Saturday, February 27, 2010

Mallards at the pond

A very soggy, windy, cold day it is today. But the driving rain is not deterring the birdies from flocking at and under the bird feeder. The quail were out in force, and I was even surprised to find one of them actually on the the bird feeder itself (which is fixed on top of a 6 ft. post with a squirrel baffle), duking it out with the House finches and Juncos.

A special treat, however, was the arrival of a pair of Mallard ducks at the pond. This was the second time we've seen Mallards on the property. The male swam around the water for a short time, then hopped up onto the nearby rocks to preen his feathers. It was really hysterical watching him do these amazing calisthenics as he stretched out one of his bright orange webbed feet at a 90 degree angle to his body, like one of those fab "blokey belles" of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Death Valley Days

I recall that the 2004-2005 winter season in California was, like this year's, a wet one, and the abundant rains were a harbinger of some great wildflower displays in the Southland.

3/25/05 Silver Slough (normally a bone dry lake), north of Baker on the west side of Hwy. 127, en route to Death Valley NP, San Bernardino County, CA

Most memorable, however, was the truly spectacular wildflower show that manifested itself in Death Valley National Park. So spectacular, that some hailed it as a once-in-a-lifetime, best ever seen in the last 50 years.

Death Valley? Au contraire!

The annual rainfall at DVNP is typically under 2 inches, but that year saw three times the norm, with around 6 inches of precipitation.

3/25/05 Alluvial fans chock full of Desert Sunflowers (Geraea canescens), Black Mountains at Ashford Junction, Hwy. 178, Death Valley National Park.

Gil & I were compelled (i.e., I gave Gilbert an ultimatum) to take a couple days off work in March of '05, in order to experience this Floral Palooza.

Death Valley is not a hop and a skip from LA. We drove out to Barstow on the 24th and spent the night there at a pet-friendly Best Western, since we could not bear not to bring our then 6-month-old Akita along, and to also give ourselves more time for wildflower viewing the next day.

3/25/05 Dogs are only allowed along the roadways and in developed areas of the National Parks, so here's baby Hana, looking feisty around the Desert Sunflowers just off Hwy. 178. Gilbert managed to keep her occupied near the roadside while I was photographing a little further in. And, ahem, of course we told her not to eat the daisies...

Our time was limited and, as such, we decided to focus our attention on the south end of the Park along Highway 178, around the Ashford Mill area east of Salsberry Pass. It was unbelievable, not just for the abundance and diversity of wildflowers, but also for the sheer number of people out there.

3/25/05 Black Mountains at Ashford Junction, Hwy. 178, Death Valley National Park.

3/25/05 Desert Five Spot (Eremalche rotundifolia). Ashford Junction, Hwy. 178, Death Valley National Park.

3/25/05 Twining Snapdragon (Antirrhinum filipes). Roadside wash off Hwy. 178, 1 mile west of Shoshone (just outside DVNP boundary).

3/25/05 Desert Linanthus/Humble Gilia (Linanthus demissus). Roadside wash off Hwy. 178, 1 mile west of Shoshone (just outside DVNP boundary).

3/25/05 Bigelow's Monkeyflower (Mimulus bigelovii). Roadside wash off Hwy. 178, east of Salsberry Pass, Death Valley National Park.

3/25/05 Broad-flowered Gilia (Gilia latifolia).Roadside wash off Hwy. 178, east of Salsberry Pass, Death Valley National Park.

3/25/05 Fremont Phacelia (Phacelia fremontii). Roadside wash off Hwy. 178, east of Salsberry Pass, Death Valley National Park.

3/25/05 Desert Sand Verbena (Abronia villlosa). Ashford Junction, Hwy 178. Death Valley National Park.

3/25/05 Desert Star (Monoptilon bellioides). Gravelly wash at end of Hwy. 178 between Shoshone and Salsberry Pass, just outside boundary of DVNP. 

3/25/05 Desert Alyssum/Bush Peppergrass (Lepidium fremontii).Roadside wash off Hwy. 178, east of Salsberry Pass, Death Valley National Park.

3/25/05 Caltha-Leaf Phacelia (Phacelia calthafolia).Roadside wash off Hwy. 178, east of Salsberry Pass, Death Valley National Park.

3/25/05 Mojave Aster (Xylorhiza tortifolia). Roadside wash off Hwy. 178, 1 mile west of Shoshone (just outside DVNP boundary).

3/25/05 Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana).Gravelly wash at end of Hwy. 178 between Shoshone and Salsberry Pass, just outside boundary of DVNP. 

3/25/05 Desert Dandelions (Malacothrix glabrata). Ashford Junction, Hwy. 178, Death Valley National Park.

12/5/99 Desert Holly (Atriplex hymenelytra). Entrance to Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley National Park. Not related to the 2005 series, but this is the first plant that I ever photographed at DVNP. A nondescript desert plant that got me all excited about desert plants. Don't ask why...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Photo Shoot at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve

Ok, it wasn't really a photo shoot, but I was fulfilling an assignment, due next Saturday, for Dick Cronberg's level 2 photography class, which was to submit a photo of any subject taken on the Reserve, as long as Homo sapiens is in absentia from the scene.

We're only about a 15 minute drive from the vernal pools, so Gilbert and I got there at a reasonably early hour, around 9:30am. Weather was cool, breezy, partly cloudy, with a few sprinkles thrown in.

We were suited up, geared up, and ready to go, and then I took my first photo at the information kiosk at the trailhead. Hmmm...what was that flashing on the back panel of my camera? NO! GET OUT! NO WAY! No CF card???????

How could I forget the CF card? Well, apparently I did. When I was downloading pictures last night to post on this blog, I left the card in the reader without putting it back in the camera. Stupid, stupid me. Anyways, on to Plan B. Gilbert suggested we head down to Ralph's Supermarket in Murrieta to pick up some groceries and then stop by CVS pharmacy next door to see if they carried photo supplies/accessories. So, that we did, and yes, CVS did indeed have a 4GB card that fit my camera.

By 10:30am, we were back at the vernal pools and ready for action.

2/21/10 Vernal Pool Trail.

2/21/10 View from Vernal Pool Trail.

Dogs are not allowed in this 8,000 acre reserve, except on the equestrian trails in the Sylvan Meadows area. I respect that. We love Hana and want to take her everywhere, but dogs and the sensitive habitats of the vernal pools just don't mix. So we had sensibly left her at home, with the soothing background white noise of Food Network on the telly.

So, here's the side story. As we were hiking up the Vernal Pool Trail, we heard some rustling behind us and I was stunned to see a boisterous family of 7 or 8, walking their German Shepherd through the grass just off trail. There's a sign at the trailhead that clearly says, no dogs allowed on the trails, so what was up with these people? Normally, I would say something, but I felt stupefied and awkwardly outnumbered by a coterie of folks who didn't seem too keen on following the rules. The kicker was, we overheard the "father" tell one of his daughters to make sure she walked the dog off the trail in the grassy area (on the native bunchgrass that us people are barred from traversing), so as not to transgress the rule that says "dogs not allowed on trails." Wow. The logic just defies imagination. I hope they crossed paths with a ranger on their way back.

2/21/10 Sign reads "Boardwalk Closed." The boardwalk over the main vernal pool appears to be partially submerged, but hopefully not damaged, from the recent heavy rains.

2/21/10 Boardwalk over main vernal pool.

2/21/10 Main vernal pool.

2/21/10 Main vernal pool.

The photo I needed to take for next week's class is actually part of an amateur contest for the 8 of us who are enrolled in Dick's photography course at the reserve. Feeling the pressure of a newbie, I took about 70 shots today, not knowing if any of them would be worth a submission. 

2/21/10 Verdant grasses emerging from last year's remnants. Vernal Pool Trail.

2/21/10 View from Trans Preserve Trail.

2/21/10 Vernal Pool Trail.

Not much in bloom yet on the reserve, but a few stalwart late-winter staples are making their appearance.

2/21/10 White Chaparral Currant (Ribes indecorum). Trans Preserve Trail.

2/21/10 Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpus var. macrocarpus) trailing over lichen-encrusted rock. Trans Preserve Trail.

2/21/10 Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) growing in shaded oak woodland. Yes, it's edible, just like lettuce. So if you're ever planning to get lost in these woods, just make sure you remember to pack the balsamic & extra virgin olive oil. 

2/21/10 Common Bedstraw (Galium aparine). Another sweet-tasting native that's chock full of Vitamin C. Trans Preserve Trail.

2/21/10 Soap Plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum), not yet in flower. I've also found this wavy-leaved lily in abundance at the Tenaja Trail trailhead and along Tenaja Truck Trail (Forest Route 7501) in the Cleveland National Forest. Was used by Native Americans for food, lather, and cleansing. Also purported to treat Poison Oak rashes.

2/21/10 Padre's Shooting Star (Dodecatheon clevelandii), budded and ready to bloom. I have one sole specimen of this species growing in my garden (see my previous blog entries for the low down). 

Based on my brief survey of all the sproutlings and early bloomers, here's a partial lineup for the upcoming wildflower show this spring on the reserve:

Western Buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis)
Johnny Jump-Up (Viola pedunculata)
Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpus var. macrocarpus)
White Chaparral Currant (Ribes indecorum)
Checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora ssp. sparsilfora)
Soap Plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum)
Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)
Common Bedstraw (Galium aparine)
Cleveland's/Padre's Shooting Star (Dodecatheon clevelandii)
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Ground Pink (Linanthus dianthiflorus)
Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)
Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria biflora)
Red Maids (Calandrinia ciliata)
Goldfields (Lasthenia californica)

2/21/10 Rock art (Lichen on rock), Trans Preserve Trail.

2/21/10 More rock art (Lichen on rock), Vernal Pool Trail.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Coyote in the mist

On a drizzly, foggy February morning in 2007, Gilbert, Hana & I, rife with cabin fever, decided to drive out to the vernal pools for a look-see.

As we were turning back along Via Volcano, I spotted a coyote in the mist. She was ethereal, cloaked in a shroud of dewey grassland.

One of our favorite photos.

2/19/07 Via Volcano, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve

Dreaming of Dodecatheons

Padre's or Cleveland's Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii) are wildflowers that are native to the grassy slopes of Southern California, emerging in abundance after plentiful rains. If we've had some decent winter precipitation here on the Santa Rosa Plateau, they can be found in the springtime carpeting the areas just beyond the trailhead to the vernal pools off Via Volcano.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about having planted one of these in my garden last year (purchased online from Annie's Annuals in Richmond, CA). Seemed like a really tricky plant to get established, so I had no great hope for its survival. But then, lo and behold, I was beyond ecstatic to discover a rosette of leaves sprouting from the bare spot on the ground from whence I thought the poor bloke had met its maker...

Now, this lone Shooting Star has actually bloomed! Very tiny, the whole plant stands less than 6" tall, but still magnificent in my book.

2/20/10 Padre's Shooting Star (Dodecatheon clevelandii)

I think the key elements that allowed this diminutive beauty to survive in my garden were:

1. Planting in late winter/early spring when the weather was till cold, at least by Southern California standards.

2. Planting in unamended, decomposed granite, which happens to be the native soil on our property.

3. Allowing the plant to go dormant in the summer, which means absolutely no water/irrigation during that period (culture seems very similar to that of some of our native Mariposa lilies).

Winter is clearly not a deterrent to our blooming natives. We had some light rain last night, and in addition to the Dodecatheon, I found a few more natives strutting their stuff this morning.

2/20/10 California Mist Maiden (Romanzoffia californica). A native of ocean bluffs, moist, rocky areas along the Central Coast & Northwestern California. I have it growing on a partially shaded slope on the north side of the house, with bark mulch. This one needs regular irrigation. 

2/20/10 Fremontodendron 'San Gabriel'. I wasn't expecting this Flannel Bush to flower until early spring,  but here it is, one of two blooms I found this morning on this now 7' tall shrub-tree along our driveway. 'San Gabriel' has stunning 2-3" butter-yellow flowers from spring through summer. It's fast-growing to 25-20' tall & wide and extremely drought tolerant. Some people may be sensitive to the fine stellate hairs covering this plant, but I haven't yet developed any skin rashes. Keeping my fingers crossed, as I seem to be allergic to a lot of other things. 

2/13/10 Tufted Evening Primrose/Desert Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa ssp. marginata). My desert plants are still holding up despite the recent heavy downpours and general overall dampness of the grounds. Chanel No. 5 doesn't hold a candle to the scent of a desert primrose.

2/13/10 Cream Cups (Platystemon californicus). A member of the Poppy family, these annual native California wildflowers are a treasure to find in fields, grasslands, and even burn areas in spring. These were purchased as 3" pots from Annie's Annuals, but you can also buy the seeds from

Monday, February 15, 2010

Old Town Temecula

Went to Bev-Ray Camera Repair & Sales in Old Town Temecula today to get the sensor on my Canon Rebel Ti cleaned. It's hard to find a place that does camera repairs anymore, but this trek was sorely needed as my poor camera has seen a lot of use and abuse over the years.

The last time we were in Old Town was in September of 2008, so it's been awhile.

Old Town seems to be going through a significant transformation, from sleepy historic locale to a hub of new construction and redevelopment. Business is booming here despite the economic downturn. I don't know why we don't come here more often since we live so close by. Except for several photos from 2008, I took most these pictures after my camera had gone through its spa treatment this morning...

2/15/10 "The Edge" Restaurant and Lounge at 28544 Front Street (at Fifth Street), Old Town Temecula. Looks cool, but can't vouch for the food as we haven't eaten there yet. 

2/15/10 "The Edge" at Front Street and Fifth.

2/15/10 Palomar Inn Hotel at Front & Fifth Streets. A 10-room historic landmark hotel built in 1927. 

2/15/10 Palomar Inn Hotel.

9/3/08 Temecula Valley Historical Society Plaque #7 at Palomar Inn Hotel.

9/3/08 Rock Monument made from 150 tons of granite quarried from the Temecula area. Sam Hicks Park, Old Town Temecula. Sponsored by the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce and dedicated in 1969, the monument was carved with the names of 56 pioneers who "found their way to and through Temecula"

("Cowboy, historian, area pioneer Sam Hicks remembered 25 years after his death" 8/15/04 article in the North County Times

2/15/10 New $44 million (yikes!) Civic Center under construction in Old Town. A 3-story, 94,000 square foot revival style building at Mercedes & Main Streets.

2/15/10 Old Town Antique Faire on Front Street near Fourth St.

2/15/10 Rosa's Cantina at Front Street & Main. Our lunch spot staple in Old Town.

I truly believe that if redevelopment is done properly here, i.e., by preserving and respecting the quintessential character and historical integrity of its extant structures, then Old Town Temecula will one day be as great a draw as an Old Pasadena. That, along with our proximity to the Temecula Valley wineries, Mt. Palomar, and fantastic agricultural legacy with neighboring San Diego's North County (Fallbrook is home to the famed annual Avocado Festival), will one day put Southwest Riverside County on the map. 

9/3/08 Entry to Old Town Temecula, Front Street from Rancho California Rd.

A couple places in Old Town that I would recommend to any passerby are:

Temecula Olive Oil Company Cute little shop with a tasting bar. Yes - like a wine bar, except instead of vino, you get to down scrumptious mini shots of California olive oils, some with incredible infusions of herbs and/or citrus. Salud!

Delaney's Artisan Foods Market Newly opened about four months ago, Delaney's is all about sustainable agriculture and the "slow food" movement. They offer produce grown locally within 15 miles, and other artisan food products from within 100 miles. Great for those of us who can't always make it to those once-a-week, Saturday farmer's markets.