March Visit (3/5/2020)

At the beginning of March I set off to hike the full loop up to Blue Ridge, down the spine of the ridge, past the homestead and back along the creek trail. It is only a five mile hike, but one that I generally do not have time to do given that I stop to draw to frequently. Blissfully ignorant of the new reality that was about to descend on all of us, I marveled at the opportunity to get the full perspective of high and low habitats at the Reserve.

I started by trying something new: marking the spots where I stopped to draw and noting the thing that had caught my attention there. (I drew the map in advance and added the cartoons of the flowers after the fact.)

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I was extremely pleased to find California pipevine in bloom! Last year, I caught the flowers once they had dried out, so was determined to find them fresh this year. They look so stunning when backlit with the light glowing through their hollow, yellowy-green bodies veined in red.

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Variable checkerspot caterpillars were plentiful on the ridge. I originally misidentified the first one I saw, but realized my mistake when I came on a crowd of them feeding on woolly paintbrush, one of their main host plants.

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Two of my favorite tiny wildflowers—purple sanicle and miniature lupine—were growing in bright exposed areas along a steeper part of the trail.

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An anise swallowtail (originally misidentified in the drawing) held still long enough for me to do a careful drawing. The grey hairstreak was not so patient, so I drew it based on memory as it flitted from twig to twig.

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This is the first year I’ve seen fruits on the manzanitas that were burned!

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So many beautiful colors on the hike: so hard to remember to keep moving and not try to draw every single new flower I see.

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The effects of our extremely dry February were abundantly evident in the creek, which was incredibly low and filled with algae. It was completely dry near the entrance to the Reserve.

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Now that I know that this was my last visit for a long time, with Stebbins closed to support the shelter-in-place rules, I am so grateful for this wonderful gift of a hike.

Cache Creek Conservancy Cultural Burn (1/20/2020)

In January, I had the opportunity to participate in another cultural burning event: the Cache Creek Conservancy‘s second annual Indigenous Fire Workshop, held in their Tending and Gathering Garden. Drawn below was the gathering prior to walking down to the garden. The event was attended by an inspiring variety of community members, students and researchers, and members of a number of nearby tribes. The Conservancy is within the homeland of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, with whom they collaboratively manage the Tending and Gathering Garden and other riparian projects along Cache Creek.

The burning was focused on four plants: deergrass, western redbud, tule, and cattail. These are important plants for basketry and other cultural necessities, and fire ensures that they grow in the manner best suited for these uses. I mapped the locations of the plants burned, in the context of the entire Conservancy.

 

The first fires were started in the deergrass:

Patches of flames in deergrass:

This was so impressively a full community event! People of all ages were helping tend the fires, wandering between the burning patches and poking at fire with sticks.

Redbuds were cut to near their bases, the branches piled in cones above the stumps. This ensured that the bases and brush all burned well.

Tule and cattails were set alight, and their thick stands burned fiercely, sending flames high into the air. The long strips of leaves turned to ash and floating away on the smoke were quite dramatic. I was also struck by the individual plumes of smoke rising from each still-smoldering cattail head after the flames had passed. The twisting strips of char on the burned cattail stalks show the pattern of air movement as the flames rose around them.

A redbud that was burned nearly a year ago showed the straight branches and deep red color that are desirable for basketry. I also investigated a fungus happily growing on the burned stumps.

In a perfect demonstration of survival strategies during fire, one of the members of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians Tribal Fire Department found a juvenile alligator lizard that had been curled up in the base of a bunch of deergrass that had just been burned. The moisture content at the base kept that spot cool enough that the lizard was unharmed by the fire.

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March Visit (3/19/2019)

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.

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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:

April Visit (4/1/2017)

The days are warming up and the butterflies are out in force.  Pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor) were everywhere when I visited at the beginning of April, large dark shapes swooping across the trail.  I was excited to find a jumping spider (Phidippus sp.) on a branch of poison oak.

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I watched a lone carpenter ant (Camponotus sp.) wandering along the mud next to a trickle of water running across the trail.  Purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida) is a beautiful wildflower that I didn’t see in the reserve last year.

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Common buckeye (Junonia coenia) caterpillars were busy eating the tips of one of their host plants, California figwort (Scrophularia californica).  It is clear that vines are taking advantage of the bare chaparral shrub branches after the fire, and this year the vines are even more abundant, especially on the hillsides.

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I had been unaware that there were yellow variants of woolly paintbrush (Castilleja foliolosa), but both colors were growing along the creek trail.

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I didn’t spot any live grasshoppers on this visit, but did see a very flat one in the middle of the trail.

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There were lovely patches of fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii) and abundant wild cucumber fruits (Marah fabaceus).

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The prohibition of dogs in the reserve is unfortunately ineffective.  Just about every third group of hikers I saw on this busy Saturday had a dog with them.

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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.

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

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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:

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