July Visit (7/26/2017)

In the morning when the temperature was approaching 90 degrees F, a fairly short walk through the reserve revealed a number of plants I had not seen in previous visits, including green cudweed (Gnaphalium californicum) and narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), below.  I also observed galls on poison oak, which are made by a gall mite, Aculops rhois.

Wildflowers1_2017Jul26_sm

California fuschia (Epilobium canum) is abundant in the reserve in the summer, but I saw a new Epilobium in the creekbed this visit, denseflower willowherb (Epilobium densiflorum).  The puffy, plume-like fruits of pipestem clematis (Clematis lasiantha) were abundant in several places along the creek trail.

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Thanks to the wetter winter, there was still water in the creekbed this July, and plenty of plants and animals taking advantage.  Red rock skimmers (Paltothemis lineatipes) buzzed me as I stood on rocks above the water, peering into the creek to see freshwater snails that are harder to spot when the water is higher.  I fished the head of a Jerusalem cricket (Stenopelmatus sp.) out of the water; I’m sure the rest of its body had been a juicy treat for something.

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Winters Fire (July 6-8, 2017)

Near the beginning of what is likely to be an intense fire season, the area north of Cold Canyon that has burned twice before over the past four years was in flames again.  A total of 2,269 acres burned north of Highway 128 near Winters over three days in early July:

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This map shows all of the fires in the area between 2014 and 2016:

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While fire is a necessary component of a healthy ecosystem, when the same area burns repeatedly with only short intervals between fires, seed banks are destroyed and trees that might have survived a single fire are unable to recover enough to withstand the next fire.  We still have a couple of months or more of hot dry weather, and plenty of extra fuel this year as a result of the wet winter.  I will be surprised if there are not more fires in this area this year.

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May Visit (5/29/2017)

Meandering down the trail in May, stopping every few steps to draw something else, I tried to find differences between last May and this.  As I’d noticed before, there were more vines this year, including western morning glory (Calystegia occidentalis).  There were abundant pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor) both years, and this visit I spotted a mating pair and was able to get close to sketch them.

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It seemed to me that there were many more Clarkias along the creek trail, including Clarkia unguiculata (elegant Clarkia) and Clarkia purpurea (four-spot).

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Bumblebees were busy in the Klamathweed (St. John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum) and I watched a Chalcedon checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona) on poison oak.  A few gray pines (Pinus sabiniana) that seemed to still be growing after the fire now have so few green needles left that it seems they may not make it after all.

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A couple of my usual views: Cold Creek and Blue Ridge.  I’ve been trying to capture them each time I visit, for an ongoing record of seasonal changes as well as changes over the years.

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I hadn’t yet spotted an alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata; I wrote an older synonym on the sketch) in the reserve, so I was glad to finally spy one darting across the trail in front of me.  They are zippy and more shy than fence lizards.

I started to draw the coyote mint (Monardella villosa) and then noticed a lady beetle (Coccinellidae) larva on one leaf.

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April Visit (4/1/2017): View from the Trailhead

Approximately a year and six months after the fire, it is apparent that the crowns of many of the trees near the trailhead have filled in considerably.  There is also a lot more vegetation on the ground than there was in March a year ago.  Chaparral shrubs are resprouting from their bases, but I have noticed this winter and spring that vines (wild cucumber, wild grape) are responsible for a lot of the newest greenery on the hillsides, growing up the trunks of the burned shrubs.

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The view September 2016:

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March 2016:

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September 2015:

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April Visit (4/1/2017)

The days are warming up and the butterflies are out in force.  Pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor) were everywhere when I visited at the beginning of April, large dark shapes swooping across the trail.  I was excited to find a jumping spider (Phidippus sp.) on a branch of poison oak.

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I watched a lone carpenter ant (Camponotus sp.) wandering along the mud next to a trickle of water running across the trail.  Purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida) is a beautiful wildflower that I didn’t see in the reserve last year.

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Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars were busy eating the tips of California figwort (Scrophularia californica).  It is clear that vines are taking advantage of the bare chaparral shrub branches after the fire, and this year the vines are even more abundant, especially on the hillsides.

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I had been unaware that there were yellow variants of woolly paintbrush (Castilleja foliolosa), but both colors were growing along the creek trail.

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I didn’t spot any live grasshoppers on this visit, but did see a very flat one in the middle of the trail.

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There were lovely patches of fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii) and abundant wild cucumber fruits (Marah fabaceus).

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The prohibition of dogs in the reserve is unfortunately ineffective.  Just about every third group of hikers I saw on this busy Saturday had a dog with them.

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February Visit (2/28/2017)

Enjoying the wildflowers on a beautiful February day, I also noticed a different form of California buckeye (Aesculus californica) regrowth than I had seen last year.  Along the creek trail, some buckeyes that had not regrown in their crowns last year were sending up basal shoots.  I love the way the leaf buds look.

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I was excited to see a checker-lily (Fritillaria affinis), something I did not catch last year.  Greater bee-flies (Bombylius major) were everywhere, enjoying the sun and the flowers.

WildflowersEtc2_2017Feb28_sm

A yellowjacket (Vespula sp.) resting on purple nightshade (Solanum xanti), a western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) paused on a rock in the sun, and the first blooms on fleshy lupine (Lupinus succulentus):

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A few more blooms (canyon delphinium, blue dicks, and miner’s lettuce):

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I’m still working on capturing the grey expanses of dead tree and shrub branches against the hillsides.

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Cold creek is beautiful and clear.

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The wet winter has led to movement on the hillsides, although maybe not as much as there might have been, given how recent the fire was.  This was a slump right along the creek trail.

SlumpAboveTrail_2017Feb28_sm

 

 

January Visit (1/27/2017)

After the first very wet winter in a long time, it was deeply satisfying to see Cold Creek full of water and energy.

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Little tributaries to Cold Creek were full of water, and an early wildflower (milk maids, Cardamine californica) was abundant along the trail.

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The leaves of last spring’s foothill mule-ears (Wyethia helenoides) had dried so that only the veins were left, making a delicate lace.

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It appears that toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) that resprouted after the fire did not flower their first spring.  A toyon at the place where the trail crosses the creek had not burned and did produce fruit last fall.

I looked at the different patterns of regrowth in gray pine (Pinus sabiniana).

PineRegrowthEtc_2017Jan27_sm

Toyon berries were the primary food in the scat of what was likely a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), as it was left on a rock in the middle of the trail.  It is possible that the scat was from a coyote (Canis latrans), but because gray foxes are known for finding prominent spots to mark with scat, fox is my first guess.

FoxScatEtc_2017Jan27_sm