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February 20, 2018

Dear Skyliners,


Last week, we worked on cleaning up the Diablo Bend area.  On Wednesday, we spot sprayed vinegar on Italian thistles on the slope above the bench.  On Sunday, the group hand weeded thistles on the steep slope below the bench.  And, for a breather, we plucked invasive Geraniums off the trail shoulder there.  The first Poppies and Popcorn Flowers came out to thank us for our efforts.  They are planning a glorious show there this year.


We'll be out regular days this week: Wednesday 2 pm to sunset; Sunday 9:30 to 1.  Please let me know if you can make it.


Sunday we were joined by the crew from KPIX TV (CBS Channel 5) to film the project as part of the Jefferson Public Service Award we received.  They were there with the big camera and microphones for a couple of hours, and they put us through the paces.  Welcome to Jen and Alan from KPIX.


Here's me getting hooked up for a microphone:

Jen Mistrot, the camera maestro from KPIX, has just put a microphone on my lapel.  Having run a wire under my vest, she is  now fitting the battery pack to my backside belt.  Thanks to Cynthia for this shot.


The TV segment is scheduled to run on Wednesday, March 7 on the Channel 5 evening news, and then again on Thursday and the weekend.  KCBS Radio will also run a segment.  I will send out details as we get closer to air time.


Meanwhile, more wildflowers are coming out.  Here is our lovely Pink Flowering Currant (Ribes glutinosum):

We have found just a few Flowering Currants shrubs at Skyline, but a real honey grows right along the trail approaching Diablo Bend.  Thanks to Laurie for this shot.


The great British garden writer W. H. Bean considered California's Flowering Currents to be one of the Top Ten best flowering shrubs in the whole world.  These are great plants for gardens.  In terms of local ecology, our local Coast Range Ribes species (currants and gooseberries) - because they flower with nectar very early in the New Year - enable Anna's Hummingbirds to overwinter in coastal California.  All other Hummer species must go to Central America to winter.  


Right on the heels of the Currants come the gorgeous, big, blue forget-me-nots that we call Hound's Tongue (Cynoglossum grande).  They are long-lived, deep rooted perennials who grow in the woods.  Here's one in glorious flower, in the woodland section of Skyline Gardens, near the Buckeye Grove:

These belong on anybody's Top Ten list.  Thanks again, Laurie, for this shot.


Their name comes from the large, long and rough leaves that someone thought resembled the tongue of a large dog.  Personally, I think they deserve a more poetic common name.  Does anyone know what the local Indians called them? 


When these bloom in the East Bay, they are also sounding the bell for the early insects, who come to feed and pollinate.  Often these are Bumblebees, who because of their thick fur coats, are well dressed for cooler weather.  I especially love to see the huge Yellow-faced Bumblebees (Bombus vosnesenskii) cruising around at this time of year.  I call them the 'flying mice' because they are so large and furry.  These are gravid (fertilized) queens who are just emerging from their long hibernation that began with last summer's dry season.  Right on schedule, they emerge in February with warming days and the first wildflowers.   For ID purposes, here's a picture of a Yellow-faced worker bee on a Soap Root Flower in June:

This picture shows the typical yellow 'forehead' and a tiny spot of yellow on the rump.  The flying mice of February are about five times as large as the one in the picture.  They are looking for a place to make their nest (hive), often in an abandoned gopher hole.  The Queen's first job is to lay the first set of eggs and gather enough nectar and pollen to support them.  At first, she has to do it all - gather food and tend the young.  When the first workers mature, in about a month, they can then take over the foraging and tending, while the Queen stays home and lays more eggs to build the hive.  In a few months time, a hive can grow from one gravid queen to a thousand bees.  As wildflower season wanes, the hive produces males and new queens, who then mate.  As the newly mated queens burrow down for the dry season, all the rest of the hive dies, and the cycle is complete.    


The other Bumblebee that we often see on Hound's Tongue is the Black-tailed Bumblebee.  Here is one of them, taking a rest:

These have several bands of silver interlaced with black.  Usually they dart so quickly in and out of the flowers that they are impossible to photograph. Congrats and thanks to Ken-ishi for getting such a clear picture.  


It's been quite a week.  


Happy Trails,



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