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Coming Up in the Elfin Forest

Text and photos by Jean Wheeler

February and March normally provide wonderful displays of colorful wildflowers opening against a vibrant green background. When writing in November for our December/January issue, both Dirk Walters in his article on Common Buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) and I in this column for that issue noted the buds on the shrubs of C. cuneatus all around our boardwalk. We both expected a spectacular display this winter, and I predicted that by the end of December “the boardwalk should be bordered all around with their white to lilac blossoms.”

Oops! The buds are still there but hardly any have opened in the absence of rain in those two months. As I write now just after light showers the first week in January with heavier rains predicted during the 2nd week, hopefully that prediction will be honored just a month or two overdue, by the time you read this!

At least when my son was visiting over the holiday from snowy Spokane, Washington, I was able to show him a few tiny flower bells on the Morro Manzanitas at the entrance to Rose’s grove. But the usual wall of gorgeous white bells blushing pink along the lower boardwalk also has yet to perform that display. We did have a pretty good rain season last year. But with four years of drought before that and virtually no rain yet this season, our shrubs are apparently saving the moisture they do have for survival. They seem to be awaiting a more reasonable amount of rainfall before switching from survival to reproduction mode.

California  Peony
California Peony

Some Fuchsia-flowered Gooseberries are sporting brilliant red trumpet blossoms, but not nearly as heavily as in rainier years. The Anna’s Hummingbirds who treasure their nectar to feed their fledglings would, I’m sure, soon appreciate a greater abundance of them. I’ve yet to see even the leaves of California Peonies (pictured) coming up along the 11th street sand path or near Siena’s View. If we do get the rain predicted in January’s second week, the leaves should come springing up and the drooping red flowers appear soon after. My photo of this species was taken on January 18 in 2013, and they bloomed in late February and March last year.

There are a number of migratory ducks on the estuary, including Buffleheads, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and Green-winged Teal, but the waters are not as crowded with them as usual in midwinter. In particular, we have relatively few geese, especially Brant (pictured). We used to get 3,000 or more of that species visiting for several months in the winter, but our problems with declining eel grass may have discouraged their continued visitation in large numbers for the winter season as that is their major food.

Brant geese

Virtually all species of water birds and wading birds listed in our Pocket Guide (you can order from the "Forest Store" - top left button top of this page) are at peak populations for the year between November and March, as are all the raptors listed, and a great many of the passerines. Watch the shrubs around the boardwalk for flitting finches, sparrows, warblers, wrens, phoebes, chickadees, bushtits, gnatcatchers, nuthatches, and other little brown and little grey birds. The larger thrashers, towhees, scrub jays, quail, blackbirds, and doves can be seen and/or heard regularly.

Come for a walk on the wild side in our small wilderness area. Watch for plants beginning to bloom as they respond to winter rains. Listen and look for our resident birds as they engage in mating rituals and prepare to raise their 2018 families. Try to catch a glimpse of lizards, rabbits, squirrels, or maybe even a wild coyote.


Please Report Elfin Forest Sightings

Have you observed any unusual birds in the Elfin Forest? Mammals? Reptiles? Amphibians? Insects? Interesting activities or footprints of wildlife in our Elfin Forest? Unusual plants? Taken a good photo?

Please report any interesting sightings to your Oakleaves editors at: oakleaf@elfin-forest.org for inclusion in future issues under “Elfin Forest Sightings.” You can also leave a message on SWAP’s answering machine, (805) 528-0392.