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

December 31, 2022

December 30, 2022 Year in Review

The year has flown by so quickly and looking back at 2022 I find it was a year of ups and downs.

From a nature standpoint, the ongoing drought and climate issues are continuing to have a sizable impact on wildlife. We had very little rain this last year, though we had two decent sized storms that kept everything from completely dying. Wildlife numbers seem to be down overall. However, in spite of this, I think we had a very good butterfly year. It seemed those numbers were up and that some species had very good years. On the other hand, a couple of species that I saw frequently in prior years, like the variable checkerspot seem to have had very reduced numbers in the past couple of years.

Human impacts too continued to play a significant role in the state of wildlife. I believe we lost at least 3-4 mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains this year to car strikes, P-22 being the most famous one. The number of wild animals in general that are killed by vehicles is huge and it seems to be getting worse. Whether it is because there are more people or less viable habitat for animals who are moving into more residential areas in search of food, the loss of animal life is very sad.

And just as it seems that since the pandemic, people have become more reckless, this behavior has perhaps been responsible for its increasing toll on wildlife. A wildlife bridge is being built in Los Angeles County and though it boasts of being the largest in the world, I would be happier with a smaller one if we could build many more. Most if not all of the mountain lion strikes were nowhere near where the wildlife bridge is being built. That being said, I can't wait until it is completed as it can't help but have some positive impact on animal survival and genetic diversity.

In terms of iNaturalist, my goal of trying to find 1000 new species a year fell short this year. I reached about 800 with which I am still happy considering I did very little travel beyond 100 miles from home. Even if I stayed exclusively in Los Angeles County I should easily be able to find 1000 new species each year as LA County has about 10000 species posted on iNaturalist with I'm sure many more to be found. This owes to the size of the county and the tremendous range of ecosystems in the county including marine, chaparral, desert and montane habitats.

One of the other goals I set this year was to try and fill in the species gaps in more local areas. I was never a fan of Franklin Canyon, a park in the heart of the city, due to the number of people in the park. However, I noticed that surprisingly, this park is way under-surveyed in terms of nature. The bird list is quite good and plants are fairly well documented as well. However, as I began exploring the park, I found so much that had never been reported and was able to add nearly 150 new species to the park, most of which are not even particularly rare but that just had never been posted to iNaturalist. In working on this project, I discovered that there is a tremendous amount of life living in this urban but "natural" park and I've been really pleased that I can fill in these gaps.

Another area I began to survey close to home is an area next to our concrete lined Los Angeles "river". One section of the river (maybe about a 1/4 mile stretch by 12 feet wide) has been planted with nothing but native vegetation. This area is maintained weekly by a group of volunteers and thanks to their upkeep, there seem to be flowers blooming most of the year. The amount of wildlife found in just this small strip of land is amazing. I documented 20 species of butterflies as well as over 100 other species of wildlife thriving along this stretch of the river this year. And I expect I will continue to find more wildlife as more and more species discover this island of habitat in the urban jungle.

Though overall, I struggle at times to stay positive in nature when I see so much of it being decimated by human encroachment or as the result of overdevelopment and climate issues, there are still moments of discovery and joy.

Highlights of the year: The two "finds" I had this year which were definitely highlights were a native bee and some fairy shrimp. The bee I found was in Joshua Tree National Park and is called Trachusa autumnalis. I discovered when it was identified that "From the revision: "No information is known about the biology of this rare species" [this includes host plant info] and,
"Its scarcity may be attributed to the infrequency of collections in the fall season". Here is a link to that obervation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/135483444. It is always gratifying to feel that the work we do as amateurs might in some way help science.

The other find, fairy shrimp, were found surprisingly, in the heart of Los Angeles. Fairy shrimp are quite interesting little creatures. Here is a little bit of info on them for those who are not familiar with them: "Lacking any dispersal mechanism of their own, fairy shrimp are permanent residents of temporary pools. We can only assume they are dispersed inadvertently by other animals, such as waterfowl and amphibians, or by wind and flooding events. Worldwide there are some 300 species found scattered across all seven continents, with 64 known in North America. Generally about ¾-inch long, fairy shrimp are easily recognized by their combination of stalked eyes, “upside-down” swimming behavior, and often orange, reddish, bronze, or bluish coloration. Fossils of fairy shrimp date back to the Cambrian Period (more than 500 million years ago), long before the first fish introduced simple vertebrate anatomy to the world. Originally populating the world’s oceans, fairy shrimp were eventually forced by evolving predators into shallow, temporary freshwater habitats." (From Vermont Center for Ecostudies). Because fairy shrimp are so rare, a biologist from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will be coming out to study these shrimp in January 2023. Here is a link to a poor photo of one of the shrimp: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/145302385

I had many more interesting finds but in the interest of not turning this post into a book, here is one more that is a first for iNaturalist, Penstemonia hennei : https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/127022854

Last but not least, one of the highlights of the year, and coming just in the last week, was the appearance of a special bird in Southern California...a snowy owl. Link to a photo of the owl: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/145269370

Drawing huge crowds and much media attention (I worry about the impact on this beautiful bird), this young owl has taken up residence in a suburban neighborhood just south of Los Angeles. Though I worry about the future of this owl since it is so so far from home, seeing it has definitely been one of the most memorable nature experiences I've had and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to see it. It is a reminder of how much joy nature can bring us and why it is so vital that we do everything we can to preserve it.

Posted on December 31, 2022 06:49 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 18, 2022

December 17 2022 P-22 RIP

I write this post with a heavy heart. Today world famous urban mountain lion P-22 was euthanized after being captured about a week ago due to a number of issues. At 12 years old, he was old for a male mountain lion, able to survive that long by staying in a very small area where he had no competitors. At the same time, that small area meant that he was not only landlocked on a small island but that he was able to produce no offspring since no other lion has been able to cross two major highways safely nor could he safely leave.

Though I never saw him, just knowing he was nearby made my world a richer place. I always dreamed of seeing him but now I never will. Fortunately there are more mountain lions out there but their existence in this highly urban environment is in peril. The fragmented habitat, the human barriers, the people who still use rat poison that works its way up the food chain...all of these threaten our mountain lion population as well as so much other wildlife. Inbreeding is occurring as these beautiful animals are unable to safely travel to find new mates.

Thanks in part to P-22, Los Angeles is now building a wildlife bridge which I hope will help our animals. But that is only one bridge in one area. I hope, if nothing else, the legacy of P-22 will be to bring more awareness and appreciation of wildlife to more people. These animals were here long before us. It would be very sad if because of us, they are unable to call this area home.

I'm so glad you were here, P-22! You will be missed.

Posted on December 18, 2022 01:19 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 08, 2022

August 7, 2022 Malibu Bluffs Park

It's been a hot summer, but then lately all our summers have been hot. As have our springs and falls for that matter. In an effort to avoid the heat, I headed out to Malibu Bluffs Park along the coast. Though I usually avoid the beach area during the summer, Malibu Bluffs Park tends not to get busy...at least the natural part of the park doesn't. I did see about 6 people but they were all spread out during my visit and I had the place mostly to myself.

I'm sure one of the reasons this area doesn't get many visitors is that it looks quite unremarkable. It's basically a big open area along the coast. Yes, it boasts nice views of the ocean, but there is nothing but chaparral here. No big attractions and probably a less natural feel due to the busy traffic going by on PCH and the helicopters whirring over the coastline.

While I didn't find anything remarkable here, it is a place where I've had good luck finding things that I don't find elsewhere. And while I'm always on the lookout for new species, any time I can find something in an area that I haven't seen in that area before, or that hasn't yet been recorded in that area, I am happy to add it to the inaturalist database.

My favorite find today were two, yes, two great spreadwings. I don't see these often so it was really nice to find them. I'm frequently discouraged when I don't see species that I used to see a few years ago. Yet I'm often encouraged when I find species in a new location where I wasn't expecting to see them.

In addition to the spreadwings, what I found interesting were the number of marine blue butterflies around. I actually was at this park last week and counted over 50. I'm sure there were still at least that many if not more. Interestingly enough, there are really not that many records on inaturalist of these butterflies in the coastal area of Malibu--or at least not anywhere near the observations that reflect the abundance I saw last week and today. It certainly reminds me that the data we add, while very valuable, often does not reflect what is actually happening out in nature.

In addition to seeing a large variety of bee flies, I also was pleased to find an ashy gray lady beetle. I've seen them before, but this was my first sighting in the Santa Monica Mountains area. Another cool find, and one of my favorite genera was a scriptured leaf beetle. I saw a couple of these last week but I always enjoy seeing them again.

