Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sunflower Sea star, Pycnopodia helianthoides

Business end of the Beast!  Sunflower Sea star, Pycnopodia helianthoides.  I remember seeing these on the sea floor in shallow bays in the Prince William Sound in Alaska.  However,they range as far South as Southern California.  It's really cool to see the hundreds or thousands (care to count?) of tiny feet!  They get up to 3 feet in width and have up to 24 arms.  As with most starfish, these are carnivores, feeding on crustaceans and invertebrates.

Weedy Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus

Weedy Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, stands out in brilliant oranges, tans and purples.  However, when hidden in dense seaweed, it very difficult to spot.  These beauties are from the South coast of Australia and Tasmania where they typically live in beds of seaweed.  They are under threat due to habitat loss, particularly of large seagrass beds, resulting from human activities.  Their diet consists of small invertebrates and crustaceans floating in the plankton.  As appearance suggests, they are related to seahorses and pipefish (but lack the prehensile tail).  As with seahorses, the males carry the young.  However, rather than a pouch, they have a spongy area beneath the tail upon which the female lays the eggs where they will stay until they hatch about two months later.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Gold Kist Apricot

Gold Kist Apricot fruiting abundantly in the back yard.  These are low chill apricots that are great for California and other areas with short Winters.  As a bonus, we don't get those nasty frosts that robbed me of apricots more years than not, when I lived in Colorado.  They are wonderfully sweet (with a bit of tart) when fully ripened (much better than those nasty store bought ones...).  The tree didn't produce for the first couple of years but once it settled in, it grew very rapidly and became very prolific.  In fact, there appears to be enough apricots for the birds, the squirrels and the humans all at the same time!  As an added bonus, it does not appear to be susceptible to the curly leaf fungus that affects peaches and is an amazing grower.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sailfin Sculpin

Sailfin Sculpin, nautichthys oculofasciatus, in small crevice surrounded by strawberry anemone, Corynactis californica.  Sailfin sculpins are largely nocturnal, when they emerge from their hiding places to feed on small shrimps and crabs.  During the day, they commonly rest, upside down, on the roof of small crevices.  They are named for the first four rays of their dorsal fin which, when visible, is normally held erect when swimming, perhaps to make it a more prickly and unattractive meal for larger fish.  These little fish spawn in shallower water but are found down to around 360 feet.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mute Swans with Cygnets

Mute Swan, Cygnus olor, with young swans (cygnets) swimming in L'Etang de Bolmon, France.  These swans are native to Europe and Asia but have been introduced into North America.  They can be recognized by the large black knob on the top of their beak.  Adult males run 25 to 30 pounds, being one of the heaviest flying birds (and one of the largest water birds as well).  This pair (the male, with the larger knob on its beak, on the left, and the female on the right) was shielding their cygnets from the wind on a particularly gusty day.

Orchids: A Myriad of Different Shapes and Colors

Serapias parviflora, a grass-like wild orchid with tawny orange-red, furry lips, blooming on a windy strip of land adjacent to L'Etang de Bolmon, France, mere moments away from Marseille and even closer to Marseille Airport.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Phalaenopsis stuartiana (yellow strain)

Phalaenopsis stuartiana.  This is a yellow strain from Taiwan.  This one is actually a yellow-green in color and has pretty decent shape for a stuartiana.  Oddly enough, it appears to darken rather than fade with age.  It's blooming right now in the sunroom.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Queen Red-tailed Bumblebee Hunting for a Nesting Site

Bombus lapidarius, a Queen Red tailed bumblebee, likely searching for a nesting site along one of the hiking trails on Mont Ventoux, France.  These large bumblebees nest underground, often under rocks or in abandoned rodent nests.  This one was headed towards my sneakers, possibly thinking they were a large rock to burrow under.

Hover Fly Pollinating Euphorbia in Vernegues, France

Hover fly pollinating the ever-present Euphorbia in Vernegues.  When trying to ID this little critter, I went back and forth between fly imitating a bee, a real bee, a bumblebee and a wasp.  Finally, a plea and a subsequent tip on Facebook led to an ID as hover fly.  Hover flies are true flies but are typically nectar feeders (and significant as pollinators for some plant species) while their larvae often feed on aphids and other plant pests.  Many are wasp and bee mimics, as is this species, Chrysotoxum cautum.  They can be distinguished by their large (fly-like) eyes and the single set of wings.  In any case, the contrast was too striking to pass up so I snapped the picture while keeping a slightly wary distance.  (A clear case of what doesn't sting you makes you stronger...(just joking here...)). 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ceramic Arts Fair at Le Vieux Port, Marseille, France

Ceramic Arts Fair at Le Vieux Port, Marseille, France.  A hefty crowd was gathered to see the wide variety of colorful ceramics including everything from functional pottery to sculpture to traditional French wares to bird-shaped whistles that imitated bird songs.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Patrouille Acrobatique de France: French Precision Aerobatic Demonstration Team of the French Air Force

Patrouille Acrobatique de France, the French Precision Aerobatic Demonstration Team of the French Air Force, as they perform formations over Salon de Provence, France.  The Patrouille de France or PAF is one of the oldest and most respected aerobatic teams, having performed since 1931.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Last Ancient Forest in the South of France

Ancient forest growth soars overhead at the Parc St. Pons.  It is said to be the last of the old growth/ancient forests in the South of France, fires having taken their toll on the rest of the old growth forests.  These huge treens grow deep in a valley along a swift moving, spring fed river that keeps them lush, green and fire resistant year round.  The trees grow so densely that little light reaches the forest floor and you can almost imagine that you are in the amazon or other exotic rainforest.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Tarascon Castle

Tarascon Castle.  This structure was built between 1400 and 1435 by the Dukes of Anjou, the Counts of Provence, Louis II and Louis III.  It is one of few very well preserved castles that is largely structurally intact.

Ophrys bertolonii

Ophrys bertolonii blooming in an open field at L'Etang de Bolmon.  There were quite a few of them in bloom and there was some variation in lips and color.  It's not clear if there were additional species involved or if the species was simply very variable.

Ophrys bertolinii 'Le canard'.  I dubbed this one "the duck" because of the duck shaped patch on the lip.

This one looks suspiciously like Ophrys ferrum-equinum based on the alterred sepal stance and the U on the lip.  However, it is probably yet another bertolonii mutant or perhaps a bertolonii hybrid (with what, however, I cannot tell you).

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Monkey Orchid: Orchis simia

Orchis simia, the "Monkey Orchid," blooming in a sunny, grassy field in Sivergues, France.  These were intermixed with Orchis purpurea blooming at the edge of the field, possibly because the edges of the field were not mowed as often or as closely.

Le Vieux Port, Marseille (the Old Harbor)

Le Vieux Port, Marseille, France.  The old harbor of Marseille with the towers of Notre Dame de la Garde (church) in the distance.  It was a bright, sunny day along the port and the fish vendors were out hawking all sorts of fish and lobsters.  There was also a pottery festival along the docks with all sorts of brightly colored pottery, statutes and creations.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Libelloides coccajus or Owly Sulphur

Libelloides coccajus (female) or Owly Sulphur, Lambesc, France.  These little carnivores are similar to dragonflies in that they are diurnal hunters of other insects.  They are in the family Ascalaphidae and are distributed throughout Southern Europe.  If you look at the markings closely, they easily resemble a face or perhaps two stacked faces in a totem arrangement.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Ophrys pseudoscolopax

Ophrys pseudoscolopax, a rare terrestrial orchid found growing on an isolated hill/ridge near Cabrieres D'Aigues.  These are both rare and hard to spot so it was very good luck to get a photo of one.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Windsurfers at Sausset-Les-Pins

Windsurfers at Sausset-les-Pins, France.  It was a beautiful day with a gusty breeze, just perfect for windsurfing.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Orchis purpurea

A beautifully marked Orchis purpurea blooming along the roadside in Vernegues, France.

In the midst of a large colony of Orchis purpurea.  There was a total absence of them in fields that were previously ploughed.  However, Orchis purpurea, Himantoglossum robertianum, Ophrys lutea and Ophrys provincialis were present in grassy fields that appeared to receive occasional mowing (probably dependent on when the field was mowed, allowing for undisturbed growth in the early Spring).  They were also sometimes present in partially shaded road cuts, if suitable moisture was present.

Himantoglossum robertianum, the "large orchis"

Himantoglossum robertianum, the "giant orchis" was blooming prolifically at multiple sites in Provence.  Each site seemed to have slight regional variation in flower color and form that was shared among the population.  It's not clear what the pollinator was although I did see large black ants on some of them.

 Himantoglossum robertianum at Vernegues.  These were quite plentiful and most had a earthy brown hue.  This one had more lavender in the lip than the rest.  There were many of these in full bloom.

 Himantoglossum robertianum at Robion.  This was one of the few still in bloom.  Most had bloomed and gone to seed.  These flowers were narrower and longer than the Vernegues strain and the Oppede strain.

Himantoglossum robertianum at Oppede le Vieux.  These contained the most lavender of the three populations but were similar in shape to the Vernegues population.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

L'Ophrys araignée or the Early Spider Orchid

L'Ophrys araignée (common name in French -- i.e. the spider Ophrys), or in English, the "early spider orchid," Ophrys sphegodes, blooming in full sun on the edge of a field, mixed in with very sparse, low grass.  These were tiny plants only about 5 inches tall.

Orchids in France: Ophrys provincialis

Ophrys provincialis, Verneques, France.  I found these tiny orchids growing individually in lightly wooded areas under oaks and pines.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Wild Orchids in France: Ophrys lutea

Ophrys lutea, one of the yellow Ophrys, blooming at the edge of a field in Vernegues, France.  These orchids are insect mimics, most being pollinated by male bees or flies, attracted by female pheromones exuded by the flowers.  Sadly, the area where these are from is slowly being subdivided for houses.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Lorquin's Admiral Butterfly

Lorquin's Admiral Butterfly, Limenitis lorguinii, on California Buckeye, Aesculus californica, on which it feeds in its caterpillar stage.  Males will wait, perched in valley bottoms, for females.  Adults feed on nectar from the California Buckeye, yerba santa, and privet.  They will also sip from bird droppings, and dung.  Of note, this butterfly is fairly territorial and is said to even attack large birds on occasion.  However, in regards to humans, this particular butterfly proved rather camera shy, requiring a bit of effort to finally catch this picture from a distance.  This one was at the Southern side of its range at the Otay River, California although they are known to occur as far South as Baja California.  They are distributed as far North as British Columbia, Canada and as far East as Montana.