February 10, 2024

Dexter Park, February 7, 2024

It seems the new year is moving so rapidly I can't believe we're almost mid-way through February. Last week we had epic rains here in Southern California (and much of the state as well). While this much rain may not be cause for concern in many other parts of the country, here we suffer from floods and mudslides when we get a lot of rain all at once. So it really does impact the terrain as well as people.

Once the rain subsided, I decided to head over to a place called Dexter Park. This is a small park in an area called Kagel Canyon. It's a public park which I usually avoid, but they have left a lot of native habitat there, including a fairly extensive oak grove so it's not the manicured area one associates with public parks. I ran into this park by accident about 5-6 months ago when I had planned to go to another area and the trail was blocked off for some reason or another. Scrambling to figure out what else was in the area, I found this place on the map and thought I'd check it out.

The oak grove really made it appealing (though as with all public parks, there is a maintenance person who seems to also use a leaf blower (ugh!), and that, in turn, is a big negative on the natural environment. Nonetheless, there are areas of the park that remain untouched by maintenance.

One of the reasons I went to this place after the heavy rains was that I was hoping to find some snails and slugs--animals that here in our dry environment (and getting drier all the time) are all struggling to find suitable habitat in which to thrive. Unfortunately, I didn't find a single one, not even non-native gastropods, of which there are many in the area.

However, I ended up finding a lot of fungi and insects. Insects at this time of year are definitely more difficult to find and many are not out yet. But as we know, there are many just hiding out trying to stay warm and dry during inclement weather. Surprisingly, I hit pay dirt when I started looking closer at things.

The park had many sandbags up along a 3 foot block wall that borders a hillside above which has a large oak grove. The sandbags were white and seemed to be made of some sort of straw like material. As I was walking along the block wall I noticed a couple of ants on the sandbags. Then I started seeing more stuff and I ended up finding a lot of interesting insects that were a bit easier to photograph against the white background, although most were very small and running.

What was great about finding these insects was that many of them were totally new to me. At this point, I'm out so much that it's getting more difficult to find new animals. So a trip that started off disappointingly with a lack of snails and slugs turned into a trip where I found some really cool insects.

I think my favorite find was a mite that was running around carrying prey! I've definitely never seen that before: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/198706081.

In addition, I found several of these beetles: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/198706083 and two gall wasps that are quite interesting: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/198706060 and https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/198706090. Yet another cool find was this fly. While I didn't get enough angles on it for definitive ID, it looks pretty cool: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/198706084.

Finally, I found this cool spider on a metal hand railing: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/198706096.

Bottom line, I'm finding that in spite of cooler, wetter weather (and I am fortunate to be living in a very temperate climate) really interesting things can be found in places you might not normally consider--sandbags, walls, railings, and of course, leaf litter--always good but maybe better at this time of year. I hope this is inspiration to all of you who are interested in smaller creatures and wondering where to find them.

Posted on February 10, 2024 06:02 PM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 31, 2023

December 31, 2023 Year in Review

2023 was a very interesting one from a nature standpoint. Here in California we had a record rainfall which was a welcome relief following four years of an unrelenting drought. And it couldn't have come at a better time. We desperately needed rain. And wildlife needed a lifeline.

However, as we know, nature does bounce back when given the chance. Yet, the rain seemed to have an interesting affect on wildlife. Or at least I'm attributing it to the rain. It seems as if our native bees did not really start coming out until almost June. During the drought and accompanying hot winter weather, I was seeing bees in good numbers as early as February. In addition to the late start for bees, I noticed fewer species overall in the Los Angeles area. One striking change was that in the two years prior, I saw hundreds of Small Arizona Carpenter bees. This year I saw only a handful. Granted I can't be at every location all the time so it's quite possible I missed some large populations somewhere. But I don't see a whole lot of observations of these for 2023. I also saw many fewer wasp species and numbers than in prior years though they may still be out there.

On the plus side, the rain seemed to have a positive impact on butterflies. Lots of flowers meant lots of vegetation and butterflies seemed to be thriving in many areas. Particularly notable were very large numbers of cabbage whites (an introduced species) and more than usual numbers of orange sulphurs. And most of these butterflies were flying well into November.

We also had a "hurricane" in the middle of summer in August. Though not as catastrophic as predicted (and nothing like the hurricanes we see in the southeast US), it did bring a great amount of rain during a time of year when we usually don't see any at all. Some areas of the desert were severely impacted. For instance Death Valley received more rain in that one storm than is normal for an entire year. Roads were washed out and there was damage further west in the Coachella Valley area that impacted some people.

The result of that August rainstorm meant that flowers started blooming again in fall. We have many fall bloomers here in California, but some of the flowers blooming this autumn were those normally only seen in spring/summer. I'm sure it's confusing for insects and birds. And despite all those flowers, there were definitely fewer pollinators as I'm sure they thought they were done for the year.

On a personal note, I definitely did not find as many new species as in prior years. And, of course, to get new species you have to travel to new environments, not much of which I did in the last year. However, although that is a personal goal, I still am motivated to make observations in the hope that the information I post will help us know what animals are out there and how they're doing. There are not a whole lot of people who have the time and motivation to do what I do, so I'm hoping that all my overwhelming posts of wildlife help in some small way to find out what is happening in the Los Angeles basin.

Although I didn't travel much this year, I tried to focus on some areas that are close by to help and fill in the gaps. I made a lot of trips to the Antelope Valley and it paid off with some observations of native bees that have very few if any iNat records. These include: Trachusa larraea--a bee associated with creosote bushes and for which my records were the first for Los Angeles County, though found later by some other intrepid observers; Perdita polycarpae, a fairy bee I found in Joshua Tree which was initially a first iNaturalist record but was followed closely by two observations by Carol Blaney; Perdita desdemona, a heteroperdita which according to bee expert Zach Portman, was a species only known from three specimens; Perdita coldeniae, another heteroperdita, that was identified from probably one of my worst photos ever (but obviously distinctive), another iNaturalist first. It was truly gratifying to find these bees and a personal challenge to try and photograph the two heteroperdita species as it took a couple of trips sitting in the blowing sand of the desert to try and get reasonably sharp photos of these 3 mm size bees that never seemed to stop moving. I'm hoping to go back and get better photos this year if they are still around.

Other highlights of the year include getting some great photographs of a mating pair of Blunt Nosed Leopard lizards, critically endangered but charismatic lizards that I absolutely love. I haven't posted those specific photos to inaturalist but one can be seen on my Flickr site and I have other photos on iNat of single individuals. It was cool sitting in the sand in 90 F degree heat watching these two lizards interact with no human being around for miles and miles.

Another gratifying find, though not new at all to me, was finally seeing some San Joaquin kit foxes in the wild after not seeing any for three years. Severely impacted by the drought, it was good to see a few of these adorable small foxes make a comeback.

Closer to home, I focused on filling out the species list for the Sepulveda Basin, a local wildlife area. I've added many new insect species to iNat for the Basin, thanks in part to the California Native Plant Society planting a whole slew of native plants in the wildlife lake area. It's paid off and I'm finding the whole site very rich in wildlife. Unfortunately, the area gets very abused by people so it probably does suffer some negative impacts from that abuse. I truly wish the site was monitored and protected.

Another area I tried to concentrate more on this year was plants. Though I love plants, I haven't really focused on them. I tend to walk right by things without closely looking, taking them for granted. This year, I really tried to look around me and it paid off as I found many more plants this year, started improving my photography of plants for ID, and had the luck of having the rainy year produce several new plants that I hadn't seen before in Los Angeles County.

Finally, the rain was great for fungi. I find fungi fascinating but definitely do not have the skills or expertise to really identify most, and obviously many cannot be identified from photos alone. But it's cool to walk through a wooded area and discover all kinds of interesting shapes and colors. One of my favorite finds this year was just this month where I found an orange peel fungus...super colorful and so pristine when I found it.

Overall, it was a gratifying year. I continue to find interesting and little observed insects, as I really try and focus (literally and figuratively) on things that most people overlook. I also was surprised to find a couple of new (to me) reptile species as well as some new birds (thanks to the reports on eBird). So, while my numbers are down, the types of observations I made this last year have provided me with much joy and hopefully a minor contribution to science.

Links to a few of the species mentioned in this post are below:

Trachusa larreae: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/160832021
Perdita polycarpae: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/184952237
Perdita desdemona: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/168236852
Perdita coldeniae: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/168236870
Orange sulphur on out of season blooming flower: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/194312200
Blunt nosed leopard lizard: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/162428103 (better photos on Flickr)
San Joaquin kit fox: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/162053553
Solva pallipes: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/177604573 (1st LA County record from Sepulveda Basin)
Purplespot gilia: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/155055386 (new plant for me)
Cassin's vireo: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/192985593 (new bird for me)
Orange peel fungus: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/194476122

Posted on December 31, 2023 07:22 PM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 3 comments | Leave a comment

November 07, 2023

Death Valley October 24-27, 2023

Death Valley has been in the news a lot due to the amount of water that accumulated in the park from tropical storm Hilary in August. The park was closed for almost two months due to extensive damage to roads. It just reopened on October 15 and having heard about the lake in Badwater Basin, I wanted to see for myself.

In addition to being an avid nature photographer who looks for and enjoys seeing wildlife of all kinds, I also do landscape photography so that was one of my primary reasons for the visit. But you can't do landscape photography all day...in fact you pretty much have to do it early morning and late afternoon if you want the best light. That leaves the entire day to explore.

Death Valley is such a vast place, it's really hard to see much of it in a short trip. That being said, the famous places/highlights so-to-speak are pretty much close to one another and can be seen even in a day. But every time I visit I feel like I really did not do near as much as I would like. Since so much of the park was still closed/inaccessible due to road damage, I limited myself to a few areas in the park.

Thanks to that rainstorm, it turned out to be a great time to visit. The weather was nice--not too hot but warm enough for some wildlife to be out and great for hiking though I did very little of that. The story for Death Valley this time around was the water--yes there was still a considerable amount in Badwater Basin (the lowest point in North America) and there were actually flowers blooming in late October thanks to that rain. In addition, the rain must have triggered a massive hatching of grasshoppers as I saw them everywhere I went and they were plentiful. Almost all of them were the common pallid winged grasshopper. I actually felt sorry for some of them that hatched in areas where there was little vegetation to eat. I stopped in an area called Desolation Canyon and when I returned to my car, there were two grasshoppers on my windshield feeding on the roadkill insects remains there!

Another thing I have sort of neglected in the past has been the birdlife at Death Valley. There are definitely plenty of birds there and if you remember that Death Valley is more than a desert but also a huge area spanning many kinds of terrain including very tall mountains, it definitely supports abundant bird life. However, like most people, I spend a lot of time on the valley floor and thus haven't really focused on birds.

This time, though, I decided to check out bird life in that area and there is surprisingly a fair amount. The Furnace Creek area which is the hub of human life in Death Valley has a golf course with ponds as well as ponds at the high end Death Valley Inn. This was my first time visiting both these areas and I came away with some interesting observations. For instance, a double crested cormorant was swimming in the golf course pond--it took off shortly before I arrived. A white-throated sparrow was visiting the Death Valley Inn and I also saw several vermilion flycatchers, a lot of coots and even some ruddy ducks.

I find it interesting that most of the time, humans are the cause of habitat loss and responsible for the decline of wildlife but in Death Valley, humans are actually benefiting wildlife in one of the most inhospitable places there is. If it weren't for those ponds and non-native trees (of which there are many, many planted) these birds and associated wildlife wouldn't have as many places to stop as they migrate over the vast Mojave. So in spite of my preferring to see wildlife in truly natural areas, it's nice to see that we can help at times.

While it was nice to check out the birds, any trip to the desert isn't complete without seeing some reptiles. Although it was definitely not the right time of year to see snakes, I had a couple of unexpected reptile sightings. One was seeing a number of Mediterranean geckos that were hanging out on the walls of the Furnace Creek Ranch. They are non-native and not sure how they got to be so widespread but one evening I counted at least 10 and I wasn't out that long. They are cute though. The other interesting sighting I had was at the Death Valley Inn. As I walked the grounds, I saw a lizard on a palm tree trunk and thought, that doesn't look like a California species...it took me a while to place it as I was not expecting it. But sure enough it was an ornate tree lizard and when I looked on line I see that they have been recorded at that location for the last couple of years. Did someone bring them in? I would have to guess so, whether on purpose or by accident.

Finally, any trip isn't complete without seeing some cool plants and insects. While I didn't find anything really unusual, I did see my first Pagoda buckwheat, a species that just got on my radar recently. And that plant was actually in the Panamint area on my way out of the park. Also fairly abundant at higher elevations were many apricot mallow plants, which are always beautiful. There were definitely insects around, though nothing like you would see in the spring. And thanks to visiting in October, I was fortunate enough to see a desert tarantula, making its way across the road. They are such cool animals that I'm always happy when I see one.

Now that I've visited in October, I definitely would consider making a return trip there this time of year. Each place you go has different wildlife at different times of year so it is always worth visiting areas multiple times to get a feel for what that environment holds.

