A Day off from Work, a Beautiful Spring Day April 7

We had some unusual, almost summer-like weather this week, and it was too good to sit it out at my desk.  An annual leave request complete and I was on my own for a day – or actually Bumble the dog and I were on our own.

The road and forest only 16 km from home across the valley, Bumble exploring up ahead.

This being our first spring in the Lakeview area, we stayed local to explore since everything is new.  My first target of the day was low-land Ribes growing on the edge of the valley.  Based on my reading today, it seems in this area there are two Ribes in this habitat, R. velutinum and R. cereum, the former with spines, the latter without.  Despite much searching, no aphids were found on either.  It was a very dry year in 2015, possibly explaining the paucity of Aphis (Bursaphis) and Nasonovia (Kakimia).  Along the way of this first leg of our exploring, I found one adult fundatrix of Pleotrichophorus on Artemisia arbuscula.  Somewhat surprisingly, I found a second-instar (-ish) fundatrix of Acyrthosiphon purshiae on its host, just breaking bud, Purshia tridentata.  There were a few surprise plant finds too, including a patch of Ribes aureum along the streambank, and what seems to be a species of Primula growing in a seasonally wet draw.  Along the stream grows a native Rosa, and on it I found a red Macrosiphum (?) fundatrix nymph.  It is now in a jar on my desk, where I hope it matures to adult. On the one hand, it could be M. rosae, an unlikely event since this species usually does not overwinter as eggs in natural systems in western North America.  On the other hand, it could be M. valerianae, potentially over-wintered on rose and soon migrating to the nearby Zigadenus (a.k.a. death camas).

Ribes cf. velutinum in the greater Lakeview valley. A few flowers were just starting to open, attracting bumblebees, a welcome sound in spring.

Ribes cf. velutinum in the greater Lakeview valley. A few flowers were just starting to open, attracting bumblebees, a welcome sound in spring.

Purshia tridentata just sprouting leaves. Psyllids were common on this plant today, as is typical almost everywhere.

Purshia tridentata just sprouting leaves. Psyllids were common on this plant today, as is typical almost everywhere.

I think this is a species of Primula, but I confess that I did not tackle the keys in "A California Flora," preferring my comfortable key in "Flora of the Pacific Northwest."

I think this is a species of Primula, but I confess that I did not tackle the keys in “A California Flora,” preferring my comfortable key in “Flora of the Pacific Northwest.”

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Zigadenus, soon to bloom. Unlike normal edible and nutritious camas, this is death camas and is aptly named.

Our second stop of the day was Goose Lake State Park on the California border, about 20 km from home.  We had never visited, and I wanted to see what was there in terms of ecology and botany. Like most state parks, it turns out to be a heavily managed landscape dominated by exotic invasive plants other than the trees and shrubs.

Aphis (Bursaphis) cf. costalis on Ribes aureum, Goose Lake, Oregon.

Aphis (Bursaphis) cf. costalis fundatrix on Ribes aureum, Goose Lake, Oregon.

Despite this, I found a cluster of Aphis (Bursaphis) fundatrices (probably the species “costalis,” which is poorly understood) on Ribes aureum growing among the cottonwoods.

Abandoning the creepy managed space of Goose Lake state park, we ventured back to Lakeview and drove about 2 km up Bullard Canyon, which leaves downtown on Center Street.  There I wanted to collect the early spring forms of a mysterious Macrosiphoniella on an herbaceous Artemisia (success!), and hoped to find the fundatrices of a mysterious Braggia on Eriogonum along the roadside (success!).  I had found both aphids in the area last fall, and want to study them in more detail.

Braggia fundatrix in Bullard Canyon 7 iv 2016 1

A Braggia fundatrix in Bullard Canyon. In the fall I collected this aphid and had a hard time identifying it to species. I am therefore highly motivated to collect more!

Happy with these finds, and some wading in the stream for the Bumble, we headed home for lunch.  After which I took my mountain bike and rode to the radio antenna towers outside town.  Lakeview sits at about 1,463 meters above sea level, and the radio towers above are about 1,950 meters.  It’s a tough ride to the top, but worth it.  As you can see in the photo, there is still a lot of snow on the north-facing slope.  Under all that snow is one of my favorite plants, Agastache urticifolia, and if I am lucky, one of my favorite un-described Macrosiphum species, only about 15 km by road from home (home is actually only about 2 km as the raven flies).

