Allograpta obliqua

Have you ever thought of the words “fly” and “beautiful” in the same sentence? No?!

Well, let me introduce you to Allograpta obliqua

allograpta obliqua on pyracanthaNectaring on Pyracantha (Pyracantha angustifolia) flowers.
allograpta obliqua on brassicaNectaring on Mustard (Brassica sp.) flowers.
Allograpta obliqua can be found throughout much of North America and is a member of the family Syrphidae, collectively known as Flower Flies or Hover Flies. These names are very fitting as this fly visits a wide variety of flowers to collect nectar and is also an expert flyer with the ability to hover in one place, move sideways or backwards in flight. In addition to the fact that it is a joy to watch and is completely harmless to humans, this is a great fly to have around one’s garden. By visiting flowers it assists in pollination and it also lays its eggs on plants with aphid colonies, which are decimated by the fly’s predacious developing larvae.


allograpta obliqua maleThis is a male. See how its eyes come together and touch at the top of its head?
The females (as shown in the first and second photo) have eyes which are separated at the top.

allograpta obliqua feeding on mustardHere you can see the long mouthparts that the fly uses to effectively “lap up” the nectar and pollen.

allograpta obliqua on eriogonumNectaring on Buckwheat (Eriogonum sp.) flowers.

allograpta obliqua faceA face only a mother could love? *grin*
Well, I find them quite charming and they are a pleasure to photograph.

Check-out your garden or wildflowers along the trail for these endearing flies — they should be flying now!

Harsi / May 13, 2011 / arthropods, flowers / 7 Comments

The Change that’s Coming…

monarch chrysalis

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) chrysalis

I had been such an avid reader for so many years of various excellent blogs that I had a pretty high standard of what I wanted to accomplish when I set out to begin my own. I definitely wanted a place to showcase my photography, artwork and poetry. I wanted to write about my observations and discoveries, to educate and enlighten people about my biggest passion — wildlife. I aimed to inspire readers, to entertain them, and to (hopefully) keep them coming back for more. Yet, if I’m being honest, more than anything else I was looking for an opportunity to share my life with more people. I spend a lot of time alone; partially by choice. I love the solitary hours I spend out in the field. Just me and the animals, the plants, the earth and sky. When I’m around other humans, I tend to be a bit frenetic and sometimes I have a hard time feeling comfortable in my own skin. But alone… outside… I am truly a different person. Life slows for me. I focus deeply. I breathe easier. I feel completely at home and content. I like who I am.

I suppose I thought that maybe I could merge those two worlds… the one where I’m alone (but the kind of person I’d like to be) and the one where I can interact with other people (but don’t always express myself as I’d like to). This blog seemed like a perfect opportunity to try to bridge the gap. It started out well enough… Nine posts in my first month! Then, there was only one in March — but I told myself it was because we’d been on vacation and I was just getting a slow start, easing back into the groove of things. But, here it is the first week of May, and it is hard not to see the writing on the wall as I acknowledge that I barely managed to eek* out a single post for April too. I have heaps of beautiful photos still to share of our exciting trip to Vashon. There has been non-stop Spring activity here in the canyon and every day seems to bring a new story to tell. My camera has been full of images and my head full of thoughts. So, what went wrong?

Well… I fell victim to my familiar weakness — perfectionism.

All my life I have struggled with my own unrealistically high standards. I have a vision in my mind of what I want to accomplish and sometimes I stubbornly refuse to settle for anything short of that. The upside is that when I actually do manage to complete something, I’d like to think that the end product is high-quality. The downside (and it’s a BIG one) is that I struggle over things that should be enjoyable and I often give-up on them entirely rather than settle for something “less than”. It’s not a trait that I like in myself and it’s one I’d like to change, if I can.

From this day forward, I’ve promised myself that I will post something every day. Sometimes, it may only be a single photo and a few words… still, it will be something. (I considered making this deal quietly to myself instead of broadcasting it, but old habits die hard and I feared I would backslide without some accountability.) I feel quite certain that it is more important for me to use this blog to share regularly about myself and the things that bring me joy than it is to have every entry be perfect. I’ve connected with so many warm-hearted, like-minded people via the Internet. They have brought so much camaraderie and contentment into my life. I’m happy and excited at the prospect of just focusing on making that connection and no longer getting as bogged down by limitations and standards that only exist in my own head.

So… I’ll be back tomorrow to share something wonderful… and the day after that… and the day after that… and the day after that… *grin*

[* EDIT: My husband just informed me that apparently the correct spelling is “eke”. Huh… you learn something new everyday! It seems cosmically fitting that there should be at least one typo in my post on abandoing perfectionism, doesn’t it?!]

Harsi / May 7, 2011 / arthropods / 6 Comments

Be Here Now

I’ve been struggling to finish up the next installment of my retrospective on our trip to Washington last month. (Not struggling because it is unenjoyable, but because I can’t seem to decide which images to share… I’m terrible like that when it comes to making up my mind.) Meanwhile, ever since we returned home, the lure to be outside for large portions of the day grows stronger and stronger. Spring is in full swing and the sight of deer peeking out of tall grasses and the sounds of birds singing their best courtship arias are hard things to resist. (Not to mention the bevy of awesome insects that have arrived and promise a new discovery nearly every day!!) I promised myself that I wouldn’t share any of my recent pics until I’d finished with the tales of our trip — BUT WHO AM I KIDDING??? Some things just need to be shared… especially with friends. I hope you enjoy and be sure to click on the images for embiggened viewing!


Coast Range NewtThe Coast Range Newts (Taricha torosa torosa) are one of my favorite annual phenomena. Though they live in the area year-round, they are only easily observable at the end of Winter and through Spring when they leave their moist terrestrial hide-outs to congregate in the seasonal creek and breed. As they are extremely toxic, the adults have very few known predators, but states: “Southern California populations have suffered population declines due to habitat loss and alteration caused by human activity, and from introduced predatory mosquitofish, crayfish, and bullfrogs, which eat the non-poisonous larvae and eggs. Breeding ponds have been destroyed for development, and stream pools used for breeding have been destroyed by sedimentation caused by wildfires.”
This has been a banner year for them thus far and their numbers seem very healthy… which makes me very happy!

StorksbillStorksbill (Erodium), also known as filaree or heron’s bill, is a non-native that grows rather prolifically here in the canyon.
Its small flowers aren’t very showy, but as with anything in nature, a closer look reveals all kinds of intricate beauty.

Organic cloudsI never tire of looking at (and photographing) clouds. The sky on this day was doing some crazy things and I was fascinated by the organic shapes being created…
Does anyone else see a face on the right?

juvenile curled-up rattlesnakeYup! It’s gotten warm enough for the rattlesnakes to be out basking again. This curled-up juvenile Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) was about the diameter of an English muffin when I spotted it behind my house last week.
A few days earlier, I saw a curled-up full-grown adult — closer to a medium-sized pizza in that case. *grin*

deer silhouetteThe Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) population this year seems to have grown. I have no good way of knowing exactly how many might live in this canyon, but I do keep track of how many I’ve seen together at the same time. Last month, I trumped my high count (by several!) when I saw a group of nineteen foraging together.
I really, really, really, want to know what this deer is saying… any guesses? *big grin*

mating ladybeetlesAs I mentioned, this is definitely a fantastic time of year to be out if you enjoy studying arthropods! The native Convergent Ladybeetles (Hippodamia convergens) were some of the first insects to start gathering in the lush grasses and new vegetation. [Whoops! I initially mistyped that these were a non-native species.]
As you can see, they are well on their way to creating the next generation.

pink skyEarlier this week, I stood watching the sky long after the sun had set. At first it was all dark blues and purples, but then something shifted and I looked up and saw this…
Can the sky really be that color, I thought? Yes, yes it can…

blurry birdOK, yes, I know this is a picture of a blurry bird… but, I have a fondness for such things and I especially like this one.
*** Super extra-credit bonus points to the first person who can tell me which bird species this is! ***

For those of you for whom Spring has arrived, may you have the time to appreciate all the wonders it has to offer. And for those who are still patiently awaiting an end to cold and wet weather, may the anticipation make its arrival all the sweeter.

Harsi / April 2, 2011 / amphibians, arthropods, birds, flowers, mammals, plants, reptiles, skies / 6 Comments

There Will Be Bugs*

large milkweed bug

For those of you who don’t know already, I’m pretty fascinated by arthropods. Several years ago, I only really knew how to identify butterflies and maybe a few spiders and beetles. But, I like to photographically document all the creatures that I come across and once I have photos of them… well, then I really want to know what to call them. And as per so many things in nature, once I learned a little bit, I just kept on wanting to learn more.

After I had exhausted the few field guides that I owned, one of the first online resources for arthropod identification that I found was BugGuide — and I fell in love! This astounding site offers several resources: 1) A clickable field guide that offers high-quality photos, information, and distribution data for an ever-growing number of species within the continental U.S. & Canada. 2) Several forums for posting arthropod-related questions. 3) An ID Request page where you can upload your own images and contributors will help you ascertain the correct identification. This site is 100{1bc34eabd4104b17d01d7ba5e0e8813c7528ea5e3705e6cf11909ea20cbd680a} volunteer-driven and it is truly a melting pot of different people within the scientific community. Contributors range from well-respected entomology experts and students to dedicated naturalists and photographers. It is an excellent place for beginners to learn and participate in an extremely supportive and encouraging environment. About a year and half ago, I was very pleased to be allowed to contribute my time and energy by becoming a contributing editor on the site. I cannot say enough wonderful things about the website itself and all the incredible people involved, many of whom have become good friends.

So, getting back to the title of this post… “There Will Be Bugs”. Though this blog will most assuredly showcase plenty of beautiful flowers, scenic skies, cute mammals and magnificent birds — there will also most definitely be insects and spiders (and snakes!). I know some people find these creatures “creepy” or “icky”. It is my sincere hope that I can change a few minds in this regard, but if not, you can always just skip past these posts.

The lovely red-and-black insect in the above image is the Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus), a common and conspicuous find in this area of southern California. As the name would imply, they are often found feeding on the plant tissues of various species of milkweed (Asclepias). However, around my place, there is a very large and active population that resides rather exclusively in the non-native Oleander (Nerium oleander) bushes.

The following photo shows the same species of bug, but this one has just finished shedding its exoskeleton. This is necessary in order for it to continue growing to its full size. Shortly after this process, the new exoskeleton has not hardened or darkened completely and during this period the freshly molted insect is referred to as teneral. Typically when I see these pale individuals they are clinging to the underside of leaves, presumably as a means of hiding from potential predators while their bodies are still soft and vulnerable. (For a fantasic series of images documenting the emergence of a teneral individual, click here.)

large milkweed bug -- teneral

* While it wasn’t one of my favorite movies, for those who are familiar with the somewhat bizarre 2007 film “There Will Be Blood” — I hope you got my little joke! My husband rolled his eyes at my bad pun, but I sure thought it was funny. *big grin*

Harsi / February 12, 2011 / arthropods / 2 Comments