Wild Sighting - 2012/02/22

Buteo jamaicensis

Conditions: Drought conditions continue with the last moisture recorded from rain/snow (.10") 2/18.  Today - Time 3pm, temp. 70F, mostly clear skies, light NW breeze and dry. Personal water supply is recommended for visits exceeding 1 hour.

Observations:  2012 First Sightings - Harvester Ants, Six Spot Tiger Beetles, grasshopper. Reptiles - No sightings reported.  Birds - Sightings include House Finch, Bobwhite Quail, White-winged Dove and  Western Meadowlark at the feeders with Bobwhite Quail, on ground, Sea Gulls,  and Canada Geese overhead. Mammals - Desert Mule Deer still visit daily, fresh deer scat and tracks seen over a wide area.  Plants - Some woody plants appear to be forming leaf buds. Insects - More than 15 Tiger Beetles were spotted on the Upper Bluff Trail, one grasshopper and a possible gnat.  Two species of fly seem to be on the increase.

We have had a number of days of cold weather conditions with lows dipping below freezing at night but this day was predicted to get up into the low 70's under sunny skies.  The next few days are predicted to turn cold and windy again so I was anxious to look for any signs of reptiles taking advantage of the day by sunning on warm rocks.  The Red-Tailed Hawk pictured at the beginning of this article evidently took less time than myself to determine the absence of sunbathing reptilians as it was in the area only about three minutes.

I soon spotted some very bright green beetles along the Upper Bluff Trail.  Some of them were moving quickly along the path in what appeared to be some sort of dance.  They were quite tough to photograph because they would quickly fly away if I got very close.  I chose to follow several and they seemed to want to return to where they had been dancing on the trail path.  They very much seemed to prefer the bare patches of ground rather than the dry grasses on either side of the trail.  This one was one of the new species sightings for 2012.

It didn't take long after spotting this pair to surmise that the dancing I had observed could have been part of a mating ritual for these beetles.  When I looked up information about them (Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)) I found these beetles feed only on other insects and males go to great lengths to stay close and protect the females even after mating, possibly to ensure their mate and offspring survive.

The beetle's shell refracts light so coloration can vary according to the angle and intensity of light.  Note that there are no white spots on any of these specimens, but that is a common variation.

Harvester ants made their appearance today.  I only saw them moving slowly on two of the many beds along the trails and none were foraging in the trails.  Spring cleaning?

Another new appearance for 2012 was a solitary grasshopper.  Grasshopper populations were way down during 2011 compared to previous years.

I am starting to see more open holes like this near the gopher mounds.  What I find very interesting is that there were no observable tracks around the hole even though the soil was quite loose.

One thing I am seeing a LOT of are deer tracks and fresh droppings in all areas of our facility.  They must be working very hard to find enough to eat under these drought conditions even though they are not yet showing any ribs under their hide.  All their trails are showing fresh tracks which indicate they are on the move quite a bit.  Which reminds me...

I have started placing rock markers like the example above in trails which are not part of our designated trail system.  These markers indicate people are not to follow these trails off the designated trail

Here is another marker at the western base of the bluff.  This is not a critter trail but one that has been created by people disregarding our facility usage policy.  Not only are all lower and side parts of the bluff critical habitat for bobcats, pack rats, owls, hawks and other birds, reptiles and plants found nowhere else on the property - these areas can also be dangerous for humans.  All along the base of the bluff are huge boulders which ave broken away from the sides of the bluff.  The principal reason why they separate is due to winter ice expanding in cracks on the sides of the bluff and water loosening softer sediments below the rocks causing them to break away.  It doesn't matter if you are on the top edges of the bluff or directly below, when these things let go, humans should not be there.

We do allow our qualified members and science researchers special off-trail access by special arrangement.  At other times, we offer off-trail excursions during planned workshops and activities.  We are also planning to open up more designated trails in the future.

The new "Do Not Pass" rock markers should not be confused with rocks placed in the designated trails.  They are part of a water turnout system put into place by two boy scouts working toward their Eagle Scout status.  They are placed in order to keep the trails from trapping water all the way down a slope and washing out the trail in the process.  They have been in place since the fall of 2011 but so far we have not received enough rain to determine how effective they are.

Now here is a challenge for you.  Can you identify this plant?  I would love to see your answers in the comments section below. (You will need to be registered in order to comment.)

I hope all your nature trail excursions are as exciting as I find them to be!