked for Tailed Frogs in the beautiful Fern Canyon. I don't have shoulders, just a rack of clavicle bones, so two days of "backpacking" - pure torture. And lets be honest, my gear sucked. Saw no frogs but many Roosevelt Elk. Laughed a great deal about "Squatch Behavior" with Tom V. - "See this broken branch? Definitely Squatch behavior"
Two of the days we were lucky enough to spend with Tom Carlberg. One in my first "Dune Forest" in Arcata and another along the South Fork/Smith River. He is a Master Lichenologist ( and could make a Killing recording audio books: a voice smooth as Lauren Bacall drinking cough syrup - the good kind.) Sidebar: I now wear as a Badge-of-Honor I was denied attendance to his Jepson Workshop cuz I don't know how to "key plants". Couldn't have a person more Enthusiast-on-the subject and Eagled Eye Finding them, but those Plant People. ( said tongue and cheek - I really do need to learn the Big Words.) The Latin was flying these two glorious days as every few feet a new one was revealed. I'm sure it has to do with being an Illustrator: color, insane form, and a life history that I don't even feign to understand. JJ actually giggled when she'd see one. I Loved That! Does one's love of Nature need any other connection than that? A smile just doesn't do it so it...overflows...to laughter. So much laughter with this wonderful woman, with Tom V. and Tom C. We played a mean game of pool in a dive bar in Klamath on New Year's Eve. Tom V. is a shark.
When I got home, I picked back up the book. Lobaria, Prairie Creek, Jedidiah Smith had all become more real since I went there. Steve Sillett says towards the end: " I think there is a chance, just a chance, that we can actually appreciate and understand how redwoods work in our life times. I wouldn't have said that the first time I climbed here." I wouldn't have said that the first time I walked here but...I will again.
And finally, Salmon Jerky is downright nasty.

Posted on January 05, 2015 02:52 AM by robberfly robberfly | 24 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

November 15, 2014

The Vast State of Texas

I can't remember who said it, but when Greg Lasley and I mentioned to someone that we'd only met through iNaturalist, their response was something like, "That could really have...gone wrong." Strange. I didn't even think of that.
I think it "went right" from the minute he picked me up at the Austin Airport. A retired Lieutenant with the Austin Police Department, Greg is an iNat Superstar with his broad range of birds, butter and dragon fly knowledge. His photographic skills are...sheer art. Our comments and encouragement towards others and each other here over the last year made a trip out there a no-brainer. ( I remember when Scuba diving was the focus of my life and when I'd meet other divers from other parts of the world, there was already an intimacy and language set. Seems to be true of iNaters as well...) He was planning trip with some of his Naturalist friends to the southern tip of the state and a visit to the National Butterfly Garden in Mission, TX. I'd never been there. Came home from Puerto Vallarta one night and flew to Austin next morning.
Cool, overcast weather didn't deter me. I jumped out of the car and immediately became inthralled with the weird lichens on his oak trees in the yard. Greg laughed and said it was a group he hadn't taken on yet. Meet his fantastic, brilliant wife Cheryl ( a Texan judge ) and the other two occupants of the house - Jericho and Joshua, the cats. Jericho followed me around like a dog
I was excited to visit the Hornsby Bend the next day - a place Greg iNats a lot from. We met up with another iNater Eric Isley - another iNater and just walking in the shadow of these two friends and listening to their banter about nature. Makes me smile. Had about 15 lifers that day. Saw my first Texan Crescent butterfly.
The trip south was packed with amazing, new ecosystems for me. Bad, cloudy weather for the beginning but a sunny few days forecasted ahead gave us hope. His friends were encyclopedic in there knowledge: John and Kendra Abbott. John is the author of "Damselflies of Texas" and he and Kendra are photographing insects for the new Petersen's Guide update. ( Excited I found a Unicorn Mantid for them one day), Jim and Lynne Weber - birders-gone-butterfliers and Roland Wauer, who went by Ro, an elderly man and quite the legend in Texas. He'd worked in many National Parks in the US and autographed two of his books for me: "Butterflies of the Lower Rio Grande Valley" and "Finding Butterflies in Texas". The cherry atop this esteemed ensemble: Jim Brock, co-author of "The Kaufman Guide" - the Bible every lepidopterist I know on the West Coast carries - an honor to have him autograph my well-worn copy. Many days of rapier wit, spirited banter and explosive joy when a new thing was observed. With this group most bug and bird taxon was covered. Brock would just call out " Hey Lifer" to call me over. Beer at the end of a day never tasted better.
The pictures that accompany this journal entry say it all. Somewhat overwhelming to process even now. The NABA park was great - a place I never thought I'd want to go to because I swing a net, but my desires have changed towards how I connect to leps. Disagree with collecting-has-no-place-anymore but complied with Glassberg's park rules. Really a cool place he has created there.
It all comes back to Greg. He is at that magnificent place with his relationship to Nature that what he shares with others seems to have superseded what he gets from it. I deeply identified with his wanting to break out of the "Bird Expert" box he is known for and approached about. "I did that already", he'd say. My Odonate skills ratcheted up a few notches after a week with this man. A great teacher. A kind man.
We had a day with iNater gyrfalcon ( Jennifer Rycenga) that I will never forget, driving along the beach at Boca Chica. I think I wandered across the Mexican Border because when I posted a Black Mangrove, I was in the US and a Great Southern White butterfly caught my eye and I walked only a few feet away and the coordinated read Mexico. Whoops. Another favorite memory: Greg really putting up with my "Roadkill Series"- a tongue-and-check homage to the "Poor Little Critters on the Road" ( a cool song by the Knitters) "We gotta find you your first Armadillo. There's a joke in this state that they are born dead along the Highway." 9 species I iNated.
79 new butterflies, 18 new odes, 35 new birds, 7 new mammals, 2 new frogs even!
Ten days. Ten days with a stranger I met on iNat. Can't wait to see him and his state again. And Jericho the cat.

