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Archive for the ‘2010 Baja California’ Category

Isla Cedros

Just some pictures to share with friends of a ovely day in March 2010.

Thursday, 18 March, 2010 – Isla Cedros – trip to Isla Navidad

As I write these notes, it is already Monday 22 March. The tour to Baja – Isla Cedros and southern California is over and we have enjoyed very full days, making it difficult to find time to write up these Diary pages. To catch up, I’ll just post brief summaries and add to them once I get home. Pictures will depend on time and internet facilities availability.

Those of you who have been on cactus day trips to islands in Baja California and Chile will know the routine: early breakfast, then a walk to the harbour to wait for the fishermen, whose pangas (small open boats with outboard motor) would hopefully take us to the target for the day, weather permitting. Sometimes it is a question of balance – it may be the only chance to go the the island as time budgets are set for us to move on to other locations and on the other hand, health & safety demands that the captain only takes us out when he knows that he and his passengers will be safe. Sometimes conditions around the lee of the island can be different from what you see at the harbour. Weather can sometimes change very quickly and the bats are vulnerable to wind, so the captain has the last word without tempting him to take irresponsible actions.

Today, all systems were go, but with the warning that we’d get wet. Most of us had weather proof gear, more for the cameras than for ourselves. I have a wonderful picture of one of our party with a plastic shopping bag over his head. After some two hours bumping from one wave to the next we were soaked and glad to arrive on Isla Navidad. Just like all these islands, these are nature reserves, here to protect a rare bird, the Black Vented Sheerwater, that builds its nests, tunnels, in the soft ground. So we were asked to stay on the track at all times and were taken to two locations by pick up truck, with several stops on the way, but with some frustration as we were seeing the endemic Mammilaria hutchinsoniana in flower, some two meters from the path. Only long tele zoom lenses could capture the detail. Eventually a compromise was reached so that a few people at the time could visit some of the plants spotted in flower and take pictures from close up. The other target for our cameras was Ferocactus fordii. Unlike F. chrysacanthion on Isla Cedros, F. fordii was in flower.

We were shown three cardon, but these were not Pachycereus pringlei as suggested in the plant list for the island, but P. pecten-arboriginum, which is common in BCS where it takes over from P. pringlei. Technically, Isla Navidad is in the state of Baja California Sur, but it was the spination of the few stems that I was able to photograph at close quarters that persuaded me that it was P.p-a rather than P. pringlei.

I recorded two stops, S1762 and S1763 to file the images taken.

Wednesday, 17 March, 2010 – Isla Cedros – Punta Norte

Today was probably the hardest hike that I have made for plants and our goal was not even a cactus! Dudleya pachyphytum, first found by Alfred Lau and described by Moran & Benedict, is is a plant that is not often seen in cultivation in Europe, probably because plants in the genus Pachyphytum itself are just as attractive and easier to propagate, from leaf cuttings. 

I recorded a total of eleven stops today (S1751 to S1761 inclusive). On these long hikes (10:30 hours in total) plus two hours each way by boat – the return journey was in the dark! – it is always difficult to decide how to split pictures taken into stops. My failing GPS for the camera provided the solution. From time to time I would check the connection and hold it tight until I had taken a picture that had recorded the coordinates. I’ll next upgrade my cameras when Nikon models with similar specifications or better include a built in GPS.

In simple terms, S1751 was for images taken during the boat ride along the eastern shore of the island. S1752 – S1759 were for pictures taken on the way to our target, S1760 was the place where the plants grew and S1761 were pictures taken on the way back. There were not many in S1761 as I was dog tired, walking on robot power, very thirsty, despite the litre of water that I had taken and eventually needing a rest to let the tail-enders catch up, as I was getting cramps in both legs, from thighs to my toes – not nice. Jose eventually breezed by to say that he was on his way to base camp to collect fresh water. I realised why his second name is Angel! Never did pure water taste so good!

So what about the plants that we saw? Well, certainly Dudleya pachyphytum, a very nice plant in habitat but critically endangered, as it is very rare, just found in one relatively small location with nearby pine forests having suffered badly from forest fires. There was plenty of evidence burnt clumps of D. pachyphytum. Its remoteness will probably be the plants’ best protection and I feel confident that Jose understands the issues and will fight for these plants and their habitat. Please let me know if there is anyway in which I can help.

Other plants, in the order we came across them were:

  • Pachycormus discolor var veatchiana, easily spotted from the boat and a constant companion along the trail that brought us to our end point.

  • Opuntia sp. as I said yesterday, O. oricola and O. prolifera are reported from the island so it may just be a matter of finding a picture that matches what we saw.

  • Agave sebastiana – in large numbers, a very pretty member of the genus. Again, it was almost omni present.

  • Ferocactus chrysacanthion, with us from start to finish, most plants not large, and with spination colour ranging from yellow to red. No buds or flowers seen. As I am writing up this notes a day late, I can say that the flowering season differs from that of F. fordii that we would see on Isla Navidad.

  • Echinocereus maritimus forming some very large mounds with impressive spination. Usually they were smaller plants with small clumps looking pretty beat up by the environment. The yellow flower was the give away. E. engelmannii is also reported from the island but I can’t say that I saw any candidates for the species. It can be very variable in nature and may be at the height of the flowering season, the flowers will give away their identity.

  • Mammillaria (Cochemiea) pondii. While yesterday we found just one plant in flower and were told that October is the peak flowering season for these plants on the island, today we saw many more plants in flower. Because I am colour blind, their bright red flowers do not leap out for me, but my travel companions were very helpful to point out their presence. I’d guess that some 5% of the plants that we saw were in bud or flower. The flower colour is one that digital cameras seem to struggle with, showing flowers where the colour is over saturated.

  • Dudleya sp., probably D. cedrosensis, as the name suggests, an endemic from this island, but there are other species listed from the island, so more research needed to show which name matches the plants that we photographed.

  • Mammillaria goodridgei and its ssp. rectispinus although not photographed until later on our hike, they seem happy to crop up in small numbers all along the track. Usually small and solitary, pulled back into the gravel, they are not so easy to spot, with lots of more obvious plants distracting our attention.

  • Dwarf Lupine sp.

  • Pine trees – I’ll need to look up the plant list to tell which one. They seem to indicate the presence of water when seen at lower altitude and show the reliance on regular fogs in small clusters growing right at the top of hills in the north of the island. It was quite disheartening early on in the trip, when we spotted these trees high on hill tops above us, that we’d have to climb that high! Sometimes it is easier to be ignorant of such facts.

What is interesting to note as I review my pictures, is that all these plants are very abundant along the route that we took. At every point that I stopped to take a picture I could have taken pictures of dozens of that species, with the exception of D. pachyphytum.

Tuesday, 16 March, 2010 – Isla Cedros Day #1

It was another 5 a.m. breakfast day, to be at the harbour by six to discover the weather forecast for the day. Calm seas would see us take two pangas to Islas San Benito.

Sadly the winds were too strong to make the trip today, but I keep my fingers tightly crossed for the next few days as I’m keen to see and photograph Mammillaria neopalmeri there – it’s an island endemic.

Instead, we boarded three very capable 4×4 vehicles for a drive to La Colorado and six plant stops on the way there and back. For some people we now get to the interesting bit of the Diaries, the plant stop list! Other’s will now reach for the ‘next’ button before their eyes glaze over. Here we go:

Immediately west of Cedros we passed through an area that seems to be in regular use as the town’s rubbish dump. Rubbish is an issue in any small community where its size does not yet necessitate a strict disposal policy with related (costly) services. Here the rubbish was spread out over a very large area, as though it was being sorted and readied for collection at a future date. Time will tell. As tourism might increase the number of people sharing this island environment in the future, the rubbish disposal problem will only become worse, unless it is put in place to put people off from coming.

S1745 – Mammillaria goodridgei (endemic) was spotted almost straight away by our eagle eyed Japanese companions. It took a while before I spotted my one and only plant – it’s great to travel in a group! The plant was in flower, but at 9 a.m. it was still too early for the flower to be open. We found a few more of these very small, solitary plants before finding a similar but more robust plant. Here, at 9:10, the flowers were open and the plant had a number of ripe berries as well. But was it the same species or another member of the M. dioica complex? M. blossfeldiana and M. hutchinsoniana are also reported from here and are non endemics, also occurring in Baja California south of Ensenada. Pachycormus discolor variety veatchana (with smaller leaves and different flowers from the main species that we had seen on BC in 2008) was here as was a hairy caterpillar.

S1746 again had P. discolor var veatchiana, but as we were now almost right on the coast, the plants were windswept and looked like huge bonsais, if that is not too much of a contradiction in terms. But the attraction cactus-wise here was Ferocactus chrysacanthus, nice plants with very tight spination and only few plants in fruit – no buds or flowers seen.

S1747 – We almost stumbled across a large Mammillaria as soon as we stepped out of the cars – but which one? It took until a few stops later, when we saw it in flower, to realise that this was Mammillaria (Cochemiea) pondii. Agave sebastiana was here too, many plants beginning to flower. Also, we saw our first Dudleya on the island, but which one? They formed impressive clumps of many hundreds of heads. A Google search suggests that D. cedrosensis is an island endemic, but Paul Thomson’s monograph on the genus dismisses this as an invalid name. Instead, he lists D. acuminata and D. moranii as occurring on the island. In addition to D. pachyphytum of course. More on that distinctive taxon later. The distinctive flower stalks required to ID Dudleyas were unfortunately not seen or at least not photographed by me.

S1748 is where we finally saw our one and only M. pondii in flower. Later, I learned from the owner of the cabanas where we were staying that this plant usually flowers in October on the island. More reading necessary to discover the trigger; fogs? rain? shortening day time hours? Presence of a migratory pollinator? A combination of all these factors? It seems that just as on Isla Magdalena, where we found M. halei in 2008, fogs (rather than rain) occur regularly on the island. So just like the Chilean Atacama Desert coastal zone then.

Also here were Ferocactus chrysacanthus, Agave sebastiana, Dudleya sp. (or was there more than one?) Echinocereus maritimus with the yellow flower (only one found) providing the clue. Interesting to see that the outside petals are red, just as in Copiapoa in Chile. Jose was getting the taste for cactus hunting and found a tiny Mammillaria goodridgei.

S1749 was at Punta Colorada, where we stopped for lunch, while snapping more pictures of ocean scenes and the ever popular group photo with much hilarity as the self-timer on one of the cameras failed to co-operate.

S1750 was more of the same, but this time pictures of Euphorbia misera, to remind me that we had seen it at all the previous stops as well. The Pachycormus discolor were much taller here, real giants compared to the ‘bonsai’ forms seen earlier.

After a 90 minute rest back at the cabanas the group was off again, this time to excursions to the Salt Works and an Abalone farm. I had seen these elsewhere before, so stayed behind to catch up on the Diaries. I’ll try to add some pictures tomorrow if time permits.

On Isla Cedros

Sorry for the lack of postings, but we are kept busy from 5 a.m. through to late in the evening when brain & eyes cease to function. I’ll catch up as soon as I can. Having a whale of a time!

Monday, 15 March, 2010 – San Diego, CA to Isla Cedros, BC

We were back to early start – long days, so it was no surprise really that the telephone alarm went at 5:00 a.m. It was a surprise that the time to get up was so soon. At 5:30 the first planes started landing at San Diego Airport, about a stone’s throw (literally!!) from our beds. And at 6:00 a.m. The Trolley service (local commuter train, runs every 10 minutes at rush hour) and Amtrak’s hourly LA to San Diego service passed some 10 m. from the back of the hotel, so that alarm calls were almost superfluous.

By six we had all made it to Dennys, the 24 hour diner chain that fills every breakfast need and more. It was here that we made Jose, our guide and tour leader for the five days that we’d spend on Isla Cedros.

The trip to the border at Tijuana went smoothly, after we had to return to Avis in San Diego, where Eunice had returned the bus that we had hired to get the group out here. Why? Because Avis rang to say that they had found Eunice’s SatNav system still in the bus. It contained useful plant locality data for our trip!

By now we were in a much more comfortable 20 seater bus with plenty of room for the luggage as well. It was good to have our guide Jose and driver, Joel, to help us through the paperwork at the border. Because we were on a bus, all passengers had to get off and walk their luggage through customs. Here, a random green / red ‘traffic light’ system determined who was going to be inspected – and it wasn’t me.

Just past the place where we had stopped in March 2008 (Dudleya brittonii on the side of a roadside cutting, I’ll have to look up the Stop number later) we made the first stop today (S1742). Again, the roadside cliff face was full of D. brittonii, although quite a distance above our heads. Also here were Agave shawii, Bergerocactus emoryi, Cylindropuntia sp. and some three different species of Mesembryanthemum, infiltrators from Africa that find conditions on the Pacific shores very much to their liking, from California down to Chile.

We made another stop (S1743) but not for plants – this was in Ensenada at a shop that claimed to sell over 300 different brands of Tequila. But it was not just the content of the bottle that was of interest, but also the bottles themselves that were often of extreme ornate design. They would have sold, even if they had been filled with water. Perhaps they were …

The third stop (S1744) was not really a stop and certainly did not include any plants – at least none that I have spotted so far. I use this number to file the images of our flight from a military airport near Ensenada, to Isla Cedros, out in the Pacific Ocean. We made the 90 minute flight in a 12 seater plane – my first time in the air in something so small. It certainly brings you close in touch with reality that it is a long way down. Still – a perfect photo opportunity, particularly when we flew down the east side of the island with its hills very close to my window.  All our luggage was checked in great detail both before boarding the plane and afterwards on arrival at Isla Cedros. The Mexican authorities certainly take the control of movements of drugs and weapons very serious, even though the problems appear to be caused by the demand for such things across the border in the USA.

We had taken over the whole cabana complex in the town of Cedros.  Take a look at the Cedros Outdoor Adventures website and read here how we get on in days to come.