California Odes
Spring visits to the upper San Antonio River, Monterey County
Last autumn I found two nice spots near the Indians in Los Padres Nat'l Forest. One is a tiny spring-fed creeklet near Wagon Caves rocks (below left); the other is the gravelly North Fork of the San Antonio River at ~1400' elev. It turns out both are within the proposed Wagon Caves Natural Research Area (directions at bottom of page), renown not only for the rocks and riparian stream banks, but for its extensive oak savanna.

On 29 April 2007, I visited a favorite little pond along the San Antonio River — a spot I'd photographed Walker's Darner last fall — and spotted a gomphid on a rock on the far side. Just as quickly I saw a huge Bullfrog on the other side of the rock! I was scared the bullfrog would eat the Pacific Clubtail before I could get photos of the first MTY record since 1964, so I charged right in, firing away with the camera, before I spooked both of them. This was my best shot [below].

On that April trip I'd netted and photo'd a number of Northern/Boreal-type bluets, and it seemed that both species might be represented. This needed confirmation, so on 6 May I invited Paul Johnson along to help confirm the first record of Boreal Bluet in Monterey County. We visited both sites shown above, plus another small creek, and together we netted and examined in-hand at least 20 male bluets. They were all Northern Bluets. It was quite disappointing. The addition of a new ode to the MTY Checklist would have to wait for another day.

Or would it? We hiked down to my little clubtail pool on the San Antonio and saw that a large and colorful dragonfly was steadily cruising the pond. . .

Oh My Lord! I did not recognize it but it was surely something great. "My" Pacific Clubtails were still there and this thing was a giant in comparison. Paul had an idea what it was — but his suggestion sounded preposterous to me. We were a long ways from the nearest known population and there were no records in surrounding counties. So we tried to snap some flight shots and Paul waded out to attempt to net it (below). This he did so easily that I didn't even get a scenic shot off before he had it in hand (second photo below).

Yes, as unlikely as it might seem, it was a Western River Cruiser Macromia magnifica. I placed it on a twig and it immediately went into its hanging roosting position; it eventually flew to another roosting spot (photo right), seemingly exhausted from its ordeal, but otherwise in good shape. In our two hours on the upper San Antonio River, we ended up seeing 4 males along a short quarter-mile stretch. Paul said the habitat reminded him of Bear Creek in Colusa County, a well known cruiser locale.

According to Kathy Biggs's web site map, the nearest records are from Santa Clara & Alameda counties, presumably in the Diablo Range. Our cruisers in the Santa Lucia Mountains are more than 100 miles from those. Western River Cruiser also occurs in the Sierra Nevada south to Kern and Inyo counties (Manolis 2003).

Both in flight and in hand, I was very impressed by the gray thorax and the gray eyes. The gray thorax really contrasts to the black abdomen with yellow spots and a 'clubbed' tip. The single broad yellow stripe on the side of the thorax, bordered below with a broad black stripe, was apparent only in hand or on the perched individual. There are also a pair of short yellow stripes atop the thorax.


There were other odes to enjoy as well. It seemed an emergence of Emma's Dancer was underway, something that Rita and I had noticed yesterday on the Arroyo Seco River (where Bison Snaketail were still present). I found one teneral just-emerged from its shell (above left), which now looks like an alien crawling up the rock. Paul found a nice male Desert Firetail (below) that sets a new 'early' record for Monterey County by several months.
But as to those bluets . . . it will take a better man than I to add Boreal to our stable, Gunga Din. The bluets are there in the droves (Northern tandem pair below) and breeding up a storm. Paul says that I should just give it a rest . . .

Our list for 6 May 2007:

  • American Rubyspot 30
  • Emma's Dancer 30
  • Vivid Dancer 100+
  • Northern Bluet 20 males (in-hand i.d.)
  • Northern-type Bluet 300+
  • Desert Firetail 1 m
  • Western Forktail 60 (a very high local count)
  • California Darner 8
  • Blue-eyed Darner 2
  • Pacific Clubtail 8
  • Grappletail 1 [in flight; PGJ only]
  • Western River Cruiser 4 m [1 netted]
  • Western Pondhawk 4 (3 m, 1 f)
  • Flame Skimmer 3
  • Red Rock Skimmer 1 f
  • Cardinal Meadowhawk 20

Don Roberson & Paul Johnson

Directions: From Hwy 101 in King City, go south on Jolon Road [G14] about 16.7 mi, and turn right (west) to the entrance gate for Ft. Hunter-Liggett. Here you must get a permit by stating where you are going, and showing driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. You must have these documents to enter the military base. They also sometimes ask for i.d. of passengers. [This is the current protocol. Things were much more relaxed in the past. There are times, though, when Army training is underway, and the public road may be temporarily closed.]

Continue west 5.6 mi to Del Venturi Road [this is 1.7 mi past the turnoff to Nacimiento-Fergusson Road that goes south and eventually to Hwy 1 on the coast]. Del Venturi Road is marked; signs also say to The Indians and Memorial Park. It is a paved road that quickly crosses the San Antonio River at a paved ford, and will do so once more near the end of your ~9 mi drive through Hunter-Liggett. One is not allowed to stop or pull off the road on the military base. Once you reach the cattle guard and sign for Los Padres National Forest, you are back on public land, and may stop and go where you wish. Just 0.4 mi farther there is a pull-off on the left with a parking area and stile. This trail leads to the big rocks [Wagon Caves] visible from the parking lot. A small spring-fed stream is the first thing one crosses after the trail forks to the right; follow this tiny stream downstream for odes.

Returning to the parking area for Wagon Caves, drive 0.4 mi farther on the paved road (toward Memorial Park) to the first dirt road. Turn left. This is a rough dirt road that requires good clearance (but not 4-wheel drive). The road will divide – thereafter it is simply a loop and you can go left or right. I typically go right and bear left at the only other intersection. You will soon be on a bluff overlooking the San Antonio River. The road has one sharp jog. After that, where the dirt road swings sharply left and back uphill and inland, there if a small camping spot on your right that is at the edge of the bluff. Park here (or nearby, if folks are using the camping spot) and follow the narrow but well-marked trail from the camp site and to the east, eventually heading steeply down to the valley bottom. Walk over to the river. Upstream are riffles and rapids, downstream are slower stretches and little ponds. There are usually nice odes in either direction, so try both ways. [The steep trail down to the river is rugged and requires some athletic ability; one could not manage it if disabled. The river is grazed by cows, so be aware. There can be ticks or rattlesnakes, and it can be very hot in the summer, so carry water.]


all photos © 2007 Don Roberson