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.
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.
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.
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:
And here is the view from last September 11:
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:
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).
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.
While the Cold Canyon trails are closed, the reserve is offering guided hikes to the public (current list of hikes). I participated in a hike at the end of December, led by Jeffrey Clary, Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve Manager. We walked along the canyon trail, discussing the plants that were started to regrow, and how the site is faring five months after the fire.
Interestingly, there is less regrowth at this point than might be expected, with the hillsides still quite bare, with many fewer seed regenerating plants than after similar fires. That is not to say that there is no regrowth yet, though, and hikers found plenty of interesting plants along the trail, growing from seeds, bulbs, and resprouting from stumps.
We also observed other effects of the fire, including many new rock faces, created when the water inside the boulders caused them to explode in the heat of the fire.
Due to extensive damage to the trails and the overall sensitivity of surviving plants and wildlife at the reserve, the Cold Canyon trails are closed until at least spring 2016. In September, I visited the reserve’s closed trailhead, to take a look at the landscape and to document the trail closure. Looking through the chain-link fence, I could see charred ground and skeletal trunks of trees and shrubs, but noted that the signpost was left unscathed.