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

My July Sky II

More images and thoughts from my walk at sundown yesterday…


sky, tree & moon triptych


Everywhere I looked the sky was doing something different.

Washes of color and fast-moving clouds.

Swallows dancing through it all.


Western Fence Lizard, sunset profile


Tearing myself away from the views above, I found plenty of interest down on the ground.

Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes) — such beautiful creatures.

After approaching slowly and gradually, I was duly rewarded with an amazing series of shots.

I made sure to say “thank you” when we parted ways.


Phainopepla & branches


The Phainopeplas (Phainopepla nitens) are so numerous this year.

Everywhere in the bare branches are crested pairs — I imagine their nests are hidden in the foliage below.

Quail sputtered loudly from the stands of dry thistle and brush as I passed.

The shrill begging cries of a newly fledged hawk demanded my attention over and over again.

I think (as I have thousands of times before) that birds are pure magic.


plants & sunset


Even after the sun had set from view, the sky remained drenched in lovely shades.

I took the opportunity to photograph some stunning plant silhouettes.

From left to right: Black Sage (Salvia mellifera), California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and White Sage (Salvia apiana).


rattlesnake, soft focus


It was almost 8:30 PM when I neared home…

Just enough light to still make out the potential dangers while wandering around in the hills.

Not quite enough light to get the camera to achieve focus though.

  Not to worry… I like the soft, brush-stroked look of this rattlesnake rendering.

Harsi / July 4, 2011 / birds, hillsides, plants, reptiles, skies / 2 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


Just playing around a bit with dividing photos and how the placement of negative space can change the feel of the overall image….


sunset & clouds, sectional



bubbles on stream, sectional



ecualyptus at sunset, sectional



mule deer at sunset, sectional


Sorry for the simplistic post, folks. I was feeling pretty beat today… but I have high hopes for tomorrow.

Harsi / June 27, 2011 / mammals, plants, skies, water / 2 Comments

Laurel Light

The sun has been BLAZING lately. I try my best to find creative ways to work with this element when it comes to photography. I’m including a few images that I took of the setting sun shining through a mosaic of Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina) leaves. The effect in-person turned out to be much more spectacular than I was able to capture with these images. As long as I had them open in Photoshop though, I decided to play around a bit. Has anyone else ever experimented with the “Invert” command? It inverts the colors in any image, producing an end product that is similar to the way a film negative might appear. In most instances, I find the effect to be too harsh and obviously computer-generated looking. However, with a select group of scenery images and also with many abstract shots, it can produce some unique outcomes that I actually like. Click on the original photos below to see their color inverted. When I saw how these turned out, my thoughts immediately turned to batik — a wax-dyeing technique. Hmmm…. maybe that’s just me?


Laurel Sumac & sun

Laurel Sumac & sun


Anyone still having cool weather where they are?

Harsi / June 23, 2011 / artwork, plants / 3 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


It’s nearing the end of a very long day… About an hour ago, I said good-bye to my husband as he departed for a week-long business trip to Australia. Sadly, he probably won’t get to see much more than whatever is visible from his hotel, but I still hope he manages to have a bit of an adventure and see a few cool sights during his travels.

On my drive home, I found myself thinking about Eucalyptus — a genus of tree that grows prolifically in Australia where it is a native. In southern California, these trees are planted so frequently and have thrived here for so many years that it’s hard for me to not consider them a permanent part of the landscape. And yet… there was a time when not a trace of Eucalyptus would have been found on this continent. Odd to think about.


Eucalyptus leaf


This leaf could have been photographed anywhere.

In truth, it was just one of the many in the canyon that decorate the ground along the trails behind my house… but, it could have been Australia. How would you know the difference? A leaf is a leaf is a leaf.


Black Bear claw marks on Eucalytpus


This is a photo that could never be taken in Australia.

The multicolored trunk and peeling layers of bark wouldn’t be much of a stretch, but this particular Eucalyptus stands near our cabin and it is beautifully etched with the claw marks of one of the resident Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Despite the misleading name often attributed to the Koala, there are no bears in Australia.

Around here, the bears appear to regularly climb and mark the Eucalyptus trees. From the evidence I’ve seen, I gather that at least some of the time they are searching for Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) nests to ransack. A bee species which, by the way, originates from Europe, Asia and Africa.

Hmmm… always so interesting to ponder the increasing convergence of introduced and native wildlife here in California.

Well, I wasn’t really going anywhere with all of this… Sorry! Just musing to myself and trying to share a little something with y’all before I crash for the night. Wishing everyone an enjoyable weekend and hoping that nature figures in your plans somewhere!

[EDIT: After doing a bit more reading, I thought I should probably clarify that while they may all be casually referred to as “eucalyptus”, there are actually three potential genera — Eucalyptus, Angophora and Corymbia — that make up this group of plants. I haven’t attempted to identify the various species of eucalyptus around my place…. yet! Perhaps that will be the subject of a future blog post.]

Harsi / June 11, 2011 / mammals, plants / 2 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

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 CaliforniaHerps.com 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