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).
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.
A daytime moon over Blue Ridge:
I watched a Sonoma chipmunk (Tamias sonomae) working busily in the trees some distance away. The image below was drawn from a reference photo.
Almost exactly one year from the start of the Wragg Fire, the Cold Fire burned the area just north of Cold Canyon. It covered nearly the same area as the Monticello Fire did in 2014. Three years now of annual fires in this area: what will 2017 bring?
On the second day of the Cold Fire, I drove toward Winters to take a look at the smoky sky. The setting sun was an unearthly pink. While the smoke had not reached the country intersection where I made these drawings, the road was engulfed in smoke by the time reached the outskirts of Winters.
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.
There were still a few wildflowers to find, and some Valley elderberry longhorn beetles (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus) on their favorite plant:
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.
Brown summer hills and a vibrant cloud-free sky:
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.
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:
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:
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).