December 31, 2023 Year in Review

2023 was a very interesting one from a nature standpoint. Here in California we had a record rainfall which was a welcome relief following four years of an unrelenting drought. And it couldn't have come at a better time. We desperately needed rain. And wildlife needed a lifeline.

However, as we know, nature does bounce back when given the chance. Yet, the rain seemed to have an interesting affect on wildlife. Or at least I'm attributing it to the rain. It seems as if our native bees did not really start coming out until almost June. During the drought and accompanying hot winter weather, I was seeing bees in good numbers as early as February. In addition to the late start for bees, I noticed fewer species overall in the Los Angeles area. One striking change was that in the two years prior, I saw hundreds of Small Arizona Carpenter bees. This year I saw only a handful. Granted I can't be at every location all the time so it's quite possible I missed some large populations somewhere. But I don't see a whole lot of observations of these for 2023. I also saw many fewer wasp species and numbers than in prior years though they may still be out there.

On the plus side, the rain seemed to have a positive impact on butterflies. Lots of flowers meant lots of vegetation and butterflies seemed to be thriving in many areas. Particularly notable were very large numbers of cabbage whites (an introduced species) and more than usual numbers of orange sulphurs. And most of these butterflies were flying well into November.

We also had a "hurricane" in the middle of summer in August. Though not as catastrophic as predicted (and nothing like the hurricanes we see in the southeast US), it did bring a great amount of rain during a time of year when we usually don't see any at all. Some areas of the desert were severely impacted. For instance Death Valley received more rain in that one storm than is normal for an entire year. Roads were washed out and there was damage further west in the Coachella Valley area that impacted some people.

The result of that August rainstorm meant that flowers started blooming again in fall. We have many fall bloomers here in California, but some of the flowers blooming this autumn were those normally only seen in spring/summer. I'm sure it's confusing for insects and birds. And despite all those flowers, there were definitely fewer pollinators as I'm sure they thought they were done for the year.

On a personal note, I definitely did not find as many new species as in prior years. And, of course, to get new species you have to travel to new environments, not much of which I did in the last year. However, although that is a personal goal, I still am motivated to make observations in the hope that the information I post will help us know what animals are out there and how they're doing. There are not a whole lot of people who have the time and motivation to do what I do, so I'm hoping that all my overwhelming posts of wildlife help in some small way to find out what is happening in the Los Angeles basin.

Although I didn't travel much this year, I tried to focus on some areas that are close by to help and fill in the gaps. I made a lot of trips to the Antelope Valley and it paid off with some observations of native bees that have very few if any iNat records. These include: Trachusa larraea--a bee associated with creosote bushes and for which my records were the first for Los Angeles County, though found later by some other intrepid observers; Perdita polycarpae, a fairy bee I found in Joshua Tree which was initially a first iNaturalist record but was followed closely by two observations by Carol Blaney; Perdita desdemona, a heteroperdita which according to bee expert Zach Portman, was a species only known from three specimens; Perdita coldeniae, another heteroperdita, that was identified from probably one of my worst photos ever (but obviously distinctive), another iNaturalist first. It was truly gratifying to find these bees and a personal challenge to try and photograph the two heteroperdita species as it took a couple of trips sitting in the blowing sand of the desert to try and get reasonably sharp photos of these 3 mm size bees that never seemed to stop moving. I'm hoping to go back and get better photos this year if they are still around.

Other highlights of the year include getting some great photographs of a mating pair of Blunt Nosed Leopard lizards, critically endangered but charismatic lizards that I absolutely love. I haven't posted those specific photos to inaturalist but one can be seen on my Flickr site and I have other photos on iNat of single individuals. It was cool sitting in the sand in 90 F degree heat watching these two lizards interact with no human being around for miles and miles.

Another gratifying find, though not new at all to me, was finally seeing some San Joaquin kit foxes in the wild after not seeing any for three years. Severely impacted by the drought, it was good to see a few of these adorable small foxes make a comeback.

Closer to home, I focused on filling out the species list for the Sepulveda Basin, a local wildlife area. I've added many new insect species to iNat for the Basin, thanks in part to the California Native Plant Society planting a whole slew of native plants in the wildlife lake area. It's paid off and I'm finding the whole site very rich in wildlife. Unfortunately, the area gets very abused by people so it probably does suffer some negative impacts from that abuse. I truly wish the site was monitored and protected.

Another area I tried to concentrate more on this year was plants. Though I love plants, I haven't really focused on them. I tend to walk right by things without closely looking, taking them for granted. This year, I really tried to look around me and it paid off as I found many more plants this year, started improving my photography of plants for ID, and had the luck of having the rainy year produce several new plants that I hadn't seen before in Los Angeles County.

Finally, the rain was great for fungi. I find fungi fascinating but definitely do not have the skills or expertise to really identify most, and obviously many cannot be identified from photos alone. But it's cool to walk through a wooded area and discover all kinds of interesting shapes and colors. One of my favorite finds this year was just this month where I found an orange peel fungus...super colorful and so pristine when I found it.

Overall, it was a gratifying year. I continue to find interesting and little observed insects, as I really try and focus (literally and figuratively) on things that most people overlook. I also was surprised to find a couple of new (to me) reptile species as well as some new birds (thanks to the reports on eBird). So, while my numbers are down, the types of observations I made this last year have provided me with much joy and hopefully a minor contribution to science.

Links to a few of the species mentioned in this post are below:

Trachusa larreae:
Perdita polycarpae:
Perdita desdemona:
Perdita coldeniae:
Orange sulphur on out of season blooming flower:
Blunt nosed leopard lizard: (better photos on Flickr)
San Joaquin kit fox:
Solva pallipes: (1st LA County record from Sepulveda Basin)
Purplespot gilia: (new plant for me)
Cassin's vireo: (new bird for me)
Orange peel fungus:

Posted on December 31, 2023 07:22 PM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze


A great summary!

Posted by kimssight 5 months ago

Thanks Kim! Happy New Year!

Posted by naturephotosuze 5 months ago

Kudos for your amazing efforts and accomplishments! I thank you!

Posted by palbertson 5 months ago

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