March Visit (3/5/2020)

At the beginning of March I set off to hike the full loop up to Blue Ridge, down the spine of the ridge, past the homestead and back along the creek trail. It is only a five mile hike, but one that I generally do not have time to do given that I stop to draw to frequently. Blissfully ignorant of the new reality that was about to descend on all of us, I marveled at the opportunity to get the full perspective of high and low habitats at the Reserve.

I started by trying something new: marking the spots where I stopped to draw and noting the thing that had caught my attention there. (I drew the map in advance and added the cartoons of the flowers after the fact.)

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I was extremely pleased to find California pipevine in bloom! Last year, I caught the flowers once they had dried out, so was determined to find them fresh this year. They look so stunning when backlit with the light glowing through their hollow, yellowy-green bodies veined in red.

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Variable checkerspot caterpillars were plentiful on the ridge. I originally misidentified the first one I saw, but realized my mistake when I came on a crowd of them feeding on woolly paintbrush, one of their main host plants.

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Two of my favorite tiny wildflowers—purple sanicle and miniature lupine—were growing in bright exposed areas along a steeper part of the trail.

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An anise swallowtail (originally misidentified in the drawing) held still long enough for me to do a careful drawing. The grey hairstreak was not so patient, so I drew it based on memory as it flitted from twig to twig.

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This is the first year I’ve seen fruits on the manzanitas that were burned!

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So many beautiful colors on the hike: so hard to remember to keep moving and not try to draw every single new flower I see.

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The effects of our extremely dry February were abundantly evident in the creek, which was incredibly low and filled with algae. It was completely dry near the entrance to the Reserve.

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Now that I know that this was my last visit for a long time, with Stebbins closed to support the shelter-in-place rules, I am so grateful for this wonderful gift of a hike.

February Visit (2/6/2020)

In February, I felt particularly lucky to be escorted the entirety of my hike by robins. They were busy stripping the stands of toyon of their berries, swooping here and there, calling to each other and scolding me. They would let me get close to them and stand under the bushes for a while, but then they would move away one by one down the trail to the next cluster of toyons.

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I was struck on this hike by how much white pitcher sage I saw in clearings, soaking up the sun. The abundance of white pitcher sage and also chaparral currant seem to me to be a sign of the growing dominance of sub-shrubs in the Stebbins habitats, as the annuals start to be shaded out and we follow the ecological stages of plant succession after the fire.

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I stopped for a captivating view with swaths of toyon, hairy-leaved ceanothus, and white pitcher sage. Below are some of the deposits left by mammals and a bird along that same stretch of trail.

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I believe the galls I spotted on the interior live oak are made by the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis sp.).

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A clump of feathers in the grass at the side of the trail told the story of some kind of struggle, probably with a robin since they were so active and plentiful then. No sign of a body (or parts thereof), so either the bird escaped or the evidence was swallowed.

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As I neared the end of my hike, I noticed the unmistakable red of a robin’s chest in the brush down the hill along the side of the trail. The still form looked so peaceful – no sign of predation or struggle. It was a moving end to the drama that the robins had provided all along my journey.

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December Visit (12/30/2019)

A boulder with moss forming rivers of green in its fissures looked just like an Andy Goldsworthy creation, so I had to capture that vivid image when I saw it at the start of my hike. The day was cool and sunny and the boulder cast interesting shadows on the rocks below it in the creekbed. There was running water in the creek although it was not all that high.

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There are a few mysteries on this page. First, the lichen I drew in November and haven’t yet sorted out. Maybe it isn’t a lichen after all. And then a “weed” perhaps, but something with pretty mint-green leaves that turn red as it ages. When it flowers in a few months I’ll figure out what it is, but have been frustratingly unable to yet.

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The hare’s foot inkcap (Coprinus lagopus) was a treasure; it caught the morning light and glowed. The fungus (Phycomyces blakesleeanus) on the dog feces was perhaps less a treasure, certainly a shame since it is growing on evidence of the abundant presence of dogs in the Reserve, where they are officially not allowed.

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It had rained recently enough that the purple shelf fungus Trichaptum albietinum was moist and colorful. It grows on conifers and I found this one on the grey pine that has fallen across the creek. There is a sister species that grows on hardwoods and is similar in appearance.

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The toyons’ red/gold/green were captivating against the blue of the sky and enlivened my drawing along with the textures of the burnt oak limbs and the waves of dried grass. I drew even more gold below following the patterns of spores on the undersides of goldenback fern (Pentagramma triangularis) leaves.

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November Visit (11/29/2019)

First pages in a new sketchbook are always exciting. This is my third sketchbook for Stebbins drawings; so far that’s a rate of 2 years per sketchbook. I was looking forward to some cooler fall weather on this visit and wanted to get to the Reserve before the onslaught of rain we were expecting. Thanks to a little rain a few days earlier, the mosses and lichens were activated and colorful.

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I hiked up the trail toward Blue Ridge and stopped to draw a diagram (across a full spread, here in the pages above ∧ and below ∨) showing the zones of grassland (south-facing slopes) and chaparral (north-facing slopes) on Pleasants Ridge. I also noted seed pods of bush monkeyflower, reminding me a bit of corn still wrapped in dried husks. Hummingbirds caught my attention repeatedly, several times perching in trees near enough that I could watch their movements.

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Chaparral currant was blooming in its beautiful bright pinks, always a nice contrast to the rest of the fall/winter vegetation. Chamise was luxurious on the hillside, with sandstone boulders scattered in between.

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The vivid colors of the scene below with burnt blue oak, striking blue sky, and red and green toyon were crying out to be painted.

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I stopped to try to capture the warm light on the Blue Ridge crest and was then drawn in completely by the lichens. The first were on boulders about half way down from the ridge:

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I made a diagram of the spatial complexity of different species on a rock:

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I got lost in a world of lichens on some fallen blue oak branches:

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And then stopped for a last painting at a boulder in the creek at the crossing back to the trail to the parking lot.

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September Visit (9/26/2019)

It was late fall, but still felt like summer when I visited Stebbins in September. Each season has its highlights, and I went to the canyon looking forward to flying insects, active birds, and the early hints of fall colors. I wasn’t disappointed! The Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna) and the grasshoppers were quite lively, and it sometimes took me a minute to register which of the two large flyers had just whizzed past my head.

Poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) is always showy this time of year. I love to see it looking healthy and abundant: it is an important food source for birds, herps, insects and some mammals.

I spent a long time watching a gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus) on slender clover (Trifolium gracilentum). I hadn’t seen one in Stebbins yet – it is a pretty little butterfly!

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June Visit (6/1/2019)

In June, I had the pleasure of exploring Stebbins along with Miriam Morrill, who has been exploring ways to represent fire conditions, fire and fire effects graphically. I took some notes during our discussion (at the bottom of this post) and then compiled these sketchbook pages based on photos and my notes.

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April Visit (4/22/2019): View from the Trailhead

Last April, I sketched the view into Stebbins from Highway 128, a tradition every 6 months. There are still plenty of dead branches in sight, but the regrowth from roots and crowns is providing much of the green that you see here. In the earlier views, a lot of the green came from vines using the bare branches as supports.

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Here are the previous six views (October 2018, September 2017, March 2017, September 2016, March 2016 and September 2015):

April Visit #2 (4/22/2019)

Having walked along the creek trail a few days earlier, I returned to Stebbins to hike up to Blue Ridge. Abundant insect life:

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A beautiful view of the full creek:

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An iris I had not seen yet at Stebbins:

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A very calm and quiet cicada:

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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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