Sunday, June 26, 2016

Peak and Pine part 2

Selatosomus edwardsii.
Day 2 of the Mammoth Lakes trip with Sea and Sage was kickstarted early, by one of the largest click beetles I had ever seen. This ebon insect, Selatosomus edwardsii, was on the wall of the parking and seemed too drowsy to plan an escape. With bags packed we headed for Minaret Vista, the convening point for the group that morning. At Minaret Vista there was an incredible wealth of plant life, with species such as Jessica's stickseedsilvery lupineKing's sandwortwestern sweet-cicelyred elderberryWyoming paintbrush, barely visible buds of scarlet giliatapertip hawksbeard, and reflexed rockcress all in sight of a few feet. Hazy views of a male mountain bluebird through the morning dusk was appreciated, with the mountain mist only adding to the mystรจre of this impressive species. Photography of this bird through the harsh sun rays was tricky, but the opportunity was not lost!

King's sandwort, Eremogone kingii var. glabrescens.
Mountain bluebird, Sialia currucoides.

We headed off to Satcher Lake in the vicinity of Devil's Postpile, where I had my first real views of the intriguing douglas squirrel, a small species that, although it looked closer to a grey squirrel, was much more similar to a red squirrel in its proportions. Near a damp slough I found one of my wishlist plants, the unusual three-petal bedstraw. I had a personal interest in this plant because unlike hundreds of related species, it chooses to bear three instead of four petals in its inflorescence. Alongside this species I also found few-flowered spikerush, a native grass by the name of meadow barley, and a sad looking white-veined wintergreen. Unfortunately I messed up many of the photos at this site. Because I'm not mature and responsible I'll blame the darkness of 6am instead of myself!

I did get some passable photos of a singing Lincoln's sparrow however, which visited me while I was scoping out the lake shore. This was my first ever experience of this bird on its breeding territory, and it is amazing how different the bird looks and even acts in this environment. Unlike the reclusive, ground-hugging Lincoln's sparrows I encounter during the winter months back home, this sparrow was high in the branches, singing, and not afraid to show itself. Unfortunately It was not kind enough to stick around when I called the group over to see it however, so this experience will have to remain personal.

Three-petal bedstraw, Galium trifidum.
Few-flowered spikerush, Eleocharis quinqueflora.
Lincoln's sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii.
At the Rainbow Falls Trailhead I found a black pine boring beetle by the name of Hylastes sp. under a log in the car park. I shortly found pale monardellaAnderson's thistle, and milk kelloggia on this hike, as well as the flat bug Mezira pacifica and changeable phacelia. On mountain alder I encountered several white cottony formations on stems and leaves, and eventually the adult of the insect causing it, Psylla floccosa. I have encountered several psyllids before, including a few that form white fuzzy growths, but I did not know there was a native species in California with this behaviour. Very interesting.

When the forest shifted to open sagebrush I quickly found Jepson's willow, a low-growing shrub species. Nearby some group members turned up a great carabid beetle under a fallen log, Pterostichus lama, which completely dwarved all previous Pterostichus I have encountered in the past. At Rainbow Falls itself I located pink alumroot, which with its dainty powder-pink blooms was easily spotted on the cliff faces. This was alongside the vivid scarlet of bridge penstemon, not to mention the glorious pink inflorescence of mountain pride. Singles of black swift swooped in overhead, followed by a horde. It was a real pleasure to see these birds loop and glide before us, the real acrobats of the bird world.

A nearby flicker of Townsend's solitaire was an excellent sighting, only my second encounter with this mountain species. Here I was also able to confirm pink everlasting, a species I tentatively saw earlier but not in fully matured growth.

Jepson's willow, Salix jepsonii.
Pterostichus lama.
Mountain pride, Penstemon newberryi.
Black swift, Cypseloides niger.
On the return hike while grumbling about the lack of new butterflies I had a surprise encounter with Pacuvius duskywing, one of the rarer species in this region. This duskywing is virtually identical to the Persius duskywing, but the obvious association with host plant in this instance creates a strong case for Pacuvius, as does the hint of a white wing margin. Back in the forest I had my first encounter with the "Rocky Mountain" subspecies of white-breasted nuthatch, perhaps a future split worthy of species recognition. I also had California sulphur-winged grasshopper fleetingly along with one of my wishlist species, whiskerbrush, an uncommon pink wildflower with prickles of leaves along the stem.

Just before hitting the car I found a second wishlist plant, white hawkweed, which I snapped quickly to avoid the wrath of the trip leader for falling too far behind!

Pacuvius duskywing, Erynnis pacuvius.
"Rocky Mountain" white-breasted nuthatch, Sitta caroliniensis ssp. nelsoni.
Whiskerbrush, Leptosiphon ciliatus.
We then dropped by Devil's Postpile proper for lunch, where during this an American dipper was spotted flying over a stream nearby. With lunch promptly interrupted I dropped down to the stream where the bird flew across before my very eyes. With my camera on and raised, I snapped a reaction shot as it flew by, which is unfortunately blurry. Just as I lowered my camera and turned back the bird flew past again! That's when I made the decision to camp out that spot for the remainder of lunch break. Sadly it never returned. My lunch interruption was surely compensation with nearby sightings of  Sierra shooting starpearly everlastingalpine timothyMount Shasta sedge, and American bistort in nearby damp meadows.

Before leaving I made use of flash to pick up decent photos of Steller's jay, a species that I still have not managed to do justice!

Sierra shooting-star, Primula jeffreyi.
Alpine timothy, Phleum alpinum, alongside probable Mt. Shasta sedge,
Carex straminiformis.
Steller's jay, Cyanocitta stelleri.

On route back to Minaret Vista I noticed mountain jewelflower on the roadside heading up. The entry gate to this section of the park was home to a Vashti sphinx, which I snapped through the car window. This is only my third hawk moth species in California.

Window shot of Vashti sphinx, Sphinx vashti!

Back at Minaret Vista I rephotographed a few plants with the full midday sun, including one new tree for the trip, mountain hemlock. A large hoverfly, Blera scitula, was a welcome find on Calyptridium flowers. At this site I also had life views of two-banded checkered skipper, a small black and white butterfly that buzzed around with a most delicate flight style. Unfortunately at every instance I spotted one a sudden, violent gust of wind would rush through and blow them out of sight. This happened multiple times, as if on cue!

probable Jessica's stickseed, Hackelia micrantha.
The unusually low-growing red elderberry, Sambuca racemosa ssp. racemosa.
Western sweet-cicely, Osmorhiza occidentalis.
Blera scitula.
Record shot of two-banded checkered skipper, Pyrgus ruralis!
We then headed by Tom's Place, where the pinyon jay from 2 days earlier showed again, and quite well nonetheless. Heading up Rock Creek to Mosquito Flat we had a few friends in the car, such as an Eremocoris sp., and a stunning red-bellied clerid beetle. I failed to capture or photograph a small black ladybird with an apparently fuzzy grey pronotum and head, which I swear must have been the native western velvethead. That's going to be nearly impossible to find again!

Red-bellied clerid, Enoclerus sphegeus. Usually the red colouration
is only visible from underneath the beetle, hence the name.

Mosquito Flat itself soon showed the meaning of its name, with everyone's arms covered in mosquitos in the blistering heat of the midday sun, and at 10,200ft elevation nonetheless! I quickly found slender cinquefoil and Drummond's rockcress in the parking lot, along with an unusual cranefly with vestigial wings which I'm dying to identify beyond Tipula sp.! A fly-by of lustrous copper was a sight to behold, eventually settling on a native cinquefoil for close-up photos.

Tipula sp.
Lustrous copper, Lycaena cupreus.

Besides this, welcome species were tea-leaved willowVirginia strawberrymaiden blue-eyed Mary, and a few other mystery plants pending ID. This area has a lot of potential and one day I hope to revisit it,

A final check up at some sites along Rock Creek added curl-leaf mountain mahogany and Sierra juniper, pushing the day's ticks to 59, and raising the trip total to an incredible 156 new species! Although I had high hopes for trip I never expected that I would cross triple digits in only a few days!

Many, many thanks for Vic Leipzig and Steve Sosensky for the ride to Mammoth and the shared accommodation! One of my most memorable experiences in several years.

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