Monday, May 23, 2016

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment