Observations of Flowering Plants and the Main Vernal Pools on the Mesa de Colorado, 4/17/01 - 5/10/01

Chronological Observations

Introduction to this page

Observations 2000 November 4 - 2001 February 23
Observations 2001 February 26 - 2001 March 16
Observations 2001 March 18 - 2001 April 14
2001 April 17
2001 April 20
2001 April 23
2001 April 26
2001 April 28
2001 May 2
2001 May 6
2001 May 10
Later observations

2001 April 17 (Day 63): Vernal Pool Trail, Los Santos Trail. Another nice day, the warmest one in a long time!

Much to my surprise, there are now blue patches of color from the blue-eyed grass! There are several nice patches along the Vernal Pool Trail, and more along the Los Santos Trail. The blue-eyed grass seems to have just burst into nearly full bloom by the pleasant weather of the last week. Perhaps we aren't past full bloom after all!

The Pool had three surprises for me today. First, I got to not only finally get some excellent pictures of the garter snakes, but I got to observe two snakes mating.

A single snake crawled onto a rock in the boardwalk opening. It was quickly followed by another snake, slightly smaller, who crawled along and next to the body of the first snake, and ended up with its head on top of the other snake's head. The snakes then entwined their bodies and over the next 3-5 minutes one of the snakes had ~6 ejaculations that caused nearly the entire length of the snake's body to spasm. After that, the snakes untwined, and then sped off so quickly that I speculated at least one of them said:

OK, that's enough of that. Now get away!

Mating must have been occurring for some time, since I saw my first baby snake in the water today, my second surprise of the day. It was about 12" long, compared to the ~24" length of the adults.

I also saw two snakes approach each other in the water, and then quickly move away from each other. I speculated that the snakes found out that they were both the same sex.

Finally, my third surprise was to find a single fairy shrimp, the Santa Rosa species with the red eyes, swimming in the water. The poor thing was probably wondering where the other shrimp had gone!

The tadpoles are still under 1/2" in size for their main bodies, implying that the bigger ones are being eaten as fast as they grow.

Jane Strong noticed that the pools do have rings of color around them, just not made out of flowers. The inner portions are light green from new growth of spike rush, surrounded by dark green from older spike rush, with a small ring of white popcorn flowers at the very edge.

Chocolate lilies are still in quite viewable shape along the Los Santos Trail, but are clearly only about 50% of their maximum bloom.

2001 April 20 (Day 66): Vernal Pool Trail, Trans Preserve Trail, Granite Loop Trail, Vista Grande Trail, Waterline Road, Faultline Road. Conditions back to cloudy and cold.

The public interest in the blooms at the Santa Rosa Plateau continues, with KABC-TV in L.A. sending out a news crew this morning. Reserve Manager Carole Bell gave them a personal tour, and I helped out for part of their trip. According to a friend up north, the show aired that evening, and was one of the star teases just before commercial breaks throughout the broadcast, with the ~2 minute segment being shown near the end.

After a lull in early April, we are now back to having nearly two new species bloom every day. Spike rush is blooming at the edge of the Main Pool now, and the rare threadleaved brodiaea is beginning its bloom nearby. But only about 10% of the chocolate lily blooms are still around, and they are going quickly.

The fields of blue-eyed grass weren't quite as stunning today due to the cloudiness. But there are certainly many patches of them everywhere on and near the Mesa de Colorado.

The stunning fields of blue dicks at the burn area is beginning to be diminished by the exotic grasses that survived the burn. But the river of white and gold is now at its peak - what a stunning sight!

At the Pool, the Cyclops still don't have eggs on them. The tadpoles were more numerous today, but hard to see due to their skittishness. For some reason, the snakes were taking a holiday from eating tadpoles, and I didn't see any at all in an hour. Another person said he saw legs developing on some of the tadpoles, but I couldn't verify that since the tadpoles were gone by the time I went to his position.

Spike rush covers about 70% of the Main Pool now, and goldfields form some patches around about 1/6 of the Main Pool.

2001 April 23 (Day 69): Vernal Pool Trail, Trans Preserve Trail, Los Santos Trail, Granite Loop Trail. Conditions sunny and very warm, high in the lower 80s.

It was another day of many surprises. I would never have guessed that there could be so many surprises after so many hikes here.

The most stunning surprise was to see tens of thousands of butterflies! It's been quite a while since I have seen so many butterflies at once. I later learned that everyplace from Escondido (25 miles south) to Los Angeles (~50 miles north) experienced the same incredible high density of Painted Lady butterflies, all heading approximately north.

Although I don't have such a bumper sticker on my car, I indeed did "brake for butterflies" on my drive to the Santa Rosa Plateau. I managed to only kill a few by driving slowly. If I had driven at a normal pace, I would have killed over 100.

