Colorful Start at Descanso

Japanese Maple, Descanso Gardens, La Canada-Flintridge (9/16/21) Julie Kirby

Some varieties of Japanese maple provide brilliant crimson in autumn. So. California color spotter Julie Kirby found examples at Descanso Gardens this week in La Canada-Flintridge.

Last week’s heat wave scorched several of the garden’s maples, though it appears milder temperatures will prevail in the future.

It’s still too early for much change elsewhere in Southern California. Though, high elevations in the San Bernardino Mountains will show first.

  • Descanso Gardens, La Canada-Flintridge (1,188′) – Just Starting (0 – 10%)

Go Away!

American White Pelicans, Ventura Settling Ponds (9/20/21) Kathy Jonokuchi

The way they’ve turned their backs on the camera, these American White Pelicans seem to be telling onlookers like Southern California color spotter Kathy Jonokuchi to leave them alone.

After all, people, they’d like a little privacy. They just arrived at the Ventura Settling Ponds after a long flight and plan to procreate. As, the settling ponds are their winter breeding grounds.

This specie of pelican is “quite different from the Brown Pelican,” Kathy reports. “It’s one of the largest land birds in North America and they work cooperatively to herd fish into shallows and dunk their heads to catch their meal, unlike the brown pelican which sky dives for its dinner.”

This location is a good place to see migratory birds. Duck and waterfowl will be wintering over in the settling ponds and just outside its fence near the estuary, you can see brown pelicans doing their dives.

  • Ventura Settling Ponds (36′) – American White Pelican Breeding Season – Just Starting (0-10%)

Holiday Nuts

California black walnut, Santa Monica Mountains (12/23/20) Peter Asco

I received more than my share of gift nuts this holiday season, including this snap of a California black walnut at peak in the Santa Monica Mountains sent by Peter Asco. He writes, “Despite wind, low temperatures and winter’s arrival,” … this full color tree is “a lesson on hope, faith, and the resilience of nature.”

  • Santa Monica Mountains – Past Peak You Missed It.


Malibu Creek State Park (12/16/20) Elliot McGucken

Elliot McGucken visited Malibu Creek State Park yesterday morning and found S’M*A*S*Hing color.

The park was the site of filming M*A*S*H from 1972 – 1983, which explains why Korean-War-era trucks have been placed there to mark its role in the hit television comedy.

Fall color remains beautiful there in late autumn, though is limited by foliage and terrain to backlit cattails, western sycamore and willows.

Nevertheless, we’re still declaring “GO NOW!” to Malibu Creek, which provides a fascinating, colorful hike to the location of a beloved episode in American cultural history.

Cattails, Malibu Creek State Park (12/16/20) Elliot McGucken
  • Malibu Creek State Park – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.

Riot On The San Gabriel River

San Gabriel River, San Gabriel Mountains National Monument (12/9/20) Steve Shinn

There’s a riot of color appearing along the San Gabriel River in San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Steve Shinn reports.

Western sycamore, black cottonwood, blue elderberry, white alder, creek dogwood, Southern California black walnut and red, sandbar, shining and yellow willows are painting the banks of the stream with orange, yellow, lime, red and chartreuse foliage.

  • San Gabriel River, San Gabriel Mountains National Monument (610′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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A Colorful Ending

American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus), UC Berkeley Botanical Garden (11/30/20) Sandy Steinman

Weather has been kind to fall color this autumn, allowing it to last and last and last, right to its colorful ending.

At the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, Sandy Steinman found American smoketree (Continus obovatus) brilliantly toned in crimson, orange, green and yellow; American beautyberries robed in purple, and Japanese maple leaves as confections of red, magenta, orange, pink and yellow.

Similar vibrant display are appearing in Southern California where Kathy Jonokuchi found golden yellow gingko leaves and hot pink Honk Kong orchid at the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden.

Nuttall’s woodpecker, Conejo Valley Botanic Garden (11/28/20) Kathy Jonokuchi

Finally, Salil Bhatt made my day by submitting these images and scoring a First Report for the Sunol Regional Wilderness where valley oak and western sycamore have just crested peak.

Salil points out that the Sunol Regional Wilderness, in the mountains east of Silicon Valley, is one of a few areas where significant collections of winter deciduous native trees can be seen at peak in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Wilderness is east of Milpitas and south of Sunol on Calaveras Rd.

  • UC Berkeley Botanical Garden (171′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It!
  • Conejo Valley Botanic Garden, Thousand Oaks (886′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Sunol Regional Wilderness, Sunol (500′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It!

The Southern Forest

Japanese maple, Descanso Gardens (11/30/20) Julie Kirby

California’s southern forest is cultured, bold and manicured. It is not wild. It is civil. This urban forest is found in parks, arboretums, gardens and neighborhood yards.

Color spotter Julie Kirby reports a SoCal cold snap (overnight temps in the 40s) moved crepe myrtle near her Glendale home from Patchy to Past Peak within a week.

Nearby in La Cañada Flintridge at Descanso Gardens, Japanese maple and crepe myrtle are providing vibrant peak color, but its landmark ginkos are still Patchy.

Descanso is a place where gardens are presented as art. Presently (until Jan. 10), its Wishing Tree made of reclaimed downed oak by artist Kaz Yokou Kitajima allows visitors to participate in making a wish for the new year. Descanso reports they’re on fall color watch with peak appearing in the Rose Garden and near the stream where birch are raining gold.

  • Glendale (522′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • La Cañada Flintridge (1,188′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Monarch Magic

Female Monarch Butterfly, Long Beach (11/27/20) © Steve Shinn

Late autumn is when Monarch magic happens along the California coast. From Presidio Park in San Diego north to Bodega Dunes in Sonoma County, Monarch butterflies establish their winter residences.

Monarch caterpillar and chrysalis, Long Beach (11/27/20) © Steve Shinn

Long Beach color spotter Steve Shinn photographed this lady as she emerged from her chrysalis at his home. Monarchs are amazing creatures. Some migrate as far as 1,000 miles.

California State Parks writes, “The journey is hazardous and many never make it. By November, most are sheltering in trees stretching from the San Francisco Bay Area south to San Diego. Pismo State Beach hosts one of the largest over wintering congregations, varying in numbers from 20,000 to 200,000. The winter monarchs live about six to eight months. On sunny winter days they will fly away from the sheltering trees, searching for nourishment in flower nectar and water to drink. In late February, as the weather turns warm, the great migration north begins.”

“After a flurry of mating, the female Monarchs fly north seeking milkweed plants where they must lay their eggs. Their job done, the winter Monarchs soon die. It would seem as though the migration had come to a halt before it even got under way. This though, is where it gets interesting. The eggs hatch after a few days and the tiny larvae voraciously begin eating milkweed leaves day and night. 

Monarch Butterflies, Santa Cruz (1/15/2006) © John Poimiroo

“Milkweed is the only food the larva can eat but it eats enough to increase its weight 2,700 times in just two weeks. This is equivalent to a human baby growing to the size of a gray whale in just two weeks. Once it’s eaten its fill, the full-grown caterpillar attaches itself to a solid object, sheds its skin, and forms a hard, green and gold colored outer skin, called a chrysalis. For the next two weeks inside the chrysalis, the fat, striped caterpillar rearranges its body’s molecules and then emerges as a beautiful orange and black Monarch butterfly.

“The new summer Monarchs continue to fly farther north, mating, laying their eggs on milkweed, then dying. The summer monarchs only live about 6–8 weeks but each new generation flies farther and farther north, following the growing milkweed. This cycle repeats itself 4–5 times throughout the summer. It is unknown how the successive generations of butterflies inherit the information needed to return to the over wintering sites but with the shortening days of October, the new winter generation of Monarchs does not mate and die but instead migrates south.”

Monarch butterfly populations are declining dangerously. Individuals can help by planting butterfly and pollinator gardens and encouraging the creation of monarch habitats in their communities. CLICK HERE to learn how you can help. To purchase Monarch Butterfly Seed Balls, CLICK HERE.

And, for guidance to places where you can see Monarchs near where you live, CLICK HERE.

  • Monarch Butterfly Migration, California Coast – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


Native acorn woodpeckers are defending valley oak from colorful Nanday conures that have moved into their neighborhood at the Paramount Ranch in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Southern California color spotter Kathy Jonokuchi captured the “noisy affair” during a break from staying close to home due to work, quarantining and this past summer’s smoky air.

Kathy reports the Santa Monica Mountains are at peak with valley oak, western sycamore and Fremont cottonwood providing color.

Mark Harding similarly found oak, cottonwood, elderberry, poison oak and sycamore peaking at Malibu Creek State Park.

While at King Gillette Ranch, snow birds are providing the color while enjoying the Southern California sun.

  • Santa Monica Mountains NRA (750′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

The Pelicans Arrive

American white pelicans, Lake Hemet (11/14/20) Jeff Brown

American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) have begun to return to Southern California.

Jeff Brown spotted this migrating pair at sunset at Lake Hemet in the San Jacinto Mountains (Mountain Center).

The Cornell Lab reports that there are fewer than 60 colonies of the birds. In summer, these colonies are dispersed broadly across the midwest and west at inland lakes. Breeding areas are in specific parts of midwest Canada and in western states.

White pelicans are particularly fond of California; large flocks of them are seen regularly inhabiting lakes in Southern California’s mountains, the Central Valley, the Sierra Nevada and the Salton Sea.

As autumn ends, they migrate to Southern California and winter at lakes in the mountains and along the coast.

Fascinating to watch both soaring and feeding, the graceful, prehistoric-appearing white pelicans – considered to be among the largest of North American birds – have the unusual habit of cooperating while feeding. They are known to dive together to drive fish toward shallows where they corral the fish and scoop them up.

At this time of year, white pelicans will forage almost exclusively during the day, which provides good opportunities to watch them from shore or boat at inland lakes. Brown says they provide fascinating entertainment for winter campers at Lake Hemet.

They are wary of people, however. A good strategy is to approach only until they back away, stand or ruffle feathers. Should they exhibit any of these behaviors, back off as that’s an indication they’re about to move away.

  • Lake Hemet Campground, Mountain Center (4,340′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!