October 10, 2021

Sept. 24, 2021 - Sept. 30, 2021 Arizona and Jacumba

Chris and I made what's becoming our annual trip to Arizona in late September. We got a later start than usual due to his work schedule and it definitely impacted our trip. Basically, our trips are nature, nature nature...plus photography.

Arizona is great because the southeast portion of the state is a biodiversity hotspot. Here's a quote from Arizona Wild: "The Sky Island region of southeastern Arizona is one of the most biologically diverse areas in North America, where the temperate and tropical zones meet, and North America's two major deserts convene. Here, more species of mammals, birds, reptiles, bees and ants are found here than any other place in the country!" I also read somewhere a long time ago that 75% of the US moth species can be found in this area.

As you know, I do a lot of insect photography and to be honest I could easily spend a whole year out every day in that region and probably barely scratch the surface.

Anyway...on to our trip:

Since it's such a long drive to southeast Arizona from Los Angeles, we normally drive to Phoenix first. Neither of us likes Phoenix..it's sprawling and just not that appealing. However, the only other way to get where we want to go is to drive south thru San Diego and over....a bit more driving but actually a more appealing drive...and so it happens, the way we returned.

Our first stop in the Phoenix area was at a place called Gilbert Water Ranch. Unfortunately, because we got a late start, it was almost dark when we arrived. At least one roseate spoonbill has been hanging out in Arizona now for almost a year and we hoped to photograph it at this location which was the last reported location on ebird. But alas, it was not there. So we walked around the wetlands -- and the grounds looking for interesting things. While we did find a few interesting creatures--Arizona bark scorpions being one of them, the photos were not great since we were using a flashlight and I left my flash in the car.

The next day we drove down to Sierra Vista which is near a large military base in Huachuca City, AZ. It's probably the largest city in the region. Our first stop was Miller Canyon. We've been there before and it's a really cool area if you can overlook the people who have a "guest ranch" thru which you must walk to get to the trails. I won't go into too many details but the guy who owns the property is an avid hunter and does not seem like someone who values wildlife.

That being said, he does have several hummingbird feeders that attract lots of wayward and migrating hummingbirds and we did get an opportunity to get some nice photos of a white-eared hummingbird as well as a violet crowned hummer, both of which we've seen before but I got a better photo of the white-eared hummingbird (I haven't yet posted it here).

And, there were insects galore there. Arizona has had a record season of monsoonal rain this year---it sort of makes up for the last 3 years of drought. As a result, everything everywhere was very green...much more so than California. And butterflies were everywhere...just thousands of them. It was so encouraging to see so much life everywhere.

Unfortunately though, it was cool and rainy on and off all day so the hopes for seeing reptiles went out the window. And it caused us to miss an evening of looking for wildlife.

The following day, we went back to Miller Canyon and walked around but it started raining again so we left for Brown Canyon Ranch. One of the finds I made at Miller Canyon before we left was of an African cluster bug which is an invasive species and I was quite surprised and dismayed to find it there.

It was cool and overcast at Brown Canyon Ranch but didn't start raining until we were there about an hour. We saw many Chiricahuan leopard frogs in the pond including youngsters and many blue grosbeaks in the fields. One of my favorite finds (thanks to Chris) was of a Great Western Flood Plains cicada. I had seen photos of these prior to our trip and was hoping to see one. They are very large and easy to photograph. We also found the stunning and aptly named Rainbow Grasshopper there.

Once the rain started again, we decided to drive over to a place called Casa de San Pedro B&B. Several people have small B&B's and inns in the area catering mostly to "birders". However you usually don't have to stay with them to walk the grounds as long as you make a small donation. We had never been here, but one of the appeals for me is that is was located right along the San Pedro River so I was hoping to spot some wildlife.

While it wasn't raining when we got there it was cool and cloudy so not a lot was happening. We took a trail along the river for a bit but didn't see anything. There were many butterflies around and some birds but nothing super unique. So we left and drove along a road that parallels empty fields in the hopes of spotting some hawks. We got lucky and saw a gray hawk (which we've seen before) but they are not super common so it's always good to see one.

We continued to drive and saw a hiking trailhead and decided to stop there. It was still cool and misting but we had the area all to ourselves. There was lots of bird activity but they were mostly buried in the dense vegetation. I heard a chirping that I thought was a common yellowthroat but opted to try and get some photos as it hopped through the low trees. I'm glad I did, as I got some reasonably decent photos of a Macgillravy's warbler...a brand new species for me.

The mosquitos were beginning to swarm so after taking a few more photos of the plentiful insects, we headed back over to Brown Canyon Ranch for some night photography. Still too cool for reptiles, we mostly focused on insects though we would have loved to run into a mountain lion! We only spent about an hour there before the rain started again and we headed back to our room.

It cleared some the next day and we headed north on our way to Tucson. On the way we made a few stops. The first was at a place called San Pedro House. Once again, this is a nature area, often frequented by birders but also great for wildlife in general. A couple of years ago Chris and I found a very cool Red Coachwhip there. And it has more grasshoppers than any place I've ever been to.

One of the new (for me) species I found there was a Plains Lubber Grasshopper which I ended up seeing in a couple of other areas. It's pretty large and quite colorful.

From there, we traveled north to Kartchner Caverns State Park which parallels the 10 freeway. As we approached, it began to cloud up and we were only out of the car a few minutes when it began to lightly rain. We walked around the planted areas near the visitor's center and did find a couple of cool jumping spiders: two phidippus carneus spiders which were quite cooperative for photos. We went in to the visitor center to get a trail map and started talking to the rangers. We asked about the cave tours since we were there and even though they require advanced reservations, they were able to get us on a tour. In the interim, we started down one of the trails but alas, it started raining harder again and we had to return to shelter. On the way back I found a totally black grasshopper which turned out to be an ebony grasshopper.

We went on the cave tour which was very interesting and though you can't take photos, it is well worth the visit. They even do have monthly photo tours of it for photographers so it may be in the cards for next year.

Because it was still raining 2 hours later after the cave tour, we headed north. We stopped at a place called Sweetwater wetlands in Tucson...a very unappealing area but known to be a hotspot for all kinds of wildlife. And we did find one animal--a fairly cooperative raccoon--the first time I've gotten a photo of a raccoon in the wild! I don't count backyard raccoons.

Our next stop was Sabino Canyon...our favorite place in Tucson. We spent a couple of hours on the trail looking for reptiles and insects. The rain had finally stopped and it was over 80 degrees for the first time on our trip. We were very disappointed though to see a pair of scorpion stealers. Evidently you can take as many invertebrates as you want--there is no law in Arizona...I don't really know about other places. But this couple had a cooler and were using a black light to find and pick up scorpions that they deposited in their cooler. It was depressing to see. And in fact, we saw their vehicle in the parking lot the next night when we returned.

The following day we started off by visiting the Arizona Sonora Museum. It's more of an outdoor botanical garden than museum but they do have animal exhibits (unfortunately), as well as an aviary and a butterfly garden. Our main goal for visiting was to get photos of the Saint Estaban Island x Sonoran Spiny Tail Lizard. These are living wild on the museum grounds. Evidently some were released a few decades ago and they have seemed to thrive within the museum grounds. They don't do well outside the area as they are used to a wetter climate. We were fortunate that there were some juveniles around as they are a beautiful bright green. The adults are also pretty cool, if a lot less colorful.

From the museum we stopped at a little open space in Tucson called Rio Vista Park. It was quite unappealing--basically a degraded looking area that skirts the Rillito River. However you never know what you might find in these areas (Chris was interested in this are as we heard a rumor there were Harris's hawks nearby). We lucked out and did find a gopher snake as well as many insects and birds.

Our next stop was Saguaro National Park East (there are two sides to the park, one on each side of Tucson). I'd really like to spend more time in this area as it seems to have some pretty unique habitats. I noticed that the plants in the park are often different from those you see in other areas of the desert so I'm sure you can find some really cool things there. We were hoping to see some eastern collared lizards there but really didn't see much wildlife at all. Perhaps because we didn't get there until 3:30 or so it already seemed like things were winding down. However, I did find many new plant species there and we were treated to a flyover of several nighthawks as we were leaving.

We spent another evening at Sabino canyon and as usual found some interesting creatures but we were not too excited about being there when we saw that the scorpion stealers had returned. And for all we know they were picking up snakes as well.

