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.

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