The last two years I have been working on a project at McLaughlin Natural Reserve studying the response of flowering plants and grasses to fire in shrub chaparral. The fire opens up the canopy, allowing for a large bloom of wildflowers. The reserve includes many areas with serpentine soils, soil from ultramafic rock with high magnesium, low calcium, low nutrient levels and often high levels of heavy metals, so only certain adapted species can grow on it. These serpentine regions tend to have many native California plants which have adapted over time to the harsh soils, often in very strange ways.
This year, the particularly wet conditions led to a bloom of many stunningly strange flowers in these burned patches. It’s been incredible to wander through these fields of bright colors, and to look up close at some of these strange flower forms.
Every spring, I teach a class on plant communities of California, that travels on four field trips to different parts of the state to see some of the incredible range of terrestrial ecosystems in our neighborhood. Last weekend we took three days to go towards the coast, in the Mendocino area. The trip takes students from coastal dunes to coastal prairie to riparian system to pygmy forests to mixed evergreen forests and ends with old-growth redwood. Along the way they learn to identify the different plant species, understand the different drivers that cause the plant communities to be what they are, and hear stories of the history and social factors that shape how we think about these communities today.
These are a few of my students from McKerricher state park, where the students conducted a sampling exercise to look at how the assembly of plants changed as they moved from the high tide line towards the inland dunes. The plants we saw include beach evening primrose, purple owl’s clover, Indian paintbrush, beach bur, coastal sagewort, knotweed, American dune grass, and sand verbena. These plants all have amazing adaptations to the shifting sands, harsh winds, bright light, salty air, and low water supply they have to deal with in this environment. One of these adaptations is a spreading below-ground root structures that anchor the plants in the dunes, store water and nutrients for drought, and allow the plant to resprout if it is buried. Check out the photo of the sand verba roots–you’d never know from their cute little leaves that such a monster lay underneath! We also enjoyed a stunning display from Menzies’ wallflower, an endangered species with a limited range along the California coast.
Purple owl’s clover
Beach evening primrose
Menzies’ wallflower, coastal sagewort, and sand verbena
Purple owl’s clover
Way more plants on the leeward side of the dune
Beach bur growing right along the high tide line
Sand verbena’s underground root structure
American beach grass
Beach evening primrose, sand verbena, and sea rocket
A spring hike up Storm King in Olympic National Park, WA. We were blessed with beautiful sunshine, a rainbow across the vista of Lake Crescent, and a brief snow flurry on our way down. The camp robbers (grey jays) at the top of Storm King were boldly watching and flying around us, as was one elegantly somber raven.
The port of Akureyri is deep inside a fjord, so we were treated to spectacular views of the city and surrounding mountains as we arrived and departed. Some of the highlights of our stay included Lake Myvatn, famous in ecology for the dynamics of the population of midges it supports; the Godafoss waterfall known as the waterfall of the gods, and one more set of hot springs, this one featuring pools of boiling mineral-rich mud.
A wonderful misty day at Castle Rock state park, with layers of mossy trees and rocks in the fog. The park is named for its rock formations, where wind and water have worn strangely organic holes into the caves. I had fun playing with my wide angle lens, and climbing on, over, and under rocks.
Having had a lot of luck shooting the last two lunar eclipses locally, this time around I ventured to Yosemite, one of my favorite places to wander and photograph. Unfortunately the day and night of the eclipse were consistently overcast, and our careful planning yielded only one rather dim shot of the celestial event. However, the clouds provided good conditions for exploring macro photography, and so from a day when I’d hoped to fix my eyes on the wonders of the sky, I instead present to you a gallery of things small, low to the ground, and beautiful all the same.
The orange bugs are the larval stage of milkweed bugs, pictured here on (surprise) milkweed pods, which they feed on and collect toxins from, much as monarchs do.
My work this summer timed out just perfectly so that I was driving from Washington back to California on the peak nights of the Perseid meteor shower. I was able to stop in Oregon to watch the sky light up over Crater Lake, which was truly breathtaking. Only one of my shots actually caught a meteor (and it’s flanked by two airplane trails) but I loved the time watching and shooting.