Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pinal Mountains During The Day

A few posts ago I shared a series of moth and other bug photos from the sheet that my friend Margarethe hung at our campsite in the Pinal Mountains south of Globe, Arizona in mid-July. We also did some productive birding and bugging during the afternoon of our arrival, as well as the following morning.

The habitat is extremely varied near the top of the Pinals due to a turbulent fire history as well as the differences in soil and exposure. A few miles from the top the road traverses the south-facing slope covered in a dense chaparral, and plants normally from much lower elevations rise to near the peak. Margarethe took the photo of me at the top by a large stand of Agave chrysantha, Golden-flowered Agave. These agaves were being worked over by many Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbirds (in all likelihood Rufous, but you can’t tell in this plumage), and it was on this warmer side where we had most of the bugs.

One of the most interesting was this Thistledown Velvet-ant, Dasymutilla glorisa. This is actually a wingless female wasp, and some species are known to have a very powerful sting.

A Meridian Duskywing was one of few leps active on this mostly overcast day.

This is Dipalta serpentina, the Serpentine Bee Fly. I like bee flies because they have distinctive patterns on the wings and body that are usually visible and easy to photograph. All we need now is a field guide to the bee flies.

Very large plants of the lovely Wyoming Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja linariifolia were in full bloom in a couple spots. (Thanks to Mark Egger for confirming the ID.)

We worked our way even higher to an area just barely on the N slope where there was a taller and moister forest, but what was presumably an old burn had created a nice thicket of Ceanothus fendleri, still with lots of flowers.

If it had been warm and sunny we surely would have seen a lot more stuff, but it was still pretty good. This beetle is probably in the genus Attalus, in the odd family Melyridae, the soft-winged flower beetles.

There were a lot of these colorful case-bearing leaf beetles, Urodera dilaticollis. Notice how much smaller the male is than the female.

Though lep diversity was low, numbers of Southwestern Azures were everywhere. Here’s one overshadowed by a handsome Taxiles Skipper, Poanes taxiles.

This ant, probably a carpenter ant, genus Camponotus, is probably getting a sweet honeydew exudate from this caterpillar, almost certainly that of a Southwestern Azure, Celastrina echo cinerea. In turn the caterpillar presumably gets some protection.

The Arizona Thistle, Cirsium arizonicum var. bipinnatum, was strangely absent nectaring insects.

But maybe it was just too cool, having been overcast all day, as this Nais Metalmark, Apodemia nais, was trying to get warm in a patch of sunlight.

I managed to bring in a very large flock of warblers, tanagers, nuthatches, Yellow-eyed Juncos, and Black-chinned Sparrows with my pishing and pygmy-owl imitations. Some of the birds, all apparently locally breeding birds, came in quite close, such as this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

We drove to the very top of Pinal Peak, not expecting to see much other than a fantastic view. But we were surprised by the incredible numbers of Convergent Lady Beetles, Hippodamia convergens. They were in the low vegetation all around the buildings and antennae at the peak.

And despite the cool weather, a Greater Short-horned Lizard, Phrynosoma hernandesi, was active.

On the morning after buglighting we awoke to a beautiful dawn in the oak-chaparral area where Spotted Towhees dominated the dawn chorus. Most other species weren’t singing much at this late date.

We birded and looked for insects just up from our camping spot where the canyon narrows and a moister pine-oak forest dominates, with Arizona Sycamores, Arizona Walnut, and even a stand of some very large Arizona Alders along the canyon bottom. Hairy Woodpecker, Painted Redstart, and Red-faced, Grace’s, and Olive Warblers were among the birds we found here, but a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher was a nice surprise and a first record for the Pinals.

There wasn’t time for much botanizing, but I did have to pause to figure out this holly-like bush, Rhamnus ilicifolia, Hollyleaf Redberry. It’s in the same family as ceanothus but even more closely related to the Cascara of my native Pacific Northwest; I don’t know if it has the same laxative in the bark, as we didn’t try to roast hotdogs or marshmallows using the branches.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Oregon's Aldrich Mountains

Oh gosh, yes, here’s another mountain top that takes my breath away. Aldrich Mountain is yet another place that I can take my WINGS tours to Oregon only if the road is open, usually after mid-May, but sometimes not until much later after winters of heavy snowfall. I created this panoramic from a series of photos just a week ago on the last day of my Oregon tour for a group from the Venice Area Birding Association. Click on it to see a much larger version. It’s a spectacular view.

