19 de abril de 2023

Creatures of the Canyon

Last January, Rachel (@paperplum), Boaz (@boazsolorio), @velodrome, @evn, and I met up to explore a canyon in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains.
It had been raining intermittently for days, and the canyon was wet. We headed for the trail at the end of the parking lot, but before we had gone far, I stopped to flip a tree stump that was sitting on the asphalt. Under it was a Black-bellied Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps nigriventris), which marked the first time I had found a salamander in a parking lot.
While the others were taking photos, I wandered off a short ways and flipped a small piece of concrete. Under it was a beetle larva that proved to be a Ground Beetle, tribe Pterostichini.
Going on, we stopped by the side of the trail to observe some fungi. This particular spot proved to be fruitful. The rain had blessed the canyon with an abundance of living things- fungi, slime molds, and more. I photographed some pale and velvety Splitgill Mushrooms (Schizophyllum commune) with my new iPhone macro lens. I had gifted Boaz a lens, as well, and we were both eager to try them out on whatever we might find.
Translucent Crystal Brain Fungus (Myxarium nucleatum) grew from a log, along with some bright yellow Slime Molds, mere dots on the wet wood, and a vivid clump of jelly-like fungus. I am not sure whether it was Golden Ear (Naematelia aurantia) or Witch’s Butter (Tremella mesenterica). Certainly order Tremellales, if nothing else.
We went on, very slowly, photographing almost everything we saw, and there was much to see in the moist and living canyon. I stopped for some Black Witch’s Butter (Exidia glandulosa), Giraffe Spots (Peniophora albobadia), Coprinopsis uliginicola, Miller’s Oysterling (Clitopilus hobsonii), a very interesting Slime Mold that looked like a mass of pink bubbles, a large mushroom likely of the family Psathyrellaceae, and a Trask Shoulderband Snail (Helminthoglypta traskii). Not that I knew what any of the fungi were; all were IDed later on iNaturalist.
I moved quickly from specimen to specimen, and before long had left the others behind. Seeing wet leaf litter piled against the trees, I dug into it to uncover the earth beneath. My search was rewarded by a smooth-skinned California Newt (Taricha torosa) concealed in the crevice of a tree trunk.
The next thing I photographed was a mass of branched and wavy yellow stalks, so-called “Coral Fungi” of the genus Phaeoclavulina. Next came more Black Witch’s Butter, and then a log frosted with white, like icing or newfallen snow. Up close, the white substance was made of a great many fingerlike extensions, translucent and crystalline in appearance. It proved to be a growth of Coral Slime, genus Ceratiomyxa.
It was nearly dark by now, and I was again ahead of the others. On a tree, I discovered a black-and-white patterned spider of a species I had not seen before. I was able to get in a few quick shots before it scurried into a crevice in the bark, which allowed me to later identify it as a ground spider of the genus Sergiolus.
The trail began leading uphill. Green liverworts and vivid moss covered the cliff walls, and in the midst of them a young Arboreal Salamander (Aneides lugubris)! Its eyes were gold and its skin was silvery, both patterned like the sky on a starry night.
With no warning, a startling shout brought us all to a standstill. “Bear! To your left!”
Hearts pounding (or at least mine was), we regrouped. Who had called? Which way was "left"? We had to rapidly determine what to do next. Given that there were five of us, I felt fairly confident in returning the way we had come. Staying close together and with great caution, we did this, but no bear appeared. Had there really been one, or was someone pranking us? We never saw who had called.
After a while, despite the surrounding darkness, we began to feel less nervous. That is, until the beam of my headlamp caught two glowing eyes, far off on the other side of the canyon, staring down at us. “Are those eyes I see over there…?” I asked apprehensively. All flashlights and headlamps focused on the unknown creature, and we strained to make it out. The eyes were set wide apart, and glowed yellow-green. The head was round, the body pale… could it be… could it really be… it was! There was no mistaking that lithe, pale outline in the dark. It was a Mountain Lion!
We watched it, fearful yet thrilled, talking excitedly, until it slunk off into the darkness. What an encounter! It was the first time I was absolutely sure I had seen a wild Mountain Lion in person.
That was definitely the find of the night, but the night wasn’t over yet. We walked rapidly back toward the parking lot, staying together, and looking behind us periodically to make sure the big cat wasn’t following us. Before too long, we arrived at an earthen wall that I suspected contained trapdoor spiders. My suspicion proved correct when I spotted a burrow’s lid, slightly open; under it were a set of hairy, reddish-brown legs.
I moved too quickly, however, and the legs immediately retreated. Undaunted, I danced the end of a twig over the burrow’s mouth, attempting to lure its occupant out, but the spider wasn’t having it and stayed deep in its retreat.
On the way back to the cars, we examined the hillside thoroughly, stopping every now and then to look more closely at anything that caught our interest. This resulted in a “Tawny Dwarf Tarantula,” Megahexura fulva. The individual was a wandering male, no doubt searching for a female to woo. He was missing a leg; perhaps the result of an encounter with some predator.
That concluded the trip! We got in our cars and left the canyon, reflecting on our experiences that night.

