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.

February Visit (2/6/2020)

In February, I felt particularly lucky to be escorted the entirety of my hike by robins. They were busy stripping the stands of toyon of their berries, swooping here and there, calling to each other and scolding me. They would let me get close to them and stand under the bushes for a while, but then they would move away one by one down the trail to the next cluster of toyons.

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I was struck on this hike by how much white pitcher sage I saw in clearings, soaking up the sun. The abundance of white pitcher sage and also chaparral currant seem to me to be a sign of the growing dominance of sub-shrubs in the Stebbins habitats, as the annuals start to be shaded out and we follow the ecological stages of plant succession after the fire.

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I stopped for a captivating view with swaths of toyon, hairy-leaved ceanothus, and white pitcher sage. Below are some of the deposits left by mammals and a bird along that same stretch of trail.

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I believe the galls I spotted on the interior live oak are made by the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis sp.).

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A clump of feathers in the grass at the side of the trail told the story of some kind of struggle, probably with a robin since they were so active and plentiful then. No sign of a body (or parts thereof), so either the bird escaped or the evidence was swallowed.

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As I neared the end of my hike, I noticed the unmistakable red of a robin’s chest in the brush down the hill along the side of the trail. The still form looked so peaceful – no sign of predation or struggle. It was a moving end to the drama that the robins had provided all along my journey.

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September Visit (9/26/2019)

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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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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My Upcoming Lecture and Hike with Tuleyome

In March, as part of Tuleyome‘s Nature and You Events, I am pleased to be guiding a field sketching hike and separate evening lecture focused on Stebbins Cold Canyon.

On March 9, I will lead a field sketching workshop at Stebbins from 8:00 to noon, where I will offer demonstrations, exercises, individual exploration and discussion. These will be designed to help participants enjoy the reserve and practice taking our nature observations to a deeper level. More information is available here.

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On March 28, I will be presenting a lecture at the Mary L. Stephens, Davis Branch Library at 6:00 pm. The lecture will describe my ongoing project documenting Stebbins after the fire, showing in drawings the reserve’s response to the fire. I’ll be giving an overview of how I approach field sketching and talking in depth about the idea of using sketching to pay close attention to a place and its inhabitants and observe changes over time. More information is available here.

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