Finding Fords Fantasy - 4/13/02

Mark Walker MWalker at
Mon Apr 15 00:56:58 EDT 2002

On Saturday, April 13th, I headed north from Oceanside with my two children
and a dog to see what we could see.  Thick marine fog is still the
predominant weather over southern California, but the sun has been poking
through earlier in the day and there's nothing but blue sky beyond the first
range of mountains.  We drove over Cajon Pass, with the hi-desert our
principal destination.  The thermometer was pushing 80 F as we crested the
pass and made our way into Victorville.  The day was shaping up quite
Our first stop was chancy - an extended hike into the Granite Mountains to
check on the habitat and see if we might chance upon Ford's Swallowtail
(Papilio indra fordi).  The habitat was actually quite green, considering it
spends 99% of the year void of moisture and new growth.  The hiking is
difficult - boulder hopping and slope scaling with very bad footing - a task
made much more difficult when dragging along a Westhighland White Terrier
(and the little 11-year old girl attached to the other end of the leash).
Chilly, I call her - my daughter, that is.  I've named her after Chilly
Willy, a penguin of movie picture cartoon fame.  Soki is the name of the
dog, though Sake is what you'd choose to drink after spending a few moments
with him.  We've been playing a little game, the dog and I - he escapes
through the back fence at my home and I follow by attempting to build some
new obstacle to his getting out.  He has been winning.  I think I may
finally have won, with the latest purchase of a few wooden stakes
strategically pounded in against the chicken wire that butts against the rod
iron which is reinforced with little green garden fencing - but I'm not
ready to celebrate yet.  We really do love each other, the dog and I, but
I'm always looking for a hungry coyote that I can invite over.
While hiking among the scattered boulders, it is easy to lose yourself with
the thought of amateur lepidopterist Mr. Robert J. Ford meandering his way
into this inhospitable terrain with hopes of perhaps finding something
interesting.  The new swallowtail that he found while up in these mountains
in 1951 is a peculiar critter - right from the ridiculous little parsley
plant that it has chosen to associate itself with.  The thought of this
fragile little plant sustaining a brood of hungry ravenous swallowtail
larvae is astonishing all by itself, but for all that to take place in this
god-forsaken habitat really frosts the cake.  The bug is a subspecies of
indra - similar to several other remarkable indra ssp. that live in unique
desert habitats - but it is also quite unique in appearance and size.  We
saw nothing for about an hour, and I was making my way back down to the
vehicle (having hiked up a good 500 ft.) when I spotted a gorgeous male
making his way uphill.  I was quite pleased to find the swallowtail still on
the wing, and was thrilled when my son reported seeing another from around
the other side of the hill.  The only two we spotted were seen at
approximately the same time (10:30 a.m.).  Both were males.
Later, we found Brephidium exile (Western Pygmy Blue), Chlosyne neumoegeni
(Neumogen's Checkerspot), and Apodemia mormo deserti (Desert Mormon
Metalmark) in this same habitat.  Nothing else was seen on the wing.  We
also checked out the habitat around Lucerne Valley, but found this part of
the desert much drier than the Granite Mountains.  Absolutely no flowers and
much of the plant life was just beginning to turn green.  If you are
planning on heading into the Bighorn Mountains region, I'd suggest waiting a
week or two - the desert looks pretty bad.
On our way home we decided to stop and have a look around the Lytle Creek
area just south of Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County.  The time was
already past 4:00 p.m., but the sun was shining bright and the temperatures
were still in the 80's.  We also wanted to water the dog - and perhaps
forget to put him back into the car (ok, so I'm kidding.  It wouldn't matter
anyway, because at Lytle Creek the first signposts you notice are strict
warnings against pet abandonment - a problem that is apparently rather
serious in this foothill community.  I guess I'm not the only one with the
idea...).  As we drove past the village and into the shooting range area, we
noticed an abundance of nectar sources and leps visibly crossing the road.
We pulled over for a closer look.
This part of the mountain range is enjoying springtime.  There has been
sufficient rainfall, apparently, to green everything up and trigger the
wildflowers.  Lots of blues - Glaucopsyche lygdamus (Silvery Blue), Plebejus
acmon (Acmon Blue), Plebejus lupine (Lupine Blue), and Celastrina ladon echo
(Echo Blue) were quite common.  Anthocharis sara (Sara Orangetip) and Pontia
sisymbrii (Spring White) were present, as was Zerene eurydice (California
Dogface).  We identified Callophrys affinis (Bramble Hairstreak) and
Callophrys augustinus (Brown Elfin), Chlosyne gabbii (Gabbs Checkerspot) and
Thessalia leanira wrighti (Wright's Leanira Checkerspot), and Erynnis brizo
lacustra (Lacustra Duskywing) and Erynnis funeralis (Funereal Duskywing).
Other bugs were present, but were unidentified.  Had we come to this habitat
earlier, we would likely have had a longer list.  If you can get to SoCal
and haven't made your way up into the local foothill regions, the season is
well on its way up there.  Highly recommended.
We continued on home from here, feeling quite pleased to have been able to
spend all day in the hi-desert, follow Robert Ford's footsteps (and
fantasy), and still have time to swing nets like school children in Lytle
Creek.  Alas, the dog made it home, but this was a small price to pay for
such a great day.
Mark Walker
Oceanside, CA
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