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Roger's Pick: Spring has sprung!

The El Nino moist winter that we just experienced in North San Diego County has brought about the arrival of a banner wild flower season throughout California’s native landscape. From the southern Coachella valley of Anza Borrego to the higher valleys and hills of Central California, this is a good year to go out and enjoy a bounty of native flora and wildlife.

On a recent trip up to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, just north of Fallbrook, I found a world all unto its own. There are ancient oak woodlands, unique vernal pools with transparent fairy shrimp and swatches of native wild flowers to visit and admire. This ecological oasis is located just west of Temecula. Take the I-15 Freeway north, exit on Clinton Keith Road and travel west up the grade and you’ll come to the entrance to the Santa Rosa Plateau Reserve which is 8,300 acres of raw wilderness.

Last month, a small group of my nature and plant loving friends set out to explore this magical wild and protected landscape. Every turn of the pathway brought about “oh’s” and “wow’s” from us as we found the tiny and delicate Dodocatheon (shooting stars) to the elusive Fritillaries (chocolate lilies) erupting in patches of wind rippled grass. We also observed Dichelostemma (blue-dicks), Claytonia (miner’s lettuce), Sisyrinchium (blue eyed grass), Ribes (white flowering currant) and lots of belly flowers that require you to be on your hands and knees to appreciate their petite wonderment and fragile design.

The indigenous Quercus engelmani oak had its new flush of leaves with cascading catkins of flowers along with the gnarly majestic California Live Oaks that clung around the landscape so stately and with hundreds of years in their history. We followed one trail through a narrow green tunnel of chaparral plants as we meandered along with anticipation of the opening to the wide vistas beyond.

The vernal pools, unique shallow ponds, were brimming with fairy shrimp, while tadpoles, frogs and toads were in the neighborhood as well. This is the Mecca for bird lovers with over 180 species of bird life that abounds throughout the plateau.

It is also important to note that an oak woodlands environment is said to be home to over 300 species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals and 5,000 species of insects.

We also observed animal trails of beaten grass down to the ground that serpentined across the green slopes to vanish off into the distance, and I wondered if these trails were paths for the mountain lion, badgers, bobcats, grey fox and deer that traverse these hills throughout this mountain range. As we continued our trek, the chirping of crickets was heard in the grass but they were not to be seen.

Throughout my four-hour trek with my granddaughter and friends, we all felt no connection to the urban sprawl, for the views were spectacular without a house in sight. The sounds were all orchestrated from nature’s calling and it almost felt like we were on a eco-safari trip high in the African plains of Tanzania or the outback of Australia, and we appreciated the plateau as one of our southland’s true wild treasures.

I suggest a field trip soon to capture all the wonderfulness that is there at this very special time of year for “Spring has sprung” up at the plateau.

Roger Boddaert is a certified arborist and oak tree specialist available for horticultural consultations at (760) 728-4297.

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