Finding a Surprise in Griffith Park

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Curiosity. Besides “killing the cat,” there are many profound alternative sayings about it. “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious,” said Einstein. “Curiosity is lying in wait for every secret,” said Emerson.

In my case, my mother didn’t call it curiosity. She simply said that of her eight children, I was good at “finding things” on our farm with woods and creeks. Call it curiosity or not, it’s always satisfying to find new and surprising things. For me, it’s critters and flora, which I’ve been doing the last 30-plus years mainly in Griffith Park.

Griffith Park offers up surprises regularly that everyone can take advantage of. FoGP reported its documentation of the tiny Western thread snake species last year, and it was the first time a Griffith Park sighting was put on record. Shortly afterward, two other park hikers contacted us saying they, too, had seen this snake and had wondered what it was! Seeing this earthworm-sized snake in the future can be a great surprise for anyone who’s curious.

Since there’s only one mountain lion in the Park, and he naps during the day, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see P-22. A bobcat sighting, though, is not as unusual, in fact it’s a special treat. And catching a glimpse of a Western grey fox is an equal prize!

Finding a species of a high level of rarity or scarcity can be very gratifying, whether you’re a naturalist or not. The Blainesville horned lizard, once widespread across Griffith Park, has disappeared from most park trails including the ridge line trail from Cahuenga Peak to the Wisdom Tree. If you see one anywhere, count yourself extremely lucky; however, hikers and pets should keep their distance. They are adorable, but this lizard can spray toxic blood from its eyes. Flora of Griffith Park is well-documented in the ­Griffith Park Rare Plant Survey and cataloging which began in 2010 led by FoGP’s Scientific Director, Dan Cooper. Yet, we continue to find new species and new locations for some of our rarest ones.

Besides rarity, timing is everything. If you blink, you can miss a plant species’ flowering phase. Some of the Park’s migratory birds – like the hermit warbler – are here for just days, if that long. And flights of some butterfly species are tightly dictated by the host plant’s blooming phase. There’s only one solution to compensate for timing: come hike on Park trails often and randomly!

Some final tips for finding surprise species in Griffith Park: Look at small things; take a magnifying glass. Bring along binoculars. Listen. Leave the headset and iPod behind and keep your phone in your pocket!

What will you discover today?

~Gerry Hans

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homepage photo: Behr’s metalmark an uncommon small butterfly, tied to beneficial host plant California buckwheat. top: rare sighting of a California kingsnake, a beautiful harmless species which is unfortunately declining in numbers / Photos: Gerry Hans

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