In November, on a cool but not cold day, I hiked to the top of Blue Ridge. Looking out at Lake Berryessa, it was easy to see part of the area burned by the Cold Fire last summer.
On the way up the trail, I looked for mushrooms enjoying the damp left by rains earlier in the month, and observed regrowth of mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), blue oaks (Quercus douglasii), and chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum). The leaves of yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) along the trail were losing their waxy coating. The waxy coating, presumably beneficial in retaining water during dry months, is resinous and highly flammable. Yerba santa seeds may require fire to germinate and can also resprout from rhizomes following fire.
Hillsides stripped of their erosion-controlling vegetation by the fire have been shored up with erosion matting installed by Tuleyome and Friends of Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve.
Looking across Cold Canyon I was struck by the “rivers” of dead tree branches running down the canyons of Pleasants Ridge. They made a ghostly grey against the greens of new growth and the hills still mostly yellow from the summer.
A few mid-action photos:
On a cool gray day, I thought that a scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica) in a gray pine (Pinus sabiniana) made a beautiful silhouette against the sky.
A number of spotted towhees (Pipilo maculatus) were foraging in the smaller trees along the trail. I caught one on a perch next to some stairs, and then drew a close-up from a photo.
All over the canyon, poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) in its fall colors glowed vividly against the green and gray of the day.
Mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides) resprouting. I love the shape of their leaves.
Female coyotebrush (Baccharis pilularis) flowers, and a view of coyotebrush resprouting.
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.
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:
Blue oaks, which are deciduous, generally do not resprout from their bases, but show regrowth in their crowns:
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:
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.