Publicado el 19 de abril de 2023 02:52 por ectothermist ectothermist | 21 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

10 de julio de 2021

Anza-Borrego Adventure- Part 5: Drive By Night

Continued from Part 4...
When darkness set in, we began road cruising. Boaz, walking along the road during a stop, discovered the first finds of the night: a couple of Desert Ironclad Beetles (Asbolus verrucosus). These impressively chunky, waxen-blue beetles are known to feign death when approached, but the ones we saw merely spread their legs and arched their backs in a combative pose.
Then the beam of the headlights caught a massive white spider skittering across the road. Boaz and I jumped from the car and ran towards it; catching up, we found it to be a Prowling Spider (genus Syspira). After taking pictures, we resumed our hunt.
Heading south, we found ourselves on Yaqui Pass Road once more, where we found a juvenile Leaf-nosed Snake. I crouched down to get an eye-level photo, but was soon scuttling in circles on my knees as the snake darted in every direction. I finally got a reasonably good shot, and then was immediately off again to photograph a Straight-faced Windscorpion that Boaz found while I was preoccupied. It was a little more cooperative than the snake.
That was the last observation of the trip for me before we began the drive home, despite us finding another Leaf-nosed Snake. I decided I had enough photos of that species for the time being; for another thing, I was rapidly getting tired. I vaguely remember us pulling over one last time. What I didn’t remember, until Rachel reminded me later, was Boaz holding up a dead Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans) and asking if I wanted to photograph it. I evidently declined.
Then we drove on; then (very late) I was home in my own bed. It had been a successful and gratifying trip. I was fortunate to take it with two amazing people I am glad to know. Thanks Rachel and Boaz!

Publicado el 10 de julio de 2021 21:56 por ectothermist ectothermist | 4 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

8 de julio de 2021

Anza-Borrego Adventure- Part 4: Cuyamaca Interlude

Continued from Part 3...
When I woke up I was feeling distinctly better; there would be no throwing up that day. Naturally, we wondered what had gone wrong with my stomach. Suspicion immediately centered around the fact that I had received my first COVID vaccination only the day prior to our trip. I had never heard of a reaction so severe, but the timing, combined with its only lasting through the one evening, leads me to believe that was indeed the cause.
That day we decided to drive out in pursuit of wildflowers. We headed up to two spots north of Borrego Springs, but as we cruised along the dusty roads, it was immediately apparant that our timing was a little off. The surroundings were as desolate as any in the desert. Having the whole remaining day to search, we decided to head south and west to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park instead.
The land rapidly changed from desert to greener hills, with a wide valley in between that the 78 highway traversed. We were in the middle of it when Rachel pulled over for a suspicious object on the side of the road. It proved to be an adult Red Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum piceus), a lifer for me. This one, sadly, was dead, leaving me still in pursuit of a living individual.
We drove on and eventually found ourselves in the vicinity of Lake Cuyamaca. Yellow flowers bloomed in the nearby fields, and we pulled over by one of them. Rachel and Boaz got out to look at the flowers. I, however, was still under the weather and hungry (due to being unable to eat anything but crackers), and elected to stay in the car while they roamed the fields.
They returned after a while, having seen many butterflies and a tarantula hawk wasp that Boaz ran after but was unable to catch, and we drove on. Our surroundings were picturesque: green and hilly, with groves of pine trees silhoutted against the sky. I was reminded, in fact, of territory familiar to me in the high country of New Mexico, despite this area’s lower elevation and proximity to the desert.
We pulled off the 79 at what turned out to be Los Vaqueros Trailhead and went hiking. Various butterflies, other insects, Spiny Lizards (probably Western Fence Lizards), and some deer greeted us upon the trail. After a short distance, I began feeling tired and decided to turn back, while the other two went on. Back at the car, I waited and waited, and was just beginning to feel worried when they returned. Boaz was holding something behind his back and grinning widely. With a flourish, he held up a plastic container and whipped off the lid to reveal… a mole. The woolly little sausage-shaped creature was probably a Broad-footed Mole (Scapanus latimanus). When placed upon the grass, it ran in an exaggerated undulating manner, which looked especially comical when filmed in slow-motion. Having seen the mole safely back into the ground, we drove back to Anza-Borrego and were greeted with a spectacular sunset.

To be continued…

Publicado el 8 de julio de 2021 20:10 por ectothermist ectothermist | 1 observación | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

6 de julio de 2021

Anza-Borrego Adventure- Part 3: Nausea Ad Nauseam

Continued from Part 2...
By now we were staying in one of the tiny cabins in Tamarisk Grove Campground, and we returned there to rest and cook dinner before our next adventure, which was road cruising for snakes at night. We set out on Yaqui Pass Road, Rachel in the driver’s seat. This arrangement was designed to make the most advantage of her exceptionally keen eyes.
Our first find was a Western Leaf-nosed Snake, Phyllorhynchus decurtatus, a lifer species I had especially hoped to find on this trip. The little snake, a juvenile, sported the comically large nose scale and bug eyes common to the species. Like all the other individuals we found over that night and the next, it would hardly stay still for an instant while being photographed.
It was around this time that I began to feel somewhat queasy. The feeling only increased before we pulled over for a large stick insect, probably Parabacillus. I crouched down to photograph it, and despite feeling rather sick to my stomach, was able to get a few decent shots. Before we found the next (and last) Leaf-nosed Snake of the night, I had begun throwing up. Despite that, I insisted on pulling over to photograph the snake, but the retching only worsened in frequency and intensity. It was at this point that Rachel took charge. Despite my feeble protestations, she herded Boaz and I into the car and began speeding us back to the campsite. Somewhere along the way I finally decided that was where I really wanted to be, and I kept my mouth shut even as I heard Boaz exclaim “Scorpion!” and “Snake!” and “Tarantula!” as we flew past the bemused creatures on the side of the road.
I gave one final heave right as we pulled up next to our cabin, before stumbling out of the car and collapsing onto the front porch, where I lay, not wanting to get up, for the next hour or so. In the interval, I heard Boaz exclaiming over a tarantula he had found by the campsite, but even this could not get me off the porch. Boaz evidently found several more creatures while I was lying there, dazed: namely a winged velvet ant, a few species of darkling beetles, and a Mexican Tiger Moth (Apantesis proxima). Eventually, Rachel and Boaz were able to coax me into a sleeping bag they had laid out on the lower bunk.

