Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Second Spring

Even a naturalist living in the paradise called Florida has to haunt other retreats on occasion. Some years ago, I got the idea to “follow spring north,” but never did. This year, spring wildflowers around north Florida have been simply exuberant. I ascribe it to wet weather last year and so far this year, although my friends Danny and Annette may be right about the absence of a late frost also being beneficial. So, when I took a few days off to wander around North Carolina and NE Alabama, I was pleased to see those regions are enjoying a colorful spring time, lagging slightly behind Florida and giving me two bites at the springtime apple.

Dupont State Forest in NC is located close to Pisgah Forest where some of my maternal relatives live, so I explored a few trails there after visiting uncles Dave and Ralph and their families. One of the trails had a most unusual “bridge” across a creek:

I next camped at Walls of Jericho State Park (http://www.alapark.com/press/release.cfm?ID=322) in NE Alabama. I was tired after the 6-hr drive; nevertheless, I still wanted to see some woods so I headed down the path despite the trailhead warning that the round trip hike could take 6 hrs. I made it almost to the Walls about a half-hour before dark, so rather than have shadows to look at I ascended the trail back to camp. The next day I went down the trail again, this time all the way to the ends of both Walls trails and then some. But there’s a problem with leaving the trail in the mountains that is hard for a flatwoods Florida boy to relate to: The woods off trail are cliffs and slick slopes that you can’t really walk. Oh well, there’s plenty to see from the trails. Here is a rock formation that looks like a hybrid between a tank and a dinosaur:

A sinkhole that might be the entrance to a cave, a sand-plugged sump for Turkey Creek (the stream that carved the Walls) and the kind of cemetery where I’d like my ashes spread:

A native of eastern North American forests, blue phlox (Phlox divaricata), was the most abundant bloomer along the half-dozen trails I walked.

In Dupont State Forest, a row of its pale lilac flowered plants grew in the disturbed soil flanking each side of one trail. Conversely, along north Florida roadsides grows an introduction from Texas called the garden phlox (Phlox drummondii), which exhibits abundant blooms of red, pink, magenta, purple, off-orange and white on open, sunny highway shoulders. In the same genus, one species is a bright, multi-colored dominant of sunny lawns whereas another is a pale purple denizen of shade.

Cancer-root (Conopholis americana) also sprouted occasionally alongside the trail. This is a parasite of the roots of primarily oaks and beech throughout eastern North America. Being more common along the trail than away from it, I wonder if our trail tramping injures tree roots and thus encourages infestation by this pest?

A semi-parasitic plant that was flowering that day is lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis), but it grew only in a grassy clearing near my campsite. It is said to parasitize over 80 plant species in 35 genera, stunting its neighboring grasses. It is called lousewort because farmers once believed sheep and cattle could get lice from grazing on the plant. Its coloration is an unusual maroon and yellow.

Some other common wildflowers along the trails include the eastern false rue anemone (Enemium biternatum), star chickweed (Stellaria pubera), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata), common blue violet (Viola sororia), long-spurred violet (V. rostrata), Canadian white violet (V. canadensis), sweet white violet (V. blanda), red trillium (Trillium sessile), large-flowered trillium (T. grandiflorum), fire pink, (Silene virginica), red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and trailing arbutus (Epigea repens).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rock redux

I really should have included the photo below with my post on September 10, 2009 in re to rocking a pack, but I didn’t receive the pic until today. It’s another by my old friend and caving buddy, Brian Houha.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

TAG Caving

Brian Houha shot this outstanding photo in Stephen's Gap Cave during the 2009 Pupfest (that's Mudpuppy on the ledge). This may be Southeast cavers' favorite cave entrance to photograph. I hope he enters it into competition at this year's NSS Photo Salon. At the very least, it should make cover of the NSS News.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Happy yellow...

I have been looking at project sites for threatened and endangered species over the past two weeks, spending long days and short nights away from home, but there are rewards…

This is a spring-siphon encountered in a secret location (sorry, cave divers, but the client insists!). The darker pool in the back is the spring side and the larger, lighter-colored pool in front is the siphon; the water actually was a transparent greenish-blue. It is a karst window, an opening in the roof of an underground and underwater conduit of the Floridan Aquifer that is headed for the Suwannee River nearby. Scouting around I found a nearby karst slough elongated at one end and amoeba-shaped at the other. The blobby end even had an island! I imagined monkeys.

You and I would rejoice if we suddenly found ourselves owning this place, but the current owner is content to attend to other matters. If it were mine, I would control the duckweed floating over the water’s surface and turn the feature into a botanical garden. The water under the duckweed was clear blue, so it may be a spring-siphon also as the river water was a tannin-stained shade of brownish-black. Whatever, with the water’s surface opened up it would be a beautiful place to swim or take scuba lessons.

This past week we field-assessed whether the caracara nests we documented earlier this year are still in use. In winter, we had numerous sightings of adults but few juveniles. It is difficult to tell adult males from adult females unless they are beside each other. Side-by-side, the male’s black and white patterns are almost obviously darker with less blurring, but this distinction can be trumped by changing the angle of the sun glinting off the bird’s feathers. Their differing behavior, however, gives them away. When eggs or young are on the nest, or the young are still hanging out in the family’s core area, the female mostly remains close by while the male does more wandering away from the nest. Some things never change.

The plumage of the juvenile is hard to rattle up even though descriptions of adult plumages are readily accessible. This photo shows a juvenile’s plumage in brown and brown-tinged-white with gray nares and gray beak. Adults have orange nares, orange base of beak and gray tip of beak; immatures pass through a stage when the nares are dull pink yet the beak is completely gray. A characteristic that works even in bad sunlight is the presence of a dark spot in the center of the white band on top of the tail in adults, whereas juveniles do not have that spot.

I caught another yellow rat snake (Elaphe obsolete quadrivittata), and like most of them it cooperated with my attempt to photograph it in a menacing position. This one was considerate enough to strike my camera only once. But seriously folks, despite the S-shaped body threatening to strike, does that face really look evil or angry or predaceous? Nah! Actually, I thought its belly and top of head were a particularly bright yellow, a happy color.

Tomorrow I’m going to practice using a TV camera system designed to spy on the inhabitants of gopher tortoise burrows. We must do this before excavating a burrow, a new requirement for us that is guaranteed to produce some interesting research results. This pipeline job gets more and more interesting.

The veg garden yielded another half-pound head of Romaine lettuce today, about three-and-a-half pounds of potatoes (mostly red), and another pound of broccoli. That broccoli is incredible – I flat-topped their branches less than a week ago and today harvested their fourth (or is it fifth?) flush of tips! I’m going to let them continue to grow and produce and see how late into the summer they will continue to feed me. Yum! I picked a small red onion and some cilantro to have for dinner tonight along with the new potatoes and fresh broccoli. Last night’s dinner was macaroni and cheese using garden broccoli and onions, each morning my omelettes are laden with onions and broccoli flowers (such a happy yellow!), and lunch sandwiches have multiple layers of Romaine lettuce. The garden doesn’t produce everything I eat, but it does produce more than I can eat of much of what it does produce, so come on down and I’ll lay some organic veggies on ya!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rosy Maple Moth

This rosy maple moth was holding on to the broccoli today for dear life. I wanted to pick that vegetable, but none of my bluff and bluster fazed the little critter – it didn’t budge. I gently moved it to my finger and huffed and puffed to get it to fly away, but only its wings moved with my breath:

It eventually was coaxed into leaving my finger for a sugarberry leaf. It is Dryocampa rubicunda, a member of the Wild Silk Moth family, the Saturniidae, and was named by Fabricius in 1793. The species is said to irrupt (have a population explosion) occasionally and defoliate trees, so evidently it was important enough to be noticed early in the English colonization of the New World. Its caterpillars feed on maples, oaks, beech and butternut, while adults do not feed. The one pictured probably overwintered in a shallow underground chamber.

I don’t see too many insects in my vegetable garden, so I jumped at the opportunity to photograph this one. I suspect part of the reason for so few insects is this green treefrog, Hyla cinerea, on the Brussels’ sprouts:

The vegetable garden haul today was 28 oz broccoli (no stems, all food, and that may be the last of the broccoli for the year), two cabbages and a handful of buttercrunch leaf lettuce. Yum! Again, I say, if you are a Floridian wanting a veg garden, plant using the IFAS schedule: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021. If you’re not a Floridian, I bet your state’s land grant university has something comparable. I harvest something almost every day – lately being English peas, scallions, broccoli, cabbage and lettuce. The tomatoes and bell peppers are mostly just sitting there, waiting for more warmth. I think they dislike 50°F at night, but the 80°F+ by day is awakening them, slowly – Big Boys, Better Girls and a Tommy Toe. The red (new) potatoes are growing like gangbusters, radishes are out of the ground and are basing for a flush, garlic and both red and yellow onions continue to grow steadily larger, newly planted scallions are leaping up even though it is late for them, remaining cabbages will need to be harvested over the coming very few weeks, peas will soon wilt and be replaced by blue lake pole beans that are already hesitantly coming up out of the ground (need more warmth), and herbs just keep on producing spice whenever the palate calls for it, rosemary, oregano, dill and cilantro.