Category Archives: photography|quirky

Alpaca and Old Man of the Andes

Alpaca along a trail in the Peruvian Andes

This photograph of an alpaca was taken at about 15,000′, running down from Palomani Pass (16,600 ft.) on a Circuit of Mt. Ausangate (20,905 ft.) organized by Andes Adventures. It was part of a large herd grazing on the mountainside.

We did the circuit in July, which is mid-Winter in the Southern Hemisphere. The alpaca’s thick coat protects it from the harsh, alpine conditions. Temps were relatively moderate when we were there, but still dropped to 0°F overnight.

Evidence suggests the alpaca was domesticated 6000-7000 years ago and bred for its fiber and meat. It is intriguing how much the alpaca’s coat looks like the clumps of cacti growing on the hillside. From a distance an alpaca would be difficult to distinguish from the plants, however this doesn’t appear to be an adaptation. Genetic analysis suggests the alpaca is descended from the vicuña, which has different coloration. The cactus is a species of Oreocereus, commonly called “old man of the Andes.”

Like Llamas, alpacas are camelids, though some claim they are related to Ewoks.

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Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge

Boney Mountain's Western Ridge

From today’s run, hike, scramble and climb of Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge. The rounded pinnacle at the  top of the formation is this one.

Some related posts: Boney Mountain Western Ridge & Loop, Over Boney Mountain to Sandstone Peak and Serrano Valley, Boney Mountain Eclipse Run, Boney Mountain – Serrano Valley Adventure Run, Boney Mountain Views

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Manzanita Leaf Galls and Aphids

Manzanita Leaf Galls and Aphids

Was running down the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail Saturday, when a flash of bright red on a manzanita bush caught my eye.

Very bizarre, as nature often is. At first glance I thought the bulbous red objects on the manzanita were some kind of larvae, but on closer inspection could see it was a swelling of the leaf. My first thought was some kind of viral infection.

What they turned out to be are aphid induced leaf galls. Galls generally provide a protective habitat and enhanced food source for the inducing species and their tenants.

Related post: Scrub Oak Apple Gall

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If It Looks Like a Hummingbird and Flies Like a Hummingbird…

hummingbird moth feeding on spreading larkspur

I was on the way back from Mugu Peak and about four hours into my run. I’d stopped at an exposure of Miocene age shale along the Upper Sycamore Trail. The gray-brown rubble is home to an intensely blue-purple wildflower called spreading larkspur (Delphinium patens ssp. hepaticoideum).

Click for animation
I’d just snapped a series of bracketed exposures of one patch of the flowers when suddenly there was the bumblebee-on-steroids buzzing of a hummingbird in front of me.

At least I thought it was a hummingbird. It sounded like a hummingbird and was about the right size. Its blurred wings were shaped like a hummingbird’s. It flew with the precision of a hummingbird, darting from flower to flower, deftly feeding on each blossom’s nectar using its oddly shaped beak.

Click for larger image
But it wasn’t a hummingbird — it was a hummingbird moth — a white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata). I’d read about hummingbird moths, but to have one suddenly appear and start feeding on a larkspur plant I happened to be photographing was extraordinary.

Apparently the problem of feeding on the high-energy nectar in certain types of flowers is sufficiently definitive as to have produced a very similar evolutionary solution in wildly different organisms.

The sphinx moth is described as flying like a hummingbird, but which lineage produced this elegant solution first? It may have been the moth! A trace fossil of a sphinx moth found in Early Eocene Asencio Formation of Uruguay appears to predate the earliest known Oligocene fossils of hummingbird-like birds! In any case it appears that both hovering moths and birds co-evolved with the flowering plants on which they feed and pollinate.

Related post: Hummingbird Stories

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When It Used to Rain in Southern California

Remember when it used to rain in Southern California? This is from a run at Ahmanson Ranch on January 6, 2005.

The 15 days from December 27, 2004 through January 10, 2005 were the wettest 15 consecutive days in downtown Los Angeles since record keeping began in 1877. Los Angeles would go on to have the second wettest water year on record, with 37.25 inches of rain for the period July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2005.

So far this water year — since July 1, 2013 — Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded only 0.97 inch of rain!

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Bigcone ENSO Prediction, Poodle-dog Bush Blues, and a Surprise on Kenyon Devore

Morning sun on the dome of the Mt. Wilson Observatory

I’d paused to rinse my arms and legs, hoping to wash away at least a little of the poison oak and Poodle-dog bush I’d been unable to avoid. I was at a small spring part way up the Kenyon Devore Trail, doing a variation of a loop that my son and I had done a year before.

Today’s run had started on the top of Mt. Wilson, descended the Rim Trail to Newcomb Pass then followed the Gabrielino Trail down to the Rincon – Red Box Road. This year instead of taking the forest road down to West Fork, I stayed on the Gabrielino Trail and descended to Devore Camp, and then worked back upstream on the Gabrielino Trail past West Fork to the Kenyon Devore Trail.

