Friday, June 3, 2016

Lake Forest Wanderings

Western spotless ladybeetle, Cycloneda polita.
As part of exploring my new local area, I recently traced some of the creek systems in search of some interesting trails. From this I found an extension of the Borrego Trail that, instead of being a bit boring and urban, leads up into the hills and wilderness. Sounds intriguing, no?

The first find of the day was a Baccharis shrub which I determined was likely willow baccharis. This green shrub had long, narrow leaves, like those of willow trees (i.e. "salicina"!). I soon came across another Baccharis, this time with broad, prickly leaves. This second bush was the more common relative, coyote brush, a familiar plant where I lived in the Santa Monicas. But when the third bush came around I quickly lost my smugness. This third bush had long leaves like the first bush, but rather than being smooth and narrow they were prickly and a bit wider, so effectively intermediate. But Baccharis are not variable plants, so what was going on?


Following research back at home, I learned a few things. Firstly, willow baccharis doesn't have long narrow leaves like willows at all. It in fact has long prickly leaves, similar to coyote bush but longer and narrower. So the first bush with long narrow leaves was not willow baccharis. Secondly, I learned that none of our Baccharis species have long narrow leaves. From that I understood that I must have been hallucinating, and this first bush with long narrow leaves didn't actually exist. Thirdly, I learned that the second bush that I thought was coyote bush actually had leaves that were too long for that species, but not narrow enough for willow baccharis. Finally, the third bush, while that was very close to how willow baccharis should have been, still wasn't right for that species. So the results are as follows: bush 1 does not exist, bush 2 is not coyote bush or willow baccharis, and bush 3 is a mystery.


But then, while considering hybrid possibilities, I came across the answer. Baccharis 'Centennial' is a garden bred shrub planted in some communities of drier California. This plant is a hybrid of coyote brush, the plant with broad prickly leaves, and a third Baccharis species called desert broom, which has very narrow leaves. That was the answer I was looking for! So all of these shrubs were in fact all the same "species", a garden cultivar by the name of Baccharis 'Centennial'. You may recall me saying that Baccharis are not variable. So how are there are there so many different leaf shapes in just one plant? The answer: 'Centennial' is a hybrid. When two plants hybridize the offspring receive a random selection of traits from each parent. So while some leaves are closer to coyote bush, other offspring have leaves closer to desert broom, and some are perfectly in the middle.

Unfortunately hybrids don't count on a pan species list because, well, they aren't species. It would be cool if you could count a hybrid as each parent species at once, but that would be cheating unfortunately. Nonetheless, identification mysteries like this are always fun to work through. I did find Algerian sea lavender, though. This is an undesirable plant because it takes over wetlands. No wetlands here, but it was taking over nonetheless. I saw the semblance of sea lavender but I didn't know any of them could grow in such dry habitat.

Algerian sea lavender, Limonium ramossimum.
Continuing from the trailhead proper I quickly found interesting habitat as well as a few plants I had not seen for a while, such as yerba mansa, a single of bigleaf maple, and Goodding's black willow (I spell it wrong every time!). On a red willow I found the first interesting insect of the day, although I was only able to get one photo of it. Don't you love how something stays in place for a really long time, but immediately flies off when you have the camera ready? That was this psyllid bug, Bactericera californica. I manipulated the branch for a few minutes trying to get him close enough. Then he flew when I took the first photo. Against a horribly dark background. How inconsiderate of him. Ah well.

Bactericera californica; the first ever photograph of this species.
At one shady glade along the trail I encountered the large ornamental shrub called Pride of Madeira. I'm guessing, without looking it up, that it is native to Madeira. Usually this species is planted directly by human hand, and thus not countable, but this one seemed out of place. It was also growing within a dense patch of poison oak, and this species does apparently spread as a weed. So it will count, for now. Later I encountered another strand of telegraphweed. Despite finding a number of ladybirds this time, I could not see anything spectacular. Darn, I was hoping for Exochomus. I did get some nice images of the 20-spotted ladybird, however, showing the interesting bicoloured marking pattern of this species in California. 

I also shook around the upper stems at one point, which produced a tomato bug.

20-spotted ladybeetle, Psyllobora 20-maculata.
Tomato bug, Engytatus modestus.
Just as I was about to get back to hiking I encountered the jumping spider Habronattus oregonensis on one of the wider sections of the glade. This drab spider was waving its front legs around, so this was clearly one of the ant mimic species which try and simulate the motion of ant antennae. He had quite a way to go before he could cross this glade but he seemed in no hurry.

Habronattus oregonensis.
The forest became denser and shadier after a particularly pleasant little creek that crossed the path. In this new oak-dominated habitat I encountered lots of poison oak and native blackberry, some of which were infected by a vivid orange rust. There are two orange rusts like this growing on blackberry, Gymnoconia nitens and Arthuriomyces peckianus, which seem to be identical without microscope work. I can only find quantities of records for Gymnoconia nitens in western North America, though, so I'm calling it that (I'm not cheating, I swear!). It left orange stains on my fingers, as do doritos, cheetos, and wotsits...

probable Gymnoconia nitens on trailing blackberry, Rubus ursinus.
There were some other weird things along a ditch here, such as a plant by the name taro, and white ginger although the latter was not flowering.

Taro, Colocasia esculenta.
When the forest finally gave way to bright sunlight the flora changed significantly. I started hearing a familiar rattling that I once thought came from grasshopper sparrows. It is a frustrating sound to chase because it often only given once every ten minutes or so, and each time the source of the sound is somewhere completely different! Luckily though this time the singer kept still for three bouts, and I was able to record the end of the second bout as well as the entire third. I gathered this was a cicada rather than a grasshopper, and forwarded it to Jeffrey Cole who thinks it is Cacama crepitans, one of our largest cicadas. Interesting bug, hopefully I can get some looks at one some day.

At the turnback point I encountered what was likely a new species of Guiterrezia, a genus of yellow flowering shrubs. Unfortunately they are almost impossible to identify...

A plant that I've somehow managed to avoid completely until now was a white daisy relative called black-jack.

Black-jack, Bidens pilosa.

The absolute highlight though was while I was looking over telegraphweed, again seeking interesting ladybirds. On the first plant I checked a small red and black ladybird-looking dot was climbing a leaf in plain sight...and then it flew away! Bugger!

Luckily though I was able to pursue it in flight until it landed on some dried grass, where I was able to catch it. And wow, what a sight it was. At first I saw only two red markings, however I soon noticed there were 2 additional markings, albeit small and hidden except when the beetle was angled correctly. It was incredibly active and I quickly boxed it, terrified it would escape. The chances of finding another would be very slim indeed. The below image was taken at home in the photo studio (which isn't just my bathroom, I swear!).


It was quite clear this fellow was another sigil ladybird in the genus Hyperaspis, which is incredible considering I was only just celebrating how lucky I was to see even one species in this genus a few days ago. This one was a bit larger than the presence, at 3.1 mm in length. Her pattern though was rather unusual. There was only one species in CA that is illustrated with 4 markings, which is the presumed extinct H. mckenziei. However my ladybird is not only in the wrong region, but it was not concave in shape. Rather its shape looked like a ball of play-doh that was dropped from over shoulder height. After some serious beard-tugging I looked up and then confirmed that this was the jovial sigilH. jovialis. Certainly I was jovial at finding it, anyway.

So, some background on that ID, also known as "the nerd paragraph". Robert Gordon in his 1985 revision describes H. jovialis by the following: "color pattern on elytron variable from black with 2 orange spots to mostly orange with enclosed black spot". For those unaware of annoying insect terminology, the elytron is just one wing. So on a living beetle, "black with 2 orange spots on the elytron" is 4 spots overall. That is because beetles have 2 elytron in total. Although my ladybird does not match the only illustrations of this species in history, my ladybird does fit perfectly in the middle. Because Dr. Gordon says variable from one scale to the other, I'm perfectly content that this is within the variation of the species. Besides, there is nothing else it could be....

Like my previous find, this species has never been photographed before now. An incredible ladybird nonetheless! She was in open disturbed habitat and not to mention on the same species of plant as my other one! I'm thinking there is a theme here.

On another note here is the green-spored parasol. It was trying quite hard to make a fairy ring but the pavement impeded its progress.

Green-spored parasol, Chlorophyllum molybdites.

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