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.

Came the Rains!

More Mesa’s Vernal Pool … Full at Last

photo by Angela Rauhut (2019)

The southeast corner of More Mesa boasts one of the rarest, and most threatened, of natural communities: a vernal pool.  Vernal pools form as a result of distinctive climate, soil and
topography, and are distinguished by the organisms they host. Many of these organisms are restricted to special habitats that flood temporarily in winter and early spring, then undergo a period of gradual drying and are dry the remainder of the year. Vernal pool plants and animals are adapted to these environmental extremes and as such, are among the most interesting organisms on earth. In winter the pools reach a maximum depth and duration of flooding and support numerous aquatic plants, insects, crustaceans and zooplankton; including rare and endangered species. In addition, amphibians such as Pacific Tree Frogs breed and lay eggs in the pools by the thousands. Vernal pools also provide a winter home for waterfowl during the rainy season.

Moreover, vernal pools are unique in another special way. Because they are isolated from one another and have a life span of only a few months, mutations that occur among a population in one pool are not likely to be dispersed to other populations. And since the number of vernal pools, and vernal pool sites are decreasing, the population associated with any one pool becomes more and more genetically isolated, and therefore unique. In the Santa Barbara coastal region, vernal pools occur at Ellwood Mesa, Isla Vista and UCSB and More Mesa – three distinctive areas.

photo by Donley Olson (2019)

These very special intermittent pools, found in many area of California, were once common to the Central Valley and other parts of the state. However vernal pools have been reduced to less than five percent of their original range, and now represent one of California’s most threatened natural communities. And … we have one of these precious sites here on our very own More Mesa*.

The last time the More Mesa vernal pool contained any appreciable water was in winter of 2011 … eight years ago! That year we had 147% of our annual rainfall. (As of this posting, in 2019, we have received slightly more than 100% of our annual rainfall.) In 2011 we collected samples and transferred them to UCSB’s CCBER (Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration) for analysis. At that time, a plan was conceived to sample the pool periodically, every year, in order to assess the life forms and determine what was happening in our More Mesa vernal pool. And then came the drought! Unhappily, with the drought there was no water, and therefore no sampling. However, we are pleased to report that this year a sampling program is already underway to study the organisms in the More Mesa vernal pool. A UCSB graduate student studying vernal pool restoration is working with CCBER to collect weekly data for water analysis. She also samples for invertebrates and surveys the vegetation. The survey has just started and we will keep you posted on findings.

* Vernal pools occur only where soils are derived from bedrock of shale that produces an accumulation of water above the water table and results in ponding after sufficient rainfall. This situation is different from soil derived from sandstone that allows infiltration of rainfall. Most of More Mesa is underlain by sandstone, so even at More Mesa the opportunity for vernal pools to form is restricted to a small area. To learn even more about these extraordinary habitats, see the Vernal Pool feature on our website.

And More About Water


Water Bars – Along with our long awaited rain, an open area such as More Mesa is likely to get significant trail erosion. However, if you are hiking out on More Mesa this season you will observe many water bars along all the trails. These features were described in detail in an update two years ago and are courtesy of an environmental hero who looks after our tails every time we get significant rainfall. Thank you whoever you are!

Wildflowers – We are already seeing some wildflowers in different areas around More Mesa. Most of them are not natives, but they are still very lovely to look at! If you would like to find out more about flowers on More Mesa, you can peruse our website sections under the “Plants” menu. There you can check out “Photos” of native wildflowers and maybe even identify the ones below. You can also look into how to “Garden With Native Plants” and “Invasive Plants” to help you plan your next native plant garden.

flowers composite
Only a few of the many wildflowers found on More Mesa.

Winter 2017

This Month on More Mesa … Winter birds are here!

The rains have come, grasses are growing, rodents abound and the birds are here! During one recent western More Mesa bird watch, and over a trail length of only 1/3 of a mile, a single observer recorded 25 species of birds in an hour and a half! Among these were several raptors:

Short-eared Owl - photo by Barry Rowan
Short-eared Owl – photo by Barry Rowan
  • White-tailed Kites … our signature bird and a fully protected species. A pair of kites was reported, a fact that bodes well for potential breeding.
  • Short-eared Owls … a pair of this species listed as “Special Concern” was also noted. Theses owls hunt at dusk and are rarely observed. The last sightings of this species were in 2012 and 2013.
  • Burrowing Owl … very small species, also listed as “Special Concern”, and seen only in winter on More Mesa.
  • Northern Harrier … common winter visitor and also of “Special Concern”.
  • Loggerhead Shrike … another smaller raptor seen occasionally, also of “Special Concern”.
  • Kestrel … seen earlier this year as well.
  • Red-tailed Hawk … often seen in trees around Hope Ranch

These are all wonderful birds to watch. Visit More Mesa and experience them first hand!

Ask the President

Q:  I noticed some digging in various areas out on More Mesa. What’s going on?

A:  It’s the rainy season! As you all know, we have been eagerly awaiting the long anticipated rains we so sorely need. And while water is wonderful stuff, especially now, it needs to be kept off the trails. Why … because large volumes of fast flowing water can destroy trails. How can we prevent this? By constructing a “water bar”.

Water Bar on More Mesa Trail
Water Bar on More Mesa Trail

A water bar is a feature that is used to prevent erosion on steep or sloping trails. In the case of More Mesa, water bars are diagonal channels that have been shoveled across most of More Mesa’s major trails. These channels serve two purposes: they slow the speed of flowing water and then divert it into a larger drain basin. By constructing a series of water bars at intervals along a trail, the volume of water flowing down the whole trail is reduced. Without water bars, there is risk of flooding, washouts and accelerated trail degradation.

Now for the mystery of the water bars … Throughout past years some incredibly knowledgeable and caring person has been creating water bars all over More Mesa during the rainy season. MMPC does not know the identity of this person, but we sure would like this environmental hero to raise his or her hand to receive our heartfelt thanks! We owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude for this huge undertaking; and one that has been carried out with such a high degree of sensitivity and caring for More Mesa. THANK YOU!

You Can Help … Reconnect with More Mesa

More Mesa is GREEN!
More Mesa is GREEN!

This month go out onto More Mesa …

  • Look at its many habitats (grasses, trees, wetlands, scrub), the birds, and other people enjoying this magical place.
  • Feel the breeze and the sun on your face.
  • Listen for birds, animals and the sound of the wind.
  • Smell the grasses and the freshness created by rain.


Remembering Lynn

We are deeply saddened to report the recent passing of Lynn Watson, the creative force behind our award winning MMPC website. Since the beginning of 2004, the significant contributions made by Lynn Watson on behalf of the More Mesa Preservation Coalition have had an extremely positive impact on all our efforts. She had been the driving force behind the creation, maintenance and enhancement of our web site; acknowledged by the Santa Barbara community as an outstanding resource, providing both updates on issues concerning More Mesa, and as an excellent source of information on its plants and animals as well. Read more about Lynn here. She will be sadly missed.

December 2011

As another fairly quiet year on More Mesa draws to a close, and as has been our custom, we offer highlights of 2011.

  • Updated Biological Resources Study
    More than eighteen months after field work for the Updated Biological Resources Study was completed, a draft report was issued by Santa Barbara County. The 429 page report, prepared by Rincon Consultants, concludes More Mesa is just as environmentally sensitive as was reported in the original 1981 study by UCSB.  Details of the report can be found here. In general, Rincon found the following:

    • An equivalent assemblage of plants and plant species
    • More bird species.
    • Kite activity on More Mesa is just as important as ever, especially from a regional perspective.
    • Kite prey are abundant.
    • Wetlands persist in the same areas as previously reported, and are more extensive.
  • More Mesa For Sale
    As we have reported for several years, More Mesa remains for sale, with the asking price still at $40 Million.  As far as we know, it has not been sold.  As always, we will keep you informed of any developments in this area.

  • Vernal Pool Feature
    In May of this year we introduced a new “Vernal Pool” feature on our web site here. This feature includes general information on vernal pools (definition, life forms in pools etc.) and some specific details on vernal pools of California, Santa Barbara and More Mesa.

As always, thank you all for your wonderful support, and for loving this very special place.
Our warmest holiday wishes.

More Mesa Native Plants – December
Deerweed Dune Primrose
deerweed beach primrose

Deerweed is a small branching perennial shrub growing to a height of about three to four feet. It is drought tolerant, helps to reduce erosion, and is often one of the first pioneer species after a fire, before it is eventually replaced by other natives. It is found in coastal strand, coastal sage scrub and chaparral below 5000′, from Baja California to Humboldt County.

As a member of the pea family, Deeerweed is able to fix nitrogen. The flowers are typical of the pea family, with yellow flowers that bloom starting from the first rains through August.

The flowers are attractive to many butterflies such as Silvery Blue, Gray Hairstreak, Acmon Blue, Funereal Duskywing, Orange Sulfur, and Bramble Hairstreak (in photo).

Dune or Beach Evening Primrose grows naturally on beach dunes, and thus requires well-drained sandy soils. It is low spreading, with a maximum height of about sixteen inches. It can take both full sun and partial shade, and is drought-tolerant.

Flowering for several months from the first rains to August, it opens during the day, and thrives over a wide range of weather conditions (foggy to sunny). As the blooms die, they turn an attractive orange. The leaves are grayish-green.

This plant grows in the southwest corner of More Mesa where marine sands have been-deposited by the wind creating a “coastal dune scrub habitat” that includes other plants typical of that habitat type.

May 2011

Vernal Pools
With all the emphasis on water in last month’s news, it seemed most appropriate that our web site should include a section devoted entirely to a very special water feature of More Mesa; its vernal pool.  As described in the More Mesa Handbook, as well as in the Draft Updated Biological Resources Study, More Mesa has a rather large vernal pool in the southeast corner near the coast.  Indeed, this pool and every other vernal pool that still exists, are extremely important. Why?  First, because more than 90% of the vernal pools in the state of California have disappeared. And second, the pool at More Mesa is not insignificant.

We are happy to report that we are introducing this special feature this month at this link. Here you will find general information, such as the definition of a vernal pool and what life forms are found in vernal pools; especially those that live nowhere else. These basics are then followed by a few specific details on vernal pools of California, Santa Barbara and More Mesa.  We have also provided two references on vernal pools in Santa Barbara that may be consulted for even more in-depth information.

Finally, in each yearly “winter-spring” season we are hoping to report detailed data on pool size, condition and kinds of plants and animals that are living in the More Mesa Vernal Pool.

vernal pool 1
February 22, 2011: More Mesa vernal pool, SE corner.

vernal pool 2
April 23, 2011: Same More Mesa Vernal pool.

To view a slide show of photos or the vernal pool from this year, click here. By moving the mouse to the area above a photo, click on “Show Info” to display photo titles. To see the photos as thumbnails, click here.