July 22, 2021

July 21, 2021 LA River/ Glendale River Walk

Always seeking new areas to explore that are close by, I visited the LA River adjacent to the Bette Davis Picnic Area. I've been in this area before, but primarily to look for birds. On this day I decided to see what else I could find.

The LA River in itself, is somewhat of a joke...after all, who paves a river? While I was down there, a maintenance truck was stopped and several men were chopping up vegetation in the center island. I'm not sure what the purpose of that was as it didn't look too overgrown to me, but that seems to be their job--they drive up and down the riverbed, disturbing wildlife. I think I read somewhere once that if the LA River wasn't paved, there would be very little water in it. That may be, but there is not a whole lot of water in there anyway...at least in this location.

Bordered by the 134 Freeway and in the heart of the concrete jungle, there is life. While not the most pleasant experience between freeway exhaust, searing sun reflecting off the bright concrete pavement and the incessant noise of the freeway and planes overhead, I did find some interesting, and for me, new species.

I spent a fair amount of time looking in the shallow water for life and it is definitely there. There were larvae galore including mosquitoes and probably black flies. There were some scavenger beetles that I couldn't get great photos of as they swam too fast, water boatmen (shouldn't there be water boatwomen too?) and a few unidentified objects as well. I'm just learning a bit about ostracods and there were several of those too.

In the midst of the drought, there were quite a few flowering plants, many invasive but still nice to see in our parched environment. These included puncture vine and common purslane as well as some lovely large prairie sunflowers. One rather ugly weedy looking grass came up on CV as "jungle rice". I'm not completely sure the ID is correct but it looks close and computer vision came up with that for all four photos I included in my observation so I'm going with it for now. Originally from Asia, it apparently is something whose seeds are eaten after processing in some countries.

Getting hot in the sun and trying to avoid the maintenance crew, I went under the bridge and saw a few swallow nests. All were empty except one that had three little ones (and not really so little anymore) peering down at me from their noisy abode. They were super cute and I often wonder how the birds that nest and roost near these busy highway bridges fare. Is their hearing impacted or becoming more acute in order to hear one another? Are they adapting to the constant stream of exhaust and dirty air? Or perhaps they just put up with it as there are usually a lot of bugs flying around in these areas.

After spending some time at the river, I walked back up and proceeded down the concrete path that's called the Glendale River Walk. Definitely not the experience that name conjures up; however there were quite a few plants along the path that were attracting their share of insects. One new insect I found on a cactus was a trident lady beetle--I like it's styling! I also found a bee fly that I haven't seen before--a ligyra gazophylax (or so I think). Looking at the map, they seem to be fairly common to the east of LA but not so much in the Santa Monica Mountains where I spend most of my time.

I'm sure I'll be back, as I have to say the water, as minimal as it is, and the environment, as unappealing as it is, had a pretty good variety of wildlife.

Posted on July 22, 2021 06:08 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 9 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

June 23, 2021

June 21, 2021 Corbin Canyon

I discovered this area last year and since then have been making regular visits. A nice thing about it is it doesn't get crowded. I also like it because I feel like I am helping to fill in gaps in data that hasn't been recorded in inaturalist, as this area really hasn't been explored much by our colleagues.

This year, like everywhere else in Southern California and indeed in the whole southwest, things have been very dry and really depressing to witness. In anticipation of the ever present and growing threat of wildfires, it appears that various entities have been engaging in weed whacking dry brush. MRCA manages this area and in some ways they've done a great job. They have planted several native trees and come and water them regularly to ensure their success.

However in mid May they began to week whack all the dry brush. I understand the need to keep this area under control since it is near human habitation, but I was really upset to see this begin still in breeding season. I know fire season is year round now, but to take away habitat, even if it is dry habitat and potentially impact birds, rodents and rabbits just doesn't seem right. I think they easily could have waited a month or so.

In addition, they mowed down at least one milkweed plant as well as several other native plants or areas where native plants might have begun to sprout. Yesterday when I got there, it still looked as barren as the previous visit; however, it seems to have recovered just slightly as it seemed like I saw and heard more wildlife than my prior visit when it was totally dead. I am positive the weed whacking has had a deleterious effect on the wildlife in the area. And on a side note, in another area I visit occasionally, whoever was in charge of brush remediation had used a bulldozer (it was parked there) and there was a huge branch of a native walnut tree that was broken and hanging by a few strands of wood.

