On a whim, and only after the sky seemed to be clearing, I set out on Saturday (January 16th), the last day before a two-week rain stretch. The exploration was along Happy Canyon Road and then Sunset Valley Road. While looking for plants, I eyed the many bare roadcuts and thought of the projected rain of 20 inches, rock/mud slides and lengthy road closures.
(Alder – male catkins on leafless trees)
It was an interesting trip. The flowering of the many Alder trees was quite impressive, and a first for me. The Alder tree is one of the catkin trees, monoecious (meaning one home) where the male and female catkins are on the same tree. The longer male catkins were numerous and abundant, and covered the many upward curving leafless branches. Only after flowering do the new leaves appear, probably to allow more effective wind-based pollen dispersal.
(Alder – male and female catkins)
The female catkins are shorter and rounder, and in a few months open to release small ripened, winged fruit much like conifer cones. Thereafter, the scaly bracts of the female catkin harden to form small cones that remain on the tree.
(Peony – Sunset Valley Road)
Judging from the many large patches of Fiesta Flower leaves, it is going to be a Fiesta spring. Other observations: many new leaves, some recognized some not; a few poppies here and there, one Bigelow Coreopsis, many Currant, some Solanum, more Bigberry Manzanita, a couple Peony and quite a few Prickly Phlox.
Driving back from Nira campground, while passing a stand of leafless trees I noticed a hole in one of the trees, and then after a few yards, another with what appeared to be an owl. Sometimes, from a distance, certain leaf and branch shapes remind one of animals. So, I stopped the car keeping it running, hauled out the long lens to check and indeed it was an owl. I took a few photos, and then noticed that the ISO level was a bit high. I pulled the lens back into the car, and after changing the settings, tried again – but the owl had disappeared. All over in a couple minutes, but since it was a Western Screech Owl, it was worth stopping. Click on the arrow below for the sound of a Western Screech Owl recorded from the back of my house some months ago.