Wednesday, March 26, 2014

habitat ~ 03/26/14 ~ Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park

Here's another local gem we found while driving around, ostensibly in an attempt to find a restaurant that was actually open after our hike at Lewis Creek.  Since our stomachs insisted on being filled, we planned to return the next day.  Sure enough, plans?  Rain.  I guess I should be celebrating that my rain curse has returned.  Not to be deterred, Andy kindly served as my umbrella holder while I attempted to take pictures of flowers in the rain.

Ahwahnee Hills is less than 7 crow miles from and maybe 1000 feet lower in elevation than Lewis Creek.  It's a completely different type of habitat.  I appreciate the diversity.  Give a couple weeks, better lighting, and this place could offer great glamour shots for the spring months of any CA wall calendar.  Come to find out, Ahwahnee Hills only recently opened March 15, 2014 after 20 years of planning.  It's another public-private partnership, a trend I see more and more these days of little public money.  I had forgotten that federal parks closed temporarily last fall, including Yosemite, as this Sierra Star writer mentions in his review of Ahwahnee Hills.  I can totally see why people buy vacation property in the area.  It's a lovely place, even in the rain.

American beaver ~ 03/26/14 ~ Ahwahnee Hills

Oh?  Well, look at that!  Hey, there must be a beaver nearby!  We totally missed spotting the lodge, so we backtracked about a hundred yards to look around.

Is that the lodge?  It just looks like someone tossed a bunch of cleared brush down the bank.  That can't be it, no?  

Indeed, everywhere we walked at the newly opened Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park, there were numerous small piles of cut brush scattered about.  No wonder we didn't give this pile a second thought.  They were still grading the new trails, so I imagine there was plenty of path clearing involved.

Do you think they plan to burn the small piles?  We actually saw a couple yard waste fires along the roads from Bass Lake to Ahwahnee in the rain.  One fellow had such a high flame, I'm sure he used gasoline.  Even fires crews in the Sierra National Forrest were lighting fires. I didn't know burning yard waste was still a common practice due to concerns over air quality.  At least with the rain, there wasn't going to be much danger of a wildfire.  I'm guessing the area had a strict fire ban this record dry year.  Wildfires are hella scary.  They're supposedly good for CA ecosystems, but they wreck havoc on the human inhabitants.

So, I checked out the "brush pile".  Look at the angled gnaw marks on the twig end.  What surprised me was the patted down mud and the whole thing just leaning against the sloping bank.  While not reported for this end of Madera County, the CDFW states beavers in the Central Valley are primarily bank dwellers and often don't build lodges and dams.  I did not know that.  I wonder if this beaver may have caused trouble for humans elsewhere and was relocated to this handy-dandy new park where its activities will be encouraged.

I've seen evidence of beavers here and there over the years from CA to WA up to AK, usually just gnawed stumps.  The most I ever saw, including several actual animals, was when I backpacked the Adirondacks in NY.  They have crazy busy beavers back there with lodges and dams literally everywhere.  I bet our North American landscape would look so much different if beavers hadn't been trapped to near oblivion.  As it is, I'm glad to see they're still around.  Go, beavers!

rusty popcorn flower ~ 03/26/14 ~ Ahwahnee Hills


Driving up to Bass Lake, we passed beautiful grazing hills scattered with, what looked like from a distance, a grand dusting of powdered sugar.  Popcorn flowers.  I had hoped to find a place where I could trespass to take closer pictures, and then we found Ahwahnee Hills.  Perfect.

Pfft.  In CA, we have a lot of popcorn flowers (66 Calflora records of Plagiobothrys spp./var.) and look-alikes, aka white forget-me-nots (92 Calflora records of Cryptantha spp./var.).  Ha!  Good luck with ID.  There is no way I would have been able to figure these out, if I hadn't found Ahwanee Hills Regional Park's flowers page.  It's the same style as Yosemite Hikes - same person? same web host?  For now, I'm totally trusting whomever put the park's site together, because even if I refine my Calflora search, I still end up with too many possibilities.  Which also means, I can't assume all the tiny white flowers I saw in the distance were rusty popcorn flowers.  

Apparently, the tinged hair on the calyx and stem gives this sp. its rusty common name. Wayne's Word has an excellent discussion of Plagiobothrys and Cryptantha, including the scary-looking bloody red dye.  It's a good thing I'm not in the habit of fondling plants, because that would have freaked me out.  Plus, he shows some excellent pictures of nutlets.  Finally!  I've been searching for nutlet pictures ever since my first Hickman's popcorn flower, which grow much closer to the ground than rusty's actively popping reach.

As a final note, what is that distinctive collar around the yellow and white throats in my first picture?  I couldn't find it on any other popcorn flower pictures online.  Is that unusual?

Menzies' fiddleneck ~ 03/26/14 ~ Ahwahnee Hills


I'm not a huge fan of yellow, but there is something structurally appealing to me about the fiddlenecks.  We saw expansive patches along the road side of grazing pasture fences and only a small patch at Ahwahnee.  These are lush compared to the skinny ones I took pictures of at Pinnacles.  Even though I inherited a very nice jeweler's loupe, I never use it.  It's a lot of trouble during what's supposed to be a hike to take such a close enough look at these tiny flowers to count their calyx lobes.  Plus, they're prickly.  I'm not absolutely positive about this ID, but I'm going with what's shown on the Ahwanee Hills Regional Park's flowers page.

giraffe's head ~ 03/26/14 ~ Ahwahnee Hills


Like with owl's-clovers, it doesn't take a big stretch of the imagination to see why the CA locals call this giraffe's head.  They're often featured as a plant in bloom at the Garland Ranch visitor's center, yet after years of looking, I've never seen it growing there myself.  So, I was a little surprised to find out this is not a native plant.  It hails from Europe, Asia, and Africa, if Wikipedia is correct.  For some reason the flowers remind me of CA hedgenettle, even though the leaves are totally different.