From 11:45 am to ~6 pm, 5-10 butterflies would fly north past me every 3-5 seconds and pass within ~25'. This means that I had 20,000 - 70,000 butterflies fly within 25' of me during this time! Absolutely incredible!

The butterflies most often were simply deliberately headed north, and didn't stop. Those that did stop nectared on blue dicks at least 90% of the time. Everyone I met was absolutely enchanted by the butterflies. How could you not be?

The Pool is filled with tadpoles. They are still quite skittish, but if you stay in one spot, you'll quickly see that there are 3-4 per square foot nearly everywhere. I observed lots of tadpoles, but none had developed legs yet.

Another surprise: if it is quiet, the sound of "trickling water" can be heard, but there is no stream around! The sound comes from tadpoles continually breaking the surface of the Pool, each making one little water sound. I had never heard that sound before; I was simply amazed.

The Pool is nearly complete green from a distance due to the growth of spike rush. Up close, one can see that there is still plenty of water.

Surprisingly, I saw a pair of dragonflies mating again today. I wonder if their eggs will have time to mature before the Pool dries up.

A few days ago, I calculated that an average of two new species of plants comes into bloom every day, and today didn't disappoint. I found exactly 6 new species blooming since my last visit three days ago.

Poppy Hill has ~6 small clumps of poppies on its south face, near the top. You would only notice those clumps by hiking north on the Trans Preserve Trail from the Vernal Pool Trail. Still, this seems an inadequate number of poppies to justify the name! In six years, I've never seen any significant number of poppies on Poppy Hill.

There is a small pond on the drainage along Hidden Valley Road west of the Trans Preserve Trail which contained tadpoles. I observed a two-striped garter snake actually consuming one of the tadpoles there, the first time I had seen a snake nab on of the tadpoles. (There is little doubt that the snakes at the Pool eat the tadpoles, but I had never seen them eating one. The snakes there are usually just merrily swimming along, probably waiting for the tadpole who doesn't get out of the way quickly enough.)

The fields of blue-eyed grass are at peak color, and the blue is just beautiful. One field along Hidden Valley Road has a lot of checkerbloom mixed in, which is also near its peak bloom there. Stunning!

The Los Santos Trail is quite overgrown with tall grasses in its middle portion from Hidden Valley Road to the Vernal Pool Trail. There are ~10 total chocolate lily blooms left on the entire Reserve, all under a single tree on this trail at the bench, out of ~2,000 total blooms this year. They'll be gone in a few days with this heat.

The first of the nasty biting flies were out today, but weren't very bothersome yet.

2001 April 26 (Day 72): Vernal Pool Trail, Los Santos Trail, Granite Loop Trail, Vista Grande Trail, Waterline Road. Conditions pleasant, high around 80 with a nice breeze.

The butterflies have mostly moved on. I saw only ~10 Painted Ladies total at the Reserve today.

This is the first day that it seems the ground pinks display is fading. It's been quite hard to estimate the fullness of its bloom, since the ground pinks have been closed so much of the time due to cold or cloudiness. But the owl's clover is making up for it, with patches of intense purple, especially near the Main Pool.

Although the muilla is ending, there is still a river of white due to it to the south of the Vernal Pool Trail. Today for the first time I noticed smelling it - it has a lovely fragrance that covers the trail at that point due to the southerly breeze.

The Pools are all entirely two shades of green from a distance. They are surrounded by a lighter green of popcorn flower mixed with vegetation, and the water area is all dark green from the spike rush.

Up close, there was a duck waddling on the boardwalk, who dived into the water as I approached and quickly began eating tadpoles as fast as he could cycle his head into the water and back. I discovered a fresh poop from the duck, and realized that there were ~6 dried-up spots elsewhere on the boardwalk due to duck poop. So this is how some of the tadpoles end up....

It is quite difficult now to observe much in the water, since algae covers ~80% of the water by the boardwalk. The tadpoles were abundant today, but still none showed any legs.

The chocolate lilies are down to exactly their three last flowers, under the tree at the second bench along the Los Santos Trail. But many places along that trail are just covered with blue-eyed grass.

Chinese houses are beginning their lovely bloom along the Granite Loop North Trail. What a beautiful flower!

Near the end of the Vista Grande Trail, I met a couple with a dog! I'd never previously seen anyone with a dog in the Reserve. The owners of the dog said they hadn't seen any sign prohibiting dogs at the entrance to the south Vista Grande Trail, and they were correct. There was a sign at the entrance to the parking lot, but I suppose it is easy to miss that one as you drive in. I walked them out Waterline Road, to keep the scent of the dog off the rest of the Vista Grande Trail, and explained to them why dogs were not allowed in the Reserve. They were quite understanding, and I later suggested adding a no dogs sign to accompany the other no signs there, which was soon done.