Finally, I'm still amazed at how well animals are able to "hide" in plain sight. Today I saw both a moth and a spider, which had I not been looking very closely I would never have seen. I've posted both in conjunction with this journal entry and it makes me wonder how many things we all overlook as we're going about our visits in nature.

The more I observe nature, the more I learn. Not only have I discovered that many things that look the same are not necessarily the same, I've also learned to spend a lot of time looking over everything to make sure I'm not missing something interesting. Some of my best finds have been when I spent time in one spot looking at something, only to find something else crawling/flying by that I never would have noticed had I not stopped in that spot.

Posted on August 08, 2022 03:58 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 30, 2022

June 28, 2022 Zuma Canyon

It has been six months since I visited Zuma Canyon. I used to visit this area quite regularly as it has some nice trails and habitat. Since the 2018 fire, though, things have changed. I was quite disappointed at my last visit in December 2021, as it looked very dry and inhospitable. The ongoing drought has not been kind to this area that used to regularly have a bit of water in the creek at least further back in the canyon.

While no water was present, and hasn't been for some time, I am pleased to report that the habitat looks much improved. For some reason our weird rain storms...a big one last December and another decent one in April, with almost nothing in between seems to have been just what our flowers needed.

I've certainly seen a lot more flowers this year than last year. What struck me most at Zuma Canyon was the sheer number of flowers in bloom. There must be over 100,000 flowers in bloom. Are there flowers everywhere? No. As usual, when you first start on the trail, the vegetation looks fairly dry with a few flowers here and there. However as you head back on the main trail, more and more flowers appear and though the variety is somewhat low, this being the end of June, the quantity is great. Thousands of cliff asters line some portions of the trail and hillsides and chaparral bush mallow plants are looking great and spread throughout. The coastal buckwheat is almost at peak and as everywhere in the Santa Monica Mountains, the laurel sumac bushes are filled with flowers. And, there are still some flowers to come, at least in this location.

That being said, things are far from perfect. This area used to be one of the few locations with western gray squirrels. I haven't seen one since the fire. I checked inaturalist and it doesn't appear that any have been reported since then either. Sadly, I notice that none have been sighted in Solstice Canyon this year at all--and this was the other reliable place to see them. I hope there is a population somewhere still hanging on but I'm a bit concerned. I know I saw a roadkill gray squirrel last year near the turnoff to Solstice and that worried me. With such low numbers, it's difficult for animals to maintain a viable population.

I haven't seen a rattlesnake at Zuma Canyon either since the fire and another check of inaturalist shows no reports of rattlesnakes since the fire. While that doesn't mean there aren't any, as not all people are using inaturalist, it does seem as though the fire has had a very tough impact on many animals.

The good news though is that the lush vegetation is definitely attracting lots of insects and pollinators. As someone who photographs a lot of insects, it is a bit overwhelming to see so many flying around and try to find cooperative ones. I saw many, many bees, several of which I'm still waiting for ID's on. Many were visiting ground nests in several locations, and I'm sure they will have plenty of pollen for their offspring.

As for butterflies, there were many. It's been a great year for checkered whites and Zuma Canyon was filled with them. There were also many marine blues. One interesting thing I noticed was that though this area used to be a haven for variable checkerspot butterflies I didn't see a single one (although it is getting late in the year for them). I used to see dozens of these along with a few gabb's checkerspot butterflies. On this day I saw one gabb's checkerspot and I notice that there have been no variable checkerspot sightings in this location since before the fire.

At least the insects and flowers seem to be having a good effect on bird life and though many cool birds have been reported on ebird, I wasn't able to spot or take photographs of as many species as I'd like. However, it's always nice to see the resident nanday parakeets and there were several black headed grosbeaks. Being able to photograph a juvenile quail (probably at the "teenage" stage) was also a highlight of the day.

Interestingly enough, many of the charred sycamore trees have sprouted a tremendous amount of leaves that are predominately growing at the base of the trees while the charred trunks are still on top. I don't know if the trees will grow taller and the leaves eventually rise but it's an interesting phenomenon...so instead of a canopy, there is more of a "skirt". Still it is nice to see life return and the amount of leaves on some of the trees is amazing.

