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 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.
On an overcast day that was comfortably cool, I tried to see as many different areas in the reserve as I could. I headed up the trail towards Blue Ridge first and watched an oak titmouse (Baelophus inornatus) poking around in the dirt at the edge of the trail. There were still bunches of nearly dry California cudweed (Pseudognaphalium californicum), along with the last blooms of coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis).
Tuleyome and the Friends of Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve have been continuing to stabilize the trail, shoring up the steep sections while the shrubs that ordinarily hold the hillsides in place are regrowing.
The sky was filled with dramatic swaths of clouds, so I took a moment to capture the view back along Highway 128.
Many of the toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) that started regrowing immediately after the fire did not produce flowers and berries until this year.
In the overall grey of the day, the fall colors at the reserve stood out sharply:
Because there had been a small amount of rainfall already this fall, the creekbed was damp and there were a few pools in places; enough moisture for mosses to have begun to rehydrate. The view through the culverts that are now the official access route into the canyon is striking and I finally stopped to capture it on this visit.
Here are a few shots of the sketches in progress:
In the morning when the temperature was approaching 90 degrees F, a fairly short walk through the reserve revealed a number of plants I had not seen in previous visits, including green cudweed (Gnaphalium californicum) and narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), below. I also observed galls on poison oak, which are made by a gall mite, Aculops rhois.
California fuschia (Epilobium canum) is abundant in the reserve in the summer, but I saw a new Epilobium in the creekbed this visit, denseflower willowherb (Epilobium densiflorum). The puffy, plume-like fruits of pipestem clematis (Clematis lasiantha) were abundant in several places along the creek trail.
Thanks to the wetter winter, there was still water in the creekbed this July, and plenty of plants and animals taking advantage. Red rock skimmers (Paltothemis lineatipes) buzzed me as I stood on rocks above the water, peering into the creek to see freshwater snails that are harder to spot when the water is higher. I fished the head of a Jerusalem cricket (Stenopelmatus sp.) out of the water; I’m sure the rest of its body had been a juicy treat for something.