The patterned colors of a mountain kingsnake are hard to miss. The snake’s white-black-red-black-white triads attract attention in just about any habitat. (The amount of red can vary in an individual as well as subgroup.)
Traditionally California mountain kingsnakes (Lampropeltis zonata) have been grouped into several subspecies according to subtle and variable pattern characteristics.
The kingsnake in the title photograph appears to belong to the San Diego mountain kingsnake pattern class (Lampropeltis zonata pulchra). The broken white ring on the head is common in this subgroup in the Santa Monica Mountains.
This mountain kingsnake, photographed on Pleasant View Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains, likely belongs to the San Bernardino mountain kingsnake pattern class, Lampropeltis zonata parvirubra.
Study of California mountain kingsnakes’ mitochondrial DNA (E. A. Myers, et. al., 2013) conservatively supports separate northern and southern species and potentially two lineages within the southern group.
Mountain kingsnakes aren’t the only kingsnake found in the Los Angeles area. This California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae) was photographed at Ahmanson Ranch a couple of weeks ago. When I approached the snake, it immediately became defensive and started rapidly vibrating its tail. This behavior is often described as mimicking a rattlesnake, but could also predate the development of rattles in rattlesnakes.
Although we are still experiencing a record-breaking drought, this rain season did provide a little short term relief to plants and wildlife. Compared to last year rainfall is up 27% at Los Angeles, 39% at Santa Barbara, 57% at LAX and 63% at Camarillo/Oxnard according to NWS data.
The increase in rainy season precipitation dramatically increased plant growth, the abundance of wildflowers, and temporarily increased the availability of key resources to wildlife.
Another thing it seems to have increased is the number of rattlesnakes. Over the past two years I have seen maybe two rattlesnakes total on my runs in the Santa Monica Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, and in the Big Bear area and on San Gorgonio Mountain. In the Ahmanson Ranch – Cheeseboro area I’ve seen none.
With the increase in rainfall this season that has changed. The title photo was taken on the Leona Divide 50/50 course March 28. That day I encountered two rattlesnakes and talked to a runner that had seen three on the course the previous weekend. From March 26 to April 2 I encountered rattlesnakes on three out of four runs. Two of those were at Ahmanson and it seemed everyone I talked to on the trail was seeing rattlesnakes.
There has also been an increase in the number of encounters with non-venomous snakes as well. I’ve seen a number of gopher snakes and a California striped racer. Friends have mentioned seeing a ring-necked snake and California kingsnake.
Since the weather has cooled I haven’t encountered any rattlesnakes, but have seen their tracks. When I run, especially on single-track trails, my snake radar is on and I’m definitely on the lookout for the hard-to-see beasts.
With this year’s El Nino developing in fits and starts and drought-plagued California clinging to hopes of an above average snowpack, a little September snow is a big deal, even if it’s just a dusting.
The first low pressure system of Fall resulted in significant rain in many areas of Central and Northern California, with amounts falling off quickly to the south. According to the NWS, Redding recorded over 3 inches of rain; Red Bluff nearly 2.5 inches; South Lake Tahoe 1.8 inches; Downtown Sacramento and San Francisco both recorded about 0.5 inch.
For a rain-starved, heat-desiccated Southern Californian it was great to get out and play in the snow. I had a window of about three hours to do a run and the run/hike up San Joaquin Ridge from Minaret Summit was superb!
Running ahead of me at a brisk pace, Brett suddenly stopped and turned, gesturing for me to slow and be quiet. On the shaded trail ahead I could see something large and brown hunched over on the trail. It took a moment to realize that it was a big male turkey in full regalia.
We were on Mt. Tamalpais, and about a half-mile into an afternoon run from the Bootjack parking area in Mt. Tamalpais State Park. This scenic loop was the first of several runs over a too-short Bay area weekend visit. One of the innumerable loops and variations in and near the Park, our route included segments of the Old Mine, Rock Spring and Matt Davis Trails.
According to this November 2012 article in the Marin Independent Journal the turkeys were introduced into Marin County in 1988 by Fish & Game to provide hunting opportunities on private land. They have since become a nuisance and usurp resources from native species. During the birds’ mating season they have reportedly frightened hikers and bikers. (I might have scoffed at that statement before seeing the size of this tom.)
It was a warm in the sun, cool in the shade afternoon with the temperature in the mid-70s. Earlier in the week an offshore flow had pushed temperatures in the Bay area well into the 90s. The heatwave produced numerous record highs, with the temperature at San Francisco Airport reaching over 90 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday. The remote automated weather station (RAWS) on Middle Peak can be used to get an idea of the weather on Mt. Tam.
Today the winds were onshore, but the visibility was still very good. The twin summits of Mt. Diablo could be clearly seen across the bay, about 40 miles away. Mt. Diablo would be the site of one of tomorrow’s runs. Rumor had it the rare Mt. Diablo fairy lantern was blooming, and Brett had planned a run on Diablo that included North Peak, Bald Ridge and Eagle Peak.
Today those instrumental in the acquisition of Ahmanson Ranch and supporters of the open space area gathered at the park — now Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve — to celebrate its purchase. For more on the festivities see this article in the Simi Valley Acorn.
I’ve been running at Ahmanson Ranch for more than ten years and have spent hundreds of hours in the open space area. Following are a few photographs, stories and wildlife encounters from these runs.
Since 2005 these are the dates I’ve photographed a tarantula at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve).
September 05 (2012) September 08 (2006) September 13 (2005) September 19 (2007) September 15 (2009) October 3 (2012) October 9 (2012) October 11 (2006) October 12 (2011) October 17 (2012) (2) October 23 (2013)
Autumn is when maturing male tarantulas (Aphonopelma spp.) wander about in search of a mate.
I was beginning to wonder if I would see a tarantula at Ahmanson this Fall. The last time I hadn’t seen a tarantula in September or October was 2008. Yesterday I spotted this one on the main fire road in East Las Virgenes Canyon on a run over to Cheeseboro Canyon.
The title photograph is from a run on September 5, 2012. The raised abdomen is a defensive posture. Tarantulas will scrape their abdomen with their bristly rear legs, launching irritating (urticating) barbed hairs into the air. Most tarantulas I’ve encountered this time of year do not react defensively — they’re just interested in finding a mate.