Pollinators – Bugs, Bees, Butterflies

The cooperation between insects and flowers seems to hit a peak in May and June, when plants such as Buckwheat, Milkweed and Coffeeberry bloom. These plants appear to be the most popular with butterflies and bees, although I have seen Holly-leaf Cherry covered with insects in sunnier places elsewhere.

Variable Checkerspot
(Variable Checkerspot – Happy Canyon Road, May 14, 2008)

The most common butterfly, Variable Checkerspot, springs into action a little earlier than May. Checkerspots were seen sipping nectar from a number of different flowers, unlike other butterflies that seem to be more choosy. On one florabundant section of Happy Canyon Road, checkerspots were seen in the hundreds in early May. On a cooler day at the end of May, I returned to shoot butterflies – but they were not immediately seen in the overcast weather. However, as I looked at different flowers, the checkerspots were seen perching silently on the branches of all kinds of plants, waiting for the sun to come out. They were very lethargic, and could be approached to within a reasonable distance.

Variable Checkerspot
(Lethargic Variable Checkerspot – Happy Canyon Road, May 25, 2008)

Later, in June, when the milkweed started to flower, butterflies could almost certainly be found on California Milkweed. I saw Monarch caterpillars (picture in slideshow) on a few of them.

(California Hairstreak on Milkweed – Figueroa Mountain, June 15, 2008)

(Bumble Bee on Milkweed – Figueroa Mountain, June 15, 2008)

California Buckwheat plants are a virtual hive of activity with visiting bees, butterflies and other bugs. On Figueroa Mountain and Happy Canyon Road, buckwheat blooms in a number of places and I photographed a few new species to add to my collection, such as Gold Hunter’s Hairstreak and Thicket Hairstreak.

Gold Hunter's Hairstreak
(Gold Hunter’s Hairstreak on Buckwheat – Figueroa Mountain, May 26, 2008)

Thicket Hairstreak
(Thicket Hairstreak on Buckwheat – Figueroa Mountain, June 08, 2008)

(Honeybee on Buckwheat – Figueroa Mountain, June 08, 2008)

I stopped off at a seep on the front side of Figueroa Mountain, where Seep Monkeyflower was blooming, and found a very large Coffeeberry humming with activity. I tried to capture the sound of this activity on video, which was then uploaded to Flickr where it can be seen/heard at the link. On a bee course in Carmel Valley, it was learned that Coffeeberry is a very attractive plant to insects.

Activity around a Coffeeberry shrub/tree (TURN UP volume)

Brodiaea, Clarkia, Mariposa Lilies, Mimulus, Oh May!

In March and April, vast expanses of blue lupine, orange poppies and pink shooting stars cover the hills and valleys. In May, rocky areas are covered by patches of orange monkeyflower. Purple clarkia appear in large groups on many banks along roadsides. A number of Clarkia species are called “farewell-to-spring”, to the point of confusion, because they appear at the end of spring. Four species of Clarkia were seen on Figueroa Mountain, and can be seen in the slideshow. Other flowers blooming en masse in May, are the more subtle colors of purple sage, white sage, deerweed, chamise, golden stars and golden yarrow. Butterflies are also more numerous in May.

Purple Sage
(Purple Sage – Figueroa Mountain, May 18, 2008)

Dispersed among many mass flower communities, are an assortment of other interesting flowers that do not flower until May. I came across a number of new-to-me species this year, one of which was found by Callie on her return trip from Manzana Creek – dwarf brodiae at a place she calls the “meadow”. It immediately appeared to be a brodiae, and I found another photo of the Figueroa species in Calphotos for a full identification.

Dwarf Brodiae
(Dwarf Brodiae – Figueroa Mountain, May 14, 2008)

Another newly observed species was purple navarettia, seen in a number of different places. It is a tiny plant that can be easily overlooked. It was identified using the Flickr group “Guide to California Wildflowers”.

Purple Navarettia
(Purple Navarettia – Figueroa Mountain, May 14, 2008)

Indian breadroot was seen at a higher elevation, a little further from the “meadow” area. Recognizing it as a member of the pea family, I opened the Jepson Manual to the Fabaceae section and read the first entries to start keying the plant, and my brain froze at the terminology. So I leafed through all the Fabaceae diagrams looking at the leaves, which were quite distinctive, and found the plant. Calphotos photos helped confirm the id.

Indian Breadroot
(Indian Breadroot – Figueroa Mountain, May 26, 2008)

Another new, very beautiful plant, Deer Brush, was flowering en masse at the top of Ranger peak. It was identified with the help of the plant list provided on the SBBG Figueroa Mountain trip, and was confirmed by Calphotos.

Deer Brush
(Deer Brush – Figueroa Mountain, May 26, 2008)