Journal archives for May 2022

May 08, 2022

May 3, 2022 Jackrabbit Flat and Blalock Wildlife Sanctuaries

I haven't been out to the "wildlife sanctuaries" that I visit each year for quite some time and I wanted to get out there before spring is over. It takes a bit of fortitude to visit these places these days due to the stress of drought.

Despite that, I think it is important to document what is happening in these areas and show what life is making it and note what life is absent. Though this year was maybe a bit wetter than last, the Antelope Valley did not benefit as much from our two rainstorms as the LA area did. Lancaster near the poppy fields definitely did better than the Palmdale area but all are still suffering from drought.

As always, the majority of life is by the roadside where water pools, allowing plants to bloom. Other good areas are washes where water routinely flows through. It was obvious at both locations that there were some early blooms, probably from the December rain, that have now faded. There were also some more recent blooms that provided a bit of relief from viewing a super dry crunchy environment.

My visit to Jackrabbit Flat yielded a couple of good finds, only because not a whole lot of people visit the area, or surrounding area to document life. For instance I saw three western whiptails, yet none are documented for much of the surrounding area. I also found a yellow-backed spiny lizard which surprised me the most as I'm finding these to be much rarer than they used to be. Although from looking at the map, there seem to be many still around.

And it was nice to spot a raven nest in one of the Joshua Trees...it looked as if it has served that purpose for some time--or at least it was large enough that it looked as if it has been used a few times. Of course ravens are a double-edged sword...they're pretty cool birds but they do prey on a lot of animals.

Interestingly enough I also saw a hummingbird that was feeding on both the paperbag bushes that had a few blooms as well as the creosote bushes. I only had my macro so I'm not sure if it is an Anna's or a Costa's but it was great to see it there.

Finally, on the road's edge near the sanctuary sign, I found a couple species of gilias, a favorite flower of mine and many bees, taking advantage of the only creosote bushes with blooms.

I moved on to Blalock Wildlife Sanctuary which has the benefit of a bit more elevation and most likely a bit more runoff from rainstorms. They are only 5 miles apart but the difference was quite striking. Once again, there was a lot of life near the roadside, including a few brittlebush plants that were drawing many insects including another of my favorite taxa: acmaeodera. In addition to these insects, I found quite a few more throughout the area by walking in as many wash-like areas as I could. Many yuccas had bloomed or were blooming which was great. In addition I found one cholla in bloom and almost all the creosote bushes were in bloom to some extent. That being said, there weren't a whole lot of other flowers around.

I did find some sandmat plants which are always good for tiny insects and I found them teeming with life. One of the more interesting insects I found on these plants was this wasp that has yet to be ID'd. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/115513579

Some of my other nice finds included this really cool hairy tufted jumping spider which is apparently relatively common but it was new to me as well as some great bees on buckwheat plants which were also one of the plants that seemed to be doing well.

Finally, as with the tortoise reserve, I found some little gold poppies which seem to be having a pretty good year in the desert. I don't think I'd seen them here before so it's always interesting to find things that are waiting to bloom for the right combination of weather and temperature.

Posted on May 08, 2022 20:06 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 16 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 24, 2022

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 on May 24, 2022 06:23 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 6 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment