Figueroa Finery

Despite the low rainfall this year, there was (and is) still much to see on Figueroa Mountain besides poppies & lupines, whose magnificent displays are almost over.  And… there is much to discover about plants and especially butterflies.

Having skimped on walking (one of my favorite activities) for many months, I thought a walk along Catway road would be a good idea. Catway proved to be quite different;  in fact it could be called Ladybug Road because the bugs appeared to be on just about every plant. I walked to the turnout at the trail head and then returned while photographing a few new plants, such as  Bitter Cherry with very ornate flowers.

Bitter Cherry
(Catway Road – Bitter Cherry)

Along Figueroa Mountain Road at the “Tidy Tips area” about a mile before Ranger Peak and opposite a very tall conifer, many plants continued to brighten up the area after the poppy/lupine bank lower down the mountain had turned brown – Tidy Tips, Goldfields, Poppies, Linanthus, Gilia, Buttercup, Wild Onion, etc. Some highlights — a Linathus with nine petals, very dark pink Linanthus, and a spray of flowers with one purple and three pink flowers.

(Common Linanthus, Leptosiphon parviflorus – nine petals instead of five,
and dark pink variety)

Clarkia are beginning to appear in various places on the mountains and along canyon roads. Lower down on Figueroa Mountain, numbers of dark purple-red Clarkia were growing among dry grasses.

A species new to my camera, Willow-herb Clarkia, was found on a shady bank on Happy Canyon Road. A pair of  Cylindrical/Speckled Clarkia (Clarkia cylindrica) showing different states of stamens and stigma were also photographed nearby. A couple days later, I learned the technical term for the sequence of these states (protandry/protogyny) on Marc Kummel’s Fotolog.

Willow-herb Clarkia
(Happy Canyon Road – Willow-herb Clarkia)

Cylindrical Clarkia
(Happy Canyon Road – Cylindrical Clarkia pair exhibiting protandry)

Also of interest along this road — Fremont’s Death Camas (Toxicoscordion fremontii, old name Zigadenus fremontii) taller than some seen earlier on Figueroa Mountain, Clustered Broomrape and butterflies.

An off-road muddy area served as an attraction for a number of butterflies, including Western and Pale Swallowtails, California Sister (a first) and an Azure Blue. Yellow butterflies, probably sulphurs, skipped over the vegetation at high speeds with few opportunities for photos.

Happy Canyon will soon be home to many Variable Checkerspots, because caterpillars of that species were seen feeding on many plants along the side of the road – just in time for the flowering of one of their favorite plants, Golden Yarrow.

(Happy Canyon Road – Western and Pale Swallowtails)

CA Sister
(Happy Canyon Road – California Sister )

Variable Checkerspot
(Happy Canyon Road – Variable Checkerspot caterpillars )

Along Sunset Valley Road, White Sage has yet to bloom, but Umbrella Larkspur were stately and purple in many places. Both the Larkspur and California Thistle were visited by Pale Swallowtails despite high wind.

Pale Swallowtails
(Sunset Valley Road – Pale Swallowtail on California Thistle


Morro Bay Area Visit

I enjoy the chaparral-blanketed mountains around Santa Barbara with wildflowers in spring and summer, and subtle foliage in fall. I am grateful to live in an area with many bodies of water that host a variety of waterbirds and shorebirds at different times of the year.

Within a two-hour drive is another rich area with a great variety of native flora and fauna, sometimes on a slightly larger scale — Morro Bay. I have visited it twice before as a stop-off on the way to San Francisco, camping at Morro Bay State Park. This last Thursday and Friday were spent there again, and other than goofs on my part, was a great visit.

Blue-winged Teal
(Blue-winged Teal, Los Osos/Baywood)

Before the first activity of the day, I passed by a Los Osos/Baywood beach-access area, where Blue-Winged and Cinnamon Teal were seen in a large group of Coots.

Down the road a bit, I returned to The Elfin Forest for the first walk of the day. It is named Elfin because of the stunted growth nature of the maritime chaparral. Growing on the beach sand, was a prostrate Coast Live Oak with a multitude of slender branches providing a large low framework for many shady leaves.

There are two hundred plants listed in an excellent handbook for the Elfin Forest. It includes both common and scientific plant names in cross-referenced tables. The handbook also includes lists of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, plants and lichens — and is a must-have when visiting this natural area.

Many-stem Woolly Sunflower
(Many-stem Woolly Sunflower, Elfin Forest)

Seaside Woolly Sunflower
(Seaside Woolly Sunflower, Montana de Oro)

Two relatives of GoldenYarrow were seen in the area – Many-stem Woolly Sunflower (Eriophyllum multicaule) at the Elfin Forest (also seen at La Purisima) and Seaside Woolly Sunflower (Eriophyllum staechadifolium) at a number of places around Morro Bay.

Yellow Sand Verbena
(Yellow Sand Verbena, Sandspit, Montana de Oro)

The next stop was at the Sandspit day-use area, with a wide variety of plants that are able to grow in the salty sand. Adding color to the vegetation, were bright pink and yellow Sand Verbena. Cammisonia was represented by a number of species, of which three were seen — cheiranthifolia; a micrantha ssp; and a very tiny-flowered, unidentified species.

Narrow-Petaled Trillium
(Narrow-petaled Trillium, Coon Creek, Montana de Oro)

After lunch, walks were taken along Bouchon Cliff Trail and Coon Creek Trail. The latter is a favorite, visited once before. The vegetation is lush and thick, and the path well-shaded. Among the wide variety of plants, were some from the rose family: native Strawberry, Horkelia, Potentilla, etc.

There were many Twinberry Honeysuckle and Creek Dogwood plants contributing to the thick overhang. Of interest, is the Narrow-petaled Trillium. It blooms in February, March and early April, and a photo of the flowering plant can be seen in one of the links below.

Sea Otter
(Sea Otter, Morro Bay Rock)

The following morning was spent at Morro Bay Rock, where birds inhabit the rock in large numbers. Two pairs of Peregrine Falcons, many Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants, and  gulls were using the rock for breeding and other purposes. A number of Sea Otters were seen, including one with a baby.

Another breeding area is the rookery in a eucalyptus tree area a few yards north of the Museum of Natural History. Here there was a great deal of activity by Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and Double-crested Cormorants in building nests and brooding eggs, in the tall trees.

(Heron/Egret/Cormorant Rookery, Morro Bay State Park)

The afternoon visit was to Shell Creek, and this is where, in much frustration after being held up by a slow truck that could not be overtaken on roads with solid double lines, that I goofed in reading the map (in panic). However, I did get a few pictures of new plants on the return trip, and I am now more familiar with the area for future visits.

Morro Bay State Park Marina
(Morro Bay State Park Marina – access path to the marsh is on the left )

South of the Natural History Museum is the Morro Bay State Park Marina, and along the southern edge of the marina is an access path that leads down to the marshy fringes of the bay. A variety of salt marsh plants grow in this area in very healthy populations. I recognized the plants the first time I visited from the “plant-photoshoot” that Darlene Chirman took me on around Goleta Slough during the creation of that website — except that the Sea-blite (Suaeda californica) is different from that at Goleta. It is apparently an endangered species found only at Morro Bay.

As I was photographing these plants, a large number of shorebirds flew into the marsh in the distance – seen as the many small blobs in the water and marsh in the photo (bird lens not on camera). The larger white blobs in the background are White Pelicans.

Morro Bay Marsh
(Morro Bay State Park marsh – White Pelicans, and a host of shorebirds)

As always, any corrections are always welcome. Goofs are frequent in a hectic schedule.