SPUGG – December, 2013

Having been an unwitting member of SPUGG for the last 2-3 years, yesterday was another manifestation of giving outings instead of gifts. This was a trip from the Santa Ynez River alongside Paradise Road all the way round to Santa Ynez River at Alisal Road, finishing at Nojoqui Falls The last portion at Gaviota, I did on my own on the way back.

The dryness of the Paradise area was sad and frightening. Even some of the Coast Like Oak were weeping leaves, resulting in very airy, branchy crown structures standing above crunchy leaf litter. Alisal Road was moister and darker, possibly because it is not really in a rain shadow while being north-facing.

The speed with which the table cloth and place settings were set up on a Nojoqui Park table took my breath away, as I usually slog at a slow solo speed. The Park was relatively empty at lunch time, but the hoped-for fiery yellow of the Cottonwoods was not quite there this year. A trip to the Falls did not happen because a large group of bikers got there first. Then we had to go our separate ways from a brief pause in otherwise busy, calendared lives.

The Sycamore color alongside the 101 was again eye-catching yellow/orange, but there are no places to stop to take photos. I took the Rest Stop exit, but no luck there, so I carried on to the Gaviota turnoff. I drove up the hill and back down again, and on both trips noticed lots of Monarch butterflies floating near the bridge across the creek. I drove to the only parking area near the turnoff, walked back and shot a few photos of the butterflies. They were mostly feeding on the Eucalyptus, but I saw one nectaring on Mule Fat.

I need to work on fitness next year, because I crashed when I got home. However, I am still very much busy with downsizing at home – a huge task that has to be finished soon. It was amazing how much occupied space was freed by scanning decades of documents to store on a tiny one-cable 1TB disk (yeah! no bulky power cable). Thankfully, a better slideshow plugin was found.

Kinevan Road, San Marcos Pass

San Marcos Pass is one of the highest rainfall areas in the county during winter rains. As the pressure between air molecules decreases as they move up and over the mountain, the air cools and water vapor carried along condenses and falls more abundantly at higher elevations. One of just three routes out of Santa Barbara that cross the Santa Ynez Mountains, San Marcos Pass and old San Marcos Pass Road can be hit hard during major storms, as shown in the photos in the report below – click on image to access report.


And, Kinevan Road, just off San Marcos Pass Road, is one of the wetter locations in the San Marcos Pass area. Kinevan Road runs along the edge of the San Jose Creek. San Jose Creek then makes its way down the Santa Ynez mountains towards Goleta, before entering the Pacific Ocean. To lessen the flooding in Goleta caused by overflowing banks in heavy rain years, the lower portion of San Jose creek has seen significant construction in the last few years as it was widened to handle major storms. Heavy rain events affect areas at the source, middle and end of creek, as it flows from the mountains to the oceans.

Far away from the noisy construction, up along the relatively quiet narrow Kinevan Road at the top of the Pass, there was much vegetation to see and photograph. Moist soils support many trees, and there were at least ten native species along Kinevan Road – together with mosses, liverworts, ferns and other moisture loving-plants. Deciduous trees such as Bigleaf Maple and Sycamore had dropped most of their leaves, and Kinevan Road was edged with red and gold leaf litter.

Big-leaf Maple leaves mostly fallen.

Big-leaf Maple on a bed of Sycamore leaves.

For the most part, the Santa Ynez mountains are blanketed with chaparral plants, except for wetland areas. The vegetation difference between these areas can be quite distinct, as was the case when walking from the chaparral-clad turn-off to Kinevan Road toward the riverine area of Kinevan Road.

