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.

illustratednotes1_2018dec12 2

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

January Visit (1/27/2017)

After the first very wet winter in a long time, it was deeply satisfying to see Cold Creek full of water and energy.

ColdCreekRushing_2017Jan27_sm

Little tributaries to Cold Creek were full of water, and an early wildflower (milk maids, Cardamine californica) was abundant along the trail.

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The leaves of last spring’s foothill mule-ears (Wyethia helenoides) had dried so that only the veins were left, making a delicate lace.

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It appears that toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) that resprouted after the fire did not flower their first spring.  A toyon at the place where the trail crosses the creek had not burned and did produce fruit last fall.

I looked at the different patterns of regrowth in gray pine (Pinus sabiniana).

PineRegrowthEtc_2017Jan27_sm

Toyon berries were the primary food in the scat of what was likely a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), as it was left on a rock in the middle of the trail.  It is possible that the scat was from a coyote (Canis latrans), but because gray foxes are known for finding prominent spots to mark with scat, fox is my first guess.

FoxScatEtc_2017Jan27_sm

August Visit (8/25/2016)

A hot and dry August day: first I noticed that heavy stillness particular to the very hot days of California summer, and then started paying attention to all of the active insects.  Grasshoppers took off in all directions to escape as I walked along the trail and butterflies of all sizes were abundant.

One of the few flowers blooming, twiggy wreath plant (Stephanomeria virgata), attracted quite a few bees, both western honey bees (Apis mellifera) and a bumblebee, the black-tailed bumblebee (Bombus melanopygus edwardsii).

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One grasshopper stayed still long enough for me to draw it.  It slowly dawned on me that there was a reason it was less willing to fly away as I approached: it was missing its right hind leg.  It was still able to fly, but taking off clearly took more effort.

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A daytime moon over Blue Ridge:

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I watched a Sonoma chipmunk (Tamias sonomae) working busily in the trees some distance away.  The image below was drawn from a reference photo.

sonomachipmunk_2016aug25_sm

 

March Visit (3/23/2016) 2 of 3

This is the second of three posts covering my March visit to the Reserve.  Wildflowers were everywhere in profusion.  A selection:

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The day was warm and sunny.  I saw at least six kinds of butterfly, only three of which I was able to identify: Pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor, especially abundant in the patches of blue dicks, as above), Orangetips (Anthocharis, drawn below), and Buckeyes (Junonia coenia).  I also enjoyed watching a Greater bee fly (Bombylius major) visiting the numerous Red-stem filaree flowers along the path (Erodium cicutarium, a common weed in disturbed areas).

March Visit (3/23/2016) 1 of 3

I visited on a warm, clear day in March to enjoy all the new green growth and buzzing and humming of insects everywhere.  This is the first of three posts showing what I saw.

Turkey vultures were enjoying the thermals above Blue Ridge:

turkeyvultures_2016mar23_sm

California poppies had started to adorn the hillsides in February, but were carpeting them in March, especially on the southwest facing slopes:

capoppyhillside_2016mar23_sm

Regrowth was lush at the base of the California buckeye at marker A07 (map):

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I’ve been watching the new stalks of California laurel at B03 get progressively taller:

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New, though, was this interesting growth of stalks at the base of a much larger California laurel (not at a CA Phenology Project at Stebbins marker):

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Cold Creek clear and full:

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Although the reserve remains closed to the public until May, there have been large numbers of trespassers.  Evidence comes in the form of paths blazed down to the creek off the main trail:

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This activity directly interferes with the reserve’s ability to fully recover from the fire by increasing erosion and damaging newly regrown plants.  Plenty of other evidence of trespass too:

graffiti_2016mar23_sm

February Visit (2/24/2016)

I returned to the reserve in February excited to see how much greener it would be and whether any wildflowers were starting to appear.  This drawing of Blue Ridge shows a dramatic difference from a month and a half prior:

ridge_2016feb24_sm

All along the creek trail, I enjoyed the new greens, as seen in the new growth below in a California buckeye and the Toyon at marker A02 (markers are used by the CA Phenology Project at Stebbins; here is a map of the marker locations).

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Cold Creek was running higher, and the water and the sediment both look cleaner than they did on my December and January visits.

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And there were wildflowers!  Not all that many yet, but I did see Henderson’s shooting star (Dodecatheon hendersonii), Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), Large-leaved hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum grande), Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), and Wild cucumber (Marah fabaceus).

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January Visit (1/8/2016)

Walking the creek trail in early January, I drew some of the re-sprouting shrubs.  I have focused on plants that are marked for monitoring by the California Phenology Project at Stebbins Cold Canyon.  Marker numbers are noted on each sketch.  Shown below are California laurel (B03), Coyotebrush (A04), and Toyon (A02, with an additional closeup).

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Looking up from the creek at the same spot where I focused on water quality in December and January, I drew the canyon hillsides facing west.  While there was some green growth to be seen along the creek, next to nothing was green on the hillsides in this direction.

ridge3_2016jan8_sm