Sunday, June 19, 2016

Scouting Mission

Okanagana vanduzeei.
With an hour to spare I dropped by the Awna Road side of Aliso Canyon Wilderness Park, a local site which I have not yet had the chance to browse. I had no real plans as 1 hour was not enough to achieve much, so I spent most of my time around the early parts of the trail.

On arrival I was greeted by the ubiquitous droning of the omnipresent cicada Okanagana vanduzeei, one of our regular chaparral and non-chaparral singers. This particular cicada was actually in sight and just beside the trail, which is unusual although I've seen them close up before. In the native plant garden surrounding the car park I found the unusual tangling stems of sharp-leaved fluvellin, an introduced weed in California.

Sharp-leaved fluvellin, Kickxia elatine.

By a section of the creek I found a tiny, ornate wolf spider skating over shallow water, the aptly named Arctosa littoralis. While photographing this spider a surprise greater roadrunner popped up of the undergrowth nearby. Unfortunately it did not stick around long enough for me to switch my macro lens out for the telephoto. Bugger!

This surprisingly well watered habitat was also home to several damselflies and dragons, few of which with any mind to keep still. They can be very inconsiderate ! Although one dragonfly did keep itself in view long enough to be identified, which was the pale-faced clubskimmer. My attempts at photographing it in flight were quite miserable but I do have something to show for it fortunately.

Asian clams shell populated the shore as well. I'm still undecided whether to count them or not. I'd much rather find them alive. But maybe some of them were...

Arctosa littoralis.
Pale-faced clubskimmer, Brechmorhoga mendax.
I then scoured the willows and mule fat plants nearby, and had a few frustrating escapes of potential new insects, such as an odd hunch-backed fly, which I caught for a few seconds only for it to pry its way out through the tiny crack of my box lid. Unfortunately vegetation had caught itself in-between the box and its lid which created just enough space for it to escape. On reflection I made the wrong choice on jumping on it. I was worried it would take off but it was actually quite settled on the plant. I could have managed a lens switch and a few photos first!

I'll take the fruit fly Tephritis californica on the mule fat as compensation...for now!

Tephritis californica.

My choice of path then took me into one of the most dry grasslands I have ever seen. Before deciding to turn back I found a single plant of sprawling saltbush, which may have been one of the least inspiring and plain-looking weeds in the universe, along with a strange sagebrush-like shrub that I can't identify at this time.

Sprawling saltbush, Atriplex suberecta.
Does anyone know this shrub!?
Back near the creek I stopped by to watch a suspiciously slow-flying wasp. My suspicions were confirmed when it landed; not a wasp, but a moth! This was the strawberry crown moth, a member of the clearwing moth family which constitutes a series of day-flying wasp mimics. Fascinating creatures but so hard to find...Another creek surprise was an unusual butterfly that flickered between dark brown and bright orange. When it landed under the leaves of some shaded plants it finally clicked: fatal metalmark. There are very few butterfly species in the world that will perch upside-down on the leaves of plants. Most of those occur in the tropical Amazon. This is a very uncommon butterfly that I have been hoping to see for a while, so it was welcomed!

Strawberry crown moth, Synanthedon bibionipennis.

Fatal metalmark, Calephelis nemesis, illuminated by camera flash.
From this view it is clear where the name "metalmark" comes from,
thanks to the silvery...well, marks.
And a slightly iffy photograph of the wing spread...ah, it'll do I suppose.
This is one of those photos that I look back on at home and
badly regret my choice of camera settings!

The day was finished up by not one but two additional moths, Phaneta subminima, and the aptly- named olive-shaded bird dropping moth, Ponometia candefacta. For an hour foray in the middle of summer drought that was surprisingly productive! I must revisit this site more in future...

Olive-shaded bird dropping moth, Ponometia candefacta.

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