Antelope Valley Trip Report – March 29, 2009

On Sunday, I drove with some friends out to the Antelope Valley to view the wildflowers. I’ve been keeping my eye on the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve website, checking the status of this year’s bloom. Last week, they announced that the poppies have arrived, throwing my friends and I into action. We’ve quietly been hatching a plan for a month or two on what we would do when the poppies arrived and now this was it! Actually, it wasn’t a very grand plan: meet in the San Fernando Valley and carpool the remaining 70 miles out to the valley.

By noon, we were standing in glorious fields of flowers.

As with any trip nowadays, I brought my photography equipment with me hoping to get some shots of the wildflower wildlife. Right away, I knew it was going to be a tough day: wind gusts were reported at 15-20mph and expected to get worse in the late afternoon. But I’m a card-carrying optimist and kept on the look out (as did my friends).

The first find of the day was on the Antelope Valley Highway (138) coming into the area. We drove through a flock(?) of migrating butterflies. It reminded me of my encounter in the Sonoran Desert a few weeks ago, but these were not painted ladies. They seemed smaller and a darker color. It was hard to identify them since we were moving and the wind was pushing them around. In fact, it was hard to tell if they were actually flying or if the wind was just taking them where it pleased.

Once in the valley, we headed to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, an 1,800 acre State Reserve located 15 miles west of Lancaster, California. It has seven miles of paths winding through the area like a child’s Crayon scribble. They have a small interpretive center, where they have a short introductory video of the flowers playing on a loop. I was surprised to find all twenty or so seats filled. Why watch a video on flowers when you can go out and see them? I talked briefly with one of the volunteers about where I could find the best photographic opportunities. As with most state park volunteers I’ve talked to, he was informative, friendly, and seemed to love what he was doing. He mentioned to me that he though this weekend was the peak of the season unless they got more rain. He said that this year brought a lot of rain, but the storms weren’t spread out enough to create the spectacular blooms this area is renowned for.

Nonetheless, I was happy with Mother Nature’s results. The patches of color were a marvel to be seen.

Along with our state flower, the California Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica), quite a few others could be seen in bloom. According to the pamphlet given out at the interpretiv center, the goldfields (Lasthenia californica) grow in masses of 500-800 blooms per square foot. That’s right: per square foot! Lacy phacelia (Phacelia cryptantha) look a lot like purple fiddlenecks (Amsinckia tessellata), which are also found in bloom here.

My first entomological find of the day was a giant bumble bee doing what he does on flowers in bloom. I’m guessing it was a red-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lapidarius), but I’m not sure. With the wind, it didn’t stay long on each flower, making it doubly difficult to photograph well. (to see the photo, view the gallery at the bottom of this post)

I was lucky enough to get some clear photos of a striking blister beetle (Lytta stygica). Its green metallic exoskeleton reminds me of the metallic beetle I found and blogged about yesterday. It kept on going about its business of looking for nectar (?) among the beds of California poppies as I photographed it. With winds reaching gusts of 30 mph, I had to cheat a little bit to get this shot by holding the stem of the flower. Even then, I still consider myself lucky to click the shutter in the rare moment of no wind.

Scurrying along the path from time to time would be large (1/2-3/4 in) ground beetles. My guess is that I found a black calisoma (Calosoma semilaeve), but what do I know? I’m just a photographer.

If I have difficulty photographing a subject in it’s unrestricted natural habitat, I’ll capture the subject and place it in a plastic container where I’ve attempted to recreate its habitat. Insects are so fascinating to watch. I hope one day to take some introductory entomology classes to learn more about them. If I did, I might have learned an important fact about beetles: they will attack one other. The following picture shows what happens when a blister beetle pisses off a ground beetle:

Luckily, the crunching bite into the elytra didn’t kill the blister beetle, but it certainly walked around a bit slower after the ground beetle released it from its strong mandibles.

The final bug of the day was a Say’s stink bug (Chlorochroa sayi), found crossing a dirt road.

We headed home around 5pm after the winds became too great for my female friends. I would have liked to stay out for the sunset, but it was a long weekend and I needed to catch up on my sleep before heading into a 40-hour work week.

To view more photos from this trip, click on the image below to be taken to the gallery.

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  • Having gone the week afterwards, I would say that you hit it just as close to the peak as I did. Seems like the peak must have occurred mid-week. Great shots as usual, and I like how the bug are covered in pollen :)
  • I wonder if that carabid was feeling a bit aroused after it got a dose of alkaloids from the blister beetle ;-)
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