Bodie days

It only happens once a year, the celebration of the life of the founder of the infamous ghost town, Bodie, California, a once, prosperous, if a bit unlawful, mining town in the eastern Sierras.  And what a celebration — complete with a funeral procession to honor the bones of the man who gave the town its name but didn’t live to see prosperity boom there, people dressed in period costume, acting out their various roles in the town, an historical museum full of artifacts of the period, and a big crowd ready to take it all in.

Bodie, California

Bodie boasted a population of 7-8,000 in the 1880s, when gold was finally discovered there after about 20 years of prospecting for it. The town had 65 saloons, two churches, and a jail.

Bodie, California

The industrial side of town contained the stamp mills that crushed the raw ore, and smelting furnaces to separate out the precious metals. Gold, silver, mercury, and other metals were mined here, but the boom lasted less than 10 years.

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

Bodie days celebrants lined Main Street waiting for the “funeral procession” and listened to speakers talk about the life of WS Bodey, the town founder.

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

First came the musicians

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

Then the hearse, pulled by a pair of beautiful black horses.

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

Followed by an assortment of wagons and riders in a long parade of original equipment.

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

Ladies in costume posed in front of the dress shop. This building must have been built much later in the towns history, because it was composed almost entirely of men during boom mining days.

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

Riders in period costumes with cell phones!

Life in Bodie was fast and furious, but the town suffered a population decline in the late 1800s as mining booms in Montana, Utah, and Arizona drew the “strike it rich” young men away.

Now Bodie is a designated national historic landmark, and a popular tourist destination for those who want to see what life was like back in gold rush days.

Bodie hills

What the Bodie hills looked like before the mining boom here in the 1860s.

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

green on green

Hiding in plain sight by matching the color of your skin to the color of the background is useful for predators stalking their prey or prey trying to escape predation.  It’s also useful in confusing photographers about where to aim their cameras.  Case in point: I saw the bushes moving, wondered if it was a bird, thought it might be a chipmunk, but stared right at the little critter for a full minute before I figured out what it was.

gray tree frog-

A gray tree frog in green phase hiding in plain sight.  It wasn’t this obvious without the zoom on the camera to help pinpoint its location.

gray tree frog-

It’s scientific name gives a hint to its ability to change colors: Hyla versicolor. Usually it appears mostly gray with green splotches.

Many species of fish, amphibians, and reptiles have the ability to change color and outward appearance by contracting or expanding the chromatophore (pigment-containing) cells in their skin.  This chameleon-like ability can assist them in better regulating their body temperature, or as suggested, in achieving the kind of camouflage that helps them evade their predators or fool their prey. It is thought that the animals’ eyes perceive the color spectrum of their environment and send neural signals to skin chromatophores to effect the appropriate color changes.

In cases where there doesn’t seem to be a clear message about the color of the background, Gray Treefrogs are often mottled gray and green, or just remain gray, as illustrated below.

gray-tree-frog-

Hmm… water in a bird bath? Not sure what color to be.

gray-tree-frog-

Gray treefrog sitting on the side of a dish pan, next to green vegetation — again, it’s confusing about what color to be.

gray-tree-frog-

Gray treefrog sitting on an orange dahlia — no possibility of a match here.

gray-tree-frog-green-phase

Green-colored Gray treefrog on the ledge of a wooden door? Clearly a bad match.

morning at the marsh

It’s amazing how much you can see early in the morning before the cyclists and hikers have hit the trails around the local marsh.  And it always amazes me to find such a diversity of wildlife inhabiting a small wild oasis in the urban landscape! I’m sure if I had spent more time on this hot, humid morning, I would have seen even more.

floating island-

Dense mats of cattails float around the marsh propelled by the prevailing water flow.  They attract a wide variety of wildlife that may hunt from their edges, nest in their stalks, and hide within small crevices from the peeping eyes of photographers.

great blue heron-

Great Blue Herons are often found along the shoreline, usually obscured by the vegetation.

great blue heron-

Another heron was making its way down toward the shoreline — perhaps the mate of the other one?

great egret-

I can always count on seeing a Great Egret or two foraging near the edge of the marsh.

green heron-

What else is hiding here in this vegetation near the shore? A Green Heron pops up to see if I’m a dangerous predator.

green heron-

A less nervous juvenile Green Heron hunted in the shallows.

common loon-

Out in the water, a Common Loon swam by.

double crested cormorant-

Nearby, a double-crested Cormorant surfaced from its dive, and took a look around.

I spotted something white way out in the middle of the marsh, swimming quickly away from me, and grabbed a quick shot of a Trumpeter Swan family with their two, seemingly newly hatched, cygnets.

trumpeter swan family-

It’s a bit late to find these newly hatched chicks; perhaps the first nesting failed and these are result of a second nesting attempt. The chicks have a lot of growing to do before they reach the body size of the adults which can weigh more than 20 lb.

trumpeter swan family-

Double trouble

The deer really like my backyard:  they eat my plants, they bed down in the wildflower garden leaving big depressions in the vegetation, they rest right under the bird feeder, and believe it or not, the half-grown fawns chase the foxes right out of the yard.  But I enjoy watching them parade through, so I just keep replanting the garden.

white-tailed fawns-

Make yourself comfortable…

white-tailed fawn-

By all means, help yourself to the garden perennials. This shrub rose may not recover, but oh well…

white-tailed fawns-

Yes, please do eat the buckthorn. I didn’t want that to spread in the backyard.

And where do these two learn where the best places to forage are?

white-tailed doe

From mom and dad, of course.

white-tailed buck-

This one has developed a taste for hostas.

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-

the distraction lure

Some bird mothers go to great lengths to distract predators away from their nest and/or fledgling chicks.  They feign injury, flapping like they are wounded but can’t fly, chirping loudly to attract attention to themselves and away from their chicks.  I’ve seen Kildeer do this many times, as they lead me on a merry chase away from their nest.  For example…

But I’ve never heard of small songbirds using this strategy, until I saw it in action today when a female Indigo Bunting led me all over the backyard as I tried to find her nest and her chirping chicks.

indigo bunting-female feigning injury

Here I am, look at me, I’m helpless with my broken wings.”

Wings fluttering, hopping sort of helplessly through the grass, chirping continuously, and flying weakly from spot to spot, this female Indigo Bunting put on quite a show.

Moving around in the underbrush of the wildflower garden, I discovered two of her chicks, also chirping loudly, but hidden from view until one of them tried to cross a patch of grass.

indigo bunting-fledgling

Bunting chicks may fledge (leave the nest) after only 8 days, and can hardly fly more than 10 feet, so they tend to stay hidden in low, dense vegetation.

indigo bunting fledgling-

Not a very adept flyer yet…

indigo bunting-fledgling

The chick is not even fully feathered yet, has short stubby wing feathers, and no tail. It would be easy prey for a wandering cat…

Meanwhile, its mother is still chirping away at me, from all over the garden.

indigo bunting-female

first here…

indigo bunting-female

then here… (see that faint tinge of blue on her shoulder?)

indigo bunting-female

and finally right out in front of me.  Older females may be much bluer than this, with streaky blue patches on their shoulders, back, and tail.  But their overall drab plumage helps camouflage them while they care for the chicks.

indigo-bunting-male

A brightly colored male Indigo Bunting would attract way too much attention if he were feeding chicks in the nest.

Fun facts:

  • although Indigo Buntings are about the size of a Goldfinch and the female sort of resembles a female Goldfinch (but lacks those distinctive wingbars), they are actually members of the Cardinal family.
  • the blue color (especially evident in males) does not come from a blue pigment, but is due to special reflective particles in the feathers that scatter light and reflect blue wavelengths.  Read more about blue coloration in animals by clicking here.

big foot

A common sight in the marsh:  herons and egrets stalking their prey.

great egret and wood ducklings

the stalker creeps along in the marsh behind a family of wood ducks

This part of the marsh is flooded from all the recent rain, and the foraging area is congested with once weedy vegetation that has since died.  This might be fine for foraging on critters hiding in the mucky bottom, but it makes flying to an observation perch challenging when the bird tries to navigate through the dead sticks.

great egret-

Sometimes the bird’s wings get caught up on a branch.

great egret-

And then there’s the problem of finding a suitable perch.  There’s not much to hang onto among the skinny little branchlets.

great egret-feet

In fact, how does a bird with such long toes get a grasp on a thin little branch?

great egret-

Finally perched, the egret continues its hunt.

great egret-feet

Toes are finally wrapped around the perch, but they can’t really close tight enough to enable a firm grasp of it.  

These big feet are meant for something else entirely — wading.  Long toes that distribute the bird’s weight evenly on an enlarged surface area prevent herons and egrets from sinking into the muck, as they stride along the marsh looking for anything moving.

Great Blue Heron feet-TexasEagle-flickr

Great Blue Herons have an additional advantage in wading — some webbing between the toes that further spread out the surface area of the feet.

So, big feet may be disadvantageous in perching on small stems, but of great advantage in wading along mucky marsh beds.

here’s looking at you

A blackish oblong shape moved slowly across the road toward my front lawn the other day.  I had no idea what it was until it got much closer.

snapping turtle-

A rather large snapping turtle was moving from the lake across the street from my front yard to the ponds beyond my backyard.

snapping turtle-

Large, widely spaced eyes help them see a wide range of view, but not when their head is pulled back into their shell.  

snapping turtle-

snapping turtle mimicking a cobra?

snapping turtle-

Is this how it sees what’s ahead?

snapping turtle-

finally on the move again….

Snapping Turtles are fearsome predators, with powerful jaw muscles that can close the mouth with such force and velocity they can bite a small pineapple in half, or amputate human fingers.  Needless to say, I left this one alone.  They are at or near the top of the aquatic food chain as adults, but take 15-20 years to mature to reproductive age.  Few snapping turtle hatchlings survive to adulthood, but adults are very long-lived.