Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve (4/13/2023)

Today was a long time coming. It’s been forever since I’ve gone Naturing. Wasn’t able to go over the weekend, and I’ve been studying for my second exam! But, today was going to be my weekly day trip day. And while I had plans to go somewhere else, the worse wind forecast for that place had me rethink and change my focus to finding the Pink Star-Tulip.

It was still NOTABLY WINDY in Lucas Valley, but manageable. And easily kept me from overheating in THAT SUN.

My Plan B led me to a Fire Road in Marin County. Loma Alta Fire Road, to be exact. Which is part of the Big Rock Loop route on AllTrails. Now, I’ve seen enough iNat observations on Fire Roads in Marin to very much consider them as destinations at this point. And today proved it to be THE MOST AMAZING PLAN B EVER.

I had uncertain confidence in finding the Pink Star-Tulip. They’re rare (and thus, obscured on iNat), so you can’t necessarily expect to see a patch of them. You have to look through dense grass to find just ONE sometimes. But I set out to do so. And I got SO MUCH MORE than I expected!!

Essentially, it is Wildflower Heaven on that dang Fire Road right now. Ok, it’s not a Super Bloom or anything. I think those things don’t happen so close to civilization. But I was OVERWHELMED at all the flippin’ NATIVE WILDFLOWERS along that road! Yes, many are small or even DAINTY. But to see SO MANY in SO MANY PLACES was a delight I did not anticipate.

Serpentine rocks popped up immediately beneath my feet once I left my car. And just after noticing that, I was bewildered at all the Rosy Sandcrocus everywhere! I hadn’t even passed the official trailhead yet, and it was ALREADY STARTING.

The meadows along Lucas Valley Road were covered with California Buttercups. Which was a relief to confirm when I got close up, as I’d been concerned it was some kind of invasive flower instead. But those BUTTERCUPS. There were BAJILLIONS OF THEM pretty much EVERYWHERE. So wonderful to see they are thriving somewhere!

The list of newtome wildflowers I saw here is long, so instead of relaying my discovery of each and every one I’ll just list them: Fewflower Blue-eyed Mary, Longhorn Seablush, False Babystars, Creamcups, Purplespot Gilia, maybe Bowltube Iris (though, it’s likely Douglas Iris?), and Dwarf Orthocarpus (though, not a wildflower – just newtome).

What was super interesting to me was seeing a newtome flower, stopping to admire it and document it, then continuing to walk on and seeing them take over for a spell. Like each wildflower had ITS SPOT in the meadow. Like there was room for EVERYONE.

Along with ALL OF THAT, there were many familiar faces, like Red Maids and Blue Dicks and Denseflower Indian Paintbrush and Western Blue-eyed Grass and Tomcat Clover and Purple Sanicle and Rusty Popcornflower and Dwarf Checkermallow and Silver Bush Lupine and Miniature Lupine and Henderson’s Shooting Stars and Woodland Strawberry and white Menzies’ Baby Blue Eyes and San Francisco Woodland Star.

Seeing the Dwarf Checkermallow and Lupine made me think that butterflies should be here. If not nowish, soonish?

Just so I’m being transparent here, it’s not like it was a Native Wildflower Wonderland. I mean, it WAS. But there were a number of introduced/invasives, too. Mostly at the road’s edges. Don’t wanna mislead anyone…

Also spooked a good deal of Western Fence Lizards (one of which gave me a look I’ve seen before from Newt Overlord) and some Sparrows I wasn’t able to get a good look at. Some Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures were soaring North of where I was. And a California Scrub-Jay zoomed across the trail at some point. Otherwise, it was quiet, bird-wise.

But at some point on my way up, a Red Admiral whizzed about in the wind and landed on the road. Wasn’t able to get a photo before it caught the wind again and disappeared. But I was elated to see a butterfly! Also saw a pretty moth that might be Mottled Pyrausta Moth? You’d think I’d recognize it as I’ve seen them before, but. Yeah, guess not. I blame the blinding sun.

ALSO, spotted an owl feather on the road. And it looks like a Great Horned Owl feather! Nearby, saw what looked like an owl pellet that had been stomped on. Maybe by a cow? There weren’t many trees there, but some groups of very dense Coast Live Oaks. So…

I was approaching the point where the iNat observation was of the Pink Star-Tulip. I turned a corner, and THERE IT WAS. JUST THE ONE. With another one close-by that was missing half its petals. But that was IT. I had found what I was looking for! And it was a thing of beauty.

It wasn’t right at the ground thankfully, so I was able to enjoy looking at it up-close. Just gorgeous. And like someone drew inside it. And put sparkly silver bits on its anthers.

BUT. It’s supposedly not the Pink Star-Tulip I thought it was. Got home, and all signs point to Oakland Mariposa Lily. Even though when I saw the Oakland Mariposa Lily (confirmed on iNat) in El Cerrito, it didn’t look like this. Like, nowhere near it. But, guess it’s the same! And, in the end, I’m super happy I went anyway as I got to see one with different colors and whatnot, AND I was introduced to one of my all-time favorite CA native wildflower spots.

On my way back down, I caught sight of a Common Checkered-Skipper just chillin’ on some Plantain. And that was a lovely way to end my visit.

Until I spooked maybe the same group of Sparrows again?? One flew into a bush where it waited for me to leave. But I got to kinda sorta see it! Looked like no Sparrow I’d seen before. It had distinct rusty-orange-brown on its head and no streaking on its blouse. Turns out it was a Lark Sparrow! Life Bird for me, woo!

Even though it felt like I spent all dang day there, I ended up having time for another destination before heading home. Ended up going with a newtome place called Camino Alto Open Space Preserve. Which ultimately looks like a large backyard for very wealthy people. Aside from a couple newtome flora, like Solomon’s Plume (maybe?) and Modesty, it was meh. Just a couple samples of native flora, mostly high up above the Fire Road (far from people and dogs and bikes). I would definitely not recommend the Harvey Warne Trail Loop for a variety of reasons. But, now I know.

Finished up my day with indulging in a treat of dinner at Avatar’s Punjabi Burritos in Mill Valley. Which is really how I’d like to end any and every Naturing day in the North Bay. But that incredible wildflower show I got! I stopped SO MANY TIMES while there to just soak in all those colors and ohsohappy flowers in the sunshine. Super special place. Right now.

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