Winters Fire (July 6-8, 2017)

Near the beginning of what is likely to be an intense fire season, the area north of Cold Canyon that has burned twice before over the past four years was in flames again.  A total of 2,269 acres burned north of Highway 128 near Winters over three days in early July:

WintersFire_2017Jul8_sm

This map shows all of the fires in the area between 2014 and 2016:

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While fire is a necessary component of a healthy ecosystem, when the same area burns repeatedly with only short intervals between fires, seed banks are destroyed and trees that might have survived a single fire are unable to recover enough to withstand the next fire.  We still have a couple of months or more of hot dry weather, and plenty of extra fuel this year as a result of the wet winter.  I will be surprised if there are not more fires in this area this year.

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July Visit (7/21/2016)

On a hot but not scorching morning, butterflies of all sizes were abundant:

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Lots of summer yellow:

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A few last wildflowers and fruits:

wildflowers_2017jul21_sm

A brief sighting of a Sonoma chipmunk (Tamias sonomae):

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Some of the new stairs that volunteers have constructed along the trail:

newstairs_2016jul21_sm

I heard, but did not see, a Nuttall’s woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii).  This drawing is based on a reference photo:

nuttallswoodpecker_2016jul21_sm

June Visit (6/29/2016)

By June, Cold Creek was dry, at least in the lower part.  It is possible that water remained in pools higher up in the canyon.

coldcreekdry_2016jun29_sm

There were still a few wildflowers to find, and some Valley elderberry longhorn beetles (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus) on their favorite plant:

wildflowers_2016jun29_sm

The leaves of yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) growing alongside the trail were strikingly shiny.  The yerba santa often seemed to be growing in patches of weedy thistles (star thistle, milk thistle) and dandelions, which are much more abundant post-fire with much of the shade gone.

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Brown summer hills and a vibrant cloud-free sky:

summerhills_2016jun29_sm

March Visit (3/23/2016) 3 of 3

Because the green hills will not last long, I wanted to capture the great difference in the view at the trailhead in March compared to last September.  The charred trees and shrubs stand out starkly against the vibrant green new growth.  Here is the view March 23:

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And here is the view from last September 11:

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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

 

toyona02_2016feb24_sm

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).

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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

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.

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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