Sunday, March 30, 2008

'Alpine Forget-Me-Not'.....Alaska State Flower

In honor of Alaska Sunday I present the State Flower of Alaska,

The Alpine Forget-Me-Not.

Myosotis alpestris
Photo Courtesy of Martha

This really is the alpine version of the flower.
Forgive the poor quality photograph.
It was taken with a Point-n-Shoot which has no depth of field adjustment.
She photographed this flower high in the mountains.
Luckily, Martha got this shot. I got no photo at all.

Scroll down to see the AK Sunday post

Troy and Martha

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Seward, AK - Small Boat Nature Tour - Part 2

I am not going to have time to post this in the morning. So I am posting "Alaska Sunday" tonight.
Don't peek until tomorrow. Click here to see Pt. 1. Some of the best photos are there.

This is Part 2 of the "Captain's Choice" trip out of the Small Boat Harbor in Seward, Alaska, to Kenai Fjords N.P. After agreement among all of the passengers, we decided to go to Bear Glacier 1st and then to the Chiswell Islands.

The trip started down Resurrection Bay to Bear glacier and then out through the Harding Gateway into Blying Sound (open seas) which is a part of the Gulf of Alaska. From there we proceeded to the Chiswells, which are directly out from Aialik Bay. The water was about 600' deep out from land and in the center of the bays for most of the trip .

On the other side of the Kenai Peninsula and to the southwest is the town of Homer (Halibut fishing capital of Alaska). It's a long way back around to Homer. We had set up our camper on a long spit of land only a few hundred yards wide that ran out into the Bay. But that is another story.

Click on the photos to enlarge them
Be sure to scroll down on the enlarged photographs to see the bottom

Pulling Out

Looking Stormy
Did we put enough patches behind the ear?

Whale Sighted
Everyone rushed from the cabin.

Typical Whale Photo
Most photos catch only the splash.
Click here to see Pt. 1 of the story to see an exciting 'whale breaching' shot.

Common Murre Raft.
Notice the streaked flanks on the Murres (identifying characteristics).
Can you find the five Puffins? (You'll have to click on the photo to find them)

A Sister Boat
Filled with landlubbers looking for wildlife.

Sea Lions on the Rocks
Notice how high they are out of the water. I was wondering about this and noticed the tide line on the rocks. I just now took out my Palm Smartphone with "Tide tools" on it. I checked the date and time of the photo and entered them into Tide tools and found that the tide back then in Resurrection Bay was 3.5 feet and dropping. It had been at 10.5 feet earlier. They must have climbed out of the water when it was 7' higher at the top of the brown tide line. Maybe my detective work is all "wet". Maybe they just jumped up there. ;0

Eagle Sighting
It's sure to make the boat tilt when all the passengers rush to that side.

Pretty Foggy at Times
Pray for clearing

Entrance to Bear Glacier Arm
The Glacier sort of makes its own weather. Cold ice, cold water, warm air....Fog.
I really like the reflections.

Harbor Seal
They like to climb out on the ice floes.
The fog is clearing. Prayer works.

Blue Ice

Bears on the Shore
I guess there are bears at Bear Glacier.
The little black specks on the shore.
(Are you remembering to click on the photos to enlarge them?)

Iceberg Calving
If you hear the crack of the ice and splash, it's too late to photograph the calving.
You have to watch and be ready.
That cracking sound really carries over the water and is pretty cool to hear.

Parakeet Auklets
We got lucky and found some on the way back.

Alaska Sunday is a collection of photographic remembrances of our driving trip from Texas to Alaska.
18,000 miles, 16 weeks, 16 western states including Alaska and four Canadian Provinces.
No chronological order, just anything of interest that got in front of our cameras.

Troy and Martha

With Springtime Comes ............

Everyone (and everything) has been wishing for Springtime. Just remember that you have to "take the bitter with the better"

Click for an up close view of your enemy
They have a few friends. I saw a some little black ants tending this herd.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Scarlet Pimpernel

We found a small interesting wildflower on our trip to south Texas that we had never noticed before. It is a sprawling weedy plant with really tiny flowers. It is diminutive, but beautiful none the less.

We were at a National Wildlife Federation Conference in Denver many years ago and took a class called "Nature Creeping". We crawled around on the ground for an hour in different habitats and observed a lot of really neat stuff. We should all remember to do that more.

Anagallis arvensis & ssp. foemina
click for full view

The following information is taken from Wikipedia:

The scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) also known as the red pimpernel, red chickweed, poorman's barometer, shepherd's weather glass, or shepherd's clock) is a low-growing, annual plant in the family Myrsinaceae.

The barometer (weather glass) common names have their origin in the fact that the flowers close when atmospheric pressure decreases, and bad weather is approaching.

It is generally considered a weed and is an indicator of light soils.

The stems are about 45 cm long and generally prostrate. The bright green ovate sessile leaves grow opposite. The ¼" orange flowers grow in the leaf axils from spring till autumn. The petal margin is somewhat crenate.

The subspecies Anagallis arvensis ssp. foemina has bright, deep blue flowers. Many botanist consider it a species on its own, namely Anagallis foemina.

It is most noted for being the emblem of the fictional hero The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Troy & Martha

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sunlight on a Stem and Spring's Joy

click for full viewgolden crown
uplifting green
bathed by a golden orb

a fresh earthworm
satisfied hunger
a cool drink of water

Photographs by Martha

Troy & Martha

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Seward, AK - Small Boat Nature Tour - Part 1

If you take a boat trip out of the Small Boat Harbour at Seward, be sure to ask at the reservations desk for a boat that has a naturalist or birder as the captain. It will pay big dividends. Many of the tours are listed as Glacier tours, but a receptive captain will go out of his way to show you special animals and birds.

We talked to the Captain before we left, and told him that we were interested in seeing a Thick-billed Murre, which would be a new bird (lifer) for us. He asked the rest of the passengers (12) if they minded going out of the way to an island further out in the Gulf of Alaska (to the Chiswell Islands) to see a rare bird. Everyone agreed as most were 'nature lovers' anyway. And we got to stay out a little longer.

Luckily, the Captain had a lot of discretion in his timetable and route. It was his only run of the day. We saw our obligatory glacier, but also lots of wildlife during the trip.

Be sure to click on the photos for the large versions

Small Boat Harbour Seward
I especially like the 3 red fenders in the otherwise blue-grey photograph

A Sea Otter (People Watching)

A Sea Lion Posing

Tufted Puffin

A Jam of Jellies
What do you call a lot of jellyfish crowded together. The Captain said that he had been crusing these waters for a long time and had never seen them mass together in this bay like this. Enjoy.

Update: Thanks to Tori Cullins, a USCG captain and marine biologist grad from the University of Hawai'i , I now know that a group is officially called "a smack of jellies" instead of "a jam of jellies". I like my made-up name better.

Black Oystercatcher w/ Red Beak on Yellow Lichen

Humpback Whale Breaching

Thick-billed Murre
This one bird is what we spent the whole day on the boat for. It was a life bird for us. Notice the white gape (smile) line. This is an identifying feature as well as the thick bill. We had not seen a lifer for a long time. Whoo-hoooo. We got a few more lifers when we got to the tundra on the North Slope and on the drive up there. But that's another story.

Part 2 of the boat trip will be next Sunday on AK Sunday Part 2. Stay tuned.

Alaska Sunday is a collection of photographic remembrances of our driving trip from Texas to Alaska.
18,000 miles, 16 weeks, 16 western states including Alaska and four Canadian Provinces.
No chronological order, just anything of interest that got in front of our cameras.

Troy and Martha

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mars Rover

Well pardon me!!! I just have to get this off my chest.

I know this is supposed to be a nature blog, but its also a science blog and the Mars Rover may be put to sleep permanently.

For years we tried to get Mars Rovers to Mars. We finally got some there successfully , and then we finally got some there that actually worked (better and longer than expected). And now NASA headquarters wants to cut their funding $4 million dollars (that's four million).

It's all right to spend billions and billions on some stupid war (which may or may not be necessary). Let's cut the Mars Rover program and put one to sleep even though it's still in good health and providing good science. Next year the other one may go.

I wish I had some say in where my tax dollars went.

Here's the link to the story.


Wild flowers from the Coast and SE Texas

Here are a few close-ups of the wildflowers that we saw on our trip down to High Island, TX. There are not enough blooming yet to get good fields of flowers. It will be a couple of more weeks. Be sure to click on the photos.

Beach Evening-primrose (backlit)

Honey bees working wild berry vines

Indian Paint-brushes and a little sweet clover
The color is really intense this year

Beautiful pink Indian Paint-brush

Wild Spider Lily
They grow in wet ditches and are fairly rare.

Spiderwort with hairy stamens and colorful tops

Large thistle

Troy and Martha

Monday, March 24, 2008

Back from The Gulf and East Texas

Back from a quick 3 day week-end. 330 miles down to the Gulf of Mexico on Friday. Played on Saturday. 330 miles back to Ft. Worth on Sunday. We saw over 100 species of birds and photographed a lot of wildflowers. I will post some of those later. Click to enlarge the photograph. I used the Red Paw Media 'Bleach By-pass' filter to give it a tray-developed and hand-tinted look.

Dogwood Blooms in East Texas


Thursday, March 20, 2008

"I and the Bird" and Yesterday's Flower

I and the Bird is up at Arctic Musings.

The answer to yesterday's flower is Palafoxia hookeriana probably ssp. texiana.
In some parts of the country it is known as the Sand Palafox.
Or as Pappy calls it "A Pink-eyed Susan". ;O

Have a great week-end. We are. We're going to the Gulf (High Island) for some birding.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Answer to 'A Touch of Red Quiz'

The answer to the quiz on the location of the National Park in the March 15 blog, A Touch of Red, is Glacier National Park. The lake is Lake McDonald. It is 10 miles long, 1 mile wide and 470 ft. deep. It is on the west side of the continental divide.

Here is Martha's photograph of
Lake McDonald
later in the afternoon.
Martha is much better at composing for sepia than I am.

Where's the Bees

Get out the field guide and paper and pencil.
OK, count the ray and disk flowers so that we can key this out for identification.
;) Just kidding. Enjoy courtesy of Martha. Click to enlarge.
Notice the difference in development between the two flowers.
Also notice that the ray-flowers are deeply 3-cleft.
Can you identify this flower? Answer tomorrow.
Where are the bees?

Roadside wildflowers
(© photo by Martha Mullens)
Don't miss counting any of the disk flowers. ;)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Texas Mesquite

I just ran across an interesting article on Texas Mesquite.
Any Naturalists interested in Plants and the Southwest might like this article.
For what its worth, Click here.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Yes there is no doubt that the spider has a bad reputation. Yet they belong to a beneficial Class (Arachnida) and Order (Aranae). They help rid us of many dangerous pests, such as mosquitoes, and flies, which spread disease, as well as harmful insects.

Many people watch birds, photograph butterflies, and chase dragonflies. Try observing spiders for a change of pace. They are interesting creatures with more legs than insects (an extra two) and less body parts than insects. Insects have 3 body parts (head, thorax and abdomen). Spiders have two, the cephalothorax, where the head and thorax are joined, and an abdomen. The cephalothorax bears the eyes (numerous), mouthparts and 4 pair of legs. The abdomen contains the spinnerets for making strands of silk and the respiratory, digestive and reproductive organs.

One interesting and very common group of spiders is the Wolf Spiders. They are in the Family Lycosidae, named for the Greek work “lycosa” meaning wolf. Most wolf spiders live on the ground and are usually found hiding during the day. They don’t spin webs except for one genus. They hide in leaf litter where they are well camouflaged or hide in holes (some borrowed and others dug). Wolf spiders are usually patterned in browns, tans and blacks. There are over 200 species of wolf spiders in North America. This family is usually easy to recognize but individual genera may be difficult.

They have 8 dark eyes of unequal size arranged in 3 rows. The first row has four eyes and the middle pair of eyes is the largest. They have very good vision and may actively pursue prey.

See the handsome devil below.

Remember to click on the photos to get up close and personal.

Hogna sp.

One of the most common families of spiders is the Orbweaver (family Araneidae). Almost all of this family spins orbs (more commonly known as spider-webs) to catch prey. Some stay on the web and some hide in a little nearby retreat. Notice that those that do stay on the web usually hang upside down in the center. Unlike the wolf spider, the orbweaver has poor vision and locates its prey by vibration.

Some the genera have exaggerated form combined with beautiful colors. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Micrathena gracilis

So, suck it up and get out there and start enjoying spiders.


Spring Migration

We're excited. We are leaving Friday for High Island, TX for a long weekend of birding and photography. It's a major place to see a fallout of warblers during the spring migration. Last year we had 23 different species of warblers in one day. It was great to say the least. I'll post the results when we get back.

I am starting a new theme called Alaska Sunday in which I will post photos taken during our Alaska trip.

Here's Martha birding far from home, looking for Jaegers, North of the Artic Circle and just South of the Brooks Range in Alaska on the Haul Road. Yep, she found one later in the day.

On the Haul Road(one of the better parts)

Martha in the Arctic Ocean. I think see was looking for shore birds. You know how birders are, they will go to any extreme.

Looking for shorebirds

This is our Travel rig. Toyota 4-Runner for off-road and a TrailManor to rest our weary feet at night. We drove from Texas to Alaska and spent 16 weeks on the road and 5 weeks in Alaska.

By Muncho Lake in B.C. Canada

Troy and Martha

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Touch of Red

Click on image to get a better look

A little red kayak lost on a sea of blue. What National Park is this lake in? The answer will be posted in a couple of weeks. It's in the US.


Friday, March 14, 2008

The Leaves Have Eyes

One of my favorite butterflies is the Satyr. It is frequently a companion on the woodland trail, flitting along just out of harms way. An inconspicuous small brown butterfly described by Pyle as having a slow motion dancing flight. Brock and Kaufman describe their movement as bouncing along perkily close to the ground. Despite its name the Little Wood-Satyr is the largest and most widespread of the satyrids. Unless watching closely when they land, they are difficult to see as they blend right into the leaf litter.

Little Wood-Satyr (Megisto viola)

The butterfly here is the Viola’s form of the Little Wood-Satyr (Megisto cymela). Some experts suggest a separate species, Megisto viola. The viola’s form has larger eye-spots and more and larger silvery patches between the spots.

Photographed at the Ft. Worth Nature Center. Considered uncommon in Tarrant County.

Alternate Title: Here’s Looking At You Kid

Troy and Martha

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Texas Fumewort

Texan Fumewort Corydalis micrantha
The continuing quest to photograph Texas Wildflowers

Family - Fumariaceae (Bleeding-heart)
Genus - corydalis (Fumewort)
Species - micrantha
ssp - texensis (Texan Fumewort)

Found in Ft. Worth, Tarrant county, TX

6-18 in tall. Flowers about 1/2 in long and crested. Blooms Feb to May, usually in disturbed soil. However, it may be found on bluffs, hills, in woods and on river banks. The genus found here in Texas is lemon yellow.

The flower does not appear to be attached at the end but rather in the middle. This is because the upper petal has a spur that extends back past the end of the flower.

The subspecies australis (smallflower fumewort) is sometimes know as golden smoke in southeastern US..

The various species of this genus are difficult to identify sometimes and require an eye loupe and seed examination to separate some eastern species. This one was reasonably easy due to geographic location.

A bonus was the teensy weensy spider catching gnats in her incredibly tiny web.

Be sure to click on photographs for larger views

Friday, March 7, 2008

Black-bellied whistling duck

One of my favorite ducks with pink feet. Photographed at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.
(Be sure to click on the Photo for a good look).

Addendum added Mar 11:

The Black-bellied Whistling Duck lies somewhere between a goose and a true duck in appearance. The male and female are similar in appearance. This is probably a pair. They can be found in deep south Texas year-round. I believe there is also a breeding population in Florida. There are also found in southern Arizona in the summer. Just from personal experience, it seems they may be expanding their range as we see them further north in Texas now.

When we first started going to the Valley years ago, it was quite uncommon to see one. Now they are a regular sight. We see them feeding in grass and rice fields as well as tipping up in edges of ponds and grassy areas on lakes. They can be seen in trees as well as on floating masses of vegetation as are these pictured here.

They are so cool as they call constantly in flight.

They are like a wood duck in that they will nest in cavities and man-made boxes if the hole is large enough.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Photographer - The Photograph

A photographer in his old felt hat (Courtesy of Martha)

Platinum print photograph (Courtesy of the Photographer)

Half dome in Yosimite. A favorite subject of Ansel Adams. Photographed from Glacier Point Road the first day it was opened in late May after the snow-plows had cleared 10' of snow.