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Coming Up in the Elfin Forest

Text and Photos By Jean Wheeler

In these dry months of the year, white and yellow flowers dominate the shrubs in the Elfin Forest. The signature flower of this season is the bright yellow mock heather (see photo below)  , widespread in the Elfin Forest and blooming almost exclusively in August and September. Low to the ground is California croton with pale green leaves and tiny white flowers. California asters have white to pale pink or lavender ray flowers around central yellow discs.

(Mock Heather photo to be here soon)

Mock Heather, signature flower for August and September in the Elfin Forest

California poppies continue to bloom much of the year in shades from yellow to orange. Dune buckwheat flowers were white when they opened early in summer, but are aging to pink and eventually turn a dark rust color.

I think California coffeeberry decidedly wins the attractive fruit contest in these late summer months. Along the lower boardwalk the colorful berries appear yellow at first, darken to red and finally turn rich ebony black, with all of these colors often seen on adjacent berries at the same time. Another bright red berry growing in the same area is that of hollyleaf cherry.

Reptiles are especially active in the warmth of late summer. Western fence lizards pause to do their amusing pushups along the boardwalk, and you may also be lucky enough to see an alligator lizard. Garter and gopher snakes are also possible, neither of which is poisonous.

Coyotes have been seen often in the last few years, slipping through the brush or even boldly walking on the boardwalk. If you are walking your dog, keep him or her leashed--as is legally required--to protect your pet, other people, and the coyotes. Black-tail deer (see photo below) have also been seen in and near our forest occasionally in the last few years. On morning walks, look for tracks in the sand beside the boardwalk of our nocturnal visitors; raccoon tracks are especially common.

(Black-tail Deer photo to be posted here - tomorrow?)

Black-tail Deer

Among the resident birds active now, those most demanding attention are, as usual, the California Scrub Jays flashing blue and loudly shrieking their name. California Quail may be heard calling for “chi-CA-go” and scurrying through the underbrush.

Other resident birds actively flitting through the brush are Bushtits  (photo below), Bewick’s Wrens and Blu e-gray Gnatcatchers. Whitecrowned, Chipping, Lark, Savannah, and Song Sparrows are here at this season, as are House and Purple Finches, Lesser and American Goldfinches, and Anna’s Hummingbirds.

(Bushtit photo here real soon now.....)
Bushtits seldom sit long enough in one place for careful study, instead moving in flocks with other small birds through shrubs disturbing and catching small insects or gleaning them from leaves and twigs.

Spotted Towhees often cling to the tops of shrubs for a few moments giving their loud buzzing call. They are beautiful birds with black heads, black backs with white spots, reddish-brown sides, and white bellies. Their relative, the California Towhee, is basic brown and usually stays low, as do the hard-to-spot brown Wrentits. In bushes most of the time but fairly often seen calling from branch tops is the California Thrasher, brown above and buff below with a long down-curved beak and a long tail.

From Bush Lupine Point and Siena’s View check out the estuary for large year-round flocks of Willets (pictured in my story about them on page 4 of this month's Oakleaves). Also watch for arrivals migrating in for their winter vacation on Morro Bay. Usually arriving in August or September are White Pelicans and several species of ducks including Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers, and Green-winged, Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal.

The abundant and active life displayed by so many plants and animals adapted to our dry climate and sandy dune soils is marvelous to observe at this stressful season of their year!


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.