January and February have been nice. Although I’ve still been out monitoring and planning, I have not had to do as much physical labor. The rest has been welcome. Last December and November, I planted the Xerces Grassland Habitat Kit – over 200 plants and perhaps 1000 seeds. Certainly, this is an effort of love for the land, love for butterflies and bees. This week feels more spring-like, so I am outside again performing maintenance labor. While out pulling grass and straightening gopher baskets already planted into the ground, I saw the first butterfly of the season. What incentive!
The monarch overwintering count has been encouraging, with the number of adults just over 330,000. This is up from the 260,000 last year. We all need to recognize, however, that these numbers are nothing compared to what their population should be. Monarch and other butterflies were in the millions in most of our lifetimes back in the 1980s. Please continue to do everything you can do to build habitat and make conditions livable for these relatives of ours.
Rains Bring Flowers
As I’ve performed my walks about the ranch, the smell of nectar hangs in the air. It is so sweet. My mind turns fuzzy – like that “in love” brain block. I am intoxicated from the smell. It is no wonder February is the month we celebrate love. I try not to admit that the fuzzy head is from a histamine reaction – allergies. The sense of being in love with the world is too pleasant a thought.
I follow my nose and am led to small, low growing white flowers. There are millions of them in all the areas without much grass. These are the first wildflowers of the season to emerge.
In just a week, there are more blooms. Arugula, not a native plant, but very prolific (and delicious), begin to blossom. There are thousands of plants with many flowers each. Then lavender….then brodiaea…and soon many more.
Weeks after the major storms, the arroyos are still running, albeit a trickle, but still moving. The creeks are running well, but slowing. Pockets of algae are beginning to form. Algae occurs when there is significant nutrients in the water – typically the result of fertilizers farmers use and livestock. Here, it is the result of cattle poop. The cows were rotated to the north just after the big storms. The algae began to show last week. It is one of the down sides of cows. Algae can starve water of oxygen and make it inhabitable for other life. When it gets think, I try to open up holes on the surface of the water to allow movement and oxygen absorption. It is a losing battle of course. Unless I remove it after it forms, it just grows back again.
The force of the water was so tremendous, it blanched rocks – making the rock surfaces white. The torrent also deposited a remarkable amount of rock and sand into the creek channels. In some locations, the height of rock piles increased by 6″.
Although it was shifted around during higher flow times, the bulk of my rock check dam held. It retained the sediment, which built up behind it. It is absolutely stunning how much rock and sediment flowed down even on small creeks.
I attended the Southern Sierra Miwuk Traditional Ecological Knowledge program, which was two days. The second day, we worked on using fire to make the ground and specific plants healthy. I am not too comfortable around large fires – small fires ok – but large are a bit daunting. With each experience, I get a little more comfortable. I would like to have a burn at the ranch in fall and target eliminating medusa head and promoting some of the riparian native plants.