Monday, May 23, 2016

Mt. Pinos and beyond part 2

Grape soda lupine, Lupinus excubitus.
Earlier in the week I had gathered together a list of interesting locations to check out, mostly based on records through Calflora. There were a number of species I was hoping to stake out. Many records are a decade or more old, however, and in that time habitats can completely change, so this isn't always reliable. But at the least it brings me to some interesting habitats, so it is usually worth it in the end. On the drive down Cuddy Valley I had to stop for a stunning white flowering form of grape soda lupine. On the side I keep a list of "white forms", and this is a welcome addition.

The first port of call was making a second attempt at the San Emigdio blue spot, which again did not pull through. I did see Boisduval's, melissa and western pygmy blues though, so it was not a complete loss! In addition there were some new things to see in the form of golden linanthus and a stunning spider, Castianeira occidens! This spider waves its front pair of legs like antennae and along with its unusual walking motion serve to mimic ants. It's brightly coloured too, so that's another plus!

Golden linanthus, Linanthus aureus.
Castianeira occidens

The next stop was Seymour Creek in search of the enigmatic pine-green gentian. Unfortunately we were stopped by a metal gate completely drenched in No Trespassing signs. The nearby trees and posts were also adorned in such signs, so clearly someone didn't want people around. We didn't want to take the risk so we let it be and turned around.

I made sure to scout out the accessible portion of the creek nearby though, as if the gentian was growing down the road than perhaps it was down here too, and, at the least, there would be some interesting associate species to see. I quickly found some new plants: red triangles, Fremont's phacelia, Lemmon's mustard, and the seldom encountered California fiddleleaf. It is easy to see why this plant is overlooked, because the flowers are very tiny and inconspicuous. However this endemic to California is very sparsely distributed anyway, so this was a great find and I'm very happy to see it!

Red triangles, Centrostegia thurberi.
Lemmon's mustard, Caulanthus lemmonii.
California fiddleleaf, Nama californica.
California fiddleleaf, Nama californica.
For good measure here is one of my personal favourites, a miniature daisy species known as Pringle's woolly sunflower. I've seen it once before but my photo did not come out well, so this opportunity to revisit it was greatly appreciated.

Pringle's woolly sunflower, Eriophyllum pringlei.
Further finds down the creek include a surprise veined blue(!), followed by beautiful rockcress, adobe yampah, woollypod milkvetch, and a white-flowering variety of spotted locoweed (var. nigricalycis). I also saw what must have been Child's blue-eyed Mary, even if it was brighter pink and shorter-leaved than usual.

Veined blue, Plebejus neurona.
Adobe yampah, Perideridia pringlei
To make up for this shorter than expected stop we headed to see if Green Leaf Springs was any more accessible, and maybe even better habitat for the gentian. The "road" was a bit rough going but despite what was not obviously public access we made it to the creek area. I checked my map and saw that a large portion of the area was filled with yellow. According to the map legend, it said this indicated a beach! Curious of what that really indicated, I set off down the trail. In the forested areas nearby I found sea muilla, basalt milkvetch, and the sulphur blooms of foothill desert-parsley. When I finally reached the "beach" I did actually see sand! But it was all covered over, by the greatest largest stand of sandbar willow that I had ever seen. These shrubby willows are only just over head height, and in their forest cradled the ground with their verdant shade. Through these willows trickled one of the most promiscuous streams I have seen in drought-stricken California. Walking with the canopy of these trees only just over your head, and with a secret realm trickling beside my feet was oddly surreal. Such a cool place, it could have jumped right out of a fairy tale.

Foothill desert-parsley, Lomatium utriculatum.
The outskirts of the willow forest. Excuse the poor phone photo, I
had no lens suited for the purpose!

Noting that somehow it was already nearing 5pm, I rushed back to the car and we made haste for San Guillermo mountain, where I had intel suggesting the presence of a large vernal pool. This habitat is rare in California and almost always indicates the presence of rare plants and invertebrates. A particular target was the rare Phacelia exilis, a lavender flower with an intricate lacy texture. The first plant I saw was the unusual spring lessingia, an endemic member of the daisy family that is limited to certain drainage habitats. It is usually yellow like other lessingia, but this population was one of the pinkish forms. With the compass set, I hiked in a straight line up the mountain. Soon I bumped into one of the coolest plants of the day, the alpine Kennedy's buckwheat. This plant is a subalpine specialist that inhabits only a select few rocky steppes at very high elevation. I have a soft spot for high altitude mountain plants and this was an amazing plant to find. Even better, these guys were in full bloom.

Spring lessingia, Lessingia tenuis.
Kennedy's buckwheat, Eriogonum kennedyi var. kennedyi.
Before hitting the vernal pool I was soon treated to several other specialties, such as Mt. Pinos onion (Allium howelli var. clokeyi) and western hawksbeard. When I finally reached the vernal pools I quickly found an interesting phacelia. It was not the rare phacelia I was looking for but limestone phacelia, another uncommon plant with a very disjunct distribution over southern California. This plant was completely carpeting the vernal pool area, alongside a few undesirables such as the highly invasive Erodium cicutarium. There were also burnt remains of a campfire in the middle of one of the pool sites which was disappointing. Content that the rare phacelia I was after was not on show, I started descending back down before we ran out of sun.

Mt. Pinos onion, Allium howelli var. clokeyi.
Limestone phacelia, Phacelia affinis.
Halfway down the hillside and I noticed something odd. On one patch of open ground towered several spires of pale, flowering stem. I thought, cool, perhaps this is the desert species of Toxicoscordion. But when I stepped closer I saw that it was not that, but the delicate blue-speckled flowers of pine-green gentian! A creek bed associated plant, growing on the slopes of this dry hillside. But many plants on this hillside were almost all dependent on significant moisture, so there was clearly more to this location than meets the eye. Eventually I was able to break my gaze from this incredible plant and trek back down. This is a truly unique plant and it was incredible to see it.

Pine-green gentian, Frasera neglecta.
Pine-green gentian, Frasera neglecta.

And wouldn't you know, while I was walking back down along the road to the car, I noticed the lacy splendour of Transverse Range phacelia, the same rare phacelia I was out here seeking! Amazing. What are the chances?

Another really incredible plant, not only in biology, but...just look at it and you'll understand!

Transverse Range phacelia, Phacelia exilis.
Before we completely lost daylight we stoppped by a particularly lush ridgeline, at least according to historical records. Here I found great quantities of the rare heart-leaved thornmint, as well as a great showing of the rare fritillary known as stinkbells (although they were all fruiting or wilted), and scattered tufts of another rare plant, pale-yellow layia.

Heart-leaved thornmint, Acanthomintha obovata ssp. cordifolia.
Heart-leaved thornmint, Acanthomintha obovata ssp. cordifolia.
Pale-yellow layia, Layia heterotricha.

Although sunlight was practically lost, I checked by a second spot for San Emigdio blue to end the day. Some pink Calochortus along the road were C. splendens, not palmeri as I secretly hoped. Inside those flowers I did find a new longhorn beetle though, Judolia scapularis. The final highlight of the day was an interesting green buckwheat by the name two-tooth buckwheat, an uncommon endemic species with only a few photographs online. Unfortunately no San Emigdio blue, but there is always another day for those.

Judolia scapularis.
Two-tooth buckwheat, Eriogonum viridescens.
Thanks again Wanda for an amazing outing!

Mt. Pinos and beyond part 1

Maroon-spotted woollystar, Eriastrum signatum.

I was invited out again recently by Wanda Dameron, not only to attend a birding trip to Frazier Park, but also as a means to explore the interesting northern section of Los Padres National Forest. There are some brilliant plants in this region, several of which are endemic and not found anywhere else on Earth. Anything that involves cool high altitude areas catches my interest immediately so of course I was interested.

Before the bird walk began we checked out a nearby spot apparently home to San Emigdio blue, and despite abundance of the host plant I could not see any traces of adults, cats, or eggs. Although, maroon-spotted woollystar was a nice find at this spot. Nearby I checked a wet meadow for Palmer's mariposa lily and came up short. Needless to say the record I saw at this location was several decades old, but these sorts of species often stick around as long as their habitat is left untouched. We met the bird group and traveled up Cuddy Valley Road and into Mount Pinos proper, where I immediately encountered a new Ribes, wax currant.

Wax currant, Ribes cereum.
Birding was decent, but not the most productive. We covered several species but some common birds were not keen on showing. The large field nearby held two interesting plants, western blue flag (iris) and California false helleborine. The endemic Mt. Pinos chipmunk, a subspecies of the lodgepole chipmunk, was scattered but fairly widespread in the pine forests here. They are not very keen at posing in the sunlight though!

California false helleborine, Veratrum californicum, amidst a field of
western blue flag (Iris missouriensis).
Mt. Pinos chipmunk, Tamias speciosus ssp. callipeplus.

Travelling towards the less vehicle friendly section of Cuddy Valley Road, a road that at this point was no more than a hiking trail, I encountered Anderson's lupine followed by mountain yellow violet.  Along the trail I encountered flowers of purple false gilia. These flowers are very small, but make up for their size with their strikingly vibrant flowers that seem to shimmer in the sunlight. As their scientific and vernacular name of "purple false gilia" or "purple false gillyflower" suggests, they are fairly similar to gilias in the genus Gilia. Their scientific name is Allophyllum gilioides which when broken down means "different leaves" and "gilia-like" respectively. Indeed the first clue to these plants is that their leaves are not like those of Gilia!

Mountain yellow violet, Viola pinetorum.
Purple false gilia, Allophyllum gilioides.

As we ascended higher the birding became more interesting, with green-tailed towhees, Cassin's finches, mountain chickadees, and a single white-headed woodpecker. As we hit higher elevations an eagle-eyed observer spotted a Clark's nutcracker perched far on the spire of a pine. This pallid crow relative was quick to give its eerie, raucous calls, which cut through the otherwise silent air around the ascent to the summit. Soon the nutcrackers doubled and then tripled in number until they were surrounding us. Not a new bird for me but I have only seen them once before, so it was a pleasure to see them again.

Clark's nutcracker, Nucifraga columbiana.
Since we were on a bird walk we unfortunately turned back here as there was no further bird benefit to travelling higher. I was able to find some cool species in this open area between us and the summit before turning back, such as spreading phlox, one-seeded pussypaws, silvery field ant, limber pine, and Burlew's onion. I also found a Coniontis sp. darting across the path. This genus of darkling beetles is diverse and understudied in California, and while this is certainly a new one for me it is difficult to say which at this time. Given it was at high elevation, I'm excited to hear what species it might be!

A grasshopper up here set my heart racing but lo and behold, it was a pallid-winged grasshopper, the same species that I get in my backyard! Wow, wonder how he got up here though...

Spreading phlox, Phlox diffusa.
One-seeded pussypaws, Calyptridium monospermum.
Silvery field ant, Formica argentea.
Limber pine, Pinus flexilis.
Mystery Coniontis sp.

We all hiked back down and then met for lunch at Mt. Pinos campground. Here an interesting Listrus sp. alighted on my arm. I wish this one was easy given how nicely patterned he is but unfortunately there are several hundreds of species, and the chances of getting a species ID is minimal!

Listrus sp.

With farewells given, the bird group had departed, and we moved on to other forays...check back for part 2.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mountain Quail Madness part 2

At Grassy Hollow campground more seed eventually brought in my first Cassin's finch, a bird which I have unsuccessfully sought throughout the mountains before, not to mention incredible arm-length away views of southern alligator lizard, which while not new is something worth posting photos of!

Cassin's finch, Haemorhous cassinii.
San Diego alligator lizard,  Elgaria multicarinata ssp. webbii.

The final intended stop of the day was the summit of Table Mountain. I didn't really know what to expect up here but given it is such high altitude I was expecting some amazing flora. Wanda said this spot was also known for a rare butterfly, veined blue, so I made sure to keep an eye for it. This spot paid off quickly with 8 new species: pinewoods lousewortParish's biscuitrootMojave linanthus, the rare Big Bear Valley woollypodunited blazingstar, the beetle Scelolyperus sp.Torrey's blue-eyed Mary (ssp. wrightii). One of my first encounters at this location was the most memorable however. I followed a dainty brown lycaenid butterfly and when it was none other than the fabled veined blue! Incredible views were had of this butterfly as it flitted around and, to my frustration, never opened its wings more than 45 degrees. There were at least five of these flighty blues scouting low over the ground. This species is specific to its host plant, a high altitude subspecies of Wright's buckwheat that grows completely flat along the ground. One of the more unusual finds was starch grape-hyacinth, a garden plant which was certainly not meant to be in the middle of alpine meadow! I am not certain how "countable" this plant is, but there was no sign of human tampering. So on the list it goes!

Parish's biscuitroot, Lomatium nevadense var. parishii.
Mojave linanthus, Linanthus breviculus.
Big Bear Valley woollypod, Astragalus leucolobus.
Veined blue, Plebejus neurona!!
Starch grape-hyacinth, Muscari racemosum.

We made a stop at Lake Jackson before heading home where there were a great handful of surprises, though mostly species I had seen before. I can't resist posting images of the queen however. And no, not the Queen atop the balcony of Buckingham Palace! Although, this one did wave just the same! One thing both share though is that they were not in any fit condition to be running a marathon any time soon! I had to rescue this butterfly at one point since on a particularly dreary attempt to escape me it fluttered a little and then tumbled into the pond! I think it was on its last legs. Another thing they share is a close relation to the monarch(y)! The queen butterfly is an uncommon species in the region which only occasionally drops by on its erratic, unpredictable migrations to nowhere specific, so seeing one at all was fantastic!

Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus.
Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus.

 Some more species for the day's tally that I found at Lake Jackson: the nondescript but never reliable crisp-leaved pondweedwestern choke cherry, and a well-patterned aphid on the sedge Carex alma which would sure be a new one for me if I could identify it! I also had my first ever good views of echo azure, Celastrina echo. A bonus was Utah serviceberry growing in a glade nearby.

Crisp-leaved pondweed, Potamegaton crispus.
Utah serviceberry, Amelanchier utahensis.
A mysterious aphid!

With the day falling we headed back through the mountains towards the warm lights and smog of the Los Angeles basin. Interesting species were not done though with a cool roadside pull-off that was blanketed in the cream flowers of Peirson's lupine, Lupinus peirsonii, a very rare flower which I have seen before but never in such great numbers. At this stop I found a very dried out Parish's oxytheca (Acanthoscyphus parishii). The final, final stop of the day was at a dusk-lit Switzer Falls, where I made search for an amphibian that I've been wanting to see for some time. Eventually I did find one. Here he is, a California newt:

California newt, Taricha torosa.

With round-leaved brookfoam (Boykinia rotundifolia) on the hike back to the car, we were finally done for the day. Wanda told me that spotted owls used to roost regularly in this valley until they were shot by disrespectful idiots. But still incredible to think that I was walking through a forest once inhabited by one of America's rarest birds. I never thought I'd have the chance to be anywhere near their habitat let alone a known location for them. Eternal gratitude to Wanda for tolerating my madness throughout this and previous outings! What a day that was.