Early September brought strong winds, which proved too much for some of the oaks in the reserve that had been weakened by fire. The one below was on the trail just before the actual entrance to the reserve, very near where the new trail access meets the original trailhead at Highway 128.
Although weakened, this oak had been alive before it fell. This is post-fire regrowth:
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.
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.
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.
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:
This map shows all of the fires in the area between 2014 and 2016:
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.
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.
The view September 2016:
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.