Friday, June 26, 2015

24-Jun-2015 North Fork Teanaway River, Washington

Site locations (click to enlarge)
Today I had the pleasure of teaming up with not only Rod Crawford, but also field volunteer Jessi Bishopp.  With three of us sampling, we figured we'd complete our work in record time.  And bonus for me, Jessi was willing to drive.

Our collecting sites were both located near the North Fork Teanaway River.  The main site, Twentynine Pines Campground, was located in the northern reaches of the newly minted Teanaway Community Forest.  The now-public forest is the result of a recent purchase by the State of Washington of more than 50,000 acres (20,000 ha) in the Teanaway River watershed.  The Teanaway River is a tributary of the Yakima River, which itself is a tributary of the mighty Columbia River.

29 Pines Campground sample site
Fallen ponderosa cones at 29 Pines
Twentynine Pines Campground (not to be confused with this place) more than lived up to its name.  Hundreds of mature ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) dotted the site, as did numerous Douglas-firs (Psuedotsuga menziesii). Most of the cones I tapped were laying on needle litter in an untrammeled tangle of snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), wild rose (Rosa sp.) and false hellebore (Veratrum sp.).

Callobius in web in ponderosa cone
Long-horned beetle
I tapped 17 spiders and 2 species from 50 fallen ponderosa cones.  These included numerous juvenile Callobius sp. (Amaurobiidae), a female Lepthyphantes mercedes (Linyphiidae) which Rod tells me is usually found at higher elevations, and a juvenile Bassaniana utahensis (Thomisidae).  I also collected B. utahensis from beneath ponderosa bark scales. A full load of pine needle litter produced 5 juvenile spiders.

While I was sifting the needle litter, a friendly camper rushed over with his hand covering a cup that held a "spider" that had crawled up his leg.  Well, it was a lovely specimen, but it was no spider.  It was a long-horned beetle!

Spire-shaped P. monticola
at Johnson Medra Trailhead
Many P. monticola cones were lying next to
budding pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)
Since we finished sampling the campground habitats with plenty of daylight to spare, we decided to sample a second location in the same gridspace. Johnson Medra Trailhead is located only a few miles north of the campground, but 500 feet higher in elevation.  This apparently puts it just outside of the range of the local ponderosas.  I was a bit disappointed about that until I spotted a white pine sapling. As luck would have it, the trailhead was home to several mature western white pines (P. monticola).

P. strobus has spreading growth form
(photographed in Arenac Co., MI)
I hadn't spotted the white pines when we drove into the site, I suppose because I'm still keyed into the iconic shape of the eastern white pine (P. strobus) that I grew up seeing.  Looking only at needles and cones, the two species are virtually indistinguishable.  But the spire-shaped P. monticola couldn't be more different in growth form than the spreading P. strobus.  I have to recalibrate my eyeballs!

Fifty tapped P. monticola cones produced only 5 spiders and 1 species, a female Anyphaena (Anyphaenidae) that will have to be dissected to confirm the species.

Rod and Jessi sifting leaf litter at Twentynine Pines Campground

Friday, June 19, 2015

16-Jun-2015 Sand Ridge Trailhead, Washington

Site location (click to enlarge)
After getting baked in Peavine Canyon the previous week, I was happy that Rod Crawford and I were collecting this day at Sand Ridge Trailhead where the temperature stayed comfortably in the mid 70s F (~24 C).  The 3 hour drive to the trailhead, which is located southeast of Mt. Rainier near White Pass, brought us past numerous Muckleshoot fireworks stands, evangelical churches and views of Mount Rainier.  But the drive was most noteworthy for being the first in recent memory where I didn't get tailgated, not even once!

Debris mound surrounding
ponderosa pine tree.
Net diameter 15" (38 cm)
Lots of small woody debris
The forest at the trailhead was dominated by Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), but two huge ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) growing within view of the parking area provided me with ample cones.  In contrast to the ponderosas in Peavine Canyon the week before, these trees bore no fire scars and were surrounded by mounds of bark scales and pine needles.  Likewise, the forest floor was littered with branches, sticks and twigs.  This place hasn't seen fire in quite some time.

Glade cones
Shade cones
I tapped a total of 50 fallen cones, half of which were laying on the densely shaded forest floor that supported almost no ground vegetation ("shade cones"), and the other half laying in a large patch of twinflower (Linnaea borealis) ("glade cones") growing adjacent to the shade cone area.

In all I collected 20 spiders and 5 species. Almost half of the specimens were agelenids.  Perhaps the most interesting find was an Agyneta perspicua (Linyphiidae), a species I hadn't tapped from cones before and for which there are less than 10 records in the Burke Museum's spider databaseUpdate (28 XII 2015): Upon closer examination, it was Agyneta protrudens, a litter species that I have tapped from cones only once before. The most noticeable difference between the two groups of cones was the total absence of harvestmen from shade cones; I collected 7 juveniles from glade cones.

Juvenile Callobius (and exuvium)
under ponderosa bark scale
Juvenile Callobius in ponderosa cone
Despite the apparent lack of recent fire at this site, the litter associated with the cones was almost non-existent.  The half bag of littler that I managed to scrape up consisted mainly of twigs and a very thin layer of pine needles.  The 2 juvenile spiders I sifted from the litter included a Callobius sp. (Amaurobiidae).  I also collected juvenile Callobius from tapped cones and from underneath bark scales on standing ponderosas.

The only elk we
saw were on signs
Several signs along Route 123 promised statuesquely posed elk, but we never glimpsed a one.  However, I did manage to snap this photo of Sasquatch.  Too bad Rod wasn't around to witness it!

A view of Mt Rainier from near Chinook Pass

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

9-Jun-2015 Peavine Canyon, Washington

Site location (click to enlarge)
Today Rod Crawford and I returned to the canyonlands west of Wenatchee, this time to Peavine Canyon.  Interesting name!  I had to consult the Burke Museum's Herbarium page to confirm that wild peas (Lathyrus sp.) may indeed grow there, something I initially doubted.  As it turns out, several species of native pea grow in the ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests in this part of Chelan County.

Sample site
Most pine trunks had
fire scars
My sample site was a steep, south-facing slope dotted with ponderosa pines.  Green islands of snowberry (Symphoricarpos sp.), Oregon-grape (Berberis aquifolium), grasses and herbs made up the understory in places shaded by trees, but the cones and the sandy soil were bone dry.  The temperature on the exposed hillside certainly approached 100 F (38 C).  As I tapped cones through the early afternoon and felt the breeze strengthen into gusts, I knew that the "high fire danger" warning posted for the area was appropriate.  Charred bark on the ponderosas was a reminder of the wildfire that swept through the canyon in September 2012.

Cones on a bone-dry game trail
Cone on lush herbs...and bone
dry pine needles
Cones were plentiful, completely open and lying in every possible disposition: on bare soil, in drying grass, on still-green herbs, under shrubs, and accumulated against fallen tree branches.  I tapped 50 cones from as wide a variety of dispositions as I encountered and collected 3 spiders.  None of them were identifiable to species.  It's unusual for a Washington cone sample not to provide at least one identifiable species.  This is only the 5th time this has happened since I started tapping cones in 2008!  The load of associated needle litter that I sifted produced no spiders at all.

Collomia grandiflora has blue pollen!
Flies were constantly landing on my hands and arms while I worked on the hillside, but since they were there for a lick of salt rather than a bite, they were only a minor annoyance.  The birdsong rising from the shrubby thickets along Mission Creek in the canyon bottom was lovely, and my eyes were treated to a quick glimpse of the bright blue tail of a western skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus).  The only mammals I spotted (besides Rod, who can be hard to detect when he's sifting litter) were the dirt bikers who occasionally buzzed by on the canyon road.  To the person they each waved hello and slowed down so as not to kick up too much dust as they passed.  I really appreciated their politeness.

The feisty Lorquin's admiral
Butterflies abounded on the thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) growing near the creek.  This Lorquin's admiral (Limenitis lorquini) was defending territory from a stretch of thimbleberry near where I was sifting needle litter, so I got to watch it sally forth and chase away whoever flew by.  Usually it was a western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus).

We didn't stop for any of the famous Aplets and Cotlets when we passed through Cashmere on the way home, but we did pause for burgers and shakes at Mountain High Hamburgers in Easton.  In my estimation, its the best of the burger joints on a certain arachnologist's list.

Read Rod's account of the day here.

Green irrigated orchards contrast starkly with dry
natural hillsides, a common sight near Wenatchee

Monday, June 8, 2015

6-Jun-2015 Cooper River, Washington

Site locations (click to enlarge)
It's been unseasonably warm in Washington this spring, so Rod Crawford and I agreed to focus our current sampling efforts on the east side of the Cascade crest, the area that will dry out first and become less productive spider-wise as summer sets in.  The Cooper River watershed above Cle Elum was our day's destination.  Although the gravel roads were really dusty, recent weather has been unseasonably moist as well as warm on the east side, so we found the area still pleasantly green.

White (l) & lodgepole (r) cones
With my penchant for pine cone tapping in mind, Rod chose Red Mountain Trailhead as our first stop.  His choice was based partly on a trail description that promised a lower trail strewn with pine needles.  And indeed, there was one western white pine (Pinus monticola) and numerous lodgepole pines (P. contorta subsp. latifolia) growing next to the parking area.  But after hiking the lower section of the trail and finding no pines, we decided that "pine needles" had probably been used as a generic term for conifer needles.

Red Mountain Trailhead
sampling site
White pine cones at
Red Mountain Trailhead
Returning to the parking area, I tapped the 55 white pine cones I found lying in the sparse vegetation near the road.  I collected 22 spiders and 4 species, including 2 female and several juvenile Euryopis formosa (Theridiidae) and a lovely female Poecilochroa columbiana (Gnaphosidae).  (Of course formosa is Latin for beautiful, so the comeliness of the Euryopis fomosa spiders goes without saying.)

The litter associated with the trailhead cones, where any was present at all, consisted of a thin layer of pine needles and a bit of dried grass.  From this meager microhabitat I collected all of one juvenile crab spider.

Sampling site in Stave Creek canyon
A cone in Stave Creek canyon
Our next stop was about a third of the way up Stave Creek canyon, a tributary to the Cooper River.  While Rod went in search of meadow vegetation to sweep, I began another round of cone tapping along a decommissioned section of road.  I collected 7 spiders and one species, Poeciloneta lyrica (Linyphiidae), from 22 white pine cones.  There was no litter to sample.  The cones had been lying on bare ground or at best a bit of moss and a few conifer needles.

Sifting conifer litter near Cooper Lake
Streamside under-rock fauna
Next we moved on to the Cooper Lake area.  Seeing no pines in sight and feeling a bit sun baked, I headed towards the lake while Rod sifted conifer litter in the woods.  Finding that Stave Creek meets the Cooper River a few hundred feet downstream from the lake, I spent a refreshing time turning rocks on the restoratively cool and shady stream bank.

Violets (Viola sp.) growing streamside
Pacific treefrog (Pseudacris regilla)
near Cooper Lake bridge
We hiked to our final collecting spot, a lovely little flower-bedecked meadow, just as the setting sun signaled a cloud of hungry mosquitoes to come out and feed.  And feed they did, on us of course.  We definitely "gave at the office" at that site, and had to replenish lost vitality at a burger joint in Easton before driving home.

Be sure to read Rod's trip narrative here!

I'm testing a new ad slogan: "Say it with spiders!"

5-Jun-2015 Paradise Valley Conservation Area, Washington

Site location (click to enlarge)
On a whim Marie Rose and I decided to hike at Paradise Valley Conservation Area, a real gem that opened to the public only 5 years ago.  I brought along my net and vials "just in case", and this time it paid off.  Forest Ridge Trail brought us alongside several mature western white pines (Pinus monticola) growing amid the Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) that dominate this forest.  Western white pines aren't a dominant species anywhere in Washington, so finding them is hit-and-miss.  When it happens, it's a real treat.

Sample site
Fallen cones
Many cones were still sticky with resin and had that "sugar frosted" appearance of newer white pine cones.  All were laying on needle litter.  The understory was sparse under the pines, with only the occasional fern sprig or bit of salal (Gaultheria shallon) growing nearby.

I had no trouble finding my customary 50 cones to tap, and they produced 30 spiders and 3-4 species as well as numerous pseudoscorpions and two species of harvestmen.  But which spider species, exactly?  I don't know!  If my recent Seattle samples had me feeling a little more confident in my ability to identify spiders, the present sample has reminded me that I still have a steep learning curve ahead of me.  Fortunately Rod is happy to sit down with me later and work through some IDs.

Walckenaeria columbia,
the first spider Mouseketeer?
Thomisid exuvium from cone
In the mean time, I'm posting this photo (left) of one of the linyphiids in the sample, since I am amused that her epigynum looks like a Mickey Mouse hat.  Rod has seen the photo and says that "the 'mouse ears' are the seminal receptacles (internal) visible through the translucent integument of the epigynal plate".  Either that, or this spider vacationed Disneyland.  We may never know the whole truth.  And while I'm at it, here's a photo (right) of a thomisid crab spider's exuvium that I found in a cone.  When the microscope light shines through it, it's quite beautiful.