Posted on November 07, 2023 01:40 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 12 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 03, 2023

August 2, 2023 Mount Wilson

With our endless summer heat, it's always nice to find a cooler spot to explore. Here in the Los Angeles area, we have the advantage of being within a 1 hour drive or so of the mountains, the desert or the beach. I decided to go to the closest mountain area with less people/traffic and went up to Mount Wilson where the Mount Wilson Observatory is based. There are a number of strenuous hiking trails in the general area but at my age, it's easier to just stroll/hike the area around the observatory. (I say "stroll" because as an iNaturalist user I'm constantly stopping to look at stuff. Only when I realize I'm out of time or with friends do I get into a hiking mode.)Anyway, Mount Wilson offers great mountain habitat, generous shade and not too many people on a weekday.

Mount Wilson is at 5700 feet or so, so it does not have wildly different species than the general Los Angeles area with the exception of the pine/conifer forest. There are many of the same plants we see in the "basin" as we call the Los Angeles area; however there are a few plants that are found in montane habitats that we don't see in Los Angeles. In addition, while some of the flowering plants are past peak in the LA area, some of the flowering plants are peaking in the mountains.

I also noticed that Mount Wilson, as an area, is not overly explored from an iNaturalist perspective. One of my goals is to always find under-observed areas and fill in the blanks, so to speak. And you don't always have to go far to do so. As an example, Franklin Canyon, right in the heart of Los Angeles was way under-explored from an iNaturalist perspective. Over the course of 18 months I think I added at least 120 species or more. Thus, it was fun to explore the area around Mount Wilson and see what is up there. I didn't have a lot of time so I'm planning to return in the near future when I have more time to devote.

First, I arrived before the gate was open at 10 AM. So I parked at a pullout and looked in the immediate area for things to photograph. There were three California buckwheat plants right near the road that were absolutely teeming with insects. To be honest, maybe 10 years ago, I used to see this much activity on buckwheat flowers here in the Los Angeles area. However, with a few exceptions, most of the buckwheat plants I see now are not heavily populated with insects aside from non-native honeybees. I wonder if the rampant use of pesticides and herbicides is impacting this as I always counted on buckwheat flowers as a good source to find pollinators. The past few years have been very disappointing in this area. The one area where I still see pollinators on buckwheat flowers is the desert.

I'm happy to report that the buckwheat up at Mount Wilson is thriving. And I only spent about 20 minutes in this area so there may have been many more species than I encountered. Among the pollinators were a painted lady, marine blue butterflies, a couple of species of wasps, digger bees, yellow-faced bumblebees and one of my favorites, California Digger-cuckoo bees (more than I've ever seen in one area). Once the gate opened I found many more bees, mostly on the woollypod milkweed plants, most of which had already peaked, but a couple of which were looking good. In addition to those bees mentioned above, I saw a western carpenter, more digger bees, more California cuckoo-digger bees, and the endangered Crotch's bumblebee. Crotch's have been having a great year here and if I think back to when they last had a good year, it was about 3-4 years ago when we had another good rain year. I believe they seem to thrive when we get good rains and then suffer when we're in drought.

In addition to all the great bees I found (and I've only mentioned a few of the species). I also saw a juvenile Stellar's jay, a juvenile western bluebird and my favorite, three juvie Western gray squirrels. The latter have mostly been extirpated from the Santa Monica Mountains (there are a few holdout populations) but thanks to the non-native fox squirrels, they are not seen that often unless you visit the mountainous areas. So it was fun to see the playful activities of a couple of siblings chasing each other through the forest.

In the reptile category, I didn't see any snakes, but I finally saw and photographed a southern sagebrush lizard. These guys seem very difficult (to me) to distinguish from the super common western fence lizard but my strategy worked out. I photographed every lizard I saw that resembled a western fence lizard and I did find a few sagebrush lizards. I think I'm beginning to see the subtle differences.

Finally, it's always nice to see plants in an area that haven't been reported yet, even if some of them are relatively common. I found a diffuse groundsmoke, a splendid woodland gilia and a San Gabriel beardtongue (a plant I wasn't even familiar with), none of which have been reported in the area. It always pays to look carefully for plants as I almost overlooked the gilia. It was in a small area where two paths diverged and in an area that you could easily overlook as it was full of wood chips and heavily shaded.

In summary, I probably added at least ten species to the Mount Wilson list and I can bet there are hundreds more that haven't been reported still waiting for an iNaturalist enthusiast to find.

