Posts Tagged ‘Idyllwild Ranger Station’

No Stopping Biting Flies

July 4, 2011

There's no stopping the biting flies

By Marcia E. Gawecki

As summer settles in Idyllwild, there is one formidable nemesis. Actually billions of them: biting flies.

They can come upon you without warning, leaving red welts that sometimes itch for days. Instead of spraying insecticides, some Idyllwild locals are just staying inside.

“I was raking the yard and one bit me in the hand,” said Dan Carpenter, a local from Fern Valley. “It swelled into the size of a walnut for a couple of days.”

Others who are trying to abate their yards have changed their schedules to raking only in the early morning or at dusk, before the flies really became a nuisance.

“I’ve never seen the flies so bad,” said Lindsay, a counselor from San Francisco who has worked at the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program for the past three years.

During Family Camp this week, she said they’re moving a lot of activities inside because of the flies.

“We used to host dinners for the families under the canopy in the Holmes Ampitheater, but the flies are too annoying,” she said.

Although most Family Camp members at Idyllwild Arts have been coming back year after year, they won’t be disappointed at the change, Lindsay said.

“Bugs are part of the camp experience,” she said. “They understand that.”

When we asked those at the Idyllwild Ranger Station about the flies, they didn’t have any new answers.

“We had a wet spring, so that’s why there’s more flies around,” said one of the volunteers at the front desk. “We just put on Off!”

The flies bite dogs and cats too

Insect repellants like Off! only work for a short time, claimed another local.

“On fly bit me right through my shirt,” he said, exposing a red welt that looked like chicken pox.

Domestic pets are not immune to the biting flies either. They swarm, biting their backs and causing them to jump. Sherman, the horse on Hwy. 243, has had a hood on every day.

One woman who was out raking her yard with her two cats tried to offer them some relief. She didn’t want to put Off! (made for humans) onto their fur, but sprayed on cat tick repellant instead.

“But that only worked for a short time until the cats rolled into the dirt and licked it off,” she said.

Yet, the Rotary’s Fourth of July Parade on Monday morning will have some respite.

Weather conditions are calling for cloudy skies with a chance of thunderstorms, said Sue Westphal, as she walked her dog, Sam.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Jul 4, 2011 @ 16:58

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Are Bark Beetles Back?

August 10, 2010

A dying fir tree along Hwy. 243. Bark beetles may be the culprit.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Driving up Hwy. 243 from Banning, you can see brown trees in the distance, where before there were only green ones. We had plenty of moisture in the spring, but now there are entire trees turning brown along the road side. Brown is a color that is too bold to ignore. Are the bark beetles back? Is Idyllwild going to lose thousands of trees like it did in 2003?

“It’s a natural process,” said Laura Verdugo, a visitors services information assistant, at the Idyllwild Ranger Station. “Trees die in the forest all the time from overcrowding or drought, but I don’t think what you’re seeing here is anything like what happened here in 2003.”

It's likely a Western Pine Beetle if the tree is dying halfway up (shown)

However, once she saw pictures of one tree that was brown in the middle, but green on top, she said that it could be a bark beetle causing its death. She motioned to a “Meet the Beetles” book on a nearby display.

“It’s for kids, but explains bark beetles pretty well,” Verdugo said.

The brightly-illustrated book only had five pages, but it was a wealth of information, even for adults.  For example, there are four different types of bark beetles in these parts, each with a different MO and preference for pines.

The four beetles covered in the book include: the pine engraver beetle, the red turpentine beetle, the western pine beetle and the jeffrey pine beetle. They show a close-up of the beetle, next to a tree that also shows the beetle’s markings.

The book is written for young adults with zippy language. Here’s an example of the red turpentine beetle:

Favorite food: Ponderosa Pine

Measurements: 3/8 inch at adulthood

Reddish pitch tubes left over on bark by a Red Turpentine Beetle

Colors: reddish brown

“I was here” tag: Reddish pitch tubes (small wads of resin on the tree trunk)

Special skill: Capable of flying more than 10 miles

After reading one particular page, Verdugo said that it looked like it was the Western Pine Beetle that was likely killing the Coulter Pines along Hwy. 243. This beetle’s “attack position” is usually midway up the tree trunk.

