Summer Solstice a Second Spring for LA Coast

Acmon Blue butterfly nectaring on Dune Buckwheat
Summer Solstice is here.   But it’s really second spring on the Los Angeles coast. The first spring comes soon after the rains of our winter downpours. Sometimes it’s February, March or even April when brown grasses and golden fields green up, and brilliant wildflowers – yellow, purple and white - sprout everywhere.

The first comes soon after the rains of our winter downpours. Sometimes it’s February, March or even April when brown grasses and golden fields green up, and brilliant wildflowers – yellow, purple and white - sprout everywhere.

Most of the flowers are non-natives, but few can deny the beauty of lavender-white Wild Radish joining the yellow Mustard for a symphony of color along Culver, Jefferson and Lincoln Boulevards.

Now – at the beginning of the summer season – the non-native annuals are turning brown and seeding, to rest until next year’s rains awaken them. But the natives are in their prime. Walking to the office this morning I noticed abundant yellow flowers bordering the lagoon. 

Lemon yellow Marsh Daisy is abloom, with solid pincushion middle -- petals reaching out in four directions attracting buzzing native bees.  California Horn Snails dot the mud as tidewaters subside.  These animals can survive only in an area with exactly the saltiness of lagoon waters – not in the saltier ocean water just a hundred steps away, or even in fresher water of Ballona Creek east of the Culver/Jefferson split.

Along the water’s edge at Grand Canal Lagoon, Del Rey Lagoon, Ballona Lagoon Marine Preserve and the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, emerald-green Pickleplant succulents are lush.  Saltgrass feathers through the spaces near the Pickleplant and Marsh Daisy.  

Alkali Heath plants show off tiny pink flowers and orange saltmarsh dodder, with angel hair spaghetti-like tendrils, wind their way around the fleshy Jaumea leaves.   Isocoma menziesii – Coast Goldenbush pops up everywhere – with each plant’s six or seven stalks of leaves pointing skyward.
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Blue butterflies are visiting native plants.  Pygmy Blue, smallest Los Angeles area butterfly (about the size of my littlest fingernail) has just emerged from the cocoon.  Pygmy Blues favor Suaeda, a blue-green succulent known as Sea Lite to most botanists. The plant will be re-introducted to Chrissy Field near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, so National Park Service restoration naturalists gave it a new, more attractive name: Sea Lite

The Acmon Blue Butterfly will soon appear, lighting on Dune Buckwheat’s ivory –pink flowers. Last year, I was certain this Acmon Blue was the endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly, arriving at Ballona Institute’s newly planted restoration site at the Ballona Wetlands’ Grand Canal Lagoon.

Why?  It was nectaring on the Dune Buckwheat and seemed similar in size. The El Segundo Blue is hanging on in a few locations along the coastline of Los Angeles and Torrance.   But biologists and naturalists soon set me straight on the subtle distinctions.

As the foggy June mornings begin to lift, revealing Southern California’s famous sunshine-painted skies, the bird scene remains relatively quiet except for year-round residents like the Great Blue Heron and Snowy Egret, or regular summer visitors like the California Least Tern.

Egrets and herons are in various stages of fledging from nests in expanding marina rookeries.  And you can see Snowy Egret chicks in tree nests at Yvonne B. Burke Park, directly across the street from the Ritz Carlton Hotel entrance.

Juvenile Great Blue Herons, identified by head feathers that have not yet turned white, regularly are seen hunting in land near the wetlands as they look for small mammals to eat.
 
Summer is here.  The signs are everywhere.