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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mushrooms are Popping!

Must be the rain we've had. More than I'm used to seeing here in Cuyamaca Woods and surroundings...

These photogenic fungi were too much to resist, so I got the camera and drove back down the road to the area near the entrance to Camp Winacka on Boulder Creek Road (after making an earlier foray into Julian). MAYBE Leucoagaricus americanus? According to Mykoweb, an excellent resource for identifying Californica mushrooms, that species is common in the midwest and east, but rare here, and usually associated with wood chips around suburban areas. This photo was taken with available light and the tripod (at 1/10 second and ISO 100).

Another nice cluster.

Some mature ones.

A young one...crying out to be photographed!

Large white mushroom (tbd). This was one of about 8 -10 that were growing along the side of the road near the corner of Sandy Creek Road and Mountain Meadow Road.

This one (also along Mountain Meadow Road just down from our house) will look impressive when it opens up, I suspect. It's about 4 inches tall now.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

More Pepsis (and Others) at the Baccharis

The Baccharis sarothroides that we planted nine years ago (and which normally lives at slightly lower elevations) continues to flower...and flower, and flower. The rains seem to have created the ideal flowering conditions for them, as I don't remember them being quite this rich in prior years (although they flower every fall).

Pepsis mildei and Pepsis thisbe (and possibly P. pallidolimbata, but hard to tell due to wing wear) and the most abundant visitors, with P. mildei (with the orange antennae) being the most numerous.

I saw no Pepsis mildei over the summer at the milkweed. Those Pepsis seemed to be P. thisbe primarily.

The luxuriously flowering Baccharus. This is only a small fraction of it. 

Pepsis mildei male. He has 11 flagellomeres (long segments) on his antennae (females have 10). 

Orange antennae and dark margins on the wings identify this species (at least in this region).

I believe that this is a Pepsis thisbe male, due to the amount of hyaline (clear) edging on the wing tips.

A large bumblebee (likely a queen). Looks like Bombus occidentalis, but I am not certain yet.

This bee slowly moved from flower to flower...

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Diversion to Utah, Part 2: Robber Flies and Velvet Ants

On our trip to southern Utah in July of this year, I had hoped to add to my photo collection of Asilidae (robber flies), as they are such impressive and photogenic predators. I have never had much luck photographing live velvet ants (family Mutillidae), but there were SO many of these in our Burr Trail camp that it was downright easy to get excellent close-ups of them.

The recent monsoonal rain had brought out quite a lot of local flowers, and perhaps that's why the robbers were out in good numbers in most places we visited.

Robber flies are often easy to photograph as they have some loyalty to a perch from which they search for prey items flying past. The fly will typically ambush its prey in mid-air, and administer a bite which delivers a neurotoxin to paralyze the prey, combined with proteolytic enzymes to digest the prey's insides, making a soupy meal to be sucked up at its leisure with the proboscis of the fly.

Efferia sp., male. He was lurking in plain sight on some dried-up mud at the little cattle pond (that we visited two years ago) east of our campsite on the Burr Trail. "Efferus" comes from the Latin meaning "wild" or "savage" - fairly appropriate, I guess, although that description could apply to just about any predator, from a robber fly to a mountain lion!

Efferia sp., female (note the long thin ovipositor at the terminus of the abdomen). As I crept up to her (on the opposite side of the cattle pond from the male), she crouched down, stretching her forelegs out, but did not fly off. It seemed like a very deliberate behavior. I wonder if there is any meaning to it, past just making her appear slightly smaller.

Efferia sp. female, with fellow asilid as prey. No family loyalties here.

The "pond Efferia male". Side view. The fuzzy mass of hairs protruding from the face is the "mystax" (meaning moustache) which is thought to protect the fly's face from wildly struggling prey.

Large asilid with prey, in the creek bed which passes by our Burr Trail camp site.

A smaller asilid species, to be determined, perched on the concrete bridge over the creek.

An almost-all-black robber fly, Ospriocerus sp. (note the red on the abdomen). This is a large species, like the Efferia seen on this trip - around 1 inch long. 

Another Ospriocerus sp., east on the Burr Trail, in an open windy area.

The sandy substrate combined with plenty of flowering plants following the rains seemed to create the ideal conditions for velvet ants around our Burr Trail camp site. Four species were seen within and close by our camp. I have not been able to conclusively identify any of them yet.

This species, with a black abdominal tip, came in orange and yellow forms. I'm tentatively guessing Dasymutilla scitula?

Digging in the soft sand around the camp site.

A very small but beautifully clothed female - actively searching for larvae of ground-nesting host species.

This small species, as well as the other two diurnal species we saw, was searching for the nest chambers of ground nesting bees or wasps. The female will dig her way into a nest, lay an egg by the host larva, and then the egg will hatch and consume the host.

This was the larger species, which might be Dasymutilla californica, but still uncertain. This female is next to a hole she dug out.

Busily digging, digging, digging. At least half a dozen females of this species were active in the late afternoon around our camp site. A couple males were present also (presumably of the same species, although with several species present, and the fact that male and female velvet ants of the same species often do NOT look alike at all, it's not certain which species the males belonged to).

Some of these females were very worn looking, or even had what appeared to be dried mud on them.

One of many neat holes dug in a small area with many velvet ants actively digging around. This hole was around 1/4 inch in diameter.

A male. Males are winged, but do not sting. Females of many velvet ants are wingless. Females can deliver a powerful, painful sting!

A large winged mutillid, probably in the genus Sphaeropthalma, which came to the black light after dark. It was around 20 mm long.

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Fall Day in the Cuyamacas

It was a HOT day today - a good 10 degrees warmer than it should be at this time of year.

The Baccharis sarothroides that we planted to anchor the slopes around the house bloom every year at this time, and are covered in nectar-lovers. Being an especially warm day, they were out in force.

Honey bees are the most numerous, but tarantula hawks of at least three species are visiting also. Pepsis thisbe seemed to be the most common visitor to the milkweed earlier in the season. But now Pepsis mildei, often in groups of females, and Pepsis chrysothemis with its bright red wings are showing up too.

A large female Pepsis mildei. This is the only species of Pepsis in our area with orange antennae (in both sexes). This one was at least 40 mm long - one of the larger individuals. We saw a tarantula wandering the landscape around dusk, so the Pepsis have everything they need right here!
SO much nectar (and so little time)!

Later in the afternoon, I paid a quick visit to Paso Picacho campground and vicinity in the state park (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, to be precise).

Honey Bees were the most common visitors to some of the last "fresh" Ericameria parishii, near the beginning of the Stonewall Peak trail. I saw a Pepsis mildei female and what appeared to be Pepsis thisbe on the same bush also.

A dinner-plate-sized shelf fungus, seemingly growing out of the ground. There were dead, burned tree stumps in the area though (some with more of this fungus), so I suspect there was some wood under this big specimen. Stonewall Peak trail.

Snowberry is "berrying". Azalea Glen trail.

Signs of cooler times to come soon.

What IS this?? (Answer at the end of the post)

An ultra-pubescent plant along the Azalea Glen trail. To be determined.

The fuzzy-leaved plant, with sunlight seeping through...

The mystery "mountain range" is the edge of an acorn cup!