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Friday, September 11, 2015

Who's Visiting the Goldenbush?

Around this time of year, the "Goldenbush" (Ericameria parishii) is blooming in Cuyamaca Woods and plenty of other mountain locations. This large, flower-covered shrub attracts lots of pollinators, so today I decided to take a drive into the Laguna Mountains and see what might be visiting the Goldenbush.

There were a few isolated bushes here and there along the Sunrise Highway as I drove south, and then I hit the jackpot - an area just to the east of the road loaded with flowering Goldenbushes.

The most common pollinator by far were honey bees. A good sign for them, anyway, although not too exciting. It took a little looking to find native species, and none were numerous.

A typical "Goldenbush". Thanks to Aaron Schusteff for helping with the identification of this shrub.
Close-up of the flowers. They are a vivid "gold" when fresh.
A native bee visitor. To be determined.
An ambush bug (Phymata pacifica), beautifully camouflaged. I almost overlooked it myself!
Pepsis sp. (possibly P. pallidolimbata?). This is a male, with long, straight antennae.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Flashback to Some "Old" Utah Herps

Posting the recently-seen Utah herps reminded me of the ones Gary and I saw five years ago, on our first Grand Staircase Escalante trip. On that trip, we camped in the Cottonwood Creek area for several days, and then drove north to the town of Escalante, then south again on Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Then we paid another visit to Grand Staircase two years ago, in 2013, and made a day trip down Hole-in-the-Rock Road, notorious for how long it is (around 55 miles) and how unpleasant it can be to drive on (washboard that can jar fillings out - or feel like it - after a while).

On those trips we saw the Orange-headed Spiny Lizard, Sceloperus magister cephaloflavus, which is confined to northern Arizona and southern Utah. This is an impressive looking reptile, as the photos hopefully convey.

Sceloperus magister cephaloflavus, Cottonwood Creek, Grand Staircase Escalante, 2010. The first one seen and photographed.
The landscape in Cottonwood Creek. A nice place to camp, but as the days passed, the wind, flies and heat all seemed to be increasing, so in the end we were glad to leave and head north.
Sceloperus magister, showing more orange on its sides and less on the head! This was one of several that we saw on our 2013 trip, which focused on the Burr Trail (we camped at the west end of Long Canyon, as we did this year). These lizards were not seen at that spot though - instead they were in a side canyon off Hole-in-the-Rock Road (Coyote Gulch), which we did a day hike in. This male's blue belly is partially visible here.
Male showing off, trying to convince us he wasn't scared (they took off with slightly closer approaches, of course).

An orange-headed one, in a shady protected area.
Sceloperus graciosus, the sagebrush lizard that we saw so many of this year. This one was quite fearless, and was like a "greeter" at the Information Center for the Grand Staircase in the town of Escalante.
Another S. graciosus at the information center.
This was a herp that we did NOT see frequently (I think this was the only one). This is probably the Northern Tree Lizard, Urosaurus ornatus wrighti, also off Hole-in-the-Wall Road (in Coyote Gulch). 
A view of the landscape near Hole-in-the-Rock Road, from 2010. This is near Dance Hall Rock (and our camp is barely visible as a black dot - the truck, and a gray dot - the tent).

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Diversion to Southern Utah, Part 1: Reptiles (of Primarily the Lizard-Sort)

Gary and I took our semi-regular trip to southern Utah this July (later than usual, with hopes that some monsoonal rain might have brought out new and different things than we have seen in June in the past).

The monsoons had delivered a couple weeks previously, and the vegetation was quite lush and green in most of the places we visited. And insect and other animal life was pretty abundant. We drove to the Ponderosa Grove Campground just north of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (in Kane County) for the first night, then spent two nights on the west end of Long Canyon in the Grand Staircase Escalante NM next (the same spot we stayed in two years earlier), then spent the last three nights at Canyonlands National Park, at the Squaw Flat Campground (something new for us).

This installment will cover some of the scaly ones we saw. Many of the lizards in this region of the southwest are a bit different from the common ones we see in southern California, although there is certainly some overlap of species.

Sceloperus graciosus, the Common Sagebrush Lizard. They DID seem pretty common - definitely the species we saw most frequently on the trip. This one was at the Ponderosa Grove Campground. It posed for its picture very cooperatively (as did most of the others we encountered on the trip). 
Another S. graciosus. This one was the most beautifully-colored one we saw. It was also at the Ponderosa Grove Campground.
The "lizard of the trip" (I would say). Gambelia wizlizenii (the Long-nosed Leopard Lizard). We saw two of these spectacular creatures, both on walks at Canyonlands, near the Squaw Flat Campground. Gary spotted both of them.
Another sagebrush lizard, blending fairly well with the never-ending Utah red-rock landscape. Canyonlands NP.
A pair of side-blotched lizards on a rock on our walk back to camp at Canyonlands (on the first morning).
I'm guessing these are Plateau Side-blotched Lizards (Uta stansburiana uniformis). This was one of the pair shown above.
The other member of the pair shown above. Slightly different markings.
A slender-looking side-blotched - showing off the blotch! Only after looking at the photo later did I see all the missing digits on the right forefoot.
Western Whiptail, Aspidoscelis tigris. This bold lizard was rummaging around in the Datura which was abundant in our campsite. We watched it as it found a prey item of some sort and then saw that it was a nice sphingid caterpillar (something I would have liked photographing!).  The lizard kept partially-swallowing the caterpillar, crunching down on it over and over, and eventually it went down the hatch. This was the only photo I got that had some decent resolution, but this episode reminded me of the alligator lizard that ate the HUGE sphinx moth caterpillar on our Datura at home a few years back. 
Our caterpillar-eater. Luckily the cat is mostly water...
This snake zoomed past when we were exploring the ephemeral pools with shrimp in them at Canyonlands. My best guess is Coluber taeniatus, the Striped Whipsnake.
Lesser Earless Lizard, Holbrookia maculata, probably H. maculata campi, the Plateau Earless Lizard. This hot little guy was not in Utah, actually. It was seen in a sagebrush area north of Flagstaff, Arizona about two weeks later (on my Arizona trip).