I got up a little before 6:00 AM this morning and got myself ready to head out to Ice House Road with my friend and fellow naturalist, Roxanne. We left about 7:00 AM. The drive is a relatively straight forward one – go up Highway 50 East to Ice House Road — but you go up to over 4000 feet in elevation, and temperatures can vary greatly depending on where you are.
A lot of the area was affected by the Caldor Fire, a large wildfire that burned 221,835 acres in the El Dorado National Forest and other areas of the Sierra Nevada in El Dorado, Amador, and Alpine County during the 2021 California wildfire season. Where we were driving, the trees looked fine, but you look across to the adjacent foothills and you can see the burn scars all up and down them.
Before the 2021 fire season, a project called “Fire Adapted 50” was introduced in the area. In the places where the program was applied, the fire fighters had an easier time getting in and out of the areas, and fire suppression was easier. (You can read more about that HERE.)
What kind of ticked me off during this trip was that ALL of the picnic areas and ranger stations were closed, gated off, so we couldn’t picnic or use the restroom facilities anywhere. *Sigh* As far as I could tell, looking at the Forest Service website, everything’s shut down for “the winter”. I admit, we were surprised when we drove through areas where there was still snow on the ground!
Rox and I had gone up looking for wildflowers. We didn’t really find any – as I said, there was actually snow still on the ground in some spots! But because we weren’t “distracted” by lots of pretty flowers, we focused on whatever was in front of us at the moment, and that made for an interesting drive. Everywhere we stopped, it seemed, we found something of interest.
When looking for a restroom at the around the reservoir, we pulled off the road and into a shallow turnout area near an education center. The gate to the center was closed, so we didn’t get to see what that was either. What we did find there were lots of cedar trees and Ponderosa Pines, Mountain Misery plants, and lupines that were leafed out but weren’t flowering yet.
Here, too, we found some Erineum Mite galls on Canyon Live Oak, some Ruptured Twig Galls, and some psyllid lerps on the leaves of a manzanita tree. I’d seen the lerps on eucalyptus trees before, but never on manzanita. The tiny insects even have their own species name, Manzanita Lerp Psyllid, Neophyllura arctostaphyli.
And we found several different kinds of lichen. Lichen was actually the standout for us on this trip, including those species on the trees and the boulders. We saw both Wolf Lichen and Brown-Eyed Wolf Lichen, Chiseled Sunken Disk Lichen and Crater Lichen, Scaly Pelt Lichen, Powdered Ruffle Lichen, Tube Lichen, Variable Wrinkle-Lichen, and various Shield Lichens. So, so many.
When we were looking at the various kinds of lichen we saw, we wondered about the wolf lichens, one has “brown eyes”, the other doesn’t.
The brown eyes on Brown-Eyed Wolf Lichen (Letharia columbiana) are the apothecia, the reproductive fruiting bodies that produce the spores. When these fungal spores drop, they have to find their own algal buddies to form new lichen.
The other Wolf Lichen (Letharia vulpine) doesn’t have “eyes”; it reproduces by propagules (soredia). The soredia are the hyphae from the fungal component of the lichen wrapped around cells of the algal component. They’re shed through openings in the cortex (outer layer) of the lichen. After they land the shed soredia create clones of the original lichen. So, we have one wolf lichen that reproduces sexually, and one that reproduces asexually. Nature is so cool.
Some of them, especially the pelt lichen, were seen alongside the wispy Bridal Veil Falls at around 3200 feet elevation.
“…Bridal Veil Falls was basically a drive-to waterfall with a chance to stretch out the legs while making the high-speed yet twisty drive along Hwy 50 between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe… The 150 foot waterfall pours down on massive polished granite boulders… The fall is on Esmeralda Creek, and flows into a large picturesque pool, dotted with boulders around the border. The creek and falls lie along the Mormon Immigrant Trail, and the Pony Express Trail…”
At another stop off, we found some bright pink Kellogg’s Monkeyflowers – a first for me – and some tiny yellow Seep Monkeyflowers. Roxanne also found a lovely little Yellow and White Monkeyflower (Erythranthe bicolor). Elsewhere, we pulled off into an area where there were a lot of Buckbrush ceanothus bushes in bloom, many of them covered with bees and hoverflies of various species. In this spot, the sun was beating on us, and we got so warm we had to take out jackets off.
Then we continued driving, looking for somewhere where we could have our lunch and were stunned when we came around a bend in the road to find snow on the ground.
On a manzanita tree there, I found some slimemold on the end of one of the branches and along some of the leaves. It was already in its sporangia stage, little metallic purple balls of spores sitting on top of thread-like stems. It was so unexpected – like the snow. I guess, with the weather being so odd, the slimemold had to take a chance, as soon as there was some snow melt, to rush through its life stages and lay down new spores for the summer months.
Around the same area we found several large patches of a cream colored Dog Vomit Slimemold. One of the patches looked kind of like snow, and Rox drove through it, squishing some of slime onto the ground with the treads of her tires. Weird!
We drove down Sly Park Road (off of Ice House) to the Sly Park Recreation Area at Jenkinson Lake, hoping to picnic there, but were waylaid briefly by a cadre of motorcycles and some large pick-ups. That group made it to the lake before we did, and were super-noisy. They were friends and family members, I think, yelling at and laughing with one another. Too much noise. The picnic area there, we discovered, was also closed, so the large group couldn’t use it. They decided instead to bypass a closed gate and walk out onto a levee-like trail across part of the lake.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.
We didn’t want to be anywhere around them or their noise, so we drove back Ice House, and stopped at a turnout where there were some fallen logs we could use a tables (or benches). We had our lunch there and got to watch the antics of a darling little Red-Breasted Nuthatch who was singing away, trying to woo a lady-friend, and excavating a nesting hole in the side of a tree.
There were also several Steller’s Jays calling to one another from the surrounding trees. They sound very much like the Scrub Jays but have their own pitch and nuances to their voices. They were difficult to get photos of. They stuck to the shadows for the most part, and moved too quickly for me to focus my camera on them. I got a few fuzzy photos, mostly of a youngster, but nothing noteworthy.
On our way back toward Ice House/Highway 50, we saw several Robins on the ground and stopped to get photos of them. Then I caught sight of a White-Headed Woodpecker, a bird I had never seen before. [I’d seen it in photographs before, but never “live”.] It flitted from tree to tree for a while, darting out of sight before we could get any photos. Then, mercifully, it stopped on the side of a stump and rooted around for bugs for a few minutes. Click-click-click, both Rox and I got some photos of it. It was highlight of the trip. A “lifer” bird for both of us.
A one point we saw a large gall on the branch of a pine tree along and assumed it might have been caused by now dead golden dwarf mistletoe. More research, though, revealed it was a gall created by Western Gall Rust (also called Pine-Pine Gall Rust). We’ve seen rust galls on Coyote Brush, but this was the first time I’d found one on a pine tree.
It’s called Pine-Pine Gall Rust because it takes TWO trees for the fungus to complete its life cycle. (There’s also a Pine-Oak Galls Rust). Or as Wikipedia says: :…[it’s]an autoecious, endocyclic, rust fungus that grows in the vascular cambium of the host. The disease is found on pine trees with two or three needles, such as ponderosa pine, jack pine and scots pine…” Lots of cool words in there.
“…The fungal infection results in gall formation on branches or trunks of infected hosts. Gall formation is typically not detrimental to old trees, but has been known to kill younger, less stable saplings…” This one was on a Ponderosa Pine.
We stopped at one turnout on the highway to get some photos of the water rushing through the South Fork American River. Snow-melt is filling the river with a lot of fast moving water right now.
Eventually, we started the long drive back into Sacramento. Got home around 3:30 pm. It was a long day, but we saw a LOT. It’s going to take days to sort through all my photos.
- American Robin, Turdus migratorius
- Barberries, Berberis sp.
- Bark Beetle, Subfamily: Scolytinae
- Bee, European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
- Bigleaf Maple Tree, Acer macrophyllum
- Bird’s Foot Cliffbrake, Pellaea mucronata
- Bittercress, Hairy Bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta
- Boreal Button Lichen, Buellia disciformis [pale gray to bluish with black apothecia on wood]
- Broad-Leaved Stonecrop, Sedum spathulifolium
- Brown-Eyed Wolf Lichen, Letharia columbiana
- Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
- Bumpy Rim-Lichen, Lecanora hybocarpa [tan to brown apothecia]
- California Camouflage Lichen, Melanelixia californica [dark green with brown apothecia, on trees]
- Canyon Live Oak, Quercus chrysolepis [dark on top, light underneath]
- Chickweed, Common Chickweed, Stellaria media
- Chiseled Sunken Disk Lichen, Circinaria contorta
- Coast Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens
- Cobwebby Thistle, Cirsium occidentale
- Cranefly, European Crane Fly, Tipula paludosa
- Crater Lichen, Diploschistes scruposus [pale gray with black craters]
- Cumberland Rock Shield, Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia
- Cutworm Wasp, Podalonia sp. [black, ground hunting, iridescent wings]
- Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
- Echo Azure Butterfly, Celastrina echo
- Emery Rocktripe Lichen, Umbilicaria phaea
- False Turkey-Tail, Stereum hirsutum [thin, flattish, brown underside]
- Fluffy Dust Lichen, Lepraria finkii
- Giraffe’s Head, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
- Grass, Bulbous Bluegrass, Poa bulbosa
- Greater Bee Fly, Bombylius major
- Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia
- Hoverfly, Large-Tailed Aphideater, Eupeodes volucris
- Incense Cedar, California Incense Cedar, Calocedrus decurrens
- Ladybeetle, Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens
- Litocala Moth, Litocala sexsignata [black and gray with eye spots on the hind wings]
- Live Oak Erineum Mite, Aceria mackiei
- Lupine, Grape Soda Lupine, Lupinus excubitus
- Lupine, Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
- Lustrous Camouflage Lichen, Melanohalea exasperatula [bright green camouflage]
- Manzanita Leafgall Aphid, Tamalia coweni
- Manzanita Lerp Psyllid, Neophyllura arctostaphyli
- Manzanita, Greenleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula
- Manzanita, Whiteleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida
- Millipede, Tylobolus sp.
- Monkeyflower, Kellogg’s Monkeyflower, Diplacus kelloggii [bright pink]
- Monkeyflower, Seep Monkeyflower, Erythranthe guttata [yellow]
- Moss, Spoon-Leaved Moss, Bryoandersonia illecebra
- Mountain Misery, Chamaebatia foliolosa [fern-like leaves]
- Pebbled Pixie Cup, Cladonia pyxidata
- Pelt Lichen, Scaly Pelt Lichen, Peltigera praetextata
- Phacelia, Mountain Phacelia, Phacelia imbricata [white]
- Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa [three needles]
- Powdered Ruffle Lichen, Parmotrema hypotropum
- Raven, Common Raven, Corvus corax
- Red Fir Tree, Abies magnifica
- Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta canadensis
- Rock Disk Lichen, Lecidella stigmatea [black spots]
- Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens [on live oaks]
- Sanicle, Pacific Sanicle, Sanicula crassicaulis [yellow flowers, stinky]
- Sanicle, Tuberous Sanicle, Sanicula tuberosa [yellow]
- Shield Lichen, Parmelia sulcate [pale gray-green, veined]
- Slime Mold, Cribraria sp. [dark, metallic sheen, head on stalk]
- Slime Mold, Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Mucilago crustacea [cream colored]
- Steller’s Jay, Cyanocitta stelleri
- Sticky Mouse-Ear Chickweed, Cerastium glomeratum
- Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha [without soredia]
- Sugar Pine Tree, Pinus lambertiana
- Sunken Disk Lichen, Aspicilia sp.
- Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
- Trembling Aspen, Populus tremuloides [white bark]
- Tube Lichen, Imshaug’s Tube Lichen, Hypogymnia imshaugii
- Variable Wrinkle-Lichen, Tuckermanopsis orbata
- Wavy-Leafed Soap Plant, Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
- Western Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium campylopodum
- Western Gall Rust, Cronartium harknessii
- White Nemophila, Nemophila heterophylla
- White-Headed Woodpecker, Dryobates albolarvatus
- Willow Rose Gall Midge, Rabdophaga rosaria
- Willow, Scouler’s Willow, Salix scouleriana [silvery, feathery catkins]
- Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpine [bright yellow-green]
- Yellow-Shouldered Drone Fly, Eristalis stipator [looks like a dark honeybee with fly eyes]
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