First-hand observation is probably the best way of learning, and in learning some of the local bird, butterflies and plant species, I have been fortunate to visit many outlying places in Santa Barbara county since 2002. For plants, some of my favorites areas are Drum Canyon, Jalama Beach road, Burton Mesa, Refugio Road/West Camino Cielo, East Camino Cielo, Alisal Road etc, but the most interesting place for number of species, so far, has been Figueroa Mountain. However, it took a while for my nerves to get used to driving there, to where I could visit Figueroa Mountain many times since about October last year. On my last visit on Sunday, I considered that this is probably enough for a while … it is getting too dry, and the fear of fires is great, especially of being trapped up among the many trees in the area. And now, just a few days later, a fire has started on West Camino Cielo – a favorite place, via Refugio Road, because of low traffic volume and interesting species. A greenbark ceanothus plant photographed there this March and probably burned down by now, is to be used in a California Coastal Commission book on coastal plants.
(Sticky False Gilia – Figueroa Mountain, June 16, 2008)
A number of new species were learned this spring on Figueroa Mountain. The most tricky id (but resolved after a number of days of perseverance) was sticky false gilia, although I had photographed that species (in a different hue) on East Camino Cielo on a trip with Marc and Julie Kummel. I found the plant, the last of a few drying species with a number of typical fire followers just over the top of Ranger Peak, facing south where the soil heats up a great deal in summer. When photographing these low-growing plants I had to pull out a deflated mattress to lean on while taking the photos because the ground was very hot. Growing in this area were two Mentzelias (micrantha and gracilenta), yellow-throated phacelia, another false gilia (I think “blue”, but will have to wait for next year), wild buckwheat (Eriogonum luteolum), and another lifer, diamond fairyfan (Clarkia rhomboidea) a better photo of which will also have to wait for next June. I found a third mentzelia, giant blazing star (Mentzelia laevicaulis) on Sunset Valley Road, but not in a good place to take a decent photo.
(Dwarf Mistletoe – Figueroa Mountain, June 29, 2008)
(Thicket Hairstreak habitat – Figueroa Mountain, June 29, 2008)
(California Buckwheat taken last year. The fall red color shows the extent of the Buckwheat more clearly – Figueroa Mountain, Oct 06, 2007)
However, the main purpose of the last Figueroa visit was to see if I could observe a thicket hairstreak near its host plant, dwarf mistletoe. I had found the thicket hairstreak feeding on California buckwheat near the parking area at the 11 mile marker. After photographing and identifying the butterfly, I read that the host plant is dwarf mistletoe. From previous visits, I knew that I had seen a great deal of mistletoe on a gray pine further up the road from where I found the thicket hairstreak (near a juniper bush). This is only the second observation of this species in Santa Barbara County this year, and the observation will be included in the 2008 Season Summary for Zone 3, The Southwest, by Ken Davenport. The thicket hairstreak has one flight from May to August, and is normally found in mountainous regions because of its host plant. From “Butterflies and Moths of North America”, the following description: “Caterpillar hosts: Dwarf mistletoes (Arceuthobium species), in the Loranthaceae family, which grow on juniper, pine, and fir trees. Adult food: Flower nectar. Habitat: Pinyon-juniper forest, mixed woodland, coniferous forest”.
(Serpentine Sunflower – confused bumblebee, expecting the flower
to be facing the sun? – Figueroa Mountain, June 29, 2008)
(Serpentine Sunflower – native bee in flower shadow, and egg
deposited on leaf? – Figueroa Mountain, June 29, 2008)
(Serpentine Sunflower – moth also seen on gum plant –
Figueroa Mountain, June 29, 2008)
I stopped off at another favorite area that appears to be near a seep, because there are a number of plants still flowering, the most abundant of which is serpentine sunflower (Helianthus bolanderi). Most surprisingly, the flowers were facing away from the sun. Many insects were on the flowers, including a bumblebee that seemed to be lost on the wrong side of the flower and a moth that had been photographed lower down the mountain on an earlier flowering gum plant. Possibly the moth is attracted to yellow flowers in the sunflower family (asteraceae). I need to get an id. The serpentine sunflower was growing with a number of plants listed as to be expected with the plant, namely: narrow leaf milkweed, seep monkeyflower, California buttercup, blue-eyed grass, etc. The plant community of the sunflower is seep wetland on volcanic soils – which fits, because of the serpentine in the area in which it was growing. Across the road were many Toyon with fresh flowers visited by a large numbers of bees, but not quite in volume (quantity and sound) as the coffeeberry at another seep.
(Big Cone Douglas Fir – young cones seen on Catway Road –
Figueroa Mountain, June 29, 2008)
On Catway road, I parked my car at the “four-oaks” parking area, and walked a little way along that road for the first time – photos are included in the slideshow. Many Lorquin’s Admirals were seen, but usually too far away for a photo. Also, wherever the large California milkweed was seen at various places on Figueroa Mountain, insects were abundant – especially some large bumblebees, but not as large as those once seen near false lupine.
Until the next rainy season, I will probably stick to areas closer to home. As packing continues in the case of the worst scenario, I wish all those closer to the fire the very best; hopefully there are no damaged structures.