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Coming Up in the Elfin Forest

by Jean Wheeler

Finally lots of rain, and our little wilderness area is looking a whole lot better for it. The shrubs have become a consistently vibrant green. Morro Manzanitas are covered with far more of their gorgeous white and slightly blushing pink little bell flowers than I’ve seen in several years.

The many large buds seen on the Buckbrush Ceanothus in mid January should open to nearly surround the boardwalk with their white to lavender blooms by the time this issue reaches you. Fuchsia-flowering gooseberries are providing Anna’s Hummingbirds with nectar from their long red flower tubes. During the two months covered by this issue, we can expect lots more of our late winter and early spring plants to respond to the return of winter rains by bursting into bloom in a variety of colors.

California Peonies are showing their unusually large lush leaves rising barely a foot or two directly from the soil. The leaves are protected from hot sun by shrubs under which they shelter. Look for them along the 11th street sand trail and near Siena’s View only for a month or so in winter after rains. Adorned by a few drooping red balls of flowers an inch or two in diameter, they remain only for a few weeks; then the entire plants disappear completely for nearly another year.

California Peony
California Peony

The frequent rains of January should also bring on an excellent display of mushrooms, especially in the shelter of our live oak groves. Even in the driest years our annual mushroom walk revealed a few of these special and short-lived plant types. In years with enough rain before that event, we’ve been treated to an amazing variety of these spore-bearing reproductive parts of fungus organisms whose bodies are usually spread throughout the soil below the much smaller fruiting structure we see above ground.

Mushrooms come in an amazing variety of shapes and colors. Some are delightfully edible, but many are deadly poisonous, and it can be very difficult to discern which of those is which. There is even one mushroom we sometimes see on the annual walk in the lower oak groves that is a very appropriate resident of our Elfin Forest—it is called the Fluted Black Elfin Saddle!

There are a number of migratory ducks on the estuary, including American Wigeons, Buffleheads, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and Teal, but the waters are not nearly as crowded with them as they used to be each winter until just the last few years. Periodicals by birding organizations such as Audubon and Cornell Ornithology Lab are suggesting many more birds are not migrating as far south in the last few years in response to global warming, which has raised temperatures in arctic and subarctic climates much more strongly than in middle and lower latitudes.

Virtually all species of water birds and wading birds listed in our Pocket Guide (sold in our “Forest Store” – see button above) are at peak populations for the year between November and March, as are all the raptors listed, and a great many of the passerines. Watch the shrubs around the boardwalk for flitting finches, sparrows, warblers, wrens, phoebes, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and other little brown and little grey birds. The larger thrashers, towhees, scrub jays, quail, blackbirds, and doves can be seen and/or heard regularly. By the end of February and through March into April, we’ll also have the spring migration of birds passing through, and possibly remaining for a few days en route from their winter homes in Central and South America to their summer breeding ranges in our northern states and Canada.

Come for a walk on the wild side in our small wilderness area and watch for what will probably be the finest display of wildflowers our Elfin Forest has enjoyed in a good half dozen years. Listen and look for migratory birds passing through and resident avians as they engage in mating rituals and prepare to raise their 2019 families. Try to catch a glimpse of lizards, rabbits, squirrels, or maybe even a wild coyote.


Please Report Elfin Forest Sightings

Have you observed any unusual birds in the Elfin Forest? Mammals? Reptiles? Amphibians? Insects? Interesting activities or footprints of wildlife in our Elfin Forest? Unusual plants? Taken a good photo?

Please report any interesting sightings to your Oakleaves editors at: oakleaf@elfin-forest.org for inclusion in future issues under “Elfin Forest Sightings.” You can also leave a message on SWAP’s answering machine, (805) 528-0392.