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

September 13, 2009

MOLTING MALLARDS
The pond's Great-blue Heron and Belted Kingfisher of recent Newsletters have wandered on, but this week four Mallards turned up. You can see three of them at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913ma.jpg.

Probably you can figure out that that's a male on the left and a female on the right, but who's that in the middle?

If you catch the slight hint of greenness in the middle one's head you can guess that it's an immature male. Also notice that nothing of the female's heavy brown mottling shows on the center one, for adult males lack such mottling.

The adult drake's head also is a little ratty looking, probably because of molting.

By the way, notice how shallow the pond is getting, with grasslike vegetation poking above the water's surface. The ducks are actually in its deepest part. Some years the pond completely dries up, but my friends expect the rains to return before that happens this year.

*****

SKIPPER LIKE AN F-22
Skippers are thick-bodied, big-headed, stubby-winged, fast-flying butterflies classified in their own family, the Skipper Family, the Hesperiidae. Usually skippers aren't as colorful as regular butterflies but so many species exist that if you keep identifying them eventually you'll run into a rare species or one with an extraordinary adaptation. A skipper with its hindwings and forewings held at different angles making it look like a split-winged F-22 Raptor jet fighter has been zipping and skipping around Anita's coreopsis this week, and you can see it at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913sk.jpg.

I'm calling this a Woodland Skipper, OCHLODES SYLVANOIDES, distributed from British Columbia south to Mexico's Baja California, and east to Alberta and Colorado. It's especially flexible in its habitat requirements, found in everything from scrub and tidewater marshes, to forest edges and gardens. Therefore, the species is neither particularly rare nor restricted in its habitats.

However, by spending a few minutes identifying it, noticing the black line on its orange wings, studying its wing venation, all the while keeping my mind down in a raspberry-red coreopsis, meeting the species turned out to be an altogether agreeable experience.

*****

APPLE WORMS
Like any good citizens, my friends here don't spray their orchard trees with insecticides. Therefore, wormy apples turn up from time to time. "Just cut them out or eat around them," Anita advises, and you'd be amazed how good her applesauce and apple butter is, and how good my own apple-cornbread is, even when the apples I choose are especially wormy "rejects."

The other day I sliced open an apple and found a classic worm snugly in his burrow. You can see him at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913aw.jpg.

Several "worm" species can infest apples, but this one is the most important. It's the larva of the Codling Moth, CYDIA POMONELLA. Its main field mark is its brown head.

In one of its narrower senses the term "worm" refers to any generally tubular invertebrate of the annelid phylum, such as the earthworm. A more general usage is applied to any animal with a long, cylindrical body and no legs. Neither of these definitions applies to our apple "worm," since it has legs -- six tiny black ones just below the head in the picture, and several "sucker legs" below those. The critter in the picture is the larva of a kind of moth, so actually it's a caterpillar. See moth and caterpillar drawings here.  

Codling Moths can produce 2-3 generations per year 5-8 weeks apart. Once a Codling Moth caterpillar feeds for 3-5 weeks it crawls down the tree and pupates over the winter in thick cocoons under bark or litter on the ground. In the spring adults emerge from the cocoons during flowering time. Females lay eggs on foliage and fruit. Eggs hatch in 1-3 weeks, the larvae chew their way into the fruit core, usually from the blossom end, and then you have what's shown in my picture.

Codling Moths were introduced into North America from Europe.

Some non-toxic control methods are described here.  

*****

HANDSOME CALIFORNIA BLACK OAKS
Few sights impart to me a feeling of wholesome wellbeing more than that of a large, healthy oak tree heavily laden with a robust new crop of acorns. Nowadays our California Black Oaks, QUERCUS KELLOGGII, are loaded with perfect acorns. If you stand beneath one looking upward with sunlight backlighting the leaves you might see something like what's shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913qk.jpg.

A close-up of a couple of acorns can be seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913ql.jpg.

California Black Oaks are common trees here, especially along dry ridges and on steep slopes, able to grow up to 100 feet high. Back East there's a whole cluster of oak species with similar leaves -- the Black, the Scarlet, the Northern Red, the Shumard and more -- but here in the West no oak even comes close to having such leaves, so out here California Black Oaks are even more distinctive than you'd think. Taxonomically they're close to the East's Black Oaks.

In their area of distribution, California Black Oaks often are the main hardwood tree harvested for lumber, yet as recent as the mid 1960s the U.S. Forest Service regarded them as weed trees and in California's National Forests systematically exterminated them by girdling in order to make room for more money-making pine and fir. Eventually the Service's experts figured out that California Black Oaks prosper in certain habitats where pine and fir don't, and the policy was abandoned.

Pine and fir plantations are essentially ecological deserts but California Black Oaks often serve as the most critical forest species for wildlife. Cavities in the trees provide den or nest sites for owls, woodpeckers, tree squirrels, and Black Bears. California Black Oak herbage is heavily browsed by Mule Deer and the acorns are a mainstay for livestock, Mule Deer, rodents, quail and, among birds, especially quail, jays and woodpeckers. Acorns constitute an average of 50% of the fall and winter diets of Western Gray Squirrels and Black-tailed Deer during good mast years. Fawn survival rates increase or decrease in relation to the size of the acorn crop.

