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Nature foretells the coming holiday season

Posted: November 18th, 2016 | Columns, Featured, Mission Trails - Trail Guide | No Comments

By Audrey F. Baker

The Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), a pond fairy of the still waters of Mission Trails Regional Park, has a wingspan of 48–50 mm. In California, males display a mostly pruinose sky-blue thorax and abdomen, and a distinctive white face with a black spot and jade-green eyes.

Unlike the robust and longer-winged, black-eyed Western Pondhawk perching on or near the ground, the province of the Blue Pirate’s range includes twigs and branches above ground level and extends into tree canopies, where Blue Dashers poise as ornaments, with downward dropping wings. Their flight period (April to November) locally extends a few days into December, foretelling of the winter holidays to come.

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Blue Dashers can be found in Mission Trails Regional Park from April into early December. (Photo by David Cooksy)

Delicate appearance aside, their ability to tolerate low oxygen levels rank Blue Dashers as North America’s most abundant Odonata species.

This aggressive predator daily consumes insect volume over 10 percent of its body weight, and establishes and defends in a single day, multiple territories, including feeding sites. Females deposit 300 to 700 eggs in 35 seconds, under the males’ protective eyes.

Our MTRP Trail Guide walks are an opportunity to learn more about natural Southern California, with its unique landscapes, habitats, local history, plant and animal life. The walks are free, interesting, fact-filled, and geared to all ages and interests. Grab sturdy shoes, that comfortable hat, water bottle and sunscreen and hit the trail!

Morning walks are offered every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, 9:30 to 11 a.m. from the Visitor and Interpretive Center, 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Carlos. Walks beginning from the Kumeyaay Lake Campground Entry Station, 2 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Carlos-Santee border, give a different perspective of the park and its diverse habitats. These walks are offered from 8:30 to 10 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, and take in historic Old Mission Dam. We meet by the flag poles.

Wildlife Tracking reveals the secret lives of lesser-seen park animals, bringing insight into their survival techniques and habits. Mission Trails Tracking Team members assist in identifying and interpreting tracks, scat, bedlays and habitats. Wear long pants for two hours of close-up observation dirt-time fun. 8:30 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 3 in front of the Visitor Center.

Discovery Table: MTRP Lizards enhances your knowledge of the various lizard species populating the park. Step up to our hands-on science table in the Visitor Center lobby Saturday, Dec. 10 between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Gain insight into reptile lifestyles, engage with Trail Guides, and try your skills at matching each lizard with its identity clues.

Winter Birding at Murray with MTRP Birding Guides Jean Raimond and Millie Basden explores the world of both resident and migratory water species, and land species that populate sage and chaparral. The Tri-colored Blackbird, found year round only in California, is on our possible sightings list. Binoculars and bird book are recommended. Join us Saturday, Dec. 17, 8–10 a.m. Meet on Lake Murray’s north side, Murray Park Drive and Belle Glade Avenue, parking on dirt lot by ballfield, San Carlos.

Star Party Marvels is an evening of winter skies exploration. MTRP Resident Star Gazer George Varga tells us with a moon rising at after-party hours, light pollution will be reduced, strengthening views of Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and companion M32. He’ll also scope Pleiades (Seven Sisters), Double Cluster in Perseus and numerous open clusters across the sky. Rain/fog cancels. Join us between 5–8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17. Meet at the far end of the Kumeyaay Campground Day Use Parking Lot.

Winter Solstice Hike is an unparalleled visit to a Kumeyaay spiritual site to observe the phenomenon of rising sun rays visually split in half by distant Lyon’s Peak boulders. Wear solid shoes, bundle up, and bring your flashlight for a memorable predawn MTRP Trail Guide-led walk up Cowles Mountain. Tuesday, Dec. 21 or Thursday, Dec. 22, 6–8 a.m. Meet at Cowles Mountain trail head (south of the comfort station), Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road, San Carlos.

La Mesa Walk ‘n Talk combines ambling scenic shores with your MTRP Trail Guide after a brief chat on the topic, “Winter Solstice and Holiday Plants.” Learn about iconic California native holiday flora, and ancient Winter Solstice ceremonies practiced by the Kumeyaay Indians. 9–10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 20. Meet at the boat docks, Lake Murray, 5540 Kiowa Drive, La Mesa.

Meanwhile, come out and enjoy the park!

—Audrey F. Baker is trail guide at Mission Trails Park. Reach her at aud1baker@gmail.com. Visit mtrp.org for information and events calendar, or call 619-668-3281. Special walks can be arranged for any club, group, business or school by contacting Ranger Chris Axtmann at 619-668-2746 or at caxtmann@mtrp.org.

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