My semiannual tradition! Here is the view from Highway 128 into the canyon, Fall 2019:
Here are the previous seven views (April 2019, October 2018, September 2017, March 2017, September 2016, March 2016 and September 2015):
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!
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.
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.
Here are the previous six views (October 2018, September 2017, March 2017, September 2016, March 2016 and September 2015):
Having walked along the creek trail a few days earlier, I returned to Stebbins to hike up to Blue Ridge. Abundant insect life:
A beautiful view of the full creek:
An iris I had not seen yet at Stebbins:
A very calm and quiet cicada:
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).
Toward the end of March, I led a field sketching workshop at Stebbins, sponsored by Tuleyome. We had fifteen participants and the perfect weather for walking, observing and drawing!
I gave the participants six different exercises at various stops along the trail:
Exercise 1: Blind Contour – Find something nearby with a complex shape. Let your eyes follow the outline of the object and slowly draw as your eyes move along the contour. Your eyes stay on the object rather than the paper.
Exercise 2: Focus on Details – Spend time recording the fine details of something you can observe up close. Draw it from more than one angle.
Exercise 3: Landscape Thumbnails – Simplify landscape views into areas of light and dark. Look for larger-scale patterns: where are trees or shrubs growing on a hillside, how do shadows define ridges and valleys, how do dark and light change as you look even further into the distance?
Exercise 4: Things That Move – When drawing something in motion, watch it for as long as you can see it and only then pick up your pencil to draw it. Draw only the information you remember: basic shape, some notes about color or pattern.
Exercise 5: Color Notes – Look very closely and critically at the color in a near object and a distant scene. Try to define the colors as they really are, not as you expect them to be. Notice how the colors change in light and in shade, and how nearby colors can influence each other.
Exercise 6: Select Your Own Theme for the Hike Back – Some examples of ideas to focus your sketching trip:
To download the PDF version of the handout for the workshop, click here.
I had two goals on this visit to the Reserve: to conduct my usual observations and to finalize the locations where I planned to have my field sketching workshop participants stop for our six drawing exercises. I didn’t get to the Reserve until around noon, when everything had warmed up into the sixties. With the bright sun, there were butterflies absolutely everywhere! Plenty of wildflowers, too, including California pipevine (Aristolochia californica), which I had not managed to find in bloom in previous years.
In March, as part of Tuleyome‘s Nature and You Events, I am pleased to be guiding a field sketching hike and separate evening lecture focused on Stebbins Cold Canyon.
On March 9, I will lead a field sketching workshop at Stebbins from 8:00 to noon, where I will offer demonstrations, exercises, individual exploration and discussion. These will be designed to help participants enjoy the reserve and practice taking our nature observations to a deeper level. More information is available here.
On March 28, I will be presenting a lecture at the Mary L. Stephens, Davis Branch Library at 6:00 pm. The lecture will describe my ongoing project documenting Stebbins after the fire, showing in drawings the reserve’s response to the fire. I’ll be giving an overview of how I approach field sketching and talking in depth about the idea of using sketching to pay close attention to a place and its inhabitants and observe changes over time. More information is available here.
A winter visit to Stebbins at the end of January was the perfect time to look for lichen and other things less easy to spot in more abundant foliage. Curious about how quickly lichens have begun to colonize new substrate, I looked closely at one of the large rocks split open during the fire. A few lichens have begun to grow on the newly exposed faces of the rock, though not nearly as many as on the older outside faces of the same rock.
Along the trail more lichen, sprouting California buckeyes (Aesculus californica), and flowering chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum), California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica), and California toothwort (Cardamine californica). Lupines (Lupinus succulentus) and soap plants (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) have emerged, but are not yet flowering.
More lichens, yellow fieldcap mushrooms (Bolbitius titubans), a water strider in the clear, rushing creek, and the background songs of wrentits (Chamaea fasciata) and Pacific treefrogs (Pseudacris regilla).
On examining a pitcher sage (Lepechinia calycina) resprouting from its base, I noticed at least three different fungi at work on the dead, burned branches.
Three ferns grow close together on a shaded hillside: wood fern (Dryopteris arguta), goldenback fern (Pentagramma triangularis), and California maidenhair fern (Adiantum jordanii). I found a whiskered jelly lichen (Leptochidium albociliatum) on a moss-covered rock, and particularly liked its intricate structure, with black lobed thallus, reddish-brown apothecia, and white hairs underneath the lobes (hence “whiskered”).
I always look for dried mule-ears leaves (Wyethia helenioides) in the winter, with the lack of canopy after the fire, these are often found in open areas where they catch the sunlight and glow.