It’s “worst nightmares” (or predators) are ¬†woodpeckers and checkered beetles, the book said.

The book shows a close-up of the bark beetle and the markings it leaves on the trees

“I didn’t know that certain beetles ate each other,” Verdugo said.

She added that many locals and visitors bring in bark beetles to the Ranger Station, to help identify them.

“But most of the beetles they bring in aren’t bark beetles,” she said. “They’re way too big. You can see them from across the room.”

More and more brown trees are appearing along Hwy. 243

She explained that bark beetles are incredibly small, measuring 1/8 to 3/8 of an inch.

“The beetle pictures are nice, but they should have put a beetle in its actual size,” she added.

Verdugo said that one of the employees at the Ranger Station put the book together, but she wasn’t sure if it was available online.


On Tuesday morning, August 10, there was road construction along Hwy. 243 from Idyllwild towards Banning near the Silent Valley Club. The highway is restricted to one lane, with an “escort” truck. There is a modest wait (about 15 minutes).

Several bulldozers and trucks are creating a new pullout space, and smoothing the road’s edge. If you plan on going down to Banning or Palm Springs today, you might consider adding some extra driving time.

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Blind Mother Raccoon Thrives

June 9, 2010

The blind mother raccoon's daughter (now grown) heads for the cat kibble.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The first time that I saw her was at midnight in my kitchen. I had just returned from work and had forgotten to shut the back door. I have cats, and always leave kibble out for them. Apparently, the smell had attracted her.

I had written an article on raccoons before, so I knew to start making noise and turning on lights. They don’t like either one. She was headed for the back door, when she suddenly turned around. What was she doing? I got scared.

Then I could see the two little “kits” with her. They were the size of a baby cat, all cute and furry, but with that distinctive black band across their beady eyes. I went for the food drawer, and started getting out some kibble, and promised them more if they left.

I put it out in a pie tin and watched as each of them delicately lifted the food with their hands and ate it. All the while, they didn’t take their eyes off of me once, except for the mother.

I didn’t realize that something was wrong with her until several visits later when she came by herself. She was on the porch ledge eating the bread that I left out for the bluejays.

I put kibble out for her in the pan, and she didn’t step backwards, or run up the tree like her kittens did. In fact, when the food hit the pan, she came towards me immediately. I had no time to react, but kept my voice soft, “Here you go, honey, here’s some more food for you.”

She reached for the food, but missed the pan. She tried again and missed. The third time, she found the food and ate it. I could see in the porch light that her eyes weren’t quite right. Almost a little cross-eyed and tired. They didn’t shine like her kittens’ eyes.

“What are you doing?” my sister in Kansas asked me. “Did you know that they can reach up and open your screen door? If they come inside your kitchen, they can open up boxes and canisters. It would be a disaster!”

I didn’t tell her about the earlier visit.

“I heard that if raccoons, which are nocturnal, go out searching for food during the day, they can burn out their retinas,” some student told me.

“I’m not sure if that’s the case,” said the receptionist at the Idyllwild Ranger Station on upper Pine Crest. “She might have gotten into a fight with another raccoon. You know how sharp their claws are.”

“Isn’t there any raccoon glasses that we can give her?” I teased. I was concerned that if this mother raccoon couldn’t see me, then she couldn’t see any predators either.

(from R) The blind mother's daughter and grandson dine on my back porch.

“Coyotes may be able to sneak up on her if they can sense that she’s weak,” the receptionist said. “You really shouldn’t be feeding her. Like we always say, ‘A fed bear is a dead bear.'”

I knew what she meant. She wasn’t talking about bears, but the danger of feeding wild animals. Not only for us, but for them. We could get bitten, and they could become dependent, and let their natural defenses down. But what about the blind mother raccoon? Would it be better to let her forage for her own food? It seemed a little cruel.

“Well, she’s teaching her babies that they can dine at your place sometimes,” said my mother.

“Cat food is pretty rich for raccoons,” offered Janice, another receptionist the next day. “They really like dog kibble. Perhaps you could feed them that.”

I had heard of a “Raccoon Lady,” in Idyllwild, who nurses baby raccoons back to health. She’s also a pretty good hairstylist. I plan on talking to her soon. Perhaps she could advise me on what to do next.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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