Blue butterflies and Califonia buckwheat

The Daily Breeze reported on Tuesday of another finding of El Segundo Blue butterflies in an unexpected area. For those who are following along, the bigger story dates back to 2004 when some Redondo Beach and Torrance beaches were rehabilitated with California native plants (including the essential dune buckwheat which is the only food of the ESB). I'd guess that just getting the money and political go ahead for that initial effort was a 10 year effort. However, fast forward to 2007 and we now discover that the El Segundo Blue has spontaneously re-established populations in the native habitat. Scientists had previously thought that the small ESB was not suited for long flights and would remain confined to the areas it currently inhabits, but it proved them wrong. The LA Times covered this story in early July.

One wonders what other species we could bring back by planting appropriately. The Palos Verdes Blue comes to mind - that species prefers yet another kind of buckwheat and was actually thought extinct until a small population was discovered only years ago in an industrial area of PV.

Citizens are of course complaining that the buckwheat looks dead, unlike the sterile and invasive iceplant that was removed. (Like many native plants buckwheat turns brown in the summer in order to survive the heat and dry climate. Think of California's summer as New England's winter and you'll appreciate how our plants are adapted to survive.) An educational sign or two would do wonders here, I think.

I have buckwheat growing in my front yard, but so far no extraordinary butterflies have visited. However, I have seen an increase in butterflies, solitary bees, and honey bees since going native. At least some varieties of buckwheat seem to be resistant to gophers as well. Some bushes that I planted on my parents' hillside last fall are surrounded by many active gopher holes, but haven't yet shown signs of their roots being nibbled. They look marvelous at this time of year, with abundant white flowers, bees buzzing, and lizards darting. The Cleveland sage planted nearby also seems immune to gophers, but the Mimulus (monkeyflower) looks poorly. I don't know if it's due to gophers or just ill health.

Excerpts from the Breeze article:

El Segundo blue butterfly lands again near LAX
Although it's less surprising than the recent find, scientists are pleased.

By Kristin S. Agostoni
Staff Writer

The endangered El Segundo blue butterfly has been spotted yet again this summer on the South Bay shoreline, this time fluttering amid dune buckwheat flowers at Dockweiler State Beach.

It was only a few weeks ago that scientists were bowled over by the discovery of the tiny insect on a roughly 4-acre swath of coastal bluffs in Redondo Beach and Torrance, where volunteers replaced invasive ice plant with native vegetation.

Now, experts say, the El Segundo blue has reappeared on a small strip of land sandwiched between a parking lot and an access road that runs behind Dockweiler Beach.

A fenced-in butterfly preserve sits on the opposite side of Vista del Mar near Los Angeles International Airport, leading scientists to believe the population migrated across the street to the new habitat, said Travis Longcore, a science director with the Urban Wildlands Group that helped lead the Beach Bluffs Restoration Project in Redondo Beach.

The resurgence of the federally endangered species in Redondo and Torrance is even more remarkable, scientists say, because the nearest population exists roughly 1,000 feet away at Malaga Cove.

"This is much less of a surprise because it's less than 200 feet (from the existing preserve) ... but it's more evidence that the restoration works and we're making progress," Longcore said of the Dockweiler discovery.

Excerpts from the LA Times article:
Rare butterfly makes comeback on L.A.-area beaches
The tiny El Segundo blue has returned to two locations where it has not been seen in decades. Scientists are surprised at the resurgence.
By Deborah Schoch, Times Staff Writer
July 9, 2007

Butterflies fight extinction

Butterflies fight extinction
Amid surfers and skaters, a tiny blue butterfly has scored a telling victory in its fight against extinction.

The rare El Segundo blue has returned to two popular beaches southwest of Los Angeles where it has not been seen in decades.

This is no mere academic sighting of a rare species.

Scientists say they are surprised at the resurgence. Dozens of the rare butterflies are thriving, not in some rarefied fenced-off reserve but in public view at county beaches in Redondo Beach and Torrance.

"You could open the car door, and they could hit you in the face," said conservation expert Travis Longcore this weekend, gesturing at creatures no bigger than a thumbnail flitting a few feet away from parked SUVs.

In a month that has marked the delisting of the American bald eagle as an endangered species, news of the tiny butterfly's reappearance is stirring hope that other species will rebound as unexpectedly and publicly as this one.

The El Segundo blue, one of the region's best-known endangered species, is found nowhere in the world but the southeastern shores of Santa Monica Bay.

Scientists staved off its extinction for years by nursing or monitoring it at three sites off-limits to the public at Los Angeles International Airport, the Chevron El Segundo refinery and on private land in Torrance. They estimate the current population remains low — only in the tens of thousands — with the largest group at LAX...

They used a simple scientific formula: Pull out the ice plant, put in the buckwheat.

Starting in 2004, they stripped thick green carpets of nonnative ice plant from small areas on beach bluffs in Redondo Beach and Torrance. Month after month, they restored the scrub plants that flourished here centuries ago: California sunflower, deer weed, lupines, prickly pear cactus, ambrosia and, of course, buckwheat.

In the old days the butterfly thrived in what was then the region's largest sand dune system, the El Segundo dunes that formed a half-mile-wide band from Westchester south to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The Los Angeles River created the dunes centuries ago, scientists say, when it entered the ocean at Playa del Rey.

Builders carved the dunes into pieces with construction of waterfront homes, the Chevron oil refinery in El Segundo, the Hyperion sewage plant and LAX....

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