Figueroa Mountain Spring, 2008

“I don’t want to leave and go home”, said one of the trip participants after a wonderful, interesting SBBG trip to Figueroa Mountain. It is not an uncommon feeling after each trip to the mountain — which I have visited a few times this year.

Poppies, Lupine
(Tufted Poppies, Sky Lupine – March 18, 2008)

In my mind’s eye, Figueroa mountain consists of many garden-like areas interspersed between woodlands where different flowers bloom in a variety of mixes (and times). During the months of March and April, California poppies bloom in large numbers in many of the floral areas. California poppies can be seen with goldfields; tufted California poppies often grow with sky lupine, bush lupine, phacelia, etc. There are two types of poppies on Figueroa – California Poppies and Tufted California Poppies. The latter range from dark orange to bright yellow. Thus, more photos of poppies were taken than any other species in this year’s collection, and have been put into a separate slideshow.

California Poppy
(California Poppy with collar – April 07, 2008)

Tufted  Poppies
(Tufted California Poppy without collars – April 10, 2008)

Tufted  Poppies
(Tufted California Poppy without collars – April 13, 2008)

There are a large number of other plants on Figueroa that begin flowering in early spring at the bottom of the mountain. As spring progresses, the same species sometimes, and different species usually, start flowering at progressively higher areas on the mountain. When lupine were blooming en masse on a bank just past the ranger station, flowerless lupine were seen at Pino Alto. Shooting stars seemed to have flowered all over the mountain at all heights and in areas that receive different amounts of sun. The first shooting star bloom was seen on February 10th, even though leaves were seen as early as November 24 last year.

California Gilia
(California Gilia – March 18, 2008)

Little Gilia
(Little Gilia – April 10, 2008)

Volcanic Gilia
(Volcanic Gilia – April 10, 2008)

Globe Gilia
(Globe Gilia – April 10, 2008)

While the visits to Figueroa Mountain are generally to see the massive flower displays — poppies, lupine and goldflields — some of my trips this year were even more interesting because of a number of plants I had not seen before. I photographed four types of Gilia. One of them, Volcanc Gilia, was seen in very few numbers in the rocky area opposite the first picnic area. After these had disappeared, I encountered the same species higher up on the mountain a couple weeks later – some scattered on what I call Wallflower Rocky Hill and many, many more sharing space in an area where Tidy Tips and Linanthus grow in large numbers.

California Suncup
(California Suncup – April 13, 2008)

I visited Sunset Valley Road for the first time on April 13th, and discovered another new world of flora in a different habitat type. In a small area, three rather interesting yellow flowers, two of them from the Evening Primrose family, and the third a usual fire follower (whispering bells), were discovered. It seems to be warmer along this road than higher up on Figueroa Mountain, and Parry’s Larkspur was seen close to Nira campground.

Santa Barbara Island, Apr, 2008

The Saturday trip to Santa Barbara Island was my second trip to that remote small rock of an island in the Channel. On the last trip (July 2007) I took my bulky bird lens — this time I wish I had not left it behind because of the extremely rich fauna. Santa Barbara Island is further from the mainland than the other islands, and seems to be affected by the weather more than the other islands. Rainy weather seems to be worse on this island. Thus flower viewing is only possible in the calmer months. Because of less than normal March rain this year and the usual higher winds further out to sea, the flowers dried out faster and there was not much to see. Hence it must be difficult to schedule a visit ahead of time to get the best of both the weather and the moisture.

Brown Pelicans
(Baby Brown Pelicans – April 12, 2008)

The views are phenomenal – many of the surrounding islands can be seen from Santa Barbara Island – Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Catalina, Santa Rosa, San Nicolas, etc. I have visited the following islands on SBBG trips – Anacapa Island (2002, 2008), Santa Barbara Island (2007,2008) and Santa Cruz Island (2002). Having had a taste of what there is to see and having learned a lot about the flora and fauna, I think future visits will probably be solo to leisurely explore the islands for longer periods of time – but that may have to wait a few years. However, for a good introduction, there is nothing better than a SBBG trip.

Horned Lark
(Horned Lark – April 12, 2008)

Saturday was a beautiful day – clear and calm. The highlights of the day were the many baby pelicans in the large brown pelican “village” nursery (the sun was not in a good place for photos). Another first was seeing the sphinx moth. I also saw a horned lark for the first time hidden in the many acres of wild oats. Invasive plants are pretty bad on Santa Barbara Island, too. But from my short observation it seems that in a dry year, the invasive ice plants provide nectar for butterflies on the island. The butterflies were mostly congregated around the crystalline ice plant – but I did see a western pygmy blue on a native tarweed.

