Critters at the Park and a Figeater at the House

I slept really well last night and got up around 6:00 am.  I headed out to the American River Bend Park.  I’m still feeling a little bit of the vertigo, but only if I move too quickly – and I felt I needed to get outside and moving. It was in the 60’s when I got there and was up to about 71° by the time I left.  In the summer it’s sometimes slim pickings as far as photo material goes, but today I did get to see hawks, woodpeckers,  small flock of Common Mergansers (all females), a young coyote, a large dragonfly, lots of fresh raccoon scat, blackberries (that seemed to be everywhere), some California Wild Roses in bloom, Bushtits…  So I got some good shots.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I walked through the park for about 3 hours and then went home to have some breakfast of my own.

For lunch, I grilled some cheap steaks outside, and while I was doing that this huge iridescent green beetle with black wings came flying around me.  It made such a loud buzzing sound I thought at first it was a Carpenter Bee, but nope… it was a beetle.  It crashed into the side of the house a couple of times before landing on the patio.  It was shiny green – like metal – on the underside, and dull green on top with a tan rim along the margins, tan hairs under its “chin” and black wings.  I got a hold of it and carried it into the house so I could get my camera.  Then I took it back outside, took several photos of it (none of which did its color justice) and let it go.  It flew up into the mulberry tree and disappeared into the leaves.  I learned later it was a Figeater Beetle (Cotinis mutabilis); really big, but very harmless.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Tuleyome Tales article on photographing nature was published online today by the Davis Enterprise newspaper:

A Gallinule and Lerps

Both the dog and I slept like rocks last night.  My depression is getting the better of me, and I didn’t even want to get out of the bed… but I muscled my way through the grief-sludge and rolled out anyway.  I checked out of the hotel by about 6:30 am and headed back to Sacramento, but stopped in once more at the wildlife refuge mostly because it was on the way… and “nature” helps me to focus and connect.  There wasn’t a lot new today, but I did get some photos of a Common Gallinule, red face and everything.  And I got some photos of the lerps an insect called a Eucalyptus Redgum Lerp Psyllid (Glycaspis brimblecombei).  The lerps are like small white “teepees” made of spun starch the insects pull from the leaves.  The insects themselves look like tiny green leafhoppers…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The dog and I got back home around noon, just as my brother Marty was getting ready to go out to lunch with his friends.  I dragged my bags out of the car and set them in the bedroom, then crashed on the couch with the dogs.

I still can’t face work or other people right now – I’m feeling totally emotionally drained — so I cancelled my naturalist partnership workshop in Coloma and will stay home tomorrow…

Visiting Mount Lassen to Say Goodbye to Beaky

My depression is bad today, too.  Hard not to cry… I was up at about 5:30 am and out the door with the dog by about 6:00.  We stopped first at the gas station to fill up and get some stuff to eat on the road, then we headed for Mount Lassen.  As the day progressed it got up to 90-something in town, but at the mountain it was 69°.

Lake Helen and the "Belly Button" rock; © 2015, Mary K. Hanson.  All rights reserved. This is where I said goodbye to my brother.
Lake Helen and the “Belly Button” rock; © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved. This is where I said goodbye to my brother.

On the way, I stopped at  rest stop near Shingletown and just walked around for a bit with the dog.  Beaky would have loved the “silence” of the place.   All you could hear was the whispering of the pine and cedar trees…  I got some photos of stuff I hadn’t seen before like several Red Osier Dogwood trees that still had their bluish-white berries on them, and the exuvia (shed exoskeleton) of what I thought might have been be a big stonefly, but no… the face was wrong. Looked so alien with big saw-blade like mandibles in the front.  When I got back to the hotel later it took me several hours to find it online.  It was from the larva of a Spiketail dragonfly; most likely the Pacific Spiketail (Cordulegaster dorsalis), a large black-and-yellow dragonfly with bright blue eyes.  I’ve never seen one of those, so it was kind of neat to find the exuvia from it.

After that pit stop, we continued on our way. It takes a little over an hour to get to Lassen from the hotel, but we were still really early and the rangers weren’t awake yet when we arrived.  So we self-paid the $20 it now costs to get into the park (but you can use the pass for a week), and then just went where we wanted to go… taking Highway 44/80 through the park and stopping off at places I knew I wanted to photograph or visit.

Not a lot of critters out up there – although we did see some deer and some Golden-Mantled chipmunk / squirrels.  I was surprised by the wildflowers, though.  They were still blooming all over the place, especially around King’s Creek.  In one spot, there were so many flowers all around me, I didn’t know where to aim my camera first.  Blue and yellow Lupine, Fleabane, Owl Clover, Pearly Everlasting, Pussypaws, Rabbitbush, Naked Buckwheat, red Snow Plants (in fruit), Monkey Flowers, Mountain Monardella, Ranger’s Button (a kind of wooly parsnip), Thimbleberry, California Corn Lily, etc.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I also found another exuvia of a different kind of dragonfly  –  most like a Darner of some kind based on the size and the shape of the head.  It was sitting along the grassy bank of Lake Manzanita, the first lake you come to at the park…

Around the Hot Rock, there were also wildflowers… but also some odd kind of crusty-spongey fungus I had never seen before.  It was only on the trees that had been burned black (and were still crispy-charred) by what I assume was a recent wildfire.  The fungus blooped out of the side of the trees like little “muffins”, tan on one side and white on the other.  I also noticed that a lot of the burnt trees were “bleeding” sap… which means there might still be a spark of life left in them; either that or the fire boiled it all out to the surface.  Whatever; it was interesting to see – and photograph.  I got a lot of the “classic Mount Lassen” shots: the “Devastated” side of the mountain, Manzanita Lake, the Loomis Museum (which was closed) and Lily Pond, Emerald Lake, Summit Lake, King’s Creek (where we stopped again and had some brunch – blueberry muffins and water),  Lake Hellen…

When I got to Lake Helen – with the view of the summit and the Belly Button Rock in the background – I recorded a farewell to Beaky, tearing up as I did so.  I can’t think of him without crying…  On the day we had mounted the summit together, Lake Helen was visible from the trail… and since I couldn’t go up the trail this time with the dog (“no dogs allowed”), I opted for the opposite view: a look up at the trail from the lake.

In the parking lot at the summit there was also a dirty patch of snow piled up, so I perched Sergeant Margie on it and took his picture.  I have another photo (with more snow) in the same parking lot from when he was about 5 years old.  He’s 13 now…

I noticed that each time I got out of the car to walk around, with the elevation climbing between each stop, it got more and more difficult for me to exert myself.  Around the summit parking lot (8500+ feet) it was really difficult just to walk the dog across the lot to the patch of snow.  Old lungs…

I didn’t go all the way through the park; skipped Bumpass Hell and the Sulfur Works.  I drove up as far as Emerald Lake and then turned around and headed back to the hotel… getting there around 1:30 pm.

Lots of Critters at the Refuge

I was supposed to go to a dragonfly course over this weekend, but just couldn’t face other people as I deal with my grief (over the death of my brother Mark Jr., aka “Beaky”).  My hotel was already paid for, though, so I got up at 5:00 am and headed up north anyway with the dog.

I stopped at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and went through the driving tour route there.  I was the only person out there; had the place all to myself.  Among the things I was able to photograph at the park included: Killdeer, Mourning Doves, dragonflies and damselflies, butterflies, Jackrabbits and Cottontail rabbits, a big-ass snake, mule deer, Egrets, Great Blue Herons, some Western Grebes sitting on and building their nests in the middle of the water, many-many spiders (including one building its web), Pelicans on three of the “islands”, a Bald Eagle who only sat still long enough for me to get on or two not-so-good shots of it, a mother Raccoon and her five babies (including a “blond” one), Flycatchers, and an otter…  Cool.

There was one Killdeer that “paced” my car for several hundred feet.  I could see it out the driver’s side window, running right along the edge of the trail.  It tilted its head up to look at me now and then.  When I accelerated, so did the bird.  When I stopped, so did the bird.  Goofy thing.  I wonder what it thought it was “challenging”.

And the snake I saw was something of a surprise.  Oh, there are always snakes around and this one was just a Gopher Snake, but it was pretty long – and healthy looking.  It must eat well.  What’s the average distance between the two front tires of a car?  The snake was longer than that.  He came up beside the car, tongue flicking.  The heat of the tires must’ve set him off.  I backed away (so as not to run over him) and took a different route so he could sunbathe at his leisure.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I finished the tour by about noon, and headed in to the hotel.

Here’s a video of the snake:

Western Grebes building their nest:

Raccoon mama and babies:

Big-a$$ spider:

I’ve decided to try going up to Mount Lassen tomorrow.  When I lived in Old Shasta, Beaky and I climbed to the summit of that mountain (about 11,000 feet).  It took me forever to get up there, but he was patient and stayed with me, even though I was sure he could have made it to the top and back down again before I made it up there; hah!  I remember us watching chipmunks running around with long flags of toilet paper that they’d stolen out of one of the porta-potties on the trail, and taking pictures of what we called the “Belly-Button Rock” and “Velcro Rocks” on the side of the mountain.  And when we got to the summit, Beaky walked out to the skinny, craggy, tippy-top point – despite the hard winds that threatened to knock us down the mountainside — to sign his name in the book there.  When he came back to where I was, we hunkered down among some boulders and ate PB&J sammiches for lunch – which tiny Golden-Mantled attack-squirrels tried to steal right out of our hands.  One of the squirrels got on a boulder above me, and dive-bombed right into my lap to try to grab my sandwich.  Hah-ha-ha-ha-ha. That day is one of my favorite memories of Beaky.  I’ll say goodbye to him up there tomorrow…