If I've learned anything from visiting and revisiting areas over time, it is that the impacts of fire are long lasting. While the initial shock was difficult to take, the great rain year of 2019 seemed to mitigate that feeling by bringing lots of life back to those charred areas. Since then, we have experienced three dry years and are anticipating more of those along with higher and higher temperatures. From this review of just one small area, it is obvious that things are far from "back to normal". I do so wish more people would feel a sense of urgency to do what they can to protect our planet. So many animal lives depend on it.

Posted on June 30, 2022 05:55 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 08, 2022

June 5, 2022 Corbin Canyon

I haven't visited Corbin Canyon much this year, partially because I've been trying to focus more on desert habitats, but also because I was so disappointed in how the area was decimated last year for "fire prevention" reasons by MRCA. It has taken a long time to recover from that extreme mowing down of every living plant within 100 yards of the trail. Between that action and the drought, the place has taken a beating.

However, I always like to check in to places I've visited in the past to see how they're faring. I'm pleased to report that the area looked very good. It's obvious that some vegetation "trimming" took place already this year. But, amazingly enough, it appears as though the people who manage the area actually listened to my concerns about how it was handled last year. I definitely don't want to take all the credit so I'm hoping that I was not the only one that complained.

While they did mow down a fair amount of the non native grasses and mustard this year, they actually trimmed around the native plants. For instance, the milkweed plant that was mowed down last year, was actually left intact this year--and it had a monarch caterpillar on it! New tarweed plants and elegant clarkia are all there. California aster plants are sprouting now that last year never even appeared except in areas not mowed. And the area that was trimmed was reduced substantially. Is it perfect? Probably not, but there were many, many birds around unlike last year when after the trimming I didn't hear a single bird for more than a month.

So what else can I report? I don't know if anyone else in the Los Angeles area has noticed but it sure seems like a good butterfly year. Though we only had two rainstorms of any significance, the wildflowers and butterflies seem pretty abundant this year. Maybe the spacing out of those storms contributed to this but I'm thankful for this. After all, we have no idea what will happen this coming rain year.

In addition, the purple sage plants that are very abundant in Corbin Canyon and looked totally dead after our dry, dry year seem to have revived and are thriving again and attracting many pollinators. Though some are definitely well past peak, there are still many that are in full bloom. The toyons have many flowers and the blue elders have many many berries. I saw band tail pigeons in the canyon for the first time since I started coming here. They were feasting on the berries.

And like everywhere else, the sapphire woollystar flowers are really prolific. It's a great year for Eriastrum flowers in general, though they've definitely already peaked.

In addition to the numerous native bees I saw (and yes, there were still an abundance of western honeybees) I found some interesting arthropods including this super orange bee fly (genus villa), a boldly patterned tiny bee fly (genus neacreotrichus), an ant mimic spider and a wasp that captured some sort of prey and took it into it's burrow.

And I'm always amazed at what I don't capture. As many insects as I was able to photograph, there were probably three times as many that I wasn't able to capture. Life is all around us just waiting for us to take notice. It brings me much joy to immerse myself in nature. I just wish more people would take the time to pay attention to the natural world around us. Perhaps if more people did, our planet would not be in such bad shape.

Posted on June 08, 2022 06:41 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 8 observations | 2 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 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 6 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

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 08:06 PM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 16 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 21, 2022

April 18, 2022 Desert Tortoise Natural Area

What a challenging time for nature and all it's creatures. The drought is apparent throughout the state. That being said, some areas have fared better than others. For instance, the Los Angeles area where I live seems to have done a bit better than expected thanks to two (yes, count them, two rainstorms). When I was a kid I remember storms lasting for 3-4 days. And they would come at least a couple of times a month in the winter. Now, I'm thankful for one day of good rain.

The desert tortoise natural area in the Mojave is definitely one of the more challenged areas and it breaks my heart to see how dry and dead everything looks. I visited this area on April 2nd and then returned on this day, April 18th. In the intervening time, the few flowers that seemed to have been blooming--and those very few, dried out and were no longer providing sustenance to the animals that depend on them.

During my first 15 minutes in the area, I almost gave up on finding anything as it was just so horrible looking. If you check out this distant photo of a western whiptail you can see what a great deal of the protected area looks like. However, once I traveled further I was able to scare up some life. Always a pleasure to see are desert horned lizards and this one was one of my first good finds at the reserve.

As I came closer to a wash, I started finding more flowers. The nature reserve volunteer later told me that at the end of March they had 2 hours of steady rain. So little rain, and yet, some flowers were able to take advantage of it. Most of the flowers I saw I believe are the result of those rains. However, so many of them look deeply stressed. And I'm sure the animals there are consuming them as fast as they can with so little habitat to provide for them.