The radio antenna towers and snow int he hills above Lakeview. It might be a month or more before the snow melts and Agastache starts to grow!

The radio antenna towers and snow int he hills above Lakeview. It might be a month or more before the snow melts and Agastache starts to grow!  It was about 23 C up there today.

The final stage of our vacation day was looking for aphids around the garden — one should never neglect that!  Few aphids are evident this time of year, but Myzaphis rosarum fundatrices are nearly developed to adult on Potentilla fruticosa outside my office window, and the seemingly omnipresent Rhopalosiphum oxyacanthae hatched a few days ago on both Sorbus (mountain ash) and Malus (apple) in the garden.

Rhopalosiphum oxyacanthae fundatrix nymphs on our beleaguered apple tree.

Rhopalosiphum oxyacanthae fundatrix nymphs on our beleaguered apple tree.

It was a good day.  Bumble is happily tired, and samples await processing in the coming days!

Juniper Mountain 1-3 April 2016

Our first full weekend outing of 2016 was to Juniper Mountain in Lake County, Oregon the first weekend of April. (As always on Aphidtrek, click on the photos to enlarge.) Just to put this place into perspective, Lake County is one small piece of eastern Oregon.

This is the view from camp toward evening. In the distance is Hart Mountain. Probably fewer than 50 humans live between the camera and the mountains in the distance. The sagebrush steppe shown here is typical.

This is the view from camp toward evening. In the distance is Hart Mountain. Probably fewer than 50 humans live between the camera and the mountains in the distance. The sagebrush steppe shown here is typical.

It is comprised of 21,432 square kilometers of land, in which about 8,000 humans live. That much land is about two thirds the size of Belgium (30,528 square kilometers).  About 70% of Lake County is owned by the federal government and is open to the public for recreation.

This time of year we stay in the desert lowlands which are managed by our Bureau of Land Management. Later in the year we will climb into the mountains and camp on Forest Service lands amongst the pines and firs.

On this trip we drove about 100 km north of home on our major highway, then turned off into what we call dirt roads, into the hills and desert, to reach Juniper Mountain.

The motorized and un-motorized vehicles ideal for our kind of camping.

The motorized and un-motorized vehicles ideal for our kind of camping.

Another 15 km or so along roads of rock, dirt, and mud found us a campsite amongst the junipers and sagebrush with a view of thousands of hectares of uninhabited land.

This kind of trip requires a special kind of vehicle; for us, a Toyota pickup truck, and for me, a mountain bike for further exploration. No maintained campgrounds here, we make our own camp, dig a fire pit, and park the vehicle in the trees.

The inland parts of Oregon are mostly dry, near-desert sagebrush steppe. This campsite is dominated by two species of sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata and Artemisia arbuscula, the latter known as ‘low sage’ and former as ‘big sage.’ The elevation here is about 1600 meters, going up onto Juniper Mountain behind camp, which peaks at about 2,020 meters. This kind of habitat sees a long cold winter and a dry hot summer. The sagebrush steppe is interrupted in places like this by stands of juniper trees, which utilize certain soil/geological types that suite their need for abundant subsurface water.

The junipers grow in certain soil- and aspect microclimates. Our camp site is the shiny speck in the trees in the center of the photo.

The junipers grow in certain soil- and aspect microclimates. Our camp site is the shiny speck in the trees in the center of the photo (click on the photo to enlarge).

As is our way, the first trip of the year was an especially nice weather weekend, sunny, not very windy (mostly less that 15 kph), and warm for this time of year (near 0 C at night, about 17 C during the afternoon).

Buttercups (Ranunculus) are common in this kind of habitat in early spring.

Buttercups (Ranunculus) are common in this kind of habitat in early spring.

It feels like good aphid collecting conditions, but here, spring is just beginning.  Only a few specialized herbs are in bloom, the grasses are just starting to grow, and the shrubs breaking buds.  In another month, this landscape will be full of the colors of desert flowers, including Lupinus, Delphinium, Castelleia, Eriogonum, Crepis, and much more. But this weekend, it takes a little hunting to find most of these plants just pushing through the dry dusty soil surface.

The sagebrush steppe is home to many species of Phlox. This one blooms early in the spring.

The sagebrush steppe is home to many species of Phlox. This one blooms early in the spring.

Aphids are few this time of year, but easily detected. The fundatrices of Obtusicauda, Pleotrichophorus, and Pseudoepameibaphis hatched a couple weeks ago from their overwintering eggs on Artemisia and are about 10 days from maturing to adult and beginning the new aphid season in earnest. On the psyllid side, over-wintered nymphs of Craspedolepta are growing again on Artemisia and heading toward adulthood in a few weeks.  I don’t collect my bugs this time of year, preferring to stick with collecting adults when they are ready, but a walk through the early spring landscape is just as interesting as any time– it helps put into perspective everything that is to come throughout the growing season for this place.

We seek out places like this to study nature, doing our natural history thing, but equally we come here to enjoy the quiet, isolation from human noise, and soak in some amazing  wild lands of the west.

The road that goes past Juniper Mountain, through a landscape that is shaped by drought and fire.

The road that goes past Juniper Mountain, through a landscape that is shaped by drought and fire.

A Challenge for 2016: Learn a Lot More Plant Taxonomy

As I have noted elsewhere, my plant identifications are often only to the genus level due to limitations on my knowledge, resources, time, etc.  For any of you who look at a map and see where I live, you’ll see that things like herbaria and skilled plant taxonomists are far from home.

Botany books to meet my 2016 goal of better plant taxonomy.

Botany books to meet my 2016 goal of better plant taxonomy.

Graduate school gave me a great basis in plant identification and recognition of major families and genera.  Since grad school I have learned a lot more.  But, species-level taxonomy is still weak, and now that we live adjacent to California, total plant diversity is in a totally different class than what I am used to.  Doing a decent job of aphid natural history and taxonomy will require substantially better botany skill and knowledge than I have gotten by with up until now.  Anyone reading this want to come and teach me?  Stop by and we’ll go out botanizing!

Winter Sets the Stage for Aphids of 2016

A prolonged drought has defined life for many people and of course most ecosystems in western North America for several years.  The area of our newly adopted home in southern Oregon experienced an almost completely dry winter of 2014-15, followed by a few weeks of rain in late spring, then a dry spell lasting through September.  Exploration of the area this fall, we saw very few plants other than trees and xerophylic shrubs persisting even at high and cool elevations.  Trees were stressed, failing to reproduce, and/or dying.   Even sagebrush and bitterbrush looked tired and dry.  Many streams had been dry much of the summer.

We were hoping for a snowy winter of 2015-16 to bring the forests, streams, and steppe back to life.   Looks like our wishes are coming true!  For the first time in a few years the surrounding mountains are buried in snow and the local ski hill at Warner Pass is open for business.

The edge of the forested hills above town. The snow should feed a glorious spring in 2016.

The edge of the forested hills above town. The snow should feed a glorious spring in 2016.

 

When I look at the snowy hills, the small trees almost completely buried, I happily ponder the flush of growth we’ll see this spring, the strength of the wildflowers, and hopefully, of course, the burst of native aphids in the early summer. From my office window I can see to the south the edge of the high plateau in the Warner Mountains called Dismal Swamp. I especially look forward to spring up there, where I hope to find more specimens of the enigmatic species of Macrosiphum/Uroleucon I found this fall.

While the snow is inconvenient in the near-term, it is a symbol of promise for a lush and interesting 2016 in southern Oregon!

Next spring is waiting to explode under this snow drift!

Next spring is waiting to explode under this snow drift!

A Year of Few Outings, but Promising New Places Ahead

This year of 2015 we did not get out much, hence the few stories to blog about here.  After my spring post about eastern Oregon, June and July were consumed by the emergency medical care for our old dog, who later died.  Along the way, we set in motion a home relocation to Lakeview, Oregon!  I posted a photo in the last blog entry from a reconnaissance trip to Lakeview and its nearby forests, and that trip sealed the deal.  The area is fabulous, in part for the views, in part for the diverse and new plant and insect communities in southern Oregon and northern California.

The view of Lakeview, Oregon from the cell phone towers above town.

The view of Lakeview, Oregon from the cell phone towers above town.

With so much going on at home, plus a 3 weeks trip to Maine and New Hampshire thrown in, we had only a few camping trips since May.

Our trip marking our parting with our Idaho home was a final spot on the top of the Owyhee Mountains in southern Idaho.  It was Labor Day weekend in early September and we found this spot just below a ridge with a beautiful field of flowers still finishing their life cycle (called a nivation hollow).

Camp spot nestled into the mountain mahogany near War Eagle Mountain. We had 4 bars of 3G so Gina kept up on her emails...

Camp spot nestled into the mountain mahogany near War Eagle Mountain. We had 4 bars of 3G so Gina kept up on her emails…

Aphids were few except on the sage brushes, but as usual treasures are there to reward perseverance.  One such find was the final stages of one of the species of Aphis that feeds on Veratrum (corn-husk lily).  The biology of this aphid-plant interaction seems complicated, or at least has escaped my understanding for 25 years.  There are clearly at least two species of Aphis on Veratrum out west here, but their life cycles are not obvious to me.

Black groups of aphids feeding on the nearly fully senesced stem of Veratrum. This photo points out the need to recognize aphid host plants in all their developmental stages.

Black groups of aphids feeding on the nearly fully senesced stem of Veratrum. This photo points out the need to recognize aphid host plants in all their developmental stages.

In this site I was able to find the final Veratrum portion of the life cycle of one of the species.  I look forward to seeing the slide mounts and maybe take one more step toward understanding the complex of aphid species on this plant.

We figure there will be lots of cool stuff to see down the road.  Join us!

Spring is Time for Eastern Oregon

One thing we have learned living in southwestern Idaho is that eastern Oregon is full of great places to camp and explore that are almost unknown to anyone and rarely visited.  Spring is the time to visit many of these places because they are relatively low elevation and rather arid during the summer — spring is when they are green and comfortable.

We made 2 trips in May this year, the first to a juniper-sagebrush habitat south of Hwy 20 called Stinking Water Mountains.

Hunting camp among the junipers, Stinking Water Mts., Oregon.

Hunting camp among the junipers, Stinking Water Mts., Oregon.

We drove past wild horses and through the remains of a recent range fire to arrive at this huge hunting camp (hunting camps are used by hunters in the fall hunting season, and only by the occasional back country camper the rest of the year). It was still early in the season at this site, but a few aphids and psyllids were found.  One of the plants I study for the biology of Nasonovia (Kakimia) and Aphis (Bursaphis) was common: Ribes cereum.  This is the host for some well-known aphid species, and some that seem to be poorly known or undescribed.  It is among the first plants to break dormancy in spring, and the aphids are right there with it, developing in the coldest spring weather these high deserts can dish out.Ribes cereum.

The second trip was to the mountains outside Lakeview, Oregon, called the Warner Mountains. While most years this area would have been under snow on Memorial Day, climate change and a warm winter let us reach almost anyplace we wanted to without snow.  There was a threat of rain here and there, but fabulous weather, with temperatures above 10C most of the time and clouds floating by to mix up the sky.  Aphids were not abundant, but some unusual finds were made nonetheless, including my first ever collection on the uncommon sagebrush called Artemisia spinescens (on the way home, heading toward Denio, Nevada).  Our camp was set up among some fabulous giant ponderosa pines.

Gina with one of the ponderosa pines at camp.

Gina with one of the ponderosa pines at camp.

Travels, Tips

In the blog section of AphidTrek we plan to give details and stories about our trips — where we go, what we cook, obstacles overcome,

Just some of the places we've been since 2011, almost all camping spots.

Just some of the places we’ve been since 2011, almost all camping spots.

sights seen. We get out a lot, using mostly my Toyota FJ Cruiser to access remote back roads, and quite a range of equipment and supplies for tent camping in dispersed camping settings (i.e. without campgrounds, tables, restrooms, etc.). We see some amazing sights, explore habitats on the edge at high altitudes, and camp in the cold, rain, snow, wind, and plenty of perfect sunny calm days.  Food is by no means standard camping food; no hotdogs, hamburgers, or potato salad to be found at our camps.  Often we cook Thai curries, Indian-style lentils with spinach, fajitas, pasta with home-made tomato sauce.  The dogs lounge in the shade (or sun, if it’s cold out!), and we stay up late watching the stars and warming our feet by a camp fire.  Morning is insect collecting time, anywhere from 2 to 4 or 5 hours depending on the season, location, and difficulty of the terrain.

A fall camp in the mountains of central Idaho, near Fisher Creek.

A fall camp in the mountains of central Idaho, near Fisher Creek.