To be continued…

Publicado el 6 de julio de 2021 19:38 por ectothermist ectothermist | 3 observaciones | 3 comentarios | Deja un comentario

4 de julio de 2021

Anza-Borrego Adventure- Part 2: Borrego Palm Canyon

Continued from Part 1...
Our next venture was to Borrego Palm Canyon. At 2:00 in the afternoon, the temperature was intense, but we had plenty of water and dared the hike. My first interesting find was a beautiful snail that had attached itself firmly to a log. This proved to be a Borrego Desertsnail (Sonorelix borregoensis), a “lifer” for me. I know nothing about the biology of this species, but I assume that the specimen I found was in estivation (or whatever the proper term is for snails), and that it would become active when prompted by rain or moisture.
My next observation was of a small, prettily patterned Cobweb Spider in the genus Asagena, found by Boaz. Another lifer for me! In the meantime, Boaz had observed several plants, such as Desert Lavender, Brittlebush, and Mesquite, as well as a Straight-faced Windscorpion (family Eremobatidae) and some Harvester Ants (Pogonomyrmex). The Windscorpion proved too fast for me to photograph. Rachel then pointed out a black-and-yellow checkered Spiny Lizard clinging to the trunk of a shrubby tree, which I discovered was a Desert Spiny (Sceloporus magister). Next up was a “Dusty Desert” spider, a female, species Homalonychus theologus. I find members of this genus intriguing. Females and juveniles are coated in sand that sticks to their “hair” (setae). This makes them rather hard to spot, and also makes them pretty well unmistakable when you do spot them. Shortly after this I found the empty shell of another snail, probably also a Sonorelix.
By now we were approaching the stream, and the surrounding vegetation was getting increasingly lush and green. Here we found one of the animals dependent on this water in the desert- a Red-spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus). It hopped away madly whenever approached, making picture-taking very difficult. I finally gave up without a single shot, but Boaz persevered and was rewarded with several good ones.
At last we arrived at the oasis, a grove of verdant palms shading the stream. This oasis, an anomaly in the barren desert that surrounded it, owed its existence to the precious water that flowed here. The palms were California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera), unique in being the only palm native to Anza-Borrego and to California. Under their fronds was another world, cooler, greener, and shaded from the desert sun. We wandered here, climbing from boulder to boulder in pursuit of life.
The stream was teeming with tadpoles, presumably of Red-spotted Toads, and the occasional Giant Water Bug (Belostomatidae), perhaps Abedus indentatus. There were plenty of flies and other insects, too. Boaz discovered several gaudily colored harvestman, their bodies rotund and orange but their legs spindly and striped black and white. These were likely in the genus Eurybunus. Before leaving the oasis, we found another Red-spotted Toad, which Rachel and Boaz both photographed; I, however, was feeling a little run-down and opted to sit and watch them instead.
Eventually we began the trek back to the car. The last find of the trip was a small brown scorpion under a rock which turned out to be Stahnkeus subtilimanus, another lifer for me.

To be continued…

Publicado el 4 de julio de 2021 22:36 por ectothermist ectothermist | 7 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

2 de julio de 2021

Anza-Borrego Adventure- Part 1: Arrival and the Inland Sea

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is one of my favorite California desert locales. I had never been there in the spring before, so on the evening of April 27th of this year, Rachel Romine (@paperplum), Boaz Benaiah Solorio (@arthropod_crossing), and I began the drive to the park. Despite some delays, and a fruitless side trip to the Salton Sea area to look for Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes, we eventually arrived safely at the Borrego Springs Motel around 2 AM. Before we had even begun hauling our gear into our room, Boaz and I were examining the walls under the lights for possible lifeforms, which produced a Running Crab Spider (Philodromidae). While we were settling down for bed, Rachel discovered a roach that Boaz identified as a Surinam Cockroach (Pycnoscelus surinamensis)- an invasive species that turned out to be a first on iNaturalist for Anza-Borrego and Borrego Springs.
The next morning, we were up as early as our late night allowed. The first find of the day was a Kukulcania, a large female spider lurking under a board next to the motel. Alongside it was a Western Black Widow, also female.
Our first outing was outside of the park- to the Salton Sea. We drove through Salton City, sparse and desolate, and stopped the car in an abandoned parking lot by the sea. Its pungent odor enveloped us as we stepped outside.
I flipped over a large concrete slab and was excited to find a scorpion underneath- by the looks of it, a member of the family Vaejovidae. I called the others over, but before any of us could get a picture, it had burrowed out of sight.
We walked down near the shore and proceeded to flip many of the numerous slabs of concrete and aggregated rock that lay there. Two of them each produced a Prowling Spider of the genus Syspira, one quite large and attractively patterned.
After taking some time to eat, we drove back to the park.

To be continued…

Publicado el 2 de julio de 2021 23:46 por ectothermist ectothermist | 4 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

4 de noviembre de 2020

Backbone Trail hike

On 9/24/20 went up Corral Canyon Road to the Backbone Trail in Malibu Creek State Park. Arrived around 4 PM. Began walking along the sun-baked ridge, studded with great fin-like rocks, weaving back and forth in pursuit of life.
First animal worth taking a picture of was a dragonfly that proved to be a Variegated Meadowhawk. It sat nice and still on a branch while I snapped away.
Next found a Silver Garden Orbweaver, its web stretched between two bushes, and after that a tiny Blainville’s Horned Lizard, crouching among the dry scrub and nearly invisible thanks to its well-camouflaged scales. I had to track it through the grass as it scurried away, until it finally sat still enough for a photo.
Continuing on, and here and there climbing the rocks, eventually found a Duskywing that sat for its picture- a previous one got away.
Near a place where the trail went uphill, saw an orange “butterfly” flitting amongst the grass. When it landed its mottled brown forewings provided such effective camouflage that it was a while before I was able to find it. Upon closer inspection, determined it was a moth with orange hindwings, probably Drasteria. Going on, found another horned lizard that got away, Western Fence Lizards, and Side-blotched Lizards. Last and best of all, stumbled across a Patchnose Snake crossing the dirt road. It was a juvenile that immediately attemped to vanish before I pounced on it. Even then it was an energetic little thing, striking at me repeatedly and writhing madly, its tongue flicking in and out. I managed to get some good shots before letting it go.
Concluded by walking back on the paved road. Driving down, the fog lay on the sea, close by. A good trip.

Publicado el 4 de noviembre de 2020 20:39 por ectothermist ectothermist | 7 observaciones | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

27 de octubre de 2020

Mojave Desert trip

On 9/3/20 drove up to the desert. Went up the 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) to Angeles Forest Highway, to Mt Emma Road, Fort Tejon Road, Valyermo Road, and north and east into the Mojave.
Got to Mt Emma Road a bit after sundown. Saw nothing until well up in the desert- Palmdale Boulevard or thereabouts. Then in quick succession roadcruised 5 dead and 2 live Mojave Rattlesnakes.
Having pulled over for the second dead snake, walked back to look at it and found a gigantic Hairy Scorpion. Snapped photos of it until it decided to scurry into the street. Frantically tried directing it back to the side with the snake hook before it was run over, but it wouldn’t cooperate. In desperation I stupidly tried grabbing its “tail” just behind the stinger, but in a millionth of a second it twisted around and stung me on my left thumb. First time I’ve been stung by a scorpion- surprisingly! It was like a very mild bee sting- was numb and sort of prickly for a few hours, then faded with no further effects.
Eventually gave up on trying to save the scorpion and left it to its fate. I think it got away.
Continued on, eventually down a desolate road, flat and empty in the dark, that had a live Mojave rattler on the shoulder. Took pictures, taking care to keep a safe distance. Eventually it crawled off into the bushes.
Down another, even lonelier road, found another Mojave in the middle of it. It began crawling away, then curled up in a coil while I snapped photos.
Kept driving east and turned south, now in San Bernardino County; passed through Phelan and Wrightwood and took the 2 all the way back to La Cañada, arriving around midnight.

Publicado el 27 de octubre de 2020 21:26 por ectothermist ectothermist | 6 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

6 de septiembre de 2020

Lake Johnson hike

On 8/13/20 hiked to Lake Johnson, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico. Started a bit after 9 AM. En route to trailhead at Panchuela Campground, saw a Mule Deer buck and a group of turkeys- only ones from the trip.
A little up Cave Creek, flipped a rock and found a young Wandering Garter Snake. It promptly musked on me. Walking down to the creek to wash off, snake in hand, I immediately found another Wandering Garter, this one quite large. As I was juggling the two in an attempt to take pictures, the smaller one bit me twice- the second time, it sank one fang into my left index finger, mercilessly deeper and deeper. Felt just like a hypodermic needle.
Continuing on, found a few beautiful Speyeria.
Arrived at the caves and briefly explored them. They went back quite far, passages going in and out of each other until they ended in several narrow, dark notches that the creek poured into.
Slogged on, finding Cupido, Speyeria, Polygonia, and many plants, until a stop at a junction to refill bottles with treated stream water. Went on for hours more, with the forest environment slowly but continually changing in plant and animal life as the altitude increased. Found a probable Linyphiid spider.
After 7 or so miles that never seemed to end, arrived at Lake Johnson. It was lower in elevation than I had thought. Almost immediately began walking around the perimeter. Found interesting plants and a pair, at least, of large blue Darners. Perhaps more flying around, unless they were the same pair. About 3:00 by now. I lay down on my stomach to photograph the dragonflies. One was perched on a log, arched between head and abdomen. The other would periodically swarm it, buzzing and harrying the perched dragonfly. Eventually they ended up with the flying dragonfly on its back, its mouthparts tourching the perched one’s upside-down, its tail touching the other at the anterior portion of its thorax. Were they male and female? And what were they doing?
Went on to a beautiful meadow at the west end of the lake. Found some blue flowers I thought especially pretty, that I believe I saw only there. These proved to be Gentians.
Found small grasshoppers and an orange butterfly by the lake, even at this high elevation (11,100’). The butterfly got away.
Packing up, saw a few Gray (Canada) Jays.
Considered climbing “Capulin”/Redondo Peak, but unfortunately got to the lake too late.
Came back in the dark. A strenuous but successful hike. 14 miles round-trip.

Publicado el 6 de septiembre de 2020 17:35 por ectothermist ectothermist | 40 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

4 de septiembre de 2020

Winsor Creek hike

On 8/11/20 hiked Winsor Creek, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico, to ridge overlooking stream valley. Basically my idea of a perfect trip- the valley a paradise with a huge number of insects, snakes, and plants.
In the valley, found many flowers, wasps, butterflies (Speyeria, Polygonia, Cupido, Lycaena, Echo Azure, Mylitta Crescent, yellows, and more unknown), flies, a Gnophaela moth, two Shamrock Orbweavers, and more. One particular patch of the insect-attracting Cutleaf Coneflowers was very fruitful; swarming with butterflies, and I narrowly missed catching a Wandering Garter Snake.
The first of the Shamrock Orbweavers was orange. Very happy to find it.
Turned off from the stream and began to gain elevation. En route, found many more plants, a trashline orbweaver (first I’ve seen in NM), Laphria, and grasshoppers. Passed through a recently burned area.
Rested on top and took in the view. Found a beautiful giant lady beetle (Anatis).
Headed back down. More plants. Back in the streambed, found a Wandering Garter that was swimming in the stream. Took lots of photos. Released it and it went into the creek, swam downstream, and then crawled out on the bank.
Proceeded on and found several White-lined Sphinx moths, then a big fat Wandering Garter Snake; a bulge in its stomach- must have recently eaten. Going off the trail, closer to the stream, found another Shamrock Orbweaver- this one yellow- in thick brush. They have small webs for such a large spider.
Saw two grouse that quickly flew away.
Going on, discovered a Wandering Garter Snake in the process of eating some kind of rodent, still protruding from the snake’s mouth. Fascinating.
More plants (and fungi) continually, along with two more Wandering Garters that escaped before I could get a picture- making for a surprisingly good total of six in all.
Saw a family of Dusky Grouse. Nearly six o’clock by now.
A successful trip, though I didn’t find the elusive Smooth Greensnake I was looking for- rare in Sangre de Cristos.
Started hiking around noon, which seems to be the golden hour for butterflies. Upon getting back down to the stream at 3:30-4 PM, there were none. Snakes were active in August’s warm weather as long as I was out there, though I found the most between perhaps 4 and 5.

Publicado el 4 de septiembre de 2020 19:43 por ectothermist ectothermist | 68 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario