Saturday, May 7, 2016

Bob and His Gap

Wallace's woolly daisy, Eriophyllum wallacei.
I was out with Wanda Dameron this morning to check out some birding spots at a place called Bob's Gap. As someone interested in nature I couldn't avoid hearing this name before. Not only is it well birded, but there are great butterflies occurring along this stretch too. Bob's Gap could refer to two areas; the first is Bob's Gap Road, which extends all along this section of the desert. The second is Bob's Gap itself, a canyon of sorts along the eastern corner of said road before it turns straight northwest. I had a few hopefuls today, namely birds like Scott's oriole! New birds are harder to find once you've been in a country for a while, but some of the desert species such as Mr. vividly yellow and black oriole was one of those I had not come across yet.

They always say some of the most interesting finds are when you are a man disappearing off trail to pee behind a bush. This was no exception, I mean, just look at this!!

Desert calico, Loeseliastrum matthewsii!!
The incredible desert calico is not uncommon in this area, but seeing it for the first time is an irreplaceable experience! And this one was piss easy to find too! (I'm sorry). What isn't piss easy though is remembering that scientific name. Sorry Matthew, I can only commemorate you in text form. 

This segment of Bob's Gap Road spot also held Wallace's woolly daisy, Mojave aster, and yellow turbans. While leaning over to photograph one such yellow turbans I noticed a small blue butterfly caterpillar nestled in the branches. Based on research this is almost certainly the caterpillar of the endangered Mojave dotted-blue, a desert lycaenid whose cats are specific to this buckwheat species. There are no photographs or descriptions of this caterpillar anywhere, but it sure doesn't look like any other caterpillars that are already documented! It is the perfect yellow colour for blending in with those yellow turban flowers. 

On the flip side, I was so distracted with this caterpillar that I forgot to properly photograph the yellow turbans itself. Another time, perhaps.

Probable cat of Mojave dotted-blue, Euphilotes mojave!

Later down the road we stopped by a strand of junipers to check around for Scott's oriole and other desert birds. With no success we headed back to the car. Back there I played the oriole song on my iPhone to ensure I knew what to listen for. The song is distinctly reminiscent of the other orioles I've encountered, but a little more cheerful. It was unlikely that I'd overlook such a distinctive song, especially not one that I've heard in the field before, but I wanted to be sure! I then put my phone away but, as I did, the song played again. I pulled out my phone to stop the recording from looping multiple times, but then I realized that my phone was off, and it was not playing at all. So then where did that oriole song come from!?

I hiked back into the bushes where the sound came from, and as if by magic, the vivid yellow and black glory of a male Scott's oriole gazed down at me from a juniper. I raised my camera and...wait, where did he go!? Bloody hell.

With a bit of stalking I eventually refound him, and his olive-infused mate, just in time for the sun to beam down...

Scott's oriole, Icterus parisorum!!
Scott's oriole, Icterus parisorum.
The female was carrying nesting material, and the two birds were somewhat circling in the vicinity of a particular tree, so I expect there was a nest present. At that note I took my leave, not wanting to disturb them. I was anxious that, after seeing my first Scott's oriole, I'd return home with a rubbish photo featuring the most obscure blur of yellow possible. Delighted to say that isn't the case! Oh yes, and here is Dorr's sage. The light indigo flowers themselves are very appealing, but the bush itself is not very splendid, thus it is easily walked past:

What Dorr's sage looks like up close, Salvia dorrii.
What Dorr's sage looks like to the naked eye, Salvia dorrii.
At Bob's Gap itself I was first introduced to some interesting architecture. I'm assuming this has relevance with the origin of the name Bob's Gap, but there is not much information online:

Structures at Bob's Gap.
In this area I found the rarely documented dome cryptanthawhite-stem stickleaffringed onion, longspine horsebush, Mexican bladder sage (AKA paperbag bush), and, to my surprise, Cithara buckwheat! I earlier searched for this uncommon native plant at Malibu Creek State Park. It is very similar to Davidson's buckwheat, only really differing in the apparent tendency to display outward instead of upright branches, and habit of growing solitary instead of in clusters (I could be wrong in my choice). 

Along the roadside I revisited a group of Prince's plume that I noticed on the drive in, a very showy native mustard with tall yellow inflorescence. Besides the individual flowers themselves, you'd never guess this was a mustard.

Dome cryptantha, Cryptantha similis.
Longspine horsebush, Tetradymia axillaris.
putative Cithara buckwheat, Eriogonum cithariforme.
putative Cithara buckwheat, Eriogonum cithariforme. Some of these
flowers were very large (for a buckwheat).
Prince's plume, Stanleya pinnata.
With time falling, we packed up here and retraced our steps down Bob's Gap Road. On the south-facing portion of the road I noticed what looked like red poppies along the roadside. My thought was that this was an escaped population of one of the English or Oriental poppies. However on closer inspection I couldn't have been more wrong. No instead they were something I didn't expect to find at all, desert mariposa lily! This incredible plant was scattered all down this section of the road. While photographing these I heard what sounded like a downy woodpecker calling from junipers. But, given the open desert habitat, I had another woodpecker in mind. Eventually the bird showed itself, and there was no mistaking that it was a ladder-backed woodpecker, one of the desert specialties. It was not the closest showing bird in the world but the views were very reasonable.

Desert mariposa lily, Calochortus kennedyi var. kennedyi.
Ladder-backed woodpecker, Picoides scalaris.
With that success, we moved on to Big Rock Creek to search for American dipper. There was evidence of the bird in the form of round white "splats" on the rocks, but the bird itself was not to be seen. The lush willows here gave me three new galls Rabdophaga salicisbatus, R. rigidae, and R. salicisbrassicoides, so that was interesting! R. salicisbatus in particular was interesting as it doesn't seem to have been photographed before. This midge species forms a bright red bulge on the stem, which then serves as protection for the larvae to mature.

Willow rosette gall, Rabdophaga salicisbrassicoides.
On nearby cottonwoods there were some odd galls on the leaf stalks (=petioles) which I could not recognize as the work of either a midge or wasp. When I opened one several aphids spilled out, and I had my answer. With some work I determined them to be poplar leaf-base galls, caused by the aphid Pemiphgus populicaulis. There are two closely related species on cottonwoods, this one forms the gall at the end of the leaf stem just below the leaf itself, while the other, populitransversus, forms the gall halfway along the leaf stem (hence "transversus", I suppose). A pleasant little creek down the road was actually a bit more than that, perhaps a brook, or even a rivulet. Along with the lush green vegetation this spot was oddly reminiscent of a stream in England! Here I found two new plants, ditch beard grass, and fragile-sheathed sedge. both adjacent to the riverside.

We checked several other promising locations but still no dipper. On one spot I noticed an odd maple, which I later determined to be silver maple. This plant is not native to the western side of North America, but has several records in this region. The next interesting find was at South Fork Campground where I encountered a solitary cluster of longstalk phacelia. On this same hike I saw Transverse Ranges liveforever (Dudleya cymosa ssp. pumila). If you know me well you know I am fascinated by Dudleyas, and while I have seen D. cymosa before this subspecies was new to me. This subspecies is smaller than most, hence "pumila" I suppose.

Longstalk phacelia, Phacelia longipes.
Transverse Ranges liveforever, Dudleya cymosa ssp. pumila.
On the drive out of the campground I stopped by to photograph a pale looking form of sticky monkeyflower. This plant is usually orange but the intensity of the orange depends on location. Adjacent to that I found a morning glory, which as it turns out is the very rare Peirson's morning glory! On the outlook this morning glory does not look any different to the other common species, except that the leaves are a little more Y-shaped, and the bracts supporting the white flowers are short and indented at the tip. A great plant to stumble upon by accident! It is endemic to this region and occurs nowhere else in the world.

Peirson's morning glory, Calystegia peirsonii.
Pierson's morning glory, showing the indented bracts at the base of the
flower, a trait which diagnoses this rare species.
We ended the day at St. Andrew's Abbey, where there was a lot to see but nothing new. That is, except for an invasive colony of Brazilian waterweed infesting a pond here. Well, a tick's a tick!

Brazilian waterweed, Egeria densa.
Thanks again Wanda for the great day out!

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