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Nature’s Resilience

White-Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus, Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa (12/4/18) Kathy Jonokuchi 

Images of the devastation wrought by the Camp and Woolsey fires haunt the closing days of an otherwise beautiful autumn.

However, Southern California color spotter Kathy Jonokuchi found hope on a visit to one of her favorite birding locations in the Santa Monica Mountains NRA at Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa.

The area was spared being consumed by the Woolsey Fire, though it is still recovering from the Springs Fire of ’13 and ashen scars blight surrounding hills.

Two threads of local history intertwine at the site. Ranch structures represent its pioneer ranching past, while native plants reflect the environs where Chumash Indians lived for thousands of years. before the ranching era. Big Sycamore Canyon Trail descends from Satwiwa to the Pacific Ocean along an historic Chumash trade route.

The Satwiwa Loop Trail is designated for hikers only, and meanders through an area considered sacred by the Chumash. There, within areas of coastal sage scrub that were not burned, live deer and coyote. Sweeping views of Boney Mountain and Sycamore Canyon can be seen along the trail, as well as many raptors.

The Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center is open on weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Native people lead workshops and presentations and participate in art shows there, throughout the year.

On Kathy’s visit to Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa, a congregation of five White-Tailed Kites (Elanus leucurus) were hovering and hunting. She also saw Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius), this one female, swooping low in search of inattentive voles and slithering snakes.  

Kathy reports that at Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa, she’s seen American Kestrels, Cooper’s Hawks, Red-Tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures.

It’s such an outstanding location for bird watching that Kathy has nicknamed it “Raptorland.”

See, there is a Jurassic Park in Southern California! And, it’s one that’s proven its resilience to nature’s fires. It’s the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. 

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

Holiday Lights

California sycamore, W Fork San Gabriel River (12-2-18) Naresh Satyan

In the San Gabriel Mountains, December is lit with orange, vermillion, yellow and russet.

Southern California color spotter Naresh Satyan reports, “We just had our first big winter storm in Southern California last week, and yet it feels like fall, in some areas, in the mountains.”

He spent the day walking the West Fork of the San Gabriel river in  San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and found beautiful fall color still lingering.

Bigleaf maple, California sycamore, willows and various other plants remain vibrant along West Fork Road.

Naresh found it hard to describe what is peak color, “since it seems like the trees don’t all turn at the same time. We have a few trees in peak color, but I’d say most of it is past peak.” 

  • W. Fork San Gabriel River, San Gabriel Mountains – Peak to Past Peak, You Almost Missed It.


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The Holly and The Ivy

Boston Ivy, Scripps College, Claremont (11/30/18) Kaiyuan Chen

Holly standeth in the hall fair to behold, 
Ivy stands without the door; she is full sore a cold

Holly and his merry men, they dancen and they sing;
Ivy and her maidens, they weepen and they wring.

Ivy hath a lybe, she caught it with the cold,
So may they all have, that with Ivy hold.

Holly and ivy have been linked together for many centuries, though they are quite different plants. The Holly is a tree, Ivy a vine.

Owlcation.com tells us, that used as a mythological symbol ivy was associated with the Ancient Greek god of wine, Dionysus who often wore a crown of ivy.

English ivy grew abundantly over the childhood home of Dionysus, the mythic mountain Nysa. To the middle ages, ivy was associated with alcoholic beverages, often hung from an alepole or alestake outside a tavern to indicate that the establishment served wine or ale.

The expression “Good wine needs no bush,” meaning that something of merit needs no advertisement, comes from a bunch of ivy being called a bush. In other words, good wine needs no alepole, as word of mouth will establish its quality.

In “The Holly and the Ivy,” a traditional Christmas carol, holly is mentioned throughout, but ivy is mentioned only in the first and last verse, almost as an afterthought.

Ivy certainly is no afterthought at American colleges, where ivy-covered walls have become synonymous with prestigious education. The practice of growing ivy over the brick walls of northeastern colleges, evolved to their sports teams being described as within The Ivy League.

Other universities and colleges adopted the horticultural practice growing climbing vines of Boston Ivy, Parthenocissus tricupidata, and English Ivy, Hedera helix, on their walls as verdant symbols of higher education.

Scripps College, Claremont (11/30/18) Kaiyuan Chen

At Scripps, a renowned women’s college in Claremont, Calif., Boston Ivy climbs the walls, providing late autumn color.

Kaiyuan Chen reports that the vine – which is from China not from Boston – and the school’s other deciduous trees and shrubs now vary from Peak to Past Peak.

That’s appropriate, as it’s almost time to sing … 

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir 
  • Claremont Colleges, Claremont – Peak to Past Peak, You Almost Missed It.
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November ends, not the color

LA County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Arcadia (11/28/18) Frank McDonough

Today is the last day of November, but there’s still another 20 days of autumn ahead.

Frank McDonough of the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden demonstrates what’s ahead in today’s post.

California’s arboreta and botanic gardens are in their own, presently, with holiday displays blending with final bursts of fall color. To find an arboretum near you, CLICK HERE

  • Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Arcadia – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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From Landscape to Moonscape

In a day, most of Malibu Canyon was transformed from a verdant landscape to a moonscape of ash and charred tree limbs.

Mark Harding found “a mix of devastation and beauty” there that was scorched by the Woolsey Fire that ignited on Nov. 8.

He found areas within Malibu Canyon, along Piuma Road, Malibu Creek and Malibu Creek State Park painted fluorescent pink with fire retardant or holding on to the last of autumnal color. 

  • Malibu Canyon – Peak to Past Peak, You Almost Missed It.
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On a Wing and a Prayer

Black-hooded Parakeets in Western Sycamore, King Gillette Ranch, Santa Monica Mountains NRA (11/24/18) Kathy Jonokuchi

The recent Woolsey Fire incinerated 86% of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. In some areas, only a wing and a prayer avoided the devastation.

Black-hooded Parakeets (Nanday Conures – Aratinga nenday) were able to fly away as the fire raged. Southern California color spotter, Kathy Jonokuchi found them perched on Western sycamore at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas on Saturday.

The ranch, once owned by razor magnate King C. Gillette was spared being engulfed by the fire. Its grounds and venerable trees are now an enclave for the Nandays.

Raindrops on a Sweetgum leaf, Los Angeles (11/24/18) Bruce Wendler

Jonokuchi reported that the ranch was one of the few spared by the Woolsey Fire. “Paramount Ranch, Peter Strauss Ranch and Malibu Creek State Park” were burned. The fire even scorched Leo Carrillo State Beach, leaving only lifeguard towers unburned.

Her home, just four miles from where the Hill Fire started, was untouched. Kathy said her neighborhood was the only one in the area that wasn’t evacuated, though surrounding mountains are now covered in gray ash, brightened by a few spots by splashes of bright pink fire retardant and remaining autumn color.

Rains this weekend dampened the southland, as seen in Bruce Wendler’s image of a Sweetgum leaf on the hood of his car. 

  • King Gillette Ranch, Santa Monica Mountains NRA – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
Leo Carrillo State Beach, Malibu (11/24/18) Kathy Jonokuchi
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Peak on the Wing

White pelicans, Lake Hemet (11/18/18) Alena Nicholas

Sometimes you don’t need fall color to find Peak.

Alena Nicholas found it Sunday at Lake Hemet in the San Jacinto Mountains, south of Idyllwild.

“Great cloud formations and active wildlife made up for “peak color,” she wrote. “As usual, there where plenty of guests fishing and camping at Lake Hemet,” and, as seen in these photos, several of them flew in for the weekend. (click to enlarge photos)

Bald eagle, Lake Hemet (11/18/18) Alena Nicholas

A photogenic flock of visiting white pelicans and resident pair of bald eagles have become local celebrities.

Lake Hemet’s human visitors rent 12′ motorboats, 22′ pontoon boats and kayaks at the marina or launch their own craft, to get closer to the birds. The pontoon boats are the most stable platform for capturing wildlife photography and the have the room to allow use of a tripod, which improves image sharpness.

The best way to approach is slowly and not closer than the point at which the birds notice or indicate concern about your presence. Otherwise, you’ll interrupt their natural behaviors and they will fly to another less-busy location. Too much of that and they’ll find another lake.

