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.

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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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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January Visit (1/30/2019)

A winter visit to Stebbins at the end of January was the perfect time to look for lichen and other things less easy to spot in more abundant foliage. Curious about how quickly lichens have begun to colonize new substrate, I looked closely at one of the large rocks split open during the fire. A few lichens have begun to grow on the newly exposed faces of the rock, though not nearly as many as on the older outside faces of the same rock.

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Along the trail more lichen, sprouting California buckeyes (Aesculus californica), and flowering chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum), California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica), and California toothwort (Cardamine californica). Lupines (Lupinus succulentus) and soap plants (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) have emerged, but are not yet flowering.

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More lichens, yellow fieldcap mushrooms (Bolbitius titubans), a water strider in the clear, rushing creek, and the background songs of wrentits (Chamaea fasciata) and Pacific treefrogs (Pseudacris regilla).

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On examining a pitcher sage (Lepechinia calycina) resprouting from its base, I noticed at least three different fungi at work on the dead, burned branches.

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Three ferns grow close together on a shaded hillside: wood fern (Dryopteris arguta), goldenback fern (Pentagramma triangularis), and California maidenhair fern (Adiantum jordanii).  I found a whiskered jelly lichen (Leptochidium albociliatum) on a moss-covered rock, and particularly liked its intricate structure, with black lobed thallus, reddish-brown apothecia, and white hairs underneath the lobes (hence “whiskered”).

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I always look for dried mule-ears leaves (Wyethia helenioides) in the winter, with the lack of canopy after the fire, these are often found in open areas where they catch the sunlight and glow.

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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:

July Visit (7/26/2017)

In the morning when the temperature was approaching 90 degrees F, a fairly short walk through the reserve revealed a number of plants I had not seen in previous visits, including green cudweed (Gnaphalium californicum) and narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), below.  I also observed galls on poison oak, which are made by a gall mite, Aculops rhois.

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California fuschia (Epilobium canum) is abundant in the reserve in the summer, but I saw a new Epilobium in the creekbed this visit, denseflower willowherb (Epilobium densiflorum).  The puffy, plume-like fruits of pipestem clematis (Clematis lasiantha) were abundant in several places along the creek trail.

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Thanks to the wetter winter, there was still water in the creekbed this July, and plenty of plants and animals taking advantage.  Red rock skimmers (Paltothemis lineatipes) buzzed me as I stood on rocks above the water, peering into the creek to see freshwater snails that are harder to spot when the water is higher.  I fished the head of a Jerusalem cricket (Stenopelmatus sp.) out of the water; I’m sure the rest of its body had been a juicy treat for something.

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