There were still many pallid winged grasshoppers around who seem to be having a banner year...I'm seeing many everywhere. And they may be one of the culprits in consuming what little vegetation there is. I didn't see many bees this time however I did find a couple of super cool tiny wasps feeding on wild buckwheat flowers.

Some of the other flowers I found were a gilia that I've never seen at the reserve before, a few booth's evening primrose and several very healthy looking wishbone bushes..another plant I don't recall seeing at this area before. There were also some paperbag bushes with a few blooms--the plants were quite remarkable in that they're quite large and looked almost dead except for a few flowers poking out in a few places. The wishbone bushes which actually were robust were attracting their fair share of insects and I found these beautiful moths on one of them (I think they are orange-banded lithariapteryx but that is not yet confirmed.)

I also saw this small rock bristletail which was racing around the sand. Kind of a cool find in the desert.

Sadly, I saw no desert tortoises this time around and I heard the even sadder news that the one juvenile tortoise that was the source of much hope at the reserve did not make it through the year. Perhaps last year's incredible drought which makes this year's habitat look lush was too much for the youngster.

The other thing I've learned from my visits is that not only is vegetation sparser and flowers smaller due to the drought but their blooming period is very abbreviated. The landscape changes very quickly in this parched area. And perhaps those plants that do make it are better adapted to the dry conditions...in other words, evolving to survive on less water.

My hope is that we get lucky and have a great desert monsoonal season and better rains in 2023. The animals need all they help they can get.

Posted on April 21, 2022 01:38 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 10 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

March 01, 2022

February 26, 2022 Cold Creek Canyon

The last time I visited this area, it was very, very dry and lifeless. Today I thought I'd make a return visit to see how it has fared since our one big rain in December. I entered away from the main trail as I have lately in order to avoid as many people as possible. As it turned out, I didn't see a single other person.

The good news is that there is now water in the creek although in the areas exposed to sun, it is very low and suffering from an algae bloom, thanks to our hot weather. In addition, like in many places around Southern California, there were quite a few flowers in bloom, though they were typically smaller than average and many looked heat stressed even though we did have one week of cool weather.

However, the drought has really taken a toll on everything. And, the wide swings in temperature and humidity have certainly confused our wildlife. As yet, I've seen very few bees out though there are sufficient flowers in bloom that might benefit from their activities. Yes, there are always western honey bees; however, it is quite early for other bees to be out and I just hope there are still some flowers around when they do come out as the high heat and lack of any significant rain since December (and none in the forecast for the beginning of March) doesn't bode well for flowers.

I'm also beginning to see that even within a broad area of Southern California, there are definitely microclimates--areas that seem to be doing much better than others. For instance, in the past I thought Rancho Sierra Vista seemed to weather the drought a bit better than some places. However, my visit there a couple of weeks ago was depressing. I notice eBird counts from there seem to be down quite a bit. Worse, I stopped by Leo Carrillo today and the tide pools were nearly empty. Most, if not all of the surfgrass was brown and clearly dying/dead and very little other algae/vegetation was around. It was 90 degrees there and very dry. These high pressure heat events seem to be happening with regularity in "winter" and are deadly for our environment.

Yet, there are other areas, like Franklin Canyon and Briar Summit (the little pocket park I go to) that look quite healthy. Rainfall patterns and vegetation certainly impact how different areas survive in drought conditions. I think the beach communities, especially north of Malibu Lagoon seem to be faring worse as they traditionally have had very cool and foggy weather patterns that have been replaced by hot windy days during winter.

My visit to Cold Creek Canyon was quiet. Very little bird life was around except for a few scrub jays and a singing thrasher. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a snail..my first one in this location. Sadly, I also found the remains of a gray fox, one of my favorite animals. Since they seem not that common in our area, it is always depressing to find one that didn't make it.

I didn't really make any other unique finds but there seemed to be a huge number of flies and gnats around. With lower numbers of flycatchers and warblers, these insects seem to be thriving. Though I feel quite powerless to do much about what is happening to our environment, continuing to document these changes will hopefully provide further insight into where changes are occurring most as well as what organisms are surviving and which ones are struggling.

Posted on March 01, 2022 06:49 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 2 comments | Leave a comment