Hills Creek Reservoir Starting to Bloom

Last week, Sabine and I went out to Hills Creek Reservoir. It was a gorgeous day, and the botanizing turned out to be even better than we had anticipated. We knew there was Crocidium multicaule out there, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen so many there. They are outstanding on the cliffs between the 7 and 8 mile markers on Road 21 along the west side of the reservoir, creating sweeps of yellow on the rocks. The Lomatium hallii and Ribes roezlii var. cruentum are just starting there as well and just a couple of little Mimulus alsinoides. We climbed up one of the less steep banks to see if we could get higher up the rocks. Loads of poison oak and, although we got to the edge of the cliff, there wasn’t much new to see there. But on the way out, under the many ocean sprays on the upper bank, we found 2 dried flower stalks of what I’m almost positive is Orobanche pinorum. Since it is near the beginning of the deer trail we took, it should be easy to check for fresh flowers later in the season without getting into the poison oak. When we got back to the road, there was a chorus of frogs in a ditch, along with lots of egg masses. I saw one frog, but alas, they quieted down as we approached. That’s one of the prettiest sounds in the whole world.

Garrya fremontii

male Fremont’s silktassel (Garrya fremontii)

A quick stop at the bathroom at the bridge on the south side of the lake brought another surprise. In the dozens of times I’ve stopped there, I never noticed there is a Garrya fremontii growing in the parking area. It was a handsome male in full peak bloom, the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Its long dangling flowers were dispersing tons of pollen, my camera bag was yellow from a thick coating of it. That was worth the whole trip.

We continued on to Youngs Flat Picnic area for lunch and a quick check on the Piperias. They are starting to come up, but there should be many more emerging in a little while. Nothing else blooming there but snow queens, but we did see two California tortoiseshells. Then we stopped at a south-facing road cut where over 20 tortoiseshells were fluttering about! More Crocidium blooming on the rocks here and one Clarkia rhomboidea plant with the coleus like purple veins on the young leaves. We had fun trying to identify all the annual leaves coming up as well. We hiked up through the woods and back down through a small meadow to the road. The seeps were filled with blooming Nemophila pedunculata and tiny Montia fontana. I was surprised to see so much of it and out so early. Farther east along the road by Campers Flat and then at Big Pine Opening, we saw more of both in seepy spots. Big Pine Opening was burned a couple of years ago. Last year it was filled with supersized annuals presumably enjoying the extra carbon. It is filled with annuals again. It was also interesting to see a number of shrubs that have come back from the roots after burning including several willows coming into bloom that looked like Salix scouleriana, but they had bright red branches.

I hope you all get a chance to get out and enjoy this insanely early spring!

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