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Coming Up in the Elfin Forest

Text and photos by Jean Wheeler

We Spring into Summer with this June/July issue--very grateful to see our small wilderness area recovering so well after the first good rainy season in five years. The boardwalk is surrounded by shrubs in full flower. Especially eyecatching are bright orange sticky monkey-flowers. Chamise and black sage have white flowers while in open areas in June white flowers decorate pearly everlasting, croton, and horkelia.

Other yellow and orange flowers that can be seen in summer include deerweed, California poppies, and golden yarrow. Coastal dudleya has low rosettes of grayish-white succulent leaves nearly hidden under the edges of larger shrubs, protecting them from drying out in the hot sun. These give rise to foot-high reddish stems branching near the top with clusters of trumpet-shaped yellow-orange flowers sought by Hummingbirds for nectar.

Cobwebby thistle (pictured) is a native plant providing spikes of pink flowers. Also bearing pink flowers is California hedge nettle. Cardinal catchfly has red flowers with narrow pointed petals in the understory of the oaks.

Cobwebby thistle

This is the best time of the year for blue flowers along our coast. A particular favorite of many flower watchers is called wooly star. Look for its low clumps topped with many lovely blue blossoms South of the boardwalk near the Fairbanks monument. Bush Lupine Point was named for the lush blue flower spikes on silverleaved stalks surrounding that view site and our other estuary viewpoint named Siena’s View. Urban development has greatly reduced the prevalence of bush lupines along our central coast, so our Elfin Forest preserve is an important refuge for this species

June and July are major butterfly months in the Elfin Forest. Our pocket guide (can be order from our store - last "radio" button at top of this page) charts a full dozen species of butterflies and 3 species of moths that may be flying in these two months and indicates their host plants. For example, Acmon Blue and Silvery Blue butterflies are attracted to deerweed, while Variable Checkerspots seek leaves of sticky monkey-flowers to lay their eggs. Gabb’s Checkerspots go for California poppies. Moro Blue butterflies seek to lay eggs on those lupines at Bush Lupine Point and Siena’s View. That species of plant is almost the only host for their caterpillars, and this butterfly is a species of special concern.

Although winter’s flotillas of ducks, geese, and shorebirds are long gone, close inspection reveals there are still a lot of water birds around. For many species of ducks and shorebirds, some individuals remain all year or even arrive to nest here after vacationing for the winter farther south. Among waders, willets and killdeer remain very common. Also resident all year are great blue herons and blackcrowned night herons, along with many snowy and greater egrets.

All of our raptor species are here, and likely to be actively hunting with fledglings to feed in June and July. Many chaparral and oak woodland birds are also busy raising young—such as hummingbirds, flycatchers, wrens, towhees, warblers, sparrows, thrashers, finches, scrub jays, blackbirds, and quail. Mourning Doves (pictured) mostly nest in trees taller than the shrubs around the boardwalk, but sometimes nest in tall shrubs and may nest in the somewhat taller trees of the lower northern part of our reserve. At any rate, they are often seen flying over and resting on shrubs during the day. The one pictured was perched on an oak near the boardwalk at Siena’s View

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove

Enjoy a colorful and exciting summer outing along the sand trails and boardwalk of our Elfin Forest, marveling at the resilience of all these plants and animals, able to survive and prosper in our very drought-prone climate!

Recent Sightings in the Elfin Forest

The Beautiful – and Dreaded – Slender-leaved Iceplant is Back

On April 7th, Vicky Johnsen saw a plant that sent chills up her spine. Her photo shows that, to the uniformed eye, it is a rather pretty iceplant with large yellow dandelion-like flowers. However, each of those flower heads turns into large capsules of seeds. SWAP Weed Warriors have spent years trying to remove this invasive plant from the Forest

Vicky reported that she and her husband Craig had to dig deep to remove each plant’s taproot that “seemed to go to China!” Vicky plans to keep her eye on the area where the iceplants were growing and make sure that none re-emerges.

Slender-leaved Iceplant
Slender-leaved Iceplant

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: oakleaves@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.