The Santa Ynez Mountain ridge is also somewhat of a dividing line for some species of fauna and flora. After driving down Stagecoach Road after the outing, I photographed Sugarbush on the north-facing slopes. When returning to Santa Barbara via old San Marcos Pass Road, Lemonadeberry was photographed on south-facing slopes. These two shrubs, similar in appearance, can be distinguished via leaf shape. Sugarbush has thinner, longer, curved leaves, shaped much like a sugar scoop; Lemonadeberry has flat, thick leaves. Lemonadeberry grows mostly south of the Santa Ynez Mountains ridge, as does Bigpod Ceanothus. Bigpod Ceanothus and possibly Lemonadeberry, should start flowering in the next month or so.

Sugar Bush on Stagecoach Road, Lemonadeberry on Old San Marcos Pass Road – 2013/11/23.

The trip discussion was not without geology information; this time about the Coldwater Sandstone formation. The name, “Coldwater”, comes from the Coldwater Canyon near Fillmore where the sandstone geology unit was first described. This sandstone formation was then mapped 40 miles from Fillmore into the Santa Ynez Mountains. From Wikipedia: “Being exceptionally resistant to erosion, outcrops of the Coldwater form some of the most dramatic terrain on the south slope of the Santa Ynez Mountains, with immense white sculpted slabs forming peaks, hogback ridges, and sheer cliff faces.[3][4]”.

These peaks were visually described with Google landsat images in a blog about a geology field trip in 2012. Clicking on any of the images, opens a slideshow of larger images. I tried to recreate slide 7 of 9, in Google Earth, but failed.

BYTEMAPS – Peaks and Valleys (Sandstone and Shale)

No photo slideshow this time – need to investigate using something different than Flickr – and I have tons of stuff on my plate until the end of the year. Thanks to the SYVNHM leaders Tim and Larry, Laura,  the carpoolers and everyone else.

Corrections are always welcomed.

Lower Santa Ynez River Natural History

My favorite route when traveling from Santa Barbara to Los Olivos, is via Alisal Road. When crossing the bridge over the Santa Ynez River, as Alisal Road heads into Solvang, I have often seen birds in the water below, but have never gone down to observe them.

On Saturday, I drove along Alisal Road once again in the morning, and was taken by the fauna activity near Nojoqui Park. It was quite magical – two groups of Wild Turkeys were seen some distance apart, deer were grazing on both sides of the road, and birds on the road were looking for seeds. I could not stop for photos, as I was on the way to an outing by SYVNHS along the Santa Ynez River near the bridge over which I had driven many times. (Click on any of the images for a larger version.)

Santa Ynez River

After parking on Fjord Drive, the group led by Fred and Tim walked down to the banks of the Santa Ynez River. Riverine areas are wonderful for trees (often very tall) and this area did not disappoint. We were treated to a lesson on the difference between Fremont and Black Cottonwoods, because both grow in the area. There was very little water in the river – some had recently been released into this lower area of the Santa Ynez River from Bradbury Dam, but the riverbed was for the most part very dry.

Fremont CottonwoodBlack Cottonwood
Fremont Cottonwood and Black Cottonwood

The leaves of Sycamores and the Fremont Cottonwoods were beginning to show orange-yellow fall colors, as were some of the Walnut trees and Arroyo Willows. The Black Cottonwoods will turn bright yellow in a few weeks, some of which should also be seen in much splendor near Nojoqui Park. Fluffy seeds of Coyote Bush and Scale Broom caught the rays of the low-angled sun, ready for dispersal with the next strong winds.

SycamoreCalifornia Walnut
Sycamore and Walnut

One of the highlights of Fall is when the pale pink flowers of California Buckwheat turn to dark red; the color is striking against the otherwise monotone dried grass. California Buckwheat with dark red flowers was seen along the banks of the river. Some of them also had leaves that had turned red, something I had not noticed before. Poison oak was sporting bright red leaves, later to wither and fall.

California BuckwheatCalifornia Buckwheat
California Buckwheat

In the dry ground, late-flowering Long-stemmed Buckwheat made a straggly appearance. In the gravelly soil of the dry river bed creek, Twiggy Wreath Plant seemed to have found enough moisture for somewhat more than twenty plants to have a scattering of pink and pale-pink flowers.

Long-stemmed BuckwheatTwiggy Wreath Plant
Long-stemmed Buckwheat and Twiggy Wreath Plant

Butterflies here and there were scavenging sustenance from the few remaining flowers. Quite a few Common Buckeye were seen, as were several of one of the Vanessa species, some of which were feeding on Mule Fat. One of the flowers of a Twiggy Wreath Plant provided nectar for a Skipper of some sort while I was taking photos. The Skipper did not remain long enough for a decent shot.

Chestnut-backed ChickadeeTownsend's Warbler
Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Townsend’s Warbler

The variety of birds in the river was very small; probably because water had just been released. A few birds were photographed in the trees along the side of the river. On returning via Alisal Road, all fauna activity seemed to have ceased in the hot midday sun. I will have to try an early morning trip another time, when on my own time.

From Wikipedia
“The Santa Ynez River is one of the largest rivers on the Central Coast of California. It is 92 miles (148 km) long,[3] flowing from east to west through the Santa Ynez Valley, reaching the Pacific Ocean at Surf, near Vandenberg Air Force Base and the city of Lompoc.

The river drains the north slope of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the south slope of the San Rafael Mountains, as well as much of the southern half of Santa Barbara County. Its drainage basin is 896 square miles (2,320 km2) in area.[4] The river’s flow is highly variable. It usually dries up almost completely in the summer, but can become a raging torrent in the winter.”

I have been having some trouble with the Flickr slideshows (Shockwave Flash crash).
Click here to see the individual photos in the slideshow.


Note – on More Mesa, three distinct Black Cottonwood groves have been discovered by Valerie and Donley Olson. The behavior of the cottonwoods is to be monitored and documented as the seasons change, with phenology reports to Budburst. See November 2013 News.

The Sound of Cottonwoods (Populus fremontii)

Corrections are always welcomed.

Oso Flaco Lake in October

A late start after not hearing the alarm meant a late arrival, and after driving through thick fog from Orcutt, thankfully found that the group was just starting on the walk when I got to the parking area. Phew! Fred and Larry were the leaders, and not too much later, the fog cleared for the most of the walk. A bad start; a good day.

On the path from the parking lot toward the lake, Sneezeweed, Hooker’s Evening Primrose, Marsh Baccharis, Western Goldenrod and California Aster were flowering. Twinberry were mostly in fruit, but a few had flowers. (Clicking on an image will open a window with a larger version.)

Sneezeweed, Rosilla, Autumn Lollipop - Helenium puberulumHooker's Evening Primrose - Oenothera elata ssp. hookeri
Sneezeweed/Rosilla/Autumn Lollipop and Hooker’s Evening Primrose

Marsh Baccharis - Baccharis glutinosaWestern Goldenrod - Euthamia occidentalis
Marsh Baccharis and Western Goldenrod

California Aster - Symphyotrichum chilenseOrb Weaver
California Aster and Orb Weaver

The lake was full of birds; I have never seen that many. The majority were Coots, followed by a large number of Northern Shovelers. Other birds included Cinnamon Teal, Redhead, a female Canvasback, Belted Kingfisher, Wigeon, Great Egret, Grebes, Gulls and Terns. A Sora was heard. The surprise of the day was a Bittern – a first for me, and it was close to the railing.

Mostly Ducks, mostly Shovelers

BitternWhite Pelican
Bittern and White Pelican

Beyond the lake on the path to the ocean, the vegetation on the sand dunes was wonderfully colorful, with large swaths of yellow Blochman’s Senecio. Seen here and there, purple Blochman’s Leafy Daisy and the mostly white Common Sandaster. Some of the Mock Heather (another yellow flower) has started to bloom and there should be more of it in the weeks ahead. There seems to be something blooming almost year round at Oso Flaco Lake.

