Watch Out For Ticks!

Yesterday I pulled a tiny tick off me (see photo), sadly not before it had bitten. Now I have a sore and swollen red spot on my back, and I’m on the lookout for any signs of Lyme disease. That is a serious disease that needs to be caught early to have any chance of avoiding potentially serious consequences.

A study in the 1990s found that the Western Fence lizard, which is plentiful on both the Overlook and Montini properties, has an enzyme that can essentially cure a tick of transmitting Lyme disease. However, a study in 2008 found that after removing the Western Fence lizard population from a plot of land, the number of ticks went down as well, as most of the young ticks could not find another host. So although the later study did not negate the findings of the earlier one, it does point out the complexity of the interactions of various populations and these effects on the spread of disease.

All of that is perhaps just a long-winded way of saying — be careful! Check yourself and others after hiking on the trails. Believe me, you don’t want to be me.

Time for Vigilance

In Northern California, despite the current cold snap, we have essentially entered Spring. This means several things. Plants like poison oak are flourishing, sending tendrils out to conquer new areas. We are presently trying to cut this back from the trail.

Soon we will also need to watch out for ticks, which are particularly bad early in the season, from March to mid-May. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, so it’s important to prevent the little buggers from biting you. Wear long pants and inspect yourself after your hike. If you do get bitten, then watch the bite carefully for signs of Lyme disease, as early treatment by a medical professional is essential. Thankfully, we have the Western Fence Lizard to help us out, since when a tick bites that lizard an enzyme is transferred to the tick that cures the Lyme disease. This has led to a much  lower incidence of Lyme disease than in other areas without this helpful lizard. So be kind to the Western Fence Lizard! They are already scurrying across our trails.

Another hazard to watch out for is rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes emerge from hibernation in the Spring when the days become warm enough for cold-blooded reptiles. I’ve already seen the Western Fence Lizard scurrying across the trail, which means snakes will not be far behind. However, this recent cold snap has sent them to ground. But rattlesnakes are typically around from March to September, so we are entering the time when they will be coming out of hibernation in the lowlands and making their way to their higher hunting grounds. Since they will be on the move, most of my sightings of rattlesnakes tend to happen in the Spring.

So stay alert and safe out there!

Flowers Everywhere

P1000924If you like flowers, then now is the time to hike the Overlook and Montini trails, as they are going nuts. From California poppies, to Lupine, to you name it, they are out in great profusion. The picture to the right was taken just a few days ago on the Overlook Trail, where you can see both Lupine and Poppies hanging over the trail.

There are many other flower varieties out at this time, and others on their way. Spring is in full flower, and it is awesome.

However, keep in mind that other plants are going crazy right now, and among them is poison oak. Although we recently cut it back, it is still growing and we will likely need to cut it back again soon. Also, since the grass is growing like mad and often over-hanging the trail, keep an eye out for ticks. They like to climb up onto the tips of grasses where wildlife (and we count) are walking by so they can hitch a ride.

For tips on what to do if you are bitten, see this earlier post where I describe my own experience.

But by and large, it’s all good out there on the trail, and experiencing our wildflower bloom is well worth any slight risks.

Watch Out for Ticks!

2562198878_e548ea735c_zYesterday, likely due to my work in cutting back poison oak on the trails, I found a tick on me. Freaked out by the possibility of contracting Lyme disease, I quickly found a pair of tweezers and pulled the tick out, trying carefully to grab it from the head rather than squeezing the body. It was difficult, as it was quite tiny. The bite spot is still red and sore. But the important piece of information is this: save the tick, so it can be tested for Lyme Disease.

But as this Press Democrat article points out (helpfully published the day I found the tick), the actual incidence of Lyme disease in Sonoma County is not high, despite the fact that we have had the most reported cases in California in recent years.

To prevent tick bites, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services recommends:

  • Walk in the center of trails.
  • Use repellents that contain 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours. Treat clothing and gear (boots, socks, pants, tents, etc.) with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors, preferably within two hours.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check; parents should check children under arms, in and around ears, inside belly button, behind knees, between legs, around waist, especially in hair.
  • Examine gear and pets, which can bring home ticks that will then attach to a person.
  • Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for up to an hour to kill remaining ticks.

Remember that ticks that carry Lyme disease can be very small — about the size of a poppy seed. The biggest danger comes when the tick bite goes undetected and the disease is allowed to fester without antibiotics to fight it. Long-term effects are possible in these cases.

Therefore, it’s wise to know what the symptoms of Lyme disease are so if you have any of these you can contact your doctor immediately (from the Mayo Clinic):

“These signs and symptoms may occur within a month after you’ve been infected:

  • Rash. From 3 to 30 days after an infected tick bite, an expanding red area might appear that sometimes clears in the center, forming a bull’s-eye pattern. The rash (erythema migrans) expands slowly over days and can spread to 12 inches (30 centimeters) across. It is typically not itchy or painful.Erythema migrans is one of the hallmarks of Lyme disease. Some people develop this rash at more than one place on their bodies.
  • Flu-like symptoms. Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and a headache may accompany the rash.”

If these symptoms are not spotted or recognized, later signs may appear in the following weeks and months. See the Mayo Clinic web site for more information.

So stay safe out there, and be vigilant!

Photo by wahoowins, Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 2.0

Dragonflies Aplenty

I’ve always been fascinated with dragonflies — their often bright coloration, their way of darting about when flying, their large size for an insect. So I was delighted to get photos of two specimens on today’s hike — one on the Overlook Trail and another on the Montini Preserve.

dragonfly1The first one I saw was this Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata), perched in a dead bush. I stayed on the trail and used my 30x camera zoom to get in close. The lacy wings are particularly beautiful in full size (click on the image).

Dragonflies are actually quite ancient. According to Wikipedia, fossils have been found from 325 million years ago. They were much, much bigger back then, with wingspans of up to nearly 30 inches. They are capable of four different styles of flight, which allows them to fly in six directions: upward, downward, forward, backward, to the left, and to the right.

dragonfly2I then encountered this Bison snaketail (Ophiogomphus bison) sitting on the Holstein Hill trail on the Montini Preserve, where it crossses the meadow at the top of the hill.

Dragonfly feeding habits? According to Wikipedia: “They are almost exclusively carnivorous, eating a wide variety of insects ranging from small midges and mosquitoes to butterflies, moths, damselflies and smaller dragonflies. A large prey item is subdued by being bitten on the head and is carried by the legs to a perch. Here the wings are discarded and the prey usually ingested head first. A dragonfly may consume as much as a fifth of its body weight in prey per day.”

Dragonflies have inspired a lot of art, from Tiffany stained glass lamp designs to Haiku, such as this poem by Matsuo Basho:

Crimson pepper pod
add two pairs of wings, and look
darting dragonfly

May you see a dragonfly or two the next time you hike the trails. You will be glad you did.

Butterflies are Free

swallow2“I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free.” – Donald Gershe, Butterflies Are Free

As a child of the 70s (I turned 18 in 1975) perhaps I can be forgiven for taking my blog title from the Goldie Hawn movie of 1972, based on a play by Donald Gershe. But hey, butterflies are free. In some ways they epitomize freedom, as they flit and flitter from flower to flower in a seemingly random fashion. No one, and I mean no one tells a butterfly what to do.

However, you won’t find me jealous for the life of a butterfly. Depending on the species, the adult butterfly lives anywhere from a week to no more than a year. Given that, I think I’m just fine with where I sit in the circle of life. But as part of that I can certainly admire the beauty and apparent freedom of the many butterflies that grace our trails. Chief among them, in my opinion, given their size and color, are the Swallowtails (Papilionidae). They come in a number of varieties, and I’ve captured photos of at least two different kinds in recent days.

swallow4The Western Tiger Swallowtail (pictured above) is eye-catching with it’s yellow-and-black patterning. But there is also the black-and-yellow patterning called (naturally enough) the Black SwallowtailAny way you look at it, we have a plethora of butterflies in a variety of colors and sizes (as well as moths and other interesting insects such as dragonflies) on our Sonoma Valley trails. Keep a sharp eye out and you may see something you haven’t seen before.

ButterllyBlueDicksMeanwhile, butterflies may be free, but in the end we are even more free. We can observe these amazing creatures year after year, generation after generation. Perhaps we can’t flit from one flower to another on a whim, but we are blessed in many other ways.