Sphinx Month
(Sphinx Month – April 12, 2008. This amazing creature flies like a hummingbird – with the wings appearing like a blur to the human eye. I guess 1/400 sec was fast enough for the camera to get a shot of the wings.)

I included my small pocket Canon camera in my backpack. This camera can be used to take videos. (I was inspired to take it with me because of the new Flickr option of uploading and displaying videos.) I edited footage to make two short videos – one of the baby pelicans and one of sea lions in the waters near the pier. Please excuse the shaky movement in the first clip. In the second clip there is a constant high-pitched background sound which I am pretty sure is of birds, but I could not see what they were. They were probably under the platform on which I was standing – swallows? (The controls for the video clips disappear when the mouse is moved away – much like for the slideshows.)

Anacapa Island
(Western Pygmy Blue – April 12, 2008)

Brown Pelican Nursery 

Sea Lions

Anacapa Island Trip

Anacapa Island
(Anacapa chain of islands – March 31, 2008)

The weather on Monday was perfect, a clear bright day to view the many colorful flowers blooming in large numbers on Anacapa Island. The breeding gulls and pelicans dotted the land, skies and waters of Anacapa. The series of three islets that make up Anacapa Island, just forty-five minutes from Ventura, are a different world of clean crisp colors and fresh air. Except for the sounds of birds and the fog horn, it is devoid of the noise and smog of nearby southern California.

Pigeon Guillemot
(Pigeon Guillemot – March 31, 2008)

I did not bring my bird lens (used my 28-300mm) because I have found it too bulky for boat trips; thus the first photos of the Pigeon Guillemots are not very good; the birds were in the distance in deep shade. However, I had never seen them before and wanted to take a photo. Besides the gulls and pelicans, other bird captures were of a very ragged White-crowned Sparrow and a singing Bewick’s Wren.

White-crowned Sparrow
(White-crowned Sparrow – March 31, 2008)

Bewick's Wren
(Bewick’s Wren – March 31, 2008)

Brown Pelican
(Brown Pelican in a field of cheese weed – March 31, 2008)

The giant coreopsis was the most visibly outstanding feature of the island; I think the flowers are just at their peak. However, interspersed among the giants were many blooms of some of the other 200 species of wildflowers on the island. The next most numerous flower appeared to be Common Brodiaea (Blue Dicks); almost all of them seemed to have more flowers per head than the mainland species.

Giant Coreopsis
(Giant Coreopsis – March 31, 2008)

Wild Hyacinth
(Common Brodiaea – March 31, 2008)

Sand Spurrey
(Sand Spurrey – March 31, 2008)

However, Anacapa Island has a large number of invasive plants – primarily ice plant. These imports from the drier regions of southern Africa, tend to accumulate salt in their fleshy leaves, and when they die the soil underneath the plant is more saline than normal. This means that only salt-tolerant species are able to grow in those areas – native plants such as frankenia, California saltbush, quailbush/big saltbush, sea blite and the pervasive invasive Australian atriplex.

Sea Blite
(Sea Blite – March 31, 2008)

In 2002 before the black rats were removed from the island, some of the impact of their huge appetites was apparent in their feasting on the wild cucumbers – which were seen lying open and denuded. I remember the lunchtime on the spring 2002 trip, when we were lucky to be able to listen to a brief talk about the proposed plan before it was implemented. This year, some years after the rat removal, the wild cucumbers are intact with the majority of their seeds available for dispersal and use by native fauna. Apparently, there have been many positive results from the non-native rat removal.

Wild Cucumber
(Wild Cucumber- March 31, 2008)

Restoration is ongoing, and many invaded areas are returning to native flora. An additional problem is the bird population itself – that can spread invasive plants from one part of the island to another. Many non-native mallow varieties are growing abundantly in some areas.

Western Gull
(Western Gull among native Coreopsis, Paintbrush, Morning Glory – March 31, 2008)

However, it was heartening to spend a few hours (far too short) in such a wonderland of flowers and birds, surrounded by the pacific Pacific. On the way back to the mainland, a Pacific Gray Whale or three were seen just outside the harbor.

Gray Whale
(Gray Whale – March 31, 2008)