Driscoll Ranch

Pond 6 panorama

I’ve been to this property three times before, but not in three years. In 2010, we led the first public hike to this normally limited-access area to look for amphibians at night. The area around the ponds that we visited were extremely muddy at that time of year. I like to vary the places that we go to for our frog hike, so we haven’t been back there yet. At the suggestion of staff, we thought it would be interesting (and less muddy) to visit in June.

LJ and I scouted the area on 5/22/13, with permit.  The closest weather station says it was about 63F-56F during our time there, not very warm, especially with the wind. The sun was warm enough to make us shed our outer layer though, at least while we were moving.

We started from the lot at 10:55. We noticed a large pair of glasses tied to the gate. My first thought was that someone lost them, but then it occurred to me as one who needs them and slightly amused at the sight,  that they were there for use in seeing the lock.

Gate help

Gate help

After passing through the locked gate, we looked at the plants along the road, and watched the numerous swallows hunting insects. We checked the few cow pies in the middle of the road for insects. One pie had other mammal scat on top of it. There were numerous Common Buckeye butterflies fluttering throughout, and a few checkerspots and others that I didn’t identify.

Plants that stood out to us included chicory, dog fennel, yellow glandweed, flax, bellardia, spiny cocklebur, and California tea and Ithuriel’s spear.

At 11:40 we neared the turn past the kennels, after which we passed through another gate. We didn’t encounter any cattle. Close to noon, we came upon an area that provided tree and shrub cover. About fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the creek and bridge. A Pacific Wren was singing its head off as we examined the alder leaves, which had small galls, tiny orange eggs, and curled leaves from caterpillars. A small black beetle with a bit of green iridescence hung onto a leaf. Perhaps it was an adult of the small larvae that we found.

At 12:45 we turned onto the path to DR06. Green iridescent leaf beetles apparently munched on the large mustard plants. We took in an overview of the pond, and carefully stepped onto the soft substrate. Tiny flying frogs! When the little treefrogs (Pseudacris sierra) hopped, they looked as though the wind was lifting them up. Some were green and some were brown/bronze, or some combination with the dark eye stripe, like little jewels. They don’t change color like a chameleon, but apparently can have dark/light phases to blend in. We watched where we put our feet, trying to avoid the numerous small spiders that also ran over the layer of dead vegetation that covered the drying mud. Some spiders ran across the surface of the water, and a couple of dragonflies patrolled the air. There were some tadpoles in the water, and water boatmen.

We decided to eat lunch first then explore more. As we ate, we watched a tadpole, vertical in the water and still enough to stay in the same spot, except for its mouth. There wasn’t anything obvious on the surface, but it was doing something with its mouth right at the surface, so that we could see the water moving right at that spot. There were 2-3 doing that at different times.

After lunch, we checked under the boards (lifting them from behind with a stick). Under the first board was an orange-striped Santa Cruz garter snake (Thamnophis atratus atratus) 18-24″ long (it was curled, but quickly escaped down a hole).  Three fuzzy caterpillars kept it company under the board. The second board had nothing.  We made our way to the fenced-in side of the pond. The willow along the way held willow sawfly galls. The substrate was softer over there. The third, at the fenced-in side of the pond, only had a large black beetle (probably Eleodes), and the fourth, on the south side, had a large alligator lizard that looked at us, then sauntered slowly into the grass.

We looked at the pond inhabitants again, and another, smaller garter snake flushed into the water. As we looked at the tiny frogs on land, the same garter snake moved ahead of me (it had some sort of injury in the last quarter of its body). It seemed to appear from nowhere, but that may be because I was looking straight down in order to avoid stepping on the frogs. When we paused, the snake became used to us and continued its foraging , occasionally looking at us. A tiny frog sat motionless near it, and it wasn’t detected by the snake. We watched the snake for a long time. It moved its head from side to side as it foraged, sometimes flicking its red tongue out as it did that, and sometimes flicking it when it was not wagging its head. We wondered why it wagged its head. It moved along the cracks in the substrate, sometimes crawling underneath and through shallow holes.

Since I was close to the ground, I noticed a couple of dragonfly molts, exuviae, which had wing pads.

At 2:30 we decided to check out the road, and the path to DR07, a nearby pond. That was the steepest part of our hike, from 750′ to 1100′ in about .4 miles. We took an hour to find the overgrown path, make the climb, and return to the main road. On the hill, a female Common Whitetail dragonfly perched on the ground, and one wild cucumber with spiky fruit.

We stopped at the creek to see whether we could get down to it, but there wasn’t an easy way to do that.

We came across a different wild cucumber with spiky fruits, and a couple of cow pies with dung beetles that quickly buried themselves deeper when exposed to the sun.

We passed through the gate near the kennels at 4:05. Looking at the landscape, we tried to find landmarks. In the previous week, we’d hiked at La Honda and had lunch at the vista point, where we tried to find the ranch houses and large stock ponds. From here, we were looking the wrong direction in hindsight, to the east instead of to the north.

A velvet ant crossed the trail at 4:30. We were also treated to a crisp-looking Chipping Sparrow which sang before it appeared in the road, and a Western Kingbird perched on the fence.

We arrived back at the cars at 4:50 after an interesting day.

The full bird list is here.

More photos are here.