Wednesday, December 31, 2008

UCD professor again trades beer for butterflies

By Niesha Lofing

Sacramento Bee Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008

Free beer for a butterfly?


Arthur Shapiro, a professor at University of California, Davis, has launched his annual Butterfly-for-Beer contest and is hoping someone soon will turn in a live Cabbage White butterfly.
The contest, which has been going on for 38 years, rewards the first person to turn in a live Cabbage White with a pitcher of beer or its cash equivalent, a UC Davis news release states.
What's in it for Shapiro? He gets more biological data on the butterfly.

The Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae, lives in the Central Valley and is white or buff-colored, about 1 1/4 inches long and might have a few black spots near the edges of its outer wings. Its underside is yellow with a gray hue. It often is spotted in vacant lots and by the side of roads where wild mustard grows, the release states.

Shapiro, who teaches evolution and ecology courses for the university's entomology department, has found that the butterfly is emerging about a week earlier than it did 30 years ago, a shift caused by climate warming, he says.

In past years, the first sightings of the butterfly ranged from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22. This year, the first specimen was caught Jan. 19. Cool, wet and cloudy conditions seem to delay the butterfly's appearance, while sunny and warm days speed it up, the release states. The contest is limited to adult butterflies captured outdoors in Sacramento, Solano or Yolo counties.

Butterflies must be brought alive to the receptionist in the Evolution and Ecology office, 2320 Storer Hall, with full information about the time, date and place it was found.
If a butterfly is captured on a weekend or holiday when the department office is closed, it can be stored alive for a few days in the refrigerator.

"Almost every year someone brings one in in May or June and asks 'Did I win?'" Shapiro wrote on his UC Davis-hosted Web site.

Charlie Bear's Note: I saw a fresh male cabbage white butterfly at the Yolo Bypass on December 11, 2007. I should have caught it and taken it to Art Shapiro for the beer!

The photo is from Wikipedia

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Return of the Yellow-billed Magpies (?)

This afternoon, at about 1600 hours I was pleasantly surprised to see there were 12 yellow-billed magpies (Picea nuttalli) at the top of my neighbor's 70-foot redwood tree. These birds were once abundant and common in my neighborhood in Sacramento (about 3 miles east of the State Capitol). Flocks of 50+ magpies were not unusual. I have DVD footage I took about 5 years ago of about 80 of them and a large flock of crows (Corvus corax) in the redwood tree "fighting" with each other. Their screeching and calling at each was so loud and agitated that early Sunday morning that they woke me and Truman up! They are highly intelligent and social birds; their antics are amusing. When I watered my front yard with a lawn sprinkler during the hot Central Valley summers, flocks would land and they would take turns drinking water from the hose. But since West Nile Virus hit the area, you now only see one or maybe two or three yellow-billed magpies at a time. And that rarely. When I see the lone individual or pairs of them now, I often wonder how the behavior of these animals has been changed. I am a trained biologist, but I can not help but think that these highly social animals must be terribly lonely and confused by the loss of their comrades. So, I was sure glad to see the flock of these characters arguing and fighting with each other today! I am told that corvids are especially vulnerable to the disease. I have thought that West Nile Virus reached North America through the tremendous international trade in African parrots. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the disease first struck this Country in the New York area - JFK is a major Port of Entry for wildlife from foreign countries. Here in Sacramento, the crows, a corvid, dropped in number, but seem to be slowly recovering. They like to spend the night up on Richards Blvd north of the State Capitol, and you can see 100s of them perching on buildings and telephone lines, and walking around on the ground searching for food or socializing with each other. I hope the yellow-billed magpies are developing immunity to West Nile Disease as they are one of my favorite birds.
The photo is from which is run by the U.C. Davis Veterinary School.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Alfafa Sulphurs still out

Yesterday, Truman and I were enjoying a nice late morning walk out at the Yolo Bypass. While walking by a farmer's field of alfalfa, I was surprised to see two alfalfa sulphurs. They were both bright yellow males (?) flying about in a "stop and go" manner. Seems like thngs are flying later into the winter around here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dragonflies and butterflies at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

On Tuesday, November 18, I visited the beautiful Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge near the Town of Willows in the Central Valley. An amazing diversity and abundance of migratory waterfowl and other birds, like hawks. But I was most surprised to see 22 male green darner dragonflies, 3 variegated meadowhawk dragonflies, 1 pygmy blue butterfly (Brephidium exilis), 1 alfalfa sulphur butterfly, and 3 checkered skippers. The majority of the darners appeared to be searching for females among the grasses and water plants along a small creek near the refuge headquarters. According to my field notes, the latest sighting of darners in the Central Valley I made in 2006 and 2007 was in late October. Two of the meadowhawks were a mating pair laying eggs in a small pool.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Buckeyes and Wildlife in the Foothills of Calaveras County

Last Thursday, November 13, I was out at a ranch near the Town of San Andres in Calaveras County. It's at an altitude of about 1000 feet and the vegetation consist of grasslands, oak woodland, and chaparral. There are two stockponds and a creek. The rancher is doing a fantastic job of managing his property and there also is an abundance of plants and wildlife.

I saw two buckeyes, both fresh adults. I also saw a couple variegated meadowhawks and about a half dozen damselflies. Birds observed - broadwing hawk, turkey vultures, and western meadowlarks. One of the stockponds was dried and had thousands of dead clam shrimp on the bottom.

The foothills of the Sierra Nevada are quickly being covered with ranchettes - large homes on 5-20 acre lots with vineyards and/or horses. It is good there are responsible ranchers, or soon there would be no habitat left for native wildlife.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Butterflies still out at the Yolo Bypass

This morning Truman and I took a walk out at the Yolo Bypass. Yesterday had been cool (~60 F) and the temperature had dropped even lower last night. So I was surprised to see a relative good number and diversity of butterflies ad dragonflies. We saw three cabbage butterflies, one alfalfa butterfly, about six variegated meadow hawk dragonflies, a mating pair of an undetermined medium sized species if dragonfly (couldn't get close enough to identify it), and surprisingly one buckeye butterfly (Junonia lavinia), and two checkered skippers (Pyrgus communis). The Bypass is begining to fill up with wintering hawks, as we continue to see more of them. Interestingly, Art Shapiro of UC Davis reported that the buckeye can't survive freezing winters, and so most recolonize northern California after we have a winter with freezing temperatures. The buckeye we saw was a nice fresh adult male.

We also heard a male pheasant calling from hs grassy hideout. Walking back to the car, we had a brief discussion with three men clad in orange-colored hats checking out the potential for hunting.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Wildlife at the Yolo Bypass

Today, my dog, Truman, and I took a late afternoon walk at the Yolo Bypass in Yolo County. This is the area where overflow from the Sacramento River is directed so the City of Sacramento doesn't get flooded during winter storms. Part of the Bypass is a State Fish and Game reserve, while other parts are farmed with rice. It was a nice clear, warm day, that made it an enjoyable walk for Mister T.

Even though the Yolo Bypass is located within a few miles of the City of Sacramento, an intensely urbanized area inhabited by a couple of million people, a wide variety and abundance of native wildlife calls it home. You can routinely see Swainson's hawks (Buteo swainsoni), red tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), white-tailed hawks (Elanus leucurus), white faced ibis (Plegadis chihi), and a rare golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). During the winter there are literally thousands of ducks, and an occasional flock of tundra swans (Cygnus olor). I have seen large flocks of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) flying over the Bypass, as well.

Trials, tracks and scat from river otter (Lutra canadensis) are common at the Yolo Bypass, though I have never been lucky enough to see one here. Beaver (Castor canadensis) are common too. Even though it is widespread and common in the west, I was surprised to see a young black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus) hanging out in one of the groves of willow and cottonwoods a few summers ago.

Today, we saw three individuals of the cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae), three alfalfa sulphur butterflies (Colias eurytheme), two variegated meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum corruptum), and one large male green darner dragonfly (Anax junius). I thought it was late for these insects, but I checked my field notes and the last day that I saw the first three species last year was November 4, except for the green darner which was last seen on October 28. The first freeze of the year kills these animals off until next spring or summer. Interestingly, my field notes reminded me that I saw a single fresh male cabbage butterfly in flight during the middle of winter on December 11, 2007!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Monarchs arrived on the California coast

As they do every Fall, monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) continue to arrive on the coastline of California to spend the winter. They have come from throughout western North America, but the majority come from the foothills and lower elevations of the Sierra Nevada. This year, as in years past, I start to see them leisurely migrating as singles through the Central Valley beginning in August. Enroute and especially once they get to the coast, they feed greedily on the nectar from the flowers of Pride of Madeira (Echium candicum) and mule fat (Baccharis salicifolia). I have seen adults whose abdomens are so fat that you wonder how they are able to fly, but the internal food supply will help them survive the winter.

With the shortening day length, the monarchs form Temporary Bivuoacs, sites where the monarchs form clusters of individuals on the branches of the trees. The butterflies continuously stream in and out of the Temporary Bivuoacs and these sites persist because of the constant immigration of animals; Temporary Bivuoacs usually have a good source of nectar. When the air temperature drops, the movement of the monarchs stops, and the sites where they spend the cold months of the year are known as Wintering Colonies. Interestingly, during mild winters or in southern California, Temporary Bivuoacs may persist through the entire winter. The only way to accurately determine if a site is a Temporary Bivuoac or a Wintering Colony is to mark individual butterflies to see if there is any movement of the animals.

In late January into February, the monarchs leave the sites; some stay around the general area, but the majority head into the coast range, especially the areas located in western Kern and San Luis Obispo counties, or into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Another observation - efforts to conserve California monarchs that focus solely on protecting the Temporary Bivuoacs and Wintering Colonies are doomed to failure. The conservation of the spring and summering grounds in the foothills and lower elevation of the Sierra Nevada is critical. In the past twenty years, there has been a burst of ranchettes and development in these areas. Some of the most favored areas for the residential development, and agriculture, especially vineyards, may be best places for milkweed, the foodplant of the monarch.

Ohlone Tiger Beetle, Myrtle's Silverspot Butterfly, and coastal grasslands

There are three rare insects that could be living in coastal San Mateo County in northern California - the endangered Ohlone tiger beetle (Cicindela ohlone), endangered Myrtle's silvespot butterfly (Speyeria zerene myrtleae), and the alledgedly extinct Strohbeen's parnassius butterfly (Parnassius clodius strohbeeni).

The Ohlone tiger beetle is only known from a handful of native grasslands to the south in Santa Cruz County, but the coastal grasslands south of Pacifica to Ano Nuevo State Reserve have not been surveyed for the animal, or Myrtle's silverspot butterfly, for that matter. Myrtle's was last seen in San Mateo County back in the 1950s, but few collectors have looked for it there, most going p to Marin County to get specimens. Stohbeen's parnassius - last seen in 1958 - an another extinct animal that may rise from the dead (like the "extinct" Palos Verdes blue butterfly) - that an intrepid and observant biologist may find in an isolated coastal canyon in San Mateo County. Look for it near bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), the hostplant of the caterpillar. Butterfly collectors, bird watchers, and others have a habit of going where they know their prey is found; few trailblaze into new areas. In fact, there was a scientific paper published in the 1990s that described how most rare plant records are found within a few miles, if that far, of roads, because some biologists evidently don't walk very far from their cars.

Coastal grasslands are a beautiful and vanishing habitat in California. Richard Minich did a fantastic job of reconstructing the pre-European vegetational communites in the Golden State in his book California's fading wildflowers Los Legacy and Biological Invasions. One of my treasured possessions is the San Franciso Wild in the City, a poster that maps the vegetation of the San Francisco pennisula prior to 1750.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sacramento Valley Tiger Beetle is Extinct

Yesterday, the Federal Register published a notice on the petition to list the Sacramento Valley tiger beetle (Cicindela hirticollis abrupta) as an endangered specis under the Endangered Species Act. This insect was found only in the northern Central Valley of California. The petition was denied because intensive surveys for the animal failed to located any extant populations. The species probably became extinct in the late 1980s or early 1990s when water flows from the Oroville Dam on the Feather River flooded the last remaining population.