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Coming Up in the Elfin Forest

Text and photos by Jean Wheeler

Our ceanothus (Buckbrush) shrubs were covered with lots of buds again this autumn, ready to surround our boardwalk with their white to lilac blooms by the end of December, as usual. But then we had almost no rain in the last months of 2017, which should have been the beginning of our rainy season for this winter, and they responded by keeping virtually all of those buds tightly closed.

With a few very minimal misty rains in February, the many buds on our ceanothus plants finally began to open, more than two months later than in most years. Heavier rains are expected tonight as I write—March 1st is coming in with a somewhat lionish arrival—so we should have enough rain to keep that wall of flowering ceanothus shrubs surrounding our boardwalk into April this year.

The Morro Manzanitas are now covered with their tiny bell-like blossoms. This week I noticed many of the earliest bells have progressed to the “little apple” reddish fruits from which their Spanish common name is derived. So look for these tiny red “apples” in April until the birds have eaten them all.

The red trumpets of Fuchsia-flowered Gooseberries should continue to bloom into April and May. In these months many more flowers should join them in bloom—the yellows of Deerweed, Coastal Dudleya, and Suffrutescent Wallflowers; orange of Sticky Monkey-flowers and California Poppies; pink of Cobwebby Thistle; red of Cardinal Catch-fly; blues of Wooly Stars and Silver Dune Lupine; and Purple Nightshade. And these are only an outstanding few of the many species likely to show their colorful flowers in April and May, which should have the most copious and colorful flower display of this year.

April and May are also the two best months to look for “flying flowers” in the Elfin Forest. One of the most numerous is the Variable Checkerspot Butterfly. It looks brown to black with cream to light yellow rectangular spots.

Other butterflies to look for include the similar Gabb’s Checkerspot (checkered much more orange and cream with less brown-black background than the Variable Checkerspot), the smaller green Coastal Bramble Hairstreak and Silvery Blue Butterflies, the large yellow and black Anise Swallowtail, the brownish Common Buckeye, and the colorful Painted Lady. The Moro Blue may be seen fluttering about the host for its caterpillars, the Silver Dune Lupines for which Bush Lupine Point is named.

California Thresher siting atop a Silver Budh Lupine

California Thresher

While admiring butterflies and flowers from the boardwalk and sand trails, your eyes will no doubt also be attracted by the flight of avian residents. Most of our year-round birds are actively building nests or already raising young. Especially likely to be seen and heard are the bright blue California Scrub Jays, orange and black Spotted Towhees, chattering flocks of tiny fuzzy gray Bushtits and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and similarly talkative little brown birds including several species of sparrows and wrens. Look for the California Towhee scratching on the ground and jumping between low shrubs. The large brown bird with the big down-curved beak (pictured above) is the California Thrasher. The fat gray and brown birds with head plumes are the state bird—California Quail.

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.