Tripping down the trail today I thought to myself, “Oh, hey, there’s one!” I had spotted an invasive purple thistle plant at the trail’s edge (see pic). I stooped to pull it out.
As volunteer trail stewards, our remit includes not only maintaining the trails, but also helping the City of Sonoma to maintain their property that the trails traverse. This includes removing invasive species such as broom, purple thistle, and yellow star thistle.
Purple thistle season begins in early Spring, which means we are already working to remove it. Later in the season the yellow star thistle will start to come in. Since we’ve been attacking the yellow star thistle for several years with vigor, we are seeing some real progress on eradicating it from the Overlook and Montini Preserve properties.
However, purple thistle is quite another story. Mostly due to years of cattle grazing, purple thistle has essentially already overrun the Montini Preserve. So at this point we only focus on yellow star thistle there. But on the Overlook, we think we have a chance to knock back the purple thistle so we are working on it as well. Since we only began our work on it last year, there is still quite a bit of it on the trail.
Today, as I stooped to pull the plant I had spotted I thought to myself, “Oh, wait, there’s five — no ten, crap, there’s a lot!”
I had momentarily forgotten that until the day when we reach the point of eradication — years, perhaps even decades from now (if ever), there’s never just one.
In Northern California, despite the current cold snap, we have essentially entered Spring. This means several things. Plants like poison oak are flourishing, sending tendrils out to conquer new areas. We are presently trying to cut this back from the trail.
Soon we will also need to watch out for ticks, which are particularly bad early in the season, from March to mid-May. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, so it’s important to prevent the little buggers from biting you. Wear long pants and inspect yourself after your hike. If you do get bitten, then watch the bite carefully for signs of Lyme disease, as early treatment by a medical professional is essential. Thankfully, we have the Western Fence Lizard to help us out, since when a tick bites that lizard an enzyme is transferred to the tick that cures the Lyme disease. This has led to a much lower incidence of Lyme disease than in other areas without this helpful lizard. So be kind to the Western Fence Lizard! They are already scurrying across our trails.
Another hazard to watch out for is rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes emerge from hibernation in the Spring when the days become warm enough for cold-blooded reptiles. I’ve already seen the Western Fence Lizard scurrying across the trail, which means snakes will not be far behind. However, this recent cold snap has sent them to ground. But rattlesnakes are typically around from March to September, so we are entering the time when they will be coming out of hibernation in the lowlands and making their way to their higher hunting grounds. Since they will be on the move, most of my sightings of rattlesnakes tend to happen in the Spring.
So stay alert and safe out there!
Each Spring we enter “removal season” on the Overlook and Montini properties. We begin with cutting back poison oak from the trail, as the runners begin encroaching as early as early February. So I was out today doing just that (see photo).
It was encouraging, though, as it seemed evident that previous years of cutting back the poison oak was reaping dividends. I was able to cover the bulk of the Overlook trail in one two-hour session.
After poison oak we will be on the lookout for Purple Thistle, as this non-native has been a scourge along the trail. We just started tackling this in earnest last year, so this year it will likely still be bad.
Following the Purple Thistle the Yellow Star Thistle will be coming in, by early March. That will likely keep us busy until early August. However, progress is being made on all these fronts and each year it becomes easier and easier, and some major patches are essentially already gone.
Once we get all these species under control, there are others we will need to tackle. Scotch Broom, for example, is one, although it isn’t as big a problem at the moment as the thistles.
If you want to help with this work, let me know! It basically takes a contractor bag (which I can supply you with) and gloves, although I frequently pull the Yellow Star Thistle gloveless.
abide – to endure without yielding
Readers of this blog and locals probably know that during the recent firestorm Cal Fire bulldozers cut fire breaks on the Montini and Overlook properties. We are happy that they did this, as it was essential to protect the town. But nonetheless we were concerned about these scars as we are entering the rainy season.
Cal Fire and the City of Sonoma worked hard to mitigate the impacts of those scars, and that work is already paying off.