2001 April 28 (Day 74): Burn Area, Vernal Pool Trail, Multiuse Trail. Conditions sunny, cool but pleasant, high in 60s with a nice breeze.

I had the privilege of accompanying Earl Lathrop and his group on a tour of the SRP today, which included Brad Martin and other professors and friends from La Sierra University. Earl was the first to describe the flora of the Santa Rosa Plateau, including the Vernal Pool flora, in 1968, and Brad studied the distribution of the two downingia species in the pools of the SRP. It was very interesting hearing stories told by the two of them of what it was like several decades ago there!

We had lunch at the Adobes, then drove to the burn area. I was stunned to see no evidence of the blue dicks from a distance at all - the annual grasses had completely covered up the show! Up close, the blue dicks were still there blooming amidst the grasses. The river of red-skinned onion and California buttercup was still in full bloom, but that was it.

We hiked from the Vernal Pool Trailhead to the Pool. Earl was lamenting that he hadn't brought his flora book along with him, so that everyone in his group could see a picture of what the Main Pool used to look like, with a ring of yellow around it, before the depth was lowered and the rings of color were lost. Amazingly, we met a group from the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, one of whom was carrying Earl's flora! Earl got to show the group the picture, and the gentleman carrying the book got the autograph of the author.

I had told Brad at lunch that the downingia was not blooming, and probably wouldn't come into full bloom for another month. So imagine my surprise when as soon as my feet touched the boardwalk I saw three tiny new lavender blooms amidst the popcorn flowers, and immediately knew without even a close examination that the downingia was now beginning its bloom! I didn't have time to point out those blooms for about 15 minutes, since the masses of popcorn flower and the Pool itself were being studied. During that 15 minutes, no one else noticed those tiny blooms. So be warned that you'll have to look pretty hard to see these blooms until more are open!

Brad Martin verified that the dominant plant at the pool was indeed spike rush. He spent a lot of time looking for further plants of downingia sans blooms amidst the popcorn flowers at the edge of the pool, and was able to find a very small number. This was a bit puzzling, since if a few plants were blooming, there ought to be more about to bloom. Later I discovered a lot of downingia plants 1-3" above the water just south of the center of the boardwalk.

I asked Brad about the unknown onion-type leaved plant I had noticed growing, and was puzzled until he came upon one that had very different leaves growing out of the onion-type stems. He then immediately identified it as coyote thistle, aka San Diego button celery! Finally, Brad also confirmed that my "gray shrimp" was indeed Daphnia. So in the span of ten minutes, Brad had answered these and other questions that had been puzzling me for some time. Nothing like having the right person around!

I came back later to study the pond inhabitants, and found that nearly all the tadpoles had very tiny back legs. They weren't quite as skittish as before, and I was finally able to study them pretty closely. The size is still about 1/2" for their main body, and it looks like the jet-black small tadpoles have become larger grayish-black tadpoles. The gray ones still look the same shade of gray, with flecks on their back and alternating spots on their tails.

There were several dragonfly or predacious diving beetle larvae moving around on the bottom of the Pool, along with water boatman and a single adult diving beetle. In addition, there were several new 1/2" long creatures swimming along the bottom which looked like spiders. The water was too murky for me to count its legs, or see if it had two or three divisions to its body, to be sure.

The threadleaved brodiaea is bursting into bloom, with well over 100 now, up from only 6 blooms two days ago. But the ground pinks have almost vanished from the Vernal Pool Trail, and their display and the river of muilla are gone. As with the blue dicks display at the burn area, the annual grasses are muting the flower display.

On the Multiuse Trail, the monkeyflower is in very nice full bloom, giving splotches of orange-red along the trail. It is producing an excellent display along Clinton Keith Road as well.

2001 May 2 (Day 78): Vernal Pool Trail, Adobe Loop Trail, Trans Preserve Trail. Conditions cloudy, foggy and cold.

I was stunned to see that the blue-eyed grass display was over so quickly! Even if the display was muted because the cool foggy weather had prevented some blooms from opening, an examination of the plants clearly showed that the display was over since most plants had numerous seeds and few buds.

However, the loss of that display was compensated by seeing a number of new flowers: the beautiful fairy lantern (white globe lily), slender madia, blue larkspur, golden yarrow, a lupine I hadn't seen before this year, and what I think is narrow-leaved bedstraw. The vetch has suddenly made patches of purple all over the Reserve, and the hybrid ceanothus at the Adobes are nearly at their stunning full bloom. But the annual grasses are so high that even coyotes now disappear into them.

I had the pleasure of hiking with Vicki Johnson and Michael Raugh today. Their sharp eyes and interesting stories made the hike more pleasant. Michael opened my eyes to the fascinating tendrils of wild cucumber, which actually pull the plant up off the ground once they make contact with something. The way a tendril performs this trick is to elongate one side of the length of the tendril below the point of contact, keeping the other side the same length. This causes the tendril to curl up, shortening the straight-line length between the base of the tendril and the point of attachment, which hoists the plant toward the point of contact.

An analogy is to imagine that the tendril was the skin of one of your fingers, without the bones or tendons inside, with your fingertip attached to a branch. If you were able to make just the top surface of your finger grow, you can imagine that your finger would start bowing upward. But as soon as the bottom surface of your finger reaches its maximum tension, something has to give. What "gives" is the shape of your finger - it forms curls such that the top portion of your finger is always on the outside edge of the curl, which is longer than the inside edge of the curl, formed from the lower portion of your finger.

When the tendril curls, it must preserve its torsion-less state, since there is no unattached end, and hence ~half of the tendril curls with one handedness, and the other ~half curls with the opposite handedness. (By "handedness", note that a curl can spiral either to the right or left as one travels along the axis of the spiral.) The transition point or points between the two curls must be a non-curled portion. (The simplest form is two sections of opposite handedness connected by one transition point, but Mike says that there can be more than one reversal on a given tendril.) I hadn't noticed that before in the attached tendrils, but by golly, there it is on every attached tendril!

It was hard to make many observations at the Pool due to the clouds and the dark water. Downingia is now up to about 30 blooms along the boardwalk, and the thread-leaved brodiaea is bursting into bloom on the trail at the far edge of the Pool.

2001 May 6 (Day 82): Vernal Pool Trail, Trans Preserve Trail. Conditions sunny and hot, with a few gnats thrown in.

Outside of the Vernal Pools, the end of the spring bloom is in sight - goldfields are almost gone, the California buttercups no longer outline the drainages, the blue dicks are fading, the California poppies are long in seed, and the first Mariposa lilies were blooming today. The presence of a few annoying gnats in shady areas, for the first time this year, confirmed it.

Except for the tadpoles, the Pool is now a place for plants. The short popcorn flower is now blooming over the entire Pool surface, both on top of the 7" deep water and in the dried edges. The spike rush has reached its full length, and the lovely downingia is now beginning its bloom here and there along about half the boardwalk. The threadleaved brodiaea is in full bloom in the area next to the pool. Except for the tadpoles and larger number of minute (much less than 1/32") creatures, none of the familiar animals were visible in the Pool. They are either gone, or have retreated to deeper sections or under the boardwalk due to the heat today.

2001 May 10 (Day 86): Vernal Pool Trail, Los Santos Trail, Trans Preserve Trail, Coyote Trail. Conditions sunny and warm.

The splendid Mariposa lily wastes no time setting seed - there are already 3" long seedpods from flowers that at most are 6 days old. But even as the Mariposa lily is now in full bloom, the ground pinks are completely gone, the California buttercup, dwarf lupine, goldfields, blue dicks and blue-eyed grass are nearly gone, and tall mustard and annual grasses cover most of the Reserve. The first winecup clarkias, aka "farewell to spring", the high temperature and the high sun angle clearly say that spring is over.

But the full bloom is still to come at the Main Pool. In contrast to the dry green of the grasses elsewhere, the Pool is a rich lush green from spike rush. Up close, the Vernal Pool popcorn flower is in bloom everywhere at the Pool, with the lovely downingia producing dots of purple and occasional patches of purple along most of the boardwalk. The air is scented with the lovely fragrance of these flowers.

The tadpoles know that their time in the Pool will soon be up, since the Pool is now only 5.7" deep at the Boardwalk. I saw about 20 fully formed baby chorus frogs, about the size of my thumbnail, on the boardwalk and on the spike rush nearby. The density of tadpoles in the Pool is still ~10 per square foot, so there will soon be frogs and toads galore.

The trails near the Hidden Valley trailhead are even more advanced toward summer. The tall grasses are much more dominant here, hiding the flowers that do remain. It is drier here, and the plants show it. Checkerbloom, for example, is nearly completely finished here, and the blooms that do exist are very small. But in places, the purple needle grass has held off the invading grasses, and is in beautiful full bloom, with the sun glistening off their seedheads.

In a few places, the bush lupine emerges over the grasses and forms beautiful stands in full bloom.

No gnats troubled me today, probably due to the nice breeze. However, at the tenajas at the north end of the Trans Preserve Trail, just below the junction with the Coyote Trail, I walked through five large clouds of mosquitoes, with several females in the area trying to bite me. This was not a place to linger!

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Copyright © 2000-2001 by Tom Chester.
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Updated 22 October 2001.