Wildflowers, A. Californica Emerges, Drought and Handing Off

Millie watches Beau kitten walk through the wildflowers (lupine and fiddleneck)

Wildflowers of all colors and sizes abound here in the foothills. It is like spring. I welcomed the thick scent of nectar into my home by keeping the doors and windows open the entire day last week. I never tire of the joy the olfactory experience brings me. Tempering my joy is the notable lack of bees across the range. I recall when I first came to this place that there would be plethora of different bees on the flowers – chunky bumble bees of different colors, thin, agile pollinating flies, and European honey bees of course. Fortunately, near the house is a different situation. There are honey bees, silver native bees, thin flies and every now and again a bumble bee on the arugula flowers. I love to lay on my chaise next to my towering stands of arugula, with the bees flying around me and listen to their hypnotic hum.

A. Californica Emerges…Partially

My plant obsession emerged in late February on the south facing slope – A. Californica (AC), California milkweed. What a tricky friend it is! I have been monitoring the emergence of early milkweeds for Ron as part of a larger program he is involved in. I must have walked by the rocks on the south facing slope twice in the latter part of February. I never saw anything.

In the early days of March , on a cool day, after checking the area, I headed home, down the very steep slope that leads to Site 2. I decided to pull some weeds around the baskets of Site 2 since I was there. I reached into the pocket of my jacket and found no gloves. The gloves were a yellow tan color, much like some of the rocks that protruded on the landscape. Looking left and right, I saw nothing. Although I dreaded it, I began to make a slow climb back up the steep south facing slope in search of my gloves. You must understand, the gloves were not cheapos. David got me a special pair that he thought would last longer and fit better since I work so much with my hands. Very sweet of him. But, this meant I was determined to find them.

Everything happens for a reason I suppose. Trudging back up the slope, about halfway up the hill, I saw a glimpse of light green on the dark green, brown, and red colored background almost glowing in the light. Could it be? No. I had wandered this area just a moment ago, and twice over the last two weeks. But yes! There is was, slightly moving in the breeze, a gorgeous puff of AC. As much as possible, I picked up my pace to get to it. Indeed, it was a large specimen of AC. It had to have been there, camouflaged against the moss on the rocks, for weeks. I began to look around and like prairie dogs peeking out of their holes there were another 3, no — 5, no –10, albeit smaller ACs. My heart beat more from the excitement than the 6% slope I had just loped up. Everywhere I turned there was AC. In all, after counting 6 times to ensure I got it right, there were 16 individuals in total in that community of plants. I could not help but grin so wide the sides of my mouth ached. What a great day.

I have been monitoring all AC sites where I have found the plants previously. Of the four, two have emerging plants. The other AC site has one very strong plant with three sprouts. Last year, this site had one plant with one sprout. The older the plants are, the stronger the roots become and the larger the sprouts get. I have seen smaller plants that get a later start never get to bloom. This is why it is really important to protect the older growth ACs.

Hopefully, we will begin to see some emergence in the other sites soon. The other sites are north and west facing (as opposed to south) – so this may be a factor.

Drought Worsens

There has not been any appreciable precipitation since my last post. Tanks one and two are still unfilled because of the defective rainwater system part from December. Such a lost opportunity. This means I continue waiting for a large rain event to make up for that issue. There are large swaths of red and brown patches all over the ranch. These are areas where no additional vegetation has grown and the existing vegetation has already run its life span. No water = no grass growth. The water is now completely gone in the swale pond. The springs are still running. It is not pooling in the spring creek since there was no good water saturation down stream. We still have standing water in Odom creek, but not as extensively as is typical.

Butterflies Visit

We have had more butterfly visitors, but not as many as in the past for this time of year. There have been several painted lady butterflies, some gray hairstreaks, a white and/or pale blue sulphur butterfly (I could not get a good look). There are so many flowers but not as many butterflies to utilize them.

Narrowleaf and Indian milkweeds have also begun to emerge. They will be good for many butterflies and not just the monarchs. I don’t know if any monarchs will stop by. A friend saw a monarch in the Merced River canyon area, which is farther east and higher in elevation. Maybe I will get some stragglers.

Odds and Ends

Most things that were not leafing out or growing, are now showing leaves or leaf buds. No showy milkweeds, but I don’t expect them until later. We expanded the protection fencing around the big leaf maples, and they are already being used. Just yesterday I was checking the enclosures and was stopped in my tracks. The bluest birds I’ve ever seen here were flitting around, roosting on trees, roosting on the fences and then dropping to peck into the ground. They were stunning. Fortunately, the dogs were not with me. I was able to get a closer look without scaring them away. Rounded heads, iridescent blue, no blush of rust on the wings or chest. They were mountain bluebirds! I have only seen western bluebirds here and only in the riparian areas. What a joy that they have already found the new trees.

I also pulled out the solar fountain and filled it with water. Within a day, the basin was being used by a bird to bathe. There has been considerable preening, nest building, dating and coupling going on around here. It is spring!

Warm sun and soft grass – nap time

Handing Off

Sunset at the ranch

Walappu’ ‘Uuchuthuu is officially handed off to the Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation. The California Association of Resource Conversation Districts grant is now complete. While I will continue stewarding and building habitat where I live, I will only stay loosely involved as a volunteer under the thoughtful, caring and deeply passionate leadership of Kristie with support from Nellie and Tara (and of course Clay from Miwumati, Deedee from Xerces and Ron from Mariposa Native Plants). With schools interested in presentations, residents wanting to plant pollinator gardens, the Butterfly Festival coming up in April and the Pow Wow soon after that in May, the Team still much work to do. I could not be happier.

As an Indigenous person, I feel a deep and intrinsic connection to stewardship of the planet as well as this specific place. However, there is no one more suited to stewardship of this region than the progeny of the first peoples themselves – the Southern Sierra Miwuk. When you live by, for and because of your non-human relations for tens of thousands of years, you unconsciously become one – you know one another extremely well and are part of the collective whole. This knowledge will be central in ensuring the survival of the monarchs and all of our pollinator family.

Ito te vitne in weweriam. Amand te tevote naabuihatia ini tui tekipanoa. Se osi enchi nake.

Good luck my relations. Best wishes with this good work. I very much appreciate you.

Kristie at a site assessment and intake
Nellie at March for Federal Recognition with friends and next generation stewards Miwa and Willow
Tara burning for the health of the land