Blue lakes, purple flowers, and pink snow

Our scouting trip to find a pass over a ridge between two sets of lakes was unsuccessful, but we encountered some gorgeous scenery on the almost 8 mile hike around Saddlebag Lake on the Tioga pass road over the Sierras of California.

Saddlebag Lake

The water is quite chilly, but the fishing seems to be good on Saddlebag Lake

Saddlebag Lake

Wild flowers are still in their full, blazing glory. It was a late summer this year because of all the snow. I think the purple flowers might be Monk’s Hood, a showy plant containing highly toxic alkaloids.

Saddlebag Lake

You couldn’t ask for a better trail. Unfortunately, it ended quite a ways before climbing into the pass over the ridge just below the pointed peak, and the way up looked much too rocky a traverse to take young hikers (or old grandparents, for that matter).

Ridge between McCabe lakes and Saddlebag Lake

End of our good trail…these lakes are above 10,000 feet and only recently free of ice and snow.

Pink snow

What?! Pink snow?

Yes, it really is pink snow, colored not by leaching minerals but by the growth of the green alga (yes, it really is green under the microscope), Chlamydomonas nivalus. If there is one thing we have learned about life on earth, it’s that microbes can thrive just about anywhere, and here’s proof of life on the ice.

The algae are actually in a metabolically quiescent state, awaiting appropriate conditions, like lake water, to begin growing.  But to protect themselves (and their chlorophyll) from the damage of intense radiation at high altitude, they synthesize a protective sunscreen of carotenoid pigments (yes, the same ones that make Cardinals a bright cheery red).

Pink snow

And so, these green, but appearing red due to carotenoids, algae slide down  the snow banks toward fresh water to begin a new cycle of growth.

Scouting for the hike

We are back in California about to embark on the annual family trek through the high Sierra back country.  With all the snow the mountains received last winter and this spring, we were concerned about getting snow-bound in still frozen high meadows, so we are scouting some of the trail before the rest of the family joins us.

Sonora pass

At Sonora pass, 9624 feet, it looks like most of the trails should be show free. Still plenty of it around though, and the creeks are running fast and full.

Sonora pass

Late melting snows mean we get to enjoy a super abundance of gorgeous wild flowers.

Sonora pass

And beautiful vistas

6th bloggiversary

Six years, almost 1200 posts, lots of photos, and it seems that each year about this time, I write something about the same critter — the dreaded Japanese beetle.

japanese-beetle-on-coneflower

Japanese Beetles make their appearance every year in the backyard (and in the front yard as well) in late June, and eat their way through my plants and flowers for the next 6 weeks.

Once again, they have made swiss cheese out of my raspberry plants, sometimes even mating and/or feeding on the fruit as well.

japanese beetle-damage

They’re pretty as insects go, but I hate seeing them on my fruit-producing plants.

But this year, thousands of beetles descended on my Honeycrisp apple trees, and have decimated more than 50% of the leaves.  Ugh!  It’s easy enough to pick them off the raspberries or spray the plants with soapy water, but apple tree leaves are out of reach. Instead of spraying the trees with some bee-killing insecticide, we used a bacteriocidal solution, combined with an oil spray.  End result — it didn’t work.

Thanks to the drenching the raspberries received from a few thunderstorms this summer, there were plenty of extra leaves for the beetles to consume, and I still got a nice crop of raspberries from the plants for my annual jam-making.  But the fate of the apple crop is yet to be determined.

raspberries-

Midsommer in Sweden’s archipelago

More than 44,000 islands make up the archipelago off Sweden’s east coast, and they are a popular destination, especially during Midsommer festivities. A ferry trip to one of the most distant islands, Üto — site of one of Sweden’s oldest iron mines — was a great way to end our European tour.  Some of the sights included:

Sweden archipelago islands

View from the ferry to Üto island, pronounced nothing like it is spelled.

Sweden archipelago islands

The best way to get around the island from the ferry landing, on bikes.

Uto island, Sweden archipelago islands

Sailing and swimming are top priorities on a warmish weekend in midsummer.

Sweden archipelago islands

Sweden archipelago islands

We pass cute farm houses…

Poppies, Sweden archipelago islands

And flowers (red poppies)

Bell flower, Sweden archipelago islands

And bell flowers…

Lupine, Sweden archipelago islands

And lupines…

Sweden archipelago islands

And something I don’t recognize…

Uto island, Sweden archipelago islands

And finally come to the beach at the far end of the island.

Uto island, Sweden archipelago islands

Crashing waves and cold water, perfect for swimming, but not for me.