Posted on August 03, 2023 09:05 PM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 5 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

May 03, 2023

April 11-13, 2023 Carrizo Plain

What a dramatic difference a year makes. The rainstorms we got this winter and spring have transformed a dry barren expanse of land, the Carrizo Plain, into one with the brilliant colors of springtime blooms. Looking at Google earth where photos were taken a few months ago, it's hard to believe it's the same place.

I've been wanting to visit now for over a month but our cool rainy weather kept me away. My visit in April was short but jam packed as there was just so much to see. I realize how different the pace of my visits have been when I compare the drought years to this year. In the past three years, I at times, struggled to find anything alive plant-wise. However, it was much easier to find small animals as there was so little vegetation to hide under. Thus, even with really challenged environmental conditions, I was able to capture photos of some animals.

In this year's visit I found myself surrounded by so many stunning landscapes that I spent a lot more time working on trying to take amazing landscape photos to capture the colors and beauty. While this absorbed much of my time, I still tried to look for animals but the vegetation was so dense and tall I only saw two antelope squirrels when I was there and both of them were running across the road. Even birds seemed scarcer with the exception of horned larks. I saw very few red-tailed hawks and wonder if they can even see anything to catch with so much ground cover. I saw no elk or pronghorn although they should be easier to see above the flowers. I also didn't have time to get to the areas where they can sometimes be found since I was so absorbed in taking landscape photos.

I stopped by the visitor center and talked to the biologist, Russ about what was going on at Carrizo. He told me that they have been averaging 400-500 visitors a day during the week and over a thousand each day on the weekends. The flowers are definitely a draw and I can attest to that---so many people taking selfies and posing in flower fields for their instagram accounts. I understand the appeal but it kind of takes away from the back to nature experience I enjoy at Carrizo.

Anyway, Russ told me that they are actually going to bring in some cattle to graze in some areas of Carrizo to get the vegetation less thick as it is hampering the movement of the endangered kangaroo rats. They are normally fast animals but they can't move very well through the labyrinth of plants that are everywhere, which potentially makes them more likely to be preyed upon. In addition, the blunt nosed leopard lizards, also endangered, need to warm up during the day and with all the vegetation they are forced on to the road where they can be run over by vehicles.

At the same time, the cattle need to be kept away from the endangered plants at Carrizo so it is a tough management problem to try and keep everything in balance. These issues also highlight how the loss of grasslands in the state have impacted Carrizo. With this being the only sizable grassland remaining in California, many of the plants and animals are endangered as they have been extirpated from many of their traditional areas...in other words, Carrizo is their last refuge. With our drying climate, it has been even more challenging and while it is great to see the rebirth this year, we know that the drought will return. We just have to be grateful for these intermittent wet years that bring new life to the land.

Another interesting thing about this year, is that the variety of plant life seems to have expanded. Or at least my notice of it has. I saw many new plants I hadn't seen before. And I didn't even make it to many areas I wanted to visit. One of the plants I saw more of than I've ever seen is Byron's larkspur, a "vulnerable" plant and an interesting one at that. I also saw a two-seed milkvetch, a plant completely new to me and it seemed to be in several places.

While the weather was on the cool side while I was there I did have one moment of excitement when I saw a coachwhip slither by at top speed. I was so disappointed that I didn't get a photo of it. And I was really encouraged when I caught a quick glimpse of a San Joaquin kit fox, the first time I've seen one since 2020. Last year I was so concerned that I hadn't seen any for two years that I worried about their survival. They have so many challenges that it was good to see one alive and looking healthy.

Some of my other interesting finds were a Howell's onion, some green fairy or brine shrimp which were very abundant in Soda Lake, and a purplespot gilia. Most surprising was finding a western tiger beetle in Carrizo. Whenever I've seen tiger beetles in the past they have always been near water however this one was not near water so I'm not sure whether that is significant or not. My photo was awful since it was running so fast but since it's the first listing for Carrizo, it is really cool. And finally, I once again found a Cauchus moth. As documented in the notes below this observation, this is a species that is currently being described in a paper. Hopefully it will eventually achieve species status.

There is so much to discover here that I look forward to another visit soon.

Posted on May 03, 2023 03:24 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 14, 2023

April 9, 2023 Phacelia, Valley Butte and Blalock Wildlife Sanctuaries

I took a trip out to the Antelope Valley to visit the “wildlife sanctuaries” designated as such by Los Angeles County. These areas are amorphous plots of land that are protected from development. There are no trails or markers; rather you just meander through the area hoping for some serendipity when looking for plants and animals.

The furthest of these I went to is the remote “Phacelia Wildlife Sanctuary” which is near the border of Edwards Airforce Base in the Mojave desert. What makes this place a bit more special is that you have a chance of seeing some reptiles that have pretty much been wiped out of most places in the Antelope Valley.

My visit started out great with seeing a yellow-backed spiny lizard almost immediately after getting out of the car. I continued my good luck with seeing a creosote moth and a native bumblebee.

Unfortunately, my next “observation” was a human in a vehicle that drove by me on a dirt road that bisects the sanctuary. He parked his truck near my car which made me very suspicious since he did not come from the direction of civilization. I decided to stay within eyesight of my car in case something happened. My gut feeling was correct as I got within 100 yards of the vehicles. It was obvious this guy was up to no good. He tried to talk to me but I yelled out to him to leave me alone. Luckily, he had the sense to do so, got in his truck and sped off. It is always a bit disconcerting to be out in the middle of nowhere which I pretty much was, out of cell service, and have an encounter with some creepy human being.

Anyway, I breathed a sigh of relief when he left and could finally enjoy my exploration of the desert. With warming temperatures, I was expecting to see more insects but I still didn’t see many. I’m particularly concerned as the lack of bees is very noticeable, and even more so since it’s turning out to be an amazing wildflower year. And even though I sometimes feel as if I’ve seen most of the desert wildflowers, there are always more new ones to discover.

In addition to Phacelia Wildlife Sanctuary I stopped at Valley Butte Wildflower Sanctuary and finally Blalock Wildlife Sanctuary. Among my best finds of the day were: at least one cool insect, albeit somewhat common, a green blister beetle and several wildflowers that I hadn't seen before or see rarely. These include the unassuming Pringle's woolly sunflower, a delicate and quite lovey Cooper's wild cabbage, possibly hundreds if not thousands of sandblossoms, a crowned mullia, yellow peppercress and an amazing looking milkvetch I actually found along the side of a road.

I find it interesting how some years, certain flowers seem to dominate and you wonder what exact conditions have to happen between rain, sunlight and temperature that cause this to happen. For instance I haven't seen sandblossoms for several years and now there seem to be thousands. And I don't think I've ever seen yellow peppercress except out at Red Rock Canyon State Park yet this year I've seen it in a few places.

I feel like it is imperative to be out this year exploring for wildflowers as we don't know when and if we'll get another amazing rain year as this one was. Interestingly enough the amount of water pouring out of the San Gabriel Mountains into the Antelope Valley is such that on one street I had to ford a foot deep stream of water that was rushing rapidly down a wash many miles from those mountains. For some reason the "road closed" barrier was only on one direction of the road at least a mile away and there was no barrier on the direction in which I was traveling.

Posted on April 14, 2023 05:47 PM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 9 observations | 10 comments | Leave a comment

April 02, 2023

April 1, 2023 Desert Tortoise Natural Area

I made the trek out to the Mojave today primarily as a scouting trip for the Desert Tortoise Natural Area. With our continuing unseasonably cool weather, I wasn't expecting to find much in the way of reptiles and/or insects and I was correct. However, I wanted to check out the flowers and habitat and hopefully spot a tortoise.

As with every other desert area I've visited this early spring, there seems to be a mismatch between the flora and the fauna. Our abundant rain has produced a bumper crop of wildflowers but with temperatures so low, almost no pollinators are out nor are many other insects.

I arrived at the reserve shortly after 10 AM and it was still only 55 F. The naturalist told me it had been 32 earlier that morning. I don't think it made it too much past 70 for the three and half hours I was there.

It was a beautiful day to be out with almost no wind and pleasant temperatures; however the off road people were out in force and seemed to be congregating right next to the tortoise reserve making a lot of noise as they ripped up the desert. In fact, driving in, a convoy of theirs was blocking so much of the road I had to drive on the sand berm to get around them. It just added to my annoyance with these people who destroy the desert.

Putting that aside, the flowers at the reserve were the best I've ever seen them. I think I've only been visiting this area since about 2016 and this is definitely going to be one of the best years yet in terms of habitat. Though the reserve's rainfall was nowhere near what other parts of California received, it still was more than enough to stimulate tons of flowers.

Unfortunately, there was not much wildlife to be seen; however, thanks to the naturalist, I was able to observe one desert tortoise who seemed content to just sit out and soak up the sun. For once, there will be plenty to eat for these endangered animals. Unfortunately, they are so sparsely populated that even reproducing is difficult as they can't travel that far in search of mates. Even worse, the survival rate for youngsters is only 20%, so between climate change, off roaders and burgeoning solar panel farms, it's tough for these animals to thrive.

In terms of other wildlife, insects were few and far between. I did see a few things flying around, perhaps a painted lady or two and probably a sphinx moth but almost nothing was sitting on the flowers. I saw one native bee and surprisingly no western honeybees which is a first. And I only saw one side blotched lizard sitting out though I noticed a few scurrying reptiles under cover.

The flowers were great though and I think they will probably continue to be good for some time as the naturalist told me it rained all day just a few days ago. I also saw many flowers still in early stages of sprouting.

My favorite finds today were a Layne's milkvetch, a plant totally new to me and a nice group of desert candles which I've seen in the area before but never in the reserve. They're such beautiful flowers I am sometime amazed at the variety of shapes and colors wildflowers take. Another cool flower I saw for the first time at the reserve and which was a new flower for me as well, was the striking Mojave desertparsley.

I see that the temperatures are going to start warming up so I will definitely be making a return visit to the reserve in anticipation of seeing a lot more wildlife.

Posted on April 02, 2023 05:19 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 4 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

March 23, 2023

March 15-16, 2023 Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The desert southwest is an alluring place from a nature standpoint. Despite the challenges of heat, wind and drought, life persists and is often unique and untouched due to less human impact. I have only scratched the surface of the southwest, but I have been curious for some time about Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southwestern Arizona. This monument, named for its iconic organ pipe cactus is an International Biosphere Reserve and a pristine example of the Sonoran desert habitat.

I recently spent two days exploring the park and it was not nearly enough time. Having been to many areas of Arizona before I would describe the monument as Sabino Canyon on steroids with a splash of the Chiricahua's thrown in. The landscape is dramatic and beautiful, and thanks to an excellent monsoon season and continuing rain since then, the park was very green and full of flowers. Sagauros dot the landscape and the further south you go, the more you see the tall organ pipe cactus. Lupine and brittlebush were blooming everywhere as were more than one species of beautiful globemallow.

While the weather was great for hiking as it was overcast and cool both days I was there, it was not the best weather to find reptiles or insects, which was somewhat of a disappointment. However the plant life definitely helped make up for the lack of fauna. And I was able to see and photograph two of my target species, the Sonoran/Sonoyta mud turtle and the Sonoyta pupfish. Both of these species are in the Quitobaquito Springs area. This area has a rich history both as home to native Americans as well as mining operations. What is truly amazing is that there is a natural water source in the middle of the desert. As such it draws all kinds of life.

The spring area is truly a place begging to be explored more. I didn't spend nearly enough time in the area. Getting there is somewhat interesting as well. A fifteen mile dirt road takes you to the spring but parallels the border wall with Mexico and you are within feet of that wall as well as numerous warning signs about the specter of migrants in the area as well as a warning not to travel alone (which I was). Ironically on my way to the spring, I did see a group of three possible migrants walking on the road. They definitely were not park visitors based on their torn clothing so I'm not sure how they got there.

In addition to the organ pipe cactus, the park is also home to more than 30 cactus species including the endangered Senita cactus. While some of these can be found outside the park, the park is the main location for these plants which look quite similar to the Organ Pipe cactus. I found a brand new one growing in so it looks a bit different than the mature plants but it was cool to actually see it as they are only in one small area of the park.

Other notable finds on my travels were a colorful predacious diving beetle, Laccophilus fasciatus, a black and red miner bee (I think) digging its burrow, a desert red jumping spider (poor photos) and a beautiful butterfly I was not familiar with, an Arizona powdered skipper.

Also interesting to see was the very round Emory's barrel cactus. Though not blooming, I was not familiar with this cactus, having only seen California barrel cacti. In fact many of the plants in this area were new to me and all the more reason to spend additional time exploring. And though the reptile count was super low, I did manage to see one juvenile zebra tailed lizard who was actually somewhat cooperative.

I'm hoping to make a return visit to this park as I was only able to take three short hiking trails and there are many more to explore, most with amazing vistas.

Posted on March 23, 2023 05:12 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 14, 2023

February 12, 2023 Triunfo Creek Park

It has been nearly a year since I visited this area. Last spring I was enjoying a great day out when I was coming down a steep slope and slipped on some very loose gravel. My momentum made me lose my balance and tumble into a ditch. Though I only sustained a bruised knee and a small scratch on my nose, I still cringe when I remember the sound of my camera lens literally breaking right off my camera. Perhaps that's why I haven't been back for awhile!

Eleven months later all is well and with an almost year old camera and lens purchased new after that mishap, I set out to check out Triunfo. The interesting thing about this area is that at the top of the hill near the reservoir (off limits) is a large field with several ephemeral ponds that form after rains. While it has been awhile since our last storm, I wanted to check out the ponds to see what life I could find. I was in luck as there were at least 3 ponds still intact in addition to a couple of minor partial creek beds with water. It's still early in the year and we've had a fairly cool winter for a change (with the exception of a few days last week) so pond life is not as robust as it might be later in the year.

However, the ponds were literally teeming with ostracods, maybe numbering up to a thousand. They were swimming about but there were also clusters of them in some spots which you can see from the photos.

Ostracods are actually small crustaceans, which inhabit virtually all aquatic environments on earth. This group of animals have bodies completely enclosed between two valves which in many species occur as calcified “shells”. There are actually over 2000 species of ostracods, some living in saltwater and others in fresh water. In addition to the ostracods, there were quite a few mosquito larvae as well as a couple of tadpoles in the ponds. I even saw one frog but it jumped away and I wasn't able to re-find it for a photo.

In addition to the ephemeral ponds, this area can also be a great one for wildflowers if we get the right weather conditions. While the number of flowers is not necessarily out of the ordinary, the variety of species in this location seems to be greater than in many areas of the Santa Monica mountains. Though too early in the year for much to be in bloom, there was a nice scattering of goldfields, several ceanothus plants and some shining pepperweed. A California peony was in bloom though partially hidden under a black sage plant and I found one Padre's shooting star, one of my favorite early spring flowers.

Best of all, I made it back down the hill, this time without any mishaps. I look forward to a return visit later in the spring to see what flowers appear after our generous rainfall this winter.

Posted on February 14, 2023 06:38 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 5 observations | 4 comments | Leave a comment

February 05, 2023

February 4, 2023 Lopez Canyon

Wow! It's hard to believe we're already into the second month of the year! And signs of spring are popping up in many places. Thanks to a generous amount of rainfall, lots of plants are growing and everything looks very green (thanks to a lot of non-native grasses gracing our hillsides).

Today I visited Lopez Canyon, a place I just started visiting in the fall of last year. I hadn't been since November and hoped that the trail was in decent shape since the recent rains have really negatively impacted many of the trails in Southern California. However, I found the trail in this area pretty much intact with the exception of seeing one large boulder in the middle of the trail (where fortunately it is more of a fire road than single track).

This trail seems relatively untouched and potentially a great wildlife area as it is a bit less travelled than many of the other trails I visit. Even on a Saturday I only saw two people, one a mountain biker and one jerk on a dirt bike that definitely should not have been on the trail. But bad behavior on the trails is par for the course these days.

That being said, all in all it was great to be out again looking for new and interesting wildlife even if for the most part, pretty much everything I saw, I've seen before. Still, it's always nice to see the first flowers of the year including one blue dicks, one wild caterbury bells plant, several wishbone bushes and a few large patches of clearwater cryptantha. And I finally was able to get a photo (this year), albeit very distant, of a Sara orangetip. I've been seeing orangetips on almost every visit out to the local mountains for the last couple of weeks and even saw one in Orange County on December 25th, but they never paused long enough for a photo. While they are always an early appearing butterfly, I'm afraid they're still a bit early as there aren't a whole lot of their favorite plants in bloom. With our variable weather, I'm sure insects are very confused as to when to emerge, as if I recall, last year, January was a very warm month, while this year it was cooler than average.

In addition to the orangetip I saw at least two dozen side-blotched lizards and quite a few other insects including at least 3 gray dragon lubber grasshoppers, a species I haven't seen that much of in the last couple of years. There were several species of insects on the fragrant yerba santa plants and my best find of the day was this cool moth (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/148060394) that to me looks like it is in the genus schinia, but I can't seem to find any matching species so I'm probably way off as my moth ID skills are pretty weak. And right after I spotted that moth, I found a diamondback moth, which though fairly common isn't always easy to spot due to its small size.

I'm looking forward to a return visit to the area before it gets too hot as even today with temps in the high 60's, low 70's it was pretty hot on the uphill climb. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to handle it once it hits more than 80 as I'm sure there is a lot more cool wildlife to be found in the area.

Posted on February 05, 2023 05:31 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 8 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment