The Dry Beauty of Summer


sun breaking through the fog, sepia

eucalyptus leaves & grass, sepia


Black Sage, sepia


thistle, sepia



From top to bottom:

sun burning away the morning marine layer
eucalyptus leaves & grass
Black Sage (Salvia mellifera)
thistle (Silybum marianum, I think…)

(OK, so it’s not quite as brown out there as these photos imply! Ha!  I’ve added a sepia cast to all the images to heighten the effect, but it is looking pretty arid and brittle out there in places. Nevertheless, the cooler morning temps we’ve been having did allow for a nice, long walk yesterday up the fire road to the water tanks and then down to the creek for a little exploring. More photos to come…)

Harsi / August 11, 2011 / flowers, plants, weather / 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).  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. 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

Sectionals II

I had so much fun doing this yesterday, that I did a few more today… this time with a botanical theme.


California Poppy, sectional

California Poppy (Eschscholzia sp.)


Wild Cucumber, sectional

Wild Cucumber (Marah sp.)


flower & shadow, sectional

I don’t have a name for this plant… I confess that I was mostly smitten with its shadow. *GRIN*


Laurel Sumac leaf, sectional

Laurel Sumac (Malosma luarina), leaf close-up


That last one is my favorite, I think. Still doing a lot of sleeping, snuffling and generally feeling out-of-it. Call me stupidly optimistic, but tomorrow… I think tomorrow I will definitely be turning the corner on this one.

Harsi / June 28, 2011 / flowers, plants / 2 Comments

Hello Again, Old Friend!

In the still gray hours of early afternoon, I walked with a new friend up the fire road behind our cabin today. I mentioned that two years ago I had the pleasure of photographing a blooming Plummer’s Mariposa Lily (Calochortus plummerae) right near where we stood. Despite my best efforts, I hadn’t managed to find anything in the same spot last year, and even as I said all this, I was scanning for signs of the obscure plant. No luck!

That might have been the end of it, but on our return trip past the same little stretch I turned to point out something of interest and (lucky me!) found myself staring directly at one! A single flower washed in shades of pink and yellow, atop a spindly stem lacking any leaves. The Plummer’s Mariposa Lily is endemic to California and it is classified as endangered or rare by many sources.


Plummer's Mariposa LilyThis is an attractive flower when viewed from the side…

Plummer's Mariposa Lily
…but the real magic happens when you peer into its center!

Our long walk produced many wonderful sightings and lots (and lots!) of great conversation about the local plants and wildlife. But, I think for both of us, this encounter stood out as special. I am so excited to walk back up tomorrow and take a few more pics. And the day after that… and, well…. probably the day after that too!

Harsi / June 19, 2011 / flowers, plants / 0 Comments

The Tiger and The Coyote

Western Tiger Swallowtail, wing close-up


One of the definite highlights of my trip to El Dorado Regional Park a couple weeks ago was a beautiful Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) which repeatedly landed on a close-by patch of Monardella sp. (commonly referred to as Coyote Mint) and then stayed there like someone was paying it to do so. For me and my fellow arthropod enthusiast (Chris), this was like hitting the jackpot.


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


These butterflies are impressively large, but in my experience, they have a frustrating habit of flying around in large circles, then landing just long enough for you to lock in your camera settings and get them framed nicely. Then, you go to press the shutter and find that there’s no butterfly in the viewfinder anymore. Where did it go?! you mutter to yourself… You look around, spy it landing on another flower a little ways off, and the process starts all over again.

But… not this particular butterfly. It seemed quite smitten with this one small grouping of flowers and though it often flitted away for a few seconds, it reliably came back to the same spot over and over again, giving us both ample opportunity to get many photos in a row and even play around a bit with our viewing angle and composition. It was heavenly!!!


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


As is so often the case when I sit down to closely examine my nature images, I discover things that would be very difficult (or impossible) to discern in the field. As I began preparing the photos for this post, I was definitely working under the presumption that I had only photographed a single butterfly. Somehow, the repeated act of it returning to the exact same group of flowers just made me (and I’m guessing Chris too) presume that it was the same swallowtail each time. Apparently… not so!! If you look closely at the images, you can see that there are several notches on the edge of the upper wing of the first butterfly (probably caused by a close call with a hungry bird?) that are not found on the butterfly in the remaining images. Also, if you check out the side-by-side comparison shot I put together below, you can see the subtle differences in the markings themselves.

