JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of
Grants Pass, Oregon, USA

July 12, 2009

OSPREY NEST
A few years ago they constructed a new bridge over the Rogue River on the way to Merlin. Instead of tearing down the old bridge they left it there, barricading it and building the new bridge beside it. Soon a pair of Ospreys, PANDION HALIAETUS, built a big, messy-looking nest atop the old bridge's upper girders, clearly visible from the new bridge. For years Osprey families have continued raising young there, usually two young per season. You can see how the nest is situated at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712ot.jpg.

A close-up of an adult feeding a nestling is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712os.jpg.

The Ospreys and their nest have become a local attraction, everyone for miles around keeping tabs on what goes on day to day. In the spring often you see an adult patrolling the pretty Rogue below, frequently carrying a fish, for an Osprey's diet is 99% fish. Even in a moving car you can see the nestlings' heads above the nest and sometimes you see feeding, nest- edge perching, and other activities.

The word Osprey looks like it might derive from good old Germanic roots but it's a corruption of the ancient Latin "avis praedæ," meaning simply "bird of prey." This reflects the fact that Ospreys also occur in Eurasia; in fact, they have a worldwide distribution and are found on all continents except Antarctica. European Ospreys overwinter in Africa while American and Canadian birds fly to Latin America, although some overwinter in the US Deep South.

Ospreys usually mate for life, though rare instances of polyandry -- the female taking more than one mate -- have been recorded.

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BEE FLY
At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712bf.jpg you see a beelike critter who has been making the rounds lately. This is a bee fly, of which there are several genera and many species. About 75 bee fly species are listed for Oregon and Washington State. I'm guessing that the genus BOMBYLIUS is pictured. A close-up of the head with its long proboscis can be seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712bg.jpg.

Bee flies are flies that look like bees. In other words, they're in the Fly Order, Diptera, whose members bear one pair of wings, while bees belong to the Wasp and Bee Order, Hymenoptera, whose members bear two pairs of wings.

However, bee flies definitely look and behave like bees. That's because they're basically defenseless, but it's to their advantage to look like bees capable of stinging a predator. Bee flies buzz in flight like bees, and behave somewhat like them.

For instance, when I'm photographing most insects as they pollinate flowers they tend to gradually move away from me as they visit one flower after another. The bee fly in the picture incessantly moved toward the camera's lens, several times actually flying beneath the camera and sometimes even darting at the lens as if threatening to sting! He was pugnacious, but it was all bluff.

Bee fly larvae are more dangerous, at least to other insects. Female bee flies deposit their eggs in the nests of other insects or spiders, the victim species depending on the bee fly species. Details vary from species to species but the typical story is that the bee fly's eggs hatch into wormlike larvae who eat the food meant for the nest's original larvae, then the bee fly larvae eat the original larvae themselves! More often than not bee flies parasitize the nests of real bees.

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CALIFORNIA SISTER BUTTERFLY
Because of its bold markings, large size and lack of similar local species, the California Sister, ADELPHA BREDOWII, probably is the easiest-to-identify of our butterflies, as well as one of the most common. You can see one on a Forest Service picnic table at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712si.jpg.

One reason California Sisters are so common here is that the species' preferred host plant also is common, the Canyon Live Oak.

We've run into "sister butterflies" before, all with those orange blotches on the inside forewings and smaller white spots or lines across both wings, causing the wings' openings and closings to look like a mouth opening and closing, which might be unnerving to a predator. If you savor Nature's "variations on a theme" you might enjoy comparing our California Sister with the Donysa Sister we saw a couple of years ago in the oak-pine-sweetgum highlands of Chiapas at http://www.backyardnature.net/chiapas/butt-024.jpg.

Later, in the Yucatan's hot, scrubby lowlands, we kept running into Massilia Sisters like the one shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/sister-b.jpg.

In fact, 33 sister butterflies -- species of the genus Adelpha -- are listed for Mexico, though the Audubon field guide mentions only two for North America. The California Sister is distributed from Washington State to Mexico's Baja California, east into Colorado and New Mexico.

The Audubon guide says the group is referred to as "sisters" because its colors are reminiscent of those of a nun's habit. I've not seen nuns wearing orange, white and black habits, but there's a lot I haven't seen.

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A CICADA EXUVIA'S TRACHEAL TUBES
Though the Orchard Cicadas we profiled earlier (online at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/a/o-cicada.htm) are seen from time to time, they're not common and I still haven't heard any calling. However, this week I did find a recently emerged larva's abandoned exoskeleton, or exuvia, which you can see at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712ci.jpg.

