September Visit (09/26/2019)

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!

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How is the Reserve Doing 3 Years After the Fire? (12.12.2018)

In December, I visited Stebbins along with two UC Davis Natural Reserves directors: Jeffrey Clary (Associate Director) and Sarah Oktay (Director of Strategic Engagement and Stebbins Cold Canyon Director).  They graciously agreed to walk some of the creek trail with me to tell me about how the fire response at the reserve has compared to expectations and answer the questions that I’ve had over the last few years of site visits.

Following are pages from my sketchbook outlining our discussion, written and illustrated after the fact.  At the end of this post, I’ve included the field notes I made during our walk.

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Text from page 1:

1. The fire follower whispering bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora) was out in large numbers after the fire and hadn’t been seen at the reserve since the last fire 30 years ago.

2. Seedlings of buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) were only seen this last spring (2018), which was three springs after the fire.  It may be that they had reseeded/germinated earlier, but only just became noticeable.

3. Hairy-leaf ceanothus (C. oliganthus) should also be in the reserve.  It may be up in the high draws and less obvious.

4. It is unclear how the manzanitas in the reserve are doing – there has not been a lot of resprouting or reseeding (parry manzanita, Arctostaphylos parryana).

5. Red ribbons (Clarkia concinna) can be seen regularly in the reserve, but never before in the numbers in which it was present the two springs after the fire.  It is usually only up on the slopes and showed up both on the slopes and in the canyon after the fire.

6. The interior live oaks (Quercus wislizeni) in the canyon are doing pretty well with resprouting but it is not as clear how well the blue oaks (Q. douglasii) uphill are doing.  Blue oaks tend to grow on the hillsides and live oaks in the canyon – blue oaks have a higher tolerance for low water conditions than do live oaks.

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Text from page 2:

7. Many of the gray pines (Pinus sabiniana) were completely killed by the fire.  Gray pines are relatively intolerant to fire but return to the area easily in between fires.

8. American robins (Turdus migratorius) come in all at once and eat the berries off of the toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) over a couple of days.

9. Species composition in the reserve is back to about 80% of what it was before the fire.  The habitat structure is still very different, with much more understory and much less canopy.  Some cover has come back by now, though, and wildflowers were already much less numerous last spring than in the first two springs after the fire.

10. Chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum) will be blooming soon.

11. The perennial vines in the reserve (wild cucumber – Marah fabaceus; western morning glory – Calystegia occidentalis; pipestem clematis – Clematis lasianthus) are less numerous in the mature community than they have been in the years right after the fire, when there has been abundant light and climbing support in the form of bare branches.

12. Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) seeds germinate readily after fire and can also resprout after fire.

 

Here are the field notes I took while we walked (color added later):

fieldnotesall_2018dec12

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).

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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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November Visit (11/30/2016)

In November, on a cool but not cold day, I hiked to the top of Blue Ridge.  Looking out at Lake Berryessa, it was easy to see part of the area burned by the Cold Fire last summer.

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On the way up the trail, I looked for mushrooms enjoying the damp left by rains earlier in the month, and observed regrowth of mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), blue oaks (Quercus douglasii), and chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum).  The leaves of yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) along the trail were losing their waxy coating.  The waxy coating, presumably beneficial in retaining water during dry months, is resinous and highly flammable.  Yerba santa seeds may require fire to germinate and can also resprout from rhizomes following fire.

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Hillsides stripped of their erosion-controlling vegetation by the fire have been shored up with erosion matting installed by Tuleyome and Friends of Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve.

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Looking across Cold Canyon I was struck by the “rivers” of dead tree branches running down the canyons of Pleasants Ridge.  They made a ghostly grey against the greens of new growth and the hills still mostly yellow from the summer.

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A few mid-action photos:

October Visit (10/31/2016)

On a cool gray day, I thought that a scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica) in a gray pine (Pinus sabiniana) made a beautiful silhouette against the sky.

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A  number of spotted towhees (Pipilo maculatus) were foraging in the smaller trees along the trail.  I caught one on a perch next to some stairs, and then drew a close-up from a photo.

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All over the canyon, poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) in its fall colors glowed vividly against the green and gray of the day.

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Mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides) resprouting.  I love the shape of their leaves.

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Female coyotebrush (Baccharis pilularis) flowers, and a view of coyotebrush resprouting.

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