Fall Color 2009 Trip

In southern California, many of the local native plants follow different activities in the four seasons. A few of them, generally in moister areas, provide displays of fall color. On Saturday, I was part of a SBBG field trip to find fall color in the back country along Highway33,  Lockwood Valley Road (a land of Rabbitbrush) ending up at Thorn Meadows. The shooting conditions had disadvantages and advantages – difficult shooting into the sun, but the fall color enhanced by back lighting.

Fall Color
(Sespe Gorge Viewpoint)

The photo above typifies the scarcity of fall color in this area. Vegetation, away from river beds, grows on soils that receive no moisture in the hotter months of the year. This vegetation has become adapted to summer drought. Many of the plants are evergreen, with small, tough leaves that lose a minimum of water in hot conditions. They also waste little energy growing in the summer, but do so in the cooler winter when rains replenish the soil with moisture. Hence, during fall, these plants are getting ready to start or are already developing and growing new leaves and flower buds. Some, such as Chaparral Currant are beginning to flower now, and a number of lower elevation Ceanothus species flower before the end of winter.

Fall Color
(Sespe Gorge Viewpoint)

Fall Color
(Sespe Gorge Viewpoint – Fremont Cottonwood )

In contrast, the trees along rivers and creeks follow the “normal” seasonal schedule – dropping leaves in fall or early winter, remaining mostly dormant in winter,  putting out buds in spring, and leafing  in summer. Some of these fall-color trees include Fremont Cottonwood, and in a few weeks, California Sycamore.

The oases of fall color are surrounded by large swaths of green from either evergreen chaparral,  sage scrub or conifer stands, and the color contrast is very attractive. (The evergreen vegetation, often chaparral, covering the slopes of mountains and hills, however, does provide efficient water catchment during winter, allowing rain to percolate down to streams and rivers. In their absence, it would just be mudslides and torrents of water.)

Fall Color
(Thorn Meadows – On the middle ridge to the right, there is a small splash of
red-orange color provided by Black Oak foliage, shown below.
The foreground consists of yellow willow shrubs.)

Fall Color
(Thorn Meadows – Black Oak foliage, growing behind Jeffrey Pines)

Fall color seen at Thorn Meadows, was of the brilliant red-orange of Black Oaks at a higher level, and in the moist meadow area, the bright yellow of deciduous willows. The bulk of the surrounding vegetation in this area consisted of  green conifers, many of them Jeffrey Pines.

Fall Color
(Reyes Creek Campground – Canyon Oak acorns )

We had lunch at Reyes Creek Campground, underneath a Canyon Oak, where the ground was littered with a large number of acorns.

Fall Color
(Spiny Tachina, about the size of a bumblebee, on Rubber Rabbitbrush )

While most herbaceous plants bloom in the moister months, there are many that bloom in summer and fall. This spread of nectar availability throughout the year provides food for insects and other fauna during most months of the year. An interesting fly, Spiny Tachina, is found from late summer to early fall  in foothills and mountains. It feeds on nectar from plants in the aster/daisy family, especially Rabbitbrush and Coyote Brush. Both of these plants bloom later in the year, as the seasons are changing and the winds are stronger. The photos of this fly were taken hurriedly in windy conditions as everyone was departing for the next stop.

Thanks to the leaders for a great trip, and the excellent notes are always appreciated. New plants for me on this trip were blooming Rabbitbrush, Pinyon Pine, Jeffrey Pine and Poodle Dog Bush, the latter reportedly as unpleasant as Poison Oak.


Terns over Devereux slough; terns at Sands; terns were quite a presence at Coal Oil Point Reserve yesterday. Despite low water levels at Devereux, until the rain of a week or so ago, fish must not be scarce.

One could hardly fail to notice the energetic wings beating in characteristic tern rhythm in the sky, swooping and swerving to shallow-dive or skim to scoop up fish from the water. All punctuated with short, sharp, high-pitched calls. Sands Beach is their outdoor accommodation, where any disturbance can fill the sky with white wings against a backdrop of surf and overcast sky.

Pelicans, egrets, cormorants, plovers, and other shorebirds were present in this bustling, full-of-life scene at Sands. What a mesmerizing afternoon. Kudos to all who have worked to preserve this wonderful place and its ever-growing number of different species.

(Coal Oil Point – Sands Beach – Terns with pelicans and cormorants)

(Coal Oil Point – Sands Beach – Terns disturbed)

(Coal Oil Point – Sands Beach – Elegant Terns bathing)

(Coal Oil Point – Devereux Slough – Snowy Egrets)


I have not had the time to go out and take pictures that are worthy of a post – just a few here and there. Additionally,  from July to about now, it is very dry and hot under the rainless summer skies, so fire is always of concern. Fires have increased dramatically in the last decade, and much of that may be due to global warming.

Hence this post about 350.org – a website dedicated to taking steps to help ensure a safe climate future.  On October 24, people all around the world will be marking the day for getting involved. Click on the banner below to learn more.


An interesting link on the site www.350.org is to Green Choice:

GreenChoice, a South African initiative, is launching a challenge to their network to create 350 low carbon meals at 350 different homes by inviting friends around for a shared meal on October 24th – all made according to low carbon guidelines – and to take a photo to add to the flood we’re expecting on the day!  They created a great flyer, and are excited about the linkage between this event concept and their aims of initiating informed consumers and sustainable consumption choices.

GreenChoice focuses on positively changing the way naturally-derived food and fibre products are produced and consumed.  It’s a multi-stakeholder alliance, coordinated by WWF-South Africa and Conservation International, working closely with other conservation NGOs, government groups, industry, retailers and research institutions.  GreenChoice provides a platform for collaboration in identifying sustainable solutions, sharing knowledge, promoting better practices and gaining preferential market access for environmentally sound products.

You can learn more about GreenChoice at: http://www.wwf.org.za/index.php?section=Projects_EcoSystems&id=143

…Interested in organizing a food and farm action in your town on Oct. 24th? Visit http://www.350.org/foodandfarm to find ideas and inspiration (and to learn more about the connection between climate change, food and farming.)

At one time, I worked as an industrial chemist and tested the CO2 in the air every day as part of a series of tests for air quality, because the work was at an air separation plant. The CO2 in the air at that time was lower than it is now – about 330 ppm. 350 ppm is an optimum level, but the atmosphere now contains about 385 ppm.

I also learned that  oxygen is in the atmosphere thanks to biological activity on earth – i.e. it is not a fixed amount by any means and we need to safeguard the emitters of oxygen. One of the ways to do so is to ensure that we do not kill the O2 producers in a hot planet, and that is just one of many reasons for the importance of CO2 levels. Dissolved CO2 also contributes to the acidity of the ocean, and that is harmful to marine creatures.