That picture is particularly interesting because it shows so clearly the white, threadlike things emerging from the exuvia's interior. There's a story behind those.

For, insects don't have anything like our lungs. They have holes in their abdomens and thoraxes that lead to tubes, or trachea, which carry oxygen into their bodies. Even though the tracheas are inside the insects' bodies, they are part of the exoskeleton, so, when the larva sheds, its trachea linings are shed as well. The threadlike things emerging from the exuvia are the trachea linings from inside the recently emerged cicada larva's body.

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TARWEED ENCHANTMENT
Along my gravel jogging road, at the bottom of a steep hill, there's a weedy spot that each morning almost takes my breath because of its sheer beauty. Especially this week when the silvery Moon hung suspended in the western sky, this dewy spot in dim early-morning light absolutely glowed with thousands of close-together, yellow, daisy-like flowers, all their heads turned toward the sun soon to rise on the eastern horizon. One morning I returned there with my camera just as the sun's first rays streamed onto the flowers, their faces flat into the sun, a few shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712ma.jpg.

Those are Tarweeds, sometimes called Common or Wild Madia, MADIA ELEGANS. A close-up a flower-head is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712mb.jpg.

"Flower-head" instead of "flower" because Tarweeds are members of the Composite or Sunflower Family, so in the last picture you saw lots of flowers gathered into a flower-like cluster, not just one flower. Around the head's periphery radiate several flat, three-lobed "ray flowers" while the center is occupied by several five-lobed, conical "disk flowers." Among Tarweeds only the ray flowers produce fruits; the disk flowers only produce pollen. The fruits can be pressed for oil or roasted and ground into flour, though they're smaller than rice grains and each flower only produces as many as it has ray flowers.

Jogging beside the little colony of Tarweeds, I can smell a pungent, medicinal scent even though I'm not treading any. If you walk among the foot-tall plants your leg hairs get gummy and stick together. Our Tarweeds are densely covered with long hairs tipped with glands that secrete a sticky, resinlike substance. You can see the gland-tipped hairs at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712mc.jpg.

I specify "our Tarweeds" because this is a very variable species with four recognized varieties, and even the varieties vary a great deal within themselves. Some Tarweed forms don't have the gland-tipped hairs, some don't have the dark splotches at the ray-flowers' bases, etc.

In mid afternoons when it's particularly hot and dry, if you return to the Tarweed spot you won't see a single blossom, for the flower heads close and the rays shrivel drastically when it's very hot and dry. Each morning when I see so many fresh blossoms vivaciously facing into the sun when the previous afternoon there'd been nothing to see, it seems nothing short of miraculous, and I guess it is.

Tarweeds are native wildflowers occurring in grasslands, shrublands, woodlands, and disturbed sites from Washington State to Mexico's Baja California, east into Nevada.

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POND-GRACING HARDHACK STEEPLEBUSH
As Tarweeds grace a spot along my jogging road, another plant, a woody shrub, forms thickets along muddy shores of local ponds and streams. Its pink spires of closely packed, small flowers very prettily form a rosy frame to green waters surrounded by blue- green, mostly evergreen forest. You can see some flowering branches beside the pond above my place at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712sp.jpg.

Known as Hardhack Steeplebush, Hardhack Spiraea, Douglas' Meadowsweet and other names, it's SPIRAEA DOUGLASII, thus closely related to garden spiraeas. A close-up of a flower shows typical spiraea features at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712sq.jpg.

Spiraeas belong to the Rose Family so it's not surprising that Spiraea blossoms suggest pink peach or plum flowers, which also are Rose Family members. When sun shines on the flower clusters, the blossoms' many slender, pink-filamented stamens create a radiant, pink halo around the inflorescences.

The shrub usually stands about head high and is so attractive that it's sold as an ornamental. Later in the year the pink flower clusters give way to dark brown bunches of fruits which hang on the branches through winter. The thickets they form along pond edges certainly make good hiding places for wildlife. The Lummi tribe of western Washington brewed a tea of the tiny seeds to help against diarrhea.

The name Hardhack Steeplebush is pretty descriptive: The bush is hard to hack, and its flower clusters are formed like church steeples. This species is native from southern Alaska to California, east to Idaho. The genus Spiraea embraces 80-100 species native to temperate North America, but most Spiraea species are found in eastern Asia. The most famous Spiraea, the gardener's Bridal Wreath, is from China and Japan.

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ROSEFLOWER STONECROPS
At higher elevations in this area where serpentine rock emerges from roadcuts and cliff faces there's a fairly common succulent plant that would be a star in any rock garden. You can see its pebble-like leaves and long-stemmed, pink, claw-like cluster of flowers at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712se.jpg.

That's the Roseflower Stonecrop, SEDUM LAXUM var LAXUM, an endemic growing naturally only in California and Oregon. Notice how leaves of nonflowering shoots form stemless rosettes of thick, smooth leaves that are so well camouflaged that they're easy to overlook. You can see a close-up of a flower at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712sd.jpg.

At the blossom's base arises a normal calyx with five sharp, greenish-yellow, erect, tooth-like sepals. Inside the calyx and between the sepals emerge somewhat longer reddish petals joined at their bases. Ten stamens with blackish, pollen-filled anthers project from the corolla, and then in the center you see five slender, red, pointy things rising skyward. Though most flowers have just one pistil, those are the tops of five female pistils, a pistil being composed of a stigma, style and ovary. The pistil's tip-top is sort of fuzzy and pale; that's the stigma where pollen germinates. The slender neck below the stigma is the style, and then the ovary is the thicker part below. Ovules inside the ovary will mature into seeds and the ovary into a fruit.

Sedum laxum is a variable species with three varieties recognized. Ours is the typical one, the other two being rarer. In the June 7th Newsletter I profiled another Sedum species, Sedum spathulifolium, one found in moister environments, and you might enjoy comparing our present Sedum laxum with that one. It's at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/h/stonecrp.htm.

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CHICORY ALONG ROADS
These days roadsides all across North America are graced with waist-high "weeds" topped with diffuse clusters of blue flower-heads 1-½ inches across. It's a famous plant most people don't recognize, an invasive from Europe. It's Chicory, sometimes called Succory, CICHORIUM INTYBUS, plant and flower head seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712ch.jpg.

Chicory belongs to the Composite or Sunflower Family, so the blue flower-head in the picture is actually a collection of several distinct flowers. The large, flat items radiating from the center are "ray flowers," each tipped with five little teeth, which are the remains of the five petals of ancestral blossoms. The slender, dark blue things arising at the base of each ray flower are cylinders formed by each flower's five pollen-producing anthers grown together along their margins. Fuzzy, pale blue stigmas emerge from the top of the anther-cylinders. The threadlike styles pass inside the cylinders, then the ovary -- the future fruit -- lies hidden deep inside the flower-head's base.

Chicory is famous because its raw leaves taste good in salads, and its substantial taproot can be roasted, ground, brewed, and drunk like coffee, or mixed with it. New Orleans is famous for its coffee blends using chicory root as a flavor enhancer. Back in my Germany days my university friends often served Mischkaffee blended from ground Chicory root, sugar beet and rye. It had a robust, wholesome taste, was much less expensive than coffee, and didn't contain caffeine.

When I lived in Belgium my French-speaking Walloonian neighbors often bought something at local food markets called chicon. It looked like small, white, elongate heads of cabbage and when cooked in milk sauce made a fine dish like cooked cabbage, but much tastier. Chicon heads were produced by forcing chicory roots to sprout indoors without light.

If you dig up a roadside Chicory its taproot will be so small, wiry and gnarly that you won't want to fool with roasting it and grinding it to make New Orleans coffee. And the plant's leaves will be so small and veiny that plain garden-lettuce will seem much to be preferred. However, if you grow the same Chicory in loose, rich garden soil, keep the weeds down and water your plants, you'll start seeing Chicory's potential.

If you really want to grow big roots and/or tasty leaves, however, you should look for garden seeds of the many horticultural varieties. One salad-leaf variety is sold as Radicchio. The variety used to produce chicon sometimes is called Belgian Endive. (Regular garden Endive is another chicory species, Cichorium endivia.)

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SHOWY MILKWEED'S POLLINATION TRICK
In this area the common roadside milkweed seems to be the Showy Milkweed, ASCLEPIAS SPECIOSA, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712mw.jpg.

Though similar to the East's Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, its features are in general more delicate and streamlined. The Showy is a Western species ranging eastward as far as Michigan and Illinois.

At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712mx.jpg a close-up shows the milkweed flower's complex and distinctive anatomy, with curving "horns" arising from five "corona limbs," or "hoods" forming a circle around the "gynoecium." These are features peculiar to milkweed flowers and they're explained in more detail at http://www.backyardnature.net/fl_milkw.htm.

Milkweed flowers are exquisitely adapted for a special kind of pollination. An insect's leg catches in an ingenious trap and can't escape unless it's carrying special bags of fused-together pollen grains called pollinia, which later will be deposited on a milkweed's stigma heads. At the above link you can see pollinia on leg-ensnaring, upside-down-Y-shaped anthers.