The Aldrich Mountains are a netherworld between the Ochocos and the Blue Mountains, west of the Strawberry Range, south of the John Day River, and east of the South Fork John Day. Many native Oregonians have never been here and have no idea where it is. You must go.

A huge forest fire obliterated much of the rich coniferous forests in the fall of 2006, but the resulting wildflowers (here mostly Fireweed and Pearly Everlasting) are amazing.

As you get close to the top, Scarlet Gilia (here in an interesting frosty pink variety) are common.

Last year I took a picture of this curious, big-eyed fly at the very peak of Aldrich Mountain and subsequently got the attention of some evolutionary biologists who have been looking at the genetics of botflies and their hosts. They weren’t positive, but this appears to be a hilltopping male Cuterebra polita, a parasite of pocket-gophers, the one species that was missing from their analysis and one that had never been photographed in the wild before. I was sorry I hadn’t collected it, but that’s a different kind of trip. (It turns out the female botflies – after mating with the males they find on isolated hilltops like this – lay their eggs on rootlets of plants at the burrow entrances of the woodrats. The eggs then hatch when they sense the heat, and the larvae subsequently burrow into the woodrat. The upshot of the study was that our diverse botflies here evolved earlier than the ones that specialize on internal surfaces of Old World mammals such as horses and elephants.)

OK, most people might be grossed out (while my friend Kate certainly wants more), so I’ll end with a super cool beetle, also one I found last year (on my hat), Priacma serrata. It’s not rare but is found only in the coniferous forests of NW North America and belongs to this obscure family called Cupedidae. While many beetle families contain hundreds or thousands of species, this one has only 30 worldwide, just four in North America. How cool is that?

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Highest Road in Oregon – Gorgeous Steens Mountain

On the Oregon tours I lead in July and August (about every other year), we get to visit one of my favorite places in the world: the top of Steens Mountain, Oregon’s largest fault-block mountain in the northwestern Great Basin. (Note – it’s one mountain, and Steens with an s – though also note that as an  official geographical name it bears no apostrophe.) The endless vistas from multiple points just take your breath away, such as the view from the upper end of glacier-carved Kiger Gorge above.

Bird-wise, the one really special target is Black Rosy-Finch, and we scored immediately upon arriving at the East Rim Overlook. These mountain crags have Oregon’s only population of this species, and you can only get up here in most summers after July 4. I took this photo with Abbie’s camera, kind of tricky at a good distance.

But there is so much more than birds here, though eye-level passes of a juvenile Prairie Falcon, below eye-level White-throated Swifts, and countless Red-tailed Hawks and sparrows on their post-breeding vertical migration upslope to where there is more food were certainly memorable. But some nice bugs are up here, and we scored two species of grasshopper that were new to me. This one is Bradynotes obesa, the Slow Mountain Grasshopper. It doesn’t hop very much and lacking wings can’t get very far anyway.

This one is Xanthippus corallipes, the Red-shanked Grasshopper, but its red wings stand out more than its shanks.

Another cool insect is Icaricia shasta, the Shasta Blue, an outpost here occurring at the very highest elevations quite a ways away from the next closest population.

And the wildflowers are out of this world here. This being a birding tour, I snapped what shots I could, later keying out fragments I took with me at the dinner table at Linda’s Thai Room in Burns – it was a good opportunity to give a lesson in Asteraceae anatomy. This one is Oreostemma alpigenum var. haydenii, Tundra Aster.

And this is Ericameria suffruticosa, Shrubby Goldenweed.

Then there were flowers and bugs together, such as this Great Basin Bumblebee (Bombus centralis) visiting the abundant and wonderfully minty Monardella odoratissima.

At lunch at Jackman Park, these little black-and-white moths were everywhere, and I saw a few getting nectar from the Veratrum californicum, California False Hellebore. They are distinctive enough to have garnered an English name – Police Car Moth, Gnophaela vermiculata.

I’m looking forward to my next visit here already, scheduled for late August next year.