Dodder! 04-14-20

Around 7:00 am,my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne and I headed out to Bear Valley Road again, hoping to be able to see the Sticklefruit Jewelflower in bloom by now. We noticed along the way that were was a lot more of the blue lupine in bloom now, along with several kinds of phacelia, and white Seablush (a clover-looking flower). 

 The big find, though, was when we drove down the road toward the Wilbur Hot Springs.  We’d never been down that road before, so it was kind of fun to see something new. The hot springs are closed right now due to COVID-19, but usually you can rent cabins there and bath in their Japanese onsen-style “Fluminarium,” where the water is between 98, 105 and 109°F. The minerals in the water turned that part of stream a bluish milk white.

The find?  Along that road, we came across a large stand of Dodder, Cuscuta californica.  I’d seen photos of it before but had never seen it “live” before much less touched it.

Dodder, California Dodder, Cuscuta californica

Dodder is a parasitic vine that looks like thin, spindly, translucent neon-orange threads and feels like rubber.  Although it’s a plant, the vines have no leaves. Its color is due to the fact that his has no chlorophyll, and it feeds through structures called “haustoria”.  They’re organs that bore into the tissue of host plants and suck out nutrients (like the roots of mistletoe do).  Dodder germinate in the ground and then reach out for nearby plants. If they find ones they can live off of, they wrap tendrils around them and their haustoria bore in.  Once they’re feeding off the other plants, the Dodders’ tendrils detach from their original root which then dies off.

Although they don’t have leaves, dodder vines do have flowers.  The flowers are tiny, of course, but can produce massive amounts of seeds that can live for up to ten years or longer in the ground.  Amazing stuff; I was so happy to have found it.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We then continued down Bear Valley Road to Keegan Ranch.  Along the side of the road at one point, we saw a woman taking photos of her daughter.  The girl was sitting among the poppies along the fence line of one of the fields and had a blue merle Corgi in her lap.  I bet the photos turned out fun and gorgeous.

In the fields there were waves and waves of Tidy Tips and Goldfields and blue Lupine.  It was just breathtaking.

We were hoping to find some Larkspur and Giant Death Camas.  Although the Camas was a no show, we did manage to find two lonely twigs of purple-blue Larkspur.  It was kind of breezy, which made picture-taking tricky; the flowerheads kept waving back and forth, but we managed to get some pretty nice photos.

We also caught sight of a few Tricolored Blackbirds (Agelaius tricolor), a species that’s considered “endangered” in California.  They look similar to Red-Winged Blackbirds, but under their red epaulet, they have a white band instead of a gold band.

At the field at Keegan Ranch, the walkway and gate were blocked by a group of “rude old people”. They were eating from the tailgate of their SUV, their folding chairs set up to block the entrance to the field.  I walked along the road on the opposite side, and the men started telling each other filthy jokes, loud enough for me to hear.  Seriously, people; aren’t you a little old for schoolyard crap like that?  

I also noted that none of them were wearing anti-COVID face masks and not complying with social distancing. Considering what seemed to be the low mental acuity of the group, that didn’t really surprise me. [Darwin’s theory in motion.] I understand that they may have all been related, but they put themselves into a position that required OTHER people who wanted to get to the gate to also get very close to them – like, within a foot.  Unacceptable.

As I headed toward the gate, one of the guys said, “We’re kind of blocking you, aren’t we?”

“Yes,” I said flatly, “you are.” And I gave them all an unimpressed, irritated look as I went around their chairs to the gate.  A few minutes later, they packed up and left. Good riddance.

Roxanne and I walked through the field for a while, taking photos, looking for interesting insects, and then went back to the car to have some lunch: chicken, blackberries, sparkling water, deviled eggs, etc.  It was very yummy and relaxing. Picnicking to the sound of the crickets and bees in the field.

While we were eating, a cadre of vehicles drove up on the opposite side of the road full of women of various ages. One of the cars was blaring music, but they turned that off as soon as they parked. Where they were parked, though, made it somewhat difficult for a truck that was coming up road, pulling a trailer to get around them and then get around our car. If the women had parked on the same side of the road we did, the trailer wouldn’t have had that trouble. Some people just don’t think…  And none of the women were wearing face masks either.  At least we didn’t need to get near to them.

Anyway… On the way in, we hadn’t found the Jewelflower plants along the road and were worried that someone might have pulled them up and taken them because of their rarity.  But as we were driving out toward Highways 20 and 16, we found the plants again.  Yay!  They were just starting to get buds on them, but no flowers yet.  I’ll have to go back again if I can in another week or so and try to catch them in bloom.

Sticklefruit Jewel Flower, Streptanthus drepanoides, just starting to bud,but no flowers yet.

We headed back home via Highway 16, found the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument sign, and then stopped near the Valley Vista trailhead to take photos of the flowers there.  When I worked for Tuleyome, I assisted in getting this national monument dedicated. Woot!

While we were there, Rox found a lot of the tiny Three-striped Longhorn Fairy Moths on Purple Sanicle plants.  One of the moths was grabbed by a Crab Spider while she watched them. I missed that drama, but I was able to get photos of several of the moths.  Like most of the fairy moths, the males of this species have antenna that are about three times longer than their wings. I think they’re such fascinating little things.  I also found what I think is a Checkerspot butterfly caterpillar.

There wasn’t much else to see on the way back.  But I think, for the whole trip, Roxanne and I counted 9 hawks along the highway… Not a record-breaking number, but it’s still always nice to see the birds around.        

We got back home around 5:00 pm, so that was a very long day for both of us (about 10 hours). 

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  2. Baileya Moth, Bailey sp. [caterpillar]  Maybe Baileya dormitans, the Sleeping Baileya
  3. Bedstraw, Graceful Bedstraw, Galium porrigens
  4. Bird’s Foot Cliffbrake, Pellaea mucronata [ferny]
  5. Bird’s-eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Blow Wives, Soft Blow Wives, Achyrachaena mollis
  8. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
  9. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  10. Blue Witch Nighshade, Solanum umbelliferum
  11. Bordered Straw Moth, Heliothis peltigera
  12. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  13. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
  14. Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons
  15. Bush Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus
  16. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  17. California Lomatium, Lomatium californicum
  18. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  19. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  20. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  21. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  22. Canyon Live-Forever, Stonecrop, Dudleya cymosa
  23. Cardinal Catchfly, Silene laciniata
  24. Cattle, Bos taurus
  25. Chinese Houses, Purple Chinese Houses, Collinsia heterophylla var. heterophylla
  26. Clasping Pepperweed, Lepidium perfoliatum [yellow flowers, rounded leaves]
  27. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  28. Cobwebby Thistle, Cirsium occidentale
  29. Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Frangula californica
  30. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia menziesii
  31. Common Pea, Pisum sativum
  32. Concentric Boulder Lichen, Porpidia crustulata
  33. Cream Cups, Platystemon californicus
  34. Dodder, California Dodder, Cuscuta californica
  35. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  36. Field Mustard, Brassica rapa
  37. Four-spurred Assassin Bug, Zelus tetracanthus
  38. Fremont’s Tidy Tips, Layia fremontii
  39. Golden Dwarf Mistletoe, Western Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium campylopodum
  40. Goldfields, California Goldfields, Lasthenia californica
  41. Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana
  42. Greenish Blue Butterfly, Icaricia saepiolus
  43. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  44. Hawksbeard, Smooth Hawksbeard, Crepis capillaris
  45. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  46. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  47. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  48. Ithuriel’s Spear, Triteleia laxa
  49. Lacy Phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia
  50. Lupine, Arroyo Lupine, Lupinus succulentus
  51. Lupine, Chick Lupine, Lupinus microcarpus
  52. Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius
  53. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
  54. Mountain Phacelia, Phacelia imbricata
  55. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  56. Mule’s Ears, Smooth Mule-Ears, Wyethia glabra
  57. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  58. Oracle Oak, Quercus × moreha
  59. Ornate Checkered Beetle, Trichodes ornatus [black and yellow]
  60. Popcorn Flowers, Plagiobothrys sp.
  61. Purple Owl’s-Clover, Castilleja exserta
  62. Purple Sanicle, Sanicula bipinnatifida
  63. Rattan’s Milkvetch, Astragalus rattanii
  64. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus [along the highway, 9]
  65. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  66. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia [heard]
  67. Royal Larkspur, Delphinium variegatum
  68. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  69. Scattered Button Lichen, Buellia dispersa
  70. Seven-Spot Ladybeetle, Coccinella septempunctata
  71. Shining Peppergrass, Lepidium nitidum
  72. Silverpuff Stem Gall Wasp, Antistrophus microseris
  73. Silverpuff, Sierra Foothills Microseris, Microseris acuminate
  74. Slender Cottonweed, Q-Tips, Micropus californicus
  75. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  76. Star Clover, Trifolium stellatum
  77. Sticklefruit Jewel Flower, Streptanthus drepanoides
  78. Swift Crab Spider, Mecaphesa celer
  79. Tamarisk, Saltcedar, Tamarix ramosissima
  80. Three-striped Longhorn Fairy Moth, Adela trigrapha
  81. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  82. Tricolored Blackbird, Agelaius tricolor
  83. Tripartite Sweat Bee, Halictus tripartitus [tiny, striped abdomen]
  84. True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor
  85. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  86. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  87. Variable Checkerspot Butterfly, Euphydryas chalcedona [caterpillar]
  88. Varied Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci
  89. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  90. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  91. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  92. Western Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum
  93. White Crab Spider, Thomisus spectabilis
  94. White Seablush, Plectritis macrocera
  95. Whiteflies, Family: Aleyrodidae
  96. Woolly Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja foliolosa
  97. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  98. Yerba Santa, California Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum