Mount Diablo State Park (4/19/2023)

Today I returned to Mount Diablo to find that dang Fairy-Lantern. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I SAID I was ok not to ever see it. But in the end, I didn’t give up. I didn’t surrender.

Just goes to show two things. One, I should’ve done a bit more research into where to look. And two, I should’ve trusted my instincts last time.

I can’t divulge where exactly I saw it. But I returned to the same area as last time. That’s all I can say. That said, I’ll tell you if I know you. And you ask me.

But I returned! And I found the thing I was looking for!! I was very motivated to come back this week, as temperatures appear to be increasing significantly next week… My lovely extended Wintry temps will soon be GONE.

I saw MANY of the familiar flora faces as last time. Turns out I didn’t need to climb up a mountain to see so many! AND, I also saw a total of FOUR butterflies this time. VERY EXCITING.

The first was medium-sized and mostly orange when I first arrived. It never came close to landing, but it was a nice welcome! Later I spotted a super dark brown butterfly that landed on a Blue Dicks for two seconds before furiously rushing off. Duskywing of some kind? And the third looked like an Acmon Blue or Echo Azure, but its back wings were so drabby in comparison. Could’ve been the light, but you could tell there were some pretty colors in there if you were lucky to get the right angle. Western-Tailed-Blue, maybe?

And one Sara Orangetips (I’m pretty sure) that NEVER LANDED for me but kept patrolling and patrolling and patrolling. I hope to someday get a photo of one!

In addition to the butterflies, I saw THREE separate Variable Checkerspot caterpillars! I even PICKED ONE UP to get a good photo of it. Hope that’s ok. It was trying in vain to crawl up on a short blade of grass when I saw it. I had to laugh, watching it do acrobatic maneuvers on that thin blade! Hope it was successful in the end.

That whole area must be Butterfly Heaven with all those tall grasses and wildflowers! If only I could stand the heat out there when it happens.

Also saw a Hermit Thrush hopping about on the trail ahead of me and doing its wingflutterdance. And a Marsh Crane Fly? And a hover bee flylookingthing that I didn’t get a goodenough photo for for an ID. And maybe a Blue Orchard Bee?

It was so nice to see a lot of the same pretty wildflowers as last time. Also saw what looked like Purple Chinese Houses, that I initially thought were Fewflower Blue-eyed Mary. And a tiny fuzzy newtome flower called Q-tips? Is that its real name?? And newtome Yerba Santa. And newtome Pipestem Clematis.

I was in the area where I might see the Mount Diablo Fairy-Lantern. This intel was pretty good. More than just one source. Kept going and going and wondered if it was too early or too late in this particular spot.

AND THEN I SAW IT. One bright yellow orb in the shade on a hillside. Perfect lantern for a fairy! It was under California Sagebrush. And there were about six separate plants that had flowers. And they are SO DARLING. All Globe Lilies are, it seems. It was tough to get good photos since they all seemed to love the shade. And they weren’t so high up after all! A flower after my own heart.

I spent some time with them and then moved on. It seemed for a bit that those were all I’d see, until I ran into a handful that were not so much in shade. And that was a treat, to see them glowing yellow like they do with the sun on them.

I was done with the area, and I felt so good that I’d found it. That they were as charming as the photos I’ve been seeing on iNat. And that I was lucky to find them, since I only saw two spots where they were.

I was thinking about all this as I made my way back via a different trail. And as I was scanning the hillside next to me for flora, THERE IT WAS. AGAIN. AND AGAIN. AND AGAIN! SO MANY! Well, another patch of about seven? And none were under Sagebrush! Here I thought they were threatened because they’d only grow under Sagebrush or something. NOPE!

Kept going, and I literally said out loud as I pointed randomly to my left, “What, are you going to also be HERE?” AND THEY WERE THERE, TOO. It was starting to become hysterically funny to me. They just kept appearing over and over and over again. I got to a point where I looked up and only saw THEM amongst the grasses. I was starting to wonder about this “Threatened” status. But then, they EVENTUALLY stopped appearing. So I guess they are a bit isolated. But, DANG. I was honestly expecting to maybe find ONE OR TWO, given the protection they’re given on iNat. But they kept me chuckling on my walk back.

Heard crickets again. Saw Western Bluebirds and Yellow-rumped Warblers again. And a small bird I didn’t recognize (and sadly, wasn’t able to photograph) giving itself a dirt bath, which entertained me.

It was SUCH a SUCCESS of a day. But I still had time. And hadn’t just climbed a mountain. So I ventured off to the second location on my list for the day. THE SUMMIT.

Ok, I know Mount Diablo is a Mount and all. But, MY GAWD does it take forever to get up there! I must admit that it seemed a perfect time to go. All the Valley Oaks have fresh and glowing yellow-green leaves. California Poppies seemed to be EVERYWHERE. Bright purple Lupine lined a lot of the road. With Western Wallflower brightening up the rocks near the top. I can’t begin to describe what that all looked like when I left during the Golden Hour…

But, DANG. That road was a little scary to drive on! And I’m not even talking about the couple spots where it’s a one-lane road because the edge part crumbled recently! There were many times when I had electricity up my legs from imagining I’d so easily drive off one of the MANY, MANY CLIFFS!!

The spot for Mount Diablo Fairy-Lanterns where my intel was pointing me toward was close to the summit. And close to one of the VERY FEW “Easy” routes on AllTrails on Mount Diablo. So I walked the Mary Bowerman Trail, way up near the very top.

And there were some SCARY PARTS! The boardwalk bit was great. The part where you’ve got Scrub on both sides of you, fantastic. But there is FAR TOO MUCH time spent on a narrow, small rocks trail with ABSOLUTELY NOTHING KEEPING YOU FROM JUST SLIPPING OFF DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. “Easy,” yes. “Terrifying for Anyone with a Fear of Heights,” YES INDEEDY.

Aside from the views, which weren’t amazing as it wasn’t the clearest day today, there were some notable flora finds. Like newtome Brewer’s Rockcress. Some evidence of prior Henderson’s Shooting Stars. Perhaps a yet-to-bloom Western Wallflower? Finally remembered to try and ID the unique Pines up there. Newtome Gray Pine! Some Buckbrush that I fortunately remembered to smell. Which was faint but nice!

And then I was done with that. Didn’t care to go up to where the actual summit was. The unnerving electric legs I was dealing with while on that trail was ENOUGH, THANK YOU. I was ready to come down.

Made a stop at the second intel spot, just in case it wasn’t a terrifying trail. And in case the Fairy-Lanterns were somewhat easy to find. NOPE. Some Rusty Popcornflower and Miniature Lupine, and then the rest of the trail was far too rocky and inclined for me. Ah, well!

So, yeah. I can now say that I’ve been to the actual Mount Diablo of Mount Diablo State Park. And now I never need to do that again. Especially when all the pretty wildflowers are within SUCH an easier reach. And now I know where the super secret ones are!

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