Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter Weekend Camping

We planned to have Easter Weekend camping with several other families at Lake Ray Roberts State Park. Due to weather forecast of thunder storms for the weekend, only two of the five families that went to the Park stayed for camping at night.

We went to Lake Ray Robert in late Easter Saturday morning taking Nick's friend Kevin with us. We enjoyed the park before the rest of our group arrived.

Flowers were blooming everywhere - yellow, purple, white and red and there were quite a few types of butterflies hovering around which were hard to capture on camera - When I got the Monarch like butterfly on my camera, Justin assured me that it was not a Monarch. It was not.

When we go to the Parks, I rarely pay attention to bugs. This time we had company of Kevin, who is fascinated by all sorts of bugs, and we looked at the nature from a different angle - in addition to grasshoppers, beetles, we actually observed a bug with shining blue shell!! We also saw a quite unique land turtle. We heard bird calling all over the park during bright day time - it is mating season. I could identify the chirping of northern mocking bird and cardinal.

When the whole party came to the park around 4pm, the children went to the lake beach - swimming or just playing sands, most parents and grandparents went for a walk on the trail before a hearty BBQ.

Around 8pm, as a weather front approaching, lightening in the horizon, the campers went to the campsite, and the rest went home. During the ensuing 90 minute thunder storm, Nick, Eric, Ian, Justin and Angela stayed in our big tent, playing patty cake, singing, playing games on i-touches, Lily and I lying on the air mattress resting. It was a calm night after the thunder storm. I had a very good night of sleep, waking up around 6:30am by the loud chirping of a cardinal on a tree right outside our tent.

The next morning, the children went for a walk with Eric's parents; Lily and I went for biking, so we got back to the campsite before the walkers did. Lily started cooking breakfast and I hid the Easter eggs. It was Easter after all. The younger children still had a lot of fun egg hunting!! They also had a make up smores after breakfast.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Grand Canyon - Trip Plan

Upon research on visiting Grand Canyon, I found out: 1) most people go to Grand Canyon via flying to Las Vegas, NV, then driving to the park from there (5 hours). 2) of all people visiting Grand Canyon, only 10% visited North Rim of the Park, which is 220 miles drive from the south rim.

It turned out flying to Phoenix, AZ and then drive to the park is more efficient and cost less. We planed to visit North Rim, and we also planed to experience the Colorado river at Grand Canyon. So our trip to Grand Canyon was a six day trip, including 4 day at Grand Canyon Area.

Day 1: N Texas to Phoenix

Flight 7pm from DFW, arrive Phoenix 9pm local time

Day 2: Smooth-Water Raft Trip in Colorado River

Drive from Phoenix to Page AZ Total Est. Time: 4 hours, 24 minutes Total Est. Distance: 279.23 miles. Must leave on or before Phoenix 7am to arrive Page, AZ ~ 11:30am – must at Boat HQ at 12:30pm.

Half-day trips on the Colorado River from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry are provided by Colorado River Discovery. Departing from the scenic town of Page, Arizona, your trip will begin with an exciting and exclusive ride down the two-mile long Glen Canyon Dam access tunnel. At river level, with the dam soaring 583 feet above you, you will board a comfortable, motorized pontoon raft for your journey downstream.......

Stay at Page Best Western

Day 3: Grand Canyon North Rim

Leave Page,AZ for North Rim at 7:30am or earlier

North Rim (information per

A worthwhile trip for those who enjoy the road less traveled, the North Rim, or "other side" of the Grand Canyon is visited by only 10% of all Grand Canyon visitors. The Hike across the canyon from South Rim to North Rim is 21 miles / 34 km. However, traveling from the South Rim to the North Rim by automobile requires a five-hour drive of 220 miles / 354 km.

Notable vistas: Bright Angel Point; Imperial and Cape Royal; Angels Window

Drive to south rim, watch Sunset

Day 4: Grand Canyon South Rim


Rim Trail - the main venue for seeing Grand Canyon vistas

Yavapai Observation Station

Train ride at the end of the Rim Trail


Desert View

The Desert View Watchtower

Day 5: Hike into Canyon

A 3-mile round trip day hike into the canyon

Drive to Phoenix, AZ

Day 6: Return to North TX

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Paddling on Lake Ouachita

Kayak was a sport that fascinated me since my middle school year. However I did not start formal kayaking until late thirties, when I took classes from professionals - Cutter Aquatics. For a while I kayaked with them via training classes and short trips. The first time I kayaked on my own was on Lake Murray in Oklahoma a few years ago. Lily and Justin started their solo kayaking the next year, when we went to the beautiful Beaver's Bend at Broken Arrow, OK. Nicholas started solo kayaking last year at Millwood State Park of Arkansas.
Kayaking was a major activity during our trip to Lake Ouachit this spring break. On the second day of our stay at Lake Ouachita, we went to explore the water of the lake. Our group of eight rent 1 solo kayak, 2 tandem kayaks and a canoe. It was a calm and cloudy day, not very beautiful but good for activity on the water. I started on a solo kayak, Nick and Mom, Justin and Tom paddled the tandems, Emily, her cousin and dad rowed the canoe.

Due to draught, the lake water level was 9 feet below normal, and there were not much to look at along the shorelines expect rocks. We basically paddled straight forward and stopped at an unamed island to rest and Skip stones. Then we pushed forward, this time Nick kayaked solo, I moved to the canoe sitting at the front, enjoyed the ride.
When we reached the second island, Emily, Tom and their cousin all wanted to paddle the solo kayak on their own!! As we were looking around on the island, the cousin went on solo kayaking on his own, paddled to the next island. After lunch, Emily paddled solo at island point 49. Tom paddled the rest of the return trip.
There is something magic about kayaking. Lily was attracted to kayak after seeing me kayaking on Lake Murray. She said at the time: " It was so beautiful and elegant watching you paddling the kayak! I want to try!". As a matter of fact, every time we go to kayaking/canoeing with friends who had not kayaked before, they ended up trying kayak solo enthusiastically.
This time we had our longest kayak trip in a single day - 6 hour span, about 4 to 5 miles in paddling distance. We enjoyed kayaking as always and were pleased to see our friends enjoy kayaking as well.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Butterfly Courtship and Copulation

This is the third and my last post on butterflies per reading the book. "A World for Butterflies: their lives, behavior and future" by Phil Schappert, a Lepidopterist (i.e. butterfly biologist) at University of Texas. As the author pointed out the purpose of butterflies' life is to reproduce, butterflies are "flying sex organs". Butterflies' courtship is very interesting.

Preparation for courtship

To mate with a female butterfly, a male butterfly has to provide a nuptial gift during copulation, in the form 'spermatophore', which contains nutrients, salts and sperms. The spermatophore can weight as much as half the males body weight!! A female butterfly can actually assess the ability of a male butterfly to provide a large nuptial gift based on their odor. So before seeking out mates, a male butterfly has to work hard to to collect salts, nutrients - some specific compounds.


Before starting courtship with females, a male butterfly may either stake out on a tree or other places, perching there, waiting for female butterflies to come; or they may patrolling certain areas to look for mate. When males are perching, they will always meet females in flight; when males are patrolling, they may see females flying or resting. Butterflies courtship depends on pheromones, a species "signature scent" or odor and a series of signals and responses - sounds familiar? When males meet females when females are resting on ground or vegetation, males will hover over the female, fluttering, touching her by his wings, legs or antennae. If the female accept the advance, she will flutter her wing slowly; if she rejects the advance, she will keep her wings open or close and hold them steady. When males meet females during flight, the male will attempt to fly under her then up in front of her in order to pass their pheromones to the females antennae by their forward motion. Females reject the courtship by continuing flying, they accept the courtship by alight on ground or vegetation's. Once the female accept the male advance, then the male will land beside her, flicking wings, touching antennae, or posturing while facing each other. Eventually they will face the same direction, the male will curl his abdomen around to try to grasp hers. A willing female will extend and offer her body for coupling. Even at this stage, things can go wrong, a female may hold her abdomen up between her partially close wings to decline copulation. Female butterflies in many species mate once in their life time; male butterflies typically mate many time. This leads to the shortage of female butterflies. In some species of butterflies, male butterflies actually mate with female in chrysalis right before or after the female butterfly eclose, without any courtship.


Butterflies sex organ is at the end of their abdomen. Females have a pair of ovaries that contain ovaioles which develop individual eggs. Males have a pair of valve, or collapsers for grabbing or holding on to female during intercourse. During copulation, the male butterfly insert its adeague, or penis into the duct in females that leading to the eggs, depositing the nuptial gift of spermaphore. Female will need it later for laying eggs When they copulate, they will eventually in a back-to-back position. I observed butterflies joined together a few times before, and found its interesting, not knowing they were actually having sex then. The author and other lepidopteris made many observations of butterflies sexual behavior - including mate-carrying, one carries the other flying while mating; fighting for mate; competition for mate (caught on camera) - two male butterflies tried to pull the female away from her mating partner while they were still joined! Male to male interaction - homosexual behavior in butterflies?! Triangle relationship .... Like dramas played out in human.

Note: Pictures of the mating butterflies were downloaded from

Saturday, April 2, 2011

More about Butterflies

This post is composed from notes I took from reading the book. "A World for Butterflies: their lives, behavior and future" by Phil Schappert, a Lepidopterist (i.e. butterfly biologist) at University of Texas.
Butterflies food
The "high energy" nectar from flowers, which contains mostly sugar, is the main food of butterflies. The flowers butterflies like to visit have some features: relative deep corollas that suits the uncoiled proboscis, produce nectar that contains 20 ~ 25% of sugar, and are often flattened to present a horizontal or vertical "landing pad".

A fact is that plant tissues have almost none of the salt that all animals need for survival. Plant tissues are usually short of nitrogen as well. The butterflies eat a lot alternate foods due to their need for nitrogen, salts, amino acids. These alternates include - tree sap, wet soil, flower pollen, and rotting fruit or vegetables, carrion, dung, urine, bird droppings and sweat. Interestingly male and female butterflies got their nitrogen ad salts differently. I will make a note on this later.

Predators and Defense

In butterflies life cycles, they encounter various predators. These include mammal, spiders, birds, grasshoppers, lizards, dragonfly, amphibians .... even some carnivore plants.

Many butterflies learn via evolution, to avoid spiders and certain plants/flowers. They also learn to protect themselves from hunting predators through camouflage, false head, misleading patterns, chemicals. False heads and misleading patterns that butterflies develop through evolution, really present the world many marvelous or exotic looking butterflies. Lepidopterists actually captured many evidences that false heads and misleading patterns helped butterflies survival from attacks - e.g. a butterfly with false head survived an attack because it was bitten at the false head which is located near its annal section. An example of misleading pattern is the eye spot that presents in a owl butterfly - which was featured in a picture in the previous post on butterflies. Some butterflies developed chemical defense for themselves! The famous monarch butterfly gains it chemical defense via gaining unleasant checmicals cardenolide aglycones from its host plants - milkweed. Monarchs gained the chemical during its carterpillar stage -caterpillars ingest the chemical as they feed on milkweed. The chemicals make monarch butterflies foul-tasting and poisonous, and birds that try to eat monarch butterflies throw up - emetic response.

Diapause and migration

Diapause - a period of hormonally controlled quiescence, especially in immature insects, characterized by cessation of growth and reduction of metabolic activity, often occurring seasonally or when environmental conditions are unfavorable. Diapause in butterflies is an automatic response to external conditions.It includes slowing of life process, interruption of development, growth or metamorphosis. Monarch butterflies are well known for their thousand-mile migrations. Typical monarch butterflies in the nonmigratory generations have life span of a month or so. The migratory monarch butterflies can live up to 6 ~ 8 months. "The monarchs of eastern north America conduct the longest, best well known migration of any butterflies. Those that eclose in the early Autumn enter reproductive diapause, that is they emerge without fully developed reproductive organs, and may make an astounding southward migration of up to 2500 miles over a period of up to 3 months". The reproductive diapause in the migratory generation leads to their much longer life than non-migratory generation

Note:the black and white butterfly in the picture is neotropic mosaic, a butterfly dissused in the book as an example of the butterfly that survived an attack. The picture was downloaded from

(to be continued --Butterfly courtship and copulation)