Trail Reports, Santa Rosa Plateau, 2008-2009

20 December 2008
1 January 2009
12 February 2009

20 December 2008: Vernal Pool Trail (see Vernal Pool Trail Plant Guide)

I met Kay Madore at the Vernal Pool Trailhead, and we journeyed to the Main Pool to check it out. The Pool formed on either 15 or 17 December 2008, so this was Day 4 or Day 6.

The two small pools at the Vernal Pool Trailhead were full, as was the stream draining them.

On the way to the Pool, we saw baby annuals such as pygmy-weed, Crassula connata, and possibly a number of baby angel's gilia, Gilia angelensis. Numerous perennials were up, such as blue dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum; checkerbloom, Sidalcea malviflora; shooting star, Dodecatheon clevelandii; and western buttercup, Ranunculus occidentalis. (Of course, none of these were even close to blooming.)

The Pool was only one-fourth full, 4 inches deep out of a full depth of 16 inches. I was once again surprised that the Pool was not full, just like last year, but I forgot that the likely answer was that the groundwater level was extremely low after the very dry spring. Hence a lot of the runoff was first used in raising the groundwater level to the bottom of the pool.

Kay and I assumed the standard observing position with our stomachs on the boardwalk and our eyes inches from the water to see if we could spot fairy shrimp. The shrimp were expected to be about 0.1 inch long today and very hard to see. We weren't able to see any of the little buggers, but we did see springtails, spiders, snails, Daphnea, copepods, and planaria. It is possible that the shrimp were away from the boardwalk in deeper water, or simply too small for us to see them now.

We also saw a live earwig on the surface of the water, and dead sow bugs in the water, neither of which we remembered seeing at the pool before. Both of these are non-native insects.

I was shocked to see two native plant species growing in the Pool that I had never seen there before. There were two plants of cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium, and about ten plants of mule fat, Baccharis salicifolia, some of which were three feet tall. Perhaps the combination of the wet winter and abnormally dry spring allowed these species to grow this year.

There were also dry stems of non-native tumble pigweed, Amaranthus albus, that had blown against the boardwalk, which I removed.

On our way back, we went down the S. Trans Preserve Trail a bit below the Mesa edge, but soon found the trail was too muddy to continue, and returned to the car.

1 January 2009: Vernal Pool Trail (see Vernal Pool Trail Plant Guide)

Report from Kay Madore:

It looked like 1 January was going to be nice, so I figured it was going to be pretty busy at the ole SRP. Since all the employees were on holiday and vacation I asked Kevin to give me a fold up table that I could use in front of the visitors center to help direct traffic, etc.

Sure enough at 10:30 the parking lot was busy so I set up on the sidewalk. (I had to watch the Rose Parade first ;-). By 12:45 I had talked to 83 people! It's amazing how many people were there for the first time, I'd say 60% of those I spoke with. Someone said they saw an article in the paper.

I sent many people to see the fairy shrimp so decided I should probably spend some time at the VP trailhead for a while, then to the pool itself. I drove out into the parking lot about 1:10 pm. Eeeeech! The parking lot was full with some parking next to the center chaparral. I stopped to help a few more people before heading to the VP trailhead.

Hidden Valley horse lot was completely full and the hiking side had 29 cars parked there. I stopped briefly to help with trail selection. 31 cars were at the VP trailhead when I arrived. The day was gorgeous - could have worn shorts!

Who knew we would have 70 degree temps and fairy shrimp on January 1st!!

It took me an hour to eat my lunch as I greeted a steady stream of people coming and going. Finally made it to the VP about 3:15 where I stayed until 4:30. The VP trail was still closed beyond the VP and everyone was respectful of the closure. Only one incident at the boardwalk as a young boy stepped into the middle of the pool before I could stop him. Needless to say I was pooped by the end of the day.

I took pool depth measurements on the 31st. It was fairly busy that day, too, and I was at the pool from 2-4:30. The pool depth was 5-7 inches; Yippee! - enough water for the fairy shrimp to make babies!

The fairy shrimp were easily seen, 1/8 -1/4 inch long. Also visible were spring tails, daphnia, small spiders, and various larvae on surface.

Lots of birds are now visiting the pool. I heard frogs but didn't see them. No sign of Planaria yet; copepods still too small to see from surface.

An interesting note about the pool this year; there is a lot of loose grass (from the Paspalum turned over last year) on the surface of the pool, making for less clear viewing spots.

Steve Lusky and I hiked on Friday from Hidden Valley parking lot to the adobes to the VP trailhead where we had left his car. We wanted to check out the VP trail to see if it was OK to open. It wasn't; the trail had standing water in a couple places in the chaparral. A lot of annuals are up. I recognized lots of baby leaves like red maids. Some branches had fallen over on the N. Trans Preserve trail between Cole creek and the next bridge. Just after we crossed that bridge we saw this beautiful butterfly which hung around for a long time.

Fog started rolling in by the time we were at the VP and it got cold. It looked like smoke rolling across the trail as we walked out. It was 48 degrees at the trailhead when we left at 4:15 pm. With the fog and light rain on Saturday it was just too wet and muddy to enjoy hiking.

12 February 2009: Vernal Pool Trail, S. Los Santos Trail

Report from Kay Madore:

My husband Paul had another day off from work, so we decided to head to the Santa Rosa Plateau to check out the big vernal pool after the latest rainfall and get in some hiking. All the rain was fabby but we were suffering extreme cabin fever - I'm used to walking every day.

The Reserve had been closed the week before when we had attended the mountain lion lecture so I had last been to the pool on January 24 when I gave a vernal pool training. We knew it would be cool, 52° at the Vernal Pool trailhead. An on and off again breeze made it feel like freezing.

The first ground pink (so pretty) was in bloom at the gilia section at mile 0.06. Lots of blennosperma nanum in bloom starting near the perc pit. I checked many of the plants to make sure none of them were goldfields - they weren't. Teeny weeny shining peppergrass (Lepidium nitidum var. nitidum) plants were blooming in many spots along the trail. Most people would never see these unless they got down on their hands and knees, the entire plants were less than an inch tall.

The perc pit was overflowing and I wanted to check it for animals but it was just too mushy to get close. At the big pool, the recent rains had filled the pool to even higher than before, about 2/3 to 3/4 full. It was good to see clear water again that was closer to the boardwalk. Lots of frog calls echoed from under the boardwalk making it hard to talk over them at times.

Here's a brief recap of the pool critters:

Another docent, Mavis, said she had seen/photographed a ton of garter snakes in the pool ten days ago. These poor snakes are probably very unhappy about not finding any tadpoles to eat, since the tadpoles usually would be present at this stage in the pool's life.

We spent 1.5 hours at the pool.

Since the Vernal Pool Trail was closed beyond the pool and so was the Trans Preserve Trail, we decided to check chocolate lilies on the S. Los Santos Trail. This trail was very wet and slippery in places and probably should have been closed also. But we did get to see milk maids in bloom! On top of the mesa, oxalis and peony showed us their little flower faces.

The wind picked up again and we got really cold so decided it was time to head back. Not a lot of hiking but all in all, another fabulous day at the SRP.

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Copyright © 2008-2009 by Tom Chester and Kay Madore.
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Updated 14 February 2009.