As to the positive things I saw....it's always great to see a coyote and I did see the resident coyote who has probably benefited from the dry grass removal. In addition a few wasps and dragonflies are beginning to appear....though I saw these beyond the area that was mowed. And in keeping with my goal of finding tiny things, I found what I think are thrips, but not sure, on a laurel sumac leaf. These were so small, they were difficult to see with the naked eye and I'm surprised I got any photos at all. You must look closely at the heavily cropped photos to see them. And it was nice to see that some kingbirds that apparently bred in the area as I saw a family group of three (a really poor distant photo).

Posted on June 23, 2021 01:40 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 3 observations | 4 comments | Leave a comment

June 13, 2021

June 9-10, 2021 Mojave Desert Region

I love the desert and it's partly because so many unique species dwell there. It is also a great place for nature lovers as there are fewer people and more chances to encounter wildlife. That being said, it is also a very harsh environment and as things get drier, it will be a challenge for wildlife to survive, much less thrive.

Since we are entering into the hottest part of the year, I thought I'd make one more quick trip out to the desert to see what I could find. The weather was actually quite cool for this time of year--only in the 80's and actually still cool at night so that it wasn't until at least 10 AM when the temperature reached the low 70's.

The trip started off with a really great surprise. I stopped at a random place in the Antelope Valley, just off Highway 14. I actually found a couple of very tiny flowers blooming. (I'm not sure what the plants are so if any of you reading this know, let me know.) Anyway, as I was observing a small insect on one of the flowers, I turned around and there sat a long nosed leopard lizard! It was fantastic as they are one of my favorite lizards and I never expected to see one here. Finding this encourages me to make more random stops on my travels through the Antelope Valley.

And this sighting confirms my thinking that the Antelope Valley is way under-observed for wildlife. I can see why. It is not the most aesthetically pleasing area. It is also a dumping ground for human trash. I have decided I need to bring trash bags, gloves and a grabber when out there; the challenge will be, how much trash can I fit in my car? Because the volume is tremendous. I actually felt sorry for the lizard as there was so much trash spread about. And much of it is large--parts of furniture, toys, tires, etc. But that's a whole different post...so on to the trip...

My next stop was the Desert Tortoise Natural Area. I was out in this reserve about 6 or more weeks ago and it is really, really dry. It almost looks like a barren wasteland. It really makes me sad. If you crave solitude, try coming here during the week in the summer months when the surrounding miles of OHV riders are few and far between.

What did I see? I walked probably 3/4 of a mile through sand before I saw any sign of animal life--a harvester ant carrying a dead beetle. I tried another trail after I'd been there for 40 minutes and I was happy to finally encounter some wildlife -- 3 zebra tailed lizards in the span of a quarter mile. Strangely, as dry and dead as everything looks out there, there were actually 3 or more new creosote bushes growing in so there is still life in spite of the drought conditions. And I ended my visit with a look at a very cool desert horned lizard.

On the road back towards California City (the town that is the gateway to the tortoise reserve), there is a kiosk and picnic table at an intersection. I noticed some heliotrope growing there and found a virtual feeding frenzy of insects. So few flowers are about that it's a real competition to get pollen. I found a really cool wasp there.

My next stop was Red Rock Canyon State Park. I've visited this place several times but have never really spent the amount of time I'd like to--usually because I'm on my way to or from somewhere. While I had planned to really take my time here this time, the winds picked up and were blowing so fiercely that I really didn't get to do much exploring. I walked up one trail about a quarter mile and found some Thurber's sandpaper plants blooming and like the heliotrope in California City, there were many insects competing for pollen. I actually found my coolest insect here....a fly with a red and white striped abdomen.

The next day I drove all the way up Highway 395 to Fossil Falls. Again, this is a place I've stopped a few times but usually on my way to or from somewhere so I have not devoted the amount of time I would like to. The weather was relatively cool and the winds were calm. But nothing was out. I found a couple of blooming plants though I really had to "search" to find those. As I was walking back on the trail I ran into a man coming from another direction. We started chatting and during the course of our conversation, he asked if I was on inaturalist. Imagine my surprise when I learned that he is a curator on the site, an entomologist and he had just ID'd a fly larva of mine a week or so ago. Definitely the most interesting "observation" I made at Fossil Falls!

Having no luck with wildlife there, I left to start my drive back. I decided to check out Jawbone Canyon Road. I've been on this road a couple of times. The whole area is once again, dedicated to OHV riders. However it is also the gateway to a really interesting place called Butterbredt Spring. I didn't have time to drive there on this trip but if you haven't been, its a great place for birds. You will need a 4 wheel drive to get there.

