April Visit #1 (4/19/2019)

On a clear and peaceful day in April, I brought my son with me to Stebbins and we both sketched our way along the trail. The lizards were plentiful, which was not surprising, but we were surprised at how close many of them let us come. Especially surprising was the western skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus) – I have found these to be particularly shy in the past.

The canyon and hillsides are still much more open due to the fire three and a half years ago, with many spring wildflowers taking advantage of the light.

My son pointed out a chaparral camel cricket (Gammarotettix genitalis) sheltering in the curl of a California tea (Rupertia physodes).

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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):

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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.

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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.

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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):

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

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

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Cold creek is beautiful and clear.

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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.

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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:

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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