It was late fall, but still felt like summer when I visited Stebbins in September. Each season has its highlights, and I went to the canyon looking forward to flying insects, active birds, and the early hints of fall colors. I wasn’t disappointed! The Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna) and the grasshoppers were quite lively, and it sometimes took me a minute to register which of the two large flyers had just whizzed past my head.
Poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) is always showy this time of year. I love to see it looking healthy and abundant: it is an important food source for birds, herps, insects and some mammals.
I spent a long time watching a gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus) on slender clover (Trifolium gracilentum). I hadn’t seen one in Stebbins yet – it is a pretty little butterfly!
It was great to be back in the canyon after nearly a yearlong absence, having just moved back from the East Coast. I was there on a short trip, but enjoyed the quiet autumn stillness in the morning before the full heat of the day.
On an overcast day that was comfortably cool, I tried to see as many different areas in the reserve as I could. I headed up the trail towards Blue Ridge first and watched an oak titmouse (Baelophus inornatus) poking around in the dirt at the edge of the trail. There were still bunches of nearly dry California cudweed (Pseudognaphalium californicum), along with the last blooms of coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis).
Tuleyome and the Friends of Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve have been continuing to stabilize the trail, shoring up the steep sections while the shrubs that ordinarily hold the hillsides in place are regrowing.
The sky was filled with dramatic swaths of clouds, so I took a moment to capture the view back along Highway 128.
Many of the toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) that started regrowing immediately after the fire did not produce flowers and berries until this year.
In the overall grey of the day, the fall colors at the reserve stood out sharply:
Because there had been a small amount of rainfall already this fall, the creekbed was damp and there were a few pools in places; enough moisture for mosses to have begun to rehydrate. The view through the culverts that are now the official access route into the canyon is striking and I finally stopped to capture it on this visit.
Here are a few shots of the sketches in progress:
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.
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.
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):
A few more blooms (canyon delphinium, blue dicks, and miner’s lettuce):
I’m still working on capturing the grey expanses of dead tree and shrub branches against the hillsides.
Cold creek is beautiful and clear.
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.
At the end of September, summer was officially over, but summer weather here lasts well into fall. Chamise regrowth was strong and healthy, and the buckeye leaves were brown and ready to fall, revealing the fruits:
The yellow hills allowed the new sprouts of the chaparral shrubs to stand out sharply:
Two wildflowers: western goldenrod (Euthamia occidentalis) along the trail, and annual willow-herb (Epilobium canum) in the dry creek bed. Three-leaf sumac (Rhus trilobata) was growing happily along the trail; it is a close relative of poison oak, and like that relative, grows back vigorously after fires.
Until this visit, I had only seen western fence lizards in the reserve, so I was excited to spot a speedy western skink:
I saw far more spider webs along the sides of the trail on this visit, especially funnel webs as below:
In May, I enjoyed new blooms, still-green hills, and the cool shade along the Homestead Trail. Caterpillars were everywhere, a white-lined sphinx moth caterpillar (Hyles lineata) below, along with lupine seed pods and wild cucumber fruits:
Below, some pipevine swallowtail caterpillars (Battus philenor) on California pipevine leaves (Aristolochia californica). I also enjoyed seeing the cord moss (Funaria hygrometrica) with red seta (the seta were still yellow-green in March).
Many new wildflowers:
California buckeyes (Aesculus californica) were flowering:
Cold Creek still had clear water flowing:
I visited on a warm, clear day in March to enjoy all the new green growth and buzzing and humming of insects everywhere. This is the first of three posts showing what I saw.
Turkey vultures were enjoying the thermals above Blue Ridge:
California poppies had started to adorn the hillsides in February, but were carpeting them in March, especially on the southwest facing slopes:
Regrowth was lush at the base of the California buckeye at marker A07 (map):
I’ve been watching the new stalks of California laurel at B03 get progressively taller:
New, though, was this interesting growth of stalks at the base of a much larger California laurel (not at a CA Phenology Project at Stebbins marker):
Cold Creek clear and full:
Although the reserve remains closed to the public until May, there have been large numbers of trespassers. Evidence comes in the form of paths blazed down to the creek off the main trail:
This activity directly interferes with the reserve’s ability to fully recover from the fire by increasing erosion and damaging newly regrown plants. Plenty of other evidence of trespass too:
I returned to the reserve in February excited to see how much greener it would be and whether any wildflowers were starting to appear. This drawing of Blue Ridge shows a dramatic difference from a month and a half prior:
All along the creek trail, I enjoyed the new greens, as seen in the new growth below in a California buckeye and the Toyon at marker A02 (markers are used by the CA Phenology Project at Stebbins; here is a map of the marker locations).
Cold Creek was running higher, and the water and the sediment both look cleaner than they did on my December and January visits.
And there were wildflowers! Not all that many yet, but I did see Henderson’s shooting star (Dodecatheon hendersonii), Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), Large-leaved hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum grande), Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), and Wild cucumber (Marah fabaceus).