Category Archives: ahmanson ranch

Topic Is: Things Crawling on the Ground at Ahmanson Ranch

A Southern Pacific rattlesnake on the dirt road above the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch).
A Southern Pacific rattlesnake on the dirt road above the Victory Trailhead

I’ve encountered some interesting things crawling on the ground at Ahmanson Ranch this Fall.

Gopher snakes are the snake I see most frequently at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve). Recently, I came across this sizable gopher snake crossing the dirt road on the long switchback above the Victory Trailhead. Despite the small size of its head, a gopher snake can consume prey much larger than might be imagined.

The impressively colored and patterned lime green caterpillar of the white-lined sphinx moth.
Caterpillar of the white-lined sphinx moth.

Just a few days ago — in virtually the same place as the gopher snake — I encountered a good-sized Southern Pacific rattlesnake serpentining across the dirt road and continuing up the brush-covered hill (video). The snake reminded me of a rattlesnake I photographed near the Victory Trailhead in November 2019. In the Fall, Southern Pacific and other rattlesnakes are said to return to the same den year after year. This rattlesnake had about 13 rattle segments, and the November 2019 rattlesnake about 10. Both were headed in the same direction. Might they be the same snake going back to a den?

On that same run as when I encountered the rattlesnake, I came across this remarkably colored and patterned caterpillar on Lasky Mesa. It turns out to be the caterpillar of a white-lined sphinx moth — a type of hummingbird moth.

A few days later — near the same place where I encountered the gopher snake and rattlesnake — I happened upon this tarantula scurrying across the road. Male tarantulas search for mates in the Fall.

Some related posts:
Ahmanson Trailhead Rattlesnake
Big Southern Pacific Rattlesnake at Ahmanson Ranch
Stuck in the Drive-Thru
September and October are Tarantula Months!
If It Looks Like a Hummingbird and Flies Like a Hummingbird…

A Second Spring at Ahmanson Ranch

Lupine at Ahmanson Ranch blooming in October as a result of the rainfall from T.S. Hilary
Lupine blooming in October!

It’s been about a month and a half since Tropical Storm Hilary soaked Southern California with record-setting rainfall.

The unusual amount of Summer rain has resulted in a second Spring at Ahmanson Ranch, with some plants behaving as if it were March or April.

Not only are plants growing as if it were Spring, some are flowering. The lupine pictured above usually blooms at Ahmanson Ranch in March, April, and May. Now, as a result of T.S. Hilary’s rain, it’s flowering in October!

Those plants that usually flower in the Fall, such as telegraph weed, vinegar weed, and common sunflower, are much more widespread than usual.

Here are a few photos of the unusual conditions at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve).

Spring-like conditions are present in many areas of Southern California. On Sunday, I ran the Phantom Trail in Malibu Creek State Park. Some sections were so overgrown that it was challenging just to navigate the trail, much less run it. Ticks were also a problem.

Some related posts:
Lake Vista Ridge, the Forest Trail, and September Wildflowers
Looking For Local Impacts of Tropical Storm Hilary

Ahmanson Ranch Hot Seat

Ahmanson Ranch Hot Seat. Photography by Gary Valle'.

It was a little past 3:00 in the afternoon when I passed this straight-backed wooden chair along an Ahmanson Ranch trail. The Tempe thermometer clipped to my pack read over 100 degrees.

It gets REALLY hot at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve). In the direct sun the temperature can be 10°F-15°F hotter than in the shade, and there is very little shade at Ahmanson. In-the-sun temperatures of 100°F or more are common in the Summer but can occur just about any time of the year.

There are two weather stations I use to get an idea of the weather conditions at Ahmanson Ranch — the Cheeseboro RAWS and Valley Circle Estates Weather Underground station. Weather station thermometers are usually shielded from the direct sun by a white, ventilated enclosure. The Cheeseboro RAWS includes a measurement of the “Fuel Temperature.” This is generally a better indication of the temperature experienced by a runner, hiker, or rider in the direct sun.

Update on July 29, 2023. Rounding the temperature to whole degrees, my West Hills weather station recorded a high of 100°F, or higher, for 15 consecutive days this July (7/13/23 to 7/27/23). The station is about three miles from the Victory Trailhead at Ahmanson Ranch.

Some related posts: Some Summers Are Hotter than Others, Run to the Cheeseboro Remote Automated Weather Station

Searching For Another Blue Oak In Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

Blue oak-like leaves of an unusual oak in in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch).

After the Ahmanson Blue Oak in East Las Virgenes Canyon died this Winter, I started to search for another blue oak (Quercus douglasii) in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (aka Ahmanson Ranch). Blue oaks are rare at the southern limit of their range, but I was hopeful that if there was one blue oak at Ahmanson, there might be another.

Valley oak leaves in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch).
Valley oak leaves.

Typically, blue oak leaves are noticeably different than valley oak leaves. The Jepson eFlora describes the leaf margins of blue oak as being more or less entire, wavy, or more or less lobed. The leaves of the Ahmanson Blue Oak fit this description. Valley oak leaves are usually much more deeply lobed and readily identified.

Recently, while on a run, I noticed an unusual oak near the top of a service road on the western margin of Lasky Mesa. Its leaves are not deeply-lobed and are a bit more dusky than the usual valley oak leaf. But the tree doesn’t look quite the same as the Ahmanson Blue Oak. One difference is that the shape of the leaves is not as uniform as those of the Ahmanson Blue Oak. This might be due to the wet 2022-2023 rain season and the flourish of leaves that resulted. And, as with the Ahmanson Blue Oak, this oak was burned in the 2018 Woolsey Fire, and its trunk is partially hollow.

Blue oak-like leaves of the unusual oak on the western margin of Lasky Mesa.
Blue oak-like leaves of an oak on the western margin of Lasky Mesa.

Based on its leaves, the “West Lasky Mesa Oak” could be a blue oak, blue oak hybrid, or valley oak hybrid. A 2002 study of a mixed stand of blue and valley oaks found that appearance can be misleading. When DNA tested, four of the five hybrid-appearing oaks in the study were not classified as hybrids. Of the four trees deemed most likely to be hybrids, only one oak was intermediate in appearance.

Although it seems unlikely this tree would have been overlooked, I could find no specific reference to the oak in the various studies and surveys done of Ahmanson Ranch. Please get in touch with me if you can provide additional information about this tree or how a DNA analysis can be arranged.

Some related posts: Ahmanson Blue Oak, Ahmanson Blue Oak Succumbs to Climate Change

Farewell-to-Spring in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

Farewell-to-Spring found in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve in June 2023

An unusually wet rain season not only increases the population of many wildflowers, it can produce wildflowers not usually seen in an area.

The Farewell to Spring (Clarkia amoena) pictured above was one of very small population found in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (aka Ahmanson Ranch) in June 2023. The California native is much more common in the Bay Area and coastal Northern California. It probably found its way to Ahmanson by way of a local garden.

Elegant Clarkia in Las Virgenes Canyon

Hillside of Elegant Clarkia in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (aka Ahmanson Ranch)

This year’s bloom of Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (aka Ahmanson Ranch) is even more widespread and lavish than it was in Spring 2020. It’s virtually impossible to do a hike, run, or ride at Ahmanson Ranch and not see the stalks of the oddly-shaped, 4-petaled, pink-purple flowers.

As in 2020, Purple Clarkia (Clarkia purpurea) is also widespread. Not as common at Ahmanson Ranch is another member of the Evening Primrose Family, Shredding Primrose (Eremothera boothii). It can be found along the Edison service road near the Las Virgenes Trailhead.