Fall in the foothills

The foothills of the coast range of Northern California are colored green and gold, but are so dry right now, they look like they might combust at any moment. With rain relief still several months away, it is a challenge to survive here.

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The creeks are dry, the vegetation is crispy, flowering plants are in short supply, even the grasshoppers have deserted these drying hillsides, but a few species hang on.

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Western fence lizards were actually numerous, sunning themselves on the trail, waiting for some unlucky insect to stroll by. There is an inverse relationship between incidence of Lyme disease and the number of fence lizards in an area. Apparently, ticks that carry the Lyme disease causing bacterium are cleansed of their parasite by some factor in the lizard’s blood, and these lizards are a favorite target of the ticks.

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Acmon blue butterfly, which looks like our eastern tailed Blue, thrives in dry, weedy, desert and prairie landscapes. This male hovered over the few remaining flowers of a shrub on the hillside before fluttering off to look for food or females. The caterpillars of this species have a mutualistic relationship with ants, who protect them from predation in return for a little honeydew excretion.

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California Towhees were hiding in the shade during the midday heat. This is the signature avian species of the California chaparral community, easily recognized by its uniform brown color, longish tail, and peculiar “double-scratch” foraging tactic. When feeding among dry leaves, towhees lunge forward and quickly hop backward to uncover seeds or insects hiding in the litter. They build their nests in dense thickets of poison oak, which would certainly keep me from bothering their eggs and chicks!

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