Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter Butterfly Hunt

Well, I have started working with my husband Paul in his consulting business. What we like most about the work is the diversity of tasks. I just had to share my adventure with you because of its uniqueness and matchless modern day adventurism.

There are occasions, before a landowner is allowed to build, that the city or county requires an environmental impact study to protect an endanger species; be it plant or animal. IMEZ, LLC has just such a client. Retiring soon, they want to build their dream home on this land.

Unfortunately for them, the site is a suspected Quino Checkerspot Butterfly habitat. Therefore, an environmental study must be completed by a certified butterfly expert. We were hired as the owner’s agent on the entire project, but our first order of business is to protect the homeowner’s rights in the study.

This subspecies has undergone a relatively rapid decline. In previous years it has been considered an abundant and fairly widespread subspecies occurring widely in coastal sage scrub habitat in southern California and northern Baja California. However, its range is now limited to a few populations in Riverside and San Diego Counties.

The required study involves field inspections at least once a week, at the rate of ten acres per hour for at least five weeks. If an adult butterfly is not spotted during that time period, the study must continue until the end of their “fly” period. To add flavor to this adventure, the job site is also part of the Harris Fire area.

Enter Michael Klein, butterfly specialist, a biologist working with a small business in San Diego. He has been involved with butterflies for more than forty years and has a hopelessly infectious passion for them. He also enjoys watching other insects, especially pollinators and how they interact with the rest of Nature.

Easter produced a beautifully sunny San Diego morning. Paul and I drove down to Jamul for our ten o’clock meeting. Dressed in our hiking gear, we were ready for the two hour trek though the wilderness of the job site. With Michael at the lead, we were careful to stay in his footsteps so as to not disturb any foliage. What transpired was a private tour of our own backyard guided by one of the leading naturalist in the area.

As we hunted the elusive adult Quino Checkerspot Butterfly, Michael lectured non-stop, as he pointed out the different plants and life forms populating the chaparral. I must have snapped over three hundred photographs to memorialize the wonders I experienced.

This photo is of the effects of the Harris Fire. Through the burnt chaparral, just a hint of recovery shows. By the end of our trudge through the scarred countryside, our shoes and clothing were streaked with charcoal lines from contact with the leftover reminders from the Harris Fire.

In October 2007, nine simultaneous fires of varying sizes burned throughout the county requiring the evacuation of 300,000 people and resulting in the loss of more than 1,800 homes and many other structures, 369,600 acres, and nine fire-related deaths. Local firefighting costs in 2007 topped 80 million dollars.

According to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protections, the Harris Fire started October 21, 2007 at approximately 9:23 a.m. It burned 90,440 acres. A total of 253 residential structures, two commercial properties and 293 outbuildings were destroyed. Additionally, twelve residential structures and three outbuildings were damaged.

Forty firefighter injuries were reported. Five civilians died and twenty-one civilians were injured due to this fire. The financial cost of this blaze was calculated at over 21 million dollars.

Miners’ Lettuce is a fleshy an annual herb with slender stems. It was named after the California gold rush miners who ate it to get their vitamin C to fight scurvy. Imagine how thankful the miners were when this plant came up in the spring. The winter has just past and they all have red bleeding gums and loose teeth. Many of them have sores that would not heal. Rejoicing that spring has come, feasting on a salad of miners’ lettuce cured them of those miseries brought on by scurvy.

My personal favorite find was Poison Oak – “leaves three, leave it be.” Poison oak is a common hazard for hikers. The first symptom of poison oak allergy is severe itching, followed by inflammation and blisters – yuck. Isn’t it a pretty leave though?

I have suffered from the aftereffects of Poison Oak contact in the past. Now I know what it looks like, I hope to avoid this irritation.

Signs of Life: I discovered these two ladybugs at the end of our hike. (Yes, there are two in this photo.)
The sevenspotted lady beetle was repeatedly introduced to North America from Europe for the biological control of aphids. In spring, emerging beetles feed on aphids before laying eggs. Females may lay from 200 to more than 1,000 eggs over a one to three month period commencing in spring or early summer. Eggs are usually deposited near prey such as aphids, often in small clusters in protected sites on leaves and stems.

The ladybug sighting was a reassurance to me that the Jamul wilderness was in revival. The post-fire recovery process is influenced by fire intensity, type of habitat, and you guessed it, patterns of rainfall. There is much scientific evidence that most native vegetation will recover on its own. I was encouraged to promote my own responsible environmental citizenship by increasing my knowledge and awareness about environmental fire damage and the recovery processes.

We also saw many species of butterflies. Word of warning, forget trying to photograph a butterfly in flight. I did not get one nice photo of a butterfly. There was an abundance of Painted Ladies, Orange Tips, and California Blues.

However, we did not spot the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly (good news for our client). Nonetheless, the trip educated and heightened our appreciation for the wildlife around our homes and our communities. I cannot believe that we were paid for the privilege.