Monday, December 26, 2011


The palette knife of Nature
Paints impressionist reflections
In shards of ice.
Mountains merge with sky
On upside down horizon.
Pigments thicker here,
Absent there,
And rough edges everywhere.
Leroy Neiman's landscape,
Stucco patterns in a plaster world.

Eric R. Eaton, circa 1989

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Misplaced Waterfowl

Have you ever wondered what constitutes a “duck pond?” Is it the mere presence of waterfowl? Is it over a certain number of acres, or under a certain number? Perhaps it is always an artificial pond, constructed as a decorative landscape feature. The “lake” at the intersection of Interstate 25 and Circle Drive/Lake Avenue in Colorado Springs certainly fits the bill on all counts.

Heidi had been watching the “rare bird alert” for Colorado and discovered that a Long-tailed Duck, Clangula hyemalis, had been spotted in this most improbable of locales. You just can’t get any more urban than this: a pond situated right off a major freeway, with a Doubletree Hotel and Tinsel Town cinemas being the most prominent nearby features. Yet, there it was, this wayward migrant. The duck formerly known as the “Oldsquaw” normally spends the winter along the extreme north Pacific coast, from BC to Alaska, and the Atlantic coast as far south as North Carolina (though scarce). It breeds in the Arctic, spending the summers there.

This specimen was without the trademark long tail, but there was no mistaking that pink-and-black bill. We were pleasantly surprised that the lake was small enough to allow us to get really good views of all the species of waterfowl there. Here on the Front Range, there are not that many wetlands to begin with, and most are large reservoirs that do not allow anything but long-distance views of birds requiring spotting scopes and high-powered binoculars.

A large flock of the Canada Goose, Branta Canadensis, dominated the lake, and you have to watch where you step lest you return home with goose poop on your shoes. Beyond the geese were good numbers of the Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula, Ring-necked Ducks, Aythya collaris, and a small number of Canvasback, A. valisineria. A few Mallards were there, too, of course, and a handful of Hooded Mergansers, Lophodytes cucullatus. Oh, and at least three Northern Shovelers, Anas clypeata.

Common Goldeneye drake

Hooded Merganser pair

Heidi has sharper eyes than I do, and she spotted something equally out-of-place. She managed to get a picture, but we are getting conflicting opinions as to whether the bird depicted below is a Greater or Lesser Scaup. Lessers are not uncommon summer residents here in central Colorado, but should be wintering farther south. Greaters are again coastal birds that should have no business this far inland.

The western edges of the pond were already covered in ice, but with days now getting longer, we hope to return regularly to look for more ducks and geese on the remaining open water. It sure beats longer road trips to Chatfield Reservoir and even Fountain Creek Regional Park where we have seen far lower numbers and diversity of our fine feathered friends.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Ricochets off
Rock walls,
Riveting the attention of

Rattlesnake shakes,
Re-enters his
Rodent burrow
Resovling to

Eric R. Eaton, circa 1985

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


This past Thursday, November 24, I was lucky enough to get to spend a glorious, warm (70 degrees Fahrenheit in Colorado Springs proper) day at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. It made me realize how thankful I am for my fiancée, Heidi Genter, who works as an animal keeper there, and for the many natural wonders the world has to offer us.

I found it ironic that the zoo’s flock of wild turkeys roamed about their yard carefree on a day we celebrate by feasting on their domesticated brethren. They are really quite magnificent birds and it is exciting to encounter them in the wild. Benjamin Franklin, had he gotten his way, would have made them the National Bird, in fact.

The zoo has a magnificent moose exhibit, complete with a “lake” that the resident bull seems to truly enjoy. One appears to need faith that the animal can’t clear the low railing on the near side of the pond. I had to stand back to get this image!

I was also treated to a close view of an American Lynx that was gnawing on a treat provided by its keepers. It is unlikely that your average person will ever see one of these amazing cats in their natural habitat, so zoos are just about the only place you can glimpse one. Indeed, one regular zoo visitor exclaimed that you “never see that guy down this close (in its enclosure).”

The warm temperatures even brought out a few insects, including this Western Paper Wasp, Mischocyttarus flavitarsis, prowling among pine needles for any last bit of honeydew from the now dormant conifer aphids.

Even some flowers were blooming. A lone rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus or Ericameria) had fresh blossoms, much later in the season than normal, but Witch Hazel regularly blooms in the late autumn or early winter.

Here’s hoping that the remaining holidays allow you time to enjoy the great outdoors and discover your own hidden treasures and favorite (wild) things.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Kansas School Naturalist

Anyone with an interest in nature owes it to themselves to become familiar with The Kansas School Naturalist, a (highly) periodical journal devoted to all aspects of the natural world. I received my latest issues (below) about three weeks ago, but it has been at least one year since the last volume. The sporadic nature of this publication is its only drawback, however. The mission and content are outstanding.

The Kansas School Naturalist has been enlightening its audience since at least 1954, judging from the catalog that came with the newest additions. Just who is the audience, and how does it circulate? I’ll let the masthead inside the cover of each issue speak for itself:

”The Kansas School Naturalist is sent free of charge and upon request to teachers and anyone interested in natural history and nature education. In-print back issues are sent free as long as supply lasts. Out-of-print back issues are sent for one dollar photocopy and postage/handling charge per issue. The Kansas School Naturalist is sent free upon request by media mail to all U.S. zipcodes, first class to Mexico and Canada, and surface mail overseas. The Kansas School Naturalist is published by Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas. Postage paid at Emporia, Kansas. Address all correspondence to: Editor, Kansas School Naturalist, Department of Biological Sciences, Box 4050, Emporia State University, Emporia, KS 66801-5087. Opinions and perspectives expressed are those of the authors and/or editor and do not reflect the official position or endorsement of E.S.U. Some issues can be viewed online at: The Kansas School Naturalist is listed in Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory, indexed in Wildlife Review/Fisheries Review, and appropriate issues are indexed in the Zoological Record. The KSN is an irregular publication issued from one to four times per year.

It is important to know that not every issue is restricted in its geographic treatment to the state of Kansas. Even if that were the case, Kansas is literally in the heartland of the U.S. and many species found there occur over much of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. The issue on centipedes and millipedes actually discusses global fauna.

All issues I have received have included plenty of images, often in color, and an easy-to-follow layout. A list of technical references is also included, such that the reader can pursue whatever level of additional scholarly information they so desire.

Once you are on the mailing list, you will receive all forthcoming issues for life (as near as I can tell, anyway). Inserted in each will be a little yellow slip politely requesting a donation in any amount to the Emporia State University Foundation, and applied to the Kansas School Naturalist. It is a worthy cause as this short note on the back of the donation slip indicates:

Dear Kansas School Naturalist Reader:
In 2004, we sent the millionth copy of Kansas School Naturalist free to teachers, scout leaders, librarians, and others upon request. While there is heavy readership within Kansas, the KSN serves readers nationwide and internationally. Grants and the grassroots contributions of readers are our major source of funds. Our high-interest, high-accuracy booklets authored by the experts in the field are a mainstay of science education in classrooms, labs, and fieldwork. To help the Kansas School Naturalist reach a new generation and raise environmental literacy, take a moment to contribute to the KSN endowment and underwrite…

I plan to donate again soon. I haven’t done so in awhile, and I need to alert them to my new address anyway. I just hope they don’t confuse me with an Emporia State U. alum again.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


The asymmetry of antlers
Doesn't bother the caribou
At peace with imperfection.
A worn pointer,
A broken rack,
It doesn't matter.
No mirrors to reveal deficiencies,
The girls know no better.

Eric R. Eaton circa 1989

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Zoo With a View

I would never have known about the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo were it not for my girlfriend, who works as a zookeeper there. This remarkable attraction advertises itself as the only truly mountain zoo in the United States, and it lives up to that billing. Sitting literally on the side of Cheyenne Mountain at an elevation of 6, 800 feet, it offers a panoramic view of Colorado Springs and the plains that stretch beyond the city.

It must be one of the oldest zoos in western North America, too, founded in 1926 by mining mogul Spencer Penrose. He incorporated the facility in 1938 as a non-profit public trust. This is another unique aspect of the zoo: it is privately run and takes no tax dollars for its operation, relying solely on admissions, memberships, donations and grants for its existence and continuing expansion.

The zoo hosts over 1, 000 animals representing nearly 200 species. Some of these are seasonal exhibits, such as the alligators, but thirty-one are participants in global Species Survival Plans. The zoo is best known for its herd of giraffes. These tall animals are a real attraction that visitors can feed from elevated boardwalks around the exhibit. Their popularity sometimes causes....well, “giraffe-ic jams.”

The zoo views are more than scenic, though you can take the “Mountaineer Sky Ride, ” a ski-lift style incline, for the ultimate experience. The zig-zag pedestrian pathways between exhibits allow one to often have a nearly 360 degree view of some of the animals. I was startled to find myself only a few feet from a Mountain Goat just below me when I was watching a magpie in its enclosure.

Maintaining accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a constant challenge given the age of many of the enclosures and the buildings that house still other exhibits, but progress is both steady and obvious. A brand new elephant barn and vastly expanded outdoor yard are nearing completion as I write this. Zoo officials were hoping to debut the new digs by now, but concern for the safety and acclimatization of the pachyderms means the grand opening will be delayed.

The zoo administrators are endlessly creative in fundraising. One example is the “Round Up for Elephants” that allows patrons of the zoo restaurant and other concessions to round up their purchase price with the extra change going to finishing the new exhibit. The zoo thus makes it easy for you to make a difference.

Yet another interesting facet of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is that some of the wildlife is not in cages. Native Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels have run of the place, when they can avoid becoming the prey of weasels. Deer make regular appearances on the grounds. Bears are problematic and unwanted guests that dumpster-dive after hours. Magpies scrounge for scraps from the captive animals. A Golden Eagle soared overhead just last week. Hummingbirds, as well as butterflies, bees, and other insects visit the many native flowers planted as part of the landscaping. I am working with two zookeepers to draft a list of all these species. Invertebrates included, it already tops 200 species.

Zookeepers and curators are constantly striving to create new enrichment opportunities for their captive charges, inventing new ways to enhance the mental and physical health of creatures that normally range unfettered for miles in their native habitats. Their caring attention shows. The animals are in beautiful condition.

The zoo does not settle for the standard fair of keeper talks and summer camps, either. Many special events highlight the year, including this month’s “Boo at the Zoo,” and the ever-popular “Electric Safari,” celebrating its 20th anniversary this holiday season.

I am looking forward to learning more about the zoo, and maybe even helping to integrate more invertebrate wildlife into their collection. It is difficult to not want to be a part of something that brings so much joy to visitors, and helps insure the continued survival of endangered species.

For more information, please see the web site for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, as well as their blog, ”In Between the Spots.” Follow the zoo on Twitter and “like” it on Facebook. Most of all, do visit, become a member, or otherwise participate in more than the virtual zoo. You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Trouble With Tucson

Ecologically and economically, Tucson, Arizona may be one of the worst western cities.

I moved from Tucson to Colorado Springs, Colorado to be with my girlfriend, but I probably would have left anyway given the clash between my lifestyle and the realities of this Sonoran Desert city. I must preface this critique by admitting I am spoiled. I grew up in Portland, Oregon and also lived eleven years in Cincinnati, Ohio. Those two cities rank one and two in per capita greenspace of all U.S. cities. If only Tucson was even on the radar in this regard.

False Advertising
Don’t let the tourism machine fool you. The city of Tucson has essentially no natural areas. The renowned Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is west of Tucson, on the other side of the Tucson Mountains. Sabino Canyon, a very popular destination for hikers and tourists is located north of the city limits by about six miles. Neither of these attractions is serviced by public transit. You must have a vehicle to access truly wild habitats, including the many life zones along the Mount Lemmon (Catalina) Highway.

Tohono Chul Park actually is serviced by Sun Tran (the city bus system), though it is just outside the city boundary in the far northwestern corner. Unfortunately, Tohono Chul is a private park that charges a rather substantial admission, whether or not you park a car there. They do provide superior natural history interpretation, including the best presentation on reptiles I have seen anywhere.

Where is the Wild?
The city itself has made almost no effort to provide natural parks. I frequented Greasewood Park on the extreme western fringe by Pima Community College West Campus. There are picnic tables, one central ramada (shelter), and trails, but the park is notorious as a meeting place for gay men to have trysts. Kennedy Park on the southeast side has a few trails and backs up against the truly wild Tucson Mountain Park, but it also has a “lake” stocked with fish, and the requisite ball fields, even an amphitheatre.

Indeed, the county parks are the truly natural parks, but again, they are inaccessible by public transportation. Roy P. Drachman Agua Caliente Regional Park is a unique, albeit heavily managed, wetland frequented as much by birdwatchers as the average family wanting a barbecue venue. There is also an art gallery and the local Audubon Society chapter has a presence there.

The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan
I got all excited when I first arrived in Tucson back in 2001 because I learned of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, a county blueprint designed to protect critical habitat for vulnerable species like the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. I attended a meeting full of enthusiasm only to learn that the entire City of Tucson was exempted from the plan. This would never be tolerated in Portland, and probably not Cincinnati, either. The Tucson Audubon Society is finally addressing the idea of urban wildlife habitats and corridors, but their emphasis still seems to be on leading birding trips to other areas of southeast Arizona.

Jobs, or Lack Thereof
”You get paid in sunshine” is a recurring excuse for the low wages of Tucson. True, the cost of living is fairly low there, but you can’t get ahead, either. There is an almost complete absence of mid-level jobs. It is either literally “rocket science,” with high-end optics, defense (weapons) contractors, and bio-engineering demanding a highly-educated workforce, or “Do you want fries with that?” While immigrants, illegal or legal, probably don’t impact the availability of jobs, the insistence on catering to non-English speakers means that if you are not bilingual your chances of landing many types of jobs is slim.

Maybe the most overriding and bleakest aspect of Tucson is its sprawling nature. Tucsonans are quick to point to Phoenix as a sprawling, smog-shrouded city to be avoided at all costs, but they don’t have much room to argue sitting in the Old Pueblo. Long ago Tucson decided you couldn’t build anything over two or three stories so as not to obscure your neighbors’ view of the Santa Catalina Mountains, but the price of this has been low-density development and a horizontal expansion that shows no signs of even slowing, let alone stopping. Meanwhile, the economic decline has resulted in many, many vacant storefronts that breed graffiti and other forms of vandalism. Litter swirls in the dust devils. The homeless occupy alleys and city parks.

So Long
While I truly love the friends I made while living in Tucson (and it took a long time to find them given the odd demographics), I can’t say I’m sorry to bid farewell to the town itself. I don’t know yet whether Colorado Springs will be much better, but I’m more optimistic. Tucson *might* be able to turn itself around, but it will take some strong-willed visionaries, and a lot of time. Good luck with that.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

We're Moving!

Well, the blog is staying put, actually, but the author is moving from Tucson, Arizona to Colorado Springs, Colorado next weekend. This blog will be on hiatus until he gets settled and hooked up with whatever internet provider serves his neighborhood there. Thank you in advance for your loyalty and patience. I am optimistic that I'll be back by mid-October, with the promise of more regular posts, too.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Madrona Marsh

Freshwater wetlands in southern California have been shrinking for a long time, ever since draining them for development became profitable. Kudos, then, to the city of Torrance, California for preserving, and even enhancing, a wildlife haven called Madrona Marsh. The city park is named not for any madrone trees on the property, but for a neighborhood road, one of many named after various types of trees.

I had the pleasure of visiting the park on May 17 with my friends Kim Moore and Emile Feisler. Emile has been documenting the flora and fauna of the park in images for several years. We managed to add at least one new organism to his list while on our outing.

Like most parks in the Greater Los Angeles area, this one comes complete with a nature center. The displays were museum quality, and the building also had meeting space, a library, and offices. Across the street from the nature center is the actual preserve, fenced at present, the gate locked in off-hours.

The morning started under overcast skies leftover from rain the night before, but the clouds eventually gave way to a bright, sunny afternoon. Inclement weather by human standards is often just perfect for other organisms, though, and we found plenty of insects, birds, and other animals. One of the first birds we saw was a female Blue Grosebeak, in fact.

The marsh is actually a vernal wetland, fed by rains in the winter and spring. By the end of August the pan is dry, and remains so until the rains resume. This cyclic phenomenon means plants and animals must adapt to annual extremes of wet and dry. The area is also a “back dune” habitat that is part of the extensive El Segundo Sand Dune System. You would be hard pressed to find any physical feature resembling a dune, however.

Unfortunately, the preserve is not immune from non-native species, and in fact that is what dominates the landscape in many places. Argentine Ants have displaced most of the native ants, for example. There is also a leaf beetle from Australia that feeds voraciously on the equally-invasive eucalyptus trees.

The human history of the marsh has been varied. Native Americans and early settlers utilized the natural resources of the area. Since the 1920s, the marsh was used for oil recovery (southern California is studded with tar pits, not just the famous La Brea Tar Pits). Ironically, petroleum salvaging kept the area protected from commercial development. The Friends of Madrona Marsh, a non-profit organization established in 1971, worked with other community groups to galvanize support for saving the marsh as a wildlife habitat and passive recreation site. Lobbying efforts and legal wrangling paid off with the dedication of of 35 acres. Later, state funds were allocated to purchase another eight-and-a half acres. The City of Torrance took over stewardship of the park in 1986, helping to stave-off development as part of Park del Amo.

I highly recommend visiting Madrona Marsh. Keep an eye out for waterfowl and other birds, as well as Pacific Treefrogs, dragonflies and damselflies, and Fox Squirrels among the other wild animals that call this place home.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Point Vincente Interpretive Center

One of the points of interest that I visited in southern California last month was the Point Vincente Interpretive Center in the City of Rancho Palos Verdes. This building, originally opened in 1984, was expanded and re-opened in 2006. While the focus of the center is the migration of the Pacific Gray Whale, there is much more to the facility.

It is surprising and pleasing to see that the majority of interpretive centers in southern California are city parks, rather than county, state, or privately-run. I think it improves civic pride and helps bond residents when they have a real public attraction to take ownership of. Like many of the centers in the Greater Los Angeles area, this one has art and landscaping around the exterior that creates an aesthetically-pleasing first impression.

Once inside, the first thing one sees is a open habitat diorama of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and a fiberglass model of a Pacific Gray Whale suspended from the ceiling. A gift shop is on your immediate right, beyond which is the front desk, manned by both staff and volunteers. On our visit we were greeted by a volunteer anxious to explain the unique geology of the peninsula. This point of land is a tectonic fault block that has risen from the sea floor within the last two million years. That is quite recent by geologic standards. It was actually uplifted twice, with pronounced erosion in the interim, and obvious erosion visible today. Continual landslides make traversing the peninsula, even by vehicle, a bit dicey.

A good portion of the exhibit space in the center is devoted to man’s relationship to marine mammals, and whales in particular. Many historical artifacts related to whaling are on display, but equal time is given to the evolution of public opinion regarding cetaceans, and how research on these leviathans has progressed. It is quite an impressive collection considering how local the facility is.

Another surprise was the exhibit on the previous tenant of this piece of real estate. Remember Marineland of the Pacific? I recall it from my childhood. Many of my friends in elementary school made it down to that aquarium/theme park, though I never did. I had always thought that Marineland became Sea World, and indeed the owners of Sea World purchased Marineland in 1987, shutting it down shortly thereafter. The orcas, porpoises, and other animal performers were relocated to the San Diego park. The oceanarium known as Marineland had a good run, though, having opened in 1954.

Back outside, the gardens surrounding the nature center along the edge of the bluff attract a variety of insect and bird life. The behavior of wind and air currents along the bluff also means this is a premiere spot for watching soaring seabirds, especially Brown Pelicans. The odd Red-tailed Hawk may join them, spiraling on the thermals that seem to originate there.

I highly recommend a visit to this landmark the next time you find yourself in the vicinity of Los Angeles. Remember that the Pacific Gray Whale migration usually occurs from December through April. The bluff offers a spectacular view of the ocean below, the kelp forests waving in the crests and troughs of the tides. Whales would be easily visible, too.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wildflowers of Charmlee

I have to start by thanking Kim Moore and Emile Fiesler for offering their expertise on our hikes through various southern California parks last month. As promised, here is a little sample of the wildflowers we saw at Charmlee Wilderness Park in Malibu.

Besides the profusion of Bush Monkeyflower, Mimulus aurantiacus, perhaps the most abundant, and certainly fragrant, flowering plant was Purple Sage, Salvia leucophylla. The scent was quite overwhelming, but in a pleasant, intoxicating way. It can bloom anytime between May and July (our hike was on May 19), and is commonly seen in coastal sage scrub habitat, oddly enough.

This was not the only species of sage to be found at Charmlee, either. The amazing Crimson Pitcher Sage, Salvia spathacea, also goes by the name Hummingbird Sage. Indeed, the red flowers must be a real draw for those nectar-feeding birds. It blooms from March to May in chaparral, coastal sage scrub, and oak woodlands. Sages are in the mint family, by the way.

Another fairly common plant was Spreading Phlox, Phlox diffusa. These are pretty large flowers compared to what I think of when I think of a Phlox. This species blooms between May and August on dry slopes and flats.

Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bellum, is not really a grass at all, but it does have long, narrow leaves that look like grassblades. It also grows in meadow habitats. Blooming between March and May, the flowers are a composition of three petals and three sepals fused at the base. They can vary greatly in color, and probably by age. This one was pale enough that in bright sunlight I could not get a detailed image. So, I shadowed the flower in order to get the “pinstripes” to show.

Coast Paintbrush (“Indian Paintbrush”), Castilleja affinis, was also blooming. Its flowering period is generally March to May, and it occurs in drier habitats up to 3, 500 feet elevation. Paintbrushes are in the figwort family Scrophulariaceae.

I am familiar with globemallows here in southern Arizona, where they can sometimes be viewed as “weeds,” but I was blown away by the Bush Mallow, Malacothamnus fasciculatus. This perennial can grow to be a fifteen foot tall shrub! It blooms from April to July and like its relatives can occupy disturbed habitats as well as dry, pristine native niches up to 2, 500 feet.

Different flowers are to be found in the more moist, shady, wooded sections of Charmlee. The most conspicuous flower we came across there was the Canyon Sunflower, Venegasia carpesioides. The large and profuse blossoms can’t be missed. They have a long blooming period, too, from February to September.

Wedge-leaf Horkelia, Horkelia cuneata, is in the rose family, though I never would have guessed that. It is characteristic of the ecotone where the woodland meets the drier, more exposed parts of the coastal sage scrub habitat; it blooms between April and September.

Last but not least, Leafy California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum, was especially prominent near the park entrance and restroom facilities. It may bloom anytime between May and November. It is a favorite with some bees, including honeybees that can create a good honey from the nectar they harvest from these flowers.

There are certainly more wildflowers to be found in Charmlee and in the surrounding mountains. A good website for identifying most of them is Wildflowers and Other Plants of Southern California by Michael L. Charters. It does help to know at least what family the plant is in, however, as there is no color-coded search option for this comprehensive website.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Charmlee Wilderness Park

Charmlee Wilderness Park should probably be re-named “Charming” because it will become a favorite for anyone who visits there. Located at 2577 Encinal Canyon Road in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu, California, the woods, fields, and scenic views are sure to delight all hikers.

I had the pleasure to visit this city park (yes, a city park!) on May 19 with my new friends Kim Moore and Emile Fiesler. Both are first-rate naturalists intimately familiar with the flora and fauna of the area. There were plenty of plants and animals to keep me entranced, despite an unusually cool and wet spring this year.

One of the first animals to greet us was a Spotted Towhee. Normally, these birds are busy literally scratching out a living in the leaf litter under shrubs and trees. What a treat to be serenaded. We did see other birds, including the California Towhee, a much more drab cousin to the Spotted Towhee.

Wildflowers were in abundance, especially Bush Monkeyflower, Mimulus aurantiacus. It was the dominant shrub along wooded edges and ridgelines throughout the park. Mimulus of other varieties and colors were also to be found throughout the many parks I visited.

Another wildflower that caught my eye was this Mexican Pink, Silene laciniata. Plants in that genus are also known by the name “catchfly” because their sticky foliage often entangles insects. Apparently this particular species is common on the grassy slopes in coastal scrub habitat.

The East Meadow Trail at Charmlee is a must see if you like scenic views like this:

Hard to beat an ocean overlook on a reasonably clear day.

We hiked up the ridge to the Reservoir, now empty but on this day with a rock art peace symbol decorating its floor, and encountered two hilltopping butterflies. One was likely a Funereal Duskywing, Erynnis funeralis. The other was a magnificent male specimen of the Anise Swallowtail, Papilio zelicaon.

Coming down off the East Meadow Trail takes you through the Oak Groves on your way back to the parking area. The woodland offers pleasant relief after walking the hot, dry, open meadows. The flora and fauna are substantially different, too (stay tuned for an upcoming post on wildflowers of Charmlee).

As we pulled our car out of the parking space, we happened to notice a Calilfornia Whiptail lizard, Aspidoscelis tigris stejnegeri, break cover at the edge of the parking lot. The car idled while we debated whether to bother trying to get pictures of this regal reptile. Ultimately, we grabbed our cameras, got out of the vehicle, and approached the lizard ever so slowly. I fully expected the animal to bolt for the next county if I even blinked, but to my amazement it was incredibly tolerant, even allowing close-ups. As Kim put it, that was the “icing on the dessert of the day.”

Charmlee is open 8 AM to sunset, every day. There is a $4.00 parking fee. The modest nature center, not open when we were there, is normally open Saturdays and Sundays, 8 AM to 5 PM.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Aquarium of the Pacific

One of the many places I visited in southern California last month was the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. I was accompanied by Kim Moore who is a volunteer at this impressive facility. The aquarium is only thirteen years old (as of this June 20, 2011), and they just opened a new exhibit, “Arctic & Antarctic: Our Polar Regions in Peril.”

Located in the Long Beach Shoreline Rainbow Harbor Marina, the aquarium is flanked by restaurants and tour boats, with the Lions Lighthouse for Sight just around the corner (left of the above image). Kim and I took one of the harbor tours to break up the visit to the aquarium.

The first thing you encounter upon entering the aquarium is a life-size model of a female blue whale and her calf (hidden in this image), suspended from the ceiling. The adult fiberglass facsimile is “only” eighty-eight feet long, which it turns out is about average for the current population of this species. He name is “Edie,” and her male calf is “Edison.” The accuracy of these models is impressive, and one gets to truly appreciate the streamlined bodies of these leviathans.

Beyond the whale is a two-story window on a tank called the “Blue Cavern,” in the Great Hall of the Pacific. This tall exhibit is an excellent introduction to the kelp forest habitats common along the southern California coast. In this case, the inspiration was Blue Cavern Point along the northeast edge of Santa Catalina Island. Among the denizens of the exhibit are some impressive California moray eels, Gymnothorax mordax.

Adjacent to the Blue Cavern is the Amber Forest and other “galleries” depicting the marine life of southern California and the Baja peninsula. One small aquarium features a captivating colony of Garden Eels (Heteroconger sp.).

The indoor portion is just one facet of the whole complex. The aquarium also boasts outdoor exhibits that include shark and ray touch tanks where visitors can gently stroke harmless cartilaginous fishes like Bamboo Sharks and Bat Rays. Visible from both above the water and below are Sea Otters and California Sea Lions.

Yet another outdoor exhibit is the Lorikeet Forest, a 3,200 square foot aviary where visitors can feed these stunning birds. Five of the 32 subspecies of the Rainbow Lorikeet are on exhibit.

Native to Australia, New Zealand, and islands in the South Pacific, lories are under pressure from the black market pet trade and from farmers who view the birds as pests in fruit orchards.

Back indoors, the Tropical Pacific Gallery features fish and invertebrates from faraway places. A Northern Pacific Gallery holds animals (including birds like puffins and auklets) from the cold waters of British Columbia and Japan.

It is impossible to communicate in one blog entry all of the exhibits and entertainment opportunities afforded by the Aquarium of the Pacific. It is not a cheap attraction (admission is $24.95 for adults, $21.95 for seniors age 62 and over, and $12.95 for children 3-11), but well worth the price. You should plan on spending the whole day watching the birds, mammals, invertebrates and fish. Don’t be surprised if some of them watch you in return.