Posted on November 15, 2014 08:39 PM by robberfly robberfly | 24 observations | 5 comments | Leave a comment

November 05, 2014

A robberfly in Mexico.

I'd visited Puerto Vallarta with a friend two years ago B.I. ( Before INaturalist ) and was enthralled with the wildlife and the town. We'd hit it during the Day of the Dead festival. So much to look at. Genuine tradition. Slightly touristy with the beaches and shops - really not my thing. My friend really wanted to do stuff like that: drink his brains out and close every bar and lay on the beach the next day. He got frustrated with me as I stopped in every vacant lot and photographed butterflies and insects.
So, I gave into him and got one of the worst sunburns of my life on the tops of my feet. "You do your thing. I'll do mine." I didn't bring him back this time.
The first night I arrived, torrential rain, which was thrilling to watch from below an awning. Out crawled a Black Witch - a moth with the largest wingspan of any insect in North America. I was hoping to see one down here and boom! first night we were both dodging the rain together
This time I returned to meet up with someone I'd met here on iNat - Francisco Farriols Sarabia - a.k.a. "francisco3". He and his beautiful wife Lilianna met me in the lobby of Hotel Posado de Roger and we all three had a great instant connection. Francisco has a ranch in Mazatlan. My Spanish was much poorer than their English, but through laughter and gestures, we met at the language of Nature. Fantastic couple.
The Botanical Gardens south of Puerto Vallarta are stupendous. So many butterflies I didn't know where to point the camera. Shot a great deal of Odonates and Greg Lasley and others helped me key them. Cool to see my first Malachite. Great mud-puddling across the street. Watched hummingbirds from the deck at lunch.
Next day we headed north to the town of Sayulita - a sweet, little beach town thats...gone even more touristy in the two years since I'd been there. Brain-baking heat. Walked to the edge of town for butterflies and I watched a huge bead of sweat go down my finger and into my iPhone. It stopped. Kinda thought "Whatever.." Had oysters on the beach. Lots of beer. Roommate rebooted phone - Oh, that fixed it.
So glad to have returned to a place and made new memories.
iNat is it's own language: meeting others I only know through the website and the passion for what we all look at...does all the awkward pre-meeting stuff. Like a small band of...intimate explorers.

Posted on November 05, 2014 04:14 PM by robberfly robberfly | 24 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 25, 2014

New Sphingid Species Added to SF County Thanks to iNaturalist

On July 30th, 2014, Tony Iwane and Taj Allen (of TREE FROG TREKS) were leading a photography-based summer camp group through Glen Canyon Park. One of the members of their group pointed out a large caterpillar up in the Arroyo Willow ( Salix lasiolepis ). Tony is part of the iNaturalist community and he posted it the larva shot later that day.
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/809991
We only have two Sphnix or "Hawkmoths" on the historic inventory for our small county: Manduca sexta ( Ames '73) and the widespread generalist that most folks see Hyles lineata - The White-lined Sphinx Moth ( Elennon '66). To me, it looked more like a lost Manduca or Tomato Worm ( which feed on Nightshade ) up in a tree. Kinda made no sense. I asked Tony if he could go back and collect it and pupate it out to the adult phase. He did.
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/841560
On August 21, a One-eyed Sphinx Moth ( Smerinthis cerisyi) emerged and this spectacular native was added a new piece of the biodiversity-rich Natural Areas of San Francisco. The larvae are primarily associated with Salicaceae but have been found on Rosaceae and Betulaceae. Another cool facto: the adults do not feed.
A shot-out to the power of iNaturalist. We still have so much to discover here.
Thanks Tony and Taj.
Ultimately, this was reported to the Year End Summary of the Lepidopterist's Society.
From Tony later:
"Awesome, thanks for all the help, Liam! Just want to say that we'd never have found it without our young camper Lucy Ghidossi, and that it was Taj who was sharp-eyed enough to find it again when we went to collect it. We've actually been in contact with Lucy and her mom and said we'd add her name on any sort of official record (along with ours, if that's cool) since she originally found it. Her mom has given permission for that."

Tony Iwane
Tree Frog Treks
Show message history

Posted on August 25, 2014 08:29 PM by robberfly robberfly | 1 comments | Leave a comment

August 17, 2014

Towards Sally Lightfoot

The Thicket Hairstreak ( Callophrys spinetorum ) has bullied me for years. Taunting me with emailings from people seasonally "Are you kidding? They were everywhere!" and "Go to this tree on this date in this month and they are there!" OK, the butterfly hasn't sent those emails, but No, they weren't there and, No, I haven't seen it yet...for twenty years. (I'm not quite sure the butterfly Hasn't been in on this.) I've been at this long enough to know all of us Naturalists have a Thicket Hairstreak in our lives and, no doubt, somewhere some pathetic soul longs to see...a Cabbage White...before they leave the Earth. If only someone would help them.
I'm annually reminded of this Missing Stamp in the Scott's Albums of my Natural Experiences in or around the Mount Diablo Butterfly Count. Paul Johnson or Kevin Hintsa would inevitably bring back a photograph of this quarter-size, chocolate brown Lycaenid with the white, postmedian zig-zag band above it's false eye. "Hmmm, still haven't seen that." One fact might be because I don't normally volunteer to go to it's habitat on these Count Days. The Thicket is a strong hill-topper that sits high up in trees near it's parasitic host: Western Dwarf Mistletoe ( Arceuthobium campylopodium). Males dart about on summits in a pheromone exchange of looking-for-babes. These "summits" ( at least on the Pinnacles Count and the Mount Diablo Count) are slight...death marches?...for this fair-skinned, Irish lepidopterist. So, in full disclosure, that might have something to do with...never seeing it. Or... perhaps...everything to do with it. ( See last Journal entry to see just how far I've overcome this barrier)
In Paul Shephard's book "The Tender Carnivore" he breaks the hunt - something he refers to as 'the venatic art'- into four parts: scanning (the knowledge of the animals habitats), stalking, immobilization and retrieval. Since I don't really collect anymore ( nothing against it, just sort of has been replaced by "iNaturalistmania") immobilization has become "please-for-the-love-of-Jesus-stay-still-for-one-shot" and retrieval is "don't let-me-have-come-all-the-friggin-way-up-here-for-Nothing-and-have-enough-water-and-Skittles-to-make-it-back" The retrieval...of me.
Shephard continues: " In all cases, however, men are engaged in more than a merely physical food-getting activity, for in hunting they are immersed in their most deeply held spiritual and aesthetic conceptions."
Yesterday, after years of this...knowledge gathering...I saw my first Thicket Hairstreak.
Up in a canopy of an Oak tree, below the radio towers, a lone one darted about with a flock of Gray Hairstreaks, hope springing eternal at each rendezvous the other would be a female. I stayed still and...it stayed still. Then, blink, it was gone.
I high-fived my hiking partner. Joy. Happiness. Staring down at the picture in my Powershot. Chug-a-lugged the Gatorade. Watched a haunting squadron of thousands
of dragonflies floating silently up and over this moment, making my victory seem small.
In " The Logbook of the Sea of Cortez", John Steinbeck wrote of the Sally Lightfoot crab ( Grapsus grapsus): "they seem to be able to run in all four directions at once; but more than this, perhaps because of their rapid reaction time, they appear to read the mind of their hunter. If you walk slowly, they move slowly. If you hurry, they hurry"

Posted on August 17, 2014 10:38 PM by robberfly robberfly | 16 observations | 4 comments | Leave a comment

July 31, 2014

Above the Tropopause: Searching for the Cassiope Blue

The Yosemite Butterfly County now officially closes the California season, with Paul @euproserpinus Johnson's Pinnacles Count opening it in the first weekend of June. I did 12 counts this year. My record in an eight-week window is 17 in 2010.
The big draw this year for the park's " Naturalist Series" was Robert Michael Pyle, the Godfather of American Butterflying. I hadn't seen him since his wife Thea passed away earlier this year. Three day pitch through the Sonora Pass has now become tradition for me. I don't collect much anymore so iNat photos of species have become my quarry. The Sonora Pass was sadly bleak from low snow and California drought.
Smiled at the lichen covered rocks that I knew a few more since my last visit one year earlier.
Connected up with Ken Davenport in Bridgeport, the most knowledgable where-species-are Lepidopterist in the state and author of " Yosemite Butterflies" ( 2007). Told him I wanted to see the Cassiope Blue ( Agriades cassiope ) this trip. He said he had a spot: Ellery Lake Dam along the Tioga Pass. " Meet me there at 9am tomorrow"
Also known as the "Heather Blue", the species was described only in 1998 and given full species status away from Agriades podarce, the more common Sierra Nevada Blue. A. podarce is found in wet meadows and hosts on Shooting Stars. Cassiope lives in a whole other world.
"We don't need to bring lunch, right?" I asked, judging by the spot he pointed at up the valley. " Two hours out, two hours back." What? My first assault into crumbling granite fields where each step feels like a never ending climb up a sand dune.
No butterflies for the first half hour. Lord, is this going to be a bust? Then Chris Tenney, the leader of the Monterey Butterfly Count and great birder, shouts from the other side of the bolder field " Shasta Blues " Good sign.
Reached the shelf and...there they were. Interesting to watch the males patrolling like Tiger Swallowtails along the ground in search of girls. Incredible difficult to photography. They never seemed to land. Don't really like photos in the net, but I was getting frustrated. Ken went higher for American Coppers ( L. rubidus ) which are also a High Elevation/rocky slopes species.
Chris shouted out that it's host, White Heather ( Cassiope mertensiana ) was in full bloom over on his side. I crossed the stream and...just sat to catch my breath ( heart pounding climb to 9,850) and ate my lunch. Then, my breath was removed again with the view of Ellery Lake and the Tioga Pass below. No greater manifestation of Vladimir Nabokov's famous quote: " To be in a rarified place with a butterfly and it's host plant...all that I love rushes in like a momentary vacuum and...I am at one."
Chris yelled, " There's one actually sitting on a heather flower" Got my shot.
Someone told me when I got back to San Francisco days later that White Heather was John Muir's favorite plant.
This is from Stephen Hatch's "The Contempletive John Muir"
" Some of my grandfathers must have been born on a muirland, for there is heather in me, and tinctures of bog juices that send me to Cassiope, and, oozing through all my veins, impel me unhaltingly through endless glacier meadows, seemingly the deeper and danker the better" Hatch adds: " The Scottish surname "Muir" means "one who lives besides a moor". A moorland is a large, open tract of land covered in heather. Cassiope is a white heather that grows in the Sierra Nevada."

Posted on July 31, 2014 07:01 PM by robberfly robberfly | 16 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

May 31, 2014

Alemany Farm - Best SF Spot for Butterflies

In 2007 when I combed the city in search of what butterflies still bred here, I wandered into this place on the backside of the Mission District. This piece of land I later learned was to be included in the Natural Areas division of SF Rec & Parks. It has one of the few natural springs in the city. It was ultimately saved by turning it into an educational farm for kids. It was either in 2007, or perhaps 2009 when I repeated my field work, that I had a memorable day here: 18 species in one day. More than half the known butterflies for the county. I set out this day to see if I could repeat that.
One can drop in from above down a public walkway where Murray St. intersects Crescent Ave. Always have Cm. Checkered-Skippers ( P. communes ) along the weedy summit and Anise Swallowtails ( P. zelicaon ) on the radish. What is great about this place for butterflies is it's both weedy and native, both high and low in topography and a plethora of nectar sources. What I wasn't expecting was the Hooded Oriole ( I. cucullatus) perched beautifully before me in the Eucalyptus. This new Powerpoint camera is definitely revealing birds to me in a new way - a subject for some reason I have not really clicked with.
Species seen this day:
1) Western Tiger ( P. rutulus )
2) Anise Swallowtail ( P. zelicaon )
3) Cabbage White ( P. rapae )
4) Gulf Fritillary ( A. vanillae ) * Most solid pop. in county to observe. Spring is
completely surrounded by host: Passiflora sp.
5) West Coast Lady ( V. annabella)
6) Painted Lady ( V. cardui )
7) Field Crescent ( P. puchella )
8) Mylitta Crescent ( P. campestris )
9) Red Admiral ( V. atalanta )
10) Echo Blue ( C. l. echo)
11) Sandhill Skipper ( P. sabuleti )
12) Fiery Skipper ( H. phyleus )
13) Umber Skipper ( P. melane )
14) Cm. Checkered-Skipper ( P. communis )
Total: 14 species. Not quite the record, but a pretty swell showing for San Francisco.

Posted on May 31, 2014 02:34 PM by robberfly robberfly | 20 observations | 1 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 03:10 PM by robberfly robberfly | 12 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

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 10:34 PM by robberfly robberfly | 15 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment
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