Sunday, September 11, 2016

Katydid Capers pt. 2

Clark's nutcracker.
As with any outing, the new day started with me jumping out of bed at sunrise. I could not resist a chance to check out the campground further. Jeff was the smart one though, and figured sleeping in a bit longer was better! I don't blame him.

Purshivora pubescens.
My first move was shaking around some antelope brush, which brought up a few specimens of the minute psyllid Purshivora pubescens, an endemic to this plant. Another psyllid, the introduced potato psyllid was found in fair number in rabbitbrush flowers, despite its host being nightshade, potatos, and other related plants. This is not the first time I have found them in this circumstance. I was since informed that spending the night in rabbitbrush is not uncommon for this species, even though they have no actual host association with it. I've seen psyllids attracted to yellow walls and shirts before, so maybe there is a link there.

Flat bug, genus Aradus.
As the sun warmed up I started scoping out the plants, with Rothrock's fiddleleaf reasonably abundant throughout the grounds. On one such plant I found a new assassin bug in the genus Sinea. As the sun rose waves of grasshoppers started showing up in places I had already well surveyed. Trimerotropis inyo was first, later Cordillacris occipitalis started showing in abundance, followed by a sudden burst of Trimerotropis verruculata activity when the sun had finally risen. I grabbed photos of hoary pincushion and flat bugs in the genus Aradus, the latter of which were quite fond of my orange backpack. With the campsite packed up, it was time to head towards Lake Sabrina and North Lake.

Crackling forest grasshopper, Trimerotropis verruculata.
Cordillacris occipitalis.
With limited parking at North Lake itself, we had to drop the car a little down the road and hike in through the aspens. On the open trail Jeff managed to net a passing zephyr anglewing, a real mountain beauty even if it is quite similar to the other "commas". In nearby creeks I found some remaining blooms of two classic Sierra wildflowers, Bigelow's sneezeweed and Columbian monkshood. At the base of the hiking trail we looked over the map and very confidently decided that, of the two possible hiking trails, we could easily cover both in the time allotted...but only 10 minutes in and it was clear that it was not as easy as it seemed! The trail was not too steep but quite taxing on the legs, and I certainly felt unfit only a quarter up the gravel path. Well, I couldn't be mad. The verdant willow, pine and aspen glades, the latter fading amber for the colder weather, were a sight to behold.

Zephyr anglewing, Polygonia gracilis ssp. zephyrus.
As we ascended further the flora was quick to change. Some surprises included Scouler's willow and bush chinquapin, along with mt. mahogany and some very sad looking mountain pride. One of my favourite lichens, Rhizocarpon geographicum (map lichen), was surprisingly abundant on many trailside rocks. A hoary looking bumble visiting the chinqua was a species I had not seen before, Bombus bifarius, the strangely-named "two-form bumble bee". Nearby I puzzled at a series of glaucous fuzzy leaves, the sort that looked like they would give you nasty rashes if you even thought about touching it. As I kept walking they improved in condition, until finally I found some bearing flowers, revealing its identity as prickly hawkweed. The pale kite of Townsend's solitaire drifted over the valley as we approached Lower Lamarck Lake, only my third sighting of this enigmatic bird.

Map lichen, Rhizocarpon geographicum, in yellow.

Jeff remarked on hearing Circotettix up on the cliff side, and as I fell behind I caught sight of the grasshopper in question, gliding high in the sky on dusky onyx wings. After seeing so many wing colour in grasshoppers there was something strangely attractive about the prospect of finding a species that has not clear, white, yellow, blue, orange, red or green wings, but purely dark. Little did I know that, of all the places I could be in the world right now, I was in the specific region where such a species, the aptly-named dancing grasshopper, occurred. Jeff came back, after managing to catch one with the net. The specimen was too valuable to show off and risk it escaping, so I had to manage with some brief views in the hand instead. Well worth it, though! With that we descended down to the shores of Lower Lamarck Lake itself, truly a marvel to behold. Brook trout were reasonably abundant along the shallow waters, but sadly no sign of the enigmatic golden trout. I wonder how the brook trout managed to establish in these waters. Did someone really climb up all this way, just to introduce them here?

Dancing grasshopper, Circotettix maculatus.
Brook trout in Lower Lamarck Lake.

View over Lower Lamarck Lake.

In a nearby trickling creek I spotted a Sierran treefrog, and, after trying not to slip on the makeshift pebble "raft" over the river, quickly entered interesting territory. This new habitat, with deep canyons and high rocky mountains and cliffs all around, with twisted and gnawed branches of whitebark pine scattered around, was the real epitome of a hinterland wilderness. From a place where some plants were familiar to me, I had now entered a world where everything was new and incredible. Purple mountainheath, stem raillardella, whitestem goldenbush, Arctic pearlwort, alpine sorrel, abrupt-beaked sedge, showy sedge, cushion buckwheat, pink alumroot, Watson's spikemoss, arrow-leaved groundsel, brown tile lichen, ranger's buttons, western Labrador tea, alpine gentian, small-leaf creambush, swamp laurel, and tundra aster were just a portion of what could have been possible in this staggeringly incredible habitat. A special mention to the American parsley fern. This unusual fern grows two different leaf types, such that I was sure there were two different fern species involved!

The pine-dominated side of this habitat. Behind me the same habitat occurs, but minus the pines.
Watson's spikemoss, Selaginella bigelovii.
American parsley fern, Cryptogramma acrostichoides, with Arctic pearlwort lower right.
One of the greater highlights was watching a pale chipmunk clambering along the rugged talus slopes and rocky terrain. Such a critter was none other than the alpine chipmunk, a seldom encountered diurnal mammal species. What an honour. How odd it was though to see rosebay willowherb, a plant I used to find frequently in the quaint English countryside, limited here to this rather harsh high altitude habitat.

Alpine chipmunk, Tamias alpinus.
Sadly it was quite apparent that, despite the altitude, there was not enough of the right habitat to spy on Acrodectes here. For another outing, I suppose. Even though we didn't find this very special katydid, on the way back some persistent searching found an equally special insect that I thought might be here, yet I had no expectation of actually seeing. I couldn't believe my eyes when I caught a glance of this little orange and black critter, none other than the high-country ladybeetle! This small native Coccinella is limited to rough, rocky terrain at high altitudes of the American Midwest, and finding it was truly an amazing experience. This alone would have made my month worthwhile. This beetle was occurring in a section of open, almost tundra like habitat, with only the lower-than-knee-height goldenbush shrubs populating the otherwise rugged pale soil. This species is so poorly known, but, despite not knowing much about it, I had such a very strong inkling that this was the right habitat to search. Strange how fate happens, sometimes.

High-country ladybeetle, Coccinella alta.
With our legs thoroughly sore, we descended back to the car. I made sure to grab some quick shots of red baneberry, which I had missed prior, as well as the rust Melampsora epitea agg. which was plaguing willows nearby. Out of context the orange dust on my hands after handling those leaves could have been mistaken for the curse that is wotsit or cheeto residue... The day was not done however and we still needed to carve up the map and determine some other destinations, this time in search of Oreopedes and some other remarkably rare katydids. We drove up into the White Mountains for this purpose, although sadly not as far as the bristlecone pines. I cannot count the number of times I have been so close to this forest, yet always just out of reach!

Willow rust, Melampsora epitea.
We dropped by the Pinyon Nature Trail and adjacent habitat, where I quickly jotted down Utah juniper and matted wild buckwheat, as well as the fly Trupanea jonesi on nearby rabbitbrush. I was very surprised though to encounter not one but two bird species that were new for me, Woodhouse's scrub-jay and juniper titmouse. Neither posed very well, but it was the thought that counts!!

Trupanea jonesi.
These rosette galls, created by an undescribed Walshomyia midge, were not uncommon on juniper here.
As darkness set in we checked along the roads, listening for crickets and checking rabbitbrush blooms. Some bad depth of field settings on my camera led to some rather lackluster photos of a few new critters, Euxoa murdocki, Prolita jubata, Sympistis deceptiva, Lacinipolia strigicollis, and some other yet unidentified moths. A common singer in the juniper and pines here was another striking katydid, Aglaothorax ovata. Sadly it was quite a struggle finding them, as many were high in the canopy. Another less abundant singing katydid, Campnobotes, was frustratingly impossible to get any looks at. Ah well, maybe next time.

Sympistis deceptiva.
A large katydid, Aglaothroax ovata ssp. armiger.

The dry, cold weather, not being very fruitful elsewhere, was enough to consider heading home early. I waved farewell to a roadside darkling beetle, Eleodes hispilabris, before thanking Jeff sincerely for a chance to share this expedition, and heading back home.

Eleodes hispilabris, the 57th life tick for the day, and the 81st life tick over the entire expedition!

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