Monday, March 17, 2014

Our 2014 Diversion to Coyote Canyon, in the Anza Borrego Desert

Last year around this time, Gary and I made a little trip to Coyote Canyon in the Anza Borrego State Park. We were so intrigued by the riparian area in the middle of the arid desert that we decided to return this last weekend, this time with several friends.

This year was drier even than last (which is saying something, as last year was pretty parched). But Coyote Creek was running steadily, if not very high, and some flowering trees, shrubs and forbs were to be found. Beetles were here and there, but not numerous. The majority were tenebrionids found on the ground after dark. The stars of the show were the tree frogs, of two species (the California Tree Frog, Pseudacris cadaverina and the Pacific Tree Frog, Pseudacris regilla). The California Tree Frogs seemed by far to be the most numerous. They were calling day and night, in hopes of making more frogs, and any stroll near the creek would reveal little hoppers here...there...everywhere.

This will surely be a spectacular spot to visit in a wet spring!

The weekend before, we made a short day trip to the area to check out access to Sheep Canyon, further up from where we camped in Lower Coyote Canyon. The steep part of the access road had been "cleaned up" by the State Park, and we were actually able to creep up it slowly in 4WD low. This would have been impossible the spring before, as it truly was "Boulder Alley" then, and only the most capable four-wheel-drive vehicles could make it.

This weekend we only hiked to the lower lush "forest" and not all the way to Sheep Canyon. Many endangered Least Bell's Vireo were nesting in the thick willow-dominated woodland.

Sheep Canyon, from our visit on March 9. Native California Fan Palms are visible scattered throughout the rich forest.

Coyote Creek. Many tracks of coyotes (of course), bobcats, raccoons, squirrels and others were near the life-giving water. On Sunday morning VERY early (before dawn) three of us thought we heard a distinct "meow" sound near our camp. After later investigation, it did sound quite a bit like a certain vocalization that bobcats make.

California Tree Frog, Pseudacris cadaverina, the most commonly seen frog species for this trip. All the remaining frog images below are of this species, except the last photo. This one was seen (along with many of his friends) on a night hike Gary and I took on Friday evening.

I couldn't manage to capture an image of a fully inflated throat sac - those frogs were a bit too shy for the camera.

On Saturday, during the day, several of us walked over to the nearby creek from our camp, with chairs, and settled in by the trickling waterway for relaxing time. I never did encounter my fellow humans, but where I settled in there were plenty of frogs, and they slowly emerged from hiding and proceeded to do frog things as I sat quietly nearby. These two croaked and crawled on each other (but never mated) and then hunkered down under this tiny overhang, to escape the heat.

A pretty little frog amongst the fallen blossoms.

A nice classic pose.

I guess there can be no such things as too many frog photos!

I saw very few Pacific Tree Frogs, which is the more common species in Cuyamaca Woods. But this one is unmistakeable, with the dark eye-stripe and less blotchy markings.

Asbolus verrucosus. We saw about a dozen total on the trip, which I thought was quite a lot for the Anza Borrego Desert.

Acmaeodera sp. on Apricot Mallow. Still waiting to identify to species.

Edrotes ventricosus, a small fuzzy darkling beetle. We saw several on our evening hike.

What appears to be Sphenophorus sp., a billbug (a type of weevil). It was on the sandy road just adjacent to the rich riparian area.

Cerenopus concolor, a darkling beetle.

Pupa of...? This was right next to the creek, and when I knelt down nearby to photograph a track in the mud, it started wiggling and whipping back and forth!

I tried to take a short video of the wiggling pupa, but operator error prevented my getting a movie (just this still image)! In other words, I forgot how to do THAT on this camera! This image still sort of conveys the action, though.

Raccoon tracks in the mud. Last August and September there were massive monsoonal floods that ripped through the canyon, and I think some of these tracks may date back to that time (we've had virtually no rain in the local desert since).

The Guys, posing with a huge metal THING we found sitting in the middle of the desert! This THING isn't going anywhere soon, I suspect. It was impressive, though.


  1. A great location and very nice photos of your observations - I like the still-photo wiggle! I hope you'll take me on a trip like that one day again!

  2. Just let me know when you're in the area : )

  3. As always your photos are extraordinary and your captions are informative.

  4. I love that part of Anza Borrego the most, especially since living at the headwaters all those almost 24 years since 1980. I explored it way back before they ever closed the jeep trails years back from Terwilliger in Nance Canyon. There are a couple of tributaries I always wanted to explore more. One you should try sometime is Fig Tree Valley. I seem to remember these Ocotpus arm looking multitrunked native ficus growing out of the canyon walls. Actually there are a couple of great examples of them at the Living Desert Museum in Palm Desert. They were kool. Then there is Tule Creek which is another one of those canyons with permanent water and lots of Sycamore trees. Alder Canyon I never got around to exploring, but by the name I always assumed there was permanent water, since unlike Cottonwoods and Sycamores, they almost need to have their roots bathing in continual fresh water in desert country.

    Those tree frogs are amazing survivors. During wetter periods growing up in the 60s and 70s, they could be found high up on normally dry chaparral covered slopes. But with heavier than normal rain events like 1978-1984 streams were abundant everywhere. They ran pretty much all year long. Mostly there are normally dry washes, but during that time period they started developing cottonwood and willow colonies. The interesting thing about that is that both of those trees in some places were miles away from these newer colonies. Shoes how far those cottony seeds can be carried by wind.

    I'm looking forwards to coming out with my wife on May 14th thru July 8th. Staying at Mum's place, brothers in Ranchita and Sisters place in Ocotillo. I really miss the Deserts. Boreal Forests with gray overcast skies and their continual wet cold and bogs everywhere with mosquitos doesn't really work for me. *sigh*


  5. I did not know that we had a native ficus. What is its species name? I know we've only seen the tip of the iceberg (so to speak) in the Anza Borrego Desert with our explorations. Having a better vehicle helps a lot. Enjoy your visit out here - I remember living in New England (my native haunts) for a few years as a young adult after living in San Diego County for quite a few years, and I really missed the variety of different habitats in California (and having a choice about which to visit). I think there were a couple mosquitos lurking in Coyote Canyon, though, as a got home with a few mystery bites!