A Butterfly Habitat in Angeles National Forest, Hiking Grizzly Flat, June 18, 2017

A Butterfly Habitat in Angeles National Forest, Hiking Grizzly Flat, June 18, 2017

This was an exciting weekend for me.  I experienced for the first time the natural butterfly habit that exists right here in Angeles National Forest.  It was incredible if not a little overwhelming.  Around 8 am we arrived at the trailhead and began our hike.  The weather was already heating up due to the current heatwave, and as we began our ascent up the slope we started to see all the activity.  Along the trail was an abundance of California Buckwheat which is both a host and nectar plant for many different species.  It was covered in different butterflies; Bernardino Blues, Hairstreaks and Chalcedon Checkerspot to name a few.  It was breathtaking seeing so many different butterflies all together in their natural habitat.  After I stopped “ohhh-ing and ahhh-ing” I did my best to get some images.  Photographing butterflies can be a real challenge unless they’re still warming up or they’re preoccupied sipping nectar.  I was so enamored “chasing butterflies” I hardly noticed how hot it was getting in the beating sun on the slope.  I could have stayed up there for hours observing and looking for different species.  It was the most amazing and educational day!  

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A warm morning at Descanso Gardens, June 17, 2017

A warm morning at Descanso Gardens, June 17, 2017

I arrived just after 8 am Saturday morning at Descanso.  I was going to walk to the promenade and into the rose garden since I hadn’t been there in a while, but changed my mind and decided to walk the grassy meadow at the edge of the oaks instead.  I’m glad I changed my path.  I wasn’t there longer then 5 minutes and saw a California Sister warming its wings in the morning sun.  It was a lot warmer then usual this morning and that made it a great time to be able to see some butterflies!  Most of the time I’m in and out before it warms up, and the butterflies are just waking up as I’m leaving.  Today was an exception.  After spending time watching the California Sister, I headed along my usual path up the hill and into the California natives section.  Along the trail I noticed some silk on thistle.  I recently learned that the Painted Lady caterpillar spins silk, so when I stopped to observe, sure enough there was a caterpillar inside.  It’s so exciting now that I’m learning more about butterflies, caterpillars and their natural habitats what I’m able spot.  Before taking an interest in all of this I would have probably walked right by not even noticing.  It was a beautiful sight to see that caterpillar munching away inside the silk backlit by the morning sunshine!  As I continued along my journey I stopped by Cleveland Sage to observe Duskywings.  I didn’t get a photo, as they weren’t still for very long so I just enjoyed watching.  A few feet away I saw a very tattered Cabbage White.  I think this was a male, as it appeared to only have one spot.  Next, I walked down the hill and stopped for a moment by a red fairy duster that I’d walked past a million times never really giving it much attention.  But after learning what a butterfly magnet this plant is and also picking one up for my own garden from the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants, I decided to stop and see what I could observe.  The red fairy duster was full of bees and tiny Marine Blue butterflies about the size of my thumbnail.  There was a lot of activity going on here.  I managed to get a few shots of the little Marine Blues when they were busy nectaring.  By this time it was about 9:30 am and more people were starting to arrive, so I decided it was time to head out.  Nature never ceases to amaze me with how much there is to constantly see and learn about her.  No matter how many times I visit Descanso, no two days are ever the same.  There is always something new to see, to learn and to observe.  Nature is constantly changing.  It was a wonderful morning.

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Angeles National Forest, Charlton Flats to Vetter Mountain & Silver Moccasin Trail

Angeles National Forest, Charlton Flats to Vetter Mountain & Silver Moccasin Trail

Angeles National Forest is practically in my backyard.  I’ve visited a few times in the past, but it wasn’t until recently when I discovered the work of David Horner, a Santa Monica based photographer who specializes in wild butterfly photography (solardarkroom.com) that my interest was piqued.  His California Butterfly Project (over 10 years in the making) includes over 100 species that he photographed in the wild from sea level to 10,000 ft. from the border to Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevada.  I took notice that many of his sightings were located right here in the Angeles National Forest.  About two years ago, I started a butterfly garden, Since then I’ve become somewhat of a butterfly enthusiast mostly observing them in my backyard and on my visits to local public gardens.  When I saw the number of different butterfly species we have here in California on David’s website, I was inspired to revisit Angeles NF not only in the hopes of viewing butterflies in their natural habitats, but also to take advantage of the multitude of hiking trails.  Years ago when I lived in Pennsylvania, I did quite a bit of hiking on solitary trails surrounded by nothing but the birds, the trees, the wildlife and peace and quiet.  But now that I’ve been living in a big city, I didn’t really think too much about what else was available here aside from the overly populated locations such as runyon canyon or hiking up to the Hollywood sign.  This past weekend I recruited my husband as my hiking partner (since you should never hike alone) and we ventured into Angeles NF.  The drive alone up the winding roads offers such spectacular views.  I’d planned ahead and decided our destination would be to hike from Charlton Flats to the top of Vetter Mountain.  As we climbed up the trail, I was able to see first hand some of the damage done by the 2009 Station Fire which burned more than 161,000 acres.  I also noticed lots of poodle dog bush which is a plant that causes skin irritation similar to poison oak if touched.  Much of this was located within the burn area perimeter and as I later learned, it’s usually found in nearly all habitats that have been burned.  Winding up the mountain, the trail was nothing less then spectacular with breathtaking views and wildflowers.  We detoured off the main path to do an out and back trek along the Silver Moccasin trail which traversed upward and down through oak-lined canyons and high ridges.  One day I’d like to take that trial a little further, as I didn’t want to get too side tracked since our goal was to reach the top of Vetter Mountain.  After getting back on the main trail, we continued our journey until we reached the top of the fire lookout at Vetter Mountain.  There we shared friendly conversation with forest rangers who were happy to answer our questions about the location.  These people stand guard daily over our beautiful forest with nothing but a small shelter.  The actual lookout tower was burned in the Station Fire.  I have to give them credit for being up there all day watching out for us with the wind and colder temperatures on the 5,903 ft. sumit.  We then climbed to the top of what remains of the old lookout and stood for a moment to enjoy the 360 degree view of the San Gabriel Mountains.  With mission accomplished, it was time to head back.  Round trip with our Silver Moccasin detour we did about a 7 mile, 2.5 hour hike.  My hope for the day was to possibly photograph at least one wild butterfly.  My wish was granted by a little common branded skipper who I saw fluttering along the trail as we got closer to where we started at Charlton Flats.  It was a great morning and I will definitely be visiting Angeles NF more frequently to take advantage to all that it has to to offer including butterfly sightings and more hiking adventures.

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Wild Flower Hill at the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants, June 10, 2017

Wild Flower Hill at the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants, June 10, 2017

Woke up to a very cloudy morning with some slight drizzle.  I’d already planned on going back to the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants to pick up a few more items for my butterfly garden and also take another trek up Wild Flower Hill.  Along the nature trail all the plants are tagged with their names, so it’s a It’s a great way to learn about them.  After a short hike up the hill, I spent some time in the nursery contemplating what additions to add to my garden.  I came home with a few selections:  red fairy duster, aster chilensis 'point saint george' and verbena lilacina.  I’m sure the butterflies are going to enjoy them!  Here are some images from my short hike today.
 

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Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, June 4, 2017

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, June 4, 2017

This weekend was the weekend to celebrate native plants!  On Sunday, I visited the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.  This garden is the largest largest botanic garden dedicated to California native plants.  It also hosts a butterfly pavilion.  The grounds were full of wildlife activity, the buzzing of bees and the melody of birdsong as I explored the winding paths through desert, chaparral and pine forest.  At 10 am the butterfly pavilion opened up. (Butterflies sleep in until the sun gets warm… smart!)  There I was able to view close up and personal some of the many butterflies of California such as our state’s insect the California dogface.  Here are some of the images from my visit.
 

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Wild Flower Hill & the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants, June 3, 2017

Wild Flower Hill & the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants, June 3, 2017

This past weekend I visited the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants.  It’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and use of California native flora. The Foundation preserves the lifetime work of Theodore Payne who was a horticulturist and conservationist.  He is considered to be the founding father of the native plant movement in California.   
 
At my home I have a garden dedicated to butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.  One of the biggest complaints I’ve had since starting my garden is that it can be difficult to find native plants at the local garden center.  Nowadays plants are bred to be showy.  They look lovely with their double flower heads and sound charming with their fancy names, but these varieties have been cultivated by breeders and you would never find them growing naturally in nature.  Tampering with a native plant can comprise the benefit it has for wildlife.  For example, a flower that has been cultivated with a double flower head will make it difficult or perhaps even impossible for a butterfly or bee to get to the nectar or pollen.  The Foundation was the answer to my problem!  The retail nursery at the Foundation has the largest selection of California native plants in the region. What a better way to sustain my butterflies, bees and hummingbirds then with the beautiful native California flora!  
 
After perusing the nursery and purchasing some great additions for my garden.  I made my way up Wild Flower Hill.  You can gain access to this ¾ mile nature trail from the nursery.  The trail takes you on a journey through the common plants we have here in our area, and it is also home to an abundance of wildlife and birds.  Here are some of the images from my trek.  
 

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The California Natives Garden, Descanso Gardens, June 3, 2017

The California Natives Garden, Descanso Gardens, June 3, 2017

Spring and Summer are my favorite time of year to explore the California Native section of Descanso Gardens.  This garden was designed by Theodore Payne, an English horticulturist, landscape designer and botanist.  The California Natives Garden hosts the majestic Matilija poppies as well as sticky monkey flowers, sacred datura, California poppies, woolly blue curls, California buckwheat, and Cleveland sage just to name a few.  There is always something new to learn and discover here.

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Turtle Encounters and a Monarch Waystation at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, May 20, 2017

Turtle Encounters and a Monarch Waystation at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, May 20, 2017

This weekend I visited the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.  My favorite part is their abundant herb garden which also serves as a pollinator habitat.  Each time I visit I'm in awe of all the hummingbirds, bees and butterflies I see.  It also hosts an impressive display of scented pelargoniums.  You can imagine the wonderful fragrance walking through.  On my walk today I came upon a turtle warming himself in the morning sun.  It's not often I come upon a turtle and lucky for me, he was content to continue enjoying the sunshine while I snapped a few photos.  

I was also super excited to see that one of the butterfly hubs is now an official Monarch Waystation!  Monarch Waystations are places that provide the necessary resources to help sustain the monarch butterfly population.  I have a butterfly garden of my own and so it's was very inspiring.

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The eve of Beltane, Descanso Gardens, April 30, 2017

The eve of Beltane, Descanso Gardens, April 30, 2017

Tomorrow is Beltane and we are now about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.  I was missing the desert, so I took a little walk around the cacti in the California Natives section.  The Desert Marigolds were blooming and also the Sacred Datura which I saw a lot of in Joshua Tree last weekend.  The California Poppies and some wildflowers are still blooming and now the matilija poppies have started to open.  There is a lot of wildlife out and about, and I took a few photos of this squirrel enjoying some breakfast in the sun.

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Joshua Tree National Park, April 23 & 24, 2017

Joshua Tree National Park, April 23 & 24, 2017

I’ve been enamoured with the desert ever since the first time I saw it back in 2010.  I’ve been there in summer, fall and winter, but never had the opportunity to experience it in the spring.  After our last visit in January, I planned ahead and booked our room right away because I wanted to experience my first wildflower bloom in the desert.  The weekend finally arrived and my husband and I headed back to Joshua Tree.  After checking into the Campbell House, our favorite bed and breakfast in Twentynine Palms, we headed into the park through the North Entrance.  As soon as we began our drive up Utah Trail and onto Park Blvd., I began to see the blooms.  I could hardly contain myself!  Flowers everywhere!  We pulled the car over just barely a mile into the park, and as soon as I stepped out, I immediately saw some beautiful white-lined sphinx moth caterpillars munching away on the desert wildflowers.  The entire park was a flutter with butterflies; swallowtails, cabbage whites, checker whites and a number of others that I couldn’t identify.  I’d never seen the desert look so green before.  There was so much to see and it was so full of life!  We spent the whole day in the park sightseeing and hiking the trails.  

That afternoon we had an early dinner around 5 pm.  I knew the sun would be setting around 7 and I wanted to capture some of that gorgeous desert light.  We headed back into the park and decided to stop at Ryan Mountain to watch the show.  As we walked along the trail, white-lined sphinx moths were everywhere nectaring on the wildflowers.  Every time I stood still to take a picture, I could hear their wings fluttering close to my ear. I loved watching them buzzing from flower to flower feeding on the nectar.  As the sun went down, I took some photos of the amazing colors with a backdrop of rock formations and Joshua Trees.  We then headed to the Hidden Valley Trailhead near Intersection rock.  It was getting dark now, but it was just light enough to capture the beautiful yellows and blues.  In the sky, Jupiter, Venus and a waning crescent moon were visible.  After some photos of the Joshua Trees, we headed back to Park Blvd and drove until we found a quiet turnout where we could park the car, look up into the sky and get lost in the deep sea of a million stars.  I am captivated every time I see it.  Looking up into the stars with the soft desert wind is just one of those things you have to experience for yourself.  

After we had taken in the night sky, we headed back to our cottage to spend some time enjoying the cozy accommodations.  Usually, when I stay at Campbell House I sleep more soundly then I ever do at home; however, this time I was too excited.  I checked my star finder app to find out what time Sagittarius would be visible in the sky.  Sagittarius is in the core of the Milky Way and I wanted to see when it would be above the horizon so I could try and get a photo.  At 3:20 am, I woke up without an alarm, ran outside in pajamas, looked up in the sky and behold there was the Milky Way!  I get super excited about these things so of course I had to wake up my poor husband who was sound asleep to come look.  Besides the spectacular Milky Way, we were also able to see some of the Lyrid meteor shower.  A few big fireballs passed through the sky as we star gazed in the early morning hours.  

Obviously after all this excitement I could not possibly go back to sleep.  So I hopped in the shower, got dressed and out we went back into the desert to watch the magnificent sunrise from Skull Rock.  There is nothing quite like the experience of seeing the sun coming up in the desert.  The colors are out of this world and it’s simply magical!  We spent a few hours enjoying the views and taking photos before heading back to our cottage for a nap and some breakfast.

After a delicious breakfast as only the Campbell House can do, we relaxed on the back porch before the drive home.  There were a lot of doves nesting on the grounds so their cooing coupled with the sound of the desert wind was very soothing.  I didn’t want to leave.  It's always so hard!  On the way back we took Park Blvd. through the park one last time, and I took a few more photos as we headed out to highway 62.  We’ll be back again in June, and I’m hoping to try my hand at star photography and maybe even get another, even better shot of that gorgeous magical Milky Way!

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Spending time with Wildflowers at Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, April 16, 2017

Spending time with Wildflowers at Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, April 16, 2017

What can be more beautiful then gazing into a field of wildflowers; a myriad of colors, shapes and as I like to describe it, “harmonious chaos”.  Wildflowers can be found anywhere from cracks in the pavement to deep within the forest to the blazing hot desert, all surviving without the help of human beings.  In California people travel for miles each year just to see the California poppy reserves.  We flock to our deserts in the spring to experience the hypnotic beauty of our native desert wildflowers.  I had the opportunity to experience the wildflowers here locally at the Crescent Farm at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.  They have created a beautiful meadow bursting with colorful native wildflowers.  Spending time in quiet contemplation with wildflowers is a transcendent and uplifting experience.  You can’t help but feel their rejuvenating, energetic vibrations.  Here are some photos from my experience this past weekend.
 

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Deer as Totem Animal, Descanso Gardens, April 8, 2016

Deer as Totem Animal, Descanso Gardens, April 8, 2016

Deer are a symbol of grace, gentleness, love and kindness.  They are a significant part of mythology and folklore.  According to Ina Woolcott, Shamanic Journey, “When a deer totem enters your world, a new innocence and freshness is about to be awakened. New adventures are just around the corner and there will be an opportunity to express the gentle love that will open new doors for you.”  I see many deer in my early morning walks at Descanso.  I always enjoy stopping to watch them graze and walk along the hillside.
 

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Rainbows and faeries, Descanso Gardens, April 2, 2017

Rainbows and faeries, Descanso Gardens, April 2, 2017

We are now in the month of April and Beltane (May day) is fast approaching. Opposite of Samhain when we honor the spirits of the dead, we now celebrate the living; plants, animals and all the new life springtime has set into motion.   The veils between worlds are at their thinnest, and if you look carefully, you might just catch a glimpse of the fae frolicking about the ferns or dancing atop the forget me nots.  Believe what you will, but this time of year my camera lens captures some very interesting light; rainbows, colorful orbs.  Could it be the fae, nature spirits?  I’ll leave it up to you.  

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Descanso Gardens, March 26, 2017

Descanso Gardens, March 26, 2017

Springtime is always such a magical time of year.  There is an explosion of blooming flowers, the trees are heavy with blossoms and everywhere you look it’s a kaleidoscope of color.  Mother earth has awakened!  We’re now moving into a time when the sun begins to dominate the long, dark days of winter, and there is a promise of light.  The warm summer days are soon to come.


Even if you are not a believer in magic, it’s almost impossible not to feel the enchantment of this extraordinary time.  Walking through nature, your senses are overwhelmed by everything from birdsong, to soft wind through the oaks, to the fast flutter of hummingbird wings and the smell of fresh flowers and morning dew.  One cannot help but be bewitched by this marvelous time of  year.

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