The next day we spent the entire day at Sabino Canyon. There is such a multitude of life there, especially this year as the rains have caused so many flowers to bloom, butterflies to appear and everything to come to life. My favorite find there was a Sonoran Whipsnake (thanks to Chris). We spent a good ten minutes watching it slither around some tree branches. It was very charismatic. In addition to the snake, we found a really cool metallic wood boring beetle and a cool beetle with super long antennae called a double banded bycid. Finally, as we stood over the creek (last year when we were here, it was completely dry) I saw some small fish. I took a photo even though I was thinking to myself, just another mosquitofish but I need it for inat...well it turns out it's an endangered fish called the Gila Topminnow. So every time I pause to take a photo for inat, I think, should I take one since I've seen it before--too many times it turns out to be something new. So I've learned to always err on the side of caution. I found several new species at Sabino and later that day we also found two western diamondbacks in spite of a pending thunderstorm.

We decided to head back a day early as Chris had a lot of work pending and was getting nervous about being gone the additional day. And he was disappointed that we didn't find a gila monster--one of his goals for the trip.

Our destination for our final day was Jacumba, CA. Right on the Mexican border--we got very close looks at the wall (without binoculars) as well as saw a lot of border patrol trucks, Jacumba is famous for its hot springs. We didn't really see those--there seemed to be a fence around that area so we weren't sure if it was closed or what. Anyway, our goal was to find Harris's hawks. They've been reported on and off in this area for the last couple of years, though only in ones or twos. This year, someone recently reported 8 hawks so this we had to see.

How can I describe Jacumba? If you want cheap California real estate, this is the place for you. It's a very small town with a defunct looking main street. Perhaps one or two businesses are open?? It also has a church and a branch library with a dirt parking lot. There were a few nice looking houses, but for the most part, the residential area (which we cruised up and down looking for hawks) is full of dilapidated homes with chain link fences and ferocious looking pitbulls roaming around barking. It's not a place where you want to linger...especially with a telephoto lens!

Yet, we spent most of the day there! We started by parking in the dirt lot adjacent to the library as it seemed the only safe place to actually "hang out". While Chris scanned for hawks, I brought out my macro and checked out some insects on the plants that were growing wild along the edges of the dirt lot.

We gave up after about 30 minutes as we were seeing nothing. As we drove down one street I noticed a sign that said nature reserve. So we found a place to park and discovered that there is a nature reserve with a pond there. Imagine our surprise to see 50+ American avocets there! It seemed to be a "birdy" place and there were lots of dragonflies around too. After spending awhile there, Chris spotted a hawk and we proceeded to walk down a dry creek bed. We spent the rest of the day chasing hawks and intermittently shooting other animals as we saw them. At close to the end of the day, we actually saw 13 Harris's hawks perched in one dead tree. Unfortunately, we never really got close enough to get great photos but it's pretty cool to see a "flock" of hawks!

Finally, I should mention another cool find we made--a Sonoran coral snake! I obscured the location but though this was the second time we saw one, I finally got a mediocre photo instead of a bad photo of the snake...and it wasn't in the road!

Posted on October 10, 2021 02:19 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 19 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

September 18, 2021

September 8, 2021 Jalama Beach

I've always enjoyed going off the beaten path to explore. Unfortunately, with social media, it's much more difficult to find places that are not overrun with people. With that in mind, I took a short trip up to Jalama Beach and the Lompoc area last week to see what I could find.

Jalama Beach is definitely not off the beaten path as much as it was ten years ago when I last visited. It boasts a big campground, small cabins you can rent and many RV spaces. So if you're a camper, a surfer, or just a day tripper visiting for their self-proclaimed "world famous Jalama burgers" this is the place for you.

Still, in spite of the pretty large crowds and a completely full campground on a September weekday, I did some of my exploring in the marsh...less a draw for visitors than the expansive beach. The weather was great. Tired of the omnipresent heat of the Los Angeles basin, it was such a pleasure to bask in the foggy damp environment of Jalama. The temperature was probably 68 degrees at its peak and though the sun did poke out briefly around noon, soon after a heavy fog rolled in and stayed in for the rest of the afternoon.

