June 9-10, 2021 Mojave Desert Region

I love the desert and it's partly because so many unique species dwell there. It is also a great place for nature lovers as there are fewer people and more chances to encounter wildlife. That being said, it is also a very harsh environment and as things get drier, it will be a challenge for wildlife to survive, much less thrive.

Since we are entering into the hottest part of the year, I thought I'd make one more quick trip out to the desert to see what I could find. The weather was actually quite cool for this time of year--only in the 80's and actually still cool at night so that it wasn't until at least 10 AM when the temperature reached the low 70's.

The trip started off with a really great surprise. I stopped at a random place in the Antelope Valley, just off Highway 14. I actually found a couple of very tiny flowers blooming. (I'm not sure what the plants are so if any of you reading this know, let me know.) Anyway, as I was observing a small insect on one of the flowers, I turned around and there sat a long nosed leopard lizard! It was fantastic as they are one of my favorite lizards and I never expected to see one here. Finding this encourages me to make more random stops on my travels through the Antelope Valley.

And this sighting confirms my thinking that the Antelope Valley is way under-observed for wildlife. I can see why. It is not the most aesthetically pleasing area. It is also a dumping ground for human trash. I have decided I need to bring trash bags, gloves and a grabber when out there; the challenge will be, how much trash can I fit in my car? Because the volume is tremendous. I actually felt sorry for the lizard as there was so much trash spread about. And much of it is large--parts of furniture, toys, tires, etc. But that's a whole different post...so on to the trip...

My next stop was the Desert Tortoise Natural Area. I was out in this reserve about 6 or more weeks ago and it is really, really dry. It almost looks like a barren wasteland. It really makes me sad. If you crave solitude, try coming here during the week in the summer months when the surrounding miles of OHV riders are few and far between.

What did I see? I walked probably 3/4 of a mile through sand before I saw any sign of animal life--a harvester ant carrying a dead beetle. I tried another trail after I'd been there for 40 minutes and I was happy to finally encounter some wildlife -- 3 zebra tailed lizards in the span of a quarter mile. Strangely, as dry and dead as everything looks out there, there were actually 3 or more new creosote bushes growing in so there is still life in spite of the drought conditions. And I ended my visit with a look at a very cool desert horned lizard.

On the road back towards California City (the town that is the gateway to the tortoise reserve), there is a kiosk and picnic table at an intersection. I noticed some heliotrope growing there and found a virtual feeding frenzy of insects. So few flowers are about that it's a real competition to get pollen. I found a really cool wasp there.

My next stop was Red Rock Canyon State Park. I've visited this place several times but have never really spent the amount of time I'd like to--usually because I'm on my way to or from somewhere. While I had planned to really take my time here this time, the winds picked up and were blowing so fiercely that I really didn't get to do much exploring. I walked up one trail about a quarter mile and found some Thurber's sandpaper plants blooming and like the heliotrope in California City, there were many insects competing for pollen. I actually found my coolest insect here....a fly with a red and white striped abdomen.

The next day I drove all the way up Highway 395 to Fossil Falls. Again, this is a place I've stopped a few times but usually on my way to or from somewhere so I have not devoted the amount of time I would like to. The weather was relatively cool and the winds were calm. But nothing was out. I found a couple of blooming plants though I really had to "search" to find those. As I was walking back on the trail I ran into a man coming from another direction. We started chatting and during the course of our conversation, he asked if I was on inaturalist. Imagine my surprise when I learned that he is a curator on the site, an entomologist and he had just ID'd a fly larva of mine a week or so ago. Definitely the most interesting "observation" I made at Fossil Falls!

Having no luck with wildlife there, I left to start my drive back. I decided to check out Jawbone Canyon Road. I've been on this road a couple of times. The whole area is once again, dedicated to OHV riders. However it is also the gateway to a really interesting place called Butterbredt Spring. I didn't have time to drive there on this trip but if you haven't been, its a great place for birds. You will need a 4 wheel drive to get there.

Jawbone Canyon was pretty busy. Lots of people driving in and out. It is also the site of a big DWP station and you can get great views of the California aqueduct pipeline here as it makes its way over several mountains. I did find more sandpaper plants blooming as well as some spiny senna. Both were attracting insects including a bunch of tarantula hawks and a nice assortment of bees and bee flies. However, the conditions weren't really great for exploring as you would have to head off toward the spring to get away from the off roaders. So it was time to head home.

Posted by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze, June 13, 2021 06:26

Observations

Photos / Sounds

What

Long-nosed Leopard Lizard (Gambelia wislizenii)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

June 9, 2021 09:12 AM PDT

Description

Antelope Valley
What a great surprise to find this here!

Photos / Sounds

What

Rough Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex rugosus)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

June 9, 2021 11:01 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area
Interesting to watch this ant carry this dead beetle
This observation for the ant

Photos / Sounds

What

Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

June 9, 2021 11:08 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area

Photos / Sounds

What

Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

June 9, 2021 11:57 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area

Photos / Sounds

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

June 9, 2021 01:39 PM PDT

Description

Red Rock Canyon State Park
Definitely the best find of the day--I took a quick glance thru fly species in desert areas and did not seem to find this one but I need to take more time. Hanging near the sandpaper plant

Photos / Sounds

What

Thread-waisted Sand Wasps (Genus Ammophila)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

June 9, 2021 01:27 PM PDT

Description

California City

Photos / Sounds

What

Bee Flies (Family Bombyliidae)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

June 10, 2021 01:48 PM PDT

Description

Jawbone Canyon Road

Photos / Sounds

What

Thurber's Sandpaper Plant (Petalonyx thurberi)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

June 10, 2021 01:48 PM PDT

Description

Jawbone Canyon Road

Photos / Sounds

What

Thisbe's Tarantula-hawk Wasp (Pepsis thisbe)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

June 10, 2021 01:56 PM PDT

Description

Jawbone Canyon Road
At least 6 on this plant

Comments

Saw this back when you posted it but forgot to comment till now. Great post, I love hearing that other people appreciate the desert too, even though it is beleaguered by drought and human influence. (I have to admit, though, that I kind of like looking under trash out there... while overall bad, it can be a great way to find certain species, haha.)

Posted by ectothermist 3 months ago (Flag)

Thanks so much for your nice comment and compliments. You have some very cool observations. I'm envious. I'm still on the learning curve for finding salamanders, snakes (other than gopher and rattlesnakes) and scorpions. I guess I should start looking under the trash!

Posted by naturephotosuze 3 months ago (Flag)

They're definitely under there. Some of my "trash finds" include Nightsnakes and of course scorpions! Just wear gloves and be safe out there, if you go flipping!

Posted by ectothermist 3 months ago (Flag)

Great to know...and yes, I'm always careful. Don't want to run into a rattler unexpectedly either!

Posted by naturephotosuze 3 months ago (Flag)

Definitely not. Nor the packs of feral dogs that roam out there... have you ever encountered them?

Posted by ectothermist 3 months ago (Flag)

Not yet, thankfully, but a number of years ago a friend and I were nearly chased down by two ferocious dogs that apparently had owners in a house out east of LA in a somewhat sparsely populated area. We were looking for a bird and all of a sudden we heard and saw these dogs coming our way. Fortunately, they were far enough away that we were able to make it to safety.

Posted by naturephotosuze 3 months ago (Flag)

Yikes! Glad you were able to avoid them!

Posted by ectothermist 3 months ago (Flag)

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