After two months of cold and wet weather, clear skies and warm weather finally made an appearance during the second week of March. In order to take advantage of this spring like weather I ventured to Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve, and area not to far from where I live in Davis. A good friend of mine, Alex Nguyen, also joined me on this spontaneous adventure in Cold Canyon in order to test out a new camera lens he recently purchased. We went two days in a row to the canyon but I think it was still to early for most insects because we ended up not seeing as much as we had hoped for. Despite being a little early in the season, we still managed to see quite a bit of diversity in both plants and insects.
Warmer Days Ahead
Since the last few years had been the peak of the drought in California, we were very excited to finally see what all the rain had brought to life within the canyon. On both days that we were there, we found many plants already fully in bloom and covered with insects like bees, flies, wasps, and true bugs. I found a number of native wildflower species blooming up and down the canyon, including ceanothus, Indian paint brush, fiddlenecks, California poppies, and lupine. As an added bonus, the creek that has been dry for the last four to five years was finally flowing again, and very strongly at that. Hearing the sound of the creek coupled with the calls of various bird species within the canyon made the days out there all the more enjoyable.
As my friend and I ventured further into the canyon we came across a multitude of different flowers and insects, some that neither of us had expected to be there until later on in the season. I came across a number of different wildflower species that were in full bloom and nearing bloom, as well as an incredible amount of stoneflies (Plecoptera). Certain species of these flowers I had only seen maybe once or twice previously in the entire seven years I have been visiting the canyon, which made this random adventure even more enjoyable. The stoneflies we were finding seemed to be in a huge abundance, meaning we were in the middle of a “hatch”, which is term that was created by fly fisherman to describe a mass emergence of a certain insect species during peak trout fishing season.
The first day we went we were unprepared to cross a part of the trail that had the creek running through it, so we decided to leave that part of the trail for the next day. Despite not being able to travel further up the canyon, still managed to find an incredible amount of diversity that my friend and I did not expect to be there at all. So, on the second day, we came prepared to cross over the stream and did so with ease. We didn’t find much more further down the trail than we had already seen before crossing the creek, but that was most likely due to the fact that it was still early in the season for the plants and insects found higher in the canyon. However, the trail was still very green farther into the canyon and will most likely be buzzing with activity once April rolls around.
There weren’t quite as many pollinator species as I had hoped to see but for the ones that I did find, they definitely were not camera-shy. Honey bees and bee flies (Bombyliidae) were by far the most common pollinators in the canyon and the Sara orangetip butterfly (Anthocharis sara) was flying in abundance. We saw a number of very fresh orangetip butterflies, meaning many of them had very recently emerged. I only saw one Pipevine swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor) and maybe one or two Mourning cloak butterflies (Nymphalis antiopa), which meant there would most likely be more to appear in the coming weeks. The Mourning cloak butterfly rarely nectar feeds like a majority of butterfly species and instead is more commonly found feeding on sap and decaying matter. They are one of the longest lived butterfly species as well, living for about 11 to 12 months as an adult.
Biodiversity as a Hobby
I have come to realize that taking my eyes off insects for a while and focusing on everything else that’s around me can pay off in the long run. Because my main focus has been on insects for so long it was a little challenging to incorporate other studies within the biological sciences while out in the field. After some time however, I managed to find an interest in many other facets of biology such as botany, herpetology, ornithology, and mycology. Now that I have a more solid background on biology as a whole, I feel like I see so much more when I go out into the field. My main focus will always be entomology and insect ecology, but learning more about what is around me besides just insects can really help me become a more well-rounded field biologist.
Trips like these always help me when I take others to these types of places. I use these adventures as a teaching tool for myself so that I can eventually teach others who are with me, similar to what I do with my insect collection but in the field instead.
Towards the end of both days that we visited the canyon, we were surprised to find a number of butterflies puddling near the creek we had to cross to get back out of the canyon. It was the first time I actually had the opportunity to photograph such behavior and I took full advantage of this amazing event. Puddling is quite common among butterflies but is more restricted towards males. They will often aggregate on wet soil in order to obtain nutrients such as salts and amino acids. Finding things like this is why I enjoy being a field biologist and why I visit as many natural areas as I can.
Entomology may be my focus most of the time but I will always make time to incorporate other aspects of biology while I’m in the field. As a lepidopterist, it is also very important to improve my plant identification skills so that I may be able to identify what caterpillars of butterflies or moths are feeding on when I find them in the field. I definitely have much to learn when it comes to botany but I am always willing to try and familiarize myself with the most important information I need to know in order to become an overall better field biologist. I am looking forward to seeing how the season progresses and what creatures will be present the next time I make my way out to Cold Canyon.