Spring came so late this year that it might as well have been a really long winter. But it is warm at last, and More Mesa has presented us with three different mysteries!

Mystery #1: What was actually found in our vernal pool

In our last issue we talked about the More Mesa Vernal Pool finally filling … after 8 long years of drought. Joanna Tang, a graduate student at UCSB, lead the scientific study of our pool with the aid of More Mesa supporter, Angela Rauhut, who took most of the measurements. Joanna has kindly written a synopsis of what she found after 3 months of study.

More Mesa has a vernal pool harboring several locally rare plants and animals that are vernal pool specialists. Even after being dry for 8 years, recent plant and animal surveys have revealed the resiliency of these special vernal pool species. They are adapted to live in aquatic conditions during the winter, reproduce and drop seed as the vernal pool dries out. Then they remain in the dried up pools as seeds and cysts (invertebrate eggs) that can withstand prolonged desiccation — just add water and they come to life!

After this year’s winter rains, several vernal pool specialist plants popped up. There was, appropriately enough, Popcorn Flower, a common vernal pool plant in the area.

Popcorn Flower
Popcorn Flower

However, we also saw Pacific Foxtail and Lemmon’s Canary Grass, small native grasses that are only found in More Mesa and a few other pools near UCSB. Another plant found commonly in the local vernal pools is Coyote Thistle, but More Mesa’s Coyote Thistle has unique leaf and stem forms that may make it a distinct subspecies. Of particular interest, More

Clam Shrimp
Clam Shrimp

Mesa is the only local pool sampled this year that has Clam Shrimp — this little crustacean requires deeper vernal pools that stay filled with water for longer, so the large More Mesa pool is the perfect habitat for it! Other common freshwater invertebrates like Copepods and

Pacific Tree Frog
Pacific Tree Frog

Ostracods were also found in the pool, as well as plenty of tadpoles of Pacific Tree Frogs!

It is so much fun to see the More Mesa pool come to life with so many species this year!

Our many thanks to Joanna and Angela for the data and photographs in this article.

Mystery #2: What’s going on with these big birds chasing one another?

One recent early evening, two of our More Mesa fans were hiking on County owned More Mesa Open Space. They came across one large bird being loudly pursued by 2 or 3 other (perhaps smaller) birds. The pursuers disappeared quickly, but the bigger bird, resolutely and overtly, perched on a nearby tree with a huge portion of food clasped tightly in its talons. Fortunately the hikers managed to capture a photo of the perched bird and asked if it could be identified. The mystery thickened … what species and why the chasing?

Immature Coopers Hawk (Photo by Chris Brehms & Mark Johnson)
Immature Coopers Hawk (Photo by Chris Brehms & Mark Johnson)

After studying a few books and sites, a rank amateur guessed it might be an immature Red Shouldered Hawk, but decided to get some real experts to weigh in. Oddly enough the experts were a little more than puzzled as well. The reason it was puzzling was that the bird in the photo was NOT an adult. It was an immature, meaning its in year 1 of its life. This ruled out the scenario where we would have an adult with food and juveniles chasing it. They might be chasing, but they were chasing an immature bird with prey, either a nest-mate or some other non-related bird. It seems a likely scenario that it was a group of young Cooper’s tussling for the food brought by an adult. However, the experts agreed that there was probably an adult around somewhere

The final verdict? The proud holder of the food was this Immature Coopers Hawk.

Many thanks to Rebecca Coulter, Krista Fahy  and John Storrer for their help, advice and descriptions of what was likely happening.

Mystery #3: Why are the Locks on the Southeastern Gate Gone?

This mystery is not nearly as much fun as the ones above. The locks are gone because they have been stolen.

No private vehicles are allowed on More Mesa because of the potential for disastrous fires. A case in point: Twelve years ago, a fire on More Mesa burned to the edges of Hope Ranch and Vista la Cumbre. It started as a result of sparks from a motorcycle that was illegally being ridden on More Mesa.

July 2007 Fire on More Mesa
July 2007 Fire on More Mesa

At that time the More Mesa Preservation Coalition took on the task of reducing the potential for fire on the eastern side of More Mesa. We collected private funds and obtained permission to finish the fence limiting entry onto More Mesa. After the fence was finished, we placed locks on the fire gate that would allow entry to those agencies that needed to have access to More Mesa.  These included the owner of More Mesa, the Fire Department and the Sheriff. For many years these locks were in place and working well.

Unhappily emergency work by the gas company left the locks untended, and they were stolen. Because the special fire department locks are difficult to obtain, the gate was unlocked for several weeks.  During that time, off-road vehicles and trucks decided to make More Mesa a playground and rode around in the mud after our frequent rain storms. Some of these vehicles got stuck and had to be pulled out by a tow truck. In one instance the tow truck had to be pulled out by a bigger tow truck. IT WAS A MESS!

A new set of locks was installed (several hundred dollars) and were gone the very next day. A third set disappeared in a few weeks. There is apparently a way to destroy any lock and chain … no matter how sturdy they are. Now there are no locks at all.

WE NEED YOUR HELP!! If you use More Mesa, please help to protect it. If you see vehicles illegally out on More Mesa, grab your cell phone and call the Sheriff. When you do this quickly, the Sheriff may get out there and confront the offender. We cannot let this magic place be destroyed by people who think they have a right to ride anywhere and everywhere their vehicles can possibly go. THANK YOU.

Spring 2017

Spring 2017
This Month on More Mesa … Spring

e3f9b1cc-4700-41dc-9a97-bf3cfd9f5661Flowers: The big rains that finally came, while turning the grasses green, have not produced many wildflowers. The problem could be that the rains came too late in the season. However, careful scrutiny will reveal some Blue-eyed Grass … here and there … and some extremely tall Owl Clover. The best show however, is the one along the coast … where the California Bush Flower is in spectacular profusion.

Vernal Pool: Another sign of Spring, our vernal pool, has water in it for the first time since 2011. Unfortunately, the 2017 pool is much smaller than it was in May 2011. Further, the hundreds of frogs that populate the pool in good rain years are nowhere to be found. To learn more about these special places that are fast disappearing from California, see the Vernal Pools feature on our web site.

eeae7284-f788-49dc-b808-8339816833a8Heads Up!: With the rains come some potential hazards. Among these are sinkholes … like the one that appeared after the “big” February rain. It’s right on the edge of the coastal trail. In addition, visitors to More Mesa need to be mindful of the potential for trees toppling in the heavy winds that have been part of our weather pattern of late. Enjoy … but be careful.

The photo below, of a green and lush More Mesa, was captured by John Wiley. (To view more lovely images of our areas see the John and Ann Wiley blog.)



More Mesa has something for everyone …
especially a quiet afternoon for a good book …
and snacks.

Ask the President:

Q: Identification of plants and critters that live on More Mesa is often difficult.

We see lots of interesting birds, plants and insects out there, but we usually forget what they looked like by the time we get home. As a result, we never know exactly what we saw! Any suggestions?

A: Use your smart phone.

Three guides, “Birds”, “Insects” and “Plants” area on our web site and were introduced at the bottom of page 2 in our April 2014 Web News. And, since our web site is mobile friendly, these guides are especially useful when citizen scientists and other visitors to More Mesa are in the field. So … when you are out enjoying lovely More Mesa and see something you want to identify immediately, you have the perfect option.

Grab your smart phone, bring up our web site and look for the appropriate Guide; Birds, Insects or Plants. It works “like a charm”!

Consult our website for more detailed information on how to enjoy More Mesa from a mobile device.

The Past … The rapacious nature of John More, the Monarch of More Mesa.

Although he owned one of the most profitable ranches in the Goleta Valley, John More was hungry for even more wealth. So he decided to lease Santa Rosa Island from his brother Alex, with a plan to raise sheep and sell the wool. Not happy with the lease situation, he then attempted to buy the island from his brother … to no avail. Apparently Alex was as greedy as his younger brother and held fast to the lease arrangement until his death in 1893. Since Alex left no will, John More promptly got himself appointed as “special administrator” of the $800,000 estate … $17.6 Million in today dollars! When a huge family feud erupted about who would inherit Alex’s property, John More took the opportunity afforded by his “administrator” position to transfer all the island’s livestock to the mainland as fast as he could. He then sold it as his own, reaping huge profits from many assets that really did not belong to him. John More was not only a character, but a scoundrel, if not an accomplished crook!

I hope you liked this slightly different format. Let us know what you think about it.

Thanks so much!

Valerie Olson

August 2016

A Tiny Bright Light

In a world dominated by talk of drought, we offer a tiny bright spot … about a lovely native plant; Seacliff Buckwheat. While almost all of our More Mesa native wildflowers bloom in spring, this cliff and dune dwelling plant flowers in the middle of summer, providing nectar to many butterflies and insects. We are happy to report that it has bloomed again this summer; the fifth year of our worst-ever drought and thereby proving that it is truly a “drought resistant” species.


And a Gentle Reminder …

While the drought is extremely distressing for human populations, it is a matter of life or death for wildlife. With little water and dwindling food supplies, animals are emboldened to enter urban spaces in search of food. Because this appears to be happening in our area, we urge you to protect and shelter your pets; especially at night. We also urge you to NEVER feed wild creatures; either directly, or by inadvertently leaving pet food where they can access it. Providing food to wildlife acclimates animals to humans and will eventually result in their demise.

July 2016

Why Collect Seeds Anyway?

Last month we discussed the Coastal California Poppy and how the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER) collects seeds of this native plant on More Mesa. However, in addition to poppies, More Mesa is a very valuable source in the collection of many other important native plants. These include Blue-eyed Grass, Coastal Sage Scrub, Owl’s Clover, Fiesta Flower, Miniature Lupine, Sky Lupine, California Sunflowers and several wetland species.

So what’s all the fuss about native species anyway? As it turns out, native species of plants are genetically suited to the local environment. This means, for example, that in situations where droughts occur, or where humid conditions occur, the natives can “handle” what Mother Nature tosses at them. The flip side of this equation is that non-natives may not be able to prosper or even survive in these situations. For example, in the case of poppies, our native species is able to thrive on Santa Barbara’s foggy coast during “May Mist”, “June Gloom” and whatever other humid condition we live with. However, non-native poppies are prone to powdery mildew and have a much lower probability of thriving.

Nobody wants to live without our lovely, cheery poppy … or any poppy at all! We applaud restoration efforts that are targeted toward removing hybridized versions of our native populations and replacing them with plants from the seeds of natives. To do this, native seeds must be collected, propagated, planted and managed. These are the tasks of the CCBER and other organizations that are committed to preserving our native species and our very special favorite, the Coastal California Poppy.

More, Much More, about Poppies
There is much to say about the California poppy. One botanist from UC Berkeley found 70 different subspecies in different parts of California, each varying slightly from the others. The Jepson Manual, the most current California flora, lumps them all together, because they do cross and mingle characteristics.

It has been so interesting to grow our own form on the coast. As a perennial, it behaves quite differently from the annual inland orange form. The tap root can get immense, as long as two feet, and thick as a baseball bat.

In dry years, it flourishes, and I used to worry that it was too aggressive, eliminating other wildflowers. Then I observed that in wet years, it was substantially knocked back, because it doesn’t like wet feet. Now I just relax, counting on an ebb and flow of the coastal form of the California Poppy, so that it is only one element among many in the garden.

313010695_eae2ac31df_oCoastal California Poppy on More Mesa

June 2016

Coastal California Poppy – Eschscholzia californica var. maritima

robertpoppies2016 ​I ​Madonnari street painting festival – Robert Bernstein – click on image for original.

This past spring More Mesa provided an amazing wildflower show, especially given the severe drought we are experiencing. And when one thinks of wildflowers, one species in particular often comes to mind.  It is the epitome of wildflowers to many Californians and our state flower, the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica. So popular and attractive is the species that numerous cultivated varieties of it now exist, some even developed by the famous horticulturist Luther Burbank.  Its beauty and popularity has led to its widespread introduction around the country and the world; in some areas it has become an invasive species.

The genus is something of a tongue twister, named in honor of J.F. Eschscholtz, the surgeon and entomologist on a Russian exploration ship that visited the California coast in 1816.  But as difficult as many people find the genus of Eschscholzia to pronounce, it seems that getting to know the local coastal poppy has even been harder.

The more diversity a given region has in terms of its micro-climates, soils, and other variables, the greater the likelihood that there are organisms with unique genetic constitutions, that is genotypes, of the native plants that occur there. The Santa Barbara region is rich with such micro-climates and diversity, and those place-specific genotypes are exactly what UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER) restoration staff seek out for use in campus restoration projects.  No, not any plant will do! Unfortunately, obtaining local material is not as simple as placing an order.

To obtain poppy plants for restoration project, CCBER staff ideally tries to collect from within those watersheds that flow into the Devereux and Goleta sloughs.  More broadly, they limit collection to within about 10 miles of campus along the coast, and to within a few hundred feet of elevation above sea level.  Anything within that general distance from UCSB’s natural areas is considered a local genotype. The coastal variety on More Mesa exactly fits the bill!

  • For the text above, we are indebted to CCBER Field Notes on the Coastal California Poppy. To read more about this poppy variety click here.
  • And for the photograph above, we give many thanks to Robert Bernstein, who captured the image of a recent I Madonnari chalk painting also honoring our Coastal Californian Poppy.
lynnpoppyCoastal California Poppy – More Mesa Bluffs

Notes on the California Poppy species, subspecies / genotypes.

  • The Jepson Manual recognizes no subspecies of Eschscholzia californica (link).
  • CalFlora recognizes one subspecies (link): Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana, the Desert California Poppy.
  • The PLANTS database (link) recognizes three subspecies of Eschscholzia californica:
    • Eschscholzia californica ssp. californica, found along the coast from the San Francisco Peninsula north. They are perennial and somewhat prostrate, with yellow flowers.
    • Coastal California Poppy Eschscholzia californica var. maritima, found along the coast from Monterey south to San Miguel Island. They are perennial, long-lived, glaucous, short in stature, prostrate growth with yellow flowers and orange centers.
    • Desert California Poppy Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana, found in the Sonoran Desert.
  • Other species of Eschscholzia. The first two names are also links to maps of the distribution in California. Eschscholzia caespitosa can be identified as having no “collar” under the flower head.
    • Eschscholzia caespitosa (large poppy bank on Figueroa Mountain)
    • Eschscholzia californica (Figueroa Mountain)
    • Eschscholzia glyptosperma
    • Eschscholzia hypecoides
    • Eschscholzia lemmonii
    • Eschscholzia lemmonii subsp. kernensis
    • Eschscholzia lemmonii subsp. lemmonii
    • Eschscholzia lobbii
    • Eschscholzia minutiflora
    • Eschscholzia parishii
    • Eschscholzia ramosa
    • Eschscholzia rhombipetala