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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mushroom Season

I have been writing articles for the Cuyamaca Woods POA Newsletter for several years now, and thought I'd publish some of them here, so they can have a wider audience. This one was the latest article - appropriate for the season.

Mushroom Season in Cuyamaca Woods

Now that we've had our first significant rain of the season, there might be some interesting fungi popping up here and there in the Woods.

Even though our precipitation later in the season will often be in the form of snow, when the snow melts after the storms move on, the moisture often translates into mushroom and other fungal fruiting bodies in the landscape.

I have been interested in mushrooms and fungi for many years, not because I have any interest in consuming them, but because they make fascinating photographic subjects. And they don't move, or try to run away -- always a plus when it comes to nature photography! And by the way, even if you do enjoy a little chopped mushroom in your salad or accompanying certain main dishes, it is highly advised that you do not collect wild local mushrooms for this purpose, unless you have a deep understanding of the classification and properties of wild mushrooms. As the saying goes: "There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters -- but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters!"

A little background biology might help explain the strange, ephemeral nature of mushrooms. When you see a mushroom on a log or popping out of the ground, it is just a temporary reproductive structure (or "fruiting body"), created by the more permanent mycelium of the fungus. A mycelium is a mass of string-like strands of cells (hyphae) which feed by releasing digestive enzymes into the surroundings and then absorbing the nutrients formed by the digestion. When it gets wet, this is a good time for the stationary mycelium to create a structure that can release mobile spores into the surroundings. The spores may blow away, and if they land in a favorable (usually damp) spot, grow into a new mycelium (and a new individual). That is why mushrooms only last a few days, and then seem to melt into a gooey mess when spore production is done.

One of the more spectacular local fungi is the Western Giant Puffball (Calvatia booniana), which appears almost every year on my property. It can reach a diameter of 8 -10 inches and reputedly is good to eat when young and tender (but I don't recommend it!).

Western Giant Puffball, Calvatia booniana

Another large, eye-catching local fungus is the Jack-O-Lantern (Omphalotus olivascens) an orange-tan mushroom that reputedly can be bioluminescent. I have attempted to observe this bioluminescence after dark but have never seen it firsthand.

Jack-O-Lantern, Mountain Meadow Road

Another common local fungus is the Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), a shelf fungus. After rain, the Turkey Tails growing here and there, typically on dead wood, will seem to come to life, showing colors and texture not seen when they are dry and desiccated.

Turkey Tail, Sandy Creek Road

I have encountered quite a few other photogenic fungi up here in the Woods in the years that we have lived here, and although the lower foothill areas are usually much richer in colorful or attractive mushrooms in winter, we're still not too bad, if you take the time to look.

Coprinus sp., Mountain Meadow Road

Unidentified shelf fungus, Engineers Road.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fall in the Mountains of San Diego County

It has to be considered a good fall, if no major wildfires broke out, and we got some rain! So this is quite a good fall, as we just received another 1.3 inches or so of much-needed rain from this latest little storm. We had a pretty fall, too, in terms of fall color. We're on the tail end of that period now, though, with many of the Black Oaks looking pretty naked these days. NO SNOW YET, for those who might have wondered.

Willow leaves, in their last hurrah, at Lake Cuyamaca last weekend.

Our Toyon has spectacular berries this season. This is one of the ones growing just outside the house.

The rains have brought out some nice fungi. These were growing all around a tree stump on Palomar Mountain this past Friday.

Part of the mushroom mass shown above. Probably Armillaria mellea, the "Honey Mushroom".

The sunset last Friday, as the storms were moving out of the area. This is a view looking west from Palomar Mountain, with mountain-hugging clouds in the foreground.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Nearby Trip to Chariot Canyon

Chariot Canyon is just south of Banner, at the base of the Banner Grade. It really requires four-wheel-drive to negotiate it without too much stress and anxiety. I took the truck down there in mid-August and found primarily small species of insects on the just-blooming Baccharis bushes.

An assassin bug, with TINY prey! It was lurking on Baccharis, awaiting victims visiting the little flowers.

Close-up, showing the tiny little meal. Its wing is quite iridescent!

An ambush bug, another predator lurking in the flowering Baccharis. I believe that this is Phymata pacifica. It blends in beautifully with its almost "disruptive" coloration.

A view of Chariot Canyon, south of the Golden Chariot Mine. It is an idyllic spot.

End of the line for the day. Someone had put a couple of ineffectual little straps around this big oak that had fallen in the road, presumably in an attempt to move it. It took about a ten point turn to turn around in these tight quarters in the truck, but it worked out. Will have to go back later in the season to see how things have changed.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Re-Visit to Scissors Crossing and Vicinity, Post-Monsoonal Rains

I made a short trip to the area around Scissors Crossing in the Anza Borrego Desert today, to see what the heavy rains have yielded, about a month after they fell (the last trip was on August 30th). The most dramatic change since the last visit was a massive explosion of White-lined Sphinx Moth larvae, and many yellow composites blooming on the desert floor. There were not many beetles to be found, with the exception of quite a few Lytta vulnerata, a large, colorful blister beetle, and a new species for me.

The old corral area, a little west of Shelter Valley. The reddish plants on the ground were heavily nibbled by the caterpillars. Ravens and crows were busily eating the caterpillars.

The find-of-the-day: Lytta vulnerata. A "life-beetle" for me!

"Rabbit Brush," upon which the Lytta were found (other Lytta vulnerata were found on a different yellow composite that I have not yet identified).

A small pile of White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillars. It was difficult not to step on them, they were so numerous. No caterpillar hunters (Calosoma or Callisthenes) seen, though.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Diversion to the Algodones Dunes, Imperial County, California

About a week ago, some energetic thunderstorm cells dropped rain on the Algodones Dune system in Imperial County. We thought we would explore them to see what life might have been triggered into activity by the rain.

We chose to spend one night about eight miles south of Glamis, in a Palo Verde grove nestled up against the eastern edge of the dunes.

The vegetation was much less than what we observed last year in about the third week in September. There had been massive rainfall weeks before last summer, and the dune region was full of green growth, and insect and spider activity.

This year was still very rich, though, in arthropods, and vertebrates, as well.

Around dusk, a sandstorm was visible to the west. A warning went out for the Glamis area. Several thunderstorms were visible, here and there close by, but not overhead! The wind picked up and the sand started whipping, but in about an hour, everything calmed and the rest of the night was hot, calm and dark - perfect for observing insects and other creatures!

Sunset from the dunes. Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013.

The habitat. This photo was taken in September of 2011, a dry year.

Bolbocerastes imperialis, male. Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013.

Edrotes arens, a small tenebrionid species that I have searched for without success in the past. They were pretty abundant on the sand of the dunes after dark. Apparently, they mimic rabbit droppings, a nice adaptation in a food-poor environment! Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013.

Temnoscheila sp. These beetles are real biters when picked up! Quite a few came to our lights throughout the night. Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013.

Osmidus guttatus. Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013.

A very small tenebrionid. Probably Triorophus sp. Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013.

Cerenopus concolor. I've seen them regularly in the local deserts over the years. Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013.

A very large solifuge. Its body length is about 30 mm. 

These scorpions were VERY abundant on the sand of the dunes after dark. They seemed to be scattered about 3 feet apart...everywhere. 

A Sidewinder. I found this snake by almost stepping on it as I started to stand up from kneeling in the sand. Looking down, I saw the snake only a couple inches from my leg. I staggered left and it moved to the right, and all was well! Then a photo session ensued, of course. Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013.

Sidewinder, on the move. Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013.

Close-up of the Sidewinder. Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013.

Western Banded Gecko. This little lizard was oozing with personality. It would take a couple steps in the sand, lash its tail like a tiny cat, and stare intelligently ahead, in search of gecko-prey. Then it would stalk an inch or two forward and repeat the process. Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013. 

Western Banded Gecko, portrait. Eight miles S. of Glamis, August 31, 2013.

Palo Verde seedlings. These were scattered widely, triggered by the rain.
Here are a couple photos from last September, showing the vegetative growth. The vines were still present this year, but were utterly dry and desiccated, although some showed new green growth from last week's rain. The yellow composites in the photo below were not out yet this year.

Vine growth, September 2012. Eight miles S. of Glamis.

Yellow composites, September 2012. About six miles S. of Glamis.

A Diversion to the Anza Borrego Desert: About One Week Following the Local Monsoonal Rainfall

Some excellent rain has fallen in the Anza Borrego Desert in the past couple weeks, with spectacular flash flooding in some areas about one week ago.

I took a little day trip down there this Friday, August 30, to see what sort of flowering and insect activity might have been triggered by the rain.

The Scissors Crossing area clearly received quite a bit of precipitation, and about one mile west of Shelter Valley, the ground was very moist still, and mushrooms were popping up all over the landscape! Not too much flowering was occurring, and not too many insects were out and about, but that might change in the days and weeks to come. A lot of green growth was starting to appear on the damp landscape, though.

Below are some photographs of beetles found, and the wonderful mushroom "bloom."

Acmaeodera gibbula, Scissors Crossing, Anza Borrego Desert, August 30, 2013.

Plionoma suturalis pair, Scissors Crossing, Anza Borrego Desert. This female did not seem to enjoy being bitten in the face during copulation, and struggled to leave while I watched the pair. When this photo was taken, the male was trying to restrain her. In seconds she wriggled free and flew off, closely followed by the male. August 30, 2013.

Plionoma suturalis pair, Scissors Crossing, Anza Borrego Desert. August 30, 2013.

This white species of mushroom was the most abundant about one mile west of Shelter Valley. August 30, 2013.

A young, fresh pair of the species shown above. August 30, 2013.

Another undetermined mushroom species. One mile west of Shelter Valley. August 30, 2013.

A mystery-fungus. I'm not even completely sure that this IS a fungus! There were several of these hemispherical growths on the ground. They had no real stalk penetrating into the ground. The "hemisphere" sat on top of the fibrous mat seen below it here. August 30, 2013.

NOTE: Euphoria fascifera WERE flying associated with mesquite trees near Shelter Valley, but they were all flying too fast and high to photograph. I had seen this species in this location in late August 2007, in similar post-monsoonal conditions.

Euphoria fascifera from 2007, near Shelter Valley, Anza Borrego Desert.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Diversion to Southeast Arizona: The Beetles, Part II - Longhorns and Others

Here are some additional beetle species seen on my one-week, beetle-extravanganza in Arizona.

Stenaspis verticalis, female. This was the first of its species that I have ever observed in Arizona (or anywhere, for that matter). Interestingly, it was being mounted by a male Stenaspis solitaria (see below), the "common" Stenaspis of the area. He must have been pretty excited when he saw such a beautiful she-beetle of the right shape and size, but so much more colorful than the unicolor females of his own species! Lower Madera Canyon.
Stenaspis solitaria, male. He is visiting a sapping spot on Baccharis sarothroides. A Euphoria sepulcralis is there, too, giving an idea of the impressive size of these longhorn beetles (they are about 30 mm long - well over an inch - typically). Lower Madera Canyon.
Rhodoleptus femoratus, a small, colorful cerambycid (longhorn beetle) on Baccharis. Lower Madera Canyon. Thanks to Fred Skillman for identifying this beetle for me.
Moneilema appressum, the less-commonly-seen cactus longhorn. Found walking along Ruby Road, between Pena Blanca Lake and Sycamore Canyon. This one adopted a rear-upward defense posture like a darkling beetle would when approached.
Tigrinestola tigrina, a small cerambycid, on a sheet placed under a black light. Santa Rita Experimental Range.
Monochamus clamator rubigineus. Upper Madera Canyon.
Coenopoeus palmeri. Box Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains. This individual was found in the daytime, clinging to this stalk.
Enaphalodes niveitectus, a nicely patterned cerambycid. Bog Springs Campground, Madera Canyon.
Strongylium atrum, Santa Rita Experimental Range. This is a tenebrionid, or darkling beetle, often erroneously called a "stink bug."
Stenomorpha marginata, another darkling beetle. Pretty common in the Santa Rita Mountains. This one was on the east side of this mountain range.
Pasimachus viridans, a ground beetle. This species has a beautiful green metallic border, setting it apart from other local Pasimachus. These are voracious predators, searching for prey after dark. Upper Madera Canyon.
Cicindela lemniscata, a tiny tiger beetle. Highly predatory, despite the size (this one was probably about 10 mm long). I-19 Rest Area, northbound side.
Agrilus pulchellus, a buprestid or jewel beetle. This pair were found at Sycamore Canyon, west of Pena Blanca Lake. This is a huge genus and is the same one that includes tree-killers like the Emerald Ash Borer and the Goldspotted Borer. Generally, members of this genus don't kill trees in substantial numbers in their native habitats. But when transferred to places where the trees are not adapted to them, they can become "pests."
Cymatodera sp., a clerid or checkered beetle. Pena Blanca Lake area.
Gibbifer californicus pair, pleasing fungus beetles. This species really is pleasing to see, with their lovely purplish-blue colors. Very common in the Santa Rita Mountains. I'm not sure why they were named as they are as I don't believe that they even occur in California, or if so, minimally. SOMEONE out there knows the answer to this mystery! Upper Madera Canyon.