Marron Valley's 2850 acres, once considered for a reservoir, are now preserved for wildlife under the city's Multiple Species Conservation Program. A small ranch house is the sole structure in the valley. Adjacent to the house are some paddocks where a few cattle graze on grasses thick from winter storms.
Last year Chris stumbled onto a population of Quino checkerspots here, now the largest remaining population in San Diego County. We head to the hill Chris has dubbed "Quino Point." Hills are important to the Quino checkerspots. Like several other butterfly species, Quino checkerspots aggregate on sparsely vegetated rounded hilltops, ridgelines, and rocky outcrops. In a behavior called "hilltopping," the male butterflies form territories and chase away other males and species of butterflies. It makes trying to locate particular butterflies very convenient.
Thirty seconds after we get out of the car Chris screams, "Quino! Quino!" Gordon is also excited, and I'm caught up too. I see a flash of orange and black, and then...I see another and another and another.
Quinos are not impressive flyers; they waft along a few feet off the ground. But when another butterfly enters their turf, they're jet fighters racing into aerial combat. I watch as a Quino chases away a swallowtail twice its size. Chris says Quinos are butterflies with attitude.
I watch one Quino land a few feet in front of me and spread its wings. Basking on bare areas of ground is common behavior for this butterfly, making positive identification easier. I screw on a close-up lens and advance a few feet toward the Quino. I shoot off a few pictures; he seems to pay me no attention. I finish a roll of film and put my camera away. Still no movement until a painted lady butterfly crosses overhead, and then the Quino is off, chasing away the intruder.
It's after 3:00 and getting cold. The Quinos are starting to roost for the night, saving their energy for tomorrow. We lock the last gate behind us, leaving the Quino checkerspot, we hope, for another day.