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Spot Report: Bishop Creek Canyon

Reports just received (text and email) from Inyo County indicate that fall color is moving from just starting to patchy at the highest elevations in Bishop Creek Canyon.

No photos have been supplied, but expect to see spotty splashes of yellow among otherwise green to lime aspen above 9,000′.

Locals anticipate it moving quickly from patchy to near peak next week.

Bishop Creek Canyon (8,000′ – 9,768′) – Just Starting to Patchy – Splashes of yellow are emerging above 9,000′

 

Why Don’t Evergreen Trees Lose Leaves and Change Color?

Coastal Redwood, El Dorado Hills (9/7/17) John Poimiroo

Actually, they do.  It just doesn’t happen all at once.

Evergreen trees have both broad leafs and needles. Madrone, magnolia and photinia are examples of broadleaved evergreens, while pine, fir cedar, spruce, redwood have needled leaves.

Evergreen needles can last anywhere from a year to 20 years, but eventually they are replaced by new leaves. When that happens, the old needles turn color and fall, but not all together, and not as dramatically as deciduous trees (e.g., maple, oak, dogwood, alder, birch).

The reason needles are green is that they are full of chlorophyll which photosynthesizes sunlight into food for the tree and reflects green light waves, making the needles look green.

Needles, just like deciduous leaves, contain carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments. You just don’t see them until the green chlorophyll stops being produced. Once that happens, hidden carotenoids (yellow, orange and brown) emerge, as is seen in the above photograph. Additionally, red, blue and purple Anthocyanins – produced in autumn from the combination of bright light and and excess sugars in the leaf cells – also emerge once the chlorophyll subsides. Yes, even evergreen leaves change color… eventually.

Evergreen trees tend to carry needles in snowy regions. A waxy coating on needles along with their narrow shape, allows them to hold water better, keeps water from freezing inside the needle (which would otherwise destroy the leaf), prevents snow from weighing down and breaking evergreen branches, and sustains the production (though slowed) of chlorophyll through winter. Whereas, broadleaved deciduous trees would be damaged if they kept producing chlorophyll and didn’t drop their leaves.

Evergreen trees do lose their leaves and the leaves do change color. It just isn’t as spectacular.

 

Why Do Trees Lose Their Leaves?

Snowcreek (11/2/15) Alicia Vennos

It’s survival not just of the fittest, but of the wisest.

Deciduous trees drop their leaves in order to survive.  As days grow shorter and colder, deciduous trees shut down veins and capillaries (that carry water and nutrients) with a barrier of cells that form at the leaf’s stem.

Called “abscission” cells, the barrier prevents the leaf from being nourished. Eventually, like scissors, the abscission cells close the connection between leaf and branch and the leaf falls.

Had the leaves remained on branches, the leaves would have continued to drink and, once temperatures drop to freezing, the water in the tree’s veins would freeze, killing the tree.

Further, with leaves fallen, bare branches are able to carry what little snow collects on them, protecting them from being broken under the weight of the snow. So, by cutting off their food supply (leaves), deciduous trees survive winter.

The fallen leaves continue to benefit the tree through winter, spring and summer by creating a humus on the forest floor that insulates roots from winter cold and summer heat, collects dew and rainfall, and decomposes to enrich the soil and nurture life.

It’s a cycle of survival, planned wisely.

Why Do Leaves Change Color?

Chlorophyll Molecule (Wikipedia)

Leaves on deciduous trees change color in autumn from green to various hues of lime, yellow, gold, orange, red and brown because of a combination of shorter days and colder temperatures.

Throughout spring and summer, green chlorophyll (which allows trees to absorb sunlight and produce nutrients) is made and replaced constantly. However, as days grow shorter, “cells near the juncture of the leaf and stem divide rapidly but do not expand,” reports Accuweather.com, “This action of the cells form a layer called the abscission layer. The abscission layer then blocks the transportation of materials from the leaf to the branch and from the roots to the leaves. As Chlorophyll is blocked from the leaves, it disappears completely from them.”

That’s when vivid yellow xanthophylls, orange carotenoids and red and purple anthocyanins emerge.

Orange is found in leaves with lots of beta-carotene, a compound that absorbs blue and green light and reflects yellow and red light, giving the leaves their orange color.

Yellow comes from Xanthophylls and Flavonols that reflect yellow light. Xanthophylls are compounds and Flavonols are proteins.  They’re what give egg yolks their color.

Though always present in the leaves, Carotenoids and Xanthophylls are not visible until Chlorophyll production slows.

Red comes from the Anthocyanin compound. It protects the leaf in autumn, prolonging its life. Anthocyanins are pigments manufactured from the sugars trapped in the leaf, giving term to the expression that the leaves are sugaring up.

The best fall color occurs when days are warm and nights are clear and cold. California’s cloudless skies and extreme range of elevations (sea level to 14,000′) provide ideal conditions for the development of consistently vivid fall color, as seen in these reports.

Sierra Primed For Fall

North Lake (6/26/17) Alena Nicholas

Summer has just begun, but all indications are that the Sierra Nevada are now primed for a spectacular autumn.

Convict Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Virginia Lakes (6/17) Alena Nicholas

South Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

South Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

June Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

June Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Gull Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alena Nicholas spent the past week touring the east and west sides of the central Sierra, returning with these beautiful images. She said all the lakes were “pretty much full to capacity” with locals reporting the lakes are as high as they can remember them ever being. Even Grant Lake (in Mono County near June Lake) is full. Alena says the last time she saw it, it was not much more than a stream of water.

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Creeks have become mini rivers in places where Alena waded, previously. Now, they’re so full its too unsafe to enter them.

Quaking Aspen (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

North Lake Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The aspen I’ve seen on springtime trips into the Sierra, and those which Alena captured, are healthy and green with no indication of black spot fungus. Though she also noted several aspen whose branches have been bent or snapped branches from heavy snows. This is particularly evident “along Silver Lake, and up below Sabrina Lake” where “a few of the Aspens seemed to have lost their leaves,” perhaps from broken branches.

Bishop Creek Meadow (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Western Blue Flag iris, Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Grant Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Western Tiger Swallowtail and willow (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Mule Deer, Rush Creek Meadows (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Mule Deer, Rush Creek Meadows (6/17) Alena Nicholas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alena reports meadows as being lush green and full of wildflowers and wildlife. At higher elevations, like Virginia Lakes, there’s still a good amount of snow melting with waterfalls everywhere. I returned from the east coast this past week, flying over the snowcapped Sierra which looked more like they do in March, than June.

Mono Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

What does this all mean for fall color spotters, leaf peepers and photographers? In past years when there’s been a lot of water, the autumn show seems to start slightly later (a few days to a week) and last longer. That’s because the leaves are healthier and less likely to dry out and drop sooner.

As for the intensity of the color, that all depends on autumn weather.  As, once days begin to shorten and trees stop producing chlorophyll, as long as the days remain warm and the nights cold (clear skies), autumn color should be intense and vibrant.

Until then, let’s enjoy California’s 8-month spring (wildflowers began appearing in the Deserts in February and continue to bloom at increasingly higher elevations through September).

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Pies, Pastry, Pack Trips and Pubs… Patchy, too

Patchy aspen at Rock Creek Lake (9/5/14) Alicia Vennos

Patchy aspen at Rock Creek Lake (9/5/14) Alicia Vennos

Mono County Color Spotter Alicia Vennos sends these photos of locations throughout Mono County whose fall color varies from Just Starting to Patchy.  While the color is – at best – patchy, there’s still plenty to do if you prefer pies, pastry, pack trips or pubs.

Rock Creek Lake Resort (9/9/14) Alicia Vennos

Rock Creek Lake Resort (9/9/14) Alicia Vennos

Patchy (10 – 50%) – Rock Creek
Aspen are beginning to brighten to lime and yellow.  Don’t let the limited color depress you.  Stop by the Rock Creek Lakes Resort for a slice of one of their famous fruit and cream pies. They’ll stay open until Oct. 12.

Convict Lake (9/9/14) Alicia Vennos

Convict Lake (9/9/14) Alicia Vennos

Just Starting (0 – 10%) – Convict Lake
Aspen near the Convict Lake Resort restaurant are a beautiful combination of flickering lime and yellow.

Patchy (10 – 50%) – McGee Creek
The color and elevation are about the same as Rock Creek, brightening to lime and yellow.  Early visitors still have lots to do with hiking, horseback rides and pack trips from the McGee Creek Pack Station and a new bakery at McGee Creek Lodge.  What! More pie?

Just Starting (0 – 10%0 – June Lake
June Lake is a few weeks away from color change, and the color should be glorious when the June Lake Autumn Beer Festival happens on Oct. 11 at Gull Lake Park.  OK, pubs, pies, pastry and peeping.  We’re pumped!

Just Starting (0 – 10%) – Lee Vining Canyon/Hwy 120
Still early, though the drive up Hwy 120 to Yosemite National Park’s east entrance is exhilarating.

Greenstone Lake, Twenty Lakes Basin (9/7/14) Alica Vennos

Greenstone Lake, Twenty Lakes Basin (9/7/14) Alica Vennos

Just Starting (0 – 10%) – Saddlebag Lake/Tioga Pass
There’s a little color along the shore of Saddlebag Lake.  People often overlook the beauty of ground cover and shrubbery

Just Starting (0 – 10%) – Lundy Canyon
This is one of those beautiful places that you have to catch close to peak.  Stay tuned for their reports.

Virginia Lakes (9/1/14) Carolyn Webb

Virginia Lakes (9/1/14) Carolyn Webb

Just Starting (0 – 10%) – Virginia Lakes
Similar to Convict Lake, the Virginia Lakes area is just beginning to show color.  The Aspen near the lakes are deformed by wind and weather and endlessly fascinating.

Conway Summit (9/3/14) Alicia Vennos

Conway Summit (9/3/14) Alicia Vennos

Just Starting (0 – 10%) – Conway Summit
It’s just starting on the north side with a patchy area to the south.