The Stewards had planned to meet this morning to spread seed over the cuts, but we canceled due to rain. I went hiking anyway and spotted a lot of grass starting to poke through the straw that was laid down on some of the cuts. This was surprising to me, as bulldozers moved over those cuts not once, but twice (once to make the cut and again to spread the mounds of soil left from the first time) and grass is already coming up.
That’s a really good sign that Mother Nature is going to heal itself, with little intervention from us. We will monitor the situation, and seed where it looks like it needs it, but for now it might just be enough to let nature take its course.
For the last five years we have been trying to eradicate the Yellow Star Thistle (YST) from the Sonoma Overlook Trail. For the the last three years we’ve also been trying to do the same for the Montini Preserve. Today I ranged all over the SOT upper meadows and emerged with about half a bag of YST. This is a great improvement, and demonstrates that our campaign is making a difference. There is now so little on the Overlook that searching for it may almost be a waste of time, so now I will switch to the Montini, which is likely to still have serious infestations of YST.
This year we also started tackling the purple thistle, which has overrun the Montini but hasn’t yet done so on the Overlook. We focused on getting it off the sides of the trail, as that is a primary way that it spreads. Next year we will begin earlier in the year fighting the purple (YST comes on later in Spring than the purple).
If you want to help out, let me know. I have contractor bags and the only other things you need are a glove and persistence.
Spring is definitely in full swing. Wildflowers such as lupine and California poppies are in profusion, as are the butterflies that frequent the also prevalent Blue dicks (like the Swallowtail pictured).
The trail is mostly no longer muddy (until the next rain, at least), so now is a great time to get out and enjoy the warmth and the wildlife. Just keep your eyes peeled for rattlesnakes, as they have already been sighted on the trail. Other wildlife to look for include squirrels, deer, lizards, and wide variety of birds, from Red-Tailed Hawks to Red-Shafted Flickers to Great Horned Owls (all of which have been sighted from the trails).
Another sign of spring is, well, a sign. We just replaced the sign at the top of the trail that describes a little of the history of the area and names some of the surrounding sights viewable from the upper meadow. On the Overlook Trail, costs such as these are borne by the volunteer Stewards of the Overlook Trail group, which
collaborates with the Sonoma Ecology Center that serves as our fiscal agent. But anything that costs money to maintain or upgrade the trail and property requires us to raise money through events, donations, etc. If you feel so moved, please click on our “Donate Now!” link in the righthand column. Or, come to our next event at the Sonoma Raceway.
In any case, enjoy all of the sights of spring and stay safe out there!
Faithful readers of this blog (all two of you, and one is my Mom) will know that we’ve been fighting the good fight against the invasive non-native Yellow Star Thistle on both the Overlook and Montini properties. The season for pulling it runs from mid-May to August. Now that we are in August, when the weed dries out and the seed heads drop off, we must quit.
But I’m here to tell you that we are winning the war. This is the second year that I can certify that all of the infestations on the main properties of both the Overlook and the Montini have been essentially cleared. Judging from the number and size of the plants we are pulling in most areas (see the small plants pictured), we are depleting the seed bank, which can be viable for up to five years.
We could not have reached this point without essential assistance from Rich Gibson, a biologist and a Sonoma Overlook Trail volunteer steward, and the Sonoma Ecology Center’s EnviroLeaders program. Twice, at least half-a-dozen teenagers from the EnviroLeaders Program came out and helped decimate the worst patches of Yellow Star Thistle on the Montini Preserve. Tony Passantino, the SEC’s EnviroLeader’s program manager, has been very willing to bring his team out to support our removal efforts whenever we called for help. And the teenagers who are a part of this program are willing hard workers and ready to learn about the environment and how to keep it great. We so appreciate their help.
Next season expect a call to go out for help in decimating this scourge. And if you see it, please consider helping. The situation gets better every year, but we are still years away from eradicating it completely. We can use your help to make YST only a memory on these properties.