15 June 2008


"Land is immortal, for it harbors the mysteries of creation." - Anwar al-Sadat, (1918-1981)
This morning I took it upon myself to accomplish three things. Two of the three were not entirely in my control, the other would take time regardless of how long and hard I spent hiking in the chaparral-coastal sage foothills of this county.
This evening I'll write on One.
As you guys might have surmised, I am interested in many things. Certainly ornithology, for occupation as well as avocation. But it certainly doesn't stop there. The order Lepidoptera also occupies my mind, my energies, my wonder, my weekends. Lepidoptera = Moths & Butterflies.
The butterfly life cycle is the amazing process of metamorphosis. That is the transition from egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (or chrysalis) to the winged adult.
This process begins with the female lays egg(s) on or near the plants that the larva will like to eat. Caterpillars are quite picky, and most cannot survive on the wrong plant. This plant is called the host plant. Host plants can range from ancient, towering oaks all the way down to blades of a native grass.
Caterpillars skin can only stretch so far, and the larva passes through ~ 5 growing stages (termed instars); so it must shed its skin each time.
The final time it sheds its skin is infact the next phase of its life, the pupa.
Remember it is a majority of moths that spin a protective cocoon, not butterflies. Butterfly larva reach the pupa life stage as a chrysalis. When the development inside is complete, the pupa will split open and the adult will emerge.
Though much is known about butterflies' metamorphosis. It could still be regarded, and rightly so I think, as a miracle of sorts.
Ha, so that was the lesson.
I went hiking today in the chaparral-costal sage scrub of the western foothills of San Diego County. Near Santee. There is a large and quite beautiful park in this sprawling suburban area. A large, quite beautiful, and vitally important park.
"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell" - Edward Abbey (1927-1989)
There is a butterfly that ranges only from a portion of San Diego county and a small part of Northern Baja California, Mexico.
Beautiful and highly sought after by lepidopterists of all persuasions, it is occasionally common at chaparral near stands of "Redberry" (Rhamnus), its One larval hostplant.
It is also disappearing. The chaparral. The Redberry. The butterfly.
Disappearing to "development". Housing. Sprawl. "Progress."
The adult of this insect favors nectering on One particular plant; flowering California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum).

This butterfly has always been scarce it would seem, even back in the '20s. Said early California butterfly enthusiast John A. Comstock, "It will always be a rarity, and may in fact someday become extinct, if San Diego continues to grow at its present rate."
Urbanization, wildfires, and other factors threaten their tenuous existance.
For me, this morning, it was hiking in the foothills; enjoying birds, looking out for butterflies, and breaking in some new boots. I knew this area had Redberry. I was aware that California Buckwheat was in bloom. In fact, it was in bloom all over this particular area.
Hours of carefully glancing at blinding white flowers of buckwheat, and fatigued from the hike, I was nearing the area where I had parked my vehicle.
Nectoring on these flowers for much of my morning had been a couple of species of "Blues". "Blues" are generally erratic flyers, about the size of a nickel to a dime.
As I neared the end of my trek I passed by some small "Blues" erratically flying in a corkscrew pattern up above the gravel path.
One, though similar in size, was of a different color.
I feel very fortunate. Time well spent. I only saw One.
I took a few pictures as well.
Hermes Copper (Lycaena hermes)

© M. W. York

© M. W. York

© M. W. York

© M. W. York

It is my hope that you all had as good a Sunday morning as I had.
I wonder.
Whether on pages or flowers, perhaps we studied the same....thing.. this Sunday morning.
I know I was attentive.


Anonymous said...

ONE word...wow.
Well, maybe ONE more...amen

MWYork said...

All those foothills of flowering CA Buckwheat. All of my hiking up and down. At the very end, when you begin to believe; no, when you are confident certain things aren't for you, won't be..for you, will not have meaning, will not show up in your life..... One. Only and All.

Perhaps there was more to the commentary then trying to make up for a Shrike food cache pic that I liked.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your Sunday morning with us. The commentary and photos bring much to observe and contemplate. I'm glad you were able to view and share the Hermes Copper with us.

Kelly said...

That Hermes Copper is fantastic just in those photos in 2D. I can only imagine it in the context of your Sunday morning adventure. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I like your cache pic too.

MWYork said...


Was it only last summer we were traipsing along the Ashe Juniper-Oak Woodlands?

Thanks for the words, and checking in. Yeah, not a bad bug for my first Lycaena ssp. pic. Now for L. gorgon, L.arota and beyond.

Territories are breaking up all over SCI now. Birds showing up in odd canyons etc. Nesting, and all the busy-ness for birds and biologists associated with it, does seem to go by quickly.

Hope the RCWP's had a good showing this nesting season. I'd love to swing by your corner of the continent to check out the flora and fauna.


Kelly said...

It'd be fun to have you visit. Do you know if the other islands in your area have similar flora and fauna? I realize that Santa Cruz has the special corvid, and I assume your night lizard, among other things, wouldn't likely have San Clemente in their name if they weren't considered endemic to that island. Just curious.

MWYork said...


What a rapid responder I am.

Anyhow, yeah, the Island Night-Lizard occurs only on the CA Channel Islands. I believe the other two islands are San Nicolas and Santa Barbara. It may be SB's only reptile. SCI has two, that includes the Common Side-blotched.

Interesting that the Is. Night-Lizard can live up to ~20 yrs. So I find myself wondering with each lizard I find, (they are only about the size of my index finger), just how old it is. Anyhow I believe only the SCI population of these critters is a recognized ssp.

The Channel Islands also have an endemic subspecies of OCWA, V.c. sordida. SCI has OCWA pretty much yr round, though the numbers thin a bit in the summer, as many apparantly overwinter in Southern CA.

There is a plant, I believe a lotus, that occurs only on SCI yet has a relict population in mountains N. of LA. Former islands themselves?

The other Channel Islands are different, though I have yet to visit them. I plan on hitting S.Cruz and S. Catalina at somepoint. SCI is pretty much desert canyon and high desert grassland. Most of the trees, Island and Coastal Live oak, Prunus, "Ironwood", Toyon, are in the canyon bottoms, certainly along the drainages. There is one Eucalyptus tree closer to "town" on island. Most Navy personnel think its the only tree. This tree actually hosted a breeding pair of White-Shoulder Kites this yr.

The other islands have more vegetation assiociations with trees. Actual woodlands. SCI does not. Santa Cruz Is. also has its own shrike. mtDNA, haplotypes, and other fun that isn't entirely my language can be read in the following abstract:


Anyhow, there is a brief, admitably under-educated, overview of some of the differences in the islands. The other "Large"-ish islands are though of as "nicer". Not so rugged canyon country with angry cholla and cactus spp.

Kelly, I've enjoyed perusing your blog. It's sparked a slight budding interest in paying more attention to herps and amphibians. If I can just walk past the aves and leps.

Hope you two continue to be well.