My Interpretive Sign Is Up!

My interpretive sign showing how plants and animals use Cold Creek in both wet and dry seasons is up at the reserve!

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It is posted at a small creek overlook along the Homestead Trail.  I developed the sign to highlight how plants and animals make use of a seasonal stream in both wet and dry times of year.  To illustrate the concept, I selected a set of organisms that represent a wide variety of strategies for coping with fluctuations in water availability in different seasons.  Given a two-color design constraint, I used the colors to help emphasize the species and the changes in their environment.

Here is the sign alone:

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November Visit (11/23/2017)

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).

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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.

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The sky was filled with dramatic swaths of clouds, so I took a moment to capture the view back along Highway 128.

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Many of the toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) that started regrowing immediately after the fire did not produce flowers and berries until this year.

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In the overall grey of the day, the fall colors at the reserve stood out sharply:

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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.StreamAndCulvert_2017Nov23_sm

Here are a few shots of the sketches in progress:

July Visit (7/26/2017)

In the morning when the temperature was approaching 90 degrees F, a fairly short walk through the reserve revealed a number of plants I had not seen in previous visits, including green cudweed (Gnaphalium californicum) and narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), below.  I also observed galls on poison oak, which are made by a gall mite, Aculops rhois.

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California fuschia (Epilobium canum) is abundant in the reserve in the summer, but I saw a new Epilobium in the creekbed this visit, denseflower willowherb (Epilobium densiflorum).  The puffy, plume-like fruits of pipestem clematis (Clematis lasiantha) were abundant in several places along the creek trail.

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Thanks to the wetter winter, there was still water in the creekbed this July, and plenty of plants and animals taking advantage.  Red rock skimmers (Paltothemis lineatipes) buzzed me as I stood on rocks above the water, peering into the creek to see freshwater snails that are harder to spot when the water is higher.  I fished the head of a Jerusalem cricket (Stenopelmatus sp.) out of the water; I’m sure the rest of its body had been a juicy treat for something.

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May Visit (5/29/2017)

Meandering down the trail in May, stopping every few steps to draw something else, I tried to find differences between last May and this.  As I’d noticed before, there were more vines this year, including western morning glory (Calystegia occidentalis).  There were abundant pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor) both years, and this visit I spotted a mating pair and was able to get close to sketch them.

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It seemed to me that there were many more Clarkias along the creek trail, including Clarkia unguiculata (elegant Clarkia) and Clarkia purpurea (four-spot).

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Bumblebees were busy in the Klamathweed (St. John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum) and I watched a Chalcedon checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona) on poison oak.  A few gray pines (Pinus sabiniana) that seemed to still be growing after the fire now have so few green needles left that it seems they may not make it after all.

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A couple of my usual views: Cold Creek and Blue Ridge.  I’ve been trying to capture them each time I visit, for an ongoing record of seasonal changes as well as changes over the years.

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I hadn’t yet spotted an alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata; I wrote an older synonym on the sketch) in the reserve, so I was glad to finally spy one darting across the trail in front of me.  They are zippy and more shy than fence lizards.

I started to draw the coyote mint (Monardella villosa) and then noticed a lady beetle (Coccinellidae) larva on one leaf.

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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.

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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.

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Spawning Chinook in Putah Creek

Anadromous fish do not make their way into Cold Creek, but Cold Creek is a tributary to Putah Creek, which does have salmon and steelhead.  Water quality in Cold Creek (including impacts from fire) has a direct impact on water in Putah Creek and on the organisms that rely on Putah Creek.  Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) return to Putah Creek to spawn after spending several years in the ocean, and are dependent on cool, clear water free of contaminants for their survival.

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In November, I watched Chinook salmon traveling up Putah Creek in downtown Winters, just under the old railroad bridge.  I made some sketches onsite:

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And then developed a more detailed depiction of the scene at home:

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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:

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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:

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