Thursday, June 17, 2010

Biblical Plague or Culinary Opportunity? A day in the California Prairie Lands

We journeyed out to the California prairie lands again today. We've now paid a visit in the fall, the early spring, and now the late spring, as summer starts to take hold in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Our destination was a small stockpond in the hills south of Knight's Ferry on the Stanislaus River. The local bedrock is composed of vertical exposures of metamorphic slate and greenstone with a covering of andesite lahar (volcanic mudflow) deposits called the Mehrten Formation.

We had one of the best rainfall seasons in many years, with around 115-120% normal rainfall, and an unusually cool April and May. When we were here in early April, the ground was muddy, and the grass was green. There were quite a few birds, but when we got there this evening, it was a great deal busier, even though the grass is brown. Part of the busy-ness involved things being splattered on the windshield and being crunched under the tires. There was a regular plague of grasshoppers, thousands upon thousands of them everywhere. Apparently the conditions were ripe for a population explosion.

I've heard of some serious problems with grasshoppers in the midwest this year, with aerial spraying of pesticides and the like, but I don't think it was going on here. There was a much more normal way of dealing with the overpopulation of the pest: birds were munching away! I'm not entirely sure why the birds were all lined up, but there was a small drainage next to the road, and I suspect the grasshoppers were more abundant on the particular stretch of road.

It's kind of creepy to get out and walk among the insect plague, as hundreds jumped away in all directions. I leaned down to take a shot of a bee in one of the few flowers, and I honestly did not notice the grasshopper looming over the flower. In fact, if you look carefully, you may notice that at least four grasshoppers were stripping away the leaves and flowers.

Still, it was peaceful in the twilight, and the songs of hundreds of satiated birds and bullfrogs was a pleasant musical accompaniment to the dying sunlight.

UPDATE: I suspect we saw an 'irruption' of devastating grasshoppers. Apparently they have caused some real problems in the past, especially in the late 1950's.

1 comment:

Gaelyn said...

I just find it way to creepy driving or walking in areas of insect irruptions. I've actually left areas like that before. Sure hope the grasshoppers don't do too much damage before the birds become satiated.