April Visit #1 (4/19/2019)

On a clear and peaceful day in April, I brought my son with me to Stebbins and we both sketched our way along the trail. The lizards were plentiful, which was not surprising, but we were surprised at how close many of them let us come. Especially surprising was the western skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus) – I have found these to be particularly shy in the past.

The canyon and hillsides are still much more open due to the fire three and a half years ago, with many spring wildflowers taking advantage of the light.

My son pointed out a chaparral camel cricket (Gammarotettix genitalis) sheltering in the curl of a California tea (Rupertia physodes).

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Field Sketching Workshop (3/23/2019)

Toward the end of March, I led a field sketching workshop at Stebbins, sponsored by Tuleyome. We had fifteen participants and the perfect weather for walking, observing and drawing!

I gave the participants six different exercises at various stops along the trail:

Exercise 1: Blind Contour – Find something nearby with a complex shape. Let your eyes follow the outline of the object and slowly draw as your eyes move along the contour. Your eyes stay on the object rather than the paper.

Exercise 2: Focus on Details – Spend time recording the fine details of something you can observe up close. Draw it from more than one angle.

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Exercise 3: Landscape Thumbnails – Simplify landscape views into areas of light and dark. Look for larger-scale patterns: where are trees or shrubs growing on a hillside, how do shadows define ridges and valleys, how do dark and light change as you look even further into the distance?

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Exercise 4: Things That Move – When drawing something in motion, watch it for as long as you can see it and only then pick up your pencil to draw it. Draw only the information you remember: basic shape, some notes about color or pattern.

Exercise 5: Color Notes – Look very closely and critically at the color in a near object and a distant scene. Try to define the colors as they really are, not as you expect them to be. Notice how the colors change in light and in shade, and how nearby colors can influence each other.

Exercise 6: Select Your Own Theme for the Hike Back – Some examples of ideas to focus your sketching trip:

  • Draw things that have changed since you last visited (flowers blooming, insects about, etc.).
  • Draw a map of your hike with landmarks and what you observed along the way.
  • Leaf shapes.
  • Associations between species: insects/plants, fungi/plants, etc.
  • What do you see that surprises you?

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To download the PDF version of the handout for the workshop, click here.

Field Sketching Workshop at Stebbins

 

March Visit (3/19/2019)

I had two goals on this visit to the Reserve: to conduct my usual observations and to finalize the locations where I planned to have my field sketching workshop participants stop for our six drawing exercises. I didn’t get to the Reserve until around noon, when everything had warmed up into the sixties. With the bright sun, there were butterflies absolutely everywhere! Plenty of wildflowers, too, including California pipevine (Aristolochia californica), which I had not managed to find in bloom in previous years.

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My Upcoming Lecture and Hike with Tuleyome

In March, as part of Tuleyome‘s Nature and You Events, I am pleased to be guiding a field sketching hike and separate evening lecture focused on Stebbins Cold Canyon.

On March 9, I will lead a field sketching workshop at Stebbins from 8:00 to noon, where I will offer demonstrations, exercises, individual exploration and discussion. These will be designed to help participants enjoy the reserve and practice taking our nature observations to a deeper level. More information is available here.

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On March 28, I will be presenting a lecture at the Mary L. Stephens, Davis Branch Library at 6:00 pm. The lecture will describe my ongoing project documenting Stebbins after the fire, showing in drawings the reserve’s response to the fire. I’ll be giving an overview of how I approach field sketching and talking in depth about the idea of using sketching to pay close attention to a place and its inhabitants and observe changes over time. More information is available here.

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January Visit (1/30/2019)

A winter visit to Stebbins at the end of January was the perfect time to look for lichen and other things less easy to spot in more abundant foliage. Curious about how quickly lichens have begun to colonize new substrate, I looked closely at one of the large rocks split open during the fire. A few lichens have begun to grow on the newly exposed faces of the rock, though not nearly as many as on the older outside faces of the same rock.

