In February, I felt particularly lucky to be escorted the entirety of my hike by robins. They were busy stripping the stands of toyon of their berries, swooping here and there, calling to each other and scolding me. They would let me get close to them and stand under the bushes for a while, but then they would move away one by one down the trail to the next cluster of toyons.
I was struck on this hike by how much white pitcher sage I saw in clearings, soaking up the sun. The abundance of white pitcher sage and also chaparral currant seem to me to be a sign of the growing dominance of sub-shrubs in the Stebbins habitats, as the annuals start to be shaded out and we follow the ecological stages of plant succession after the fire.
I stopped for a captivating view with swaths of toyon, hairy-leaved ceanothus, and white pitcher sage. Below are some of the deposits left by mammals and a bird along that same stretch of trail.
I believe the galls I spotted on the interior live oak are made by the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis sp.).
A clump of feathers in the grass at the side of the trail told the story of some kind of struggle, probably with a robin since they were so active and plentiful then. No sign of a body (or parts thereof), so either the bird escaped or the evidence was swallowed.
As I neared the end of my hike, I noticed the unmistakable red of a robin’s chest in the brush down the hill along the side of the trail. The still form looked so peaceful – no sign of predation or struggle. It was a moving end to the drama that the robins had provided all along my journey.
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.
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).