After all of my spring weekend trips started to come to a close, I readied for the summer fun of 2017 I knew I would eventually be enjoying. However, before summer officially started, I decided to visit one more place that was still on my list for spring locations to explore. The trail to Feather Falls has become one of my favorite places to visit in the past few years since I found out about it. It’s a fairly mild hike initially, but once you reach the last half mile before the falls it becomes very steep. Despite the difficulty of the hike, the trail itself is packed full of a wide range of plants and habitat types, all of which harbor an amazing diversity of insects and other arthropods. I encountered many species I had seen previously and some I had never seen in the region. The Plumas National Forest is a beautiful area and I hope to explore more of it this year.
The Adventures Continue
At the start of the trail large trees including pines, oaks, broad leaf maples, and pacific madrone trees cover almost the entire area, keeping the temperatures fairly cool. As I began to trek through these giants of the forest, I noticed many low growing wildflowers lining the sides of the trail. A light-colored iris and a species of Calochortus were the most common flowers at the beginning of the trail, but were soon replaced by asters and other smaller flowers as the trail became slightly drier and more exposed to sunlight. I encountered a fair number of California newts (Taricha torosa) along the trail as they were traversing the leafy understory attempting to find cooler, wetter areas to spend the rest of the day. I also found a slightly greener colored banana slug (Ariolimax sp.) next to one of the newts, meaning there was still enough moisture left in the forest despite the days being fairly warm and dry.
After hiking the trail a ways, I came to an opening where a fair amount of water was flowing down the side of the mountain. Due to the incredible amount of precipitation this part of state received over the winter, an abundance of water was still flowing throughout a majority of the national forest. This clearing I came across had blackberry bushes overcrowding the trail in front of me, making for a very thorny encounter. It wasn’t all bad since the blackberry bushes were in full bloom. This attracted many different species of butterflies, flies, and beetles to the area. Mylitta crescents (Phyciodes mylitta), dusky wing skippers (Erynnis sp.), California sisters (Adelpha californica), and echo azures (Celastrina echo) were just a few of the butterflies I found nectaring on these flowers. I spent a fair amount of time in this one spot but eventually continued on to see what else this trail had waiting for me to find.
Ridges and Wildflowers
After a mile or two up the trail I came to the top of the ridge, where it was much drier and more exposed to the sun. The area changed to a more chaparral type of habitat, with manzanitas, live oaks, and thorny shrubs being the dominant plant species. There were often small patches of wild grasses along this part of the trail and in those grasses were a number of different wildflowers. Indian paintbrush (Castilleja sp.), blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and asters were just some of the species I found in these areas. In previous years, early spring harbored many more blooming flowers, but not quite as many insect species, which was why I decided to try a bit later this time.
Among those flowers were numerous insect species, including one I did not expect to find zipping by me on this trail. The insect that kept flying by and nectaring off the blue dicks flowers, was none other than the California clearwing moth (Hemaris thetis). I was pleasantly surprised to find this moth in the area because I had no idea it was found here, nor did I know it was associated with those flowers (D. capitatum). Unfortunately, it did not stay put long enough for me to get a photo of it so instead I collected a specimen or two for my personal collection records.
In addition to the clearwing moth, I also encountered some other insects including the pale swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon), a checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas sp.), metallic wood-boring beetles (Buprestidae), tumbling flower beetles (Mordellidae), and longhorn beetles (Cerembycidae). I encountered more butterfly species in the area around me, but they were fly byes and never actually landed for me to photograph. This behavior where butterflies fly along the top of mountain ridges is called “hilltopping” and it is done by males in order to find females. During this point of the trail I was about half way to the falls and was excited to see what else I could find in the last leg of my journey.
The Falls and Back
I continued on but didn’t find as much as I had thought I would as far as insects go. There were some uncommon flower species as I got closer to the falls. I found a species of Clarkia in a shaded area near the trail and encountered a few more echo azures before hiking the final trek to the falls. Once I had reached the falls, I was blown away by how intensely the water was flowing out of them. This last year had an insane amount of precipitation and is the reason why the falls were flowing so strongly. A few quick photos and a quick dip in the very cold water later, I headed back down the trail and tried to find anything else I may have missed going up.
On the way back to the trailhead, I found some potential areas I could explore more thoroughly on my next visit but I didn’t find any new insects I hadn’t already seen. I was fairly content with my trip to the falls and back, which ended up being around nine and a half miles round trip. This area of the Plumas National Forest is a gorgeous place to hike and there are still some parts of this place I would like to hike and explore because the amount of diversity I can potentially find here. This next year will be much different in terms of precipitation, but I am excited to see what the spring season will have to offer as far as insects and plants go. Until next time Feather Falls.