Sunday, July 25, 2010

Grass, insects, birds and rodents

A few days ago I drove south to the outskirts of Rohnert Park to visit Crane Creek Regional Park. It's small but full of treasures. It's in open grassland and home to many wildflowers in the spring, as well as many birds and hawks that I don't usually find in the more heavily wooded Howarth Park.

The grasses were as tall as I am and bleached pale tan, looking quite lovely against a brilliantly blue sky. On one, I found a rather large (2cm long), colorful insect and sketched it. Insects aren't always amenable to being sketched. Imagine a giant insect hovering over you and peering at you through a magnifying glass and you get the idea. Anyway, this one was a very cool customer and more or less ignored me as I drew. Later I was able to identify it as a Bordered plant bug (Largus sp.).

The bird sketch was an attempt to capture the markings of a Lark sparrow (Chondestes grammicus) that I saw feeding it's offspring on a trail. They're lovely little birds but their markings are like a jigsaw puzzle to me and it'll take some more study to capture them.

In summer, I rarely think about ticks at Howarth Park. They seem to disappear when the rain stops. At Crane Creek, I wandered off the trail to try to blend into the scenery and get some birds sketched, without taking my usual precautions against the nasty little bugs. The grass had formed several inches of matted, bouncy padding above the ground and it was odd to sit on,  and I worried about Chloe and the many foxtails surrounding us, so, after only a few minutes, I picked up my pack and my dog and went back to the trail. For the next several hours I kept finding ticks on my body. Ick! Chloe came away unscathed, amazingly. Once I'd gotten them all off, I wondered why there were so many at Crane Creek and so few at Howarth and came to only one conclusion -- rodents! Crane Creek is a haven for the California vole, a rodent that loves open, grassy places. Although I only saw one that day, I surmise that the wet winter and plentiful grass probably caused a population explosion of the little varmints, which in turn caused a population explosion of the ticks. These weren't deer ticks but I didn't save any to sketch and identify. I do keep meaning to do that but when I find them I only want to see them gone. Anyway, I'll stick to the trails for now and make sure to button my sleeves and tuck my socks into my boots the next time I'm there!


  1. I wonder why the ticks find you a juicy morsel and not Chloe? It is good to have mysteries in life.

    Nice bug and you do have the character of a lark sparrow.

  2. All I can say is ick! Because Ivy and I tramp all over I do run into all sorts of sucking insects, too, but have never stopped to sketch an insect on me. Probably because they would be distorted by the time I got finished with them. Are you putting flea meds on Chloe? That would make her not as tasty as you. Love your sketch and your attention to detail. You always make me want to see more.