Journal archives for August 2023

August 03, 2023

August 2, 2023 Mount Wilson

With our endless summer heat, it's always nice to find a cooler spot to explore. Here in the Los Angeles area, we have the advantage of being within a 1 hour drive or so of the mountains, the desert or the beach. I decided to go to the closest mountain area with less people/traffic and went up to Mount Wilson where the Mount Wilson Observatory is based. There are a number of strenuous hiking trails in the general area but at my age, it's easier to just stroll/hike the area around the observatory. (I say "stroll" because as an iNaturalist user I'm constantly stopping to look at stuff. Only when I realize I'm out of time or with friends do I get into a hiking mode.)Anyway, Mount Wilson offers great mountain habitat, generous shade and not too many people on a weekday.

Mount Wilson is at 5700 feet or so, so it does not have wildly different species than the general Los Angeles area with the exception of the pine/conifer forest. There are many of the same plants we see in the "basin" as we call the Los Angeles area; however there are a few plants that are found in montane habitats that we don't see in Los Angeles. In addition, while some of the flowering plants are past peak in the LA area, some of the flowering plants are peaking in the mountains.

I also noticed that Mount Wilson, as an area, is not overly explored from an iNaturalist perspective. One of my goals is to always find under-observed areas and fill in the blanks, so to speak. And you don't always have to go far to do so. As an example, Franklin Canyon, right in the heart of Los Angeles was way under-explored from an iNaturalist perspective. Over the course of 18 months I think I added at least 120 species or more. Thus, it was fun to explore the area around Mount Wilson and see what is up there. I didn't have a lot of time so I'm planning to return in the near future when I have more time to devote.

First, I arrived before the gate was open at 10 AM. So I parked at a pullout and looked in the immediate area for things to photograph. There were three California buckwheat plants right near the road that were absolutely teeming with insects. To be honest, maybe 10 years ago, I used to see this much activity on buckwheat flowers here in the Los Angeles area. However, with a few exceptions, most of the buckwheat plants I see now are not heavily populated with insects aside from non-native honeybees. I wonder if the rampant use of pesticides and herbicides is impacting this as I always counted on buckwheat flowers as a good source to find pollinators. The past few years have been very disappointing in this area. The one area where I still see pollinators on buckwheat flowers is the desert.

I'm happy to report that the buckwheat up at Mount Wilson is thriving. And I only spent about 20 minutes in this area so there may have been many more species than I encountered. Among the pollinators were a painted lady, marine blue butterflies, a couple of species of wasps, digger bees, yellow-faced bumblebees and one of my favorites, California Digger-cuckoo bees (more than I've ever seen in one area). Once the gate opened I found many more bees, mostly on the woollypod milkweed plants, most of which had already peaked, but a couple of which were looking good. In addition to those bees mentioned above, I saw a western carpenter, more digger bees, more California cuckoo-digger bees, and the endangered Crotch's bumblebee. Crotch's have been having a great year here and if I think back to when they last had a good year, it was about 3-4 years ago when we had another good rain year. I believe they seem to thrive when we get good rains and then suffer when we're in drought.

In addition to all the great bees I found (and I've only mentioned a few of the species). I also saw a juvenile Stellar's jay, a juvenile western bluebird and my favorite, three juvie Western gray squirrels. The latter have mostly been extirpated from the Santa Monica Mountains (there are a few holdout populations) but thanks to the non-native fox squirrels, they are not seen that often unless you visit the mountainous areas. So it was fun to see the playful activities of a couple of siblings chasing each other through the forest.

In the reptile category, I didn't see any snakes, but I finally saw and photographed a southern sagebrush lizard. These guys seem very difficult (to me) to distinguish from the super common western fence lizard but my strategy worked out. I photographed every lizard I saw that resembled a western fence lizard and I did find a few sagebrush lizards. I think I'm beginning to see the subtle differences.

Finally, it's always nice to see plants in an area that haven't been reported yet, even if some of them are relatively common. I found a diffuse groundsmoke, a splendid woodland gilia and a San Gabriel beardtongue (a plant I wasn't even familiar with), none of which have been reported in the area. It always pays to look carefully for plants as I almost overlooked the gilia. It was in a small area where two paths diverged and in an area that you could easily overlook as it was full of wood chips and heavily shaded.

In summary, I probably added at least ten species to the Mount Wilson list and I can bet there are hundreds more that haven't been reported still waiting for an iNaturalist enthusiast to find.

Posted on August 03, 2023 09:05 PM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 5 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment