September Visit (9/29/2016) 3 of 3

Having established a pattern of drawing the view at the trailhead every six months, I am posting the drawing for September 2016, just a over a year after the fire.  Although plenty of charred tree and shrub branches are still in evidence, new growth in tree crowns and from the bases of both trees and shrubs stands out starkly against the summer-yellowed hillsides.

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The view in March 2016:

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The view in September 2015:

coldcanyonclosedtrailheadv2_2015sep11_sm

September Visit (9/29/2016) 2 of 3

It’s oak gall season!  I spotted the leaf below right in the middle of the trail, with galls from two different wasps.  The urchin gall wasp (Antron quercusechinus) makes the spiny pink galls and the crystalline gall wasp (Andricus crystallinus) makes the furry pink galls.  These wasps, in the family Cynipidae, lay their eggs in oak leaves (in this case a blue oak), and the eggs secrete plant hormone mimics which cause the leave to form the spectacular gall.  The larvae grow and feed in the gall for weeks to years, depending on environmental conditions, and then pupate within the gall and emerge as adults.

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Continuing the oak theme, I looked carefully at oak regrowth along Cold Creek.  Interior live oak, an evergreen oak, is generally a more vigorous basal sprouter, as observed below:

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Blue oaks, which are deciduous, generally do not resprout from their bases, but show regrowth in their crowns:

blueoakgrowth_2016sep29_sm

September Visit (9/29/2016) 1 of 3

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:

chamiseandbuckeye_2016sep29_sm

The yellow hills allowed the new sprouts of the chaparral shrubs to stand out sharply:

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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.

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Until this visit, I had only seen western fence lizards in the reserve, so I was excited to spot a speedy western skink:

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I saw far more spider webs along the sides of the trail on this visit, especially funnel webs as below:

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August Visit (8/25/2016)

A hot and dry August day: first I noticed that heavy stillness particular to the very hot days of California summer, and then started paying attention to all of the active insects.  Grasshoppers took off in all directions to escape as I walked along the trail and butterflies of all sizes were abundant.

One of the few flowers blooming, twiggy wreath plant (Stephanomeria virgata), attracted quite a few bees, both western honey bees (Apis mellifera) and a bumblebee, the black-tailed bumblebee (Bombus melanopygus edwardsii).

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One grasshopper stayed still long enough for me to draw it.  It slowly dawned on me that there was a reason it was less willing to fly away as I approached: it was missing its right hind leg.  It was still able to fly, but taking off clearly took more effort.

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A daytime moon over Blue Ridge:

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I watched a Sonoma chipmunk (Tamias sonomae) working busily in the trees some distance away.  The image below was drawn from a reference photo.

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July Visit (7/21/2016)

On a hot but not scorching morning, butterflies of all sizes were abundant:

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Lots of summer yellow:

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A few last wildflowers and fruits:

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A brief sighting of a Sonoma chipmunk (Tamias sonomae):

sonomachipmunk_2016jul21_sm

Some of the new stairs that volunteers have constructed along the trail:

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I heard, but did not see, a Nuttall’s woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii).  This drawing is based on a reference photo:

nuttallswoodpecker_2016jul21_sm

June Visit (6/29/2016)

By June, Cold Creek was dry, at least in the lower part.  It is possible that water remained in pools higher up in the canyon.

coldcreekdry_2016jun29_sm

There were still a few wildflowers to find, and some Valley elderberry longhorn beetles (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus) on their favorite plant:

wildflowers_2016jun29_sm

The leaves of yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) growing alongside the trail were strikingly shiny.  The yerba santa often seemed to be growing in patches of weedy thistles (star thistle, milk thistle) and dandelions, which are much more abundant post-fire with much of the shade gone.

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Brown summer hills and a vibrant cloud-free sky:

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Moth Collecting with John De Benedictis (5/18/2016)

John De Benedictis, a Research Fellow at the Richard M. Bohart Museum of Entomology, has been collecting moths twice a month at dusk in Cold Canyon since 1989.  I accompanied him for the first part of his visit on May 18.  John sets up a sheet across the path at the entrance to the Reserve, and sometimes a second sheet parallel to the path (and perpendicular to the first sheet), when accompanied by Greg Kareofelas, a Research Affiliate at the Bohart Museum.  John hangs a fluorescent light against the sheet, which transmits unfiltered UV light, a mixture of UV and white light.

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John collects the moths that land on the sheet for later identification.  John started his work in Cold Canyon three years after the last major wildfire and is watching closely to see how moth populations respond after the Wragg Fire.  May is the month in which he has recorded the most moth species over the years; on a good night, he collects about a third of the species known to fly at that time of year.  The numbers collected this May will be a good indication of how depleted the populations are after the fire.

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When John first started collecting in 1989, not long after the previous fire at the Reserve, he observed that Sparganothis senecionana was numerous.  S. senecionana is a tortricid that prefers to feed on low-growing plants.  Over time, as fire recovery progressed, the numbers of S. senecionana decreased, while those of Archips argyrospila, the fruit tree leafroller (also Tortricidae), increased.  A. argryrospila feeds on a number of plants including oaks, but seems more abundant in areas with oaks, and their numbers seem to have followed oak regrowth in the Reserve.  This pattern now appears to be repeating after the Wragg Fire: John has observed that Archips numbers are considerable lower since the fire, along with the numbers of other oak-associated moths, indicating that they have been hard-hit by the fire and the loss of oaks.

mothcollecting4_2016may18_sm

March Visit (3/23/2016) 3 of 3

Because the green hills will not last long, I wanted to capture the great difference in the view at the trailhead in March compared to last September.  The charred trees and shrubs stand out starkly against the vibrant green new growth.  Here is the view March 23:

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And here is the view from last September 11:

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March Visit (3/23/2016) 1 of 3

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:

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California poppies had started to adorn the hillsides in February, but were carpeting them in March, especially on the southwest facing slopes:

capoppyhillside_2016mar23_sm

Regrowth was lush at the base of the California buckeye at marker A07 (map):

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I’ve been watching the new stalks of California laurel at B03 get progressively taller:

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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):

calaurel_2016mar23_sm

Cold Creek clear and full:

coldcreek_2016mar23_sm

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:

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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:

graffiti_2016mar23_sm

January Visit (1/8/2016)

Walking the creek trail in early January, I drew some of the re-sprouting shrubs.  I have focused on plants that are marked for monitoring by the California Phenology Project at Stebbins Cold Canyon.  Marker numbers are noted on each sketch.  Shown below are California laurel (B03), Coyotebrush (A04), and Toyon (A02, with an additional closeup).

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Looking up from the creek at the same spot where I focused on water quality in December and January, I drew the canyon hillsides facing west.  While there was some green growth to be seen along the creek, next to nothing was green on the hillsides in this direction.

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