Monday, August 2, 2010

Treks on the Santa Rosa Plateau: The Sounds of Summer

Early morning on July 25th, we trekked out to the Plateau to check out the happenings around the main vernal pool. The grasses had completely dried out by now, and what remained was an amazing expanse of gilded splendor. Beauty can still be found in every season. Lots of metallicy-black, wasp-like insects flying around that day. Some had the tell-tale red-black color of Tarantula Hawks, so I'm wondering if they were actually ALL Tarantula Hawks (poor Tarantulas!)

7/25/10 Vernal Pool Trail.

7/25/10 San Diego Button Celery (Eryngium aristulatum var. parishii), sayin' sayonara for the season. Main Vernal Pool. 

7/25/10 San Diego Button Celery (Eryngium aristulatum var. parishii). This bunch is almost past its prime, but a tad less so than the batch above. Main Vernal Pool.

7/25/10 Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina). The blooms on this ubiquitous chaparral shrub were also winding down from their full glory (going from a creamy white to a dullish beige). Vernal Pool Trail. 

7/25/10 Main Vernal Pool. The wetlands are not so wet anymore. 

7/25/10 Boardwalk over Main Vernal Pool.

7/25/10 Here's a cool-looking snake. I've only seen the Two-Striped Garter Snake (Thamnophis hammondii) in the main vernal pool, so don't quite recognize this fellow, as he doesn't appear to have any stripes whatsoever. However, maybe they don't always look the same, depending on season, age, molting, etc. Will try to verify ID with the rangers at the visitor center the next time I drop by there. 

7/25/10 Alkali Mallow (Malvella leprosa). Main Vernal Pool.

7/25/10 Remnants of Wild Hyacinth/Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) in the grasslands. Vernal Pool Trail.

7/25/10 Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola L.). A biennial, taprooted weed native to Europe. i.e., a non-native, which has naturalized throughout much of the U.S.  Yuck. This is one of those wily, ornery weeds that's also prevalent on our property. It's really quite prickly along the stems, so I have to wear gloves when weeding it. Vernal Pool Trail. 

7/25/10 Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola L.). Vernal Pool Trail.

7/25/10 Turkey Mullein/Dove Weed (Croton setigerus). Vernal Pool Trail. 

7/25/10 Oddly enough, some fog rolling in around 10:30am over the main vernal pool on the Mesa de Colorado as we were hiking out to the Trans Preserve Trail. A bit unusual for this late in the morning, especially in late July. 

7/25/10 Bull Thistle/Cobweb Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)? If so, then another Euro weed. Doesn't resemble our native thistles Cirsium occidentale var. occidentale or Cirsium occidentale var. californicum, which are also found on the reserve. Trans Preserve Trail.

7/25/10 Trans Preserve Trail. Toto, we are still in Kansas any more... 

7/25/10 White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus). Main Vernal Pool. 

7/25/10 Hmmm. This one looks almost like a Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea), but then, I've only seen and heard of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) on the Plateau. Not a good photo, but this guy was as fidgety and flighty as they come. Split the difference? I'll leave that to the expert birders, but if anyone can ID, I'd love to know.* Trans Preserve Trail.

Other birds we saw on our hike today:

Phainopepla/Silky Flycatcher (Phainopepla nitens) - Trans Preserve Trail
Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria) - Vernal Pool Trail
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) - Trans Preserve Trail
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) - overhead, main vernal pool
Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) - overhead, main vernal pool

*Postscript on the Nuthatch: On 11/21/10 Dick Cronberg (professional wildlife photographer who has taught photography classes & also a recent bird ID class at the reserve) helped me to ID this bird as a White-breasted Nuthatch. His observations: rufous markings under the tail, dark wing tips above the tail feathers and a faint wing bar. Thanks, Dick!


  1. Very cool! I so wish I had a vernal pool close by, but so far, I've only seen a real pool at the botanical garden in Berkeley. Sometimes I think this would be an interesting addition to the garden...

  2. As a native Californian, I enjoy all the beauty that each season offers. I loved your pictures of the unique beauty that summer brings.

  3. Even though the colors of spring have faded to the summer browns and golds, it's still beautiful. I'll be curious as to the ID of your snake. I flipped through the California Herps website, but don't see anything quite like it.

  4. Town Mouse, recreating a vernal pool is actually on my 'to do' list. It's an ephemeral garden of sorts, and totally dependent on the quantity of our winter rains. I consulted James ('Lost in the Landscape') on this subject via his 6/14/10 'bog plants, three ways' post because I thought that his bog garden could be simulated on a larger scale to create a homegrown vernal pool. If I still have the ambition and energy, will make this an experimental project this coming winter.

    Noelle, glad you enjoyed the pictures! The vistas & color palettes in the Arizona desert regardless of the season are also nothing short of magnifico!

    Clare, the snake's ID is really stumping me (I've been pouring through all my reptilian field guides, but to no avail). My next stop will be the SRP visitor center this weekend to see if anyone there can solve the mystery.

  5. That looks like a very interesting walk. I like it when autumn snaps in around here; the whole countryside seems to change in a matter of days. Great pics too; can't help with the snake, I'm afraid!

  6. The colours of the landscape have certainly changed to the hues of gold. Oops is that one of our scottish thistles there!

  7. I really enjoyed seeing your vernal pool go through its seasonal cycles. Still, you've found a lot that isn't brown. It probably helps that this has been a pretty fine year for pools! Good luck with your vernal pool project if it happens this year. That could be really exciting. It'll be interesting to see if you're able to find plants to grow in one since they're so specialized and most plant sources seem not to offer them.

  8. IG, I'll bet your seasonal changes are more dramatic than ours. It's rather strange this year, but we've actually been unseasonably cool for summer. Only a few days of triple digit heat in early July and ever since we've had below average temps. Global warming or the next mini ice age? I'm confused...

    So, Rosie, you have thistles in Scotland too? Interesting how natives can become weedy in another locale. I've heard that our beloved California poppies are considered invasive in parts of Southern Europe. Imagine that!

    James, I'm now scouting out a low, flat spot on the property to hopefully start the vernal pool project in September. Successful or not, I'll chronicle the process by posting photos on my blog.

  9. the snake in question is a western yellow bellied racer

    Coluber constrictor mormon