Jawbone Canyon was pretty busy. Lots of people driving in and out. It is also the site of a big DWP station and you can get great views of the California aqueduct pipeline here as it makes its way over several mountains. I did find more sandpaper plants blooming as well as some spiny senna. Both were attracting insects including a bunch of tarantula hawks and a nice assortment of bees and bee flies. However, the conditions weren't really great for exploring as you would have to head off toward the spring to get away from the off roaders. So it was time to head home.

Posted on June 13, 2021 06:26 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 9 observations | 7 comments | Leave a comment

May 30, 2021

May 28, 2021 Skyline Trail, Griffith Park

Since I didn't feel like driving far and because lately traffic to the west has gotten so much worse, I thought I'd make a trip to Griffith Park. I normally avoid Griffith Park....too many people, too much traffic, and too confusing to figure out where things are. So this time I thought I'd pick a trail on the valley side near the zoo so I wouldn't have to deal with traffic. But of course, I somehow got confused and finally ended up parking in the first lot I saw where there was a trailhead. This turned out to be the Skyline Trail.

The trail was basically a fire road--not the most aesthetically pleasing trail. The habitat was pretty much restricted to a cliff on one side as well as a few little culverts where there was some vegetation. On the other side was a drop off to the valley below and the 134 freeway--which of course you could hear the whole time you were on the trail....and of course helicopters, planes taking off and landing at Burbank airport and an occasional siren.

There weren't a whole lot of people on the trail and because it was so wide, I could basically avoid most of them. I kind of hugged the sides where there was vegetation looking for anything interesting and alive. As dry as it is, I was surprised to see a fair amount of flowers growing out of the side of the cliff--several botta's clarkia and lanceleaf liveforever plants as well as a few other random flowers. In a couple of places there were a few poppies and buckwheat plants.

And surprisingly I found a few interesting things--a couple of cool golden digger wasps, another small wasp yet to be identified, and even some non-native cape marigold flowers that seem to have spontaneously sprouted on the hillside....one of the few non-natives I haven't run into before.

Will I be back? Perhaps. I prefer trails where I can immerse myself in nature and the sound of semis and heavy freeway traffic does not lend itself to that type of experience. Still, I find it interesting and challenging to see what wildlife you can find in such urban environments. Somehow many species have adapted...there were many birds flying around including several eye level swallows and a very acclimated-to-humans red-tailed hawk.

Posted on May 30, 2021 06:07 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 6 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

May 15, 2021

Blalock WIldlife Sanctuary and surroundings 5/14/2021

I made yet another visit to this amorphous place in the Antelope Valley. I feel like, in general, the Antelope Valley remains ripe for exploration. It doesn't have any iconic attractions and to all outside appearances, there doesn't seem to be a lot going on. Much of the land is degraded from ranching, dairy, farming, trash and the assorted things that draw some people to the desert for less than noble reasons.

Last time I was at this location, there were maybe 2-3 flowers blooming and everything looked pretty dry. This time, about a month later, most of the creosote bushes were in bloom and there were a few brittlebush that had a few partial flowers remaining on them. But it was still very dry. And I only saw a couple of side-blotched lizards. I think reptiles might be suffering this year in many places as I definitely am seeing fewer than in the past.

In spite of the conditions, I had some interesting finds and one exciting moment when I accidentally flushed a pair of nighthawks. Bird life is relatively low in this area though there are always ravens patrolling and I did see/hear a few small sparrows and finches. But to actually find a nighthawk is pretty cool. Once again though I did not have my telephoto lens and I managed only a distant shot of one of the birds that flew a few feet away. Normally I would try and sneak up on a bird and try and get a closer shot; however, I was concerned that they might be nesting so I opted to forego a better photo and give them some space.

In addition to the nighthawks, there were probably hundreds of acmaeodera beetles in the area. This seems to be a good year for them in general and I counted more than 50 on one brittlebush plant. They may be concentrated though because there were so few flowers.

I also found some interesting leaf hoppers on a yucca plant as well as a chalcidoid wasp that is a first record for inaturalist. Finally, I saw a new butterfly on a plant by the roadside: a Behr's hairstreak. I had never even heard of this butterfly so I was really happy to find it. I even found a couple more a few miles away when I stopped by the road to examine some other brittlebush plants.

The beauty of exploration is that you never know what you might find. Summer is almost here so I'm not sure how many more trips I'll make but with new seasons comes new life, so I think I might be back.

Posted on May 15, 2021 05:58 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 6 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

May 07, 2021

April 28-30, 2021 Carrizo Plain

I've finally completed posting my observations for my second trip to Carrizo this year. One month from my March visit, I returned to find the vegetation even drier than before. It is going to be a long hot summer in Carrizo and I fear for the wildlife there.

Yet, in spite of the terribly dry conditions, I managed to find abundant wildlife everywhere. I'm simply amazed at the adaptations plants and animals have made to survive and sometimes even thrive where the environment is so forbidding. For instance, I stopped on my way to Carrizo at an area off Elkhorn Grade Road just to see what might be about. This area still has cattle grazing in some areas which probably hasn't helped the ecosystem. Yet, in spite of the sere, desolate looking area, I saw a singing horned lark, a couple of Nelson's antelope squirrels and a family of Bell's sparrows.

The big story in Carrizo this time around was the grasshoppers. I have never seen so many in my life. There must have been millions of them and I don't think I'm exaggerating. On one trail they were so numerous that every time I took a step at least 15-20 must have jumped. Most of the areas I went had abundant grasshoppers but there were definitely areas with more than others. The most numerous was the Valley grasshopper which are also some of the most colorful.

I also saw evidence of several birds nesting in the area including western meadowlarks and loggerhead shrikes both of whom were definitely taking advantage of the grasshopper abundance. As in March, I continued to see many, many young Nelson's antelope squirrels who are simply adorable and fortunately are omnivores so hopefully they will make it through the long hot summer to come though they are a major prey item for larger carnivores as well as hawks.

And I still managed to find some flowers. There was an area near Padrone Spring (dry as a bone) where there was a hill with many speckled clarkia. I also made my first sighting of some blow-wives flowers

Aside from seeing two female pronghorn, the other highlights of the trip were finding a LeConte's thrasher--definitely a bird that's not seen very often though they are known to nest in Carrizo and a sighting of a blunt-nosed leopard lizard--one of my all time favorite reptiles. Highly endangered, these lizards love the heat. When I found this one it was 96 degrees and I worked hard to find it. While I didn't get a great photo, it was a fitting way to end my trip.

Posted on May 07, 2021 00:51 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 13, 2021

April 7, 2021 Las Virgenes Canyon

I'm behind on my postings but decided to highlight this visit from last week...not because I found anything unusual or super interesting but because of how degraded the environment was. This place burned thoroughly in the Woolsey Fire. It actually was charred. It recovered quite nicely due to the rains in 2019. However in this drought year, it is looking worse. The sad thing is, is that there is some water here in places so there should be some great habitat. Unfortunately, invasives have really taken over. There was always an abundance of mustard along the trail when you first go in. And as bad as mustard is, it has been here in California so long, some native species have adapted to it.

However, in addition to the mustard, which by the way, was a lot less than usual, there was an abundance of small melilot. It seemed to be growing everywhere. I don't remember seeing so much here in the past so it must be having a banner year. In the about 1.75 miles I covered I only saw two native flowers (excepting two very straggly looking purple nightshade plants). These included the always nice to see seep monkeyflower and a very few fiddleneck. There may have been more in the riparian area you can't reach but needless to say it was very disappointing. It would be a massive job to try and eradicate these non-natives but it sure would have been nice if after the fire something could have been done to enhance the habitat.

On a positive note, there was fresh growth on the red willows in the dry stream bed, hundreds of tadpoles (many who will probably not survive the mountain bikers plowing through the pond that forms in the middle of the trail) and a brand new valley oak growing near the massive valley oak you see when you first enter the trailhead. This place could be a real mecca for wildlife if the habitat was restored. Testament to that is that almost all the wildlife I saw was in the two major riparian areas that remain.

Posted on April 13, 2021 17:38 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 07, 2021

April 1-3 2021 Carrizo Plain

Carrizo is one of my favorite places...a vast grassland with wide open spaces. I hadn’t been there since last year and the drought is definitely taking its toll. I can’t remember it being so dry this early in the year. It looks like the middle or end of summer even though spring has just begun. I think this is the first time I can remember not seeing a single snake at this time of year.

Known for super blooms in good years, flowers this year were sparse and often struggling. That said, there were a few areas that looked better than others as is typical in California. There were patches of goldfields and some hillside daisies, one of the most common flowers in Carrizo. One flower that seemed to be thriving was Stanislaus milkvetch. It was blooming in most areas and was attracting tons of insects. In fact, the number of insects was quite amazing. Carrizo had a pretty good year last year rain-wise so maybe that explains the number of insects. Or maybe they just seemed more prevalent because they were all bunched together on the few flowering plants! One insect was downright ubiquitous...the little bear. They were everywhere. I counted over 50 of them on one plant alone, and they were buzzing around frenetically at times. I even found a couple in my car and one on my shoulder when I was driving!

Though reptiles were scarce and I only saw one pronghorn, I did see a lot of Nelson’s antelope squirrels. They are adorable and it was fun to watch the youngsters interact with each other. As always there were many horned larks, and good numbers of loggerhead shrikes and sage thrashers. It is also amazing to see what looks like a totally degraded arid environment thriving with bird life. Nature is amazing!

What is great about Carrizo as with many natural areas, is that you never know what you will find. There are always the expected species but often you find things you weren’t even looking for. Or things you’ve been wanting to find and finally see. One cool find this visit was fairy shrimp. Though technically right outside the monument boundary, a small culvert of water is often found on one of the access roads to carrizo. This small pond was teeming with fairy shrimp. It was great to see these cute little hardy animals.

A couple of other finds worth noting were a very cool looking jumping spider...one I’ve never seen before and a flower called Kern Mallow that is endangered...and I just thought it was a typical mallow I’ve seen in Carrizo before. Another nice find was this very beautiful looking bee called a Crotch’s digger bee. Finally, though I didn’t get great photos, I saw this mite running around that was almost iridescent..definitely one I haven’t seen before.

While it was a great visit, I felt sad that everything was so dry. I’m hoping the wildlife makes it through okay and let’s hope for lots of rain next year.

Posted on April 07, 2021 07:32 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 9 observations | 4 comments | Leave a comment

March 19, 2021

March 19, 2021 Paramount Ranch

Today I re-visited the trail where in 2019 I did my informal survey of the Woolsey fire recovery. The trail I chose turned out to be great, as thanks to a lot of rain that winter, I counted at least 50 different species of flowers in probably less than a a mile trail--not all at once of course but throughout the spring season.

What a difference two years makes and unfortunately things looked very dry. I don't think I've ever seen so few flowers along a trail during spring. Everything looked heat stressed with the exception of a few plants including the ubiquitous (this year) purple nightshade. I saw at least two Sara orange tips fly by but I'm not sure if they ever found what they were looking for. I also saw a couple of blue butterflies, probably acmon blues--but again, they didn't stop for me or much else.

Yet, spring is in the air and so a lot of insects were out, the gopher was digging, the hawks were active and lots of lizards were sunning themselves. Check out the handsome side-blotched lizard...one of several I saw.

Two years ago, the meadow around the church was teeming with small flowers including hundreds of goldfields. Today I saw a couple dozen maybe. The only flower I saw much of was common stork's bill (most quite stunted) and I saw several honeybees working on those.

The blister beetles were eating the few morning glory petals around and even hanging on the purple nightshade plants. The blue elder was nicely leafed out but not a flower was on it.

I did find a couple of cool things today though. It's always fun to see a jumping spider--in fact I saw a couple but I only got a photo of one. I also found this really interesting insect--perhaps a wasp of some sort?--that I failed to get a great photo of but check out the eyes and thick antennae! This is one bug I've absolutely never seen before. I'm very curious as to what it is.

Spring is going to be a challenge for every living thing here due to the dry conditions. Fortunately, there are still pockets of habitat in our local mountains that do have water so I'm hoping that will see us through. And we can hope for more rain.

Posted on March 19, 2021 23:51 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 12, 2021

March 10, 2021 Briar Summit Open Space

On a cool, intermittently rainy day (at last!) I took a short trip to the Briar Summit Open Space Preserve. I found this on a map, read a couple reviews and thought it would be worth checking out on a day when I didn't want to travel too far due to the weather.

I find these "open space preserves" in the Los Angeles area somewhat interesting. At times, they are large and have miles of hiking trails. At others, they're like this--a paved road at the end of a residential area. The road leads up to a DWP site (locked gate near the top). Evidently Jeopardy host Alex Trebek donated this land. Parcels such as this end up as open space only because they are unsuitable for development. Needless to say, my expectations were quite low.

And, yes, not really a "get out in nature" experience. That being said, though, the habitat was in remarkably good shape with several ceanothus plants in full bloom with many more flowers than any others I've seen this year in the local mountains. The roadside (not really a trail per se) was dotted with many California brittle bush plants--some already blooming but many still to bloom. Overall, the soil seemed moist and there were a fair amount of birds flitting around.

Considering the weather, I found a surprising number of insects including one of those super tiny mites (poor photo due to size and it running around and me contending with a wind), a very pretty leafhopper and a couple of trupanea flies. And I also found several healthy looking whitemargin sandmat plants which I don't see too often. While I don't think I'll be spending a lot of time here, I certainly will visit again once more flowers are in bloom as I'm sure they will be attracting many more insects than I saw on this cool day.

Posted on March 12, 2021 00:50 by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment