July 2015

An irritating reminder … Yet another manifestation of the drought concerns poison oak; harbinger of itchy rashes. If you have been out on More Mesa you may have noticed that our abundant poison oak populations have come up in profusion this year, and in spite of little water. And you may also be aware that poison oak being deciduous, its leaves normally turn red and die in the fall. However in this fourth year of the drought, the leaves began to turn red in mid June and are already dropping. Because poison oak branches and stems are as dangerous as the leaves, but harder to notice without their famous “Leaves of three, let them be” reminder, all who visit More Mesa need to exercise special caution much earlier in the season … like now!

Poison oak can grow in several forms; in open sunlight as a dense shrub, or in shaded areas as a ground or climbing vine. The three leaflets have scalloped edges, resembling (slightly) the leaves of a true oak and can be bronze, bright green, yellow-green or reddish depending on the season. If you have inadvertently wandered into poison oak:

  • Remove your clothes as soon as possible
  • Wipe the suspect area with alcohol
  • Wash all exposed areas with cool running water. Use soap and water if possible … be sure to clean under fingernails
  • Wash clothing and all objects that came into contact with the plants
  • Bathe pets exposed to the plants.
Climbing Poison Oak in Spring
More Mesa Poison Oak in June
Poison Oak stems and fruit after the leaves have fallen
Poison Oak fruit

June 2015

Lots of Special Birds

A wide area of More Mesa has been surveyed within the last few days. We are most happy to report that 34 different species were identified during this one survey. Among them were two raptors, a Peregrine Falcon and a Cooper’s Hawk. Also of very special interest were eight singing Grasshopper Sparrows and five Blue Grosbeaks. Moreover we are most pleased to relate that fledglings of these two species were observed as well!

We are indebted to Mark Holmgren for this extensive report, the details of which can be found at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S23709737

And, they are still with us … a kite was reported hunting on the west side of More Mesa on May 31!

Locations of Grasshopper Sparrow and Blue Grosbeak sightings.

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Grasshopper Sparrows

May 2015

A Cautionary Tale

In our Monthly News for October of last year we talked about the distinct difference between the cliffs of More Mesa on the east side and those of the west side.  In that issue we emphasized the danger involved in the steep, unstable and unpredictable west side cliffs of More Mesa, those consisting of the Santa Barbara Formation. By way of contrast, we described the eastern cliffs, of Monterey Shale, as a very old clay formation that erodes slowly and has a gentler sloping grade. Soon after that October report we noticed a sizable rock fall … and this one was on the eastern side !

Photo Courtesy of Ditte Wolff

And just a few days ago, another slide (estimated to be 30 feet by 50 feet and about 4 feet high) came tumbling down from the eastern cliffs below Hope Ranch. The photographer who captured the image below (Glenn Avolio) estimated that the fall contained at least a million pounds of rock.

Moral of the Story:  While the western cliffs may be younger and more treacherous than the eastern cliffs, do not discount the eastern cliffs.  They are also extremely dangerous!

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Avoilo

April 2015

On the bright side … Although the drought has increasingly occupied our awareness over the past three years, there are a few bright lights to mention on More Mesa this month. In a previous issue this year we talked about various wildflowers that have been seen … not in great abundance, but they are around, and they are still around. For example, on one recent “magic” weekend, and much to our surprise, we recorded not only Blue-eyed Grass, Sky Lupine, California Brittlebush, Coastal Poppy and Coast Morning Glory, but also some aggregations of Owl’s Clover, a comparatively rare species for More Mesa. (To view all of More Mesa’s wildflowers click here.)

In addition, and on that same weekend, More Mesa opened yet another of its treasure chests; one filled with butterflies. We were delighted by six different butterfly species; including one that had never been observed on More Mesa before; the Funereal Dusky Skipper. Although some of those seen (Dainty Sulphur, Anise Swallowtail and Lorquin’s Admiral) were in relatively small numbers, there were hundreds of Common Buckeyes and Northern White Skippers. (To view More Mesa’s butterfly treasures click here.)


March 2015

The White-tailed Kite, MMPC’s signature bird, is a “California Bird Species of Special Concern”. It has been given this designation because the White-tailed Kite was once at risk of disappearing, and is currently found in few places in California; one important area being the Goleta Valley. And within the Goleta Valley, More Mesa is one of the most prolific with regard to kite breeding and nesting. This is because it provides a bountiful habitat for many of these beautiful raptors.

Research has shown that a nesting pair of kites requires 150 acres of grassland to produce a clutch of healthy chicks. However More Mesa’s 265 acres routinely support more than a single pair. In fact in most “average” rain years, we have the largest number of nesting pairs in the entire Goleta Valley. Kite data gathered over more than 20 years shows that it is very common to have two nesting pairs, often three nesting pairs and in one incredible year, four nesting pairs!  When water is plentiful, the grasses grow, the rodent population has plenty of seeds and the kites then have ample prey to feed their young. In especially prolific years, we often have double clutching at one or more nests, and have even recorded up to 12 chicks in a given year!

Not even the lowest of these chick counts has been seen for the past three drought-years. For example, last year not a single chick was observed and only one lone pair of kites appeared to be living on More Mesa. However, there is some hope for this year. We have had a report of a pair of kites on the west side of More Mesa living on a nest site, guarding that site and also rearranging its nest material. We will keep you posted as the “courting season” progresses.

To learn more about kites, see:

Four chicks at the central nest in 2003, when there were four nesting sites on More Mesa.