Here They Come!

Here They Come!

Perhaps you’ve been watching the amazing Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Cosmos television series? Last night, he touched on the fact that stars have long been used as a calendar, indicating when new seasons are around the bend [get planting, you!]. Certain constellations are tightly tied with seasons–such as Orion and Winter.

Less than 45 miles from Indianapolis, Brown County State Park is flooded with light pollution.

Less than 45 miles from Indianapolis, Brown County State Park is flooded with light pollution.

This winter, I’d been fussing about how slowly Orion moves. He’d climb over the eastern mountains, dangle over the Golden Gate Bridge [from the Marin Headlands, of course], and all and all, be a slow poke about his waltz across the sky. My impatience, stemming from the fact that I don’t usually look at the winter night sky, kept growing. It’s so difficult to live in a place where the temperature is mild year round [Ha! But I don’t ever feel warm.]. We made several trips up to Kneeland, a patch of human-created prairie where the astronomy club meets, this winter to stand in a forest of telescopes and gawk with like-minded folks and only encountered nippy conditions, but no frostbite.  To me, looking at the stars says very loudly SUMMER! My brain, in that warm, wind-swept prairie of South Dakota-mode, wondered why long underwear was necessary, and why the stars weren’t as familiar. Sirius? Isn’t that some form of radio?? Aldebaran? Don’t you mean Altair? And who is this Orion fellow anyway? Hercules! Hercules! [In my defense, my star gazing occurs between the hours of 9 and 12 pm–no early morning viewings for me, hence the missing the “other” part of the sky.]

So last night, after what feels like a long winter [probably since there was hardly any rain–hardly a winter!], the Big Dipper pointed to two bright stars [and one planet] creeping over the eastern mountains–Arcturus and Spica [and Mars–that’s a story for another day]! Summer stars, the stars I’m most familiar with, were shining and climbing. Soon they will be directly overhead, crowning the night skies of summer. Good Bye Orion! Good Bye Stars of Winter!

Orion sinks into the Pacific [center left], Sirius, the brightest star we see, glows in foggy conditions [left]. Taurus and the Pleiades follow to the right. All of these are topped by the Milky Way running horizontally across the top of the photo.  The orange glow of Eureka competes with the blue light from the Trinidad Head Lighthouse [on right].

Even with some light pollution but less-densely populated, we are lucky to live in such a dark area. Orion sinks into the Pacific [center left], Sirius, the brightest star we see, glows in foggy conditions [left]. Taurus and the Pleiades follow to the right. All of these are topped by the Milky Way running horizontally across the top of the photo. The orange glow of Eureka competes with the blue light from the Trinidad Head Lighthouse [on right].

Flowering Up

I feel like I have been glued to this computer for weeks now. I don’t know how the students earning a digital media degree do it; homework for one class can take hours, especially if a problem arises. Our instructor said he wanted at least 12 hours of work each week, so you can imagine what full time students deal with.

I took a break the other day to survey Spring’s progress (it comes early here). Lo and bethold, there are flowers despite the little rain!

currant, flower, spring, photography, pink

Hort. variety of Red-flowering currant

flowers, toothwort, spring, pink

Coast toothwort

Ferns on a tree

Claytonia sibirica, flower, stripes, pink, spring

Candy flower

Evergreen huckleberry

Evergreen huckleberry

Waves crashing at sunset

Waves crashing at sunset

Flower Flurries

Nothing marks Spring’s arrival like flowers do!

Here in this part of California, even though we are not warm, we see a long growing season, like that of the Deep[er] South. Flowering starts in February and doesn’t often end until November or some such month, but it is possible to find flowers all year long, especially since we have a huge selection of non-natives that love this area. Out of the native group, the trilliums, currants, and Cardamines [toothworts] are the first to pop up.

Below are some of the current bloomers around the redwood area: [Click to enlarge]

The Springing of Spring

Spring has arrived here on the North Coast of California. Yesterday’s weather was lovely; today’s will start at least a week long deluge of much needed rain.

While walking the dog, of course, I armed myself with the nifty fifty lens and a 12mm extension tube.

I noticed a small green bug on a short daisy [Bellis perennis, I assume, a nonnative known as ‘Lawn daisy’] and walked over to it. The clever thing scuttled to the backside of the flower, then dropping off into the shelter of grass and leaves when I pursued further.

These little green bugs are often called green ladybugs, but are the Spotted Cucumber Beetle [Diabrotica undecimpunctata], a vegetarian beetle who falls in the family of Skeletonizing Leaf Beetles. If you can guess by the name, these bugs aren’t the favorite of those who grow certain types of crops due to the tendency to chew holes.

I found another down the road and caught him in a photograph:

Although I didn’t get the focus just right [I have an eye appointment coming up!], this one made me chuckle. It looks like there are three-fingered hands on each side holding onto the soon-to-be flowers, reluctant to let go just yet.

Of course, the Flowering Currant [Ribes sanguineum] has been in bloom for a couple weeks at least.

Candy Flower [Claytonia sibirica] arrived just recently.

The leaves of this plant look very delicate and somehow manage to stand out in the forest. They manage to grow not only on the forest floor, but also on trees, usually in a bank of moss.

In the dog park, there were no dogs, but it was evident that a hawk had a meal.

I did some work in the garden almost two weeks ago. I was pulling out what I assumed was a ‘weed’ in my wildflower bed. Today I noticed that the flowers had opened on the weeds, so I crouched down and shot them. Turns out, they are a Speedwell, or Birdeye, but not any of the native types. Just good ol’ nonnative Veronica persica.

So Spring is awaking the masses, both native and nonnative masses alike. While putting this together, I was listening to a ScienceFriday podcast discussing the phenological signs of Spring’s early arrival in most of the country. Something to ponder…

 

First Signs of Spring

There’ll be no robins in this post! I’ve seen them digging around in the snow, so I don’t believe they know what winter is!

Daffodils are blooming, trees are budding, and various ectotherms are moving about.

We visited Lake Moultrie hoping to see some wildlife.  We spotted a large group of yellow-rumped warblers and an osprey, but not much else at the dam. 

 A couple U-turns later and a few uncertain rights and we made it to a FWS managed area and walked around some impounded water areas. Spotted some woodducks, great blues, an egret, and a mallard pair that I swear were decoys.

 

We walked until we hit a canal opening.  There was a board damming it and a chain with a sign that would make it easier to walk across, but if you google ‘Lake Moultrie’ and look at Google’s suggestions, one is “Lake Moultrie alligator attack” and indeed, there happened to be, on a slightly cold, last day of February, an alligator waiting on the other side.

The photo’s blurry because I’m shaking in my boots!  Haha, not really, I didn’t try to touch this one. My battery was dead so I warmed it up a bit and put it back in my camera to squeeze out one more shot [I’d already done that twice, so I was hoping it worked just one more time!]. The website http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/cnhc/csp_amis.htm says that feeding doesn’t generally occur below 68 degrees and the high that day was 58, so I assume we were safe enough. I think alligators will become my new rattlesnakes, but their habitat of blackwater swamps is a little discouraging.  I either have hydrophobia or ichthyophobia so I won’t be going in the water any time soon…

On a side note, we visited Angel Oak on Johns Island yesterday and found the tree [Whew! It’s a bummer when the navigator can’t keep ‘John’ and ‘James’ straight!] and also found some more uniquely colored South Carolina squirrels. Unfortunately, they weren’t too pleased with the camera pointed at them, so I didn’t get them sitting together. 

The mighty Angel Oak. They [angeloaktree.org] believe it’s 1,400 years old, and the oldest organism east of the Mississippi. It spreads over 17,100 square feet, has a lightning rod and supports for some of the branches. Check http://www.angeloaktree.org/history.htm for more info.

White Squirrel One above and White Squirrel Two below.  Note the black stripe down their bodies. WSOne has some spots as well.

If you are wondering, like I am, where these white squirrels are from, check out this article from the Post and Courier from May 2003.  [Link will open in a new window]

I didn’t pack for this!

Alright, one 90 degree day and that was that.  I have one long sleeved shirt with me, thinking it would be the nice, hot, brutal Badlands it’s supposed to be…oops!  The forecast isn’t calling for anything better in the next few days and to make it worse for the visitors coming through, Yellowstone is supposed to get snow!  Hello, June!

Since I arrived May 8th, I’ve seen two rattlesnakes and heard of three others.  One or two bullsnakes I heard reported, too.  No pictures of any of them…sorry! 

I do have pictures of lots of flowers…or mostly Sego lilies, I guess.

It’s a nice flower.  Utah is the only one that claimed it for a state flower.  The bulbs can be eaten by roasting or boiling them.

Prickly pear flowers are starting to come out.  I’m not sure what this cold snap is going to do to them, but there were a lot of buds ready and waiting…I hope the frost stays away!

I decided to go visit the sheep.  In all truth, I was headed to the grocery store, and the bighorns [and their human admirers] were in my way. 

