January Visit (1/27/2017)

After the first very wet winter in a long time, it was deeply satisfying to see Cold Creek full of water and energy.

ColdCreekRushing_2017Jan27_sm

Little tributaries to Cold Creek were full of water, and an early wildflower (milk maids, Cardamine californica) was abundant along the trail.

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The leaves of last spring’s foothill mule-ears (Wyethia helenoides) had dried so that only the veins were left, making a delicate lace.

DryMulesEars_2017Jan27_sm

It appears that toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) that resprouted after the fire did not flower their first spring.  A toyon at the place where the trail crosses the creek had not burned and did produce fruit last fall.

I looked at the different patterns of regrowth in gray pine (Pinus sabiniana).

PineRegrowthEtc_2017Jan27_sm

Toyon berries were the primary food in the scat of what was likely a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), as it was left on a rock in the middle of the trail.  It is possible that the scat was from a coyote (Canis latrans), but because gray foxes are known for finding prominent spots to mark with scat, fox is my first guess.

FoxScatEtc_2017Jan27_sm

November Visit (11/30/2016)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A few mid-action photos:

October Visit (10/31/2016)

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.

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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.

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All over the canyon, poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) in its fall colors glowed vividly against the green and gray of the day.

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Mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides) resprouting.  I love the shape of their leaves.

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Female coyotebrush (Baccharis pilularis) flowers, and a view of coyotebrush resprouting.

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September Visit (9/29/2016) 2 of 3

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.

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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:

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Blue oaks, which are deciduous, generally do not resprout from their bases, but show regrowth in their crowns:

blueoakgrowth_2016sep29_sm

September Visit (9/29/2016) 1 of 3

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:

chamiseandbuckeye_2016sep29_sm

The yellow hills allowed the new sprouts of the chaparral shrubs to stand out sharply:

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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.

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Until this visit, I had only seen western fence lizards in the reserve, so I was excited to spot a speedy western skink:

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I saw far more spider webs along the sides of the trail on this visit, especially funnel webs as below:

funnelweb_2016sep29_sm

August Visit (8/25/2016)

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).

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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.

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A daytime moon over Blue Ridge:

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I watched a Sonoma chipmunk (Tamias sonomae) working busily in the trees some distance away.  The image below was drawn from a reference photo.

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July Visit (7/21/2016)

On a hot but not scorching morning, butterflies of all sizes were abundant:

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Lots of summer yellow:

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A few last wildflowers and fruits:

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A brief sighting of a Sonoma chipmunk (Tamias sonomae):

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Some of the new stairs that volunteers have constructed along the trail:

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I heard, but did not see, a Nuttall’s woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii).  This drawing is based on a reference photo:

nuttallswoodpecker_2016jul21_sm