Dune Lupine (grayish blue-green), Blochman's Senecio (yellow), Buckwheat (red)
Dune Lupine (grayish blue-green), Blochman’s Senecio (yellow), Buckwheat (red)

Larry showed us a few shells from a native snail, “Surf Shoulderband, Helminthoglypta fieldi”. The snail is not active during the day, and is thus seldom seen. However, the vacant shells are sometimes blown by the wind into small groups. Rodents often gnaw on the shells to add calcium to their diet. There is not a lot of information on these snails – some that I found:  “Coastal dune scrub plant communities. Range extends south of the San Luis Range to Pt. Arguello. Leaf litter under scrub vegetation.”

Silver Beach Bur, a native, is an interesting plant. It grows in a narrow strip of about 250 yards from the ocean, all the way from California, Oregon, Washington to Alaska. It originated in Chile, and was probably brought to California via the seed burs attached to migrating birds. (Larry has an amazing depth of knowledge of all things natural.)

Shells of native snailSilver Beach Bur - Ambrosia chamissonis
Native Snail Shells and Silver Beach Bur

After the walk, I went back to the car to change my lens to 400 mm for a few bird shots. I discovered that in my haste in the morning, somehow the  shutter speed was set to 1/100 sec. I usually shoot between 1/400 and 1/640, sometimes 1/800, to compensate for hand movement and/or a fast moving object. Thankfully, enough photos were shot, that some were salvageable, but there were too many blurry throw-aways. After that was fixed, a couple White Pelicans that had moved from far across the lake closer to the crosswalk were photographed.

As always, corrections are welcomed.
I have made them in the past, including corrections
for coastal sage scrub for the “Gaviota Soils” post.

Gaviota Soils

On a Wildling Museum outing on Saturday from 9:00 am to 11:30 am, in the series “Natural History Field Classes with Fred and Larry”, a short walk was taken on a trail on the west side of 101 just before it passes through the Gaviota Tunnel. As with most field trips, if I take away about 20% of what is discussed, then my knowledge and understanding has increased by a fragment, upon which I can slowly build more knowledge. Thus, although more than two geologic formations were discussed, two are remembered the most. The next time I go out to that area, I will ignore these two and move onto the next formations that were detailed in a handout.

The two geologic formations that made an impression were Monterey Shale and Rincon Shale. Monterey Shale is found from Northern California to Los Angeles, offshore and to the channel islands. The decomposed organic matter in this shale is the major source of oil extracted in California, and “contains two-thirds of the U.S.’s shale oil reserves”. (Click on any of the images below to see a larger version.)

Monterey Shale

From Wikipedia, “The Rincon Formation (or Rincon Shale) is a sedimentary geologic unit, abundant in the coastal portions of southern Santa Barbara County, California eastward into Ventura County. Consisting of massive to poorly bedded shale, mudstone, and siltstone, it weathers readily to a rounded hilly topography with clayey, loamy soils in which landslides and slumps are frequent. It is recognizable on the south slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains as the band at the base of the mountains which supports grasses rather than chaparral. The geologic unit is notorious as a source of radon gas related to its high uranium content, released by radioactive decay.”

Giant Rye Grass, Rincon Shale

There were other formations clearly visible from the trail, and this area is apparently one of the few places that many formations can be seen. The Rincon shale, “which supports grasses rather than chapparal” is immediately obvious by looking up the mountain slope on the west. Mustard also grows on Rincon shale, displacing some of the grasses. After a recent fire, when the vegetation was burned, a native fire-follower Giant Wild Rye/Giant Rye Grass started growing in the Rincon shale, and has to some extent replaced or “succeeded” the mustard and/or non-native grasses. (A neat development, because frequently after fires, weedy plants take over.  The “so pretty” mustard is a non-native invasive species.)

