Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Taricha Torosa

In an attempt to create a grand list of all of the Newt (Taricha torosa) south of Monterey County, I have put together this blog. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Las Tablas Creek

Met at 0830 off Los Osos Rd S of San Luis Obispo and drove north to Vineyard Rd at Templeton, then west on Hwy 46 to Santa Rosa Creek Road. Clear and hot today, light wind, maximum temperature around 90 F. Grass is all dry S of San Luis Obispo, mostly still green but drying in the upper Salinas Valley. Took Santa Rosa Creek Rd NW to the head of Rocky Creek at Black Mountain summit. The upper part of Rocky Creek near the base of Black Mountain has shaded shallow pools with undercut root bases, and looks very suitable for Taricha, especially since the creek flows S across hwy 46 and joins Santa Rita Creek. It does so by veering away from Santa Rosa Creek Rd to the SE, and runs for 3/8 mile in a deep canyon. This should be checked, although there are several houses along the road nearby at the S end.
Continued NW over Black Mountain summit, and took the dirt road 0.3 mi. N that is variously known as Adelaida Summit Rd or Cypress Mountain Rd (neither is appropriate). This climbs to the Santa Lucia divide in serpentine then enters a long NW-trending tributary of Las Tablas Creek on sandstone and shale bedrock. Batrachoseps minor is known from the first mile or so of this road on the E side of the crest, with a rocky creek very far below in mixed woodland with a lot of madrones. One large tributary lies in a notch in the road, and this usually has water tumbling over steep jagged rocks in the winter. Today it is dry at the road, and Juliet was only able to see a couple of isolated small pools on the way down to the main tributary. Houses and fenced creek start right there, though the fence is decrepit in a number of places. The stream looks very good indeed
for Taricha in the next mile or so, with numerous pools 10-15’ across and up to 30’ long, over 2’ deep in places. Lots of overhanging root masses, and fair numbers of trout. No newts today. This deeply-shaded canyon with alders goes for about 1.2 miles NW until serpentine shows up again and the valley broadens out with digger pine and blue oaks replacing alders, madrones and white oaks. A site called 7X Ranch occupies the mouth of a large tributary about half way down, and about ¼ mile beyond that there are some deep bedrock pools where Juliet saw a large adult red-legged frog. Saw no tadpoles anywhere today, nor pond turtles nor snakes. Drove out past Klau mine onto Vineyard Rd and took Dover Creek Rd W to the bridge at Jack Creek. Still water here, barely flowing, but probably too open for newts. Returned to San Luis Obispo via hwy 1 at 1400, Juliet has to pick up her daughters from school at 1430. There sure are a lot of places that look good for newts that don’t have any – there has to be some way to try to get a handle on that. Going out in this very dry year helps define minimum criteria. The tedious way would be to score up physical features of each drainage and run a principal components analysis of newt vs. no-newt sites. If you could establish that there is no subset of features that makes a stream suitable for newts (as seems likely from the range of places we’ve looked at [what makes Las Tablas Creek different from upper San Simeon Creek, for example]). Then the conclusion would be that accidental historic factors play a dominant role. This is not very satisfying, but it may be the best we can get.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

San Simeon Creek

Drove up to San Luis Obispo to meet Juliet at 0830. Drove out to Morro Bay and up the coast, a very nice day, clear, 70s, no wind. I expected to see snakes on the road, but that has become a myth in recent years. Drove up San Simeon Creek Rd, with three stops along the way. There is water in nice woodland at about 2.2 mi. E of jct hwy 1 (and no fence), so we had a look there, nothing to be seen. Same story at the bridge at mile 3.0, and at the confluence with a southern tributary (upstream of S Fork proper) at mile 6.0. Reached the unfenced area W of the road at 6.5 mi. above hwy 1, coordinates 35.65058N, 121,04531W, 1270 feet elev., and walked down to the creek, which flows here on a low gradient in bouldery pools up to 15’ across and 2’ deep, with lots of cover underneath rounded rocks, Full canopy of oak and bay, but little undergrowth.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Santa Rosa Creek

