Readers’ wildlife photos

May 5, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from UC Davis ecologist Susan Harrison. Her captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. By the way, I have less than a week’s worth of photos left, so I may have to stop this feature or make it more sporadic.

UPDATE to below: The Washington Post has a new piece, with photos, of the amazing blooms in California that resulted from this winter’s excessive snowfall and rainfall.

Carrizo Plain

Dramatic wildflower displays in spring 2023 brought national attention to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a vast (1,215 mi²) semidesert preserve 90 miles east of San Luis Obispo in the southern Inner Coast Range of California.  Carrizo Plain hosts the state’s largest remnant native grassland, which was spared from development by remoteness and lack of water, and is also too arid to be completely overrun by non-native grasses.  It’s a major refuge for threatened and endangered wildlife and has been protected since 1988.

In wet years like this one, the hillsides come alive with scenes like this flower-painted hillside:

Hillside Daisy (Monolopia lanceolata) provides the yellow:

Scorpionweed (Phacelia tanacetifolia and other Phacelias) provides the blues:

San Joaquin Blazing-Star (Mentzelia pectinata) provides the orange:

The plain was formed by the San Andreas Fault, visible as the long narrow escarpment in front of the hills:

Mormon-tea (Ephedra californica), a common shrub, is a “nurse plant” for some wildflowers that grow best in its shade.  The pink rings around these shrubs are Parry’s Mallow (Eremalche parryi) and the blue rings are Nightshade (Solanum umbelliferum); in between shrubs is Goldfields (Lasthenia californica):

Wildflowers nearly burying this shrub include magenta Owl’s Clover (Castilleja exserta), violet Thistle Sage (Salvia carduaceae), cream-colored Woolly Desert-Dandelion (Malacothrix floccifera), and yellow Desert Daisy:

Thistle Sage (Salvia carduaceae), closeup:

Desert Candle (Caulanthus inflatus), the most Dr. Seussian of wildflowers:

Wildlife-wise our most exciting sighting was the San Joaquin Antelope Squirrel (Ammospermophilus nelsoni), a threatened species found only in this region.  It jerks convulsively while giving its alarm calls, as it’s doing in this picture, and also responds to the alarm calls of birds:

Framing birds against wildflower backdrops was my pastime on this trip; here are a few.

Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris):

Ash-Throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens):

Bell’s Sparrow (Artemisiospiza belli), found only in the southern California desert region:

Lark Sparrows (Chondestes grammicus) in love:

10 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Lovely pictures of what is clearly a wonderful place. Fascinating to see how in the distant shots, different colours prevail over different parts of the hill, presumably reflecting the different ecological requirements of the different plants.

  2. I love your travelogues, last week to Anzo-Barrego and now to the Carrizo Plain– great wildlife, wildflowers, and travel adventures!

  3. Wonderful scenic pics and birds alike. I bet it’s rare for this area to have such abundance of wildflowers. What a thrill to see these pastel California foothills. I lived in an arid area (high prairie) for about 10 years, and only once did the spring get enough water to ignite the millions of hidden flowers of the high prairie.

  4. Beautiful scenery, an area I’ve driven past without knowing anything about it, and there weren’t flowers then. Thank you!

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