Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Treks on the Santa Rosa Plateau: A Gopher's Life on the Granite Loop Trail

Last Sunday, Gil & I hiked the Granite Loop trail at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. It was a gorgeous, mild, and sunny Spring day. With the visitor center less than a 10 minute drive from our house, I think we will try to come out and hike a different route every other weekend or so, as there will be no shortage of trails to cover on this 8,300-acre preserve.

The trailhead (with interpretive trail guide) starts at the parking lot of the visitor center. It's a short and easy hike at 0.6 mile and little elevation gain, with numbered markers along the way.

3/28/10 Granite Loop Trail

The seasonal creeks are still flowing and the wildflowers are in abundance. In terms of wildlife, Gil saw a Mule deer in the foliage, and we also caught glimpses of various lizards, butterflies, birds, and a hungry pocket gopher. 

3/28/10 California Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae). 

He was so !*&#@ cute, that I almost forgot how destructive these guys actually are. As we watched him popping in and out of his subterranean abode, we realized he was consuming every vestige of plant material within his immediate reach, including (eventually) those two lovely Baby Blue Eyes blossoms hanging serendipitously over his head.

Onto the wildflower segment. Here's the list of the blooming beauties we saw along the way:

Checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora ssp. sparsiflora)
Ground Pink (Linanthus dianthiflorus)
Angel's Gilia (Gilia angelensis)
Johnny Jump-Up (Viola pedunculata)
Purple Night Shade (Solanum parishii)
Southern Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata ssp. mexicana)
Fringe Pod (Thysanocarpus curvipes)
California Peony (Paeonia californica)
Pomona Locoweed (Astragalus pomonensis)
Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum)
Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpus var. macrocarpus)
Dwarf Lupine (Lupinus bicolor)
Goldfields (Lasthenia californica)
Popcorn Flower (Cryptantha & Plagiobothrys spp.)
Owl's Clover (Castilleja densiflora)
Strigose Lotus (Lotus strigosus)
Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpus var. macrocarpus)
Baby Blue Eyes (Nemophila menziesii var. menziesii)
San Diego Pea (Lathyrus vestitus var. alfeldii)
Common Lomatium (Lomatium utriculatum)

3/28/10 Checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora ssp. sparsiflora)

3/28/10 Owl's Clover (Castilleja densiflora). Owl's Clovers and Indian Paintbrushes (Castilleja spp.) are hemiparasitic, meaning that they attach to and derive some of their nutrients from a host plant (e.g., grasses & sedges).

3/28/10 California Bells (Phacelia minor).

3/28/10 Ground Pinks (Linanthus dianthiflorus).

3/28/10 San Diego Pea (Lathyrus vestitus var. alfeldii).

3/28/10 Southern Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata ssp. mexicana).

3/28/10 Johnny Jump-Up (Viola pedunculata).

3/28/10 Pomona Locoweed (Astragalus pomonensis).

3/28/10 Shady respite under a canopy of oak trees.

3/28/10 Approximately 300 year-old oak tree. According to the trail guide, 150 years is the average age of the oaks trees on the Plateau.

3/28/10 Fringepod (Thysanocarpus curvipes).

3/28/10 Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola pedunculata) adding pizzazz to the landscape.

3/28/10 Meadow of Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens). The Santa Rosa Plateau is home to one of the few remaining areas of native bunchgrass prairie in California. 

3/28/10 An 'Acorn Cupboard'. In the fall season, our resident Acorn Woodpeckers will horde acorns in the trunks of dead tree parts. An artful masterpiece, IMHO...

3/28/10 Just a reminder that this wild "kitty" inhabits our neighborhood. Adult males can easily weigh over 150 pounds, and are magnificent to behold. I've only seen a Mountain Lion in the wilds once before in the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve (a desert oasis in the Little San Bernardino Mountains off Hwy. 62). Attacks on humans are very rare, but one must always be vigilant and just use common sense when hiking in their turf (same applies when hiking in black bear habitat).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

SRP Native Plant Sale & CA meets Southwest in a pile of dirt

Today was the Nature Conservancy's annual Spring native plant sale at the Santa Rosa Plateau Visitor Center. We arrived around 10:00am and found parking to be scarce. Not surprising, as it was a gorgeously sunny (albeit breezy) spring day, drawing in a profusion of visitors and hikers to the reserve.

3/27/10 Visitor Center, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.

3/27/10 Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis). Visitor Center, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.

3/27/10 Mahonia 'Golden Abundance.' Visitor Center, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.

As always, Susan Frommer, along with a wonderful crew of friendly volunteers, were on hand at the plant sale to help with plant selections, helpful advice, and good humor. I'm glad that Susan has expanded the typical selections to include a few southwestern (not native, but non-invasive) drought tolerants that are perfect for xeriscapes and also great companions for native plantings.

My bounty today:
Heartleaf Penstemon (Keckiella cordifolia)
Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens)
'El Dorado Gold' Fremontia
Red-Skinned Onion (Allium haematochiton)
Chaparral Clematis (Clematis lasiantha)
Purple Needlegrass (Nasella pulchra)
San Diego Honeysuckle (Lonicera subspicata)
Chaparral Currant (Ribes indecorum)
Hartweg's Sundrop (Calylophus hartwegii)
Texas Sundrop (Calylophus drummondianus)
Engelmann Oak (Quercus engelmannii)
Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides)

I am also ecstatic that I was finally able to transform a pile of dirt left by our builder off our driveway into a beautiful flowerbed that is bursting with both California native annual wildflowers and a few Southwestern perennials. A former weed den (Mustard, Filaree, Clover, etc.), this patch of dirt has now morphed into a veritable hummingbird magnet.

Growing in harmony in this loamy pile are:

'Mission Bells' California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica)
Whitney's Clarkia (Clarkia amoena whitneyi)
'Aurora' Farewell to Spring (Clarkia amoena 'Aurora')
'Shamini' Clarkia (Clarkia rubicunda)
Western Buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis)
'Cape Sebastian' Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus)
Purple Needlegrass (Nasella pulchra)
Southern Monardella (Monardella australis)
Mountain Pennyroyal (Monardella odoratissima)
'King Range' Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophylla)
Blue Thimble Flower (Gilia capitata)

Agastache 'Desert Sunrise'
Agastache 'Orange Flare'
Agastache 'Pink Pop' (Agastache astromontana)
Agastache 'Ava'
Agastache 'Rosita' (Agastache cana)
Agastache 'Acapulcho Rose' (Agastache mexicana)
'Magenta Hope' Autumn Sage (Salvia x jamensis)
'Dancing Dolls' Autumn Sage (Salvia x jamensis)
West Texas Grass Sage (Salvia reptens)
'Hot Lips' Salvia (Salvia microphylla)
'Berzerkeley' Salvia (Salvia microphylla)
'Stampede Lavender' Autumn Sage (Salvia gregii)
'Navajo Bright Red' Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)
'Lipstick' Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)
'Nearly Red' Pineleaf Beardtongue (Penstemon pinifolius)
'Tall Orange Mix' Pineleaf Beardtongue (Penstemon pinifolius)
'Blue Lips' Penstemon
'Jacob Kline' Hardy Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

And here are a few more natives blooming in the garden:

3/27/10 Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis).

3/20/10 Pink-Flowered Currant (Ribes sanguineum glutinosum).

3/26/10 'Anacapa Pink' Island Morning Glory (Calystegia macrostegia).

3/27/10 Bird's Eye Gilia (Gilia tricolor).

3/27/10 Frying Pans (Eschscholzia lobbii).

3/27/10 Bush Monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus).

3/27/10 Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata).

3/27/10 Southern Suncups (Camissonia bistorta).

3/26/10 'Sunset Strain' Lewisia (Lewisia cotyledon).

3/27/10 Ceanothus 'Dark Star'.

3/27/10 'Alexandra' Monkeyflower (Mimulus cultivar).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bramble Green Hairstreak!

What a charming little western butterfly from the "Bramble Hairstreak Complex."

First time I ever saw this elfin beauty was on the property in March of 2001 before our house was built (there's a photo of it in my August 30, 2009 post). I was enamored at first sight, as I never imagined that a butterfly could possibly come in any shade of green.

Late Saturday afternoon, I saw this fellow flitting about the San Diego Viguiera that are blooming in the front garden.

3/20/10 Bramble Green Hairstreak (Callophyrs dumetorum) on San Diego Viguiera (Viguiera laciniata).

The field guide An Introduction to Southern California Butterflies (Fred Heath) describes this species as follows: "This common early spring butterfly has a dark brown upper wing surface that makes it difficult to follow in flight. And when it lands on a plant, its green undersides make it seem to disappear altogether. When you finally locate the Bramble Hairstreak, it is a striking emerald jewel, a treat to behold. The peak of its abundance seems to be around Saint Patrick's Day; what could be more fitting for this bright green butterfly?"

Fruits Trees a-Bloomin'

The mild temperatures and sunshine over the past couple weeks have instigated some blooms in a few of of our fruit trees. The pome and stone fruits are now in full bloom, including 'Royal' Apricot, 'Scarlet Robe' Peach, 'Goldmine' Nectarine, and 'Dorsett Golden' Apple.

3/15/10 Semi-Dwarf 'Dorsett Golden' Apple.

3/15/10 'Goldmine' Nectarine. 

3/15/10 'Royal' Apricot. We planted this one back in April of 2008 (a one gallon container from Armstrong Nursery). Last year, it produced only two fruits. This year, it's really taken off and is studded with blooms. I hope all these flowers come to fruition as those two little fruits we harvested last year were really quite delish!

The Haas Avocado, Mulberry, Blueberries (Sharp's, Misty, Jubilee, Sunshine), and Meyer's Lemon are also in bloom, and the 'Champagne' Loquat (cultivar) is actually holding onto its fruit. It flowered over the winter and I wasn't sure the blossoms would actually survive the high winds that came through here and the occasional cool temps, as loquats are frost/cold-sensitive. 

I love loquats. They are indigenous to SE China, including Taiwan where I originally hail from. We call them "Pipa," and the orangish, firmish fruit have a really refreshing sweet-tart flavor. Loquats are traditionally used in Chinese medicine, and any Chinese kid worth his/her salt would have had the pleasure of downing "Pipa Gao" (essentially, a cough syrup made from this fruit) whenever he/she had a sore throat. Minty and sweet, holistic and all natural, it is the bomb. In LA County, where there's a large Chinese community, "Pipa Gao" can be readily purchased from Asian markets, apothecaries, etc. Keep it in the frig, and quaff a tablespoon or so every few hours to ease the pain of a sore throat. Even if it doesn't really cure the ailment, it at least tastes pretty darned good!

3/15/10 'Champagne' Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica). 

3/15/10 Fruiting Mulberry. On a fluke, my sister and I had "pet" silk worms in Taiwan. We fed these guys (who have a really short, i.e, months-long, life span) the leaves from a Mulberry tree growing in our back yard. In Taiwanese, Mulberries are called (phonetically) "Nyuwa hyo" (i.e., "Silkworm leaves"). The ripe fruits should make for some decent jam.

My Spring gardening chores include fertilizing all the fruit trees (chicken manure, bone meal, fish emulsion) and adding micronutrients and Ironite for the chlorotic citrus trees and Coast Redwood (a bit out of its element in our chaparral habitat).

Next weekend, I'll be spraying the citrus trees with Spinosad (organic from Monterey Lawn & Garden Products to deter the onslaught of the citrus leaf miner which has been spoiling the foliage of all our citrus trees for the past two years. I've talked to many fellow gardeners and nursery folks who say that Spinosad is the only effective control for the citrus leaf miner.

It's also time to buy a couple containers of live Lady Bugs to let loose on the burgeoning aphid population.

Treks on the Santa Rosa Plateau: Vernal Pool & Trans Preserve Trail

A beautiful day for the first day of Spring here on the Plateau. Mid 70's and only mildly breezy. Gil and I headed out to the reserve around 10:30am this morning and found the parking lot at the vernal pool trailhead pretty much packed, so we ended up parking roadside.

3/20/10 Dewey spider web, Vernal Pool Trail.

3/20/10 Tiger Moth caterpillar, Vernal Pool Trail.

I think the wildflowers are blooming a bit late this season as there are not yet the carpets of color we were expecting to see. But, there were some  pockets of California Poppies, Wild Hyacinths, Ground Pinks, Red Maids and Western Buttercups along the Vernal Pool Trail.

3/20/10 California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Vernal Pool Trail.

3/20/10 Wild Hyacinth (Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum), Trans Preserve Trail.

3/20/10 Ground Pink (Linanthus dianthiflorus), Vernal Pool Trail.

The boardwalk over the large vernal pool is now partially open. The water has finally subsided a bit after our heavy winter rains, and there was a ranger on site providing a lot of very interesting info on the geology, flora and fauna of the area. The teensy fairy shrimp were still visible in the water, along with tadpoles, a small population of Two-Striped Garter Snakes, assorted waterfowl, and who knows what else... 

3/20/10 Black Necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus), along edge of main vernal pool. 

3/20/10 Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata), main vernal pool. 

3/20/10 Two-Striped Garter Snake (Thamnophis hammondii), main vernal pool.

3/20/10 Hikers converging on the boardwalk at the main vernal pool.

3/20/10 Main vernal pool.

3/20/10 Main vernal pool.

We did our usual detour to the Trans Preserve Trail after checking out the main vernal pool and found the views to be as fantabulous as they always are. Besides the Chocolate Lilies, there was also Miner's Lettuce, Western Buttercup, Johnny Jump-Up, Common Lomatium, and Hairy Fringe-Pod blooming along this trail. The Poison Oak was also lookin' pretty lush. Not something you want to accidentally trip and fall into...

3/20/10 View from Trans Preserve Trail.

3/20/10 Trans Preserve Trail.

3/20/10 Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria biflora), Trans Preserve Trail.

3/20/10 Chocolate Lilies (Fritillaria biflora), Trans Preserve Trail.

3/20/10 Hairy Fringe-Pod (Thysanocarpus curvipes), Trans Preserve Trail.

3/20/10 Padre's Shooting Star (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. clevelandii), Trans Preserve Trail.

As we made our way back from the Trans Preserve Trail, Gil, who was slightly ahead of me, spotted a rattlesnake and got really excited. Probably not the best thing to do around a venomous snake. But anyhoo, all ended well, as the snake remained calm despite the human spectators. There are three species of rattlesnakes that inhabit the reserve: Southern Pacific, Speckled, and Red-Diamond Backed. 

3/20/10 This one looks like a Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri), Trans Preserve Trail.