Female Ruby-crowned Kinglet

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A “tiny, plump neurosis with feathers” is how the ruby-crowned kinglet is described in Birds of Northern California by Quady et. al. (2015). This hyperactive bird is constantly flitting about while flicking its wings. Ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula) are among … Continue reading

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Dwarf Mountain Groundsel

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When Leonard and I climbed Mount Lassen in August, we saw groundsel plants high on the mountain near the summit. When I tried to identify these plants I wandered into a taxonomic muddle. First I determined that this was Senecio … Continue reading

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Pygmy Rabbit

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Found in the Great Basin and some adjacent intermountain areas between about 4,000 and 7,000 feet, pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis) usually remain in dense cover, rarely venturing out into the open. Therefore¬† Leonard and I were surprised to see one … Continue reading

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Halogeton

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A native of Asia (China, Russia), halogeton (Halogeton glomeratus) is now naturalized throughout the American West and is considered a noxious weed. I read a theory that postulated the Soviet Union dropped halogeton seeds from spy planes onto Western rangelands … Continue reading

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Lemon Balm

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A native of Southern Europe, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has naturalized throughout the world. It can be found in most of North America except through the central part of the continent. Cultivated for ornamental and medicinal purposes, in the wild … Continue reading

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Migrating Tortoiseshells

California Tortoiseshell

In August while climbing Mount Lassen (Lassen Volcanic National Park CA) Leonard and I were surrounded by literally thousands of California tortoiseshells (Nymphalis californica). The butterflies were hitting us, landing on us, covering the snow and talus  and filling the sky. What a magical experience!! For a couple weeks in late summer millions of California tortoiseshells migrate over Mount Lassen. Leonard and I were fortunate to accidentally have chosen a day to summit when the spectacle was occurring.

I could not find any definitive explanation for this phenomenon. However, California tortoiseshells that overwinter as adults in California’s Central Valley and Inner Coast Range have an early generation in place. This early generation seasonally moves north and east upslope to the higher elevations of the Klamaths, Sierra Nevada and Cascades. There they have another generation whose larvae (caterpillars) feast on the abundant Ceanothus species. In the late summer and early fall this generation returns downslope to their winter home. Depending on weather conditions and food supply, the returning tortoiseshells are often part of a population explosion. On their return the butterflies ride warm currents up and over the young volcanic crater. I like this reason best.

Common ravens (Corvus corax) are the most frequent predators on the California tortoiseshells migrating over Lassen Peak. Leonard and I saw many of these corvids noisily cawing while feasting on the butterflies that landed on the snow and rocks.

Many of the migrating butterflies displayed tattered wings and looked worse for wear –¬† such as this specimen. I am not posting any other photographs because I just could not adequately capture the numbers of tortoiseshells surrounding us. The pictures are black blurs against the background.

More information on California tortoiseshell butterflies can be found in my previous post: “California Tortoiseshell” on 07-29-16.

Leonard and I were so happy to see this spectacle.

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Antelope Ground Squirrel

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Antelope ground squirrels (Ammospermophilus leucurus) are hyperactive. They never stop moving! While exploring Grimes Point Archeological Site along Nevada Highway 50 east of Fallon NV, Leonard and I came upon this cute little guy (gal?). We sat down and it … Continue reading

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