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.

illustratednotes1_2018dec12 2

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.

illustratednotes2_2018dec12 2

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

February Visit (2/28/2017)

Enjoying the wildflowers on a beautiful February day, I also noticed a different form of California buckeye (Aesculus californica) regrowth than I had seen last year.  Along the creek trail, some buckeyes that had not regrown in their crowns last year were sending up basal shoots.  I love the way the leaf buds look.

WildflowersEtc1_2017Feb28_sm

I was excited to see a checker-lily (Fritillaria affinis), something I did not catch last year.  Greater bee-flies (Bombylius major) were everywhere, enjoying the sun and the flowers.

WildflowersEtc2_2017Feb28_sm

A yellowjacket (Vespula sp.) resting on purple nightshade (Solanum xanti), a western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) paused on a rock in the sun, and the first blooms on fleshy lupine (Lupinus succulentus):

WildflowersEtc4_2017Feb28_sm

A few more blooms (canyon delphinium, blue dicks, and miner’s lettuce):

WildflowersEtc3_2017Feb28_sm

I’m still working on capturing the grey expanses of dead tree and shrub branches against the hillsides.

BlueRidge_2017Feb28_sm

Cold creek is beautiful and clear.

ColdCreek_2017Feb28_sm

The wet winter has led to movement on the hillsides, although maybe not as much as there might have been, given how recent the fire was.  This was a slump right along the creek trail.

SlumpAboveTrail_2017Feb28_sm

 

 

September Visit (9/29/2016) 2 of 3

It’s oak gall season!  I spotted the leaf below right in the middle of the trail, with galls from two different wasps.  The urchin gall wasp (Antron quercusechinus) makes the spiny pink galls and the crystalline gall wasp (Andricus crystallinus) makes the furry pink galls.  These wasps, in the family Cynipidae, lay their eggs in oak leaves (in this case a blue oak), and the eggs secrete plant hormone mimics which cause the leave to form the spectacular gall.  The larvae grow and feed in the gall for weeks to years, depending on environmental conditions, and then pupate within the gall and emerge as adults.

oakgalls_2016sep29_sm

Continuing the oak theme, I looked carefully at oak regrowth along Cold Creek.  Interior live oak, an evergreen oak, is generally a more vigorous basal sprouter, as observed below:

liveoakgrowth_2016sep29_sm

Blue oaks, which are deciduous, generally do not resprout from their bases, but show regrowth in their crowns:

blueoakgrowth_2016sep29_sm