Native Americans preferred California Black Oak acorns over those of other species for making acorn meal.

The species is endemic to California's foothills and lower mountains, and here in southern Oregon.

*****

INCENSE-CEDARS DROPPING SEEDS
Back in April I introduced you to our abundant Incense-Cedars, CALOCEDRUS DECURRENS. You can see the tree's Arbor-Vitae-like leaves and review the story at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/w/inc-cedr.htm.

For the last month or so our Incense-Cedars have been covered with curiously shaped, 1.2-inch-long, branch- tip cones. At first they were green but now they're brown and are splitting, releasing seeds. You can see how abundantly they cluster atop a tree by my trailer at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913ib.jpg.

The cones are very unlike pine cones, which bear numerous woody scales stacked atop one another, each scale producing a seed. Incense-cedar cones just have two seed-producing scales, and each scale's seed resembles a winged maple samara. Two splitting cones with papery-winged seeds loosely held inside them are at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913ic.jpg.

*****

WILD ROSES BY THE POND
During much of summer a pretty, small-flowered, red- petaled, thicket-forming wild rose bloomed along the pond as well as many area roadsides and woods edges. Nowadays the flowers have vanished but in their stead shiny, brilliantly red hips have appeared, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913ro.jpg.

The hips are small, about 2/5th-inch across (10 mm), with unusually long, slender sepals (calyx lobes). You can see several fruits inside a hip at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913rp.jpg.

"Fruits inside a hip" is correct, for rose hips are not fruits, and the seedlike things inside them are not seeds.

If you take a flat piece of paper, set numerous flower pistils (a pistil is composed of the female stigma, style and ovary) upright atop its surface, and set many male, pollen-producing stamens around the paper's edges, then bring the paper's corners and sides upward forming a bag with the ovaries inside it and the stamens at the bag's top rim, then you'd have the thing shown in the picture, a rose hip. Technically the hip's red walls are regarded as a hypanthium. The seedlike things within the hip are fruits of the achene type, which means that they are dry, one-seeded fruits that don't split open at maturity, like sunflower seeds.

In the hip picture, notice the brown, crumb-like stamens clustering inside the calyx. Also, the hip is open at the top because the ovaries' styles once extended through that hole so their stigmas could be pollinated.

California's Jepson Manual lists eleven wild-rose species for that state. Around here we have several and three are very similar, all producing small hips with very long, slender-tipped sepals. Maybe the best- known of the three is the California Rose, but that species' prickles are broad-based and usually bent back, catclaw-like. Our species' are straight, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913rq.jpg. Also, the California's prickles are more or less the same color as the stem, very unlike the contrasty case in the picture.

The last two species, the Nootka Rose and the Cluster Rose, are very similar and they freely hybridize. I'm calling ours Cluster Roses, ROSA PISOCARPA, but maybe there's a bit of Nootka in them, for they tend to bear fewer flowers than described in the literature.

In the above picture you can see that a rose hip of this species doesn't offer much to eat. Nancy Turner in Food Plants of British Columbia Indians writes that few Native Americans used the hips of Cluster Roses as a food source, preferring the Nootka Rose's larger ones. However, women used infusions of the Cluster Rose's bark after birthing, and leaves were placed in moccasins to prevent fungal infections.

Cluster Roses are native from British Columbia south through here to northwestern California, east to Idaho.

*****

TULE
Also along the pond's banks a certain wetland-loving plant presents itself as densely bunched clusters of waist-high, green, slenderly cylindrical, hollow, sharply pointed stems. Tousled, brown inflorescences bearing many tiny flower spikelets erupt from near the top of each stem, just below the sharp tip, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913sb.jpg.

Notice the cattail in the background at the left. It's typical that at the pond's edge first there's a line of cattails, then just above the cattails on drier ground this plant appears.

The plant is Tule (pronounced "TOO-leh"), sometimes also called bulrush, though bulrush is a name applied to several kinds of plants. Tule is a member of the Sedge Family, the Cyperaceae. Its technical name is SCHOENOPLECTUS ACUTUS var. OCCIDENTALIS, which bugs me because all my life it's been known by the much easier-to-remember name Scirpus. The name Tule is derived from its Nahuatl name Tollin, Nahuatl being the language spoken by the descendents of Mexico's ancient Aztecs.

At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913sc.jpg a close-up of an inflorescence emerging just below a withering tip shows that flowering time is long past. Now the heads are dropping their fruits, leaving naked spikelet axes behind. You can see some hard, shiny, 3-angled, 1/10th-inch (2.2 mm) achenes (dry, one-seeded fruits not splitting open when mature), along with the chaffy bracts subtending them, in the palm of my hand at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913sd.jpg.

Native North Americans as well as the Aztecs knew the Tule, and used it a lot. Tule's cylindrical stems are tough and pliable, and inside they're spongy, so they're great for weaving. You can see a wonderful picture of a moccasin woven of Tule by California's Klamath Lake people by Googling the four words, within quotation marks, "Kumeyaay, Pomo and Yokuts". That query should take you to a Google book link. Click on the link and then you should get a page with the moccasin picture just below the words.

Native Americans also constructed reed boats from Tule, as well as mat-like walls for their houses, and even things like duck decoys. Tule rhizomes also are edible. Native people burned marshes at the end of the year to encourage new Tule stems to emerge. Wildlife use Tule thickets as shelter and nesting sites, and many small animals eat the seedlike fruits.

The species occurs throughout North America deep into Mexico, but not in most of the US Southeast. The variety occidentalis, which we have, is limited to North America's southwestern third or so. Other similar species do occur in the Southeast.

*****

FORKED TUBE LICHEN
Around here any small, dead, brittle twig falling from a tree will likely be covered with lichens, for during the long rainy season the humidity here is very high, just as lichens like. One of the most common lichen species, though too small to be much noticed, is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090913li.jpg.

This is the Forked Tube Lichen, HYPOGYMNIA IMSHAUGII, or a species near it. Experts haven't decided yet whether there's just one very variable species or a cluster of separate similar species.

Usually one to two inches long here, they're called tube lichens because their stem, or thalli (singular thallus), are hollow. They so habitually grow on twigs and bark that the species is regarded as epiphytic. The Forked Tube Lichen's most visible field marks are its forked or "dichotomous" branching, its stems being white on one side and black on the other, and the plant often bearing those little cuplike things on the two branches pointing toward the picture's top, left. The cuplike things are reproductive structures called apothecia. Since a lichen is a combination of a fungus and an alga species growing together, the apothecium's similarity to some mushrooms isn't coincidental; the lichen's fungal part produces the apothecium.

So, fungal spores are produced by microscopic, baglike affairs (asci) covering the apothecium's inner concave surface. The spores germinate where they find a perfect environment, send out a wandering fungal strand that eventually finds cells of the right alga species, and starts growing around them. As both fungal and algal cells multiply and enmesh, the lichen takes form. The lichen also produces asexually with conidia or conidiospores, which can be thought of as more or less like dust particles coming off the fungus, thus producing new lichens with the same genetic makeup as the parent.

Forked Tube Lichens are limited to North America's western coastal mountain ranges and the northern Rockies.

*****

HEALTHY LOOKING FOLKS AT WAL-MART
Last week I visited the local Wal-Mart, the first time I've been around lots of Grants Pass townspeople since arriving here. I was struck by what a large percentage of people in the store appeared to be in excellent health -- lean, energetic-looking, fast-moving folks much different from the general population I'm accustomed to in similar Wal-Marts back in Mississippi and Kentucky. I haven't seen so may fit people since my European days. How can this be explained?

Though in general I'm suspicious of data sources and how data is interpreted, often comparative statistics at least provide a general feeling for what's going on. Therefore, I checked to see what a website comparing the 50 US states said about the matter. The site was StateMaster.Com at http://www.statemaster.com.

There I see that though Vermonters are listed as the nation's healthiest citizens, in #1 spot, Oregonians are indeed recognized as being healthier than people in most states, coming in at #19. In contrast, Kentuckians find themselves in the less healthy half, coming in at #32 and Mississippians are at #49.

Obesity rates offer a complementary picture: At the link here you see that Mississippians are the nation's most obese people, Kentuckians are the third fattest, while Oregonians are only the 19th most obese. Vermonters are the third-most SLENDER.

How can these data be explained? I wonder if another page here offers an insight?

There it's shown that slender Vermonters also are the best educated among us, in #1 position again. In contrast, Kentuckians are way back at #35 while Mississippi is #49 again. Oregon doesn't do so well here; it's #38, behind Kentucky.

To me these data possibly support the notion that general education has a value far beyond just helping people get jobs. The more you know, maybe, the more likely you are to avoid self-destructive behaviors such as smoking and overeating. And I'm making a wild guess that in a similar manner the more people understand what a majestically complex, beautifully intricate and terrifyingly fragile world we all live in, the less likely they'll be to live biosphere- destroying lifestyles.

There's another site similarly comparing nations. It's at http://www.nationmaster.com.

If it's true that general education heightens general environmental sensitivity, then one disheartening piece of information the above site gives is that in terms of percentage of total government expenditure for education, the US comes in at only #59 in the world, way behind such upward-striving countries as Mexico (#9) and Yemen (#1). Mexico invests nearly a quarter of its governmental monies in education while Yemen spends nearly a third. The US spends only about one-fifth. The above site also shows that in the US a similar one-fifth of "central government expenditure" goes to the military.

At some point a discussion needs to take place about whether it enhances our defenses more to send troops to Afghanistan, or to enhance educational possibilities for the citizenry.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

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