• Outdoor San Diego alerts

Summer thundershowers, having blessed the eastern margin of San Diego County with welcome, if spotty precipitation of late, have triggered a minor growth spurt among certain kinds of vegetation. In the desert, for example, the spidery ocotillo can grow an instant crop of green leaves after a storm, only to drop them two or three weeks later if no further rain arrives. The distribution of green-leaved ocotillos tells not only where rain has recently fallen; it also indicates where the runoff has collected and remained for enough time to be absorbed by the ocotillo's root system. Various cacti may also benefit from the downpours; barrel cacti expand in girth by soaking up water, and the pads of the beavertail cactus plump up like overstuffed pillows.

The chaparral, the tangled assortment of low-growing, drought-resistant, native shrubs covering most of San Diego County's lower mountain slopes, has managed to remain fairly attractive this summer. Unlike many of the scrubby natives near the coast, chaparral plants tend to hang on to their leaves year round. This month, the coppery, sun-burnished remnants of last spring's flower clusters are still clinging to the tips of buckwheat and chamise plants, and a few wildflowers have popped up here and there in response to recent thunderstorm activity over the mountains. To enjoy the beauty of the chaparral landscape, explore the hillsides above Lake Morena and along Lyons Valley, Japatul, and Boulder Creek roads in East County. Or head inland from Escondido toward Ramona or Valley Center. Most of these areas have been swept by one wildfire or another over the past few years, but the native vegetation is gradually returning.

Venus, Mars, and Mercury, our nearest planetary neighbors in the solar system, have been consorting with each other in the western sky at dusk for some weeks now. From September 5th through the 15th, all three lie within a circle of less than 4 degrees diameter (for comparison, the apparent width of either the sun or the moon in the sky is about 1/2 degree). The trick to finding all three planets is to first locate Venus -- not hard since it (or she) glows like a white beacon over the west-southwest horizon about 1/2 hour after sunset. Then use binoculars to scope out the other two (pale Mercury and even paler, reddish Mars) within the same field of view.

The waxing moon thickens and moves southward and eventually eastward this coming week, as seen during the earliest evening hour on repeated days. By September 9, the waxing gibbous (about 2/3 illuminated) moon will lie just below lanternlike Jupiter. Late summer evenings in San Diego are often a perfect time to turn a telescope on both the moon and Jupiter. Calmer weather conditions in September and October tend to minimize atmospheric turbulence over San Diego coastal and inland areas, and that contributes to crisper telescopic views.

  • Outdoor San Diego alerts

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