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.

illustratednotes2_2018dec12 2

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):

fieldnotesall_2018dec12

November Visit (11/23/2017)

On an overcast day that was comfortably cool, I tried to see as many different areas in the reserve as I could.  I headed up the trail towards Blue Ridge first and watched an oak titmouse (Baelophus inornatus) poking around in the dirt at the edge of the trail.  There were still bunches of nearly dry California cudweed (Pseudognaphalium californicum), along with the last blooms of coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis).

CudweedAndTitmouse_2017Nov23_sm

Tuleyome and the Friends of Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve have been continuing to stabilize the trail, shoring up the steep sections while the shrubs that ordinarily hold the hillsides in place are regrowing.

BuckeyeAndScat_2017Nov23_sm

The sky was filled with dramatic swaths of clouds, so I took a moment to capture the view back along Highway 128.

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Many of the toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) that started regrowing immediately after the fire did not produce flowers and berries until this year.

ToyonAndOaks_2017Nov23_sm

In the overall grey of the day, the fall colors at the reserve stood out sharply:

FallColor_2017Nov23_sm

Because there had been a small amount of rainfall already this fall, the creekbed was damp and there were a few pools in places; enough moisture for mosses to have begun to rehydrate.  The view through the culverts that are now the official access route into the canyon is striking and I finally stopped to capture it on this visit.StreamAndCulvert_2017Nov23_sm

Here are a few shots of the sketches in progress:

September Visit (9/29/2016) 1 of 3

At the end of September, summer was officially over, but summer weather here lasts well into fall.  Chamise regrowth was strong and healthy, and the buckeye leaves were brown and ready to fall, revealing the fruits:

chamiseandbuckeye_2016sep29_sm

The yellow hills allowed the new sprouts of the chaparral shrubs to stand out sharply:

chaparralhillside_2016sep29_sm

Two wildflowers: western goldenrod (Euthamia occidentalis) along the trail, and annual willow-herb (Epilobium canum) in the dry creek bed.  Three-leaf sumac (Rhus trilobata) was growing happily along the trail; it is a close relative of poison oak, and like that relative, grows back vigorously after fires.

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Until this visit, I had only seen western fence lizards in the reserve, so I was excited to spot a speedy western skink:

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I saw far more spider webs along the sides of the trail on this visit, especially funnel webs as below:

funnelweb_2016sep29_sm