Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mountain Quail Madness part 1

Mountain quail, Oreortyx pictus!!
Again I had Wanda Dameron to thank for another wonderful outing! There were no particular goals of today's trip besides an up and down journey across the eloquent San Gabriel Mountains. Okay, maybe that previous sentence was a lie. There were actually several goals for today, but all of them required some lottery-teetering luck. So I preferred just to ignore them and be surprised instead!

A short drive into the mountains and a surprise pair of quail skittled across the road. We stopped the car and I kicked the door open as quickly as I could. A few moments later and we were gazing up at the humble mountain quail ascending the cliff face on foot. Less than half an hour into the day and I had already seen the most difficult species on my wish list! Wow!

As if in celebration another of my nemesis birds, black-chinned sparrow, was serenading far down in the valley. This is the second time I've heard them, the first along the Sandstone Peak trail at Circle X Ranch. Did this one finally decide to show? Of course it bloody didn't, but that's fine...

There were a few botanical additions along the drive up including blue-stemmed keckiella (Keckiella ternata), deerbush (Ceanothus integrrimus), and one of my nemesis species chaparral whitethorn (C. leucodermis). The entrance to Chilao campground gave me looks at Davidson's phacelia, summer lupine (Lupinus formosus), and an uncommon native mustard by the name of California rockcress. Further into the campground yielded abundance of a real gem of the pine woods, snowplant, a parasitic plant that bears vivid red foliage. This stop was also my first recorded sighting of ponderosa pine, although I've probably seen it before. Sturdy sedge (Carexa alma) was also growing in a small ditch nearby, adding to a quickly accelerating day total.

Chaparral whitethorn, Ceanothus leucodermis.

Davidson's phacelia, Phacelia davidsonii.
California rockcress, Boechera californica.
Ponderosa pine, Pinus ponderosa. The pinecones
of this tree left a cut on my hand that is still here
3 weeks later!
Snowplant, Sarcodes sanguinea.
At the visitor center Wanda revealed a cache of bird seed which we laid out at the feeding platforms. Within moments birds swarmed the area, though mostly bundles of band-tailed pigeons. It was good entertainment watching these very large pigeons try and compact themselves together on the tiniest platform. Every now and then another would fly and sit on top of another, trying to claw a space to stand on. Of note though was another mountain quail (!) that came in once the pigeons moved on! This was the most expected location to see this elusive bird today but after the luck this morning I didn't count on seeing another! Incredible views, too.

Mountain quail, Oreortyx pictus.
Along the short trail nearby I encountered mustard flower rust, an interesting fungus that takes over the upper portion of mustard plants and reproduces the flowers in its own guise! These pseudoflowers attract pollinating insects as would any real flower, carrying the spores and infecting other unlucky plants in the mustard family. This example was not quite at pseudoflower stage but the infection was more than beginning. The affected mustard in this instance was California rockcress.

Mustard flower rust, Puccinia monoica.
Along the way to Buckhorn I called a stop along the road when I noticed some unusual orange flowers by the roadside. As I suspected this was the rare and endemic San Gabriel Mountains sunflower, a silver-leaved plant that lives up to both parts of its name! The reddish bases to the ray florets (i.e. what look like petals) are a distinguishing feature of the subspecies gabrielensis, although on many of them this was inconspicuous. Immediately in Buckhorn I was greeted with a stunning sight, the bright and bristly caterpillar of the silver-spotted tiger moth. In the same location I also encountered both mountain pink currant (Ribes nevadense), a common riparian shrub here, and black-tailed bumble bee (Bombus melanopygus), a species that is overall common except for my area.

San Gabriel Mountains sunflower, Hulsea vestita ssp. gabrielensis.
San Gabriel Mountains sunflower, Hulsea vestita ssp. gabrielensis.
Silver-spotted tiger moth, Lophocampa argentata.
Mountain pink currant, Ribes nevadense.
Along the Burkhart trail at this site I went searching for American dipper, but unfortunately came back negative. On the plus side this habitat was really amazing and I have a few new species to show for it: western branded skipper, a relative of one of my favourite chalk-loving English butterflies, mountain whitethorn, volcanic gilia, Parish's umbrellwort, the beetle Hylurgops sp., another more striking beetle Nemognatha scutellaris, and brief fly-by encounters with California tortoiseshell.

Western branded skipper, Hesperia colorado ssp. leussleri.
Parish's umbrellawort, Tauschia parishii.
Nemognatha scutellaris.
More in part 2.

No comments:

Post a Comment