Truck in the shop with a busted starter motor (second one), so I rented a car for getting around, and got around up to San Luis Obispo to meet Juliet at 0830. Took hwy 101 N to Vineyard Drive, then west to hwy 46, continuing to Santa Rosa Creek Rd. Headed NW towards Cambria with a stop at the Rocky Creek bridge S of Black Mountain. Creek here looks good for newts, but none to be seen today. Continued over Black Mountain summit and down into Santa Rosa Creek, past Matt Smith’s house below the switchback and into the wooded canyon. There is a large N tributary joining the creek here 2.5 mi. NW of Black Mountain summit, 685 feet elev., and the roadside is unfenced for almost half a mile, so we parked and had a walk. This is just about the same site as 10.0 mi. ESE of Cambria, the uppermost newt seen on 31 March. Coordinates 35.56843N, 120.93816W.
Animals were not common here but Juliet managed to find three males. In this area it is low gradient with large rounded boulders and shallow pools, fully shaded by tall alders with little understorey, looks a lot like Las Tablas Creek along Adelaida Summit road. Saw a few fish but no larval or adult amphibians. Drove a couple miles farther down Santa Rosa Creek Rd, past where the creek crosses to the S side of the road and there are some very nice pools. Looking from the road edge (mostly tightly fenced) we did not see any further newts. Got visited by a fairly nosey sheriff out keeping nature safe from itself. Returned up Santa Rosa Creek and crossed hwy 46 onto Old Creek Rd, followed that E over the divide into Santa Rita Creek. Made a brief stop at the pool at 5.1 mi. SE Vineyard Drive at 995 ft. elev., coordinates 35.56843N, 120.93816W, where we were only able to find a single male newt. A pair of mallard ducks is here, probably eating eggs. Getting short on time, we had to head back to SLO. It is not at all clear why a creek like Santa Rosa should be so stingy with newts, unless perhaps there is a long history of road mortality.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cuesta Grade sites

Picked up Ashlyn at CCBER and drove to San Luis Obispo to check on reported newt localities near Cuesta Grade. A clear day, high about 70 F, no wind. Went first to Reservoir (Brizziolari) Canyon, an eastern tributary of San Luis Obispo Creek accessible via a short road off hwy 101 a half mile NE of San Luis Obispo. There is a parking area and a trail starting at a large serpentine outcrop that was once the core of a dam, now washed away. Started here and walked upstream in and along the creek, which was flowing at ca. 4-5 cfs in a narrow riparian corridor with steep chaparral slopes to the S and open serpentine grassland on the N. Went upstream about ¾ mile without seeing any newts or egg masses. The stream looks good but is small and shallow, with relatively few refuge pools. Ashlyn found a Batrachoseps nigriventris under a small log, though in general the leaf litter was too dry.
Left here and drove up hwy 101 a short ways. The creek is at roadside here and we walked up about 200 m w/o finding any newts. This is a larger stream, maybe 6-8 cfs, incised into dirt banks with good riparian vegetation and some shallow pools. The stream was slightly muddy indicating some current disturbance at the houses above, and has some trash and evidence of hobo camps. Took Stagecoach Rd over the pass and went to Tassajara Creek Rd, a left turn S of the exit to Santa Margarita. Checked the bridge at hwy 101, saw no newts. The lower canyon here is open valley oak grassland, the stream itself compressing into a narrow corridor at roadside very thick with willows and poison oak, all very professionally fenced by the one original ranch, with horsey rancho 5 acre lots scattered throughout. Found the rancher clearing brush and talked to him for a bit. He and his son both allowed that newts were “pretty much all over this country” but that they rarely saw more than one at a time, including in the creek there. He suggested we go to the “old trout farm” at the end of Sully Spring Rd (1.5 mi. W of jct hwy 101).
Drove up to a parking spot across the creek from houses, with signs urging people not to run over newts, red-legged frogs or turtles. Found the owner in (Ken?), a retired Cal Poly prof, and he readily gave us the OK to have a look around. He said there were fewer newts this year because at least one “merganser” (pretty sure he meant red-breasted) flew in to the ponds almost daily and was seen to eat a couple of newts before leaving. There are six ponds in all here, becoming larger and deeper downslope, fed one into another by concrete runways. The upper three ponds are mostly shaded but have emergent vegetation on the brighter side, and a middle pond is about 1/3 full of short cattails. The lower two ponds are at least 4’ deep and a bit murky. We saw newt eggs in each pond, but found newts only in the upper two, where they were actively breeding. Saw only 8 newts here plus a voucher male. Oddly we saw no Pseudacris eggs at all, nor any tadpoles, nor adults – it is as if P. regilla was extinct. I would have also expected to see Bufo boreas here. Continued N on hwy 101 to Vineyard Drive, and went out Santa Rita Creek 5.0 miles to the large pool visited most recently on 23 March, now 1330 hrs. At that time I counted large numbers of clutches on shallowly-submerged willow branches (4 groups) along the W side of the pool in water 2.5-4’ deep, with lesser numbers on sticks resting on the bottom – I recorded 20 clutches near surface and 11 on the bottom at the first (downstream) willow. Saw a subadult pond turtle on the bottom under these branches near the eggs. I watched it for 10 minutes, it did nothing. 115 clutches were on shallow sticks at the second willow, 16 on the bottom, and lesser numbers upstream, save for 94 clutches counted today on the 4th (upstream) willow. Today nearly all of the shallow clutches were gone. They were blastulas, maybe 4 early neurula stage on the 23rd, no way they could have hatched in two weeks, plus the jelly is gone. On the 23rd I had broken off two large willow branches and sunk them with rocks along the W side of the pool in areas between the willow overhangs. Not a single clutch was laid on them, suggesting that breeding is over already here in late March. Saw 22 animals here, mostly males and over half of them from the bouldery upstream end of the pool, where they were under rocks underwater. Some clutches had been laid on the undersides of rocks here. Saw a single P. regilla here (no eggs/tadpoles), and caught a subadult Clemmys. No fish in this pool, and no indication of crayfish. Had a quick look at a downstream pool and found a pair of mallards, which I strongly suspect to be the shallow water egg predators. We need a couple of remote cameras to verify this. Drove out over Santa Lucia crest. Made a stop 2.0 miles beyond the pool (so 7.1 miles from Vineyard Drive) at the junction of the S fork of Santa Rita Creek where the road climbs away from the creek (jct with Hi Laurel Road) and saw a newt in the creek here, providing a minimum upstream limit. Saw no herps down Old Creek Rd to Cayucos.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Southern SLO Co., night