At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712my.jpg the Showy Milkweed's leg trap is the pale, noselike thing at the lower left, with a shadowy slit running up its ridge. The insect foot gets caught in the wider, lower hole, then when the insect jerks the foot upward it catches more securely in the narrowing slit, and can't escape until it lifts out the upside-down-Y-shaped, pollinia-carrying anther at the ridge's top. In the picture the dark thing at the top of the slit is the gland at the base of the upside-down-Y-shaped anther. If you study the pictures on my milkweed page, all this should make sense.

Hummingbirds and butterflies crave the milkweed flowers' nectar and milkweed leaves are the food of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. Showy Milkweed's young leaves can be eaten as greens.

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ROYAL REIN ORCHID FLOWERING
Last month I introduced you to the Western Lady's Tresses orchid, Spiranthes porrifolia, growing in dry soil here, especially at woods edges. Now those plants have vanished and a new, considerably more common orchid species is taking their place in similar habitats. At first glance the two species are very similar -- just a slender spike of tiny, greenish- white flowers -- but closer examination shows that the flowers are very different. You might enjoy comparing the Western Lady's Tresses seen earlier, still online at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/h/spiranth.htm with what's flowering now, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090712or.jpg.

The new orchid often is called the Royal Rein or Flat-Spurred Orchid. It's PIPERIA TRANSVERSA, distributed from British Columbia south through our area into California. Orchids in the genus Piperia are known as "rein orchids," and Flora of North America lists ten species, though none appear in Weakley's Flora of the Carolinas, which covers most of the US Southeast. Piperia seems to be a northern and western genus, and this is the first time I've run across it.

The Royal Rein Orchid keys out easily because its flowers bear long, straight, usually ± horizontal spurs, like those of larkspurs, nasturtiums and violets. In the picture you can see that the spur is much longer than the corolla itself. Other Piperias bear spurs but they're shorter and/or not horizontal. You might enjoying comparing Washington State's five Piperia species, one of which is our Royal Rein, at http://www.wanativeorchids.com/Piperia/index.html.

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SOLAR COOKER UPDATE
The Solar Funnel Cooker introduced last week (seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/x/solar-or.htm) works much better than hoped. This week I spray-painted a quart jar black, set it inside the cooker atop the upside-down lid of a wide-mouthed gallon jar, positioned the upside-down gallon jar over the quart jar atop its upside-down lid (black container inside clear glass container) and was amazed when soon water in the quart jar began boiling.

This is a neat trick to keep in mind for that pending day when the infrastructure cracks a bit more or a global-warming storm takes out the local water supply, for this simple system can sterilize water! At least, when the sun is shining.

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THE PICNIC
Last weekend my friends and I had a picnic up on Onion Mountain overlooking Grants Pass in the valley below, with snow-capped, 9495-ft Mt. McLoughlin 70 miles to the east rising majestically above the haze. Though the temperature in the valley stood in the high 90s, at 4000 feet the breezes were cool and fresh. Anita had fixed some wonderful dishes, all vegetarian, and it couldn't have tasted better or been more nutritious.

The conversation drifted into global warming and that brought up this thought: If everyone ate vegetarian, the global warming problem would be only a fraction of what it is today.

For, A 2006 United Nations report found that the meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than all the SUVs, cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined. A report from the University of Chicago showed that going vegan is 50% more effective than switching to a hybrid car in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than a half-million cars off US roads. Eating one pound of animal flesh produced by usual farming- and livestock-industry methods requires the production of the same amount of greenhouse gasses as driving an SUV 40 miles.

One reason all this is possible is that, in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere, methane gas is more than 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. The world's billions of farmed animals produce enormous amounts of methane, both during digestion of food (burping and farting) and from the acres of cesspools they fill with feces.

Even worse than methane, nitrous oxide is about 300 times more potent as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide. According to the UN, the meat, egg, and dairy industries produce 65 percent of worldwide nitrous oxide emissions.

All these facts have been known for some time, yet hardly anyone thinks about them when they eat. A great political debate rages over carbon dioxide levels while methane and nitrous oxide hardly are mentioned. Moreover, who, thinking of these things and visualizing all the destruction and suffering global warming is causing and will cause in the future, chooses vegetarianism for ethical reasons?

How beautiful when a person makes the effort to learn things, and to take responsibility for his or her choices. How beautiful was our vegan picnic that day, the food so tasty and nourishing, and not a bit of it produced by non-human animals.

The above info, and citations of the publications in which the information appeared, can be reviewed at http://www.goveg.com/environment-globalWarming.asp.

Also see: http://www.earthsave.org/globalwarming.htm.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at www.backyardnature.net/n/.

Visit Jim's backyard nature site at www.backyardnature.net