Oh, Spring!

Spring is the season of renewal, which manifests itself out in the wild in a myriad of interesting and beautiful ways. Certainly the abundance of wildflowers is an obvious example of spring, but it’s by no means the only sign. In certain areas of the state, we were blessed with a “super bloom” of rather massive proportions that was truly something to see. Entire hillsides were painted with orange, or purple, or blue wildflowers. I was in the Merced River canyon just outside Yosemite in April and you could look up and see an entire hillside of California poppies. So…yeah, wildflowers are, I assert, one of the most beloved signs of spring.

But of course there are others.

Once the Western fence lizard makes an appearance, you know spring has sprung. These reptiles need warmth to be able to move around, so once the weather gets warmer they will be seen on the trail. They are definitely our friends in a particular way. “Studies have shown,” Wikipedia tells us, “Lyme disease is lower in areas where the lizards occur. When ticks carrying Lyme disease feed on these lizards’ blood (which they commonly do, especially around their ears), a protein in the lizard’s blood kills the bacterium in the tick that causes Lyme disease.” And since another sign of spring is the presence of ticks, the timing is fortunate.

Other reptiles such as snakes are frequently spotted in spring, as they are out and about looking for a mate. Many mammals are as well. Just today on the Montini Preserve I saw a male wild turkey in full display, trying to attract a mate from a bevy of females (see picture, the females were out of the frame). A couple females were fighting, I presume over the right to go after this fine specimen. Oh how I wish females would fight over me, but then I’m not nearly as good looking as a turkey. Sigh…


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.