These wild birds perceive humans as a threat. So, a telephoto lens is needed to get closeup photographs.

Lake Hemet (11/18/18) Alena Nicholas

Dramatic cloud formations made colorful reflections on the lake. Along the shore, spots of Past Peak color could be seen. Nicholas estimates the remaining color should last through the Thanksgiving Day weekend, providing one more location to celebrate Orange Friday (the day following Thanksgiving Day to photograph fall color). 

  • Idlyllwild (5,413′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
  • Lake Hemet (4,340′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
Black oak, Idyllwild (11/18/18) Alena Nicholas
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Orchard Pickings

Apple tree, Los Rios Orchard, Oak Glen Rd. (11/11/18) Ravi Ranganathan

Visiting orchards has become a late-autumn tradition, with Californians heading to Julian for apple dumplings, to Oak Glen for cider-infused mini donuts, to San Luis Obispo for hard cider, to Sebastopol for U-pick apples, to Kelseyville in Lake County for a Pear Belle Helene (pear ice cream sundae), and to Apple Hill in Camino for apple pies.

With so many calories ahead, Southern California color spotter Ravi Ranganathan recommends walking the Oak Glen Preserve Botanical Garden in Yucaipa, soon after the trail opens at 8 a.m. It’s  got kid-friendly sections, as well as others that get your heart pumping and “beautiful fall colors along the trail.”

Of course, if that hike works up your appetite, head over to Snow Line Orchard for their delicious apple-cider-infused mini donuts and a glass of freshly pressed cider. Ravi recommends picnicking under an ancient chestnut tree beside an apple orchard. 

  • Julian – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Oak Glen – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • San Luis Obispo – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Sebastopol – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Kelseyville – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Camino – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
Chestnut and apple orchard, Snow Line Orchard, Oak Glen Rd (11/11/18) Ravi Ranganathan

Sespe Success Story

The Sespe Wilderness covers a huge area (291,700-acres) in the eastern Topatopa Mountains and southern Sierra Pelona within Los Padres National Forest in Southern California’s Ventura County.

The terrain is mostly chapparal with oak woodland and riparian habitats along Sespe Creek. Predominant fall color plants include landmark Frémont cottonwood, rubber rabbitbrush, willow and other shrubs.

Most importantly, the Sespe Wilderness, established by President George Bush in 1992, expanded wilderness areas needed to protect the California Condor which in 1987 had become extinct in the wild.

Since then, through extensive preservation efforts and the establishment of protective areas like the Sespe Wilderness, California’s condor population has risen to 100 and now numbers 446 worldwide, including 276 in the wild.

In 2015, more condors were born in the wild than died, evidence that the condors are recovering from the threat of extinction, though the specie is still listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Though the condors are on the wing back to recovery, color spotter Lance Pifer didn’t mention seeing any during his weekend hike along Piedras Blanca Trail into the Sespe Wilderness.

He did, however, return with photographs of Near Peak cottonwood and brush along Sespe Creek. The trail is a moderately hiked 2.3 out and back trail, rated as good for all levels. Dogs on leash are permitted. 

  • Piedras Blanca Trail, Sespe Wilderness (6,000′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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Frost on the Pumpkin at Jenks Lake and Oak Glen

Jenks Lake, San Bernardino Mountains (10/7/18) Trent Vierra

Frost is beginning to appear on the pumpkins and snow on Southern California peaks, color spotter Trent Vierra reports.

With daytime temperatures in the 50s, Trent was in an autumn mood when he traveled out to Jenks Lake. There, the black oaks were a mix of “different shades of orange and russet” reflected in the still waters of the lake. Even the willows along the shore “had a little color to them” and “big leaf maples … were speckled with bright yellow leaves.”

But, the capper was a dusting of snow on the mountain tops behind Jenks Lake and cold, crisp air which made the scene feel all the more autumn-like.

At Oak Glen, autumn is Just Starting with sycamore, oak, and cottonwood beginning to show some yellow on them. 

  • Jenks Lake (6,739′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Oak Glen (4,734′) – Just Starting (0-10%)