California Natives - Fauna California Natives - Flora Nature Photography

iNaturalist Observations

I am spending much of my time in the field and just outside my door taking photographs of plants, flowers and insects with the occasional bird, reptile and mammal included when our paths intersect.

Doing this kind of work requires patience and focus. I find that I must slow down and concentrate on my subject.

Many times I fail to get a decent photograph. Other times the photographs are good but I am stumped when it comes to the identification of a plant or insect that I have not seen before. Even when I am starting to feel confident, knowledgeable about a species, I sometimes find myself starting over again, or at least second guessing my assumptions of what I thought I knew. Because a creature I thought I knew one day may appear on another day in a novel, for me, context.

For example, I might spot a bee species that I have often recognized without much trouble, but this one is foraging on a flower that suggests a new association (of pollinator to pollinated), or maybe the lighting is unusual, leading to visual or photographic difficulties. Some assumptions are bound to fall away. When that happens, I go back to review the characteristics of a species I thought I knew.

And that is part of the challenge and the reward of focusing on the natural world, it forces me to put one hundred percent of my focus on a living thing, not just glancing at, but really seeing the diversity and splendor of life around me. A key requirement is to see and record with me removed as much as possible. So the project is easiest when I forget where, what, who and why I am. The subject becomes, just for a few moments, the locus for all those conceits, the answer to all those questions.

California Natives - Fauna Nature Photography

Bindweed Turret Bee

I came across a large aggregation of Bindweed Turret bees building their nests on May 28, 2020. I was mountain biking on Albertson Fire Road and was riding back down when I heard the sound of a swarm. The aggregration is located on a section of Albertson Fire Road that runs through National Park Service land. The spot is beyond the intersection with China Flat, but before the climb to the powerline tower.

What seemed like a thousand or more bees were flying, digging and tending to nests in a wide open, level space on either side of the fire road. Some were digging on the road itself, but most were outside of the human traffic zone.

The Bindweed Turret bee, Diadasia bituburculata, is a solitary bee that nests in the ground. Each female digs her own nest and provides sustenance in the form of pollen and nectar packets that she leaves in the nest for the larvae to eat when they hatch.

I encountered a smaller but very active aggregation earlier in the month on the Hidden Meadow trail in Conejo Open Space. Since late May, I have also observed this bee species in the Paramount Ranch area and heard of their presence in several other locations in the Santa Monica Mountains. I was saddened to see that the Paramount Ranch site appeared to be trampled by the time I visited there to see it. A small group of bees was still active and nesting together, but the main aggregation looked like a stampede had come through it.

If you encounter a nesting site, slow down a little and be careful where you step or roll to avoid destroying the nests.

With so many bees flying about, it can be hard to focus. I noticed one bee trying repeatedly to break ground and focused on her and a neighbor, whose nest seemed to be nearly finished. I was careful where I stepped and stood near the middle of the swarm. These bees are not aggressive or territorial. They will sting only if handled or threatened. I can testify that standing near their nests to observe is not perceived by them as an existential threat. In fact, they did not appear to take much notice of my presence at all, except to modify flight trajectories so as not to collide with a large obstacle.

California Natives - Fauna California Natives - Flora Nature Photography

White-lined Sphinx Moth

On a recent hike with a friend, Silvia, we came across a late instar of a White-lined Sphinx (Hyles lineata) caterpillar that was probably looking for another plant to consume followed by a good place to pupate. Silvia nick-named him Gilberto.

The color and markings of this moth’s larvae varies. All the individuals I have seen in the area are black with yellow stripes and orange spots but the larvae can also be green with other markings such as red or orange spots encircled by black. A harmless horn at the back end is always present in this species regardless of coloration.

This video shows our brief encounter with Gilberto and includes some basic information about the White-lined Sphinx moth. Cyclists, hikers and runners in our area (Los Angeles and Ventura counties) have seen (and continue to see) lots of the caterpillars this spring.

A few days after our hike I was bicycling in the Santa Monica Mountains. I stopped to photograph flowers along the side of Decker Canyon road and noticed a White-lined Sphinx larva trying to climb up and repeatedly rolling back down a steep “hill” of loose dirt. I gave it a lift onto a “ledge” among a clump of Parry’s Phacelia before continuing on my ride.

(Parry’s is in a prolific phase of bloom in the mountains right now. Like poppies? Take a look at, but do not tread on, the phacelia.)