Driving up the Mt. Wilson Road I’d noticed that many of the bigcone Douglas-firs were heavily laden with cones. According to the Forest Service’s Silvics Manual bigcone Douglas-firs don’t often have bumper crops. Why now, following two subpar rain seasons, the most recent of which was unusually dry? Was the tree’s evolutionary knowledge playing the odds that a wet period of Southern California’s wet/dry ENSO cycle is a Winter or two away? At the moment La Nina or Neutral conditions look more likely this coming Winter, but the odds for El Nino could increase for the Winter of 2014-15.

Like last year there was plenty of poison oak and Poodle-dog bush along the Rim and Gabrielino Trails. The poison oak was about the same as last year — mostly but not entirely avoidable — but the Poodle-dog seemed worse. I’d hoped that this year’s much lower than average rainfall would suppress the growth of Poodle-dog bush, but if anything it seemed more robust. Poodle-dog had overgrown the trail in several spots, its long stalks and sticky leaves overlapping the trail like a gauntlet of pikes. Contact was unavoidable.

It had been interesting to visit Devore Camp. The last time I’d been there was in March 2003 when Gary Gunder and I paddled from the West Fork San Gabriel River from West Fork to Hwy 39. We had been fortunate to be able to paddle the reach with few portages. With all the downed trees from the Station Fire it may be many years before big storms flush the river channel to point it can be paddled without logs being a constant problem.

In addition to the expanses of Poodle-dog bush blossoms, a number of other wildflowers were in bloom, including Grinnell’s beardtongue, rose snapdragon, blackberry, pink, paintbrush, bush poppy, buckwheat, gilia, Keckiella and others. Along the West Fork the blossoms of spotted Humboldt’s lilies had beamed like yellow-orange paper lanterns scattered throughout an immense garden.

I cannot ascend the Kenyon Devore Trail without thinking about the Mt. Disappointment 50K/50M. During those races the little spring I was at now had always been a welcome source of “extra” water on the final climb to Mt. Wilson. The 2013 races have been cancelled, but are expected to return in 2014. We all know how tough R.D. Gary Hilliard is and look forward to next year’s race!

“Hey, are you on a trail?”

The voice seemed to come from nowhere. I looked to my left and right, but the trail was empty.

“Hey, up here!”

What the… I scanned the STEEP slopes above the creek, but still had a hard time locating the voice. After a moment of rustling, a helmeted figure emerged from the trees, carrying an orange mountain bike.

If you’ve done the Kenyon Devore Trail as part of the Mt. Disappointment races or at another time you probably recall the slippery stream crossing with the chain. The MTBer had apparently missed a switchback about a mile up the trail and descended directly down a ridge to the spring.

Update Friday, June 21, 2013. Lucked out with the Poodle-dog bush* and poison oak! Just one small spot of irritation on the top of an ankle, and it’s already almost gone.

*The taxonomic name for Turricula parryi (Poodle-dog bush) has changed to Eriodictyon parryi. The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition (2012) has returned Turricula to the genus Eriodictyon, as originally described by Gray. According to the Wikipedia entry for Turricula (April 11, 2012), “… molecular phylogenetic analysis carried out by Ferguson (1998) confirms that Turricula should be treated as a separate genus within a clade (Ferguson does not use the term “subfamily”) that includes Eriodictyon, and also the genera Nama and Wigandia; Eriodictyon is the genus to which Turricula is closest in molecular terms, and is its sister taxon.” I use “Turricula” and “Poodle-dog bush” interchangeably as a common name.

Some related posts: Mt. Wilson Rim Trail – Kenyon Devore Trail Loop, GSU Mt. Wilson CHARA Telescope Array, Why Won’t My Smart Key Work?

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Giant Coreopsis Along the La Jolla Canyon Trail

Giant Coreopsis Along the La Jolla Canyon Trail

If a sunflower could be crossed with a Joshua tree the result might look like Giant Coreopsis (Leptosyne gigantea).

As tall as six feet, this peculiar plant looks as if it belongs in some distant place, if not some distant time.

It is a member of the Sunflower family and its bright yellow flowers and feathery green leaves create impressive displays on Southern California coastal slopes following Winter rains. It is well-adapted to our Mediterranean climate, its leaves withering and the plant becoming dormant in the dry months.

These are along the La Jolla Canyon Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park and were photographed on Saturday’s run to Mugu Peak from Wendy Drive.

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Comet PanSTARRS and the Crescent Moon

Comet PanSTARRS and the crescent moon from the Simi Hills, near Los Angeles

Did a night training run this evening in the Simi Hills, west of the San Fernando Valley, and combined it with photographing Comet PanSTARRS and the crescent moon with my normal running camera — a Panasonic Lumix LX7.

Since the comet is low on the western horizon and not very bright, it is a difficult object to photograph, and even more difficult to see with the naked eye.

I found a convenient pipe to use as a monopod and took some image sequences using the self-timer. This particular photo is from a single RAW format image shot at f/2.3 for 1 sec at ISO800 at the 35mm equivalent of 90mm.

Here’s a larger version of the image. The soft light on the face of the Moon above the crescent is earthsine — diffuse sunlight reflected from Earth.

The run was also fun. Saw and heard more poorwills and also encountered a mule deer. Didn’t see any coyotes, but certainly heard them.

Related post: Comet Holmes 17/P

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