Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii) Icteridae, female

Palouse Falls State Park, WA
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

Bullock’s Orioles are the only oriole species found in the Pacific Northwest. I caught this pretty lady mid-stretch. These rectricies (tail feathers) are really worn and she appears to be missing a feather on her right side. Normally, rectricies are molted symmetrically, so perhaps she broke this one feather or lost it in a battle with a rival. Regardless, she’s still quite a lovely bird!

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Amelanchier alnifolia “Western Serviceberry/Saskatoon” Rosaceae

Missoula, MT
April, 25 2015
Robert Niese

These common shrubs are some of the first plants to bloom in spring. Their bright white flowers light up our hillsides just as they’re starting to turn green. This plant was a staple food source for many native peoples who ate their berries raw (although they’re not as moist or sweet as other Rosaceae berries) or mashed them and shaped them into biscuits which were dried and stored for winter (side note: serviceberry is also a common ingredient in pemmican, which often is stored in biscuit shapes, so this note about dried biscuits could be a reference to pemmican, and saskatoon biscuits might not be a real thing…I’m not sure. Do any of my followers know?). Today, many local foragers will utilize these berries in jams and pies and often sweeten them for trail mixes and granola.

Geum macrophyllum “Large-leaf Avens” Rosaceae

Weir Hot Springs, Clearwater National Forest, ID
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

This little forest flower is common throughout moist bottomlands and subalpine meadows here in the PNW. It can be easily distinguished from other yellow-flowered Avens by its massive leaves and reflexed sepals (they’re not visible behind the petals here). Avens characteristically produce adorable heads of achenes that look like tiny sea urchins. In its cousin, Old Man’s Whiskers (Geum triflorum), these achenes have a long feathery tip and look like wisps of smoke.

Vulpicida canadensis “Brown-eyed Sunshine Lichen”

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

These lichens are quite common east of the Cascades where they are regularly found on the low, bare branches of young conifers such as Pinus and Abies. It is not uncommon to see branches where almost all of the bark is obscured by lichen growth. In such instances, I regularly find eight or nine species within a few inches of each other. This particular specimen was found alongside BryoriaNodobryoria, Usnea, Letharia, two species of Cetraria, two (or three) species of Hypogymnia, as well as several crustose species I was unable to identify. That’s a lot of diversity for one tiny twig!

Acraspis macrocarpae “Jewel Oak Gall Wasp” gall, Cynipidae

Missoula, MT
October, 21 2015
Robert Niese

Female jewel wasps are adorable, wingless, pudgy little things when they emerge from these galls in October. Here’s another picture of these cuties for good measure. These unique organisms reproduce in cycles of alternating generations of all females and generations with both sexes. In years with only females, the wasps reproduce parthenogenetically. Apparently, parthenogenetic galls are different in size, shape, and color than their sexually-produced counterparts. I was unable to find specific information regarding this phenomenon in Acraspis macrocarpae, but most accounts suggest that only females occur inside these particular galls, which leads me to believe they may be the sexually-produced versions of these oak galls. Perhaps next year, we’ll see a completely different variety of gall on our local oaks! I’ll be sure to update you all next fall.

Also, fun fact, this species of gall wasp was originally described by Alfred Kinsey, the world-renowned human sex scientist! It’s true! Before studying sex, Kinsey collected more than 7.5 million galls and wasps and named dozens of species. Of the 18 million insect specimens currently housed at the American Museum of Natural History, nearly a third are from Kinsey’s dissertation! His work not only revolutionized our understanding of this wasp family, but also had profound impacts on the ways we conducted phylogenetic and entomological analyses. Read more about his fascinating work as an entomologist here.

      

Tamiasciurus hudsonicus “Red Squirrel” Sciuridae

Missoula, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

Red Squirrels are rarely found in town here in Missoula. They require an ample supply of pine cones unlike their more adaptive relatives, the Eastern Fox Squirrel and the Eastern Gray Squirrel. But in neighborhoods adjacent to our nearby open spaces, these critters can adapt to live alongside people. This little guy was busy munching on an overripe plum when I interrupted him for a photo.

Tremella mesenterica “Witch’s Butter” Basidiomycota

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

The Witch’s Butter complex of species (T. “mesenterica”) are our most common orange, jelly-like fungi in the Pacific Northwest. They are very similar in shape, size and color to Dacrymyces palmatus and microscopic examination is often necessary to distinguish the two normally. As a general rule of thumb however, Tremella mesenterica tends to grow on dead hardwoods, while Dacrymyces tends to grow on conifers. Tremella is an obligate parasite of the crust fungus Peniophora, which can also be a good indicator of species identity for this jelly fungus (the closely related T. aurantia is also an obligate parasite of a rot fungus, but it only grows on conifers). This particular specimen is growing in between the large, ridged bark of a downed Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa).

Letharia columbiana “Brown-eyed Wolf Lichen”

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

This species is closely related to the Wolf Lichen that completely coats Ponderosa Pines in our local Missoula valleys, but this species bears large brown-black fruiting bodies (apothecia) unlike its cousin. L. columbiana is definitely one of my favorite species and I was so excited to encounter a huge population of them alongside our more common L. vulpina here in the Rattlesnake. Like most lichen, we still know comparatively little about these organisms and their genetic relationships among one another. With genetic analyses ongoing, we will likely see a revision of our northwest Letharia species in the next decade.

Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

The Tamarack colors were in full swing around Missoula last week. They appear to be fading a bit now, but we’ll soon forget to mourn their bare branches when they become adorned with snow!

Gymnosporangium globosum “Cedar-Hawthorn Rust” Basidiomycota

Missoula, MT
October 23, 2015
Robert Niese

I first noticed these strange tendrils on the underside of Hawthorn (Crataegus douglasi) at a city park a couple months ago, but only just got around to photographing them. I thought they might be some sort of aphid galls after noticing that the leaves were covered with the insects. But the truth, it turns out, is far more spectacular! This is actually the fall life-stage of a rust fungus that infects Cedars (and Junipers). The fungus overwinters on Cupressaceous conifers, producing a small gall that grows large, orange gelatinous horns after spring rains. These jelly tentacles release spores that then infect the leaves of Rosaceous trees and shrubs such as Crataegus, Malus, and Sorbus. By late summer, fungi on these Rosaceous hosts produce the large porcupine-like clump of tendrils seen here. These tendrils release more spores that continue the cycle anew! I’m in love. What a phenomenal fungus!