These are pretty young rams and they don’t seem as ravinous as their female counterparts.  In fact, they are so lazy they let some fellow get pretty close, and even yell to his wife while he was 50 feet from them “They’re pronghorns!”.  I guess the misidentification didn’t bother them…

Ewes are hard to get a good picture of, especially since they are lambing.  Stress doesn’t help one be photogenic, I guess.  This one caught my eye because she was rather pale in comparison, though my camera doesn’t pick it up well.  She’s pretty young, too, maybe a year or two? 

But the weather turned, so I’m not sure if I am going to get any more interesting pictures up in the next week. 

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What a foggy, drizzly mess.  We have maybe two trails that are suitable for this weather….

That’s all for now! 

:)

Cheney Lake and Tanganyika Wildlife Park

 

Alright….the ‘animals of the Badlands’ post is still in the works. I have two weeks and a few days left until I go up there, so it will get done.

Cheney Lake State Park

We went to Cheney Lake for the millionth time, I guess out of boredom. We ventured to the east side instead of the west side and it is pretty much the same. Lots and lots of campsites, some of which are almost in the water.

I’ve not really figured out how to pronounce this place. I say it like the former vice president’s name, but I’ve heard other pronounciations around here.

There were signs that they were practicing land management there. There were a few burned areas, but most of the wood duck boxes are still sitting crookedly in water. We also noticed a rather omnious ‘guest’ living in the lake.

I’m sure these zebra muscles are giving them quite a headache.  It’s not a good thing to have these things in your water.  I’m holding a small pebble, which is a pretty good demostration that these guys like to repopulate and crowd areas in vast numbers. 

Aside from the non-native inhabitants, we did see some native signs of spring.  There were turtles sunning themselves, peepers peeping, and there was a muskrat that honored us with his cleaning routine before he swam away [my camera is not quiet]. 

 

Tanganyika Wildlife Park

On to other non-native wildlife species, we went east of Wichita again to TWP…Tanganyika is a region or area in Africa in between the Indian Ocean and those large lakes over there.  But that doesn’t make it any easier to say. 

TWP is an interesting place, rather new, and still under construction.  There are a good number of animals on display, with more coming as exhibits are constructed, and there are a good number of babies being born.   This ‘wildlife park’ used to fully be a rehabilitation center, not open to the public.  You still get that feeling when you go in.   We were there before ‘school let out’ so there wasn’t a multitude of staff floating around, and our soft pretzel wasn’t so soft, but it was a very amazing visit. 

You walk out of the gift shop and you have an elaborate waterfall on your left, giraffes right in front of you, and gibbons to your far left.  There isn’t really a map, but they give you a feeding schedule.  When they say feeding, it will be you that does the feeding in most cases.  We first stopped at the lorikeets.

We were the only two people in the area at the time.  These colorful birds aren’t shy, so when you walk in with the little cup of nectar, you will be a living bird perch until all the goodies are gone.  If you still stand there, you will invite curious birds who like to chew on various parts of your body and redo your hairdo.  The above picture was taken when we were out of nectar.  I don’t think I could have reached my camera with so many birds sitting on me.  I had a couple on my head [sunglasses make good perches] and a good handfull on arms and shoulders.  There is no signage that mentions they can chew small fingers off, but lucky for me, I only had a little skin taken off while trying to keep two from fighting over the food. 

From there we went to look at the rhino and the colobus monkeys before the next feeding. 

This little guy was entertaining to watch, as were his older cagemates.  They danced and played and chewed on the grass.  From there, we went into the kangaroo pen for a scheduled feeding, but we were the last of a large mob, and there was no feeding going on, so we briskly walked through and went on to gawk at the gibbons.  They were making a bit of noise, howling and the like, so we watched their antics that culumulated into a dangling-by-one-arm wrestling match.  Despite the look in the picture, he wasn’t really that lazy and only sat for approximately three seconds before bouncing along. 

From there, we went to feed the lemurs, and although we were the last bunch let in, they still had some room for our treats and were a little eager even. 

Aside from their googly eyes and springy movements, they are actually very dainty creatures with small teeth and no nails.   They were a little shy and only approach if you bend down to an approved level or sit on a rock that they can get on, too.  You have to carefully guard your stash of treats since they won’t take just one.  The best way to feed them is to give them one at a time and not let their little hands get ahold of your other hand.  The amazing part is watching them jump around and climb like gravity has no effect on them, yet they are light touchers with very soft hands and fur. 

If that doesn’t pluck on your heart strings, walk past the ‘nursery area’, adjacent to the snack bar, and you will find a little lemur whose mother didn’t feel like taking care of him.  Sitting in his incubator with a large stuffed monkey, this little guy, Elmer, seems to be more interested in the people that walk by.  He seems like he wants a hug more than anything.

Cute, eh?  Very interesting park that looks like it has a very promising future and promises many futures for exotic wildlife.