Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Brief notes from Rainbow Lagoon

Remember how I derided Rainbow Lagoon for being overhyped as a natural area?

Well, this little park has surprised me again. I was walking from downtown Pine to the Long Beach Gay Pride celebration, when I noticed a huge school of bass swimming in the shallows!

School of fish in Rainbow Lagoon

Consultation with my ichthyological buddies have indicated that this was a school of mixed species, including sand bass (Paralabrax nebulifer, top) kelp bass (Paralabrax clathratus, bottom):
Closeup of fish in Rainbow Lagoon

There may have been other species as well!

In deeper (and, sadly, unphotographable) water, I saw a huge flatfish--almost certainly a California halibut (Paralichthys californicus). Definitely keep an eye out for these monsters next time you're by the lagoon!

Where did these fish come from? Did they swim in naturally with the tides? Or (I suspect) were they stocked by the Aquarium as a way of brining the ocean closer to the public?

If anyone knows, send me an email!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dominguez Gap Wetlands

Long time, no post fellow Long Beachistanis!

Sorry about the cold shoulder... I've been--distracted. By things. Plus, there weren't too many wildernesses left to explore in Long Beach!

All that changed this past weekend, though. We have a brand new wetland!

The Dominguez Gap Wetlands were officially opened to the public this May.

Dominguez Gap Wetlands

These wetlands are located along the LA River south of Del Amo Boulevard, adjoining DeForest Park. But unlike DeForest, this isn't techinically a "park" and it isn't managed by the Long Beach Parks Department. Instead, it's managed by the LA County Department of Public Works.

Adjacent to the park, you can see the confluence of Compton Creek and the LA River:
Confluence of Compton Creek and the Los Angeles River

These wetlands aren't at all natural--they were constructed and serve a variety of purposes. Specifically, the wetlands are designed to treat stormwater (removing nutrients and metals before it enters the LA River and the Pacific Ocean. It will also help recharge the groundwater in the area. In addition, the wetland provides habitat for wildlife. And wetland-dependent wildlife is desparate for real estate in southern LA County! (You can learn more about constructed treatment wetlands in this PDF from the EPA).

Dominguez Gap Wetlands
As you can see, the wetlands are built so that water enters individual cells. In each cell, nutrients and pollutants are removed, before passing on to the next cell. As the water moves through the wetland, more and more pollutants are removed.

Rushes at the Dominguez Gap Wetlands
Tules and other wetland plants separate the cells.

The slopes of Dominguez Gap are flowering with a riot of colors right now.
Mixed flock (yellow-headed blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, tricolored blackbirds starlings) among yellow lupines
The yellow spikes of flowers are false-lupines (Thermopsis macrophylla). In addition, poppies, sages, chia, and limnanthus were flowering profusely.

Hummingbird sage
This hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) is more typical of oak-woodland habitat.

The landscapers were clearly going for more of a "grassland" than coastal sage-scrub, which may have been more appropriate. But I'm sure they had their reasons. No doubt the appearance of the wetlands will change drastically as the plants duke it out with each other (and the inevitable invasion of mustards and other weeds). Sapling cottonwoods and sycamores may eventually tower over the whole park.

The plants may have been utterly delicious to these caterpillars:

Not sure which species they were, but there were hundreds of them on the trails!
Perhaps some would turn into mourning cloaks, like this one I saw:
Mourning cloak

Needless to say, the birds weren't letting the abundance go to waste, as this mockingbird shows us:
Defending the worm

The birdlife was fantastic. I saw huge flocks of blackbirds, including red-winged, tricolored, and yellow-headed blackbirds.

Red-winged blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
Red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) are common birds in marshes, and will probably do well at Dominguez Gap. Their songs are beautiful and evocative.

Tricolored blackbird, Agelaius tricolor
Tricolored blackbirds (Agelaius tricolor) are much rarer (in fact, they are species of special concern in California). They have similar wings (with white replacing the yellow on the epaulets), but the black is also much glossier.

Flock of yellow-headed blackbirds, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus_0112
Yellow-headed blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) were new to me! They traveled in the largest flocks (which included the other species of blackbirds, as well as a few starlings). Very cool-looking creatures!

Some other neat birds at this park:

American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)
American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

Lesser goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria)
Lesser goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria). It's distinguished from the American goldfinch by its larger black cap.

Juvenile double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Mallard family
A mother mallard and ducklings!

Long Beach Cowboys
Oh, and cowboys!