Journal archives for May 2023

May 03, 2023

April 11-13, 2023 Carrizo Plain

What a dramatic difference a year makes. The rainstorms we got this winter and spring have transformed a dry barren expanse of land, the Carrizo Plain, into one with the brilliant colors of springtime blooms. Looking at Google earth where photos were taken a few months ago, it's hard to believe it's the same place.

I've been wanting to visit now for over a month but our cool rainy weather kept me away. My visit in April was short but jam packed as there was just so much to see. I realize how different the pace of my visits have been when I compare the drought years to this year. In the past three years, I at times, struggled to find anything alive plant-wise. However, it was much easier to find small animals as there was so little vegetation to hide under. Thus, even with really challenged environmental conditions, I was able to capture photos of some animals.

In this year's visit I found myself surrounded by so many stunning landscapes that I spent a lot more time working on trying to take amazing landscape photos to capture the colors and beauty. While this absorbed much of my time, I still tried to look for animals but the vegetation was so dense and tall I only saw two antelope squirrels when I was there and both of them were running across the road. Even birds seemed scarcer with the exception of horned larks. I saw very few red-tailed hawks and wonder if they can even see anything to catch with so much ground cover. I saw no elk or pronghorn although they should be easier to see above the flowers. I also didn't have time to get to the areas where they can sometimes be found since I was so absorbed in taking landscape photos.

I stopped by the visitor center and talked to the biologist, Russ about what was going on at Carrizo. He told me that they have been averaging 400-500 visitors a day during the week and over a thousand each day on the weekends. The flowers are definitely a draw and I can attest to that---so many people taking selfies and posing in flower fields for their instagram accounts. I understand the appeal but it kind of takes away from the back to nature experience I enjoy at Carrizo.

Anyway, Russ told me that they are actually going to bring in some cattle to graze in some areas of Carrizo to get the vegetation less thick as it is hampering the movement of the endangered kangaroo rats. They are normally fast animals but they can't move very well through the labyrinth of plants that are everywhere, which potentially makes them more likely to be preyed upon. In addition, the blunt nosed leopard lizards, also endangered, need to warm up during the day and with all the vegetation they are forced on to the road where they can be run over by vehicles.

At the same time, the cattle need to be kept away from the endangered plants at Carrizo so it is a tough management problem to try and keep everything in balance. These issues also highlight how the loss of grasslands in the state have impacted Carrizo. With this being the only sizable grassland remaining in California, many of the plants and animals are endangered as they have been extirpated from many of their traditional other words, Carrizo is their last refuge. With our drying climate, it has been even more challenging and while it is great to see the rebirth this year, we know that the drought will return. We just have to be grateful for these intermittent wet years that bring new life to the land.

Another interesting thing about this year, is that the variety of plant life seems to have expanded. Or at least my notice of it has. I saw many new plants I hadn't seen before. And I didn't even make it to many areas I wanted to visit. One of the plants I saw more of than I've ever seen is Byron's larkspur, a "vulnerable" plant and an interesting one at that. I also saw a two-seed milkvetch, a plant completely new to me and it seemed to be in several places.

While the weather was on the cool side while I was there I did have one moment of excitement when I saw a coachwhip slither by at top speed. I was so disappointed that I didn't get a photo of it. And I was really encouraged when I caught a quick glimpse of a San Joaquin kit fox, the first time I've seen one since 2020. Last year I was so concerned that I hadn't seen any for two years that I worried about their survival. They have so many challenges that it was good to see one alive and looking healthy.

Some of my other interesting finds were a Howell's onion, some green fairy or brine shrimp which were very abundant in Soda Lake, and a purplespot gilia. Most surprising was finding a western tiger beetle in Carrizo. Whenever I've seen tiger beetles in the past they have always been near water however this one was not near water so I'm not sure whether that is significant or not. My photo was awful since it was running so fast but since it's the first listing for Carrizo, it is really cool. And finally, I once again found a Cauchus moth. As documented in the notes below this observation, this is a species that is currently being described in a paper. Hopefully it will eventually achieve species status.

There is so much to discover here that I look forward to another visit soon.

Posted on May 03, 2023 03:24 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment