Having been on the other side of the country, I missed a spring trailhead view of Stebbins this year. It was great to draw another fall view this October, just over three years since the fire.
Here is the view from September 2017:
And the previous four (March 2017, September 2016, March 2016 and September 2015):
Approximately a year and six months after the fire, it is apparent that the crowns of many of the trees near the trailhead have filled in considerably. There is also a lot more vegetation on the ground than there was in March a year ago. Chaparral shrubs are resprouting from their bases, but I have noticed this winter and spring that vines (wild cucumber, wild grape) are responsible for a lot of the newest greenery on the hillsides, growing up the trunks of the burned shrubs.
The view September 2016:
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:
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:
John De Benedictis, a Research Fellow at the Richard M. Bohart Museum of Entomology, has been collecting moths twice a month at dusk in Cold Canyon since 1989. I accompanied him for the first part of his visit on May 18. John sets up a sheet across the path at the entrance to the Reserve, and sometimes a second sheet parallel to the path (and perpendicular to the first sheet), when accompanied by Greg Kareofelas, a Research Affiliate at the Bohart Museum. John hangs a fluorescent light against the sheet, which transmits unfiltered UV light, a mixture of UV and white light.
John collects the moths that land on the sheet for later identification. John started his work in Cold Canyon three years after the last major wildfire and is watching closely to see how moth populations respond after the Wragg Fire. May is the month in which he has recorded the most moth species over the years; on a good night, he collects about a third of the species known to fly at that time of year. The numbers collected this May will be a good indication of how depleted the populations are after the fire.
When John first started collecting in 1989, not long after the previous fire at the Reserve, he observed that Sparganothis senecionana was numerous. S. senecionana is a tortricid that prefers to feed on low-growing plants. Over time, as fire recovery progressed, the numbers of S. senecionana decreased, while those of Archips argyrospila, the fruit tree leafroller (also Tortricidae), increased. A. argryrospila feeds on a number of plants including oaks, but seems more abundant in areas with oaks, and their numbers seem to have followed oak regrowth in the Reserve. This pattern now appears to be repeating after the Wragg Fire: John has observed that Archips numbers are considerable lower since the fire, along with the numbers of other oak-associated moths, indicating that they have been hard-hit by the fire and the loss of oaks.
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 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).