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.