Coming Up in the Elfin Forest
Text and Photos by Jean WheelerApril and May are the best months to look for “flying flowers” in the Elfin Forest. Of the 26 species of butterflies and moths listed on our website (elfin-forest.org), only the Monarch Butterfly is not listed for at least one if not both of these two months. Pat Brown leads an outstanding 3rd Saturday Walk each April focusing on butterflies and the plants that support them and their caterpillars. Among the species often seen are the yellow and orange Gabb’s Checkerspot in the photo below, and the green Coastal Bramble Hairstreak, pictured as the subject of my natural history article on page 4 of the April-May Oakleaves issue.
Female butterflies hunt plant species that will support their caterpillars. Males patrol near those host plants seeking females not yet mated. Butterflies may also look for mates on open hilltops, serving as their “singles bars.” One such hilltop between oak groves south of Bush Lupine Point along the sand trail from the boardwalk to 11th Street is nicknamed “Butterfly Hill.”
The wildflowers attracting all these butterflies come in many colors. Yellow to orange flowers include California poppies, deerweed, fiddleneck, golden yarrow, suffrutescent wallflowers, and sticky monkey-flowers. Cobbwebby thistles and California hedge nettles have pink flowers. Red fuchsia-flowered gooseberries are nearing the end of their long blooming season but Indian pinks (red flowers appearing cut by pinking shears) should continue to bloom all summer.
Coffeeberry, hollyleaf cherry, and toyon are all tall shrubs with tiny white or yellow flowers at this time of year along the lower boardwalk between the Fairbanks Monument and the boardwalk spur to Siena’s View. The flowers are hard to see, but the larger and colorful berries they become on these shrubs later in the summer will be much more noticeable.
Look for our many birds also flitting among the flowers and butterflies. Especially likely to be seen and heard are the bright blue Western Scrub Jays, orange-black-white Spotted Towhees, chattering flocks of tiny fuzzy gray Bushtits, and the large brown California Thrasher with its long down-curved beak. Hummingbirds dart out to catch insects for their youngsters, as well as hovering to suck nectar from flowers. Resident California Quail can be heard calling “chi-CA-go.” Among arrivals or migrating through in April or May from winter retreats farther south are Warbling Vireos, Hooded Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and Yellow, Townsend’s, and Wilson’s Warblers.
What a colorful and exciting time to visit the sand trails and boardwalk of our small wilderness area!