Harsi / August 13, 2011 / arthropods, quotations / 0 Comments

Phidippus Phun!

When I walk the main road that parallels the creek, I don’t have to worry too much about encountering rattlesnakes. But, I still tend to spend a lot of time looking down at my feet and the path ahead. There are several species of darkling and ironclad beetle whose cryptic coloration blends easily into the blacktop. I do my best to avoid stepping on them and any other smaller critters that might be scurrying past as well.

The other day, a slight bit of movement next to a fallen oak leaf caught my eye and I was rewarded with the opportunity to photograph this wonderful jumping spider:


Phidippus jumping spider, immature


Jumping Spiders (Family:Salticidae) have got to be my favorite family of spiders. (If you have never noticed them before, I seriously encourage you to seek them out in your garden or local wildlife area. Feel free to ask me if you want tips on where to look!) In addition to incredible patterns and colors, they seem fearless and have loads of personality. They are very aware of your presence and will actively watch you (or your camera’s) movement. I don’t know if it’s a defensive maneuver or just curiosity, but they will often jump directly at you (or on you!) if you get too close or corner them. Don’t worry… they are completely harmless!

[NOTE: I believe that this is an immature Johnson Jumper (Phidippus johnsoni). I’m basing this assumption on input I have gotten from several images I’ve submitted to BugGuide.net for identification. But, determining species in immature spiders is often difficult and so I’m still uncertain.]

Harsi / August 2, 2011 / arthropods / 2 Comments

A Most Welcome Visitor

When I put together my post, “Common Ground”, I was hoping that I’d get a little positive feedback or perhaps some discussion surrounding the concept. I honestly was not expecting to inspire anyone else creatively. So, you can imagine how pleased I was when my friend Ruth e-mailed me several of her own paired photos! Viewing her unique and wonderful interpretation of the overlapping themes in natural vs. man-made structures and scenes was a real joy for me. I loved the thought of this idea evolving into a community art project of sorts. I promptly asked Ruth if she would mind my sharing some of her images on my blog. She was gracious enough to agree and I am thrilled to present them here…

[NOTE: *Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.* Quoted captions are excerpts from Ruth’s e-mails. All of the photos in this post (except for the ant) are the property of Ruth Gravanis. If you are interested in re-posting them or using them for any other purpose, you must ask her permission first. You may contact me via this blog if you wish to get in touch with her.]



Guest photos by Ruth Gravanis.

(top) “while waiting for the bus on a rainy morning on a street near my house”
(bottom) “looking across the Golden Gate, from the Presidio of SF to Marin County”



Guest photos by Ruth Gravanis.(top) “partially de-constructed aerial bus ramp in downtown SF”
(bottom) “polypody ferns on YBI [Yerba Buena Island]”


And last, but certainly not least, she sent me an image of hers to pair with one of mine from a previous blog post:



Guest photos by Ruth Gravanis.(top) “Transbay Terminal demolition, 10/25/10”
(bottom) big unidentified ant, foraging 5/27/10


I hope that Ruth will continue to send me her photo pairings as I truly do enjoy seeing them! All of her images were taken in the City and County of San Francisco. The added dimension of “place”photos taken in geographic proximity to where one lives — makes these all the more special I think.

Of the small (but very loyal) band of friends that read my blog, many of you are also naturalists and photographers. It would be great fun if anyone else feels like joining in and trying their hand at pairing some photos of their own!


Harsi / July 23, 2011 / arthropods, not nature, photography, plants, water / 5 Comments

Convergent Emergence

The hillsides are looking increasingly brown and many of the plants that bloomed in Spring are now withered and dry. And still — they host new life!

While inspecting a small stand of dried-up mustard plants, I was lucky enough to find a Convergent Lady Beetle (Hippodamia convergens) that had just recently emerged from its pupa. Initially after this adult transformation, the beetle’s shell is fairly soft and its coloration much paler than normal. If I had been able to sit and observe for long enough, I would have seen the beetle’s markings and underside of the abdomen darken considerably and its elytral color mature to a deeper shade of orange or red (as demonstrated by this pair that I photographed mating last April).


Convergent Lady Beetle & pupal case


I know that everyone struggles with their fair share of pesky summertime critters — ants, ticks, mosquitoes, bitey flies. But, I’m curious to hear what some of your FAVORITE summertime insects are? Cicadas? Butterflies? Bees? Dragonflies?


Harsi / July 21, 2011 / arthropods / 2 Comments

Selective Color

One of the Photoshop techniques that I enjoy applying to some of my photos involves desaturating the image to remove all of the color and then selectively painting portions where I want to bring it back. It can make an artistic statement, draw the eye to a particularly lovely element, or help to make the primary subject matter stand out from a similarly-colored background. Here are a few that I’ve been playing with over the last several months…


Black Bear footprint & sycamore leaf

California Black Bear (Ursus americanus californiensis) footprint with fallen California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) leaf in mud.

American Bullfrog & aquatic plants

American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) hiding among aquatic plants in pHake Lake at the Robert J. Bernard Biological Field Station.


Aphid & Laurel Sumac leaf

Aphid on young Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina) leaf.

Harsi / July 20, 2011 / amphibians, arthropods, mammals, photography, plants, tracks / 2 Comments

The Fox and The Ant

The title of this blog post reminds me a little of Aesop’s fables. Though, in this case, the two story lines are not related and you won’t find a moral at the end. (Well… okay, maybe just a little one!)

Sitting in my bedroom today, I saw a little movement out of the corner of my eye and looked up in time to see a Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) trotting down the path just outside my window. It looked very hot. (Weren’t we all today?!) Being mostly nocturnal, we don’t commonly see fox in the daytime and I wonder if this one was looking for water. I tried to follow it around to the other side of the cabin, but I lost sight of it. So… no photos to share with you. But, in celebration of the sighting, here’s a picture of another fox who made daytime visits to our cabin on several occasions in the Spring of 2010:


Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)Don’t you just love the black stripe on their tails?


In other news… Somewhere in the early afternoon, I finished washing a big pile of dishes then sat down to have some lunch and work on a few things. When I got back and wandered into the kitchen I was amazed to see that the entire sink and counter top was crawling with ants. Where did they come from? How did there get to be so many so quickly?!

I have thought it before and I will say it here now: It is a very good thing indeed that there are not human-sized ants. It’s not just their incredible strength, ability to wage chemical warfare or formidable jaws and stingers that should be respected. It’s also their supreme skill when it comes to communicating, organizing and executing tasks. If you’ve ever spent any time watching ants, you’ll know what I mean. It is truly astonishing.

Back to the ants at hand… I always do my best to avoid killing unnecessarily. After all, the ants aren’t trying to make your life more difficult by invading your home — they’re just doing what ants do. Looking for food, or water or shelter from the elements. Often I find that a good cleaning of the area is enough to slow their numbers and then (if possible) I find the crack(s) or opening(s) that they are using and try to physically block them. For those ants that haven’t managed to retreat back from whence they came, I let them crawl onto a piece of paper or cardboard and escort them outside. (This is often the point where some people roll their eyes at me.) Don’t misunderstand me, I do have to kill ants on occasion. Sometimes their numbers overwhelm me, or they refuse to leave even after I’ve done all the steps I outlined. In those cases, I prefer to simply squish them. I don’t use any pesticides or harsh chemicals in my home if I don’t absolutely have to.

I was a bit thrown by the situation that presented itself today though because these were not the tiny black ants that I was used to dealing with. These were much larger and their mouthparts looked large enough to be painful if they decided to bite. I decided to just work around them carefully, removing everything from the counter and the sink, cleaning as I went. As they began to retreat, it became clear where they were coming in and I set about blocking the cracks and escorting the stragglers outside. I’m happy to report that within a couple of hours the situation was mostly resolved! And with only one ant death — an accident on my part.

So, what is the moral? Well, I suppose it’s that sometimes it’s not necessary to squish and spray the insects that find their way into our homes. Or, perhaps it’s that despite the inconvenience of having to drop everything and rearrange my afternoon, my kitchen has never looked better! *GRIN*

I really was quite impressed with the size of the ants we had today, but only in comparison to the size of the ones we usually get. I’ve watched enough ants out on the trail to know that they can get much, much larger. Check out this (as of yet) unidentified species:

very large ant speciesThis photo is just to show you a size comparison next to a penny. *Click on the photo to see a nicer image of this impressive ant.* I’m very relieved to report that thus far I have only found these ants traveling solo… I can only imagine what a large colony would look like!

Anyone else currently coping with ants in their house?

Harsi / July 19, 2011 / arthropods, conservation, mammals / 2 Comments

As Good As July Gets!

After hyping my fantastic walk on Wednesday, I promised I’d share it with you all today (Thursday), but as I’m not getting to posting this until midnight, no one will even read this until Friday! *sigh*

Sorry, everybody. It was cloudy and cool again today and (apparently) I have no will power when it comes to such matters. Now I’m about two days behind on other stuff that needed my attention. But, thinking over my memories of the past two days’ walks, I can honestly say I have no regrets! *GRIN*

And now, on to the good stuff…


Western Gray Squirrel, drinking


In the summer months, I keep a few containers filled with water outside our cabin. There are increasingly few water sources for birds and mammals as the seasonal creek shrinks and slows to a trickle in some spots.

In addition to several bird species (including a Cooper’s Hawk!), I have also seen deer, fox, bobcat, coyote, rabbit and squirrel availing themselves.

This Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus) was busy getting a drink as I stepped outside for my walk. *Be sure to click on the image for an amusing bonus shot.* You lookin’ at me??!


leafhopper nymph


In the active months of summer, it can be hard to get past the front of my cabin withougt being distracted by some new arthropod.

In this case, the wooden porch railing was hosting something otherworldy!

This is the immature (nymph) stage of some leafhopper (Family Cicadellidae) species. Up close, It’s very impressive looking  — with that spiked tail — but its actual size is all of about 2 to 3 millimeters.

bee sleeping in Oleander flower


One of the best parts about cool weather in the summer months is that many of these insects will slow down considerably.

Looking for resting bees hanging out in the center of flowers is one of my favorite pastimes.

I would have stayed longer taking more photographs of this bee (no ID yet!) resting in a white Oleander bloom, but one of my neighbors was apparently becoming quite agitated…


Western Gray Squirrel, on alert


Another gray squirrel had climbed high into the bare branches of an olive tree, twitching its tail and loudly alerting everything to my presence.

I tried to assure the squirrel that I was not even remotely worth all the fuss.

But the yammering continued and I decided to peaceably move along.


California Poppy, late in the season


One of the increasingly few remaining California Poppies still blooming this late in the season.

The eye-popping orange is even more startling amidst the browning backdrop of our summer hillsides.


Fence Lizard, looking up


I stopped to photograph this sluggish Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes).

Every time the light shifted and became a little brighter, I would glance skyward to see if the sun was finally going to successfully break through the clouds. I held my breath, hoping the cloud cover would hold.

I glanced down and realized that the lizard was looking up too… I’m guessing it was eagerly awaiting that very moment.

Sun is like coffee for lizards… their day gets off to a slow start without it. 

Taile Copper on California Sagebrush, ventral


I turned to inspect a large patch of California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and struck gold… well, COPPER actually!

This female Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota) was insanely cooperative and let me get close to take some beautiful photos.

Then, she really outdid herself…


Tailed Copper on California Sagebrush, dorsal


…and turned to show off the pretty pattern on the top of her wings.

How do you say “thank you” in butterfly? *GRIN*

When I passed this same spot on the way home, I thought she was still sitting there. But, it turned out to be a male this time. Coincidence? Or was he also waiting, just hoping that she would return?


baloon trash on the trail


A frustrating moment at the end of my very lovely walk…

There on the ground among the brightly colored eucalyptus leaves was more balloon garbage.

I wrote about my rather strong feelings on this subject in this post from last May. Along with this item, I also picked up a latex glove (ewww…) and several other random bits of plastic.


Acorn Woodpecker feather?


I long for a world where we as a species create significantly less waste. Where we are all concerned about what happens to our trash as it infiltrates increasingly remote natural environs.

~ May we all find more feathers than trash on the trail. ~

This one belonged to an Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus), I think. Compare to image here.

Harsi / July 14, 2011 / arthropods, birds, conservation, flowers, mammals, not nature, plants / 2 Comments

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

Before moving to our cabin here in the canyon, I never had the opportunity to observe the Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota). E-nature.com  states that the species’ range extends from “S. Oregon south to S. California, east to edge of Great Plains, north to S. Wyoming, and south to central New Mexico.” They are not uncommon butterflies, but are reportedly often very localized in their distribution which may make them more difficult to find. According to Jeffrey Glassberg’s Butterflies Through Binoculars: The West, they are “most frequently encountered along streamsides and other water courses through foothill woodlands, but also in chaparral and oak openings, sagebrush steppes, and high mountain meadows.” Fred Heath’s An Introduction to Southern California Butterflies makes specific mention of their fondness for “well-watered mountain canyons … such as Little Dalton Canyon & Evie Canyon” (located west and east of our home, respectively). I wouldn’t say that I have ever seen large numbers of this species, but every year (reliably!) there are a few that camp out near the house and can be seen from late May into July.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

The above image shows the ventral (underside) view of a male (left) and female (right). While these two individuals’ coloration look somewhat distinct, I don’t actually believe that you can tell the sexes apart from this view.


Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)


As can be seen in this image showing the dorsal (topside) view of a couple of males, they are usually a brown/copper color with an occasional purplish tinge and not much in the way of distinctive patterning.


Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)


I’ve seen many males, but thus far, only one female. I felt I was lucky to be able to get these few nice images of her nectaring at Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia). If you can get a clear view of the dorsal surface, the orange-y wing pattern is quite distinctive.


Ribes species


While adult butterflies will nectar at a number of different kinds of plants, their larva is dependent on those in the Ribes genus — specifically gooseberry and currant. Here are a few of the varieties growing here in the canyon. (I confess that I don’t have firm IDs for these yet… my ability to identify plants to species is still a work in progress.) While I have searched through foliage many times in early Spring, hoping for the opportunity to find the eggs and/or caterpillars to photograph and observe, I have yet to be successful. I couldn’t even find an online photo of their larva to show you, so my guess is that they are not so easy to discover. E-nature.com describes them as follows, “caterpillar green, darker toward head, with fine double white line down back, yellowish line down side, and covered with minute yellowish-white hair”.

At about 1-inch in size, they are among the smaller butterflies in this area. Fortunately, the males have a very conspicuous habit of choosing an elevated perch (such as a small shrub) and then patrolling the area, investigating any passing insect (or other critter), presumably in the hopes of finding or attracting a female.

If you live an area where these butterflies do, I’d love to hear your experiences with them. And, if you have yet to find one for yourself, I hope this post will prove helpful!

Harsi / July 9, 2011 / arthropods, flowers, plants / 0 Comments

Do you know this lovely?

mystery butterfly

I’ll be posting more photos and information tomorrow, but I thought I’d just lead with this teaser. For those who know their butterflies and are up for the challenge, I’ll give you a few hints… 1) the larval host plants are gooseberry (Ribes spp.) and 2) it has something in common with both a penny and a police officer. *GRIN*

This butterfly was photographed nectaring at buckwheat (Eriogonum sp.). I love that you can just see the tips of its antennae poking out at the bottom of the flower cluster!

Harsi / July 8, 2011 / arthropods, flowers / 4 Comments

Katydid Contemplation


katydid contemplating



While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things.

William Wordsworth


Harsi / June 30, 2011 / arthropods, quotations / 0 Comments