Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve Excursion

Thursday January 19, 2012
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Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, Fallbrook, CA

By Donna Walker, MTRP Trail Guide and Hearts pest control customer service representative

Hearts Pest Management – An Environmentally Activist Company

Hearts Pest Management is committed to the conservation and preservation of our natural resources.  The leader in organic pest control methods for Southern California, we at Hearts Pest Management do our best to provide a conscious, cycle of life pest management approach for our customers.

Mission Trails Guides Journey to Santa Margarita Reserve in Fallbrook

As a trail guide and naturalist, I was invited to hike the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve in Fallbrook, CA where a group of us, led by one of the Reserve´s docents, explored the rich riparian ecosystem of native plants and wildlife.  The Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve is dedicated to keeping the land it in its natural state for educational and research purposes.

Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve Trail Guides

Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) Trail Guides

Santa Margarita Creek and Oak Woodlands

Anxious to “get back to nature” our group started out along a path through the coast live oak woodlands where the docent spoke about the native oaks and the importance of preserving the land along the Santa Margarita River, one of the last “free-flowing” rivers in the coastal Southern California region.  Walking through the dappled sunshine, crunching fallen leaves, I felt like I was in the middle of a wilderness and could imagine the Native Americans, the Luisenos, trampling the same path in their agave sandals.

Santa Margarita Reserve Oak Woodlands - Coast Live Oak

Santa Margarita Reserve Oak Woodlands – Coast Live Oak

Santa Margarita Creek

Santa Margarita Creek

I spotted a small seedling in the middle of the trail with an acorn from the coast live oak still attached and thought to myself, “so that´s how acorns grow into big oak trees.”  I was too embarrassed to share my thoughts with my fellow trail guides because, of course, oak trees do come from acorns.  It´s just that I had never seen an acorn take root before and I was so in awe of this little life growing out of the ground.

Oak Seedling

Acorn Sprouting in Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve

Acorn Sprouting in Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve

Acorn Sprouting

Further along the trail, I looked up into the branches of an oak and found what is called an oak gall, or oak apple.  These “apples” are not for eating since they contain frass (insect pooh).  Some galls are beautiful and different in color; the coast live oak gall tends to be a light reddish-brown or beige.  From my trail guide training at Mission Trails, I remembered that the oak gall is created by the larvae of a cynipid wasp.  The wasp lays its eggs in the bark or on a leaf, once the eggs are hatched, the larvae then begin to chew and the saliva triggers a chemical reaction in the oak tree, causing tissue to form into small balls.  These ancient coast live oaks host over 200 species of gall wasps, more than any other tree in the western states.

Coast Live Oak Gall - Oak Apple

Coast Live Oak Gall – Oak Apple

Gall Wasps

Gall Wasps found in Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve

The White Lined Sphinx Moth and European Cabbage White Butterfly

Up ahead, several hikers were gathered around Bill Howell, MTRP Trail Guide Instructor and Naturalist, to look at the caterpillar he had in his hand.   It was green and yellow with a horn; a White-lined sphinx caterpillar.  This little guy likes to eat the flowers from the native evening primrose but in domestic gardens, it will settle for the flowers of a fuchsia.  The sole purpose of the sphinx caterpillar is to eat and get fat before transcending into its moth state.

White Lined Sphinx Moth

White Lined Sphinx Moth

White Lined Sphinx Caterpillar

White Lined Sphinx Caterpillar

Having hiked a couple of miles, we turned around and as we made our way back, we noticed a European cabbage white trapped in a spider web, fluttering its wings, desperately trying to get out of the web.  Several of us, including myself, wanted to free the butterfly but the other seasoned and all so wise trail guides told us “No, this is nature´s way,” the circle of life and all that…..I really wanted to free the butterfly but then thought about the hungry spider and as I headed back with the group, I left nature to take its course.
Cabbage White Butterfly

Cabbage White Butterfly

Tree Hugger Pest Control

As a trail guide and naturalist, I am often asked “What is a tree-hugger like you doing working for a pest control company?”  Good question.  Although I embrace nature and get excited over seeing an acorn take root or a colorful caterpillar, I also understand the need for pest management – and that under the watchful eye of Hearts Pest Management, pest control becomes very compatible with the views of us “tree hugger” naturalists.  According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, there are devastating results from invasive species of pests (non-native) on California crops with an estimated loss of $3 billion annually.
These non-native pests come from other countries through various unintentional and accidental methods.  Because the pests have evolved elsewhere, they have few natural enemies to control their populations.  Such introductions of invasive species to a specific area can cause economic and environmental damage as well as harm to human health.
This “tree-hugger” can work for Hearts Pest Management because Hearts isn´t just a pest control company but a company that applies an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach of pest control methods, used to manage pest damage with the least possible hazard to people and the environment.
Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve

Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve

                                              SDSU Research Field Station
If you are interested in hiking the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, contact the Reserve to schedule a guided hike.  Since the Reserve is a research field station for San Diego State University (SDSU) it is not open to the public and pre-arranged hikes must be made through the University.  However, the Santa Margarita Preserve, part of the San Diego Multiple Species Conservation Program, is open to the public for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, Fallbrook, CA – Bibliography

2008. Trail Guide Training Manual, Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego,CA.
Howell, Bill. “White-lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillar.” 2011.

White Lined Sphinx Moth in Wikipedia


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