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.
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.
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.
I believe the galls I spotted on the interior live oak are made by the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis sp.).
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
The sky was filled with dramatic swaths of clouds, so I took a moment to capture the view back along Highway 128.
Many of the toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) that started regrowing immediately after the fire did not produce flowers and berries until this year.
In the overall grey of the day, the fall colors at the reserve stood out sharply:
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.
Here are a few shots of the sketches in progress:
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:
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).
Cold Creek was running higher, and the water and the sediment both look cleaner than they did on my December and January visits.
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).
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).
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.