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Along the trail more lichen, sprouting California buckeyes (Aesculus californica), and flowering chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum), California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica), and California toothwort (Cardamine californica). Lupines (Lupinus succulentus) and soap plants (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) have emerged, but are not yet flowering.

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More lichens, yellow fieldcap mushrooms (Bolbitius titubans), a water strider in the clear, rushing creek, and the background songs of wrentits (Chamaea fasciata) and Pacific treefrogs (Pseudacris regilla).

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On examining a pitcher sage (Lepechinia calycina) resprouting from its base, I noticed at least three different fungi at work on the dead, burned branches.

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Three ferns grow close together on a shaded hillside: wood fern (Dryopteris arguta), goldenback fern (Pentagramma triangularis), and California maidenhair fern (Adiantum jordanii).  I found a whiskered jelly lichen (Leptochidium albociliatum) on a moss-covered rock, and particularly liked its intricate structure, with black lobed thallus, reddish-brown apothecia, and white hairs underneath the lobes (hence “whiskered”).

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I always look for dried mule-ears leaves (Wyethia helenioides) in the winter, with the lack of canopy after the fire, these are often found in open areas where they catch the sunlight and glow.

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How is the Reserve Doing 3 Years After the Fire? (12.12.2018)

In December, I visited Stebbins along with two UC Davis Natural Reserves directors: Jeffrey Clary (Associate Director) and Sarah Oktay (Director of Strategic Engagement and Stebbins Cold Canyon Director).  They graciously agreed to walk some of the creek trail with me to tell me about how the fire response at the reserve has compared to expectations and answer the questions that I’ve had over the last few years of site visits.

Following are pages from my sketchbook outlining our discussion, written and illustrated after the fact.  At the end of this post, I’ve included the field notes I made during our walk.

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Text from page 1:

1. The fire follower whispering bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora) was out in large numbers after the fire and hadn’t been seen at the reserve since the last fire 30 years ago.

2. Seedlings of buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) were only seen this last spring (2018), which was three springs after the fire.  It may be that they had reseeded/germinated earlier, but only just became noticeable.

3. Hairy-leaf ceanothus (C. oliganthus) should also be in the reserve.  It may be up in the high draws and less obvious.

4. It is unclear how the manzanitas in the reserve are doing – there has not been a lot of resprouting or reseeding (parry manzanita, Arctostaphylos parryana).

5. Red ribbons (Clarkia concinna) can be seen regularly in the reserve, but never before in the numbers in which it was present the two springs after the fire.  It is usually only up on the slopes and showed up both on the slopes and in the canyon after the fire.

6. The interior live oaks (Quercus wislizeni) in the canyon are doing pretty well with resprouting but it is not as clear how well the blue oaks (Q. douglasii) uphill are doing.  Blue oaks tend to grow on the hillsides and live oaks in the canyon – blue oaks have a higher tolerance for low water conditions than do live oaks.

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Text from page 2:

7. Many of the gray pines (Pinus sabiniana) were completely killed by the fire.  Gray pines are relatively intolerant to fire but return to the area easily in between fires.

8. American robins (Turdus migratorius) come in all at once and eat the berries off of the toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) over a couple of days.

9. Species composition in the reserve is back to about 80% of what it was before the fire.  The habitat structure is still very different, with much more understory and much less canopy.  Some cover has come back by now, though, and wildflowers were already much less numerous last spring than in the first two springs after the fire.

10. Chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum) will be blooming soon.

11. The perennial vines in the reserve (wild cucumber – Marah fabaceus; western morning glory – Calystegia occidentalis; pipestem clematis – Clematis lasianthus) are less numerous in the mature community than they have been in the years right after the fire, when there has been abundant light and climbing support in the form of bare branches.

12. Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) seeds germinate readily after fire and can also resprout after fire.

 

Here are the field notes I took while we walked (color added later):

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October Visit (10/8/2017): View from the Trailhead

Having been on the other side of the country, I missed a spring trailhead view of Stebbins this year.  It was great to draw another fall view this October, just over three years since the fire.

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Here is the view from September 2017:

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And the previous four (March 2017, September 2016, March 2016 and September 2015):

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