Monterey and Rincon Shales

The cliffs of More Mesa, Goleta Slough and other places are also made of Monterey Shale. The cutting at the first part of the Gaviota trail is composed of Monterey Shale, and plants seen on More Mesa cliffs were seen here, too – Cliff Aster and Cliff Buckwheat. Although it is very late in the season, and the last rain fell some six months ago, there were late summer and fall plants blooming. Other Coastal Sage Scrub plants seen around the parking area near the coast and the first part of the trail, were Coastal Goldenrod, California Croton, California Fuschia and Lemonadeberry (the latter seemed to have pre-flowering buds).

Gaviota Tunnel is normally a very windy area, as any movement of the air in the area causes it to rush through the only nearby break in the mountain range. Here many wind-pollinated plants were found. Coyote Brush is found in Coastal Sage Scrub (such as More Mesa and coastal Gaviota). Mulefat, normally found in areas with moister soil, was found as we walked further down the trail to where the clayey Rincon soils abutted the trail. Both of these plants (Coyote Brush and Mulefat) have female and male plants, where the male flowers produce pollen and the female flowers receive the pollen via wind and produce the fruit. In this windy area, the windy airmail delivery system happens more often at the time these flowers bloom – fall. [PLEASE see notes on wind and insect pollination at end of post.]

Further along the trail away from the coast, the normal California Buckwheat, abundant in the Figueroa Mountain area, was found. The leaf difference between the two is that Cliff Buckwheat has triangular-shaped leaves and a white underside. The Chaparral Buckwheat has more spiky, solid green leaves. Both Cliff and California Buckwheat are excellent nectar plants, and a wide variety of butterflies frequent these plants late spring and summer when they bloom.

A single Sacred Datura, highly noxious, was growing low in the grassland. It also grows on More Mesa cliffs, and grasslands elsewhere.

I recorded the sound of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, which seems to prefer Coyote Bush in the fall, but the sound of the traffic along 101 drowned out the bird call. Bushtits were seen in a large flock, harvesting the seeds from fennel. And there were a good number of Scrub Jays. A perfect photo of a Bewick’s Wren could have been had, had I had my camera ready. The Wren flew to a bush in front of my car, as I sat inside. Other birds included the Wrentit, the typical Chaparral bird sound, Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk.

The Gaviota area is also interesting in the spring, with a number of usual and unusual flowering plants. Unfortunately, the area closer to 101 near the turn-off has a ton of non-native invasive plants – and is quite a mess. The stream alongside the 101 apparently was always there, and as the mountains uplifted, it eroded the stream bed downwards to where it remains at sea level.


In the Google map segment above, the green balloons represent photos of plants along the field trip (note the leftmost balloon is a zoom photo from the trail). This satellite image may have been taken in spring when the yellow mustard was blooming – and those areas represent where the Rincon Shale is found. The green area along the west side of 101 is the riparian corridor. The hillsides facing the sea, also face the sun all day, and hence are more barren because they dry out faster. As the top is crested, the slopes going down the other side,  face north and hence are more shaded and greener.


Removed for now.

Dictionary definition and meaning for word carrizo
(noun) tall North American reed having relative wide leaves and large plumelike panicles; widely distributed in moist areas; used for mats, screens and arrow shafts.

Notes on pollination of Baccharis and Artemesia species.
1. Artemesia
“Artemisia L. is a one of main genus of the tribe Anthemideae and also one of the largest genera of the family Asteraceae. It is an eminent wind pollinated cosmopolitan genus, chiefly found in temperate regions of mid to high latitudes of the northern hemisphere, settled in arid and semiarid climates areas and has only a small numbers representation in southern hemisphere (McArthur & Plummer, 1978; Valles & McArthur,  2001).”

2. Baccharis
Whether wind pollinated or insect pollinated or both, is under review, as there have been too many conflicting opinions. However, there is no dispute about wind dispersal of seeds.

Both of the plants mentioned in the post – Mulefat and Coyote Bush are Baccharis species – Baccharis salicifolia and Baccharis pilularis. Quote from “Flora of the Santa Ana River and Environs”: “Baccharis represents the only commonly encountered sunflowers in North America that have separate male and female plants (dioecious)”.