Herping the Western Fence Lizard at Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
The western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) is a very common and widely distributed spiny lizard found throughout California and other western states. On a recent outing to the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park in Orange County, Calif., I was able to trek through some trails in search of this super common lizard. My goal was to photograph the western fence lizard on an actual fence, rather than on the ground, which seems to be a more common location for the little lizard that’s also known as the blue-belly.
My trip started in Midway City, Calif., where I took a bus with my daughter’s 2nd grade class for an end of the year field trip to the park. The morning started out fairly gloomy, but given the distance from her school to the park, I was hoping for some sun. I was not disappointed. When we arrived to the park, the sun peeked out and started to warm the park. The park sits in Aliso and Wood Canyons, and is home to a variety of reptiles, including southern Pacific rattlesnakes, coastal rosy boa constrictors, gopher snakes, western garter snakes, California king snakes, striped racers, red racers, and various frog species that live in the creek. Because our time was limited, the western fence lizard was the main focus, though any other reptile species was an added bonus.
During our first foray down the trail, I found a western fence lizard thermoregulating itself on a broken tree branch. Close to the ground, it sat there for several minutes as my daughter’s 2nd grade class walked by, oblivious to the reptile so close to the trail. Just the last three students stopped when I told them quietly that the lizard was right next to the trail. It took them a while to locate the lizard, but when they did, they were elated to have viewed the lizard.
The second sighting took place on the ground. Three lizards were thermoregulating near some white sagebrush. These lizards were all adults about three inches in length. This time I was alone and took several photos of the lizards before they darted into the shade of the sagebrush.
After this, the class went creekside to take water samples with hopes of finding some critters in the water. The creek was flowing steadily and the water was very clear. The 2nd grade kids found a trove of critters, including a juvenile crayfish, various water bugs, dragonfly larvae, and other swimming critters. There weren’t any tadpoles in the three buckets of water that were taken from the creek, though the creek is home to a variety of frog species including the California tree frog (Pseudacris cadaverina), a very small frog that grows to less than 2 inches in length.
My final sighting of the western fence lizard occurred guess where? On a fence. It was catching some sun on an old fence that was built to keep cattle penned in. We were resting and taking a water break when I searched along what was left of the cattle pen when I happened upon the lizard. The children were doing an exercise and for the entire 15 minutes of that exercise, the lizard stayed stationary, getting the most of the sun. After they completed the exercise, I asked them if they were interested in seeing the lizard. They were, and as they gathered, our guide, Mr. Ricky stated that the lizard was a western fence lizard, “Surprisingly, lounging on a fence.” The kids laughed and as they got closer, the lizard scampered off and out of reach.
So I found and was able to photograph what I searched out for, a western fence lizard on a fence. Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park is a large park (4,500 acres) that stretches from Laguna Niguel, Calif., to the Pacific Ocean. In addition to the wildlife, the park is also a great hiking and mountain biking destination. If you want to get in some herping and you are visiting Orange County Calif., this summer, or any time of the year, check out the wilderness park at Aliso and Wood Canyons.
How to Get There
Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
28373 Alicia Pkwy
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677