Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Exploring a Different Watershed

For the past several years my natural history excursions have been mostly confined to the Feather River Watershed.  Many years ago, I lived in Yuba River country, so yesterday I jumped at the opportunity to run an errand to Nevada City. I got to travel Highway 49 from Yuba Pass, the headwaters of the North Fork of the Yuba to Grass Valley which entailed crossing both the Middle and South Forks.  At highway speeds, the canyons look similar to the canyons of the Feather, but as I made frequent stops to poke around for wildflowers and bugs, I found subtle differences.  Descending from Yuba Pass, which was still under several feet of snow, I saw lots of Chikarees (AKA Douglas Squirrels) dart across the highway.  To a person raised Back East, these cute little guys seem like a cross between a squirrel and a chipmunk.  Indeed, their generic name, Tamiasciurus, is a combination of two generic names, those of the chipmunks, Tamias, and the squirrels, Sciurus.  Then I scared up a large flock of Evening Grosbeaks that had been gathered in the road.  They seemed to be eating a dead mammal, which puzzled me because I know they are seed eaters.  I wondered if a squirrel full of seeds got smashed open by a car.  Going too fast downhill to safely stop, so I drove on and kept wondering.  It was still quite wintery all the way to Downieville, but as soon as we got below 3,000 feet, the wildflower show began.  There were so many active tributaries with waterfalls along the highway, it was hard to decide where to stop.  The first one, near Goodyear's Bar, was rewarding.  I found a flower new to me, the Golden Yarrow, Eriophyllum confertifolium, shown in the top two photos.  The third photo shows the waterfall whose name I do not know.  Around the base of the fall were several more interesting sights.  The Elegant Rock Cress, Arabis sparsiflora, is one of my favorites in Feather River country, and there were several blooming brightly here on the Yuba.  The cracks in the rock wall were bursting with Western Polypody, Polypodium herperium (5th photo), and there were several nice patches of Sweet Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) a non-native.  I was lucky to find a Nine-spotted Ladybird Beetle, Coccinella novemnotata, on the Fennel.  This ladybug, the state insect of New York, is becoming rarer, so I felt privileged.  Finally, what impressed me in the next several moss-covered waterfalls were the Liverworts (last photo) and the sound of rushing water with long period without the sound of motor vehicles.
This is the first of three reports on yesterday's drive.  Still to come will be a report and photos from the Middle Fork to the South Fork of the Yuba, and one on a few flowers blooming in the lower Feather River Canyon.  I came home the long way.

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