Evening Explorations

Following up on our scouting hike on 5/27, KG, JH and I led 13 participants on a night of exploration at Monte Bello on 6/8. The timing of this hike is a bit tricky; the area that we find our special critters is about two miles in, but they don’t start being active until dark, at least half an hour after sunset. If we stick around long enough, it makes it difficult to get back.

We started off at 6:05. The weather sites had said the temperatures would be low 60’s, but it was cool enough to prompt me to put on another layer plus heavy jacket. It was a bit windy. A raven walked around by the kiosk.

There were more yellow mariposa lilies, and two Western Fence Lizards along the trail, then a flash of blue–a skink ran into the oats and disappeared. We saw only one darkling beetle. A couple of California Quail flushed from the trail ahead of us.

Lazuli Bunting, Song Sparrow, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and a distant Virginia Rail called when we stopped at the sag pond. Seep-spring monkeyflower and Ithuriel’s spear were blooming. We reached the Bella Vista intersection at 6:35.

Proceeding uphill, a mother deer and her young made their way across the hill. We saw two others during the hike.

A turkey print was left in the dust by the big intersection, but we saw no turkeys at 7:00. Pileated Woodpecker called again. We stopped to observe the activity at a harvester ant nest, and saw a White-tailed Kite. There were no mariposa lilies or jewelflowers at the usual spot. We continued to Indian Creek and had dinner at the hairpin turn at 7:51. The elegant clarkia, paintbrush, golden yarrow, and sticky monkey were in bloom.

Sunset was around 8:30. It was still a bit light when we left at 8:37. We stopped to listen a few times, but the owls and poorwill were quiet. A bat fluttered by. Since we had not seen glowworms on our scouting hike, I wasn’t too hopeful that we’d see them, but decided to enlist more eyes.

As we emerged from the woods, a large bird flew over the grassland, probably a Great Horned Owl.

At 9:11, we reached our next stop. Someone spotted a green dot in the dried grass–they didn’t know it yet, but it was a Pink Glowworm (Microphotus angustus). Another was spotted in the trail. Both females were hanging upright in shallow depressions, waiting for  males to find them. These are beetles in the Lampyridae family; the females remain larviform, except for having compound eyes and genital openings. The luminescent organs are located on the ventral side at the posterior end. We also checked in on a Calisoga spider, who cooperated by coming out of her appropriated burrow.

Pink Glowworm (Microphotus angustus), dorsal side. About 10-12mm long.

Pink Glowworm (Microphotus angustus), ventral side

As we moved on,  a Barn Owl called. Under UV, a participant found an inchworm that appeared to fluoresce.

We didn’t have too much time to check the spider turrets and trail bank holes, but we did check the hard spider turret (species unidentified) that we’d found previously; the spider was perched below the opening.

We reached the Bella Vista intersection at 10:00. The Virginia Rail was calling repeatedly. I don’t think we’d heard it the last couple of years, and this was the first time we’d heard it calling at night.

As we headed toward the trailhead, a Barn Owl flew across the canyon while we listened to young owls screech for food.

Other birds heard or seen: Turkey Vulture, Wrentit, Bushtit, Brown Creeper, Spotted Towhee, California Towhee, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Some astronomers were present in the lot when we arrived back at 10:30. It had been cold enough for the car windows to fog up.

On the way down the hill, we passed an opossum on the side of the road.

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