May 22, 2022 Carrizo Plain National Monument

The Carrizo Plain has always had a magical appeal to me. It's a place that seems timeless and one in which you can immerse yourself in nature with very few if any distractions. It is also a place of ups and downs. Known for superblooms, it is also a place of drought. Subject to a rain shadow effect, it has never been a place where a lot of rain falls. Yet it seemed to be home to lots of wildlife--a place where wildlife can thrive without much human interference.

However, with California's continuing drought, Carrizo is really suffering. Last year was incredibly dry. This year was not much better, though there was enough rain to produce flowers in many places and make some areas green again. But the water deficit shows, based on my one day trip to the plain on May 22nd, which is about 2 months to the day from my last visit. Not only are flowers fewer in number, bloom periods are much shorter as there is not enough groundwater to sustain them. Without plants, wildlife has nothing to sustain or to shelter them.

On my last visit, I was feeling somewhat encouraged. I found several patches of flowers and some areas where things looked very good. However, there was also a sense of desolation...things were much quieter than before. Less wildlife was around. It was somewhat subtle but there was definitely a difference.

May's visit was even more discouraging. Yes, wildlife and flowers could be found; and some areas looked as if they could sustain life; but there were many areas that just looked dead and devoid of any living thing. Vast areas were covered with nothing but dirt and stubble from dried vegetation.

It has been two years now since I saw a kit fox at Carrizo. While these charismatic animals are primarily nocturnal, I've been lucky enough to have had some brief encounters that made my visits special. The pronghorn population has decreased and most of them spend their time in California Valley, an area to the north of Carrizo where there is better grass for grazing. And the number of reptiles seems way down. I saw only one snake this year and that one was roadkill. Even bird numbers seem to have dropped.

The southern half of Carrizo has always been less populated from a wildlife standpoint than the northern half. However, that was never more pronounced than on this trip. As we drove out after dark, I remember past visits when we saw so much wildlife on the road that we were stopping every few feet to avoid hopping kangaroo rats and zigzagging jackrabbits. We saw short eared owls and barn owls, and insects were pelting our windshield.

This time we had one area where we saw many jackrabbits and thankfully some juvenile kangaroo rats, the keystone species of Carrizo. But for the last 12 miles or so of our journey, we only encountered one kangaroo rat and no rabbits. And owls seem to be a thing of the past. It was very sad and yes, scary.

However, I don't actually think all that wildlife has gone. More likely, it is migrating. The main road through Carrizo travels the lowest part of the plain, and probably the driest. If you take one of the roads leading up to the hills, things improve considerably. It looks much more hospitable and you see and hear a lot more wildlife. It does take more effort to go into these areas as the roads are narrower and in some cases, in poor shape. And it makes a visit somewhat different.

So what did I see on this short trip to Carrizo? Lots of red tailed hawks, a decent number of adorable antelope squirrels and at least six coyotes, more than I've ever seen there. I also saw elk and pronghorn so I can't really say that I didn't have a good visit. And I saw a couple of blooming plants that I hadn't seen at Carrizo before. These included some beautiful woollystars (several very nice patches in different areas) and quite a few lovely small buckwheat plants (I'm waiting for confirmation on ID's on these).

It's difficult as a naturalist to go out and visit areas that you once loved and see them suffering whether it be from climate change, wildfire, degradation, trashing or development. On the other hand, we are the eyes and ears of the planet and its wildlife. It is my hope that our observations will help those who have the power to help wildlife continue to thrive in our world.

Posted by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze, May 24, 2022 06:23

Observations

Photos / Sounds

What

Nelson's Antelope Squirrel (Ammospermophilus nelsoni)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

May 2022

Description

Carrizo Plain

Photos / Sounds

What

Coyote (Canis latrans)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

May 22, 2022 06:49 PM PDT

Description

California Valley

Photos / Sounds

What

Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

May 22, 2022 06:52 PM PDT

Description

California Valley

Photos / Sounds

What

Elk (Cervus canadensis)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

May 2022

Description

Carrizo Plain

Photos / Sounds

What

Tehachapi Woollystar (Eriastrum pluriflorum)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

May 2022

Description

Carrizo Plain
Good year for this genus--quite a few of these in a few areas

Photos / Sounds

What

Spotted Wild Buckwheat (Eriogonum maculatum)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

May 22, 2022 03:01 PM PDT

Description

Carrizo Plain

Comments

Thank you for posting this thoughtful account of your observations. I’ve long wanted to go visit the Carrizo Plain but have been limited by work obligations, so your post provides particularly valuable insight to me.
We’re in a region long beset by periodic drought, so I have to hope that the ecosystems will bounce back and that many organisms currently out there can move. When faced with bleak reality it can be easy to feel hopeless; we have to take inspiration from the signs of rugged persistence we see and use that to recommit to make sustainable changes in our lives … and advocate for higher-impact changes on a societal and policy level.
Thanks again for your journal entry!

Posted by adirado about 1 month ago (Flag)

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I too try to look for those things that are persisting in spite of the conditions. And there were a few bright spots. I hope you’re able to make it out there soon. I look forward to following your observations as well.

Posted by naturephotosuze about 1 month ago (Flag)

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