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:
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:
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:
Walking the creek trail in early January, I drew some of the re-sprouting shrubs. I have focused on plants that are marked for monitoring by the California Phenology Project at Stebbins Cold Canyon. Marker numbers are noted on each sketch. Shown below are California laurel (B03), Coyotebrush (A04), and Toyon (A02, with an additional closeup).
Looking up from the creek at the same spot where I focused on water quality in December and January, I drew the canyon hillsides facing west. While there was some green growth to be seen along the creek, next to nothing was green on the hillsides in this direction.
High-intensity chaparral fires cause increased erosion and sediment transport into streams, and this can be seen in the thick black sludge filling the Cold Creek channel. On my December visit, with no recent rain, the creek bed was pretty dramatically full of sludge.
December 30, 2015:
By my January visit, several small storms had contributed to small flows in the creek. As water washes the runoff from the burned hillsides through the system, ash from the fire as well as contaminants that were present on the hillsides will move through Cold Creek and into Putah Creek. This creates water quality concerns which will be addressed by future water quality monitoring to be conducted by the Solano County Water Agency.
January 8, 2016: