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)