Western Tiger Swallowtail, wing comparison


I am indebted to Chris for his help in providing me with an ID for the lovely purple flowers. Also, he has put up a wonderful post of his own about our day together at El Dorado — check it out!

If you missed my previous posts about my trip to El Dorado, you can read them here and here.

Harsi / June 18, 2011 / arthropods, flowers, plants / 4 Comments

Sometimes The Sky Calls…

Another night of unsatisfying sleep, my Inbox is full of e-mail awaiting responses, my household chores are steadily backing up. In light of all of this, I had decided that I would stay inside today and just post some remaining photos from yesterday’s walk. But… this morning I looked outside and it was cloudy. I cracked the front door and the weather was cool and breezy. Birds were singing… squirrels were zipping around… and, well, you know how it goes. I got dressed and put my shoes on. [insert sheepish grin] I figured I should at least grab a cup of juice before leaving and while gulping it down, I peered out the kitchen window. As if on cue, my favorite spotted-little-one showed up with its mom and gave me a glimpse or two as it snuck through the sage and olive trees.


mule deer fawn

There was a fair bit of blue sky showing, but the clouds that covered the rest of the sky more than made up for it. Wispy and whimsical. Puffs and arcs. Stretching, shifting and moving. Aaaah… action in the sky… just what I crave!


clouds sky trees

clouds sky hillside

cloud abstract


As if issuing some sort of homage to the little spotted fawn from earlier, the sky shifted yet again and produced this most wonderful pattern:


cloud abstract spots**Be sure to click on the image for a beautiful panoramic.**

A Cooper’s Hawk (quite likely the same one from yesterday!) soared effortlessly above me. Sharing the sky with the hawk were a few swallows swooping and diving at unseen insects. I heard the raucous croaking of the boisterous raven family long before I spotted them high over the hills. The juveniles are as big as the adults now and the family (6 birds total, I think) loudly travels together in search of food and perhaps a bit of mayhem.


Cooper's Hawk & Common Ravens


There were small arthropod joys to be had as well. Several bumble bees were working a patch of California Poppies. If yesterday’s photos were a matter of good luck and perfect timing, today’s images proved to be more a matter of supreme patience and diligence. For some reason, my camera repeatedly refused to achieve focus when I wanted it to, and countless opportunities for beautiful shots of the bees ended up as little more than blurry blobs of orange, yellow and black. But, it was a beautiful day to be out and I smiled despite my frustration, and stuck with it until I managed to come away with at least a few nifty shots.

bumble bees on poppiesI was kind of amazed at how long bumble bees’ back legs are when they let them dangle.


I knew I had been gone too long, and reluctantly I turned and headed for home. As I rounded the corner of the small work shed near our cabin, I slowed down to carefully watch my step and scan the ground… Why? Well, because there’s always the chance I’ll see this poking out of the abandoned ground squirrel burrow:


rattlesnake under shedIf you’ve got a heebie-jeebie-thing about rattlers, I wouldn’t click on this one for the bonus shot… (*grin*)

Hope everyone has had a truly wonderful day!

Harsi / June 1, 2011 / arthropods, birds, flowers, mammals, reptiles, skies / 2 Comments


J-O-YThe death of “joy” in nature is leading to the death of nature itself.

Francis Schaeffer (1970)


I hope everyone had a relaxing long weekend… and perhaps managed to discover a bit of the joy and fufillment that is always present in nature, just waiting to be savored.

Harsi / May 30, 2011 / arthropods, conservation, flowers, mammals, quotations / 0 Comments

Why Don’t We Do It In The… Diplacus??!!

Dasytinae in monkey flower

First off, my apologies to The Beatles for usurping the title of their song for my nerdy, semi-humorous, botanical purposes. *GRIN* This is a photo I took yesterday of a pair of mating Soft-winged Flower Beetles (Dasytinae). Be sure to click on the image for a close-up of the beetles. I discovered them nestled deep inside the center of a Diplacus aurantiacus blossom. Diplacus aurantiacus is also referenced as Mimulus aurantiacus, and is known commonly as Orange Bush Monkey Flower or Sticky Monkey Flower.

This is a very common and prolific flower here in the canyon. As it is extremely drought-resistant, it easily covers the hillsides in a bright, orange perfusion of blossoms and continues to bloom long after most of the other Spring wildflowers have peaked.

orange bush monkey flower hillside


orange bush monkey flower hillside


Beautiful from afar and beautiful up close… don’t you think?


orange bush monkey flower

Harsi / May 29, 2011 / arthropods, flowers, hillsides, plants / 4 Comments