Series of short-span storms this week, cold fronts passing through rapidly leaving 1-1.5” of rain in 2 hours or so, then becoming cold and clear. This was supposed to culminate on the night of the 31st with a large NW front meeting a subtropical feed from Big Sur southward, with projections of fearful amounts of rain all night. I drove up to Cambria with the idea of meeting this head-on, and finally having conditions where amphibians might be on the road.
Met the front at Arroyo Grande at about 1930, and rainfall rates where indeed impressive for about 15 minutes, but only sprinkling at San Luis Obispo, and by the time I got to Morro Bay the sky was clear with increasing NW wind, becoming cold quickly. Went on to Cambria anyway and took Santa Rosa Rd SE starting at dark. Road was mostly still wet, but covered with leaves and twigs from the wind, so not easy to see animals. Ended up finding 5 Taricha (one DOR) on the road, as follows: SSS 33762-3 Santa Rosa Creek Rd, 6.5 mi. SE of Cambria, 364 ft. 35.57225N 120.982206W SSS 33764 Santa Rosa Creek Rd, 9.2 mi. SE Cambria, 591 ft 35.56253N, 120.94552W SSS 33765 Santa Rosa Creek Rd, 9.5 mi. SE Cambria, 642 ft. 35.56448N, 120.94185W SSS 33766 Santa Rosa Creek Rd, 10.0 mi. SE Cambria, 703 ft. 35.56838N, 120.93629W The last animal was very close to the upper end of the canopy-covered part of the creek just down stream from Matt Smith’s house. No frogs or other salamanders seen along here, nor over the divide and down to hwy 46. Took Old Creek Road S to the reservoir, then up over the Santa Lucia crest and into Santa Rita Creek. Found one Taricha on Old Creek Rd just past Marsh Rd jct: SSS 33767 Old Creek, 0.8 mi. NE jct Marsh Rd, 697 ft. 35.48423N, 120.81275W The road on the Old Creek (W) side for a couple of miles below the crest is on serpentine soils, and would not be safely traversable with much more than the 2” of rain they’d had on site. The Santa Rita Creek side is muddy but not dangerously slick. I had the widow down for all of this driving and heard exactly one P. regilla, at about mile 5 on Santa Rita Creek Rd. Saw NO frogs or toads on the road from Cambria back to Templeton, all in suitable habitat. A long ways for not much, 300+ miles of driving, got home at about 0245. Ed portion of the creek along the road, just S of Matt S’s

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Met Juliet at the base of See Canyon Road at 0830 and drove up to Coon Creek Ranch, where we met the owner. The Nature Conservancy has bought a conservation easement on his 4,000 acre property as part of their push to conserve substantially all of the Irish Hills. This ranch is in fact very nice and has been carefully managed to avoid overgrazing and other abuses, but for me the gem is the access it provides to the middle section of Coon Creek, on BLM land sandwiched between Andre and Montana de Oro State Park.
The creek today is flowing 3-5 cfs, essentially constantly in the area we checked, in a deeply-incised canyon with step walls and very heavy shade, plus a lot of understorey vegetation – mainly dogwood, but plenty of poison oak as well. The water is clear, no foam at waterfalls, and there are lots of trout to about 6” in the larger pools. Most of these pools are rather shallow as there is a fair bit of gravel being transported in the creek bed unlike many local streams, and there are few overhanging banks or deeply undercut rocks. Rocks are silicified bedded sandstones, angular blocks in the creek. We went downstream a little over a mile directly in the streambed, but saw no amphibians other than a hatchling Ensatina I found under a vertical log on the steep bank, and one Batrachoseps under a small log. The absence of Taricha here is very striking. The creek should have been packed with them. It is a relatively small creek here, though more substantial on Montana de Oro, but has the most mesic canyon vegetation anywhere in the region. The canyon walls are a mix of dirt and small outcrops with abundant downed logs and small mammal burrows, plenty of leaf litter from the dense canopy of oaks, laurels and maples, with madrones and Bishop pines halfway up the slopes.