Along the northern California Coast Range there are a number of different canyons and mountains that hold quite a bit of California’s native and natural biodiversity. Among these canyons, Stebbin’s Cold Creek Canyon Reserve is one that is owned by UC Davis and located right next to the Lake Berryessa Dam and Putah Creek. The canyon itself is very steep and showcases many different landscapes, habitats, and plant and animal communities that can be found across the coast range. The area in the canyon has a mix of undisturbed habitats, including riparian and blue oak woodlands, grasslands, chaparral shrublands, and a small seasonal stream. I have visited this area many times in the past both in the spring and summer but never in the winter. So, I took advantage of the few days of sunshine that came about in between all the recent weeks of rain in January, and went on a hike with a few others in the canyon.

As expected for winter, there was very little vegetation during the visit, but seeing the stream flowing was a refreshing sight.

Cool Temperatures and Green Scenery

After many previous visits to the canyon at night to black light with a colleague of mine I quickly understood one of the reasons why it is called “Cold Canyon”. This area can get quite chilly in the winter and spring time, especially at night. I had only previously been to the canyon during the day time in spring, summer, and fall, so this was my first time being there during the winter. The temperatures weren’t frigid, but they were much cooler than what I was anticipating while I was there and to my surprise the area was actually full of green vegetation. Due to the previous weeks of rain, the canyon had become overgrown with grass and moss and the stream that goes through the canyon was finally flowing again.

There wasn’t much around in terms of insects but seeing how much water the area received tells me that this spring and summer will be amazing for the reserve. Other flowers were blooming along the trails but they were much shorter and closer to the ground, as well as hard to see, despite being a nice violet color. Some nice looking mushrooms were also a pleasant surprise while hiking up the main trail. I am not too familiar with mushroom species but they looked similar to what might be a waxy cap mushroom. Fortunately, I saw a few very small moths fly by me across the trail, meaning that blacklighting in the area might be more fruitful than I first thought. The creek that flows through the canyon was flowing very strongly and is a very good sign for what is to come when spring and early summer eventually appear.

Before the rains came this creek was nothing more than a trickle, now its back to being a steady flowing stream. Can’t wait to see what this looks like in spring!

Even though I was unable to explore more of the canyon like I had wanted to, I knew that this would not be the only visit I would have before springtime. I’m hoping for a large bloom event in mid to late March, similar to what I had experienced in 2015, and with this copious amounts of rain I don’t doubt something similar will occur. The insects I normally find in the canyon during daytime visits most likely won’t begin to appear until the temperatures in the area become warm and stay that way for a while. I’ll continue to periodically visit the area throughout the spring and summer because there are many uncommon plant and insect species that occur here. Now that the area has had a significant amount of rain I would expect these species to possibly become locally abundant.

The views from the main trail can be spectacular at times. Another aspect of this area that I’m looking forward to seeing.