Lupine, Sweden archipelago islands

Good bye Sweden, I hope to return some day.

the top of the world

You probably associate summer solstice with warm, sunny days conducive to lying about on beaches soaking up the sunshine.  Not so here at the northern tip of Sweden, on the road to Narvik, Norway.  Spring hasn’t even made an appearance here yet, and it’s mid-summer!

On the road to Narvik, Norway from Abisko national park

On the road to Narvik, Norway from Abisko national park, some lakes still have ice, and the vegetation hasn’t recovered from winter.

On the road to Narvik, Norway from Abisko national park

Prime beach front just waiting for the defrost…I assume these cottages probably house avid fishermen.

On the road to Narvik, Norway from Abisko national park

We think these are reindeer pens, used periodically by the nomadic Sami herders to pen their animals during the spring or fall, in between migrating between summer and winter grazing areas.

On the road to Narvik, Norway from Abisko national park

Summer cottages, idyllic havens far from city life. No roads to them, no phone, electricity, water or indoor plumbing, and far away from the neighbors. Plenty of fresh water nearby though.

On the road to Narvik, Norway from Abisko national park

There are some small towns on this long stretch from Abisko to Narvik, Norway. The mountains in the background make this a very scenic drive.

Narvik, Norway

The bus trip ends in Narvik, one of many towns in Norway on a long, deep fjord. On this side of the coastal mountains, there is more rain, milder temperatures due to Gulf stream influence, and much lusher and taller vegetation than we saw on the eastern side of the mountains in Sweden.

Spring poppies, Narvik, Norway

and spring flowers! Poppies, lilacs, flowering trees, tall birches with large leaves, a welcome sight, after all that snow and ice.

Above the treeline

The harsh climate takes its toll on life on mountain slopes at 68 degrees north latitude.  Above the treeline, there is a lot of exposed rock, covered in places with lichen.  A miniature forest about I inch high clings to rock crevices where moisture is greater, and what flowers are present, are tiny miniature copies of lusher vegetation down below.

Mt. Njulla, Abisko national park, Sweden

Exposed rock and patchy vegetative cover on Mt. Njulla, Abisko national park, Sweden

Mt. Njulla, Abisko national park, Sweden

The views of the mountains are spectacular as we climb Mt. Njulla, Abisko national park.

Mt. Njulla, Abisko national park, Sweden

Below our feet, a carpet of tiny plants and lichen have colonized the rocky crevices.

Mt. Njulla, Abisko national park, Sweden

The vista is 270 degrees of spectacular, snowy mountains and u-shaped glacial valleys. In today’s perfect sunny weather, we could stay and look out at the horizon forever.

Willow catkins, Mt. Njulla, Abisko national park, Sweden

Tiny willow plants send their catkins upward, the tallest plants I found.

Mt. Njulla, Abisko national park, Sweden

Some plants, like the trailing azalea, spread by sending out horizontal branches that cling to the rock surface on Mt. Njulla.

Mt. Njulla, Abisko national park, Sweden

The flowers buds are minuscule, the open flowers barely measure a couple of mm across. The leaves look almost like succulents, which might be a water conservation strategy in this arid environment. There are no pollinators around yet.

Northern Wheatear, Mt. Njulla, Abisko national park, Sweden

We hiked the mountain hoping to see reindeer foraging on the high slopes. But the only evidence of their presence was some poop.  This Northern Wheatear was the only bird we saw or heard on our hike. They breed in rocky habitat in Northern Europe after migrating from wintering grounds in Africa.

Mt. Njulla, Abisko national park, Sweden

Then, its back to our cozy cabin for dinner after a long day of hiking.

City of contrasts — old and new

Russia!! More specifically, St. Petersburg, what a gorgeous and hospitable city.  A two-day, whirlwind tour of palaces, gardens, city sights, museums, etc., but no biology, unfortunately.  What contrasts from new, modern skyscrapers and malls to old Soviet style offices and huge apartment complexes to 18th century or earlier palace constructions.  It’s definitely spring here, and we hit two of the 9 sunny days they average here each summer.

Apartment buildings, St. Petersburg, Russia

Apartment buildings, St. Petersburg, Russia

Church of spilt blood, St. Petersburg

Church of spilt blood, St. Petersburg , what a contrast after looking at city dwellers residences.  The interior is covered with thousands of square feet of mosaics depicting the life of Christ.

Canals in St Petersburg

Canals in St Petersburg connect the dozens of islands that make up the city.

The Winter Palace, St. Petersburg

The Winter Palace, St. Petersburg is one of four museums of art and antiquities that make up the Hermitage. Only 20% of the more than 3million acquisitions are displayed at any one time.

Gardens at Peterhof, St. Petersburg

Gardens at Peterhof, St. Petersburg. Summer residence of Peter the Great, on the Gulf of Finland

Catherine's Palace, St. Petersburg

Catherine’s Palace, St. Petersburg, ornate and lavish with its own set of art treasures

T-shirts for sale, St. Petersburg

T-shirts for sale, St. Petersburg

Guardians of the desert

South of Tucson, Arizona, Saguaro cactus dominate the landscape with their giant trunks and arms reaching up, like those wacky, inflatable tube men you see along the highways, advertising a big sale of some sort.

Saguaro cactus forest

Giant stems of Saguaro rise way above the rest of the vegetation, like giant sentinels.

Saguaro cactus

Life stages of the Saguaro shown here–from an early (25 yr old) barrel shaped youngster, to 75 year old cactus just growing its first arm, to a mature many-armed giant 200 or more years old, to the woody remains of a dead Saguaro.

Saguaro are not only a dominant plant form in the Sonoran desert, but an integral part of the life cycle of this community.  It’s flowers provide nectar and pollen to insects, birds, and mammals, and its fruits are sought after by humans as well as many other desert animals.

Saguaro flowers

Flowers appear on the tops of the cacti in April, remain open for less than 24 hours, but provide huge amounts of nectar and pollen to attract pollinators.

Saguaro flowers

The Saguaro flowers are loaded with pollen from the hundreds of stamen projecting out the floral tube. Bats and birds reach the nectaries at the base of the flower with their long tongues.

After Gila Woodpeckers have drilled out nest cavities in the dense wood of the Saguaro, a variety of other bird species may use the nest holes as protection from the sun’s heat and for their own nests.

A pair of Gila Woodpeckers nesting in Saguaro

A pair of Gila Woodpeckers nesting in Saguaro. Cactus Wrens and  Elf Owls might get a chance to use this nest hole once the Woodpeckers are finished with it.

And of course, they make wonderful subjects for aspiring photographers…

Sonoran desert landscape

Sonoran desert landscape

Between the raindrops

Brief glimpses of sun between rain clouds overhead made the spring flowers sparkle as I was walking around Los Gators Creek park in San Jose, CA the other day.  Here’s another taste of spring for those still mired in the gray blahs of winter.

Almond blossoms along Los Gatos Creek

Almond trees have been so wet for so long here the branches are growing a thick layer of lichen on them.  The muddy creek in the background has flooded the sycamores that usually line the banks.

Redbud

Redbud flowers are just now emerging after several weeks of cold, wet weather.

Flowering crabapple

Only a few flowering crabapple trees have burst into bloom

Los Gatos Creek flood

It’s the verdant green of the new grass that really signals spring. The soil is squishy from heavy rain, the excess now runs off to fill the creeks to overflowing.

butterflies in the desert?

Even though the landscape looks (and feels) arid, southern Arizona seems to be a mecca for butterflies, perhaps because of the diversity of vegetation and flowers there.  Although we were busy photographing birds, the colorful four-winged flyers demanded our attention as well.

queen-butterfly-

The Queen butterfly is a close relative (same genus) of the Monarch.

queen-butterfly-

Adults sip nectar from a wide variety of flowers, but the larvae usually feed on a species of milkweed (Asclepiadaceae) that contain toxic chemicals that the adult butterfly retains, making them distasteful to predators.

painted-lady-butterfly-

Painted Lady butterflies were one of the most numerous species in the gardens at Ventana Canyon Lodge in Tucson.

texan-crescentspot-butterfly-

The Texan Crescentspot butterfly is a small, narrow-winged butterfly found in Mexico and throughout the southern U.S. Its distinctive crescent moon-shaped spots on the hind-wings make it easy to spot.

white-checkered-skipper-butterfly

Before I looked closely, I thought this was just another checkerspot butterfly but the distinctive antennae and large eyes make this a type of skipper — a white-checkered skipper.

southern-dogface-butterfly

Another butterfly with a distinctive name: this is the Southern Dogface, one of the many species of sulfur butterflies. I assume the black pattern on the top side of the wings gives it the distinctive name.

tailed-orange-butterfly

The Tailed Orange butterfly grows its “tail” (a pronounced point on the lower edge of the wing) in the late summer/fall months. Earlier in the year, this butterfly was a more brilliant orange, with distinctive black markings on the topside of the wings, and no “tail”.  

tailed-orange-butterfly-

There were so many of these tailed orange butterflies feeding on this late blooming Salvia, they almost looked like dead leaves hanging down from the vegetation.  The species is unique in having not only two sexual morphs (male and female black patterns on the top side of the forewings), but two seasonal morphs (one with and one without tails) as well.

Another good reason to visit beautiful southern Arizona!