Sunday, March 10, 2019

An Illustrated Life List: Barred Owl

I've gotten to know this Barred Owl pretty well this winter.  It's been hanging out at the nature center I work, occasionally interacting with the injured Barred Owl we care for there.  Yesterday it was perched on the broken limb of an oak in plain sight.  It seemed to be half asleep most of the morning, barely cognizant of the many people coming and going (it was perched right near a well traveled trail).

By mid-afternoon the owl disappeared, I presume into a hole in the tree, just before the wintry rain came.

Prints available here

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pink Wolf Slime Mistakes

A post from September of 2016 with updated artwork.  The picture is the same, just a better resolution.  It's also available as a print at the Distracted Naturalist Redbubble store.  You could have a Pink Wolf Slime print proudly displayed in your home!

Pink Wolf Slime, Lycogala epidendrum was brought to my attention a number of times this past week. And each time I made the mistake of calling it a fungus, when it is in fact a slime mold.
Despite having "mold" in the name, showing up in mushroom guide books, and having a fungus-like appearance, slime molds are in fact classified as Protozoa and only superficially resemble fungi.  Here are a few basics on slime molds:
  • First, I'm only describing Plasmodial Slime Molds (typically placed in the family Myxomycota). There are two other groups of slime molds that are similar in many respects, but not closely related.
  • They have a complicated life cycle, with an amoeba-like mobile stage, a larger unicellular but multinucleate stage, and an immobile, spore producing stage. The spore producing stage is often visible to the naked eye
  • The mobile stages feed by ingesting small organic particles, bacteria, spores, and other protizoans. This is in contrast to fungi which feed by absorbing nutrients from their surroundings and are imbedded in their substrate.
That's about as simple of an explanation as you'll find. Now on to Pink Wolf Slime:
  • Pink Wolf Slime is the spore producing stage. It starts out as pink balls with a darker pink goo inside. As it ages it gets browner on the outside, while the inside gets less gooey and develops a purplish hue.
  • The name "Pink Wolf Slime" sort of makes sense. Remember the scientific name is Lycosgala epidendrum. The first part of the genus name, "lycos" means wolf in Greek while "gala" means milk, so Pink Wolf Slime. But why wolves to begin with? There's a genus of puffball mushrooms called Lycoperdon, so more wolves, in this case farting wolves since "perdon" means to break wind. But again, why wolve.
  • The species name epidendrum means growing on wood, which seems sensible.
  • Despite looking like a piece of candy and occasionally being referred to as Pink Bubblegum Fungus online, it is not edible. Nor does it have any anti-cavity or teeth cleaning properties even though another common name is Toothpaste Slime. It is also referred to as Groening's Slime which probably does not refer to Matt Groening (of "Life is Hell" and a tv show or two I think). I sort of wonder if it's a name made up name for Wikipedia.
  • In my experience the pink goo usually just splurts out undramatically. But during a recent mushroom program, after mistakenly calling some Pink Wolf Slime a fungus, I poked one with a twig and it splattered all over a participant's shirt and hat. I felt bad.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

An Illustrated Life List: Hairy Woodpecker

I just updated the artwork to the Hairy Woodpecker entry in my Illustrated Life List collection.

It's available as a print or sticker at Distracted Naturalist Redbubble site.

Below is the original post from December of 2014.  Part of my reason for doing the Illustrated Life List series is to serve as a journal, using birds as touch points instead of dates.

And I'm please to note that all three of the owls listed below have been added to my life list.

Sara, the kids, and I took an after dark walk at Silverwood Park last week.  No particular reason, other than to get outside and enjoy some unusually warm weather.  Of course, in the the back of my mind I had a few subsidiary reasons; first among them was to see an owl.  Maybe even something on the unusual side like a Saw-whet Owl, or a Long-eared Owl, or very out of range Boreal Owl. . . ok, maybe not.  But I was definitely looking for something in the Strigidae family.

Which I didn't find.  But I did run into something unexpected.  A Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus in a Bluebird house.  I saw it because I was going to open up the house to look for mice, who often inhabit bird houses that aren't closed up for the winter.  My youngest daughter has been very interested in mice recently, even writing a report or two at school, so I thought it would be a nice supplement to her school work to see a wild mouse.  But before I even touched the house, a Hairy Woodpecker poked it's head out.  I was using my phone as a light (to see the anticipated mice better), so I got a pretty good look.  Naomi and Adele were right behind me, so they got a pretty good look too.  The woodpecker looked uncertain so I turned the light off to minimize our disturbance.  I called Sara over, but she declined, preferring to let the woodpecker go back to sleep.  Good choice!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Figures and Diagrams

I was at a bit of a creative impasse at the start of the year.  I couldn't think of any subjects that I wanted to address creativity.  My normal go to topics of birds and mushrooms were providing no inspiration.  I attribute my artistic block to the season; the cold, short days of January.  I spent an evening reflecting on this inevitable and natural occurrence, trying to divorce reason and self from the reality of winter.  I ended up, quite spontaneously with the first picture below.

Migration Trigger
As I was transferring the image from my iPad to desktop, I miss-typed the word "migration".  Spell check changed the title to "Irrational Trigger" which works too. 

I really liked the way the picture turned out and enjoyed personifying a somewhat abstract natural phenomena.  So I decided to keep to the style and process and apply it to other ideas.
Endoplasmic Reticulum, Smooth and Rough
I love diagrams in biology textbooks; all the little blobs, arrows, squiggly lines and alphanumeric notations.  Many of them have an almost sigil-like quality to them, as if they are alchemical instructions from some lost occult grimore instead of renderings of cell functions and the like in a  biology textbook.

The figures are very acrobatic, inspired equally by my daughter's aerial arts performances as they are by the complex set of steps and interactions involved in any biological process.

Light Pillar
One of the highlights of January is the increased chance of sun pillars, sun dogs and the such caused by ice crystals floating in the atmosphere.

I highly recommend the Atmospheric Optics page for in depth explanations of these sorts of phenomena.

I plan to continue with more artwork in this vein.   These three images are available in various formats at the Distracted Naturalist Redbubble site.  So you could buy a print and hang it up in your lab, or get a sticker and put in on your bass guitar case.  Even a small card placed on a meditation altar could be cool. . .