The marsh was pretty overgrown and the paths were narrow. It's a pretty small area but still inviting for the nature enthusiast. I've found that marsh areas seem to harbor lots of insects so it's a great place for me to find new things. Probably my best insect finds were a red-lipped green lacewing, a very cool fly called a Tephritis rufipennis and some very interesting small bees of the subgenus nomadopsis on heliotrope . There was also a beautiful large flowering Island mallow bush. Though I've heard that many have been planted in areas along the coast, the one at Jalama was in the marsh area so I'm thinking it might be the result of seeds getting distributed from the Channel Islands by one of the many sea birds that visit Jalama. Speaking of which, there were several snowy plovers at the beach and I noticed one was banded so I'm awaiting information on it's history.

Finally, I did walk down the beach. Cool, foggy and with visibility no more than 25 feet in front of you, you almost felt as if you were hundreds of miles from civilization. While I didn't find too much on the beach. I did see many Pyrosoma atlanticums--something that many people have spotted on our local beaches but I have yet to find in the LA/Ventura area. And though, not fully ID'd. I found this interesting creature on the back of a washed up sand dollar--a Cnidarian. These are fascinating creatures that I was not familiar with so I'm so glad I found one.

Coming back to the parking lot, it was teeming with people, so in spite of my interesting finds, I was glad to leave it all behind.

Posted on September 18, 2021 00:24 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 7 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

September 04, 2021

August 31, 2021 Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space

It was with a bit of trepidation that I decided to visit this place, long one of my favorite areas. The last time I visited it was so bone dry I was really depressed. But with overcast skies and a starting temperature of only 71 (in August no less!) I couldn't pass up the pleasant temperatures to go somewhere where I rarely go in summer.

Surprisingly, I found much more life than expected. While I didn't see any mammals nor did I see any snakes, the insect life was good and I found a lot more flowers blooming than expected. As usual in this drought year, it took some effort to find those blooms in places, but compared to many of the areas I've been visiting that do not have water, Las Virgenes looked better than expected.

Probably the most striking aspect of the area was its absolute inundation with bagrada bugs. I wonder if these have any predators. Perhaps not as there were literally thousands of them throughout the area. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if there were hundreds of thousands. They like mustard plants and there are hundreds and hundreds of dried up mustard plants in the area. Most were on these but I also found more on almost every flowering plant I saw.

Fortunately. I did see some other interesting insects including one of my favorites, a velvet ant and one of my favorite beetles, a coscinoptera aenipennis. Another striking find was an eight barred lygropia moth. Though I've seen one before it's always great to see these beauties.

In terms of plant life, I was encouraged to see several sapling valley oaks with new leaves and one of my favorites down the trail a bit, a beautiful old very healthy looking valley oak with some beautiful red cone galls. And the long stemmed buckwheat plants where I found some interesting wasps last year, were in bloom though I didn't find those wasps. Last but not least, and though it isn't by any means a favorite of mine, I was quite surprised to find a purple nightshade in bloom which seems very late.

I understand the forecast is for another dry year and I can only hope the experts are wrong. Nature is somehow hanging on in places but it needs as much help as it can get.

Posted on September 04, 2021 00:54 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 8 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 09, 2021

August 8, 2021 Woodlawn Cemetery

In search of nature, I visited an "urban" area today--Woodlawn Cemetery in the city of Santa Monica. Some people may feel a bit put off by visiting a cemetery to photograph nature but it's a peaceful place and usually has lots of trees. And, the cemetery is surprisingly full of nature in spite of the large swaths of grass and many non-native trees. However, in these times of drought, a place that is watered regularly provides animals, primarily birds, with a great place to feed and even breed.

And for once, humans are actually helping things along! A few years ago a man who makes bird nest boxes began hanging them here and since then, several western bluebirds have made this their home. Lots of water also means many insects in spite of the monculture of grass. And yes, there are some invasive plants like white clover, dandelions and daisies; however even these seem to attract insects, although most are western honey bees.

Things have improved even more with the installation of a "green" burial site. This is an area where people can be interred with minimal impact to the environment and without chemicals. (Interesting bit of trivia--the first person buried in the green site was Tom Hayden, a member of the Chicago 7 and ex-husband of Jane Fonda). While the green burial site is just that, they have chosen to plant California natives for the most part in this area. Initially, I didn't see many insects in the area. But one year later, the area is thriving with many native bees, butterflies and other insects. In turn, because this area is watered even more regularly than the lawn, the small daisies and other non native flowers in the vicinity are now attracting native insects.

Woodlawn for many years was a resting spot for monarch butterflies. Though not on the scale of other areas further up the coast, there was always a colony of maybe 30-40 butterflies that rested here. However, with the massive decline in monarchs, the last few years have seen maybe 2-3 monarchs in the area. Hopefully that will change as milkweed plants are now part of the native garden and I saw a monarch butterfly today making the rounds.

My observations today included a bird I've been wanting to photograph--a Swinhoe's white eye--yes, a non-native bird. Thanks to running into some friends today, they helped me find these very small difficult-to-see birds. I still didn't get the photo I'd like but I'm pleased to have seen these cute little birds. They seem to be expanding their range as a few years ago, none were reported in Los Angeles county. Also a great pleasure to see was a beautiful, brightly colored western tanager. Again, not a great photo but one of most striking tanagers I've seen.

And finally, I even found some cool predators: a couple of interesting spiders and an assassin bug. I definitely will be back to see what new birds and insects have arrived.

Posted on August 09, 2021 01:06 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 22, 2021

July 21, 2021 LA River/ Glendale River Walk

Always seeking new areas to explore that are close by, I visited the LA River adjacent to the Bette Davis Picnic Area. I've been in this area before, but primarily to look for birds. On this day I decided to see what else I could find.

The LA River in itself, is somewhat of a joke...after all, who paves a river? While I was down there, a maintenance truck was stopped and several men were chopping up vegetation in the center island. I'm not sure what the purpose of that was as it didn't look too overgrown to me, but that seems to be their job--they drive up and down the riverbed, disturbing wildlife. I think I read somewhere once that if the LA River wasn't paved, there would be very little water in it. That may be, but there is not a whole lot of water in there anyway...at least in this location.

Bordered by the 134 Freeway and in the heart of the concrete jungle, there is life. While not the most pleasant experience between freeway exhaust, searing sun reflecting off the bright concrete pavement and the incessant noise of the freeway and planes overhead, I did find some interesting, and for me, new species.

I spent a fair amount of time looking in the shallow water for life and it is definitely there. There were larvae galore including mosquitoes and probably black flies. There were some scavenger beetles that I couldn't get great photos of as they swam too fast, water boatmen (shouldn't there be water boatwomen too?) and a few unidentified objects as well. I'm just learning a bit about ostracods and there were several of those too.

In the midst of the drought, there were quite a few flowering plants, many invasive but still nice to see in our parched environment. These included puncture vine and common purslane as well as some lovely large prairie sunflowers. One rather ugly weedy looking grass came up on CV as "jungle rice". I'm not completely sure the ID is correct but it looks close and computer vision came up with that for all four photos I included in my observation so I'm going with it for now. Originally from Asia, it apparently is something whose seeds are eaten after processing in some countries.

Getting hot in the sun and trying to avoid the maintenance crew, I went under the bridge and saw a few swallow nests. All were empty except one that had three little ones (and not really so little anymore) peering down at me from their noisy abode. They were super cute and I often wonder how the birds that nest and roost near these busy highway bridges fare. Is their hearing impacted or becoming more acute in order to hear one another? Are they adapting to the constant stream of exhaust and dirty air? Or perhaps they just put up with it as there are usually a lot of bugs flying around in these areas.

After spending some time at the river, I walked back up and proceeded down the concrete path that's called the Glendale River Walk. Definitely not the experience that name conjures up; however there were quite a few plants along the path that were attracting their share of insects. One new insect I found on a cactus was a trident lady beetle--I like it's styling! I also found a bee fly that I haven't seen before--a ligyra gazophylax (or so I think). Looking at the map, they seem to be fairly common to the east of LA but not so much in the Santa Monica Mountains where I spend most of my time.

I'm sure I'll be back, as I have to say the water, as minimal as it is, and the environment, as unappealing as it is, had a pretty good variety of wildlife.

Posted on July 22, 2021 06:08 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 9 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

June 23, 2021

June 21, 2021 Corbin Canyon

I discovered this area last year and since then have been making regular visits. A nice thing about it is it doesn't get crowded. I also like it because I feel like I am helping to fill in gaps in data that hasn't been recorded in inaturalist, as this area really hasn't been explored much by our colleagues.

This year, like everywhere else in Southern California and indeed in the whole southwest, things have been very dry and really depressing to witness. In anticipation of the ever present and growing threat of wildfires, it appears that various entities have been engaging in weed whacking dry brush. MRCA manages this area and in some ways they've done a great job. They have planted several native trees and come and water them regularly to ensure their success.

However in mid May they began to week whack all the dry brush. I understand the need to keep this area under control since it is near human habitation, but I was really upset to see this begin still in breeding season. I know fire season is year round now, but to take away habitat, even if it is dry habitat and potentially impact birds, rodents and rabbits just doesn't seem right. I think they easily could have waited a month or so.

In addition, they mowed down at least one milkweed plant as well as several other native plants or areas where native plants might have begun to sprout. Yesterday when I got there, it still looked as barren as the previous visit; however, it seems to have recovered just slightly as it seemed like I saw and heard more wildlife than my prior visit when it was totally dead. I am positive the weed whacking has had a deleterious effect on the wildlife in the area. And on a side note, in another area I visit occasionally, whoever was in charge of brush remediation had used a bulldozer (it was parked there) and there was a huge branch of a native walnut tree that was broken and hanging by a few strands of wood.

As to the positive things I saw....it's always great to see a coyote and I did see the resident coyote who has probably benefited from the dry grass removal. In addition a few wasps and dragonflies are beginning to appear....though I saw these beyond the area that was mowed. And in keeping with my goal of finding tiny things, I found what I think are thrips, but not sure, on a laurel sumac leaf. These were so small, they were difficult to see with the naked eye and I'm surprised I got any photos at all. You must look closely at the heavily cropped photos to see them. And it was nice to see that some kingbirds that apparently bred in the area as I saw a family group of three (a really poor distant photo).

Posted on June 23, 2021 01:40 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 3 observations | 4 comments | Leave a comment

June 13, 2021

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 on June 13, 2021 06:26 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 9 observations | 7 comments | Leave a comment

May 30, 2021

May 28, 2021 Skyline Trail, Griffith Park

Since I didn't feel like driving far and because lately traffic to the west has gotten so much worse, I thought I'd make a trip to Griffith Park. I normally avoid Griffith Park....too many people, too much traffic, and too confusing to figure out where things are. So this time I thought I'd pick a trail on the valley side near the zoo so I wouldn't have to deal with traffic. But of course, I somehow got confused and finally ended up parking in the first lot I saw where there was a trailhead. This turned out to be the Skyline Trail.

The trail was basically a fire road--not the most aesthetically pleasing trail. The habitat was pretty much restricted to a cliff on one side as well as a few little culverts where there was some vegetation. On the other side was a drop off to the valley below and the 134 freeway--which of course you could hear the whole time you were on the trail....and of course helicopters, planes taking off and landing at Burbank airport and an occasional siren.

There weren't a whole lot of people on the trail and because it was so wide, I could basically avoid most of them. I kind of hugged the sides where there was vegetation looking for anything interesting and alive. As dry as it is, I was surprised to see a fair amount of flowers growing out of the side of the cliff--several botta's clarkia and lanceleaf liveforever plants as well as a few other random flowers. In a couple of places there were a few poppies and buckwheat plants.

And surprisingly I found a few interesting things--a couple of cool golden digger wasps, another small wasp yet to be identified, and even some non-native cape marigold flowers that seem to have spontaneously sprouted on the hillside....one of the few non-natives I haven't run into before.

Will I be back? Perhaps. I prefer trails where I can immerse myself in nature and the sound of semis and heavy freeway traffic does not lend itself to that type of experience. Still, I find it interesting and challenging to see what wildlife you can find in such urban environments. Somehow many species have adapted...there were many birds flying around including several eye level swallows and a very acclimated-to-humans red-tailed hawk.

Posted on May 30, 2021 06:07 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 6 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

May 15, 2021

Blalock WIldlife Sanctuary and surroundings 5/14/2021

I made yet another visit to this amorphous place in the Antelope Valley. I feel like, in general, the Antelope Valley remains ripe for exploration. It doesn't have any iconic attractions and to all outside appearances, there doesn't seem to be a lot going on. Much of the land is degraded from ranching, dairy, farming, trash and the assorted things that draw some people to the desert for less than noble reasons.

Last time I was at this location, there were maybe 2-3 flowers blooming and everything looked pretty dry. This time, about a month later, most of the creosote bushes were in bloom and there were a few brittlebush that had a few partial flowers remaining on them. But it was still very dry. And I only saw a couple of side-blotched lizards. I think reptiles might be suffering this year in many places as I definitely am seeing fewer than in the past.

In spite of the conditions, I had some interesting finds and one exciting moment when I accidentally flushed a pair of nighthawks. Bird life is relatively low in this area though there are always ravens patrolling and I did see/hear a few small sparrows and finches. But to actually find a nighthawk is pretty cool. Once again though I did not have my telephoto lens and I managed only a distant shot of one of the birds that flew a few feet away. Normally I would try and sneak up on a bird and try and get a closer shot; however, I was concerned that they might be nesting so I opted to forego a better photo and give them some space.

In addition to the nighthawks, there were probably hundreds of acmaeodera beetles in the area. This seems to be a good year for them in general and I counted more than 50 on one brittlebush plant. They may be concentrated though because there were so few flowers.

I also found some interesting leaf hoppers on a yucca plant as well as a chalcidoid wasp that is a first record for inaturalist. Finally, I saw a new butterfly on a plant by the roadside: a Behr's hairstreak. I had never even heard of this butterfly so I was really happy to find it. I even found a couple more a few miles away when I stopped by the road to examine some other brittlebush plants.

The beauty of exploration is that you never know what you might find. Summer is almost here so I'm not sure how many more trips I'll make but with new seasons comes new life, so I think I might be back.

Posted on May 15, 2021 05:58 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 6 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

May 07, 2021

April 28-30, 2021 Carrizo Plain

I've finally completed posting my observations for my second trip to Carrizo this year. One month from my March visit, I returned to find the vegetation even drier than before. It is going to be a long hot summer in Carrizo and I fear for the wildlife there.

Yet, in spite of the terribly dry conditions, I managed to find abundant wildlife everywhere. I'm simply amazed at the adaptations plants and animals have made to survive and sometimes even thrive where the environment is so forbidding. For instance, I stopped on my way to Carrizo at an area off Elkhorn Grade Road just to see what might be about. This area still has cattle grazing in some areas which probably hasn't helped the ecosystem. Yet, in spite of the sere, desolate looking area, I saw a singing horned lark, a couple of Nelson's antelope squirrels and a family of Bell's sparrows.

The big story in Carrizo this time around was the grasshoppers. I have never seen so many in my life. There must have been millions of them and I don't think I'm exaggerating. On one trail they were so numerous that every time I took a step at least 15-20 must have jumped. Most of the areas I went had abundant grasshoppers but there were definitely areas with more than others. The most numerous was the Valley grasshopper which are also some of the most colorful.

I also saw evidence of several birds nesting in the area including western meadowlarks and loggerhead shrikes both of whom were definitely taking advantage of the grasshopper abundance. As in March, I continued to see many, many young Nelson's antelope squirrels who are simply adorable and fortunately are omnivores so hopefully they will make it through the long hot summer to come though they are a major prey item for larger carnivores as well as hawks.

And I still managed to find some flowers. There was an area near Padrone Spring (dry as a bone) where there was a hill with many speckled clarkia. I also made my first sighting of some blow-wives flowers

Aside from seeing two female pronghorn, the other highlights of the trip were finding a LeConte's thrasher--definitely a bird that's not seen very often though they are known to nest in Carrizo and a sighting of a blunt-nosed leopard lizard--one of my all time favorite reptiles. Highly endangered, these lizards love the heat. When I found this one it was 96 degrees and I worked hard to find it. While I didn't get a great photo, it was a fitting way to end my trip.

Posted on May 07, 2021 00:51 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment