The hills are alive…blah blah blah blah blaah blaaaaah…

About once a week I get to leave the dim confines of my office and drive up to Palomar Mountain. I spend the whole day looking for butterflies! Me and the rest of the survey team are specifically searching for an extremely rare endangered butterfly, the Laguna Mountain Skipper. We think their flight season is almost over (sightings have tapered off a bit), but I thought I’d post some pictures of some of the butterflies – and other things – I’ve encountered on the mountain. Enjoy!

Here’s the Laguna Mountain Skipper. It’s about the size of your thumbnail, maybe a little bigger. There’s a look-alike species that is also present, just to try to fool us; but I’ve been scoring 100’s on my LMS tests, so I think I’ve got that problem licked.

See that little white dot on one of the leaflets? That’s a skipper egg. The butterfly will land on horkelia (the host plant pictured here), curl her abdomen around the underside of the leaf, and deposit one egg, maybe another one on a neighboring leaf. They’re kind of hard to find, and each individual lays only maybe 100-200 eggs before dying. Most of the eggs are parasitized by wasps, or grazed by cattle when they eat the plant. It’s tough being a skipper, and I’m surprised any of them make it to adulthood!

This is a funereal duskywing; there were a lot out this week but they moved very fast and were hard to photograph.

Here’s a lupine blue – there were a ton of blues out last time I visited the mountain, and there are a bunch of different types. They are some of my favorites! They’re still relatively small, a bit larger than the skipper (some of them).

This is a Melissa blue, which hasn’t been documented on the mountain until now. I took this picture because I thought the butterfly was really pretty!

This Mylitta crescent is quite a bit bigger than the other butterflies pictured; kind of mid-sized. There are a lot of larger butterflies on the mountain – we’ve seen monarchs, admirals, and swallowtails. This one just happened to stay still long enough for me to get a picture of it!

Sick of butterflies? I came across this Southern Pacific rattlesnake last time I was out in the field. I also saw two green racers, but this rattler let me take several photos of him. Don’t worry – I didn’t almost step on him, and my camera has a very good zoom lens. This guy was easily as big around as my wrist, and I’m not sure how much more of him was in the burrow there. I’m definitely learning to watch where I walk!

Horkelia, where art thou?

A couple times a year I get to leave the sweet, dry, temperature-controlled confines of my office and head out into the field to help other biologists on monitoring projects. This past week I joined a crew of my fellow desk-jockeys to search for Horkelia clevelandii, the host plant for an endangered butterfly, the Laguna Mountain Skipper. When this project was described to me, I was told that it would be “really mellow, walking around in meadows looking for a little plant”. The name Laguna MOUNTAIN skipper should have tipped me off though – every day we drove up to the top of Palomar Mountain and searched for this small plant in yeah, a couple of meadows, but it seemed like also a lot of brambles and steep forested areas, and bouldered slopes. It was nice though – very pretty out there – aside from being all by myself in mountain lion territory (I carried a knife but I don’t know what good it would’ve done), having a member of our team lock the keys in the car at the end of the day with the clouds rolling in and the temperatures dropping, torrential rains and inpenatrable mist all day on Wednesday, and the pain, my god, the pain. But we had fun, too. We all had radios to keep in contact, and I gave myself the handle of “Dorkelia”. The mist and rain on Wednesday were unbelievably pretty, even if I did have about 20 pounds of equipment strapped to me, a clipboard in one hand, a GPS unit in the other, while trying to scale a 5.10 cliff face. I learned that given a radio, a GPS unit, and a sunny day a person (the same person who locked the keys in the car – who was NOT me) can get lost for two hours. Anyway, here are a few pictures of our adventures – enjoy!

I snapped this picture on the way up to the top of the mountain.

Here’s a nice patch of Horkelia that I found. Most of my sample plots did not have any, but the few patches that I did spot were really dense.

Here’s Kurt, trying to break into our vehicle with a wire hanger. We didn’t have cell phone coverage, but eventually walked to the observatory office and called AAA on my membership. We waited for the tow truck for two hours at the end of a very long, cold day!

Our last day of sampling was pretty easy – I had a couple of points inside of a horse pasture, and luckily none inside of this enclosure. We were warned that the ostrich would rip our guts out if we got too close – note the sign that says “DANGER – do not enter”.