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):

cabuckeyea07_2016mar23_sm

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

calaurelb03_2016mar23_sm

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):

calaurel_2016mar23_sm

Cold Creek clear and full:

coldcreek_2016mar23_sm

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:

offtrailpath_2016mar23_sm

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).

californiabuckeye_2016feb24_sm

 

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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.

coldcreek_2016feb24_sm

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).

shootingstar_2016feb24_sm

 

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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).

calaurelb03_2016jan8_sm

 

coyotebrusha04_2016jan8_sm

 

toyona02closeup_2016jan8_sm

 

toyona02_2016jan8_sm

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

Water Quality (12/30/2015 & 1/8/2016)

High-intensity chaparral fires cause increased erosion and sediment transport into streams, and this can be seen in the thick black sludge filling the Cold Creek channel.  On my December visit, with no recent rain, the creek bed was pretty dramatically full of sludge.

December 30, 2015:

coldcreek_30dec2015_sm

By my January visit, several small storms had contributed to small flows in the creek.  As water washes the runoff from the burned hillsides through the system, ash from the fire as well as contaminants that were present on the hillsides will move through Cold Creek and into Putah Creek.  This creates water quality concerns which will be addressed by future water quality monitoring to be conducted by the Solano County Water Agency.

January 8, 2016:

coldcreek_8jan2016_sm

On a Guided Hike (12/30/2015)

While the Cold Canyon trails are closed, the reserve is offering guided hikes to the public (current list of hikes).  I participated in a hike at the end of December, led by Jeffrey Clary, Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve Manager.  We walked along the canyon trail, discussing the plants that were started to regrow, and how the site is faring five months after the fire.

coldcanyontour2_2015dec30_sm

Interestingly, there is less regrowth at this point than might be expected, with the hillsides still quite bare, with many fewer seed regenerating plants than after similar fires.  That is not to say that there is no regrowth yet, though, and hikers found plenty of interesting plants along the trail, growing from seeds, bulbs, and resprouting from stumps.

soapplant2_2015dec30_sm

We also observed other effects of the fire, including many new rock faces, created when the water inside the boulders caused them to explode in the heat of the fire.

rockfaces2_2015dec30_sm