Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Earth Day Parade

Welcome back.  Ash-throated flycatchers fly up to the Western US to nest in cavities, often in manmade structures like fenceposts and telephone poles.
Saturday morning when I heard a familiar chirp-trill from the maples trees, I popped out of bed and ran around the house announcing, "The ash-throated flycatchers are back! All the way from Costa Rica! Get up, get up! Greet the arrival of spring!" Like a pesky dog, I was sent outside where the flycatchers entertained me by chasing each other at high speeds around the farmyard with loud "weet" calls and flashing of tail feathers.
Common fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia, 04/13/09. The tip of the flower stem curls like the neck of a fiddle.
I didn’t really notice their absence all winter, but with the return of their familiar song, I am glad to see their cinnamon-trimmed ash and buttermilk bodies back in the neighborhood. In a few days, I'll be able to find their nest by just listening for their changing-of-the-guard call. One parent will whistle from a high branch which directs the other parent to shoot out of a nearby tree or fencepost, so the whistling parent can fly into the nest cavity to deliver food.

Red maids, Caladrinia ciliata, with the flower bud closed.  04/11/11, Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve
I don't know whether it is the weather, where I live, or if I have become more sensitive to patterns of the natural world, but it seems like spring is arriving at a hectic pace this year.

Red maids, Caladrinia ciliata, with open flower, 04/08/12.  Not usually aquatic, this plant was temporarily inundated during the sudden filling of a pond after a heavy rainstorm two weeks ago.
Plants are announcing their own reproductive prowness with their presentation of spring wildflowers. At the Dipper Ranch, the first round of wildflowers are out: popcorn flowers, buttercups, redmaids, fiddleneck, and the ever present and cheerful California poppy.
Can you guess which wildflower these seedlings will become? 04/07/12

At warmer locations - farther south, lower elevations and rocky and sun-exposed slopes - the bloom will be further along with lupines, checkermallow, larkspurs, gilias, and clovers displaying.
Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, popping its bud cap, 04/08/12.
The trees are joining in the spring flush. The deciduous trees are unfurling new leaves which are often bright pink or red for a few days until they collect enough sun for the green chlorophyll to become the dominant color. On the conifers, bright green growth at the branch tips are popping off their winter bud caps. You can estimate the age of a tree stem by looking closely along its length and counting the circular scars left each spring where the bud scales fell off.
Let us in.
Oh, and the other usual signs of spring: heifers getting into the yard when someone left the gate open, heifers knocking the lid off the springbox when someone left it unlatched, heifers breaking the floatball in the farthest water trough and causing the watertank to drain before I figured out why there was no water pressure in the house. And the snakes are making their spring appearances - more on that later.
Common popcornflower, Plagiobothrys nothofulvus, 03/18/11, Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve.  There are many other types of popcornflowers, but this common one has rusty hairs beneath the flower, and on the mature plants, the sap of the stem and leaves will leave a red stain on your fingers.
Happy Earth Day. I feel like spring's sounds, scents and visitors are coming on like a fire hose, or at least a merry, animated parade.
Showy linanthus, Leptosiphon (probably androsaceus), 04/23/12 on Woods Trail in Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve
On Sunday, April 29, 2012, I will once again present Wildflower Hotspots of the Santa Cruz Mountains at the Spring Wildflower Show of the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society from 11:00 am to noon at Mission College in Santa Clara. The wildflower show runs both Saturday and Sunday, features hundreds of freshly collected and labeled wildflowers along with numerous displays and speakers, and is a great place to learn about our local native plants.

I will highlight 20 parks in our region to see wildflowers, and the best season and a few photos at each location. Many local wildflower enthusiasts have contributed their advice and photos to this presentation. This year (if I can stay ahead of the spring's plumbing problems), I hope to also share websites, blogs, books, events, and maybe even smartphone applications that can help you identify wildflowers. Come by and share your favorite wildflower information resource.
I’m still a novice at using smartphones for natural history interpretation.
Please join me at the Wildflower Show or check the Dipper Ranch blogsite where I will continue to feature regional wildflower hikes and wildflower tips. I would particularly like to hear what smartphone applications people are using to get outside, enjoy and learn about the natural world.

In the meantime, here is the wildflower hotspots list from 2011with links to more detailed information.


  1. Is the mystery wildflower a Dodecatheon? My favorite smartphone app is just my camera, to take a pic and post to Facebook where my friends ooh and ahhh and also help me collaborate on plant ID. And also the GPS app (Navigon) to help me get to the park in the first place!

  2. Now that is the first mentioning of a useful purpose in having a smartphone. I could surely use a wildflower ID tool (birds too) other than lugging a fieldguide about or constantly asking my daughter the college professor. Hmm...

  3. Tierramor is right. The seedling is shooting star in the genus Dodecatheon. I can't tell which species without the flowers.


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