World of Weedii or Fabulous Fimbriatus


Sun (VitD) and exercise were needed, but not in a too time consuming fashion. East Camino Cielo and Weed’s Mariposa (Calochortus weedii var vestus now Calochortus fimbriatus) became the goal. It was not known how many would be found this late in the summer, but surprisingly there were many. It was drive, stop and take photos of the plants just off the side of the road, repeated again until a little past the towers, and then a return back for a trip along West Camino Cielo. I found a few Weed’s Mariposa in the seepy area opposite  “Tanbark Oaks” on WCC, but not much else along the road, not even Humboldt’s Lily. The slideshow includes photos of the many variations of this Mariposa, that seem to vary as much as Calochortus venutus.

I did not know that a Flickr contact made the trip up to Santa Barbara for the same purpose on Sunday as well until I had returned and checked my Flickr contact photos. He found species ranging from palish-white to a gorgeous reddish-pink. The location of these plants is known to a few Calochortus enthusiasts thanks to Marc Kummel, who kindly gave directions to Lara Hartley, Jeff Hapeman and indirectly to Michael Charters. I was not aware of the latter until a google search landed on a web page where Marc was mentioned – were you aware of this, Marc?

(Update: I had heard that the name had changed to Calochortus fimbriatus, but for some time found no reference to that name. Now, both Lara Hartley and Beth Painter have confirmed that the name change did indeed take place, and Beth provided this link:  Second Edition of The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California – Calochortus. Thanks!)

On the way back to 154, I drove slowly past “sunny places on the north-facing side” per Marc’s description on his Fotolog, but did not spot Green Rein Orchid, one of the plants I have yet to see. Probably walking as opposed to cruising is required. Maybe next year, when hopefully I am not too busy, I can hunt down Piperia.

Weed’s Mariposa Lily Slideshow Please click on any thumnail to start slideshow.

Other links

Oak Titmouse

A couple of close  encounters of the Oak Titmouse kind occurred recently; one of which happened today on a hike along Rattlesnake Canyon when I came upon a pair of parents feeding youngsters hidden inside the cavity of a trunk. The first encounter was in the Figueroa Campground, where I was able to record the bird with what seems to be three call variations.

Oak Titmouse
(Oak Titmouse about to enter trunk cavity – Rattlesnake Canyon)

Oak Titmouse
(Oak Titmouse checking out the area – Rattlesnake Canyon.
I photographed the bird in the middle of a wing flutter.
Possibly (this is a guess), the bird wanted to communicate alarm
about my presence, but could not do so vocally with food in its beak.
I left immediately after noticing the flutter while taking the photo.)

Oak Titmouse
(Oak Titmouse grabbing a peanut – Figueroa Campground )

Click arrow to hear the recording of the Oak Titmouse.

A different kind of snowy white with many insects

Buckbrush Ceanothus (Ceanothus cuneatus) has started blooming with bright white flowers at lower elevations in the San Rafael Mountains, and should probably peak in the next couple weeks. Insects, especially buzzing honeybees, are harvesting the nectar and pollen from the snowy blossoms.

Another very popular nectar source are the whitish urn-shaped flowers of manzanita. Some of the insects do not obtain the nectar using the front entrance, but rather they create a tiny circular back door. I photographed California Tortoiseshell nectaring in that way.

(Buckbrush – Ceanothus cuneatus)

(Buckbrush with honeybee – Ceanothus cuneatus)

(Sounds of insects at Ceanothus – TURN UP volume)

Along Sunset Valley Road, a Bigberry Manzanita covered with flowers was spotted — and it was not only I that stopped at the bush. Many insects, butterflies, and even an Anna’s Hummingbird were collecting nectar. At one point I was on one side of the bush hoping that the hummingbird on the other side would move within camera view. No such luck.

To take photos of insects, one has to approach as slowly as possible, and then stand as still as a tree so that the nervous insects are not distracted. Even the simple motion of lifting the camera disturbed some of the insects. (There are also insects that like to buzz around one’s head even when one is moving.)

I was unable to capture the hummingbird and a yellow butterfly, which I think is a sulphur of some sort. A few weeks ago, I saw a solitary sulphur specimen nectaring on filaree at the “picnic” area of Figueroa Mountain.

As soon as fiddleneck appear, so do Sara’s Orangetip. These butterflies were very common, flitting along the sides of the roads, looking mostly for food sources I would imagine, because I never encountered any feeding on a plant. Hence, only one bad photo of a resting Orangetip thus far. I should note that I was unable to properly photograph what appeared to be a Alfalfa Looper Moth flying speedily from one milkmaid to another about three weeks ago. I had not seen that before.

(First row: Acmon Blue, Sara’s Orangetip.
Second row: California Tortoiseshell, Brown Elfin.
Third Row: Pyrausta dapalis, Annaphila vivianae)

At the base of Figueroa Mountain, the very very early spring flowers are always Milkmaids, California Buttercup, Miner’s Lettuce among others. Of later spring flowers, a few early starters were seen this weekend, although the peak (top of the curve) is still some weeks off.

Flowers seen were Redmaids, Bigelow Coreopsis, Fuchsia Flowered Gooseberry, Indian Paintbrush, Johnny Jump-up, Hummingbird Sage, Shooting Stars, Pincushion Flower, lomatium and lupine. And, even though I have many poppy photos, I cannot resist more.

(California Poppy – Click for larger image)

I think this is going to be a wonderful spring (not officially started yet) — and I am looking forward to all of the later flowers and the butterflies and insects that visit them. The streams along Sunset Valley Road are rushing along the courses, and the mud slides were not too bad. I looked out for the Western Screech Owl, but it was not seen.

(Stream alongside Sunset Valley Road)


Alder and Owl

On a whim, and only after the sky seemed to be clearing, I set out on Saturday (January 16th), the last day before a two-week rain stretch. The exploration was along Happy Canyon Road and then Sunset Valley Road. While looking for plants, I eyed the many bare roadcuts and thought of the projected rain of 20 inches, rock/mud slides and lengthy road closures.

(Alder – male catkins on leafless trees)

It was an interesting trip. The flowering of the many Alder trees was quite impressive, and a first for me. The Alder tree is one of the catkin trees, monoecious (meaning one home) where the male and female catkins are on the same tree. The longer male catkins were numerous and abundant, and covered the many upward curving leafless branches. Only after flowering do the new leaves appear, probably to allow more effective wind-based pollen dispersal.

(Alder – male and female catkins)

The female catkins are shorter and rounder, and in a few months open to release small ripened, winged fruit much like conifer cones. Thereafter, the scaly bracts of the female catkin harden to form small cones that remain on the tree.

(Peony – Sunset Valley Road)

Judging from the many large patches of Fiesta Flower leaves, it is going to be a Fiesta spring. Other observations: many new leaves, some recognized some not; a few poppies here and there, one Bigelow Coreopsis, many Currant, some Solanum, more Bigberry Manzanita, a couple Peony and quite a few Prickly Phlox.

(Western Screech Owl – Sunset Valley Road – Click image for larger version)

Driving back from Nira campground, while passing a stand of leafless trees I noticed a hole in one of the trees, and then after a few yards, another with what appeared to be an owl. Sometimes, from a distance, certain leaf and branch shapes remind one of animals. So, I stopped the car keeping it running, hauled out the long lens to check and indeed it was an owl. I took a few photos, and then noticed that the ISO level was a bit high. I pulled the lens back into the car, and after changing the settings, tried again – but the owl had disappeared. All over in a couple minutes, but since it was a Western Screech Owl, it was worth stopping. Click on the arrow below for the sound of a Western Screech Owl recorded from the back of my house some months ago.

A plant with wintery, woollen attire

Silktassel, a dioecious shrub has two  kinds  of plant – male and female, each with its own kind of catkin – i.e this species has two “homes”, where di=two and oeci=home, creating the term dioecious.

The catkins start growing in late summer and consist of tightly packed fluffy bracts. During winter, the male staminate catkins elongate with “flowers” emerging from the sequence of fluffy bracts, before producing pollen. If one brushes against the catkins, powdery pollen spills out. Some of this pollen is seen in photos of the catkins. Bees and predatory ladybugs harvest the pollen.

(Silktassel – male staminate catkins)

(Silktassel – pollen on male catkins)

The much shorter female catkins, on the other hand, maintain the tightly packed bracts, from which the styles protrude.

(Silktassel – female catkins)

To help identify this plant, Garrya veatchii, the leaves had to be examined. According to Jepson, veatchii and elliptica have leaves covered in woolly hairs. The characteristics separating these two species are not very definitive, but having looked at photos of the two plants, the leaf shapes are different.

(Silktassel – underside of  leaves of Garrya veatchii)

The catkins on this winter-flowering plant are very intriguing. While observing the fluffy bracts, one wonders if the bracts duplicate the function of a woolly winter cap. When the male catkins elongate, the flowers are very airy with small vents that probably allow air movement to disperse the pollen. A curtain of catkins could also provide a porous wind break for pollen-seeking insects. Photographing the insects was frustrating because they kept disappearing behind the lacy drapes of staminate catkins.

(Silktassel – Ladybug)

Otherwise, autumn leaves have mostly fallen, leaving blue-gray skeletons of Blue Oak and white trunks of Sycamore. Newly flowering plants include more numerous Milkmaids, a scattering of Buttercups, one or two Fiddlenecks, and very few Bigberry Manzanita.

(Bigberry Manzanita)

Some notable birds were a pair of seemingly young Red-tailed Hawks along Figueroa Road (I keep hoping to see a Golden Eagle). One of the Red-tailed Hawks was seen flying with legs extended, something I had only seen with paired White-tailed Kites – maybe many hawks do this? One can hardly fail to notice the Band-tailed Pigeons and Acorn Woodpeckers along Alisal Road, even while driving.

(Band-tailed Pigeon)

From the “meadow” on Figueroa Mountain, the views toward the ocean (always into the sun) are spectacular.

Cachuma Lake
(Santa Cruz Island, Santa Ynez Mountains and Valley,
Cachuma Lake & H154 – Click picture for larger image)

Learning by doing: having delved into the world of local botany for the first time in 2002 at a late age, when the only local plant I knew was California Poppy, photographing and writing about them helps to slowly assimilate the vast world of botany terminology — even if I don’t always get it right.