Sunday, September 25, 2016

California Tour pt. 2

The plan for today was to head towards the San Gabriel Mountains and meet up with a good contact of mine, Cedric Lee. Jason wanted native molluscs, and who better to involve the county's best malacologist!? Fortunately our detour to Thousand Palms was not too taxing, and we were not as behind schedule as we thought. There was still some time to spare, so we unfurled the map and scoured the terrain for suitable terrain -- suitable that is for life at what may be the most barren season in California. Fortunately desert species had a weakness, and that was water. Find areas that collect moisture, and you are good to go!

Our choice was the Coachella Valley Preserve, a bounty amidst the dry, barren stone of the desert. The waves of California fan palms were visible from a distance, and we had high hopes. Upon arriving I picked up an unusual katydid, Insara elegans ssp. consuetipes, surprisingly well camouflaged in the desert mesquite. Below it, a desert ironclad beetle, an unusual darkling-like critter that would rather play dead than release badly smelling chemicals. With a short note by the staff about the reserve we headed off through the arrowweed and fan palm and kept our eyes peeled for anything that moved. Or didn't, in the case of plants.

California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera.
Insara elegans ssp. consuetipes, neither grasshopper nor cricket, but katydid.
Desert ironclad beetle, Asbolus verrucosus.
The aptly named smoketree was of note in the dry wash areas, followed by Paiute dancer, the first damselfly of the trip. For me that was a much-needed break from my Argia resume, until now consisting solely of many hundreds of vivid dancers and naught else!

With time constraints gnawing at us, we picked up the pace. Canada spikesedge, Emory's indigo bush, sandpaper plant, alkali goldenbush were just a selection of interesting plants still showing at the reserve. With the sun beaming down the monotonous buzzing of citrus cicada quickly filled our eyes and in time others serenaded too, and indeed it became quite omnipresent. With some significant persistence I finally managed to get looks at one of these critters through the tangling spines and leaves of screwbean mesquite. Despite being large in size, these insects are quite difficult to observe.

The easily overlooked Canada spikesedge, Eleocharis geniculata.
Smoketree, Psorothamnus spinosus, forms a large wispy tree.
Meanwhile the very closely related Emory's indigo bush, Psorothamnus emoryi, is a small
herbaceous shrub that barely raises off the ground!
Citrus cicada, Diceroprocta apache.
Views of a confiding zebra-tailed lizard were certainly one of the highlights of the expedition, but sadly it was time to hit the road. On the way to Thousand Palms a roadrunner dashed out in front of the car, and gave some very commendable views on the fence of the Palm Tree Nursery. This uncommon and irregular bird is always a great sight, but especially fantastic for Jason! 

Greater roadrunner.
It was a further two hours to meeting point at Marshall Canyon Regional Park, where we met Cedric, and apologized for our delay. Before checking other areas of the San Gabriel foothills we turned over debris in a nearby creek bed. This paid off with several gastropods, as well as the large rove beetle Quedius explanatus (not the introduced Ocypus olens, as was suspected). One particular slug matches well with the marsh slug, Deroceras laeve, thanks to the habitat, absence of all markings, and clear breathing pore.

Rove beetle, Quedius explanatus.
Marsh slug, Deroceras laeve.
Our next point of interest was Big Dalton Canyon, which had a series of interesting riparian and open forest habitats. Invertebrate life was quite widespread here, with the fly Minettia flaveolens, Thereva sp., mulberry whitefly, western box elder bug, and, unfortunately, the polyphagous shot hole borer. A seeding Johnston's bedstraw was the first of its kind that I had observed period. Shells of the rare native snail Helminthoglypta petricola were a great sign, but sadly no living individuals could be located.

On a coast live oak near the car I noted a series of unusual white..."things". Fortunate that these caught my eye, as they were actually a strange scale insect named Quernaspis quercus! Coast live oaks are common in this region, but never before have I seen these scale insects. Only one other photo existed before I found these ones! On nearby leaves, the jumping spider Colonus hesperus, and the stem gall Callirhytis quercussuttoni just added to the bounty of this foothill adventure.

Mulberry whitefly, Tetraleurodes mori, on Frangula californica.
Western box elder bug, Boisea rubrolineata.
Scale insects, Quernaspis quercus, on coast live oak.
A jumping spider with no English name, Colonus hesperus.

Polyphagous shot hole borer, Euwallacea n-sp, a rather destructive pest.

At Santa Anita Canyon the restrooms paid off again, with this exemplary Dichorda illustraria! After regrouping here we headed down the trail. With all 3 of us continually spotting interesting lifeforms, progress was much slower than it should have been! Tree spurge was a common introduced weed along the trailside, and a male of the white-banded crab spider was something I was waiting for find for quite some time. This gave me a long time to puzzle over its name, as there is nothing white-banded about any of the male or female forms. Turns out it is because of the white stripe over the eyes!

Dichorda illustraria.
White-banded crab spider, Misumenoides formosipes.
The rather abundant and varied vegetation along the trail was home to an Arizona mantis, which kindly let us all pester it with the camera. A moth, Eusarca venosaria, was something I noticed in one of the shady areas of the forest. This moth resembles the eastern E. confusaria, but is, well, western in distribution.

Arizona mantis, Stagmomantis limbata. Note the blue margin to the labrum, which is diagnostic of
this particular species.
Eusarca venosaria. This is the first time it has been photographed in the wild,
but I doubt it is really that rare.
Before night fell we made a final trek into some of the more remote canyons. Several areas still held water, which before long produced a wide variety of interesting creatures, ranging from California newt to California treefrog. Finding the giant water bug Abedus indentatus was a particular highlight for me personally, as this was my first ever encounter with this family of true bugs!

Abedus indentatus.
California newt, Taricha torosa.
Moments before turning back we lucked out with fallen wood on a particular damp slope, which on turning over revealed a congregation of San Gabriel chestnut, an impressive native snail! This was one of my bucket list species, so it was a great relief to find them. Before returning them Cedric spotted another micro snail in the mix, the even rarer slotted lancetooth! What more could we ask for? These snails were not the epitome of living, but in a state called aestivation. This is when they seal up the entrance to the shell, with the intention of retaining moisture, so they can survive drier periods of the year. Such a great find for everyone present,

San Gabriel chestnut, Glyptostoma gabrielnse.
Slotted lancetooth, Haplotrema caelatum.
With high spirits we all returned to car and bid farewell. Our goal was to find native gastropods, and that we did. Thanks Cedric!

Back in familiar territory I wished Jason good luck on the rest of his forays on the west coast, and settled in for the night. I could not thank Jason enough for his time, nor Cedric, for some very memorable autumn adventures!

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