Twin Lakes (9/9/14) Alicia Vennos

Twin Lakes (9/9/14) Alicia Vennos

Just Starting (0 – 10%) – Bridgeport/Green Creek/Twin Lakes

A little yellow high up above Twin Lakes, otherwise still in summer.  Upcoming events:

  • Sept 20 and Oct. 18 – Bodie Foundation Photographer’s Day – photograph Bodie SHP from sunrise to sundown.  To register CLICK HERE.
  • Sept 25 – 28 – Hiking the Valley – Join locals on guided hikes of the Antelope Valley.  CLICK HERE for more info.
  • Oct. 4 – Deer Hunter BBQ – A secret recipe is tasted, but not revealed at the Antelope Valley Community Center. For details, CLICK HERE.

New Interactive Map

New for 2014 is the California Fall Color Map seen at left.  This interactive map is exclusive to CaliforniaFallColor.com and provides a quick way to see where the color is changing in California and at what stage.

Non-reporting areas appear in dark green.  All reporting areas have leaves in light green, yellow, orange, red or brown, depending on the fall color’s stage of development. This new scale matches that used by The Weather Channel: Just starting, patchy, near peak, peak and past peak. The colors are based on reports received from volunteer color spotters located throughout California.

Anyone can be a color spotter.  Just email a current report to editor(at)californiafallcolor.com stating where the fall color is seen, at what stage the color is (just starting, patchy, near peak, peak, past peak), your name and – if you have one – a current photograph of what you’re reporting.  We’ll publish the report with credit attributed to you.

Each Thursday morning from the first day of autumn to Thanksgiving Day, we send summaries of each week’s reports to media across California (every TV meteorologist and all travel and outdoor reporters) based on reports received from our network of color spotters.  The best photos could appear, with credit, in newspapers or on TV.

Though no color is yet appearing, our first report this year is from St. Helena in the Napa Valley where Brian Baker of the Chateau Montelena winery notes that an early harvest is expected.  That could mean an earlier show of fall color in the vineyards.

California Fall Color Looks Back at Autumn, 2013

On the last day of autumn, we look back at some of our favorite photographs of 2013, while expressing thanks to all who contributed photos and reports.

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Special thanks are expressed to Inyo County, Mono County, Mammoth Lakes Tourism, Redding Convention & Visitors Bureau, Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association, Humboldt County C&VB, and The California Parks Company for making California Fall Color possible. A special nod to Ron Tyler for helping to create this Animoto video.

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Vibrant Fall Colors Enliven Southern California

LA County Arboretum (12/11/13) Frank McDonough

LA County Arboretum (12/11/13) Frank McDonough

Autumn is “winding down” at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, reports color spotter Frank McDonough, who sends these vibrant photographs.

Tule Pond, LA County Arboretum (12/11/13) Frank McDonough

Tule Pond, LA County Arboretum (12/11/13) Frank McDonough

(l to r) Pomagranate bush, Japanese maple, Gingko biloba "canopy" (12/11/13) Frank McDonough

(l to r) Pomagranate bush, Japanese maple, Gingko biloba “canopy” (12/11/13) Frank McDonough

(l to r) Mexican marigold, Tagetes lemmonii; Fishtail Ginkgo at the Herb Garden (12/11/13) Frank McDonough

(l to r) Mexican marigold, Tagetes lemmonii; Fishtail Ginkgo at the Herb Garden (12/11/13) Frank McDonough

Meadowbrook, LA Co. Arboretum (12/11/13) Frank McDonough

Meadowbrook, LA Co. Arboretum (12/11/13) Frank McDonough

LA County has, along with most of the far west, experienced very cool nights (around freezing) and clear, sunny days, providing ideal conditions for leaf color development.   Frank writes, “I’m starting to see red leaves on some of the east coast oaks here, and our Diamyo oak (Quercus dentate) just might develop its full color –something that doesn’t happen often.”

The intense colors seen in these photos are the result of an incorrectly balanced white card in Frank’s camera – he apologizes for the mistake – though we find it to be a lovely interpretation and representative of how many California impressionists painted California landscapes.

GO NOW! – 75 – 100% – Los Angeles County – This a spectacular time to see naturally decorated trees, during the holidays, at the LA County Arboretum.

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Berkeley Birders Searching for “Painted Redstart” Find Fall Color

Color spotter Sandy Steinman started yesterday looking for a rare bird, the Painted Redstart which normally lives in Arizona, eastern New Mexico and northern Mexico. It had somehow winged its way north to matriculate near Berkeley and ended up itself being studied by Redstart-fevered birders. Steinman never was sure he saw the bird (perhaps a glimpse), though ended up taking these shots of spots of remaining fall color along Berkeley’s streets.

Berkeley (12/1/13) Sandy Steinman

Berkeley (12/1/13) Sandy Steinman

Past Peak – Berkeley – Spots of color can still be seen with some trees not fully turned.  The most exciting spot of fall color is the red, black and white Painted Redstart seen flitting through Berkeley’s urban forest. A cold front will push through Northern California, beginning today, perhaps urging the Redstart to head back to Mexico and with days expected to be cold, chilling further prospects for color development in Berkeley and forcing global warming protestors from the steps of Sproul Hall to warm themselves, indoors.